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FIA WEC

The FIA WEC Super Season

Half-time in the FIA WEC ‘Super Season’

With the 6 Hours of Fuji behind us, and Shanghai just around the corner we are just over halfway through the 2018/19 FIA WEC ‘Super Season’, with just one race left this calendar year. This season has been a lot of things so far this year, but boring isn’t one of them. There has been drama aplenty, controversy, some great racing and enough story-lines to warrant the season’s label. As a result, we are left with plenty of hopes and fears heading into the home straight in 2019.

Equivalence of technology blues
The FIA WEC Prologue at Paul Ricard seems like an age ago. Pre-season testing is always tough to read into. Are teams showing their hand? What programmes are they running? Is the new machinery up to scratch yet? The 30-hour test to kick off the season did however, leave us with some clues of what was to come. Whilst the “unofficial” classification saw the top of the LMP1 privateer cabal faster than Toyota (Toyota’s official best times coming supposedly while running unrestricted), any bets on the private teams having a chance at competing for wins on track were quickly quashed at Spa, when the hybrid TS050s utterly dominated the competition. And it’s been like that ever since, leading to the big debate of Equivalence of Technology ruling the headlines ever since.
The questions we are left with, and still looking for answers for are as follows:
1. Should Toyota be penalized because the privateer prototypes aren’t yet quick enough?
2. Could the privateers compete even if all was equal on a performance level?
3. Should Toyota be handed an advantage for the sake of the FIA WEC’s public-facing image?

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Toyota has by far the most sophisticated, tried, tested and fastest car in the LMP1 field. Toyota has the only cars that are hybrid-powered now that Porsche is gone and the most experienced set of drivers, team personnel and resources. So, making it a contest is really hard. This is more than David v Goliath, this is David v Goliath, if Goliath had far more effective weaponry as well as a dominant stature. Surely, on that basis, you can make the argument that Toyota shouldn’t be artificially hobbled because the competition isn’t up to scratch? Well, at this point it’s a tough side of the fence to sit on. That’s because, wait for it… This is a sport, it’s entertainment, and there could be real trouble if the ACO and FIA WEC let Toyota run away with the title.

Now, so far there have been multiple Equivalence of Technology changes, in an attempt to give the field more balance, but it hasn’t been nearly enough for us to see real on-track action between the hybrid and non-hybrid machinery. That wasn’t helped by the fact that going into the season the privateers were forced to spend longer in the pits, and pit more often than the hybrids, artificially!
Le Mans was no contest, not even a tiny bit, not even for a lap. And since Silverstone, with most of the manufactured disadvantages taken away, the privateers are still not able to show off the true potential of their cars, as the fuel allowances per lap and stint are such that lifting and coasting down the straights (their only real area of advantage) is still necessary. That, coupled with the fact that the TS050s have an innate advantage through traffic thanks to the hybrid punch out of corners, means that Toyota doesn’t even have to push to its limits to win each race in formation, by multiple laps.

But, and it’s a big but, there is still time. There are rumblings in the paddock, and a real appetite for change. Rebellion Racing, SMP Racing, ByKolles and DragonSpeed have all turned up as promised, shown real loyalty, and effectively saved the class from fading away. So it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the second half to this season have a completely different feel.

Star Power
It’s not all doom and gloom. Not at all. While there is no known cavalry coming in LMP1 for the remainder of the FIA WEC ‘Super Season’ or indeed the 2019/20 season, there is cause for optimism, and part of it, is already within the championship. There is time for further change, and therefore some astonishing racing between the selection of drivers in LMP1, which arguably, has never been better. Should the ACO crack the EoT code, and get the privateers fighting for wins by Sebring, then we will have a real treat on our hands in 2019, with some of the world’s best drivers going toe-to-toe in a similar fashion to the golden years of the ALMS when Audi battled Penske, or when Pescarolo battled Audi at Le Mans.

