Given the circumstances, it’s remarkable to see such a high number of entrants, with plenty of teams new and old ready to do battle over the course of the year to fight for world titles and of course, a win at the Le Mans 24 Hours.
There are plenty of headlines up and down the list, so the place to start is at the top in the new Le Mans Hypercar category.
Feedback has been promising from engineers and drivers alike thus far, with plenty of confidence that it can score wins right away.
To take another Le Mans win and a WEC title, it will have to overcome challenges from Alpine’s factory team (racing with a grandfathered Rebellion R-13 LMP1 car renamed the A480) and Glickenhaus’ pair of non-hybrid 007 LMHs.
Let’s talk Alpine first. The French automotive marque, in parallel to this Le Mans Hypercar effort, is taking over from Renault in Formula One, so it’s a big deal that it has decided to continue (and step up) in the WEC. This is incredibly ambitious for a small, boutique brand that has yet to truly establish a presence in the modern motoring space. But, two major motorsport programmes will go a long way in marketing its road car and performance brand role for Renault and building a customer base in the long run.
The A480 Alpine brings to the WEC is a proven race-winner, a car that has been developed over the past two years by Rebellion and its partner ORECA. It’s not a perfect prototype, it isn’t bullet proof mechanically and in certain conditions it can be a handful for even the most seasoned driver. But it is fast, and it has potential to mature further with Alpine coming on board.
With both WEC titles and Le Mans class wins to its name in LMP2 in recent years, Alpine knows what it is doing in big races. For that reason, it should be considered a serious challenger for Toyota, especially in the early part of the season if the GR010 fails to hit the ground running and the Balance of Performance system works as planned.
As for Glickenhaus, its commitment to bring a pair of Pipo-powered 007s to the WEC this year is really encouraging. The development of the car is progressing, albeit at a slower pace than Toyota’s GR010 which has already been put through its paces on track ahead of the season.
Glickenhaus hasn’t been able to try out its car yet, and is almost certainly going to skip the opening round of the season at Sebring, but Jim Glickenhaus has a reputation of delivering on promises. We will have to wait a little while longer to see just what the 007 can do on track, but there’s no reason to believe it cannot compete if the car proves to be reliable.
The seriousness of this programme is apparent when looking at the first two drivers listed for 2021 on the entry: Rebellion refugee Gustavo Menezes and Indy Car star Ryan Briscoe. Both are capable and bring a wealth of experience to this programme.
For all the positivity in Le Mans Hypercar this year, there is one slight disappointment, and that is the ByKolles effort not featuring on the list. The Austrian team, which opened up on plans to build road cars alongside its race car at the end of last year, is nowhere to be seen at this point. Will it show up later in the season? We will have to wait and see…
In the other classes, while there are no new cars to examine, there are plenty of big storylines to follow in LMP2 and the two GTE classes.
LMP2 features 11-cars, a real coup for the WEC which has attracted some of the world’s best teams and drivers (five of which have Formula One starts to their name). Among the entries are some new faces, Richard Mille Racing’s all-female crew, Real Team Racing and plucky Polish squad Inter Europol Competition (below) stepping up from the ELMS, to race against experienced WEC teams High Class Racing, DragonSpeed, United Autosports, JOTA and Racing Team Nederland.
The pleasant surprises here are the additions of Asian Le Mans stalwart ARC Bratislava with a Ligier chassis and Audi customer team WRT with an ORECA.
WRT’s foray into the WEC is most interesting, as its return to prototype racing (after a one off ELMS appearance in 2016 at Spa) comes in the build up to Audi’s return to top-line sportscars with an LMDh programme. Could this be a toe-in-the-water operation for WRT that leads to a factory or customer LMDh effort down the line?
GTE Am, like LMP2, is big in numbers and quality. The category features 13 cars, with Ferrari, Porsche and Aston Martin all represented. The entire full-season field from last season returns, with the addition of another all-female crew from Ferrari team Iron Lynx and Japanese fan favourite D’Station Racing that brings an a third Vantage to the party for Aston Martin.
The only major omission in the GTE ranks is the full-fat GTE Pro factory effort from Aston Martin Racing. AMR has cut back its sportscar effort this year as it shifts focus to Formula One. It is represented with Paul Dalla Lana’s No. 98 Vantage in Am, but that is privately funded by Dalla Lana himself. Aston Martin’s pair in Pro will be sorely missed after their exceptional Le Mans and WEC title wins last term. We can only hope that like Audi, Aston Martin’s WEC hiatus as a factory doesn’t last long…
For now though, we’ll have to savour what promises to be a hotly contested battle in GTE Pro between Ferrari and Porsche, with the potential for Corvette to dip in and out throughout the season.
Photo credits: Toyota, Inter Europol, WRT, Glickenhaus
With the 2019/20 FIA WEC season over and the 2021 campaign fast approaching, there is so much to digest and look ahead to.
After what has been an extraordinary second half to the year for motorsport in terms of schedule congestion, it has been so hard to keep up with all the movements within the major sportscar championships. 2021 though, should look a lot more like a traditional motorsport season. And in the case of the FIA WEC, it returns to a standard calendar that doesn’t cross over two calendar years.
In his latest Debrief column Stephen Kilbey takes a look back at the season finale in Bahrain, and all the news you need to know about from the world of ACO sportscar racing:
Before looking ahead to next season and beyond, congratulations are in order for the prize-winning teams.
The 2018/19 FIA WEC season was supposed to be a rare, extended campaign, to see the championship through a transitional period. The 2019/20 season however, would end up running longer than normal, beginning at Silverstone in September last year, and ending in Bahrain earlier this month.
What a ride it was, with thrills, spills, and even a set of postponed and cancelled races thrown into the mix. But the organisers did a superb job of navigating the challenges 2020 created and finished the season in style at Bahrain.
For Toyota, it was the No. 7 crew of Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and Jose Maria Lopez that took the LMP1 honours over their teammates in the No. 8 TS050 HYBRID with a faultless performance. Winning a world title represented somewhat of a consolation prize after years of heartbreak in the title race of the FIA WEC and at Le Mans for the trio in the No. 7.
It’s just a shame that LMP1’s final race wasn’t a classic, instead it was a head-to-head clash between two cars from the same team, with no competition from other factories or privateers. But we will get to that a bit later in this piece.
In the other classes the titles were settled too. The No. 95 Aston Martin duo of Nicki Thiim and Marco Sorensen winning the GTE Pro title, capping off an incredible season for Aston Martin Racing which lest we forget saw it win Le Mans too with its No. 97 Vantage.
A fourth place finish in or United Autosports’ No. 22 ORECA was enough to secure the Richard Dean’s team the LMP2 title, and in GTE Am, Francois Perrodo and Manu Collard’s completed a remarkable comeback to the category with a second title alongside Nicklas Nielsen in AF Corse’s No. 83 Ferrari 488 GTE EVO.
It was not a classic, it wasn’t particularly entertaining either, but the LMP1 race in Bahrain was nonetheless memorable because it was the final time the category will feature in the FIA WEC before the new Le Mans Hypercar class debuts next season.
LMP1 should not be remembered for the trials and tribulations it has faced since Audi and later Porsche withdrew, leaving Toyota to race against privateers in 2018, 19 and 20. Instead it should be remembered for the phenomenal racing it produced in the glory years of the LMP1 Hybrid era.
LMP1 of course dates back to the turn of the century, before even the diesel-powered prototypes were introduced by Audi and Peugeot, but it was the 2014-16 period where it shone and became arguably the most entertaining category of racing worldwide. When Audi, Porsche and Toyota did battle in the FIA WEC and of course Le Mans, with cars on the bleeding-edge of technology, it was simply unmissable.
There were, of course, low(er) moments prior to Toyota’s dominance in recent years: Nissan’s ill-conceived GT-R LM NISMO in 2015 and Peugeot pulling the plug on its 908 programme days before the inaugural FIA WEC race in 2012 spring to mind. But as a whole, LMP1 cars were both spectacular to watch trackside, a real showcase of efficiency and future-thinking technology.
The hybrid-era, which began in 2012, was the best example of this. In the early days just running on electric-power running down the pit lane once and hour was considered impressive. How things have changed…
In recent years, maintaining record-breaking pace while improving lap-by-lap fuel efficiency year-on-year has become the norm. Consider this: Toyota’s 2019 TS050 HYBRID completed the Le Mans 24 hours using 300kg less fuel and travelled more than 500km further than the TS030 HYBRID it raced with in 2013. That, put simply, is an astonishing achievement.
Toyota Ploughs Ahead
At Toyota Gazoo Racing’s Cologne headquarters the team behind-the-scenes have had little time to reflect on the progress of the past eight years, because it has been full speed ahead for them with the new Hypercar programme.
The new car (pictured above), which will make its global debut at Sebring in March is already out testing and the feedback thus far has been very encouraging.
Travel Destinations understands via a team source that the new car, at its first true test at Paul Ricard, ran incredibly reliably. The drivers are also noticeably pleased that the lift-and-coast fuel-saving measures required to steer the previous LMP1 Hybrids won’t be necessary going forward.
We won’t know what the new Toyota can do in terms of performance for a while yet, but the fact that it has been reliable from the off is a great early sign.
The new Le Mans Hypercars are expected to be significantly slower than the outgoing LMP1 breed, but that is unlikely to detract from the race action. In fact it is more likely to be a blessing in disguise, as the steep developmental curve seen in years past from the LMP1 cars was a real turn off for new manufacturers coming in with a brand new car. Less sophisticated machinery, with lower budgets, could go a long way in building a grid over the coming years.
The hard work continues for Toyota ahead of the new season. We expect to hear more in January about the new car and the brand’s WEC programme as a whole.
Fields of Dreams
While we won’t see a full entry list for either the 2021 FIA WEC or the ELMS (European Le Mans Series) seasons this side of the new year, the grids are forming and looking strong.
Travel Destinations expects the grids for both championships to be big, with the FIA WEC field for the shorter 2021 season at either maximum capacity or close to it.
This is because privateer interest in both will be strong once again, with the team owners and drivers as motivated as ever to go racing, even during these challenging times. There are no major rule changes or regulation shifts for privateer teams either, meaning very few will need to invest in brand new cars for 2021 to compete at a high level.
The only real uncertainty surrounds the GTE Pro class in the WEC. What will it look like? Will all three factories: Aston Martin, Porsche and Ferrari return? Or will the field take a hit, like in IMSA, where Porsche has decided to walk away from GTLM, leaving just Corvette and BMW to do battle?
Whatever the factories decide, GTE as a pro/am platform for customer teams is set to remain popular next year, with the highlight being a batch of brand new Porsche 911 RSR 19s due to enter circulation for their first eligible season in GTE Am of the WEC and the GTE class of the ELMS.
The Test Day Returns!
The Le Mans 24 Hours Test Day is set to return in 2021, and with a new date too.
After being cancelled for this year’s postponed edition of the great French race the Test Day in 2021 will take place on the Sunday before race week, a week later than usual, as part of a refined timetable for the event.
This means anyone planning to head to Le Mans next year with Travel Destinations a week before the race can expect to see more track action than ever, with the Test Day kicking off a new-look, condensed schedule!
Guess who’s back?
Perhaps the most significant news to emerge since the Le Mans 24 Hours back in September came today, courtesy of Audi Sport. That’s right, it is set to make a return to top-line sportscar racing with an LMDh programme.
The shock confirmation of Audi’s future plans came as part of a shakeup at the top of Audi Sport, which sees Dieter Gass leave his post as Director and replaced by Julius Seebach, the current Managing Director of Audi Sport.
It didn’t take long for big news to follow Seebach’s appointment, as in the immediate aftermath he confirmed that the German brand will leave Formula E after next season to focus on an all-electric Dakar Rally programme and LMDh, which will enable it to return to Le Mans and compete stateside in IMSA.
“We are intensively preparing to enter the new sports prototype category LMDh with its highlight races, the Daytona 24 Hours and Le Mans 24 Hours,” Seebach said. “The most important message for our fans is that motorsport will continue to play an important role at Audi.”
Details of Audi’s programme are (unsurprisingly) scarce at the moment, but this is a momentous piece of news, the first LMDh programme announced by an OEM. The key questions are: When will Audi’s LMDh car debut? (the LMDh regulations are expected to be delayed by a year and debut in 2023) And where will it race? (It has the choice to compete in the FIA WEC alongside the Le Mans Hypercars, in IMSA with other LMDh manufacturers, or both)
Fancy being trackside for the Le Mans 24 Hours in 2021? Call our offices and book now on 01707 329988! We would also like to remind customers that all packages are financially protected by our ‘Refund Gaurantee’. So you can book with confidence…
The FIA WEC’s Le Mans Hypercar category is beginning to shape up nicely. With Toyota, Alpine, Glickenhaus, Peugeot and ByKolles all on board, we now await the first programme confirmations for IMSA’s LMDh platform which forms the other half of the planned convergence of the top classes from IMSA and the FIA WEC.
But which OEM will make the first leap of faith and sign off a programme? Over the past few weeks the picture is becoming ever so slightly clearer, as Travel Destinations’ Stephen Kilbey writes…
Push back or push on?
‘A dozen’ marques are believed to all still be involved in the technical working group for the new platform, which will see manufacturers put their own stamp on hybrid-powered next-gen LMP2 chassis and compete in either IMSA, the FIA WEC or both.
Two pertinent questions arose from the latest public update which occurred during the ACO’s annual Press Conference at the Le Mans 24 Hours earlier this month: 1. When will the LMDh formula make its debut? And 2. who will bite the bullet and be first to commit?
Originally LMDh was intended to debut in 2022, but time is ticking and it is becoming clear that a debut for these new cars at the 2022 Rolex 24 Hours in January is an unrealistic target. While reports from RACER.com suggest that the entire time frame has changed, with the debut now expected to be 2023, Pierre Fillon, the President of the ACO, has since said that no firm decision had been made on whether or not we’ll see them race “before or after Le Mans 2022”.
Currently, as the manufacturers continue to study and evaluate future programmes, the process is becoming increasingly difficult with no firm date for the category’s introduction.
It would be a mistake for the organisers to sacrifice 2022 and extend the lifespan of the current DPi field (which is becoming increasingly thin) if more than two factories have plans to be out testing cars this time next year with the intention of being ready for the original time frame. And equally it would be an error for IMSA and the ACO ahead as planned, push for 2022, and struggle to assemble a grid at all.
Ultimately the market will decide when LMDh makes its first appearance…
Porsche’s pulling power
Of all the manufacturers looking likely to commit first, it looks increasingly likely that an OEM which doesn’t currently feature in IMSA’s DPi ranks will be the first to press the green button: Porsche.
If Porsche opts to join LMDh, and its announcement could potentially come as soon as its annual Night of Champions event in December, then it’s truly ‘game on’. All along Porsche has been ‘in the room’ on LMDh and told Travel Destinations back in January that it was a very supportive of ‘convergence’ and the direction that LMDh was heading.
Its has publicly stated that it is formally evaluating an LMDh programme multiple times. And while it didn’t reveal anything in the wake of the ACO Conference which celebrated the publication of the full set of LMDh regulations and showcased LMDh example chassis (of which one looked somewhat Porsche inspired (below)), it did release a statement which served as a reminder that it is serious about returning to prototype racing.
“We’re very happy that FIA, ACO and IMSA have provided the final details of future LMDh regs,” it read. “We’re now able to take the final step in the concept study commissioned by our board of directors.”
With Penske set to cut ties with Acura at the end of the current IMSA season, and Porsche’s GTLM effort coming to a close, the timing seems almost too perfect for a Penske-Porsche reunion?
The question is, would it join the WEC or IMSA, or both? And would it prompt a swathe of other manufacturers to reveal their plans? You’d like to think so…
Someone needs to become the first domino to fall. If it is Porsche, then the potential for more heavy hitters to join in is huge; there is no other manufacturer with an equal level of status, heritage and ‘pulling power’ in sportscar racing.
Of the current DPi pack, Acura (HPD) looks closest to confirming its intention to continue its presence in IMSA’s premier class beyond the current ruleset.
“We are not confirming an LMDh programme today though clearly that is our desire,” said HPD President, Ted Klaus to select media recently.
“It is our intention to go forward with LMDH.”
These comments came shortly after it was announced that Wayne Taylor Racing and Michael Shank Racing would take over from Penske as DPi partner teams from 2021 onwards.
Prying Wayne Taylor from GM after a 30-year relationship was surely not an easy task? Was the promise of something beyond the current DPi programme on the table as a key factor for this move to occur?On paper there appears to be almost no standout reason for WTR to abandon Cadillac after so much success with the current DPi V.R in recent years, while in the midst of a title run in 2020.
