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FIA WEC

Looking ahead to Fuji

Looking ahead to the FIA WEC 6 Hours of Fuji

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.FIA WECIn 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non-hybrids were forced to pit more often and for longer than their hybrid counterparts; it was a decision which was originally made to help along the image of the Toyotas being more efficient.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.FIA WECElsewhere 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.FIA WECAt 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.FIA WECThe 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.

Written by Stephen Kilbey
Photography by Dailysportscar

The FIA World Endurance Championship continues in the 2019 at Sebring, followed by Spa-Francorchamps and Le Mans. Travel Destinations will be at all these events and you can join us too. Click on the event name above to learn more.

FIA WEC

FIA WEC Round Up

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.

FIA WEC
Last chance to see the Porsche LMP1 in action

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.

FIA WEC
Out with the old and in with the new for Aston Martin Racing

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?

FIA WEC
Vaillante Rebellion are in the mix for the LMP2 title

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.

FIA WEC
It is too close to call in GTE Am

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.

FIA WEC
The Ferarri 488 is fighting to be top dog in GTE Pro

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.

Written by Stephen Kilbey
Photography: Dailysportscar

Porsche Le Mans prototype 2017

FIA WEC Preview: The Prologue

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.

FIA WEC LMP2

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.

FIA WEC Porsche GTE Pro

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.

Porsche LMP1

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.

Gulf Racing

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.

The FIA World Endurance championship begins with the 6 Hours of Silverstone over the Easter weekend. You can also join us for the following rounds at Spa-Francorchamps in May and then the Nurburgring in July.

Written by Stephen Kilbey
Photography by Dailysportscar

Audi survive late scare to take win at Silverstone

Audi survive late scare to win at Silverstone

Sunshine and gusting winds greeted fans arriving at Silverstone on Sunday for the first round of the FIA World Endurance Championship. After the new team line ups and the national anthems on the grid before the start it was down to business for all the teams eager to start the season on a positive note.

Audi survive late scare to take win at Silverstone

Porsche had qualified on the front row and continued to show that pace as both cars pulled away from the chasing group. The opposite happened to the No. 7 Audi as Treluyer struggled to get the car off the line. Not only did he see the rest of the LMP1 grid disappear around the first corner, but he was then engulfed by the LMP2 runners as well. It could have been the surprise of the slow Audi that caused the new Strakka Racing Dome to immediately spin off in to the gravel, sending them to the very back.
Just six minutes in to the race the leading LMP1 cars were in traffic as they caught the back markers in the GTE field. The closing speeds were astonishing. The speed of the whole LMP1 grid was impressive throughout. The lap times were comparable with the middle of the F1 grid last year. Keeping in mind the weight of the cars, the fuel and the distance of the race, this was remarkable. Webber’s Porsche was particularly quick, pulling out a 10 second advantage on his team mate in second place. Behind them the battle between Audi and Toyota for third place saw them trading places in and out of Brooklands.

In the LMP2 field the KCMG car benefitted from a great start to take the lead in class, but within the first hour it was being chased down by the two orange and black G Drive Racing cars. Despite a valiant effort from Tandy at the wheel, he was passed on consecutive laps and the G Drive cars didn’t look back. The stricken Strakka Racing car, was recovering from the back and had a different view as it began to fight its way back through the congested field.
Aston Martin started at the front of the GTE Pro field and started well, initially holding off the challenge of Porsche, with Ferrari staying out of trouble and watching developments unfold in front of them. GTE Am was equally close with the sole Corvette getting ahead of the Porsche and the AF Corse Ferrari, with Aston Martins watching closely.

Audi survive late scare to take win at Silverstone

Things were to change beyond the first hour. The leading Porsche, with Webber at the wheel, was called to the pit lane and pushed back in to the garage. Unfortunately it was never to return, as a driveshaft failure curtailed their race, leaving a lone Porsche out front.
Audi’s double challenge was reduced shortly after Porsche. Following impact with a GTE Porsche at Becketts, the No. 8 Audi had to return to the garage for bodywork repairs. Time in the garage cost the car a lap, but the damage appeared a little more than cosmetic. The car never really recovered and continued to look unstable when it returned to the track. Their challenge was over.
At the front the battle was really just beginning. Over the period of more than an hour the remaining Audi and Porsche became locked in a tremendous battle. They were also briefly joined by the No. 1 Toyota as the pit stop strategy panned out. The lead constantly changed between the cars while Neel Jani and Marcel Fassler, expertly weaved their vehicles through the traffic. The Porsche was clearly able to pull away from the Audi along the straights, but it was quickly reeled in again by the Audi under passed under braking in to the corners. The battle continued for lap after lap, neither able to put any distance between themselves and their rival, despite different pit stop & tyre stinting strategies.

Eventually the No. 7 Audi managed to break the stranglehold and a gap appeared. The Porsche had to be careful as the chasing Toyotas double stinted the tyres bringing them back in to the mix. Toyota and Porsche both challenged the leader throughout the rest of the race, but neither could hold the lead for any length of time, and going in to the last hour the Audi continued to lead with a gap of almost 40 seconds.
The LMP2 race became a comfortable 1 -2 for the G-Drive Racing. Once they had passed the KCMG car they built a lead that could never be surpassed. The No. 26 car ahead of the sister Ligier. The battle behind them saw the fluorescent green Extreme Speed HPD car finish in the third podium spot, but they were later disqualified by the stewards for worn bodywork beneath the car. This meant a late promotion for the Strakka Racing Dome that had fought its way back from that initial spin at the first corner. A great effort from the home based team.

Audi survive late scare to take win at Silverstone

The GTE Pro race was more difficult to predict. The initial dominance of Aston Martin was undermined by a decision to pit under a full course yellow, setting their strategy off against the Porsche and Ferraris. The Manthey Porsche team looked strong but ultimately it was the experience of Bruni and Vilander that brought the AF Corse Ferrari home for the win.

Aston Martin had greater success in the GTE Am class, with the No. 98 car holding off the challenge of the Ferrari to win the class. The No. 50 Larbre Corvette could have mounted a challenge, but it sustained damage after a collision with an Audi and the resultant run across the gravel.

Audi survive late scare to win at Silverstone

Back at the front it was difficult to call a winner. Audi were ahead of Porsche who were in turn ahead of Toyota; a three way fight to the finish. The Audi built enough of a gap to enable them a splash and dash to the line, but the Porsche and Toyota were closing. Just as the Audi was coming in for that last stop, the stewards gave the Audi a stop/go penalty for overtaking squabbling GTE cars by taking all 4 wheels off the track. The Audi came back to the pitlane on their outlap and served the penalty to emerge just seconds ahead of the chasing Porsche. The gap now much reduced to just 8 seconds with 10 laps remaining.
In the last few laps the Toyota in third was catching the Porsche in second, who in turn was catching the leading Audi. The Porsche closed the gap to less than 8 seconds but just couldn’t catch the Audi. Fassler held on to give Audi the win and start the FIA WEC season on the top of the podium.
This was an incredible race, and sets up the next round at Spa perfectly. All three prototype challengers appear to have improved on last year’s model and there is clearly little to choose between them. This could be the best FIA World Endurance Championship season yet.

You can join us at the next 3 rounds of the FIA World Endurance Championship. We have travel, tickets and camping options available for Spa-Francorchamps, Le Mans and the Nurburgring. Call us now on 0844 873 0203 to reserve your place!