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It is easy to forget that in LMP1 alone, we have two Formula One World Champions in Jenson Button and Fernando Alonso, competing against one another (though not on the track thus far!) in the same field as a WTCC champion in Jose Maria Lopez, a Formula E champion in Sebastien Buemi as well as multiple FIA WEC and Le Mans winners like Neel Jani, Andre Lotterer and now Kazuki Nakajima. If changes are made then the fabulous set of cars we have, can produce racing worth of the price of admission, and keep that level of drivers wanting to keep coming back for more. Because there is real potential here, it almost feels like the class is a sleeping giant. The cars are impressive, the driver crews are, we just need either the privateers to be allowed to breathe, or the Toyotas to be pegged back so we can have a title race that lasts until next Le Mans.

Real hope for the future
As for the future beyond 2019/20; well there’s green shoots, as the ACO and FIA prepare for the most important period in the World Endurance Championship’s short history – the months between the 2020 top class regulations being ratified in December, and the start of the 2020/2021 season. During that time, the future and fate of the championship may well be sealed. Will the factories come and adopt the new formula (hybrid-powered prototypes featuring heavy styling cues), or will the rule makers need a serious re-think once again about the shape and structure of the championship, which let’s not forget, still features a strong GTE Pro class with five manufacturers?

Let’s start with the 2020 yet-to-be-named ‘hypercar’ regulations, before diving into the zero-emissions target even further down the line. There is a big group of manufacturers known to be in the room, shaping the technical regulations and considering joining the new formula in 2020. This means that there’s plenty of scope to have a healthy grid. Of course, there’s no assurance that any of them will come, though Toyota seems certain, and Aston Martin has publicly stated that it is “very interested” in the potential. That’s without digging deeper into the other potential factories that have requested presentations and pitches at board level from the ACO and FIA. A defining factor of this whole formula will be cost, and the ACO and FIA seem confident that not only will the new formula prove cost effective for both factories and privateers, but also remain a proposition for aspirant factories or teams looking to join in after Year 1, due to the performance levels being contained and the fact that all hybrid systems have to be offered as off-the-shelf, cost-capped, systems to any competitor on the grid. The cars should look stunning, and set times not too far off the current LMP1s. And if a handful of teams commit, this could turn into a hugely successful formula. What is more, is that it won’t be long until the potential field for the 2020/21 season starts to take shape. “This is the first time ever that private teams will be able to purchase all of the elements of a hybrid prototype programme, off the shelf, and then be ultimately competitive,” Toyota’s technical director Pascal Vasselon said back at Fuji. “They will genuinely have that opportunity, with no performance gap between their cars to the factory teams. We have always pushed for the technology to be of the highest level but we have to accept that for the moment the first priority is to bring more competitors to the Championship. “And, we have said repeatedly that we are here for the long-term.”

As for the zero-emissions target, the foundations have been laid. We have seen the Project H24 Adess-based prototype turn laps at Spa-Francorchamps back in August, and a pit stop demo too. The technology for hydrogen power is coming, and it’s coming fast. That too, could breathe further life into the ACO’s top class come 2024, when there is the aim for teams running both zero emissions and hydrogen prototypes against one another. That will be sight to see!

GTE hotting up
It is safe to say that the start to the season saw a real imbalance in GTE Pro, with Porsche, Ford and Ferrari racing with a clear performance advantage over BMW and Aston Martin’s new machinery.
Now, with GTE racing, there’s always the question mark surrounding team tactics, and the impact of Balance of Performance, but Are the BMW M8s and Vantage AMRs good enough to win races and titles? The answer is yes, and we are starting to see just how competitive they can be, after strong showings from Aston Martin in certain conditions at Silverstone and Fuji, and BMW’s podium run in the last race.

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With Aston Martin and BMW up to speed, and the other three marques still just as competitive, we could be in for a barn-storming second half to the season. This is especially mouth-watering when you consider how much of it is left: we have Shanghai next week, then next year, Spa, and two rounds which award more than the standard haul of points at Le Mans at Sebring. “We’re just hitting our stride,” BMW driver Tom Blomqvist said after Fuji. “It has taken a while for the MTEK crew, which is new to the FIA WEC and endurance racing to get up to speed, but now we feel comfortable and know the car. Aston Martin look good now too, so the rest of the season should be really fun.”