But, it has indeed happened, Wayne Taylor making it clear that his involvement in the sport is slowly coming to a close. “I’m really excited about this new adventure we’re entering into,” he told RACER.com’s Marshall Pruett. “I always wanted to finish my career on top, and that’s where I feel we are headed.”
A Le Mans win is something missing from his and (coincidentally) Mike Shank’s CV’s. Will the commitment to Acura’s DPi effort in the short term allow both to gun for the overall win in the coming years?
The view from left field
McLaren is a brand that continues to be mentioned in industry conversations about LMDh. This is in part because it has been actively sniffing around top-level sportscar racing for a number of years now without actually committing to anything. As recently as 2018 it appeared close to signing off a GTE programme, before opting to focus on GT3 and GT3 customer-focused efforts.
Now though, with the viability of GTE in the medium term looking uncertain, it is looking to add a top class programme to its factory motorsport repertoire, as a third prong alongside its Formula One and IndyCar commitments.
With Formula One set to cap costs at the next set of regulations in 2022, the timing appears perfect on the surface to reallocate resources and man power to a new venture in sportscar racing. (This is, in part, why Ferrari is thought to be circling LMDh too.)
McLaren CEO Zak Brown spoke to Travel Destinations last weekend about this very subject and confirmed that the brand is still interested, as he feels Le Mans in particular is “still very relevant”. During the conversation he gave an outline for a timeline for the programme too, stating that if McLaren did enter the LMDh ranks it would have to do so in either 2023 or 2024. “We wouldn’t see the value in entering a formula with less than three years left in the ruleset,” he said.
He also made an interesting point about 2023.
The 2023 Le Mans 24 Hours will be held on the 100th anniversary of the first edition, which will surely attract multiple manufacturers set on taking the overall win on such an important year. It is also a very important year for McLaren.
“There is a real appeal in 2023, as it’s the 60th anniversary of McLaren Racing. Le Mans is like Disneyland, there’s a big anniversary to celebrate for something every year it seems!”
What would a McLaren programme look like? Factory cars with the added punch of customer teams running additional chassis? There has always been the desire from McLaren’s side for customer cars to be made available to make things more financially viable.
Could this see Brown’s other motorsport interest, United Autosports (which he co-owns), step up from an ultra-successful LMP2 and LMP3 team to a player in the top class of sportscar racing?
“I’d like to think we (United) are putting ourselves in a position to be considered on a shortlist as a technical partner for a manufacturer as they come in,” he hinted.
Brown did mention though that there are still a few finer details within the LMDh ruleset which McLaren feel need further work and clarity.
“We have been participating in all the technical meetings and we like the direction they are headed with LMDh,” he said.”However, there is a little bit of concern from our side over how difficult it will be to balance LMDh and LMH cars, specifically in tricky conditions because one set of rules features two-wheel-drive cars (LMDh) and the other features four-wheel-drive. How are going to ensure parity at two in the morning at Le Mans when it’s raining and the Hypercars can power out of the corners with four-wheel-drive?
“They need to be careful. They are confident they can find a way. We just need to make sure it can be done.”
The 2021 World Endurance Championship calendar has been revealed. Next year will see a reduced six-race schedule.
The season, the first for the new Le Mans Hypercar formula, will start with a trip to Sebring for a 1000-mile race, in a double-header with the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship and the 12 Hours of Sebring. This will mark the return of ‘Super Sebring’ after the 2020 edition was cancelled at the last minute.
After that the teams will race at Spa-Francorchamps for the annual six-hour Le Mans 24 Hours ‘dress rehearsal in May. The third round of the season will then be the Le Mans 24 Hours on June 12-13th.
Following the Le Mans 24 Hours the teams head to Italy after a summer break for a weekend at Monza, in what will be the first ever FIA WEC race at the ‘Temple of Speed’ and the championship’s first appearance at the circuit since the pre-season Prologue test was held there in 2017.
Two further trips out of the country then round off the season, the first being a race at the Fuji Speedway, for Toyota’s first home race with its Hypercar, the second the season finale at Bahrain in November.
There are three key omissions from the original 2020/21 calendar which was shelved in favour of a calendar year schedule due to the pandemic. The WEC will not head to newly renovated circuit at Kyalami for the first time or return to either Shanghai or Silverstone for the first time in WEC history. Both circuits have been ever present since the inaugural WEC season in 2012.
2021 FIA WEC Schedule (Provisional)
13-14 March: Pre-Season Test (Sebring) 19 March: 1000 Miles of Sebring 1 May: 6 Hours of Spa 12/13 June: 24 Hours of Le Mans 18 July: 6 Hours Monza 26 September: 6 Hours of Fuji 20 November: 6 Hours of Bahrain
Following each FIA WEC race, Travel Destinations’ Stephen Kilbey runs through the matters of the moment, re-capping the weekend’s action before looking at what lies ahead in the coming months.
His first ‘WEC Debrief’ column covers the FIA WEC’s return following a six-month hiatus caused by the COVID 19 pandemic at Spa-Francorchamps and some of the pressing topics in sportscar racing as motorsport comes roaring back.
The more things change, the more they stay the same
Sometimes you just can’t be stopped. Even with a six-month break from racing, huge success handicap penalty, heavy rain and a heap of new protocols to adhere to, the No. 7 Toyota of Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and Jose Maria Lopez still found a way to win at Spa.
Since Porsche’s LMP1 exit a Toyota victory may seem like standard service, but the No. 7 genuinely wasn’t expected to emerge victorious here. The Success Handicap system, in use this season to help balance the field in LMP1, has served its purpose thus far, allowing privateer non-hybrid LMP1 cars win races outright without relying on miscues or reliability woes from the factory hybrids.
At Spa, the No. 7 was the hardest hit in the Success Handicap table, and could only muster a combined time good enough for a second row spot on the grid, a second and a half off Rebellion Racing’s R-13 which took pole. Had the race stayed dry, then surely Rebellion would have been able to pull off a third win of the season? But the four-wheel-drive systems in the Toyotas, as expected, provided the team with a huge advantage in heavy rain and changeable conditions.
In practice, the TS050 HYBRIDs had far better traction through corners and punch through traffic, while the R-13 struggled for grip, specifically early on when the team reportedly suffered an issue with tyre pressures. To make matters worse a gamble on tyres, putting new wets on with the level of rain reducing, cost Norman Nato, Gustavo Menezes and Bruno Senna further time and ultimately, a chance to truly challenge for anything other than a third place finish.
But even with Rebellion faltering, the No. 7 should still have been beaten by the sister car, on pace at least. The No. 8 of Sebastien Buemi, Brendon Hartley and Kazuki Nakajima, with only a single win thus far this season back at Fuji, had the speed to take a comfortable victory thanks to its more favourable handicap. It took the lead early and powered off into the distance with Buemi at the wheel, but suffered an intermittent fault which caused a loss of hybrid power that ultimately cost the car the better part of a minute during the first half of the race. It left the No. 7 crew with the task of staying out of trouble and making the finish, which they did, with a faultless run, extending their championship lead to 12 points ahead of the Le Mans 24 Hours next month.
“With the success handicap we had, we just assumed we would finish third, maybe second if things went really well. But it’s been a great day and it’s a fantastic result,” a surprised Mike Conway said after the race. He will hope that the momentum will translate into a first victory at La Sarthe for the No. 7 crew.
LMP2 on the other hand, was action packed but served up a rather more predictable result: a United Autosports win.
It must be said at this point that United’s form is simply astonishing. Across both ELMS and the FIA WEC competition, Richard Dean’s team have won five straight races dating back to the Bahrain WEC race last year. The switch from Ligier to ORECA has paid off hugely.
It wasn’t a dominant performance in the race for the pole-sitters, by any means, but when it mattered most towards the end the car was still very much in contention and took control. Granted, Racing Team Nederland’s driver line-up, featuring Bronze-rated Frits van Eerd, meant a victory was always going to require an element of luck up against United’s line-up of Phil Hanson, Filipe Albuquerque and Paul Di Resta. Still, that shouldn’t take the shine of what was nevertheless a hard-fought victory.
RTN’s Giedo van der Garde was easily the driver of the race here however. The Dutchman, with another one of his trademark opening stints drove from the very back of the grid to the lead in the class, and ultimately put the team in contention for a second victory this season. Following Job van Uitert’s efforts, Van Eerd gave his upmost to defend the lead, but was powerless to resist when Di Resta got within striking distance and made the winning move.
The incident a handful of laps later involving Thomas Laurent also garners a mention here, although for a rather different reason. Van Eerd, blinded by traffic, didn’t see Laurent’s attempt at move for second in the Signatech Alpine up the inside through Blanchimont. The Dutchman closed the door to take his line sending Laurent onto the grass and veering off the track to the barriers on drivers’ right. It was a big hit, so those watching were left relieved that he was able to walk away.
Modern day prototypes continue to amaze on the safety front…
The Aston Martin-Porsche-Ferrari battle in GTE Pro was simply unmissable. It’s been a similar story for most of the season, but it’s still baffling at times that a six-car field can provide so much entertainment. The current Automated BoP system that governs the class has come into its own this season, keeping everyone guessing throughout every race; no lead has ever been safe.
Porsche eventually took the win – its first at Spa in GTE Pro for eight years. The No. 92 of Kevin Estre and Michael Christensen found a breakthrough in the final hour of the race after each of the three teams held a lead at various points. The evolving conditions and safety car periods kept the field bunched up at key stages, each one finishing on the lead lap.
Aston Martin completed the podium with its pair of Vantage AMRs. Its title hopefuls in the No. 95, Nicki Thiim and Marco Sorensen took second, ahead of the No. 97 which led into the final hour but lost the top spot to an error by Maxime Martin, before being forced in for a late splash that dropped them to third.
The change in order late meant Thiim and Sorensen hold a 19-point lead and have to be considered favourites going into Le Mans, though only by the slimmest of margins. The duo certainly had luck on their side in Belgium, a puncture early in the race could have ended their podium chances. Thankfully the left-rear blowout occurred at the end of the lap, allowing for a quick stop for a fresh set of rubber that didn’t cost too much time.
AF Corse were the biggest losers, the No. 51 looking quick and consistent enough to take the win for lengthy portions of the race. Alessandro Pier Guidi and James Calado though were the first of the two 488 GTE EVOs across the line, but could only muster a fourth place finish (for the fourth time this season), denting their title hopes significantly.
Even so, it wasn’t all bad news for the Italian team as in GTE Am its No. 83 trio of Manu Collard, Francois Perrodo and Nicklas Nielsen took their first win since the season opener at Silverstone, extending their points lead in the process. The Porsche 911 RSRs in the field appeared to have the pace for the majority of the meeting, but the lottery created by late pit stops and safety cars propelled AF Corse to the front after a stealthy run through the five-hour mark.
This all leaves us with a tantalizing prospect for Le Mans next month. You’d be hard-pressed to pick a favourite in either GTE class.
It should also be pointed out too that the simple act of being able to look forward to Le Mans 24 Hours happening marks real progress. Seeing the FIA WEC back in action in Belgium was a huge step forward in uncertain times. The WEC was by no means the first championship back following the COVID-19 lockdowns around the world, but the organisers and team personnel deserve real praise here. ACO racing is back, let’s hope the return of trackside fans will follow shortly…
The calendar conundrum
On the subject of fans returning to watch WEC racing trackside, the 2021 calendar is currently being formed behind the scenes and it has real potential to benefit keen race-going fans in the UK and continental Europe.
It appears that the schedule will be shorter than usual, with six races being reported following a briefing to the media from FIA President Jean Todt. And the likelihood is that it will comprise of a selection of the more cost-effective races for the teams involved.
What do we know? Or think we know? Well Le Mans will, as usual, be the centrepiece, and the race at Spa-Francorchamps will serve as a dress-rehearsal. Beyond that no other trips are ‘set in stone’, publicly at least.
The WEC remains as keen as ever to return to Sebring in March for a double-header with the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship’s 12-hour race. At present it would be a tough ask, but a lot can, and will, change in the coming months. It’s not a cheap event for competitors, yet it is popular with teams and drivers and there is an element of unfinished business surrounding ‘Super Sebring’ after it was cancelled just days before the start of the event way back in March.
Silverstone will surely feature too? A mainstay on the WEC schedule since the inaugural season, a return to ‘Home of British Motorsport’ is a relatively easy race to manage, both in terms of logistics and cost.
The question beyond that becomes, how many of the remaining races on the calendar will be held outside of Europe? F1 is currently touring the continent as part of its flexible 2020 calendar which continues to grow as the season wears on. Is there any reason to believe the WEC couldn’t follow suit and become firmly European next season? It would be significantly cheaper, and easier to tweak should travel restrictions continue to cause headaches. Lest we also forget that the ACO has plenty of experience putting on events at a slew of European circuits with the European Le Mans Series….
European-based fans keen to explore some of the best circuits on the continent could very well be in for a treat in ’21!
Hypercar’s silver lining
It’s strange to think that the original debut of the Le Mans Hypercar category was set for next month, yet here we are, still in the midst of a season that should have finished two months ago. It’s not all bad news though. Delaying the debut of the FIA WEC’s top class may prove to be a blessing in disguise, as it has given Toyota, Glickenhaus and ByKolles additional time to prepare their new cars.
Toyota being ready is paramount for the championship and its health. While it would have ultimately found a way to attend the season opener from the original calendar, it has admitted to Travel Destinations that it wouldn’t have been a comfortable experience, with extremely limited testing for its car between Le Mans and the opener at Silverstone.
Now, with an additional six months until its debut to play with, and the team spending much of the lockdown making progress, the GR Super Sport Concept is set to be truly ready for the 2021 season, whenever it starts. Travel Destinations understands that bodywork for the car already exists, with the first chassis set to be built up the week after Le Mans next month before its testing programme begins in October.
Whether the extra time to ready the car will translate into reliability and pace from its debut onward remains to be seen, though the crew behind the scenes are far more confident in their ability to hit the ground running than they were at the start of the year.
It’s a similar situation for Scuderia Cameron Glickenhaus, which is committed to racing in the WEC next year with two of its new 007s. The aero design is currently being put through its paces in a windtunnel, ahead of a full chassis being built up for circuit testing. Jim Glickenhaus himself had previously revealed that the team would be unable to make the start of the 2021/22 season, with its debut then expected to come in the race at Kyalami next year. Thankfully, with the calendar now torn up, it now has a chance to be there from the beginning and take the fight to Toyota with its Pipo Moteurs-powered challenger.
Glickenhaus has publicly stated recently that it plans to debut the car at Sebring next March for what would serve as the team’s home race. Wouldn’t it be something if the BoP works as planned in the class and the unpredictable nature of multiple new chassis being put to the test on such a punishing circuit ended up creating a shock result for the plucky American manufacturer?
Who else is set to join the party? Lest we forget that ByKolles remains committed with its own Hypercar from next year, and Peugeot Sport is slated to return to the top-level of sportscars in 2022. Little is known of the current status of ByKolles’ Hypercar, nonetheless its return to WEC action at Spa last weekend (albeit with its rather fragile CLM LMP1) should be considered encouraging.
Pegueot has also been quiet, though news on its progress is expected sooner rather than later. It isn’t yet clear whether or not it has decided to compete in Le Mans Hypercar or the parallel LMDh formula (which will see manufacturers able to compete with the same car alongside Le Mans Hypercars in the WEC and the top class of IMSA) with its new model in the WEC. Industry sources have indicated to Travel Destinations that a Hypercar is and has always been the more likely of the two, especially as there now appears to be potential for the debut of the LMDh ruleset to be pushed back a year to 2023 and the French make is still planning for a 2022 debut.
That’s all still a long way down the line. For now we still have the 2019/20 WEC season to finish! Next stop, Le Mans…
Images courtesy of Toyota Gazoo Racing, Porsche Motorsport, United Autosports, Scuderia Cameron Glickenhaus & dailysportscar
FIA World Endurance Championship 2019/20 starts at Silverstone
The 2019/20 FIA WEC season is upon us, as we edge closer to the major change coming to the championship in 2021/22, when the new Hypercar Prototype ruleset debuts.It begins at Silverstone, with a four-hour encounter this time, with 31 cars on the entry and plenty of intrigue.
Most eyes will be firmly fixed on the LMP1 class at the opening round. The list is currently six-cars-strong, with changes in terms of teams, drivers and regulations, all with the hope that this season we will see close racing between the hybrid-powered TS050s fielded by Toyota Gazoo Racing and the non-hybrid privateer chassis from Rebellion Racing and Team LNT.
