The state of the FIA WEC “Super Season” after three rounds
The 2018/19 FIA WEC ‘Super Season’ has been a strange one so far. With a strong grid littered with world-class talent, a good number of entrants in each class and close title races in three categories, it has not been without intrigue in the European races to open the season. There are plenty of talking points up and down the order, as the series looks ahead to the flyaway rounds at Fuji and Shanghai to round off the calendar year.
Toyota dominant, but not in the points standings
Up to this point, Toyota Gazoo Racing, perhaps unsurprisingly, has been far and away the best team in the LMP1 class. With years of running under its belt, and a tried and tested year-old TS050 HYBRID at its disposal, the Japanese marque’s quality has really shown this year against privateer opposition. As many would have predicted, it has been a David v Goliath-type affair. But the Equivalence of Technology debate has raged on from the Paul Ricard Prologue, all the way through to the week after Silverstone, as artificial regulations have left Toyota with the upper hand in both performance terms, and in the sporting regulations. Until Silverstone, the privateers were forced to pit earlier than Toyota in each stint, and spend longer refueling, meaning even if they were on pace with the TS050s, they would still lose precious seconds at multiple points during the race.
So to put it lightly, it has been a rough ride for the privateers. Rebellion’s R-13s have been reliable, and quick, but not enough to challenge, SMP Racing’s BR1s have proven to be fragile, ByKolles’ CLM despite an up-curve in performance is still way off, DragonSpeed’s season has been marred by big incidents at Spa and Le Mans thus far, and CEFC TRSM (due to financial difficulties) has only taken part in one race.
The cars themselves, in isolation, are solid, and with such a high standard of drivers behind the wheel, they are impressive when you consider just how quick the class went from a single entrant to eight; all it took was collective ambition from multiple parties, and just one off-season. Make no mistake, these are the most sophisticated and head-turning bits of LMP1 Privateer machinery in FIA WEC history, but they are no match for the factory cars; at least not yet!
Despite all that though, the title race is extremely tight at the top, after Toyota lost its Silverstone 1-2 after its cars were disqualified for failing post-race technical checks. That outcome meant that the No. 3 Rebellion R-13 of Gustavo Menezes, Mathias Beche and Thomas Laurent inherited the win and have closed the gap to just two points. Despite its rather disappointing circumstances – no podium celebration for the team to experience – it is still a significant milestone for the championship. The win is not just the first privateer overall win in FIA WEC history, but the first non-hybrid win since 2012. And in terms of drivers, Menezes became the first American to win a FIA WEC race outright, and amazingly, the first American to win the Tourist Trophy – the oldest prize in motorsport.
The question now is, will the title race still be close when the series heads to Sebring next year? It is all down to regulations, as if it continues as it is now Toyota will still stroll to the title. But if the ACO can find a way to balance the hybrid and non-hybrid cars to the point where the privateers, whose cars are less efficient and slower through traffic without hybrid boost have a legitimate shot of winning, then fans will flock to races.
Porsche on top in GTE Pro
No LMP1 programme? No problem for Porsche, who are creating a fine set of headlines in the GTE ranks this year, after a popular GTE Pro win at Le Mans, and a consistent run from its No.92 911 RSR at Spa and Silverstone. Atop the drivers’ standings, are Le Mans winners Kevin Estre and Michael Christensen, who have accumulated 71 points. Their lead is relatively comfortable, as the gap back to Ford’s Silverstone winners Olivier Pla and Stefan Mucke is now 14 points. Despite not taking part in Silverstone, Billy Johnson, Pla and Mucke’s teammate for Spa and Le Mans, is third with 48 points, while Silverstone victors Alessandro Pier Guidi and James Calado are fourth on 43.5. While the gap to the leaders for BMW and Astons best placed drivers may seen cavernous, it must be remembered that there are still five races to go, one of them being the second Le Mans of the season, which hands out 1.5x the standard points.
In the GTE manufacturers race, it’s Porsche leading with 177 points, over Ford with 77. Ferrari is third with 71. But the big talking point here, hasn’t been the spectacular racing, instead it’s the ever-present elephant in the GT racing room: Balance of Performance. The current automated process, is, categorically better than the previous methodology used by the series organisers to create parity, but it is not perfect. This is evident in the results achieved by BMW and Aston Martin. BMW’s new M8 GTE, which has now won a race in IMSA as part of Team RLL’s parallel programme, has struggled for pace, particularly in the races, where it has at times been wildly off. Aston Martin meanwhile, struggled at Spa and Le Mans in a similar fashion, but at Silverstone, with a pre-event BoP change looked stronger. Nevertheless, during the race in the UK, both marques faded away, while Ford, Ferrari and Porsche scrapped for the podium positions. What we don’t have, is one brand running away with it constantly, but work is required to ensure that the racing is a little closer, and produces races similar to last season, which turned out to be memorable.
Alpine vs Jackie Chan DC Racing in LMP2
With three races down, three contenders have emerged in the LMP2 class; Signatech’s Alpine, and the pair of Jackie Chan DC Racing ORECAs. Alpine’s win at Le Mans after G-Drive’s post-race disqualification has left the French team in the driving seat to take the title. But Andre Negrao, Nicolas Lapierre and Pierre Thiriet don’t have a comfortable lead, as a 1-2 finish by Jackie Chan DC Racing at Silverstone has put the No.38 ORECA of Gabriel Aubrey, Ho-Pin Tung and Stephane Richelmi in with a real chance.
Here’s hoping that the LMP2 title fight turns out to be as enthralling as last year, when after Le Mans, Rebellion Racing and Jackie Chan DC Racing’s top ORECAs slogged it out for the title towards the end of the season.
Proton pulls away in Am
In GTE Am, it is a different story. In the class, which has arguably provided the most entertaining racing this season so far, Proton Competition is running away with the title. A win at Le Mans, and at Silverstone has given Christian Ried, Julien Andlauer and Matt Campbell and comfortable 33-point lead in the class. The trio, who pilot the No.77 Proton Porsche 911 RSR will hope to continue to finish ahead of their rivals at Clearwater Racing; Keita Sawa, Matt Griffin and Weng Sun Mok.
Project 1 Racing are third, after a quiet, but encouraging run through the opening races of the season leaving Egidio Perfetti, Jorg Bergmeister and Patrick Lindsey 35 points back. The German team, which is new to the FIA WEC, almost won at Silverstone, and certainly looks as well-oiled of a team as is required to string podium finishes together before the end of the season.
Travel Destinations can help you enjoy some of the FIA WEC races track-side during this “Super Season”. As well as Le Mans 2019, Travel Destinations also have exclusive offers for the rounds at Sebring and Spa-Francorchamps.
Written by Stephen Kilbey
Photography by Dailysportscar