The moments that mattered in the opening rounds
• Toyota Gazoo Racing’s No. 7 Toyota TS050 HYBRID was forced to start at the back of the field in the opening race of the season at Spa; penalized after setting pole in Qualifying for an incorrect declaration of its fuel flow meter. This was key for two reasons: One, it meant that the stars aligned and FIA WEC debutant Fernando Alonso was promoted to pole for his first race, which he would go on to win. And two, it showed just how much of an advantage Toyota had over the privateers. Despite the No. 7 starting from the pit lane, a lap behind the field in the race, it finished second, on the lead lap and two laps ahead of the privateer pack!

• G-Drive Racing’s antics at Le Mans have been a big talking point since June. The Russian-flagged team was found to have gained an unfair advantage in the pits during the 24 Hours by tampering with the fuel rig. This cost the team its Le Mans LMP2 class win the day after the race, and sparked an appeal and hearing process that would drag on until October. Alpine inherited the win as the result, but had to wait until the weekend at Fuji to celebrate. And they weren’t even awarded the original trophy, that’s supposedly still in Russia!

• Say what you will about Fernando Alonso, but he’s stayed classy, kept a smile glued to his face, and adapted quickly to life at Toyota since the start of the year. The two-time F1 champ came of age at Le Mans, embarking on a night stint in the No.8 during the Le Mans 24 Hours which ultimately turned the tide of the race and laid the foundations for the No.8 crew to win the race, scoring the Japanese marque a huge, momentous and historic result. It was certainly one of the more impressive drives we’ve seen at Le Mans in recent years. Also of note is that the Spaniard’s triple crown run is alive and healthy.

• The retro-liveried factory Porsches at Le Mans went down an absolute storm. As part of the 70th anniversary of the brand, the team put their corporate image and decision making to the side and went all out to impress the fans. That in turn translated into a lot of publicity and big win for the 911 RSR, which is easily one of the most impressive GT cars in the modern era. It looks the part, sounds incredible too, and in ‘Pink Pig’ colours, it looked fabulous, taking a controlling win after a metronomic run, which put Porsche in the driving seat of the GTE Manufacturers World Championship race, and scored the marque another famous win at the Grand Prix D’Endurance. Bravo!

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• Rebellion winning at Silverstone was a real landmark victory. Rebellion Racing’s No.3 R-13 officially scored the team its first overall FIA WEC victory and the first ever for a privateer in the championship, and the first non-hybrid win since 2012. It wasn’t in ideal circumstances (the team benefiting from Toyota losing its 1-2 finish for a skid plant infringement), but crucially it’s kept the title race tighter than you might imagine as the season wears on.

Voices in the paddock
“Obviously it wasn’t the ideal way to do it, but ultimately, winning a race is winning a race, no matter how it comes and we will grab this result with both hands,” Rebellion Racing’s Gustavo Menezes said after winning at Silverstone. “All the boys at Rebellion have worked so hard to get the whole LMP1 project off the ground and to develop the car to the stage where it is now, and they really deserve this 1-2 finish. I’m immensely proud of everybody involved in the programme.”

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“It’s a cool team,” Matt Griffin said when asked to reflect on his time spent driving with Clearwater Racing. “It’s a little bit like Reservoir Cats! Clearwater is a team where the people involved are very proud of what they can do. We have fun, we have crazy parties after the races. Weng loves his wine, and stuff like that. And that’s the thing, I’ve been with them since 2011. The only thing I would say though is that the Matt Griffin you might see at ELMS races, or in Blancpain, is different to the Matt Griffin with Clearwater. There’s a different vibe there, and it’s a team that relies more on sponsors and partners.”

“We’re not ruling anything out,” revealed Corvette Racing’s Doug Fehan when asked about his opinion on the 2020 regulations. “An overall win at Le Mans is a unique achievement, and when you look at the intent of the past efforts to create something unique, it became too expensive This move, to the credit of the sanctioning bodies, is to find something that’s more affordable and technologically representative of where you want to go, with proper brand identification, so it would stand a better chance of attracting manufacturers. But I’m sure that there will be manufacturers who continue to run both (GTE and LMP1). Porsche is a prime example, with a big customer race programme, and they’ve shown in the past that they can do both.”

“The atmosphere in the team is amazing. Everyone is really friendly,” Fernando Alonso said when asked about racing with Toyota. “We have a Whatsapp group and we are always chatting. We were taking pictures of each other today. The atmosphere is so friendly and so nice – this is one of the best things.”