Team LNT is a name that may be familiar to long-time sportscar fans, especially to those that were present at the 2006 running of the Le Mans 24 Hours where it steered Panoz to a class win in GT2. Lawrence Tomlinson, now chairman of Ginetta, has brought the team back to ACO sportscar racing after a few years away and means business. Armed with a pair of updated, AER-powered, G60-LT-P1s, Team LNT hopes to turn heads and take the fight to both Rebellion and Toyota off the bat. That may seem overly optimistic on the face of it, especially after the forgettable outing that CEFC TRSM endured back in June of 2018 at Le Mans when the Ginetta LMP1 challenger made its debut. A lot has changed since that week. The team running the cars is all new, the engine is now from AER rather than Mecachrome (and yes, it’s the AER engine SMP Racing used at Le Mans this year which out qualified a Toyota) and the driver crew (which includes Ginetta factory drivers, ex-DragonSpeed LMP1 man Ben Hanley, Egor Orudzhev formerly from SMP’s LMP1 programme and 2003 Le Mans-winning Bentley Boy Guy Smith).
Pre-season testing has been overwhelmingly positive for Team LNT. Trips to Paul Ricard, Spa-Francorchamps and Motorland Aragon before the Prologue Test at Barcelona have raised eyebrows in the paddock. The cars have been reliable, minor niggles aside, and crucially, fast. Fast enough that going toe-to-toe with Rebellion’s R-13 Gibson(s) early in the season is an expectation within the team rather than a target. Whether or not challenging Toyota is possible remains to be seen, though there is reason to expect the void between the hybrid and non-hybrid prototypes this year to be less cavernous. The race organisers have introduced a success handicap system, which will slow specific cars each time they win. The disparity in stint lengths and time spent in the pits between Toyota and the rest of the field, which was artificial and favoured the Japanese automotive giant have also been removed. Will this make a noticeable difference at Silverstone? We will have to wait and see. We shouldn’t though, assume Toyota will dominate each race as it did during the ‘Super Season’.
LMP2 meanwhile, should be close and produce on-track action that you won’t be able to look away from. While there are plenty of story-lines to follow, which will be explored here on Travel Destinations’ website throughout the season, it’s worth pointing towards a couple of them for the opening round of the season. The tyre war between Michelin, and Goodyear (which has taken over from Dunlop) could prove pivotal in the title race. Currently High Class Racing (which has stepped up from the ELMS this season) and the two Jota-run ORECAs (one of which will race under the Jackie Chan DC Racing banner) have chosen Goodyear. The other five have declared that Michelin is their supplier of choice.
Goodyear is pouring resources into this season as part of a drive to forge a long-term relationship with the FIA WEC, and will hope to poach Michelin teams during the season. Each team, by regulation, can make one switch of supplier each season. Michelin on the other hand will hope to build on the momentum it has created in recent seasons, producing tyres capable of winning races after years of Dunlop domination. Keep an eye on United Autosports, which is set to embark on an ambitious maiden WEC campaign this term, and reigning champion Signatech Alpine. Both outfits bring a wealth of experience to this field, and along with Jota, are likely to be the teams to beat.
Steering away from prototypes, there’s a huge field of GTE cars on the entry this year. Six of them are factory efforts in Pro, with another 11 making up the record-grid in Am. GTE Pro, like LMP1, has taken a hit in numerical terms for this season. But that shouldn’t detract too much from the on-track action. Porsche, AF Corse and Aston Martin Racing all return, more eager than ever to win the GTE World Championships. All eyes will be on Porsche, as its stable of factory drivers will debut the brand new Porsche 911 RSR 19 at Silverstone. The updated car replaces the fan-favourite 911 RSR which is still present in GTE Am. Off the back of a title and Le Mans winning WEC campaign in 2018/19 and a five-race win streak earlier this year in IMSA with the now-previous-gen, model, it’s a scary to think that Porsche feels it can still improve!
AF Corse and Aston Martin meanwhile, know they need to find consistency to beat Porsche this season. AF Corse, with its Evo-spec 488 GTEs, will be confident after a huge victory at Le Mans in June, while Aston Martin’s crew behind the scenes remain optimistic that they can improve upon the Vantage AMR’s struggles with tyres last season and unlock its true potential.
GTE Am also sees a Porsche team defending a title, in Project 1, and the German outfit hopes to get its campaign off to a fast start with its expanded two-car effort. It will be no easy task to win it all once again, and Le Mans for that matter, as the competition has only increased. Aston Martin Racing brings a brand new Vantage AMR chassis for its GTE Am debut and fresh faces in Darren Turner and Ross Gunn to partner Paul Dalla Lana in its #98 car, while Proton Competition will aim to put the drama and disappointment that its 2018/19 produced with its pair of Porsches.
Ferrari teams are out in force too, from MR Racing, Red River Sport and AF Corse, all with high hopes. Lest we forget that in addition to AMR’s No.98 Vantage, TF Sport is also pushing for a big result on home soil. Team owner Tom Ferrier, will hope that the team’s new chassis will be the catalyst that powers the ever-expanding British team to its first WEC class win.
In addition to the WEC action, fans trackside will, as usual, be treated to a four-hour European Le Mans Series race on Saturday. That’s eight hours of high-level sportscar racing to look forward to in one bumper weekend. The road to Le Mans 2020 starts here!
Seeing through the spray at the FIA WEC 6 Hours of Shanghai
The 2018 leg of the FIA World Endurance Championship 2018/19 ‘Super Season’ is now over. There are three races left and a whole lot still to play for. The weekend in Shanghai certainly had a different feel to it, with far more positivity across the four classes than we’ve seen all season. The racing was good; albeit in tough conditions, and has left us with plenty to look forward to when the season resumes next March at Sebring.
More poor weather
Once again the FIA WEC had to battle through poor weather conditions in China. Heavy rain and low visibility were the order of the day for the race and that prevented the race from running for the entire six hours. However, the race officials once again excelled themselves in making smart, prompt decisions to keep the race going as long as possible.
The red flags had to make two appearances in the race, which even started under safety car conditions. But the second half of the race ran smoothly, and actually, produced some memorable action as the weather improved. The only real issue the organisers were left to tackle was the fading light at the end of the race, which saw rain and darkness produce an alarming finish to the race for many of the drivers mid-pack who struggled to fight through the spray.
GTE Pro producing the goods
The best racing was found in the GTE Pro class, once again, and it’s clear that the class is becoming closer between the five marques taking on the full season. Not only was the racing door-to-door, but it produced a historic result too, with Aston Martin Racing’s new Vantage AMR scoring its first ever win. Nicki Thiim and Marco Sorensen in the No.95 were the victors and were masterful in the tricky conditions, aided by strategy calls from the team. Thiim, in particular, had an impressive run in the second half of the race, storming through the field from fourth in the fifth hour after the safety car for the ByKolles CLM catching fire on the pit straight to take control of the race, before Sorensen kept his cool at the end.
Behind the Aston, Richard Lietz steered the No.91 Porsche to second in the class after getting past Tom Blomqvist’s No.82 BMW (which faded away), Davide Rigon’s No.71 Ferrari and Alex Lynn’s No.97 Aston Martin (which fell to fourth) during his stint. The championship-leading No.92 Porsche meanwhile, finished up third, pushing the No.97 to fourth at the very end, when Michael Christensen muscled his way past Maxime Martin in the dash to the flag after the final safety car period.
The key here is that Aston Martin is now very much in the fight. BMW has work to do. Its car is quick in the right conditions, but struggles when things get changeable. While AMR would need a remarkable run through Sebring, Spa and Le Mans next year to get in the title hunt, the British team building up to a title challenge in 2019/20 will be the priority.
It must be mentioned that Corvette ran in China, making its first FIA WEC appearance (Le Mans aside) since CoTA 2014. While Oliver Gavin and Tommy Milner enjoyed the challenge of taking on the FIA WEC’s Pro field, on unfamiliar ground, it wasn’t easy. Despite making bold strategy calls during the race in an attempt to gain any sort of advantage, they failed to feature and finished eighth. Neither driver could extract enough pace out of the C7.R to keep up in the mixed conditions.
LMP1 getting closer
LMP1 is tightening up, with Equivalence of Technology changes before the race helping keep the privateers within arm’s length for the first time. The race itself, unfortunately, didn’t give us a true flavour of what’s to come, because Toyota won comfortably again, in part because the race didn’t run for the full six hours, and the weather was poor.
However, in qualifying, it was tight. The pole-winning car this time was the No.7 Toyota TS050 HYBRID, which went on to win, after Mike Conway and Kamui Kobayashi combined to set a pole-winning 1:42.931. Between the fastest Toyota and privateer, though, it was as tight as it’s been this season. The No.1 Rebellion R-13 came closest, Andre Lotterer and Bruno Senna taking third with a 1:42.218s, which put them just over two tenths off pole, and less than a tenth off the No.8 Toyota which ended up second on the grid with a 1:43.159s. The headline time from the duo came from Lotterer, whose last-ditch attempt to take pole saw him reel off a 1:42.869s, which proved to be the second-fastest single lap time of the session. Could we see a privateer take pole of the season, and really challenge for a win? It’s beginning to look that way!
GTE Am turned on its head
GTE Am has seen major change over the past two weeks. The once dominant No.88 Dempsey Proton Porsche has had all of its points stripped after an investigation into data tampering, meaning it’s now a wide-open title race now. Team Project 1 has taken over at the top of the classification now; an impressive feat in its first year, but there are only 20 points between the German outfit and its nearest challenger, the No.98 Aston Martin Racing Vantage. With Sebring and Le Mans worth more than standard points, one slip up could see the points tally have a very different look by the end of the season.
And that’s exactly what we want, both GTE classes producing close racing and thrilling title battles.
See you in Sebring!
The FIA World Endurance Championship “Super-Season” continues this weekend in Japan, with the first non-European flyaway of the year. The race at Fuji Speedway is one of, if not THE, most popular rounds of the season among traveling fans, media and the teams. It is a stunning country, with a lot of character, and a motorsport history and culture many nations aspire to. Fuji Speedway itself is a real test; it’s a circuit with a near-endless pit straight, as well as a mixture of medium and slow speed corners. When rain doesn’t intervene, (we’ll get to that later), it provides thrilling racing. We hope that tradition continues this weekend, as the FIA WEC heads to the sleepy town of Gotemba for the seventh year in a row.
Will the Equivalence of Technology changes give us a race in LMP1? While the points standings tell a different story, the on-track action in the LMP1 class this year has failed to live up to the extremely high bar set over the past four or so years. Toyota, being the powerhouse it is, has dominated, in every facet, and only really faces a threat from the No.3 Rebellion R-One in the points standings because both its TS050 HYBRIDs were disqualified from the race at Silverstone after finishing first & second.In order to combat that, the ACO and FIA has opted to change the Equivalence of Technology in the class (with the approval from Toyota), to try and give the privateer field a bit more of a chance. Whether or not the difference will be significant though, is still very much up for debate. For this weekend’s race, the Toyotas will run with more ballast, putting weight in the cars the only real way to make a key difference in the disparity on the pace-front over the course of the race. In addition to that, the privateer’s artificial restriction on stint length (lap cap), which was quietly dropped at Silverstone has now been officially thrown out. Before, the non-hybrids were forced to pit more often and for longer than their hybrid counterparts; it was a decision which was originally made to help along the image of the Toyotas being more efficient. Understandably, there was a lot of feedback, and after three dominant showings from Toyota, clearly a change was needed.
Any time a private outfit takes on the resources of a huge corporation like Toyota, it is never going to be a fair fight. Few were under the illusion that the privateer prototypes, of which all but one were brand new at the start of the season, would be able to go toe-to-toe with the impressive, and proven TS050. But a sniff of competition is still needed to keep it at the very least interesting. We will see this weekend if Rebellion can continue to mount a title challenge and beat Toyota without post-race penalties. It will be tough, especially as Toyota has won at Fuji five out of six years. But, if they can, then the rest of the ‘Super Season’ will look far more interesting!
Will this be BMW’s big weekend? It’s fair to say that so far this season, BMW has had a quiet showing with its new M8 GTE in the FIA WEC competition. The German marque, which has secured strong finishes with its parallel IMSA programme, but in the WEC there’s been little to shout about. A bit of a factor is of course the Balance of Performance that governs the class. This year, the second for the new automated system, it has not quite provided us with the parity seen in 2017. But, with new machinery, comes new challenges, and it appears that the FIA and ACO’s system is going to attempt to rectify that. BMW will benefit from a lighter car, and an increase in boost pressure. The MTEK-run Bavarian crew will hope that this is enough to see them earn a podium for the first time in the WEC.Elsewhere in GTE Pro, Aston Martin is looking for a similar change in form, though it heads to Japan with no change to its Vantage AMR’s Balance of Performance. That may seem strange, when you consider that like BMW, Aston’s new toy has yet to earn any silverware, but let’s not forget that at Silverstone, early in the race, the signs were there that the car can compete in its current state. If the change isn’t enough, then Ford, Porsche and Ferrari will again be the contenders here, with their proven machinery, that already has experience of Fuji under their belts.
WIll Alpine’s Le Mans news push them towards a big finish in Fuji? The biggest LMP2 story since Silverstone has been the Le Mans results being confirmed. Alpine now officially has won the LMP2 class after G-Drive Racing/TDS Racing’s failed appeal. Thoughts and feelings about the process and length of time the FIA Court of Appeal’s decision took to be made aside, this is a huge bit of news. This means that the French team has two LMP2 wins at Le Mans in three years to its name, and heads to Fuji with the championship lead.At Silverstone, Jackie Chan DC Racing rediscovered its 2017 form and scored a memorable 1-2, but don’t expect things to come so easy this time round. There will be plenty to play for here, especially with the weather set to be a factor again. Watch out for Racing Team Nederland’s Dallara here, if there is lots of Full Course Yellows and safety cars and the team can burn Frits Van Eerd’s driving time early, then the combination of Guido van der Garde, Nick De Vries and Michelin tyres on the Dallara could be a lethal one, and spring a surprise.
Rain, rain, go away Due to the time of year the 6 Hours of Fuji is held each season, weather is always a talking point before the weekend, and often proves to be a factor. Last year heavy rain meant much of the race was spent under Safety Car conditions or a red flag, which was a real shame, especially when considering that in the past we had a race that only lasted 16 laps because of the conditions track-side deteriorating so much, so fast.The forecast as it stands doesn’t look good, but it can change quickly. Some members of the paddock will welcome light rain to spice things up, but many will spend the whole meeting praying that it stays completely dry, as Japan is a long way to go to sit under an umbrella.
Can anyone stop Proton? A win at Le Mans, and at Silverstone has given Christian Ried, Julien Andlauer and Matt Campbell a comfortable lead in GTE Am. The trio, who pilot the No.77 Proton Porsche 911 RSR now hold a 33-point advantage over Clearwater Racing’s crew of Keita Sawa, Matt Griffin and Weng Sun Mok. Project 1 Racing are third, a quiet but encouraging run through the opening races of the season leaves Egidio Perfetti, Jorg Bergmeister and Patrick Lindsey in 35 points back, with a chance to vault themselves into the title race at the halfway point of the season.
Like LMP2, the points are the same in the Drivers and Teams standings. GTE Am’s Balance of Performance changes aren’t as extensive as Pro, with just small weight changes made to the Porsches and Aston Martin Vantage GTEs. The two cars are now due to race with an extra 10 and 5kg respectively. It will be interesting to see how the Ferrari teams benefit, especially an outfit like Clearwater, which should shine at Fuji. Weng Sun Mok has a ton of experience racing there over the years, and Keita Sawa is an instructor at the circuit.
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.
The 2017 FIA World Endurance Championship held its penultimate round in China last weekend. The FIA WEC 6 Hours of Shanghai provided some thrilling racing and saw some of the titles secured before the final round in Bahrain later this month. Our man in the stands was track-side once again to watch all the action and bring you this summary:
GTE is awesome (and will only get better) It is safe to say that the 2017 Six Hours of Shanghai was a thriller throughout, in part because the GTE Pro class produced so much entertainment. The automated Balance of Performance continues to prove time and time again to make the racing close and fair. The differences on track stem from tyre-wear and driver ability, which is how it should be.
Ford took the win with Harry Tincknell and Andy Priaulx boosting their title hopes, but Porsche and later Ferrari could have taken the top step of the podium too. The driver line-ups are all world class. The cars are too – the only one looking exposed currently being the older Aston Martin Vantage, in it’s last year – and it’s only going to get better in 2018; Aston Martin will have their new car and BMW will be joining the fray. With action like this on track in GTE, whatever happens to LMP2 and LMP1 for that matter, means the FIA WEC and Le Mans 24 Hours will prove unmissable in the ‘Super Season’.
LMP2 was a dogfight The LMP2 class was always going to be close with the FIA WEC’s 2017 entry featuring near-identical ORECA 07 Gibsons across the board. However, as the teams have got their heads around the nuances of the new package, three front-runners have emerged. That means that the class competition is very close on track for extended periods of time.
As the championship rolls towards a conclusion, nerves are jangling. The Shanghai race saw swings of fortune of astonishing magnitude. The Jackie Chan DC Racing No.38 car leading at one point, stood to leave China with a mighty 16-point advantage in the standings, but one minor slip by Ho Pin Tung saw that advantage evaporate, together with their championship lead. The Chinese-flagged team now facing the prospect of a four-point deficit, losing their lead for the first time this season. Going into the finale, all of a sudden, it’s Vaillante Rebellion’s title to lose.
Beyond that, at times there was, ill-judgement and ill-temper galore up and down the order, with almost every car involved in one incident or another; In the case of several cars, several incidents. It made for a topsy-turvy competition, which some drivers will hope to forget. As the sign of a maturing ultra-high performance pro/am competition, there was plenty to savor, including for the first time this season outside of Le Mans, the regular sight of LMP2 cars re-passing LMP1 Hybrids on the long-back straight, as the factory monsters went into lift and coast. Make no mistake, these are very quick cars.
GTE Am is ready for a refresh The spark went out of this class after a perfect storm of misfortune through Turn 1. This effectively accounted for both Ferraris; the Spirit of Race 488 retiring, and the Clearwater example losing several laps to repairs. The rest of their day was effectively a run to claim as many points as possible.
Aston Martin dominated, scored the team’s 50th win in competition, and took the lead in the championship, but the reality was that the class lacked a little something for the first time in 2017. The signs are though, that it will all change with a major uplift in the quality and numbers of teams available for selection in 2018/19. New cars, in particular the advent of the class of the 2017-spec mid-engined Porsche 911 RSR, and new teams. Watch this space.
It is too late for Toyota Toyota’s pace at Shanghai was spell-binding once again. Porsche simply had no answer to the TS050 HYBRID in its evo aero kit. Tellingly, the remaining factory hybrid team is making preparations now for 2018/19. It looked for much of the race, as if Toyota would delay Porsche’s Manufacturers title celebrations until Bahrain, but a fumble for Pechito Lopez as he tried to lap one of the Porsches saw the No.7 car delayed in the final hour, after running in the lead. The required repair put Porsche’s 919s on two steps of the podium; enough to add the Manufacturers Championship to the World Drivers Championship, won for the second time; a unique achievement by Timo Bernhard and Brendon Hartley (and for the first time, by Earl Bamber.)
In the process, Hartley scored probably a unique achievement in world motorsport, taking part in a Formula One Grand Prix last week and winning a completely different FIA world title on the following weekend. For Toyota, a completely different challenge awaits, the R&D justification for its programme is intact for 2018/19, which will see them with a major target painted on the rear of both TS050s, from a growing gaggle of privateers who no-doubt have sensed the opportunity to add a further dramatic chapter in Toyota’s win-free history at Le Mans
Shanghai is a popular race There has long been much chatter, about China’s place in the FIA WEC calendar. “Nobody comes”, “nobody cares”, “deserted stands” etc. Whilst it is true to say that it is far from the most popular race in the WEC family, all of the above assertions are increasingly false and entirely incorrect. For at least the third consecutive running of the 6 Hours of Shanghai, the main stand was very well filled for the opening hours of the race at the very least. The car park too was well filled; with large groups of school children also in attendance in the stands and around the paddock.
Behind the stands, there was plenty of entertainment available for the assembled masses, with manufacturer stands, sponsor displays and food, all well received by the public. In the fringes of the race meeting, there is a huge amount of commercial activity, and, this year in particular, a lot of local promotion both via the circuit and local heroes Jackie Chan DC Racing. There were special metro tickets, downtown building displays and media activity helping to boost the attendance and global pride; others on the calendar, some of which will not be returning next season, would do well to take a look.
In the world of ACO sports car racing, the last few weeks have been littered with positive news stories as the FIA World Endurance Championship (FIA WEC) looks ahead to the new-look winter 2018/19 ‘Super Season’. The main source of positivity is in the top division; The grid in LMP1 is forming quickly, thanks to announcements from ELMS champion DragonSpeed, Manor and an as yet un-named Ginetta customer, who are set to take on the might of Toyota Gazoo Racing (should it opt to stay) and the initial flurry of confirmed privateers (ByKolles and SMP/Dallara).
But there is still plenty to look forward to this year, with drivers racing for contracts, manufacturers improving their machinery, and of course, FIA WEC titles set to be decided. After a rain-soaked 6 Hour contest at Fuji Speedway last month, there’s just races at Shanghai this weekend, and the Bahrain finale later in November to look forward to. Here’s five story lines to follow as the season reaches its conclusion, and the hype-train for 2018 leaves the station:
Porsche’s final LMP1 dance Prior to the weekend at Fuji, it looked as it the Manufacturers and Drivers World Championships in LMP1 were all but over. However, a Toyota 1-2 and Porsche’s leading protagonists finishing only fourth in the race means the title races are set to continue, at least until this weekend’s trip to Shanghai. The upcoming meetings are, of course, the last time we are set to see LMP1 factory hybrids fight together (for the foreseeable future) with Porsche deciding to park their programme, leaving the door open for the exciting prospect of privateer entries, from a variety of nationalities, with a mix of chassis’ and engines.
That is not to say you shouldn’t be making the most of this racing, because it is the end of an era of prototype competition that has seen technology pushed to its limits in the name of sport. Rarely disappointing, and always mind-boggling, the hybrid era as we’ve known it has provided us with some of the most memorable racing in decades, not just in sports car racing, but in motorsport in general. Can Toyota take the drivers title down to the wire, with Sebastian Buemi and Kazuki Nakajima now 39 points back? There is a real possibility. And that aside, it should be a thrilling conclusion, no matter what the outcome.
Aston Martin saying goodbye to the old Vantage It has been a strange, but ultimately successful year for Aston Martin Racing, which with an increase in factory funding, won the top Le Mans GT class for the first time since 2008. In the FIA WEC races outside of Le Mans though, it has been a mixed bag of results, with the two pro-class Vantages struggling for pace during the flyaway rounds.
The British marque though, will be aiming to end 2017 on a high, as it is out with the old and in with the new for 2018. While the current 2016-spec Vantage is set to continue racing in the FIA WEC’s GTE Am class going forward, these two season-ending FIA WEC bouts will likely be the last time that we see the car run ragged in the Pro class with full-house factory talent behind the wheel.
A tight fight in LMP2
LMP2, despite lacking the usual variety in chassis, has been the class to watch quite often this year. With two races to go it is set to be a guns out fight between Jackie Chan DC Racing, Vaillante Rebellion and Signatech Alpine for the LMP2 title. Initially, Thomas Laurent, Oliver Jarvis and Ho Pin Tung looked destined to take the drivers title, after winning at Silverstone and Le Mans. But since the season headed further afield, their lead has been reduced to just 10 points. Can the leading trio hold on? or will Rebellion and Alpine close the gap and then take over the reins at the top of the shop?
Too close to call in Am Like LMP2, the fight in GTE Am for the FIA WEC title is between three teams, but even closer. GTE Am has frequently produced the best, and most unpredictable, racing in the field this year. A remarkable feat considering the class is just five-cars strong.
So, take your pick, Singaporean outfit Clearwater Racing; which knows Shanghai particularly well from its former Asian campaigns, Aston Martin Racing; which has the most experienced drivers of the bunch with the longest-standing driver squad (of Mathias Laura, Paul Dalla Lana and Pedro Lamy), or Dempsey Proton Racing; which has a line-up made up of veteran Christian Reid and hot shoes Marvin Dienst and Matteo Cairoli. So far this year there has been little to separate them, therefore, betting your mortgage on one of them, isn’t advisable.
The end of the GTE Pro title race Similar to GTE Am, GTE Pro, has seen multiple teams, manufacturers and drivers go toe-to-toe all year, making for a thrilling title battle. With Aston Martin’s string of tough results putting them out of the title race, and Ford’s hopes dented by the No.67 having a poor run at Fuji, it appears that Ferrari vs Porsche is set to be the deciding duel this year. The Ferrari 488, in the hands of AF Corse, is a formidable force and has won multiple races this year. The new Porsche 911 RSR meanwhile, has snuck into the points race due to consistency, still searching for its maiden FIA WEC win after coming close on multiple occasions since Le Mans.
The selection of drivers is second to none in GT terms. As is the sheer quality of the teams on display. With Aston’s new toy and BMW’s M8 GTE programme on the horizon for 2018, the final two races this year are a good appetizer for what is to come in the next 12 months.
Following on from the FIA WEC Six hours of Mexico, the whole series moved across the border to Austin, Texas for the Six hours of the Circuit of the Americas. Of course our man in the stands went with them and brings you these talking points.
Porsche’s dominance continues While the LMP1 battle at the head of the field was far more entertaining in Texas than it was in Mexico City, Porsche still had a clear advantage most of the way. Currently on a farewell tour, Porsche LMP1 Team is desperate to dominate and sweep the FIA WEC titles to add to the Le Mans crown once again in 2017. On track, the battles between Toyota and Porsche during the 6 Hours were thrilling, but the end result unfortunately never felt in doubt.
In the second half of the race, Porsche pulled away from Toyota, scoring another 1-2 finish, with the No. 2 crew of Brendon Hartley, Timo Bernhardt and Earl Bamber taking their fourth straight overall win – the streak dating back to their Le Mans triumph. It was manufactured though, the No. 1 crew since Le Mans has had the pace in the race to win each race, prevented from taking the win by team orders each time. In some ways, it’s understandable, in others, it’s a shame. While Porsche would be deserving champions at the end of the year, the title race’s excitement level has suffered as a consequence. Toyota must get a better result at Fuji, and have luck go its way if it is to have any chance of taking the title fight to Bahrain. Because the points gap, seems pretty insurmountable.
Alpine is back After dominating much of last season in LMP2, Signatech Alpine finally got back to winning ways in Texas; Gustavo Menezes, Nicolas Lapierre and Andre Negrao proving untouchable at CoTA. While poor luck at times earlier in the season struck, the catalyst for its big performance in the USA appears to have been Negrao. The Brazilian, who joined the No.36 crew in place of Matt Rao at Mexico, has proven to be one of the quicker Silver-graded drivers in the LMP2 field, putting them in good shape going forward.
Don’t count out the French team in the final three races of the year, as it looks more than capable of racking up more wins after battles with Jackie Chan DC Racing and Vaillante Rebellion’s ORECA 07 Gibsons.
Porsche’s 2017 911 RSR still searching for its first win Saturday’s 6 Hours of Circuit of The Americas was another near miss for the 2017 Porsche 911 RSR, which looks more and more capable of taking a win with each passing race. The race in Texas though, was its best to date, with the No.92 finishing second in GTE Pro, the highlight coming midway through the race when Kevin Estre fought his way past the two AF Corse Ferraris after the race’s only safety car, to take the lead.
In the end, it was Ferrari’s day, but Estre and teammate Michael Christensen fought hard, almost taking the lead again late in the race when the winning No.51 Ferrari suffered a puncture and had to make an unscheduled stop in the dying minutes. It’s fast, and now reliable, it’s only a matter of time before Porsche finds the top step of the GTE Pro podium for the first time since 2015.
Farewell CoTA Last weekend’s race at CoTA appears to be the last for the FIA WEC going forward. On the calendar since the 2013 season, the Austin-based circuit has represented the series’ marquee event in North America, and one which has always been popular with the teams and drivers. It failed to take off though, as it was never embraced by the locals and when held as a standalone event this year – without the IMSA WeatherTech Series – it felt more like a club meeting in terms of atmosphere than a real World Championship.
The circuit, which itself is incredible, challenging for the drivers and great to watch for those trackside, was unfortunately never embraced by sportscar fans in the USA. The crowds suffered from the event’s poor timing – always run on a weekend in which the local College Football team was playing – severe September heat, and hefty ticket prices. It’s a shame, because those who did attend over the years are likely to miss the trip to Texas for the FIA WEC. Sebring is back on the calendar as its replacement though, for a 1500-mile race, for a double-header with IMSA, that should prove to be an extremely popular weekend of racing for fans and series stakeholders alike.
AMR back on track in Am After a shaky start to the season, and another tough run at Le Mans, the No.98 Aston Martin Racing crew is back in the lead of the GTE Am championship after taking its second win at CoTA. Paul Dalla Lana, Mathias Lauda and Pedro Lamy have always been arguably the best top to bottom lineup in the class, but have often suffered poor luck when fighting for wins. The trio should have won at Silverstone had the final lap crash with Spirit of Race not occurred, and were poised for a good finish at La Sarthe before a puncture spoiled their chances.
Now though, after a win at CoTA, they look like they’ll be the team to beat in the final three rounds of the season. The old Vantage is still a strong package, the drivers are too. The threats though, may be real – Clearwater Racing is competing on ‘home turf’ in Asia for the next two races, and Dempsey Proton (despite a rough time in the USA) is capable of winning races.
Our man in the stands traveled to Mexico for the next round of the FIA World Endurance Championship. Among all the press conferences and announcements about the future of the series, there was also a race. Here is Stephen’s synopsis of what you may have missed.
Toyota’s struggles Unfortunately for the fans in the stands, and at home watching on TV, the race in LMP1 at Mexico City was very much a non-event. For the first time all season, there were no real on-track battles between the two factory hybrid teams, Porsche taking off and crossing the line 1-2, a lap ahead of the two TS050 Hybrids.
Prior to the trip to North America, Toyota took the fight to Porsche at the Nürburgring, before fading late in the race. The team was certain that its performance in Germany was to be expected, due to the medium-speed circuit not suiting the TS050, claiming that for the rest of the season, it would be challenging for wins. But it appears, after the 6 Hours of Mexico, that this may not be the case, with Porsche’s high-downforce aero package appearing to provide the team with a sizable performance gap to Toyota, that wasn’t there at Silverstone and Spa, when it ran its low-drag kit.
In what looks like it could turn into a repeat of the 2015 season – when Porsche debuted a new aero kit at the Nürburgring and were untouchable for the rest of the season – Toyota needs to act fast if it wants to take the title race to the wire. The No.2 crew of Timo Bernhard, Earl Bamber and Brendon Hartley are pulling away in the standings, and with just four rounds remaining, and look poised to win the world title in the wake of the team’s LMP1 exit.
GTE Pro continues to be the class of the field Providing further evidence that the new Automated Balance of Performance system has improved the GTE Pro class’ parity, the race at Mexico was another thriller. It was Ferrari vs Aston Martin out front, with Ford and Porsche close behind fighting for the final podium spot, in a race which went down to the wire, with the No.95 Aston Martin of Nicki Thiim and Marco Sorensen taking the win after a time penalty was added to the No.71 Ferrari in the race classification after the flag fell.
In the FIA GTE World Championship standings, all four marques are in with a shout still, with just 31 points separating them in the points tally heading into the round at CoTA. It’s been a real success, with Porsche the only brand yet to take a win. New teams are on the horizon for the next few years to join in the party, which is a welcome movement following the recent erosion of numbers at the head of the field. Long may it continue.
Manor shows potential After what was a really tricky debut season in 2016, the guys at Manor WEC finally hit their stride in Mexico City, almost taking their first win. The team’s new trio of ex-F1 driver Jean Eric Vergne, DragnSpeed’s Ben Hanley and Signatech Alpine emigrant Matt Rao proved to be stellar, after Vergne and Hanley came alive in the second half of the race, climbing the order and eventually chasing down the leader until the final few minutes. While Hanley’s chances of passing Bruno Senna in the No.31 Vaillante Rebellion ORECA were admittedly slim due to the rain holding off, and the lead gap being too large, it was nevertheless a thrilling conclusion to another hard-fought LMP2 race in which most of the cars were in the mix.
CEFC Manor TRS Racing’s performance though, was a standout, and with the No.24 trio returning for CoTA this month, they could be the team to beat. The hard-work from the former Formula One outfit, which still considers itself the new kid on the block in prototype racing, is starting to pay off.
The LMP2 title battle has hotted up While Manor may not be a feature in the LMP2 title race as the second half of the season continues, the scrap at the front could turn into a really thrilling storyline. The leaders in the No.38 Jackie Chan DC Racing ORECA had a rough outing in Mexico, after clutch issues demoted them to the back of the pack in the race. While it was unfortunate to see the Chinese-flagged, British-run crew come away with little for their efforts, it has spiced up the championship.
Ho Pin Tung, Oliver Jarvis and Thomas Laurent’s lead has been cut to just 23 points by Senna, Julien Canal and Nicolas Prost, who took the win at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodrguez circuit with a performance which left many questioning how they hadn’t won every race so far this season. With 104 points still on offer, it could be a memorable ride for those with skin in the game right the way to Bahrain.
Proton emerges Despite fielding an older 2015 Porsche 911 RSR, Christian Reid’s Dempsey Proton Racing team have come alive this season, and have now taken the championship lead in GTE Am after winning in Mexico, taking advantage of a rare disastrous outing from Clearwater Racing. Reid, along with Italian Matteo Cairoli and Marvin Dienst were on the pace all weekend long in Mexico, as they were at the Nürburgring. It’s partly due to BoP swinging their way, but more so due to the rise of Cairoli and Dienst as starts.
Both of them were nearly untouchable during the race, and up against talents like Pedro Lamy, Mathias Lauda, Miguel Molina and Ben Barker and teams which are all capable of engineering cars to victory. The class as a whole has been quietly the most exciting its ever been, despite having just five entrants. It’s a good sign for the future, in which GTE Am may – along with LMP2 – provide the backbone of the WEC.
The duo are going to be a force for years to come, and even if they do win the GTE Am driver’s championship this season, it feels like this is just the beginning for Porsche’s young professionals.
Look out for our report direct from the Circuit of the Americas next week!
Toyota are still in the fight Despite having had a disastrous run at Le Mans and now a result to forget at the Nurburgring (with Porsche finishing 1-2), Toyota Gazoo Racing are still very much in the fight for more wins and the 2017 title. The team has always struggled mightily at the Nurburgring and this time were more than competitive. The No.7 TS050 Hybrid took pole position, and led the opening hour of the race, until damage to the car’s underfloor, and rear wing (discovered after the race) caused a drop in the car’s ultimate pace.
In 2016, both Toyota cars were lapped by the winners. This time around their No.7 car in third finished just a minute behind. Porsche’s new high-downforce kit inevitably still has pace to be unlocked, but the early signs are that the rest of the season is set to be close between the two main LMP1 manufacturers.
Toyota needs to ensure that the No.8 has a good run for the remaining five rounds in the season, as finishing five laps down at the Nurburgring after a fuel pump issue has damaged the title hopes of Kazuki Nakajima, Anthony Davidson and Sebastien Buemi who now find themselves 30 points back from the No. 2 Porsche boys. (The No.7 car is all but out of the race after DNFs at Silverstone and Le Mans).
Team orders are already at play Porsche is clearly trying to sew up the title as early as possible and negate any recovery from Toyota. Porsche utilized team orders at the final pit stops at the Nurburgring to ensure that the No.2 Porsche of Brendon Hartley, Timo Bernhard and Earl Bamber took the win on Sunday. Yes, we’re only at the halfway mark of the season, but it is clear that Porsche knows that it’s No. 1 car (with a DNF at Le Mans) has almost no chance of taking the championship this year.
If Toyota is to win the Driver’s title, then it needs to ensure that the No.8 also finishes ahead of their No.7 wherever possible during the remaining non-European rounds.
GTE Pro title race tightens In the GTE Pro category, the title races have heated up nicely with the second half of the season still to run. Both the Driver’s, Team’s and Manufacturer’s title races are still close, with all four factories in the mix, which is a testament to the strength of the Balance of Performance this season.
There’s just 20 points separating the top five teams in the LMGTE Pro teams title race. The No.67 Ford UK GT still leads the way, but with 84 points, is just 11 ahead of the No.51 AF Corse Ferrari which finished first at the Nürburgring and the No.91 Porsche which is now level after a second in Germany, but classed as third due to the No.51 having a win on its record this season. The No.97 Aston Martin is fourth, four points back with 69, ahead of the No.71 AF Corse Ferrari that finished last at the Nürburgring after gear shifter problems that’s now on 64.
It’s slightly more complex in the Drivers’ title race, which has been affected by the inclusion of GTE Am drivers (eligible for the championship) scoring highly at Le Mans. Andy Priaulx and Harry Tincknell are on 84 points at the top, with Pipo Derani alone in second (though he will slip down the order now that his Ford deal is over). The nearest challengers to the No.67 Ford GT duo is the No.91 Porsche GT Team pair of Fred Makowiecki and Richard Lietz that are a point off Derani and 11 points of the leaders. The No.97 Aston Martin is now 15 points back in fourth (but truly third) after finishing off the podium at the Nurburgring.
The closest battle in the GTE ranks though, is in the Manufacturers Championship. AF Corse’s win in the Eifel Forest has seen them move level with Ford on 135 points in the lead. Aston Martin have 113 in third, with Porsche on 106 in fourth.
Jackie Chan DC Racing running away with it in LMP2 Meanwhile in LMP2, Jackie Chan DC Racing is running away with it, after its ‘Mighty 38’ trio of Oliver Jarvis, Thomas Laurent and Ho Pin Tung produced their third win in four races this season. It was a dominant run too, after building a lead in the first half they became untouchable for the final three hours of the 6 hours of the Nürburgring, the winning margin was eventually over a lap.
The only real contender in the title race now, is the No.31 Rebellion, which needs to start winning races if it is to have any shot of even taking the title race down to the wire. But being 46 points behind though, is a pretty tall order. Jackie Chan DC Racing have looked almost unbeatable at times when everything runs smoothly. The only way this gap closes is if they drop significant points on multiple occasions and the No.31 trio are able to capitalize.
Dempsey Proton emerges in GTE Am The title fights in GTE Am, like GTE Pro, are also tight knit, and have the potential to be decided at the Bahrain season finale. Dempsey Proton Racing had a fantastic run on home turf last weekend, with young rookies Matteo Cairoli and Marvin Dienst steering the team, and teammate/team owner Christian Reid to their first win of the season. That, coupled with the championship-leading Clearwater Racing Ferrari finishing fourth, has closed the gaps considerably.
Meanwhile, in the championship for GT Am Drivers, it is all change. Christian Ried, Marvin Dienst and Matteo Cairoli have moved into the lead, with 88 points after their win, although they are level with Clearwater’s trio, which dropped points at Le Mans by finishing behind guest entered GTE AM drivers. Pedro Lamy, Paul Dalla Lana and Mathias Lauda are third, but just two points back. With three clear protagonists, the rest of the season will be fascinating.
The FIA World Endurance Championship now moves away from Europe for the rest of the season, starting at Mexico at the beginning of September. Travel Destinations will be returning to all European rounds again in 2018 and you can register for more information by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org
The 2017 FIA World Endurance Championship moved on to Belgium and the famous Spa-Francorchamps circuit this last weekend. As always this is the last FIA WEC race before Le Mans, so whilst there were battles on the track for championship points, there was also a lot of planning for the Le Mans 24 Hours. Ever present, our man in the stands was present trackside to follow all the action and bring you this exclusive report, looking at the main talking points and what we learned from the race.
1. Toyota’s Le Mans chances look good Toyota Gazoo Racing has started the FIA WEC season with two wins from two races, and a Le Mans outlook which has arguably never been stronger. The 2017 TS050 Hybrid is a winning machine, with the regular drivers in the No.7 and No.8 cars both proving to be in the form of their lives heading into the big race next month. The question remaining though, concerns the aero-package. At Spa, the No.9 car of Nicolas Lapierre, Stephane Sarrazin and Yuji Kunimoto debuted the low-drag configuration of the car, which the team will race at Le Mans, while the No.7 and No.8 full-season FIA WEC entries ran the high-downforce kits that the team will use at the six-hour races all season.
While the performance (a fifth-place finish) for the Le Mans option is likely down to the team using the race as an extended test session for both the car and drivers, it was interesting that it didn’t feature all weekend. The car did briefly take the lead when Lapierre out-braked himself into La Source at the start, but after that it failed to feature in the race for the podium, finishing far behind the two other Toyotas and both Porsches.
The difference is that Porsche has been running its own Le Mans kit all season so far, and has therefore had much more race experience with it, which is confidence building, as even though it hasn’t won yet, it came close at Spa with the No.2 919 Hybrid, which would have been involved in a grandstand finish had Brendon Hartley not lost time in the pits due to a nose change late in the race following a clumsy collision with the No.36 Signatech Alpine.
It remains to be seen how close the two marques will be on-track at Le Mans because of this, though it has all the makings of a classic should Toyota have some speed up its sleeve.
2. Aston Martin struggling for pace? Aston Martin Racing has had a remarkably quiet 2017. While its two Vantages are still relatively fresh from combining to score the Teams’ Championship and Drivers’ Championship last year, so far this year they haven’t looked like even sniffing a podium.In GTE Pro it’s been all Ford and Ferrari so far, with Chip Ganassi Team UK and AF Corse in turn dominating Silverstone and Spa. Porsche has had flashes of pace, but the new car looks to be a few months from being perfect in the reliability and consistency department. Le Mans could well be a different story though. Le Mans will have a separate and thus far undetermined Balance of Performance applied, and this could favour Aston Martin’s Vantages as the cars have looked to be struggling.
In addition, the No.95 did produce one single lap in Free Practice 2 at Spa which put Dane, Marco Sorensen seconds quicker than his teammates, and atop the standings in the class. After that it was unable to produce a similar time, but it begs the question, is there something in reserve?
3. The Ferrari 488 has arrived As mentioned above, the Ferrari 488 dominated at Spa, and in the second half of the race proved totally untouchable. It has been reliable – which it wasn’t last year – and now has the speed to match. AF Corse’s driver line-up too seems to be strong from top to bottom, with newcomer Alessandro Pier Guidi looking both quick and consistent over his stints in the car.
The team finished the race 1 & 2, and looked unstoppable. If they can continue their form at the Le Mans 24 Hours, then they may well emerge as title favourites, should Ford not keep tabs, the Porsche get up to speed and Aston pick up the pace.
4. The new LMP2s look reliable Before the season started there was much speculation as to how reliable the new LMP2 cars would prove. In testing the cars were suffering from electrical woes, and gearbox issues which often prevented teams from having extended runs. Silverstone and Spa though, have been very encouraging, the 2017 cars looking strong over long distances all of a sudden. Last weekend there was only one retirement in the field, which was Tockwith Motorsports’ Ligier JS P217, which suffered from a gearbox failure at the very end of the race. Tockwith is new to racing in LMP2 though, and the FIA WEC is a difficult challenge to master.
Le Mans may be a different story, as going for twenty-four hours is much harder than six. But so far the signs are positive, and Le Mans’ potential to become a race of attrition is looking increasingly slim.
5. And race well together too! As well as being reliable, the race at Spa put to rest the nay-sayers who assumed the racing in the FIA WEC’s LMP2 class would be poor, with the entire field being made up of Oreca 07s. The cars are aerodynamically sophisticated and performance wise much more powerful, which on paper in effectively a ‘spec series’, has the potential to produce processional racing. So far that hasn’t been the case, especially at Spa, with the 07s able to get a good tow and race close together.
The drivers are enjoying racing with the new kit, and so are the fans. So when Le Mans rolls around, with a diverse 23-car grid, it could be the class to watch!
The next round of the FIA WEC will be the 24 Hours of Le Mans, taking place on the 17th -18th June 2017. If you would like tickets to be at the big race of the season then please call the Travel Destinations team now on 0844 873 0203. Availability is limited, but we can still look after you.
Easter weekend saw Silverstone host the first race in the 2017 FIA World Endurance Championship. As always our man in the stands was present to record all the action. Below is his summary of what we all learned from another great race in the FIA WEC.
1. Porsche’s low-downforce aero is scary
Porsche LMP1 Team will head to Spa and Le Mans confident. It didn’t win at Silverstone, but going into the weekend it felt it was very unlikely. Porsche opted to use its low-downforce aerodynamic package for its 919s – which doesn’t suit the ‘Home of British Motorsport’s’ sweeping bends and medium speed corners – to continue its development pre-Le Mans. Toyota on the other hand, used its high-downforce kit in an attempt to start the season on a high.
Prior to the weekend the team assumed it would be somewhere in the region of two seconds a lap slower because of this, where in reality it was closer to one second. The result? Porsche was able to stay on the lead lap in the first half of the race, and challenge for the win after the Saftey Car went in in the closing stages. The team’s #2 919 of Earl Bamber, Brendon Hartley and Timo Bernhard ended up leading in the final hour, with Toyota’s Sebastian Buemi taking the lead with fresher tyres in the final 15 minutes.
Toyota won the race, but Porsche will be extremely satisfied by its potential when the high-downforce kit it will use after Le Mans comes into play.
2. The GTE Am title race looks to be a corker! The finale to the 6 Hours of Silverstone saw major drama in the LMGTE Am division, with Pedro Lamy and Miguel Molina colliding at Stowe while battling for the lead, allowing Clearwater Racing’s Matt Griffin to snatch the lead just a handful corners from the end on the final lap to take the win.
Am was a hotly contested class throughout, and while Aston Martin Racing led most of it – before Lamy limped home second – Clearwater Racing and Spirit of Race were in the fight until the end. Aston Martin Racing has been here before with Paul Dalla Lana, Mathias Lauda and Lamy, while Clearwater and Spirit of Race are new to the WEC and once up to speed have the potential to take the title to the wire.
GTE Pro looks a lot tighter this year, and with the addition of a close-knit Am battle, GTE in general could provide fans with the best racing action all season.
3. Plenty of intrigue in LMP2 The new-look LMP2 class in the WEC, while not good on the diversity front, produced some great racing and a surprise winner. Throughout the weekend it seemed that either G-Drive Racing or Signatech Alpine would take the win, but the #38 Jackie Chan DC Racing Oreca of Oliver Jarvis, Thomas Laurent and Ho-Pin Tung prevailed and finished on top.
During the race the action was close, though the nature of the entire field being Gibson-engined Orecas did make it visibly difficult for drivers to overtake, even with traffic. It should be a close title race though, as there’s clearly four or five cars which have the potential to win multiple races.
In driver terms, while the usual names featured, Matthieu Vaxiviere shone for TDS Racing, steering the team to a podium finish by race end after an astonishing final stint. Emmanuel Collard in his return to prototype racing impressed too, as did gentlemen driver Francois Perrodo, who in his prototype debut was able to lap with the other drivers in the class of his driver grading admirably.
4. Toyota’s serviceability gets a thumbs up While it’s always hard to take positives from a big accident, WEC debutant Jose-Maria Lopez’s shunt at Copse provided Toyota Gazoo Racing with some valuable in-race practice of repairing the new TS050. All signs are positive, as the car – which didn’t have much left of its front-end after the impact – was out after just an hour in the garage. It was therefore able to finish fourth in LMP1, scoring valuable points.
That sort of practice could come in very useful at a race like Le Mans, where the Japanese team will have three cars and will look to turn a car into a Guinea pig should it get caught up in an incident during the race.
5. Ford looks strong in Pro The Ford GT now looks like the car which we all thought it would be last year. Harry Tincknell (who notably had the drive of his life), Andy Priaulx and Pipo Derani combined to hand the UK Chip Ganassi team the win in their #67 GT, which should have been the headline for a Ford 1-2.
The No.66 ran with it, but faded late in the race after running 1-2 at the top for much of the middle-stint. Nevertheless the car appears to hold the advantage early doors in the title race, and with no BoP adjustments until the round at the Nürburgring (though at Le Mans there will be a separate BoP process), the No.67 crew should be odds on for a good result at Spa.
It must be noted though, that the new Porsche 911 fared well and scored a podium (though one did retire after an engine fire) and AF Corse’s 488s came on strong in the race on the performance front, making for a thrilling battle between the three teams.
Aston Martin Racing meanwhile, will have some work to do prior to Spa, as it failed to feature at all, with a lack of raw pace which prevented either one of its cars challenging for a podium.
This last weekend saw the FIA World Endurance Championship Prologue take place at Monza. This was a first chance for the public and the media to see this season’s cars on track and it revealed some insights in to what we may expect in the forthcoming FIA WEC season. As ever, our man in the stands was trackside in Monza and has filed his latest report.
The 2017 LMP2s flexed their muscles Last week at Monza, for the first time in a public setting, the new breed of LMP2 cars were shown off, and they didn’t disappoint. The new LMP2s are quick, look sleek and are being driven by arguably the best crop of drivers in the category’s history this year. While the FIA WEC LMP2 class doesn’t have any variety in chassis, it won’t detract from the racing. At Monza, the Oreca 07s – in their high downforce configuration – all managed speeds close to 200mph with their Gibson engines, with the best lap time – Bruno Senna’s 1:36.094 – eclipsing the 2008 LMP2 pole time by almost a second. And when it comes to the full season, we expect that figure to rise, especially at Le Mans, as at the Dunlop test before the Prologue one team managed to reach 220mph in the high downforce package.
Who knows what can be achieved down the Mulsanne straight this year?
Either way, the important thing to note here is that the LMP2s are likely to be quicker than LMP1 cars in a straight line, which could provide some hairy moments in heavy braking zones. Those images of LMP1 cars skipping past the LMP2 field may be just memories of seasons gone by.
Porsche’s new GTE car impresses Porsche’s new 911 RSR GTE car continues to impress. It is reliable, and notably fast. Michael Christensen set the quickest time of the Prologue – a 1:47.379 on Saturday – as the team consistently sat at the top the timing screens. The car also ran without any hiccups, racking up a ton of mileage and getting its drivers even more tuned into its new characteristics.
While testing times win no awards, they are an indication of what we can expect to come. For this year the Balance of Performance system has been overhauled for the GTE Pro teams, and at Monza the cars were running with their baseline BoP. So it is first blood for Porsche GT Team heading into Round 1 at Silverstone next week.
LMP1 reliability Both Porsche and Toyota’s new LMP1 challengers were officially unveiled at Monza and initial signs were good; Not only in their continued advancements in hybrid technology, but in their ability to complete long runs. All four factory LMP1 hybrids on show managed to complete well over 1000km of running over the two days, with the No.2 Porsche 919 clocking up the most mileage from 327 tours of the circuit, which totaled just a fraction under 1,800km.
None of them spent any extended periods in their garage aside from during the thunderstorm on Saturday night, and aside from a couple of brief technical hiccups, there were no dramas on track either. The preparation from both Toyota and Porsche in the off season therefore looks to have paid off, with Porsche confirming it had completed at least one 24-hour test, and Toyota stating that it had completed four 30-hour runs.
After last year’s shaky start to the season on the reliability front, this year could be a turn around, and the races at Silverstone and Spa could turn into sprint races rather than races of attrition & constant niggles.
Dunlop makes further GTE gains Dunlop has drawn in more interest in the GTE side of its endurance commitments, with both Dempsey Proton Racing and Gulf Racing making the change away from Michelin tyres for this season. Last year Aston Martin Racing took the risk and ran with Dunlop tyres, which at the start of the season left the two Vantages in the GTE Pro class heading into Le Mans with consistency, but not much to show for in the outright pace department. From Mexico onwards though, and with a new compound, Aston Martin made incredible strides, winning races and eventually the Drivers and Teams championship. For this year, Gulf Racing and Proton Racing are hoping for similar results in GTE Am, as their 2015-spec Porsches – and Aston Martin’s No.98 entry – take on the likes of Spirit of Race and Clearwater Racing with their different sets of rubber. The WEC’s GTE tyre war is now in full swing, and should be fascinating to keep tabs on as the season progresses.
Monza magic impressed the paddock This year’s trip to Monza was the first for Le Mans Prototypes in an officially sanctioned event since 2008, and it was greeted positively up and down the paddock. Not only is it a circuit which everyone enjoys making the visit because of its history, but it is a valuable place to test on too. The Paul Ricard circuit, where the Prologue took place in previous years, is hard to test on because of its hard winds and unique surface which is tough to read when It comes to tyre testing. Monza meanwhile provides a good simulation for the teams ahead of Le Mans, and it showed, as most teams made the most of the chance to run their cars on both days.
Fans turned up in their droves too, making for an extremely busy pit walk on both Saturday and Sunday, and giving the grandstands a bit of an atmosphere at times. There’s certainly a case for Monza being put onto the full FIA WEC calendar for a race in the future, which would prove popular with the series’ increasing supporter base.
Our man in the stands has just returned from Bahrain, following the last round of the FIA World Endurance Championship. Below are a selection of his thoughts following what was a memorable and emotional race.
Audi bows out in style
Audi could not win a title in its final season of LMP1 racing, but they did manage to win one final race. In true Audi fashion, the No.8 R18 of Oliver Jarvis, Lucas Di Grassi and Loic Duval dominated the 6 Hours of Bahrain, headlining an Audi 1-2, giving the team one final hurrah before its 18-year Le Mans prototype programme came to an end. It was an incredibly emotional weekend all round for all those connected to Audi, with tributes to the team aplenty throughout the meeting courtesy of both the race organisers in the FIA and many of its competitors. Toyota in particular were as classy as ever, sporting tributes to Audi on the nose of their TS050s, and getting its team to hold a banner which read “Thank you Audi. We will meet again, some time, some where.” on the final grid walk of the season. The WEC came together as one, and in the fairest way possible, gave Audi a worthy send off.
Then, once the race got underway, both the R18s raced off into the distance and were unchallenged past the first hour of the race. All season long the the 2016 R18 has proven to be the quickest of the three hybrid LMP1 chassis, but also the most unreliable. In Bahrain though, that was not the case, as the pair of Audis ran faultlessly for the duration, finishing the race over a minute ahead of the No.1 Porsche. The result left everyone wondering what could have been, had Team Joest been able to replicate such dominant performances earlier In the year.
Alonso states his intentions
It appears that Audi’s sudden departure has done little to effect the attractiveness of the FIA WEC to world-class drivers, as two-time Formula One World Champion Fernando Alonso all but confirmed his intention to drive for Porsche at the end-of-season FIA WEC Awards Ceremony. In a tribute video to mark the end of Mark Webber’s driving career, a personal message from Alonso was shown on the video boards at the gala, in which Alonso said: “You’ve had a fantastic career and now all your success with Porsche. You didn’t wait for me there, it would have been nice but you’ll still be around and I will ask you many things when I join your adventure.” Fernando Alonso joining the party would give the FIA WEC a huge boost at a time when it’s in dire need of a good news story. He would bring not only talent, but a wealth of publicity to the championship, which could go a long way in attracting further manufacturers into the LMP1 H class.
Aston Martin almost completes the triple
While Aston Martin Racing left Bahrain with a pair of GTE Pro championships, the team at one point looked to have all three sewn up. At the halfway point of the race, Aston’s pair of Vantages were running 1-2 at the head of the field, until a wheel came off the No.97, forcing Darren Turner to pit the car for repairs. The result was AF Corse taking the Manufacturers World Cup for Ferrari with a second and fourth place finish.
Nevertheless, it was a great result for the British marque, which after five years of trying, now has championship wins to show for its efforts. GTE Pro this season was a strange one, with Balance of Performance rows aplenty and on-track battles frankly too few and far between. But Aston Martin Racing proved that you don’t need a turbo-powered car to win in GTE, and that a budget like that of Ford’s doesn’t necessarily ensure you are any more competitive than the next team. Ultimately, that’s exactly the philosophy that the FIA and ACO are trying to achieve.
Audi’s withdrawal from the sport has already started to send shockwaves across the sports car racing world. The first notable one coming last weekend when the ACO announced that the current LMP1 H regulations will be frozen until 2020. That ensures that costs are kept down due to development and testing restrictions, put in place, presumably to keep Toyota and Porsche coming back for more. It also means that running a third energy recovery system with a 10 megajoule package is now not on the horizon. Will it attract any new manufacturers? That appears unlikely unless there is a real cost-capping system in place. Never say never though.
The unlikely champions
When all was said and done on Saturday night, Marc Lieb, Romain Dumas and Neel Jani were crowned champions, despite failing to finish on the podium in the six races after Le Mans. The trio in the No. 2 Porsche scored consistently throughout the year following their triumphs at Le Mans and Silverstone, but never found the combination of pace and luck needed to claim more silverware from the series’ trip to Germany onward.
Nevertheless Porsche are worthy champions, and their championship represents the spirit endurance in almost every way. The No. 2 car battled issues, incidents and rotten luck to finish every race with points, and cruised home to take the title at Bahrain sixth after an early puncture put them three laps down. What will be interesting though, is what the future holds for all the Porsche drivers, as there have been rumours swirling about that the Porsche lineup will feature some new names for the 2017 FIA WEC season.
Our man in the stands has returned from the penultimate round of the FIA World Endurance Championship in Shanghai with some thoughts on where we are an what to expect next.
Audi’s performance in China was a microcosm of its 2016 season
Well, Audi has just one race left in LMP1, and its only chance of ending its season on a high is with a win, not a title. Audi bowed out of both the Manufacturers and Drivers World Championships last weekend in China, once again failing to win or even compete for a win after yet another series of miscues and poor luck. A fuel-rig issue robbed the No.8 Audi of Oliver Jarvis, Loic Duval and Lucas Di Garssi (which was firmly in the Drivers Championship race) of a chance to win, before a clumsy incident with the sister No.7 R18 in turn ended Benoit Treluyer, Andre Lotterer and Marcel Fassler’s chance of a podium.
In the end the two cars limped home a distant fifth and sixth; not what Audi wanted, especially under the cloud of its announcement to terminate its FIA WEC programme at the end of the season.
With six hours of racing left for the Four Rings, it’s going to be an emotional end, but thankfully there’s still one last chance for a send-off worthy of its 18-year-long effort.
Toyota and Porsche are neck and neck
For the second race in succession and the third race this year (including Le Mans) Toyota and Porsche looked perfectly matched. Qualifying was again incredibly tight on Saturday, and on Sunday Toyota was able to go toe-to-toe with the winning No.1 Porsche. Rotten luck stood in the way of victory for Toyota, once again. Fresh from its triumph on home turf, it looked like a second win was more than just a possibility, and in the final third of the race, the No.6 TS050 of Mike Conway, Stephane Sarrazin and Kamui Kobayashi looked set to take the lead of the race after a bold call on tyre strategy. But the team was dealt an unfortunate blow, when a second puncture on the No.6 forced the car to pit an extra time, allowing the No.1 Porsche to cruise home.
Now, the No.6, by finishing second, and crucially two spots ahead of the championship-leading No.2 Porsche which continues to disappoint on pace, still has a chance to win it all. It’s an outside chance, as the crew have to win or finish second and hope that the No.2 has a woeful day, either retiring or finishing way down the order, to steal it. Never say never though, as we saw at Le Mans, never count anything out. If anything though, it’s promising that the two brands look evenly matched as the Audi era concludes.
GTE Pro at Bahrain has the potential to be one for the ages
The cyclical nature of this season’s GTE Pro results, have left all three titles in the class going down to the wire, with Ford, Ferrari and Aston Martin all with a shout of taking the title. At the moment it looks to be advantage Ford, with two-straight dominant wins, but Ford’s title chances are the slimmest of the three marques. Aston Martin narrowly leads the Drivers and Teams Championship with the No.95, Ferrari narrowly leads the Manufacturer’s Championship and Ford’s only real chance is in the Teams race, as it still lags behind in all three. If it kicks off at Bahrain though, with door-to-door action, then expect fireworks and it could be a classic.
Alpine’s exceptional year ended with the LMP2 title
Gustavo Menezes, Stephane Richelmi and Nicolas Lappiere (driver ranking debates aside) have been the class of the field in LMP2 at almost every round this year, and fully earned their LMP2 titles. It was a fitting to see the Alpine team battle with the RGR Sport by Morand battle all the way to the end at China, capping off an exciting, and at times shocking, season in LMP2.
With Signatech Alpine presumably in damage-limitation mode throughout the weekend, knowing it didn’t need a podium to secure its titles, G-Drive took its second win of the season in dominant fashion. Had lady luck been on the Russian team’s side it may have been a different story this season, she wasn’t though, and Alpine became 2016 LMP2 World Champions.
AF Corse’s Am squad is almost certain to win the title at Bahrain
To keep the GTE Am championship races alive, the No.98 Aston Martin had to win; and it did. Problem was that Francois Perrodo, Rui Aguas and Manu Collard finished second (following a post-race penalty for KCMG). That means the trio hold an almost insurmountable 25-point lead heading into the Bahrain finale. The only way the Paul Dalla Lana, Pedro Lamy and Mathias Lauda can win is if they win and the No.83 retires, because by matching the Ferrari trio will mean they will win based on number of wins. It’s such a strong lead, that the No.83 car can win the title in Saturday Qualifying, by scoring an extra point. Obviously it’s not 100% certain, but Collard, Perrodo and Aguas can breathe easy for the next week or so, knowing that they’ve got the championships all-but locked up.
The final round of the 2016 FIA World Endurance Chanmpionship takes place in Bahrain on the 19th November. There will be much to celebrate for the victors and wounds to lick for those without trophies, but most eyes will be moist as the Audi Sport team say goodbye.. for now.
Just back from Japan, our man in the stands takes a look at some of the talking points arising from the FIA WEC 6 Hours of Fuji
The LMP1 manufacturers have never been closer Qualifying ahead of this year’s 6 Hours of Fuji saw the best Audi, Porsche and Toyota laps all within two tenths of each other, and then all of them finish up the session within half a second. The result? A stunning race in which all three factory teams had a chance to win.
Audi once again had the fastest car, but pit stop blunders ultimately cost the No.8 car of Oliver Jarvis, Lucas Di Grassi and Loic Duval the win. In the end it was Toyota’s No.6 TS050 that were victorious, with Stephane Sarrazin, Kamui Kobayashi and Mike Conway taking the win by under two seconds in the end, after a bold strategy call at the final round of pit stops catapulted the car ahead of the No.8 Audi despite trailing it almost the entire race.
It was the first win for the Japanese brand since the final round of the 2014 season, so it’s been a long time coming. Audi meanwhile, will spend the next two weeks reflecting on their future (see below), after what turned out to be a very odd weekend for the German LMP1 stalwarts.
Audi’s LMP1 programme may have an expiry date Rumours seem to swirl every year, that Audi will be pulling the plug on its LMP1 programme; especially now that it’s been racing a sister brand in Porsche since 2014. This time it does seem that there may well be some substance to the speculation. Prior to the on-track running at Fuji Speedway, German media outlet Auto Motor und Sport reported that the Audi board will terminate the programme at the end of 2017 season, therefore running it until the end of the current WEC regulation cycle. Now, there’s no full confirmation that this is the case, but the piece was written by a well respected journalist in Marcus Schurig, who this writer can say whole heartedly wouldn’t publish a story of that magnitude unless he was more than 100% sure there was something there.
Losing Audi would send shockwaves through sportscar racing, that’s for sure, and it would be a crying shame to see it leave. But these things happen, and it certainly wouldn’t come as a total surprise given that Audi Sport certainly don’t owe the sport anything after supporting it through thick and thin since 1999 and in a classy manner too. As the Audi crew congratulated the Toyota team though, with full of emotion after the race last weekend, John Hinhaugh on the WEC commentary feed did make a very interesting point: “That’s why they won’t be leaving, there’s too much passion, it means too much to them.” Watch this space.
Ford’s UK GTE team has life After what was a very underwhelming season until the trip to Fuji, the UK arm of the Chip Ganassi Ford programme finally kicked into gear and took what seemed like an easy 1-2 in the Pro class. At each race to that point the pair of Fords had under performed, often having reliability issues or on-track blunders which cost them multiple podiums; lets not forget that the pair of GTs from the USA Ford team were the ones that had the dream run at Le Mans this season.
With two rounds remaining, it appears that both Aston Martin Racing and AF Corse will finally have to deal with the Ford squad when it comes to racing for the win, after consistently finishing above them in each of the rounds prior to the race in Japan. And that’s great for the class.
LMP2 in its current form is spectacular Yes next year’s cars will be considerably faster, and the quality of entries looks to take another jump; but what the LMP2 class has at the moment should be cherished. The variety in chassis was on full display last weekend at Fuji Speedway, with six of the cars in the class all having a legitimate shot of winning the race. It is safe to say that it turned into one of, if not the best LMP2 race in WEC history, with multiple nail-biting moments and clean racing throughout the field.
After hours of duels between Alpine, RGR Sport, Manor, Strakka and ESM it came down to Will Stevens in the leading G-Drive Oreca and Bruno Senna in the RGR Ligier. And the battle between the two ex-F1 drivers didn’t disappoint. A gamble on tyre strategy from RGR promoted the Mexican team’s Ligier to the top spot after G-Drive led the whole race from the start. Stevens then had to fight his way back, taking the lead just a couple of laps before the flag. For G-Drive it was an incredible way to take its long-awaited first win of the 2016 season, and for RGR its title chances became even less likely, with Alpine holding a very healthy lead heading into the round at China.
The No.2 Porsche needs to return to form After Le Mans it looked like the No.2 Porsche of Neel Jani, Romain Dumas and Marc Lieb would be a lock to win the title after winning at Silverstone and taking the full double points finish at the 24 hours at La Sarthe. But the trio have struggled since, finishing off the podium at each round and at Fuji looked totally lost, coming home a distant fifth.
Now, they still lead by 23 points but all of a sudden the No.6 Toyota, which sits second in the standings looks like the stronger car. A couple more wins for Conway, Sarrazin and Kobayashi and the title fight could turn into a thriller that goes down to the wire. It wouldn’t be the first time…
The FIA WEC now moves on to China where the Six Hours of Shanghai takes place on the 6th November.
Our man in the stands, has just returned from Austin, Texas following the latest round of the FIA World Endurance Championship. Porsche may have taken the win, but Stephen Kilbey takes a look behind the scenes and reports on some of the other stories around the paddock.
1. Toyota will head to Fuji confident
After struggling for pace and reliability at all of the six-hour races prior to COTA this season, Toyota Gazoo Racing travel to the final three races of the year knowing it is capable of more podiums; even with the high-downforce kit for the TS050 lacking in top-end speed.
In Texas both cars had the raw pace to compete with both Porsches during the race, and in the end the No.6 of Kamui Kobayashi, Mike Conway and Stephane Sarrazin finished the race third, just seconds from the No.8 Audi in second. The sister car would have been there or thereabouts too, but suffered intermittent waste-gate issues with its turbo and came home fifth. Nevertheless, the whole team is on the up, and is looking to finally put its Le Mans demons behind it before the end of the season.
2. The final WEC/IMSA double bill for the foreseeable future could have been better
Once again, the paddock left Austin underwhelmed by the IMSA/WEC event in the USA, which was a shame, as it seems unlikely that it will happen in the future, with the relationship between the two governing bodies appearing strained at best. The crowd – despite the (much bloated) figure touted – was poor once again, with almost all the grandstands appearing empty for the entire meeting. The racing was also all on the Saturday, which during the fall in Texas is suicide, because a huge portion of the population is focused on college football all day each Saturday.
The temperature was also extremely high; too high for many. Drivers suffered through their stints without air conditioning, and everyone else, including the fans, spent most of the meeting desperately trying to find shade, or cooler areas to escape the 30+ degree heat and 80-90% humidity. Holding Lone Star Le Mans event at the start or end of the season would be more prudent going forward.
3. LMP2 is all but sewn up
With yet another win this season, the No. 36 Signatech Alpine of Gustavo Menezes, Stephane Richelmi and Nicolas Lapierre holds a sizable 38-point lead heading into the final rounds. The trio has won four races so far in 2016, and consistently has the pace to outclass their rivals in the RGR Sport by Morand Ligier.
Obviously a retirement for the No.36 and an RGR win would close the gap significantly, but if the French team’s form continues then there’s they can wrap it up before heading to Bahrain.
4. AF Corse needs to sort out its Am-leading 458’s lack of pace and durability quickly
The No.83 AF Corse Ferrari, which currently leads the GTE Am championship, saw its lead take a hit last weekend, when the car was nowhere in qualifying and had electrical issues during the race that resulted in it finishing last of the classified runners. Prior to that the car struggled for pace in Mexico, though the team scored well when both its title rivals at the time retired.
Francois Perrodo, Emmanuel Collard and Rui Aguas hold just a 33-point advantage going forward, with both the No.98 Aston Martin and No.88 Abu Dhabi Proton Porsche finding form. If the team is unable to compete for wins once again in the trips to Asia and the Middle-East, then the title race could go down to the wire, which would be a real surprise.
5. LMP1 reliability is still an issue
Remember the race at Spa this year? When every LMP1 H entry had issues, resulting in a surprise win for the No.8 Audi and a podium for the No.13 Rebellion? Well it certainly seems like that sort of race could happen again after the race last weekend in the USA. During the race, the No.8 Audi had a total electrical failure, the No.6 Toyota had turbo issues, the No.7 Audi had issues with its drinks bottle and door. Both Porsches had almost faultless runs this time, but in the past they’ve been subject to a variety of niggles.
Sure, none of the six factory cars retired from the race at CoTA, but even at this late stage of the season they still seem fragile. If for whatever reason, the title race goes down to the finale at Bahrain, then it could be interesting to see how the cars hold up when the teams and drivers get desperate.
The FIA WEC now moves on to the Fuji circuit in Japan for the next race on the 16th October.
Following on from last weekend’s inaugural trip by the FIA World Endurance Championship to Central America, our man in Mexico takes us through five key post-race talking points from the 6 Hours of Mexico 2016.
1. Audi should have won In a year that’s turning out to be very un-Audi for the long-standing German manufacturer, Audi Sport once again snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. Both the No.7 and No.8 R18s were the class act of the field on pace in the race, and in the early stages looked to be on course for a 1-2 finish. But a mixture of bad luck and good fortune for Porsche resulted in Audi coming away from Mexico with even less of a chance of winning either titles available to the LMP1 class.
In the race the No. 8 had a hefty shunt after a front-left wheel bearing failure while Oliver Jarvis was leading the race, and the No.7 finished second after an extra pit stop was required following a costly error by Andre Lotterer while tracking down the leading No.1 Porsche in the closing stages.
The board will be deciding the future of Audi’s factory motorsport programmes in the coming months. If the round in Austin sees it continue its rough string of results, then it may be harder than ever to for those high up at Audi Sport to justify continuing the programme heading into 2017. And that, would be a crying shame and would send ripples across the FIA WEC.
2. Aston Martin is back! Balance of Performance debates aside, Aston Martin Racing’s WEC GTE Pro programme has had a rough couple of years, which has seen them unable to compete for race wins on a regular basis. Mexico City – with its high altitude and its tight, slow course to race on – favoured the boys in green, and this saw them dominate all weekend. During the race, AMR were running 1-2 in the Pro class by as much as 90 seconds at one point, and only a mistake by Nicki Thiim in tricky conditions prevented a total sweep of the weekend for the British marque.
All of a sudden, Darren Turner leads the Drivers Championship, and the team leads the World Cup for GT Manufacturers by three points, and seem odds on to win it all if its cars can continue their consistent points scoring performances all the way through to Bahrain.
3. The Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez deserves its place on the WEC calendar Disappointing crowd figures (38,000) aside, the event was run extremely well. The efforts of promoter – and LMP2 race winner – Ricardo Gonzalez paid off, with the circuit suiting the racing and the fans treated to a good fan area and selection of food and places to watch the action from.
It has a long way to go before it becomes as well respected as the races in Fuji and Spa, but for year one, it’s was a very good start. When the calendar was first announced, the decision to hold a round in Mexico City was met with a lot of scepticism, but thankfully most of the initial concerns were not a real issue. It was well promoted locally and felt like a proper race meeting.
The 6 Hours of Mexico is here to stay, at least for the next two years, and that’s a good thing.
4. The Am title is very much AF Corse’s to lose
With four rounds remaining, it looks like the No.83 crew of Francois Perrodo, Manu Collard and Rui Aguas have their title dreams firmly within their grasp. Another very impressive performance in finishing second, while their title challengers – the No. 98 Aston Martin and Larbre Corvette – faltered, seeing them head into the round in America with a 35 point lead over the Abu Dhabi Proton team.
What was most eye-opening about their run last weekend was that they struggled in each session prior to the race with power. Being 7000 feet above sea level left everyone down on power, up to 25% in some cases! But for the sole Ferrari 458 it seemed as if it was doomed to finish last after being far off the pace in Free Practice and Qualifying. However, cooler temperatures on race day, an almost faultless run and being able to capitalize on the misfortune of others, leaves them the team to beat in the second half of the season.
5. The champions have found form In the race, Porsche took the win, but the No.2 car of Neel Jani, Marc Lieb and Romain Dumas, which leads the points tally, once again was on the wrong end of the results sheet. Now, because their closest rivals in the No.8 Audi heading into the race scored just 1 point, they head to Texas with a 41 point advantage. Finishing fourth was by no means impressive, but it was enough. They will know though, that if Brendon Hartley hadn’t crashed into the Gulf Racing Porsche at Silverstone and had reliability issues at Spa then it could be a very different story.
In a repeat of the Nurburgring 6 Hours, the reigning champions in the No.1 Porsche 919 were the class of the Stuttgart-based brand, and took their second win of the season. Don’t be surprised if their new found form continues in the next three months.
The next round for the FIA WEC will take place in Austin, Texas on the 17th September and much could be decided both on and off the track after that race.
What to watch out for at the FIA WEC 6 Hours Nürburgring
The Le Mans hype train may have reached its last stop in 2016, but the FIA WEC’s world tour still has six more rounds to run. Next week the FIA World Endurance Championship runners and riders hit the track for the first time since the Le Mans 24 Hours when the series travels to the Nürburgring for the final European race of the season. Here, our man in the stands, takes a look at some of the main talking points ahead of the fourth round of the 2016 WEC season:
Toyota to Bounce Back After missing out on winning the race in truly crushing fashion at Le Mans, Toyota Gazoo Racing will be extra motivated to have a strong showing at the Nürburgring as it sets its target to winning the WEC World Championship. The big issue is that the points situation highly favours Porsche in both the manufacturers and drivers championships following Le Mans. Porsche leads the factory points tally by 32 points over Audi and 48 over Toyota, while Le Mans and Silverstone winners Neel Jani, Marc Lieb and Romain Dumas control the drivers standings by 39 points. The Japanese outfit has a mountain to climb in the remaining six rounds if it is to challenge for any sort of trophies this year. But you can bet that they will throw the kitchen sink at it if they have to.
Ford’s Le Mans victory was a tale of both triumph and anti-climax. Everyone close to the sport should have been impressed by the Blue Oval coming to Le Mans on its first year back and competing for a win; but instead were left disappointed. Anyone who followed the GTE ‘fiasco’ in any level of detail at Le Mans, knows that in the world of Balance of Performance Ford lapping four to five seconds quicker than the other cars in the Pro class on its way to a 1,3,4 at La Sarthe should never have happened.
Had Ford showed such prowess from the Prologue onwards, then the ACO would have surely the been more prepared, but instead, Ford failed to reveal the GT’s capabilities until Le Mans week. You can argue that they played the game well, and they did, but at the detriment of good racing. With that in mind, going into the Nürburgring, the powers that be will have to reign the cars in somewhat dramatically to prevent further uproar. Currently Ford is on a streak though, having won both IMSA GTLM races since Le Mans, meaning the round in Germany could prove to be a crucial one for the future of the GTE Pro class if they are able to win again in convincing fashion.
Aston’s Tactical Shakeup The sheer amount of changes to many of the driver squads ahead of the 6h Nürburgring is astounding, with some big names joining the action and some losing their drives. Aston’s movements have proved to be the most seismic though. In the AMR stable, both Fernando Rees and Jonny Adam have lost their seats in the No.97 Vantage for the rest of the season. Richie Stanaway will instead be paired up with Darren Turner, leaving Nicki Thiim and Marco Sørenesen to drive the No.95. Not only does it give the four drivers more track time at each circuit, but it spreads the points in both cars, meaning Aston can still win the GT Drivers Title with both entries as it has pilots from the No.95 — which had a better start to the season — in both Vantages.
Merhi on a charge With the Manor team improving at each race, it’s surely only a matter of time before the ex-F1 outfit takes its first LMP2 win. At Le Mans, arguably the star of the race in LMP2 was Roberto Merhi, who drove incredibly well in his 24-hour debut. He led the class and took the fight to the best drivers in the 23-strong field early on in the race before a string of issues hampered the team’s chances. The Spaniard looks like a true sportscar star in the making, and should be one to watch throughout the second half the season following his coming out party in June.
Packed stands Last year when the WEC held a round at the Nürburgring for the first time, the entire paddock left on Sunday night satisfied with its atmosphere and organisation. The event ran smoothly, the racing was good and most importantly the general public showed up in their droves. There was well over 50 thousand fans trackside at the ‘Ring on race day in 2015, which was incredibly promising to see. Hosting the final European round in one of the Meccas of Motorsport, which coincidentally is a home race for two of the three major manufacturers in LMP1 should be applauded. Keeping up the interest in the WEC each season after Le Mans is imperative in its growth and future stability. So If the weather holds out and the local promoters do their jobs, expect there to be more people watching than last year, and therefore even more positivity going into the next rounds.
The LMP1 class of the 2015 FIA WEC has seen sportscar racing technology skyrocket. But until the Asian flyaways we hadn’t seen what the most technologically advanced racecars in the world could do in the wet – Japan and China gave us a double opportunity to see just that!
Rain is a great leveller and Toyota hoped that the wet conditions at Fuji International raceway might just get them in amongst the Audis and Porsches and from the off they did just that, albeit briefly!
Porsche continued their qualifying whitewash but after 40 minutes under the safety car on a sopping wet track a frantic first few green flag laps saw Mark Webber run way wide, lose ground and then Romain Dumas tangled with Alex Wurz, formation spins saw both rejoin but only after Audi had profited from their competitors misadventures, they ran 1,2.
They fended off the Porsches into the second hour too, Dumas dealing with a fine attack from Nakajima in the #1 Toyota and Webber still fighting back from his early delay.
From there on in it was a matter of the pendulum swinging gradually back to Porsche, and as the track looked set to dry i was Audi that were on the back foot and looking for an edge, an early change to intermediates for the #7 R18 was a disaster, the car losing a full lap on pace as track conditions not only didn’t improve, but worsened again.
At the flag it was a third win on the bounce for the #17 Porsche, a fine fightback, but in reality a late race shuffle under team orders swapped the Porsches around for maximum effect in the Drivers Championship, the Porsche boys taking the lead in that order for the first time in the season.
Audi too shuffled their pair at the end, to restrict the points damage but by the end of the day in Japan it was clear that nothing short of disaster in China would prevent Porsche from taking the all important Manufacturers title.
China had a sense of deja vu about it, Porsche again on pole and the weather on race day again wet, and as in Japan the weather hung around, and worsened, despite forecasting to the contrary!
After just a couple of laps behind the Safety Car the #18 car got away the better of the two 919s.
Within a lap though there was drama as Marc Lieb and Andre Lotterer tangled when the Porsche man gave the team car some racing room. That left the #18 to fight back from the very back of the field as Lotterer tried and failed to get onto terms with Brendon Hartley.
All the weather forecasts had predicted a drying track after an hour, it took WAY longer than that and the race became a tale of when to change rubber and to what.
Audi had to make the braver calls and it almost paid off more than once, a slower drying track than everyone thought though meant that Marcel Fassler simply couldn’t exploit his intermediates vs the Porsche’s full wets sufficiently to close the gap.
Again the Porsches seemed to hold at least three of the Aces, and with the delayed #18 back in the mix after a great fightback.
Audi’s move to slicks briefly again looked like it might make an impact but the Porsche squad’s ability to maintain pace on their worn wets, then an inspired tactical move to get the #18 back on track ahead of both of the Audis at the final stop proved the killer punch, Porsche 1,2 and the #17 crew a 12 point advantage in the driver’s standings to take to the season finale at Bahrain.
More than that though there was history – Porsche claiming the World Manufacturers Championship with a race to spare.
There was a Championship confirmed too in the Privateer stakes as the #12 Rebellion crew of Mathias Beche and Nico Prost fended off the challenge of their team-mates in the #13 R-One and the improving ByKolles CLM.
LMP2 was looking like almost a runaway championship win for KCMG before the Asian flyaways.
Wet weather, controversy, and real drama though gripped the class in Japan with a further turn of the screw in China setting up a grandstand finish to a thrilling season in Bahrain.
Realistically in Japan the championship was already down to just three cars, the points leading #47 Oreca 05 Nissan of KCMG, and the chasing pair of G-Drive Ligier Nissans. The stakes were high, and all too soon it showed.
In Japan, the fight back in the points standings from the #26 car began with a dominant pole position ahead of the sister car, this after an error from Nick Tandy left the championship leaders scrabbling for a time.
In the race though the Oreca came back, but only after Sam Bird had put in a magnificent stint in the poll sitting car.
The middle period of the race though saw a long run from Nick Tandy, handing over to Matt Howson, begin to payoff leaving Richard Bradley to deal with the challenge of Roman Rusinov in the closing stages.
It was hard fought, sometimes wheel banging fight, the two unchallenged from behind with third placed #28 car a lap down.
An ambitious move from Bradley up the inside at Turn 1 to take the lead seemed to anger the Russian, more side to side action eventually ended with substantial contact, front of Ligier to rear of Oreca, Bradley forced to pit for a checkover of the car, the Ligier through to take a lead it wouldn’t cede to the flag.
The drama though wasn’t over, Bradley emerged this time just ahead of the other Ligier, Colombian Gustavo Yucatan still off the lead lap but looking for a way by the #47 to unlap himself from the now second-place car.
Again the fight was hard fought, Both drivers aggressive both in attack and defence but it was the lap down Ligier that made contact, again to the rear of the Oreca, that turned the car around, forcing another pit stop for the #47.
Astonishingly, yet again, Bradley emerged in front of a Ligier, this time though it was Yacaman, now on the same lap, challenging the third place Oreca for the final podium position, the Signatech Alpine having by now put a lap on the pair up into second place.
From here though things would get worse, certainly for the Oreca, the Ligier seeming to have found considerable straightline speed there was wheel banging, and there was driving that seemed more than aggressive, Yacaman forcing the Oreca Man across to the pit wall on the long, full tilt straight with Bradley staying ahead and giving as good as he got until contact to the rear of the £47 pitched it sharply to the right into the barrier.
It was game over almost on the spot for Bradley, the driver mercifully OK but KCMG relegated to a DNF and losing their Championship lead to the #26 in the process.
In the aftermath of the incident packed last hour the Race Stewards were kept busy, eventually determining that the final incident was actually the fault of Bradley, the Oreca driver braking earlier than on previous laps – Their decision stands as one of the more controversial in WEC history!
Fast forward to China and again the #26, now the Championship leader, took pole position.
Again race day was wet and it saw significant incidents that bookended the six hours in Shanghai, the very first racing lap (after 14 minutes behind the Safety Car) saw Nick Tandy lose control of the #47 and lose a lap in the gravel, it was looking like the title was slipping away.
A race long fight back though saw the Oreca forge back up the field, their charge helped by a fine run from the Alpine, their new signing Tom Dillmann eventually sealing a victory, the team’s first in the WEC, by outpacing Roman Rusinov.
The #26 though was on course to score a substantial further advantage over the #47, the Chinese team’s fight back through the field looking set to stall at fourth, Nick Tandy’s late race charge towards the now third placed #28 looking hopeless after a late race full course yellow left the gap too much to cover as the clock ticked down.
That though was reckoning without an extraordinary last lap error from Ricardo Gonzales, putting the #28 into the gravel at T2 – Tandy was through into third, the Ligier a DNF and now out of the Championship race into the bargain!
The Championship finale then sees #26 lead #47 by 16 points, with 26 up for grabs – Realistically that means KCMG need to win, and the #26 needs to hit trouble – Place your bets!
The FIA World Endurance Championship (FIA WEC) has been racking up the air miles in October with back-to-back six hour races at Fuji International Speedway in Japan and Shanghai International Circuit in the People’s Republic of China.
The two race meetings have seen Close competition, controversy, and the first titles of the 2015 season settled. Both races have also seen, For the first time in 2015, sustained wet weather running. With the season finale fast approaching in Bahrain, It’s time to review where things stand across V four classes.
First up are the GTE classes.
GTE Pro became a two manufacturer race from Le Mans onwards with Aston Martin failing to score a podium since the second round of the championship in Belgium back in May.
Whilst balance of performance was blamed for much of the downturn in their fortunes, the V8 Vantage dealt a swingeing restrictor cut, more recently it seems that a chunk of the gap is accounted for by increased investment in tyre development by Porsche which has also led to a step up for Ferrari, the Front engined Aston meanwhile has taken a step back in relation to the competition.
Japan saw the start of a fightback by the Championship defending #51 AF Corse Ferrari crew. Toni Vilander producing an epic three hour plus run on a single set of Michelin wets that was good enough to see off effective competition from the usually wet weather dominant Porsches.
Japan also saw some astonishing wheel to wheel action between the Porsches and Ferraris with the 71 Ferrari in particular continuing to impress, James Calado and Davide Rigon now regularly showing the kind of form that Ferrari expect from their factory drivers. AF Corse it seems now have two consistently strong pairings in the championship.
That pace was not good enough in Japan to secure Ferrari a 1,2 finish. The #92 Porsche Team Manthey crew coming through the race long war to claim second place, valuable points in the manufacturers championship, though #92 was the wrong car the Porsche to claim the best possible results in the drivers standings with Richard Lietz and Michael Christensen coming home fourth it all tightened up just a little.
Shanghai again saw a mighty performance from Toni Vilander. This time his stint covered the start and then the finish of the race, well over four hours in very challenging conditions. This time though the 91 Porsche did come through to win, Lietz bolstering his championship lead the driver standings but with the minor placings falling beautifully to give us a grandstand finish at the final round in the manufacturers championship, just four points the gap between leaders and defending champions Ferrari, and challengers Porsche.
GTE Am meanwhile looked like a cruise to the title, even as early as Japan, from the SMP Racing Ferrari team, the #72 crew having scored three wins in a row starting with the double points scoring Le Mans 24 hours.
It wasn’t to be though, a puncture in Japan, and a strategic error in China left the championship leader off the podium in Japan and a fighting third in China with the closest challenger, the #83 AF Corse Ferrari closing the gap dramatically, helped in fine style by the team’s first win last time out in Shanghai.
The #72’s Chinese fightback did though eliminate two other possible challenges from the championship race with neither the #98 Aston Martin nor the #77 Dempsey Proton Porsche now able to catch the Ferraris.
The crowd pleasing Larbre Corvette meanwhile continues to have a huge amount of luck, all of it bad, in 2015, the team controversially losing pole position in Japan and continuing to hold seemingly magnetic qualities for contact with other cars.
The #96 Aston Martin has been another luckless combatant, there have been moments though to savour, in particular Stuart Hall’s double pass on the battling Ferraris to lead on sopping wet track in Japan.
Through all of that the maths for Bahrain are fairly simple.
If the SMP racing car runs to the finish the Russian team will take the title. Even if they don’t, with 19 points separating them from the chasing #83 458 the AF Corse must win to take the title.
Expect then a battling performance from the evergreen Emmanuel Collard, Rui Aguas, and the fast improving Francois Perrodo as they attempt to wrestle the title from Andrea Bertolini, Aleksey Basov and Viktor Shaytar.
The 2015 FIA World Endurance Championship touched down in Austin, Texas for a 6 hours race that was dominated at the front by the Porsche teams. However, with Audi taking the other 2 steps on the podium there is clear evidence that there is no room for error this season.
Sunshine and warm weather greeted all the teams on the grid for the Six Hours of the Circuit of the Americas, with the 2 Porsches heading the field. In the early stages the two frontrunners were battling each other with the No 17 car managing to pass its sister for the lead. The Audis and Toyotas were also fighting for the minor places but it appeared the Porsche was the car to have.
As the race continued the spectacle became a little scrappy with mistakes and penalties ruining team strategies and some of the excitement. The No. 2 Toyota driven by Mike Conway was the first to exit the battle after losing control on the kerbs and hitting the barrier quite hard. Audi had an unusual pit stop issue when an airline got entangled with a tyre causing the mechanic to slip; a one minute stop go penalty for the incident delayed their progress. Porsche were not blameless either as the No. 17 car also incurring two stop go penalties, one for just overshooting the garage.
All these incidents enabled the No. 18 Porsche to extend a big lead and all was looking good for them until electrical issues caused the car to return to the garage (only to return for the final lap). Audi perhaps sensed a chance to take the race and certainly pushed hard, but the No. 17 Porsche managed to avoid any more problems and penalties and ultimately lead the LMP1 cars home by just over 60 seconds. The two Audis gained good points in the overall Championship with their 2nd and 3rd place finishes. On reflection this was perhaps a missed opportunity for the Audi team.
In the privateer LMP1 class victory was taken by the ByKolles CLM car after both the Rebellion cars suffered electrical issues.
In the LMP2 class the Ligier Nissans of the G-Drive team claimed 1st and 3rd place on the podium with relatively untroubled runs. KCMG claimed a very creditable 2nd place having started at the back of the grid following a penalty from qualifying. Behind them there was a scary incident for the No.31 ESM Ligier when brake failure occurred through turns 19 & 20, which led to hitting the kerb, becoming airbourne and impacting hard with the barriers. Fortunately Ed Brown, who was behind the wheel at the time, was OK; the car, however, was not.
Porsche were also the dominant car in the GTE Pro class, with an unchallenged 1-2 on top of the podium. Aston Martin Racing had looked quick early on, but their fight was quickly dampened by the Porsches. The No. 51 Ferrari that has set the standard in this class over recent years, was besieged by technical problems and pit lane penalties and didn’t feature, whilst the sister Ferrari got ahead of the Aston Martins to claim the final step on the podium.
Ferrari fared better in the GTE Am class. The early challenge of Corvette and Aston Martin faded in the Texas heat, leaving a battle between Porsches and Ferraris. Dempsey Racing’s Porsche looked strong and led after a great stint from Patrick Long. The No. 82 AF Corse Ferrari was eventually able to pass them, only to be overtaken themselves by the No.88 Abu Dhabi Proton Porsche that had made up ground from the very back of the grid. However, the eventual winner was the Championship leading SMP Racing Ferrari that waited until the last hour to hit the front and then didn’t look back. They now have a 35 point lead over the chasing pack in this year’s championship.
The FIA World Endurance Championship now changes continents again and moves on to Japan for the 6 hours of Fuji next month.
Graham Goodwin looks back at the last FIA WEC round at the Nurburgring and what we learnt from on the track and in the paddock.
The FIA WEC’s first race at the Nurburgring proved to be a great success. A highly believable 62,000 attendees over the three day weekend at a mainly sunny and slickly organised meeting ensured that when we hear about the 2016 calendar later this month at the Circuit of the Americas we’re likely to see the German track back on the schedule for a second year, though likely a little earlier in the year to reduce the gap after Le Mans.
On track there were dominant performances from Porsche in LMP1, a first ever 1,2 from the Porsche 919s in a 6 hour race with the No.17 of Timo Bernhard, Brendon Hartley and Mark Webber taking full advantage of mid race woes for the sister No.18 car which was penalised three times for excessive use of fuel, this after Neel Jani had romped off into the distance at the start.
A combined total of 95 seconds of penalties, Plus a further 90 seconds taken for the three runs down the pit lane to serve those penalties, saw the No.17 gain a lap lead and the No.18 fall back to fourth.
Thereafter though the Porsche fought back hard with some fantastic battling with the pair of defending Audis.
It proved though to be an unequal struggle and in the closing stages the 1/2 for Porsche was confirmed.
LMP 2 saw a dominant performance by KCMG, the Hong Kong based team running away at the front from the start courtesy of a very quick No.47 Oreca 05 Nissan with 2015 overall Le Mans winner Nick Tandy pulling away from the chasing Sam Bird.
The hard fought advantage though disappeared as the car was balked at Tandy’s final stop, the KCMG team needing to push the car back to the fuel rig for service.
Matt Howson though fought back to the lead and then Richard Bradley pulled out a huge advantage for Tandy to defend to the flag. The G Drive Ligiers completed the podium with the SARD Morand Morgan coming home 4th after spending part of the meeting impounded after the team failed to pay an early season catering bill.
In the race though the car went well with regular drivers Oliver Webb and Pierre Ragues joined by young Brit Archie Hamilton.
The GT classes saw trouble for the championship leading No.51 Ferrari, The car stopping in the first hour with electrical problems then suffering a further delay before the AF Corse found a solution.
The pro race ended with another Porsche 1/2, but only after a controversial incident that saw the second No.71 Ferrari suffer damage after substantial contact from the No.92 Porsche as the race went Full course yellow.
The Am class saw another Le Mans winner take the honours, the Russian flagged SMP Racing Ferrari consolidating its points lead in the championship.
The Nurburgring race saw a pair of overall Le Mans winners from this years race competing and, oddly neither of them were racing an LMP1 car as Nick Tandy raced to the win in LMP2, and Earl Bamber joined Abu Dhabi Proton in their Porsche, a move which brought a unique moment during the German race with Porsche factory drivers leading the race in every class.
The WEC moves into its flyaway staged now with the next race later this month at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin Texas.
That race meeting sees the World Championship on the same bill as the US-based Tudor United Sportscar Championship, both races taking place on a Saturday with the American race in the morning and the WEC racing into darkness.
There was more good news for the future of the WEC at the Nurburgring as more details emerged of further commitment to the championship from the existing LMP 1 teams.
All three currently active factory teams look set to bring entirely new cars to the track next season with Porsche confirming commitment through to 2018, Toyota confirming their new car, with a new twin turbo V6 and battery based ERS system and commitment to 2017 ” at a minimum” and Audi, though more diplomatic in stating length of commitment, also confirming a new car, Long rumoured to also adopt a battery ERS system, with paddock sources suggesting they too will be in the WEC until 2018 at the least.
In LMP2 were waiting to see any details of the new cars proposed from Dallara and Riley/ Multimatic. The American car allegedly already has multiple buyers and whilst some sources have suggested that the Italian concern has struggled to come up with a convincing commercial case for their entry into the LMP2 chassis market, Industry insiders have suggested that the effort is well on track.
Next up in the preparation for the new LMP2 scene in 2017 is the announcement, due imminently, of the supplier selected for the standard engine which will power all cars in the WEC, and most, it is planned, in the future ELMS
In the GT ranks the manufacturers are rushing to prepare their 2016 machinery for a mandatory test session at Michelin’s Ladoux test facility in France later this month.
That test will include not only the brand-new Ford GT but also the new Ferrari 488, and revised cars from Porsche, Aston Martin, and Corvette, together with, If plans come together, the USA only BMW M6 GTLM, this an upgraded version of BMW’s forthcoming M6 GT3.
Porsche claimed a 1–2 victory ahead of fellow German rivals Audi in the 4th round of the FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) held at the famous Nurburgring this weekend. A large crowd of more than 62,000 race fans across the weekend witnessed the No. 17 Porsche driven by Mark Webber, Timo Bernhard and Brendon Hartley take the win ahead of their sister car and the No. 7 Audi.
The Nurburgring’s 3 mile F1 circuit is relatively short and twisty compared to Le Mans, where these cars last went head to head, so traffic management was as much a key as straight line speed for all the prototype teams. At the start of the race the pole position Porsche (no. 18) with Neel Jani at the wheel took advantage of clean air to quickly build a 20 second lead at the front. The No. 17 Porsche pitted early with nose cone damage, that dropped them down the order, but they were quick to regain ground with Audi unable to capitalise.
Problems began for the leader on the 54th lap. A problem with an engine sensor caused the car to consume more fuel than officially allowed, so they were penalised with a series of stop and go penalties until the problem was sorted. Clearly it was not an easy problem to fix as 3 increasingly long penalties were awarded by race control, dropping the No. 18 Porsche down the field.
If evidence were needed that Toyota were a long way of the pace, even after the penalties the No. 18 Porsche rejoined in 4th place, behind the Audis and still ahead of the Toyotas. The battle was then on in the remaining hours for second place, with the two Audis being reeled in by the charging Porsche. Eventually the Audi’s could not defend their positions and with 45 minutes left on the clock Porsche regained their 1-2 al be it with the No. 17 car in the lead. This was how it finished with Porsche celebrating from the top 2 steps of the podium in front of their home crowd.
The LMP2 was dominated by the KCMG Oreca of Nick Tandy, Matt Howson and Richard Bradley. The started the race from pole and maintained that position throughout most of the race. A slow pit stop in the first half the race opened the door slightly for the 2 G-Drive Ligiers, but they couldn’t take advantage and eventually settled for second and third position in class.
There were lots of smiling faces on the Porsche fans at the Nurburgring as the German manufacturer secured another 1-2 in the GTE Pro class. The No. 91 car driven by Michael Christensen and Richard Lietz, claimed the win ahead of their No. 92 sister car. The 2 Porsches benefited from electrical troubles suffered by the championship leading AF Corse Ferrari (No. 51), that ground to a halt within 15 minutes of the start of the race. Although the car was recovered to the pits and did rejoin they were always laps down from the leaders. The sister Ferrari (No.71) did keep the fight going and despite some bodywork damage and a puncture managed to hold on and climbed the third spot on the podium.
The No. 72 SMP Racing Ferrari managed to build on their Le Mans win with another victory in the GTE Am class at the Nurburgring. They were pushed all the way by the No. 98 Aston Martin that eventually finished only 30 seconds behind in second place. These two cars traded the lead between them as they worked through their different race strategies but they were always ahead of the rest of the field. The No. 83 AF Corse Ferrari claimed third spot, narrowly edging out the No. 77 Dempsey Proton Porsche.
The FIA World Endurance Championship now moves away from Europe with the first stop being the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas. That race will take place on the 19th September and we also expect the provisional 2016 calendar to be announced during the event.