“I have had a great career to this point, not only in F1 but also in the junior categories,” DragonSpeed’s Pastor Maldonado stressed when asked about his public persona. “I have won in every category I have raced in and I hope to carry that record forward into this new challenge. For me it is about the racing, about the driving I don’t care what people say, it’s part of the game. I just go out there, do my best and hope to win.”

“What a character, and what a legacy, a real innovator and a visionary,” Richard Dean said, when asked to pay tribute to the late, great, Dr Don Panoz. “He was a man who truly invested in the sport, in his series, his circuits and his cars. The American Le Mans Series showed the way, it is still my favourite race series. There are so many that owe their careers in this sport to the opportunities that Don’s investments and projects provided. At Le Mans (in 2006, with a Team LNT Esparante), it seemed coming into the race that everything was against us, engine issues at the test, we were allocated Garage 13, but his enthusiasm never wavered, he tried for 10 years to get the win and was just ecstatic when we did it. And he was given the Spirit of Le Mans award by the ACO that same weekend! I grabbed a Panoz flag from someone on my way to the podium, I see that picture every day in my gym. Without Don that wouldn’t have been possible, a simply huge part of my career.”

Written by Stephen Kilbey
Photography by Dailysportscar

FIA WEC

FIA WEC 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps review

Five things we learned from the FIA WEC 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps

1. Alonso already looks impressive
While there wasn’t an enormous amount of wheel-to-wheel racing in LMP1, or a true battle for the overall lead, it was still nevertheless pleasing to see two-time Formula One World Champion Fernando Alonso get up to speed so quickly in his debut race in the FIA WEC. The Spaniard, along with teammates Sebastien Buemi and Kazuki Nakajima didn’t put a foot wrong all weekend, and went on to win. Alonso, during his stints was nothing short of impressive, multiple times he was shown clearly pushing hard through traffic, and at the end of the race when the car suffered a gearbox temperature issue he managed his pace well, ensuring it made the finish.

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Despite the fact that team orders were clearly at play, preventing the No.7 Toyota, which came from a lap down at the start to within striking distance of the No.8 towards the end, this was still a significant moment. Alonso is up to speed, already, and will head to Le Mans confident. If he wins that, not only is it a global story, but a very strong start to what could be a World Championship-winning season.

2. BMW & Aston’s cars look reliable
The two new GTE cars for this year also had an impressive showing at Spa, not in speed, but far more importantly, in reliability.  The M8 GTEs and Vantage GTEs spent the entire weekend far off the pace of the front-running Fords and Porsches. But at this stage, that means little, partly because Balance of Performance can turn the fortunes of a manufacturer quickly, and even if BoP wasn’t to blame, it’s more than likely that political game-playing was.

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The key here is that all four cars finished their debut FIA WEC races, and without any notable niggles; a far cry from the debuts of some GT cars of old. The extensive pre-season testing programmes have paid off, because both MTEK and Aston Martin Racing will head to Le Mans full of confidence. Both can be in the mix, and like Ford in 2016, have a chance to win at La Sarthe in the first year of the car’s life. We just need to hope now, that the race organisers don’t mess up the Balance of Performance for Le Mans, because if it’s anything like Le Mans 2016, it will leave a sour taste in the mouths of everyone track-side and at home watching.

3. GTE Am didn’t disappoint
Going into round 1, looking at the entry list it was easy to come to the conclusion that the expanded nine-car GTE Am category could produce the best racing in the FIA WEC. At Spa, despite a few silly driver errors, it produced the goods, especially at the end after the last safety car. New teams Project 1 Racing and TF Sport impressed mightily. The former had its hopes dashed by an off from Egidio Perfetti, but when the team’s 911 RSR was kept between the white lines, it was competitive, and was odds on for a podium.

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TF Sport, which many UK fans may know from its championship-winning form in the British GT Championship, also produced the goods. Euan Hankey, on his WEC debut was the star here, battling reigning champion Pedro Lamy all the way to the flag for the class lead in the final hour. He didn’t score the team a historic win in its first race, but he did, along with Charlie Eastwood and Salih Yoluc showed off that Tom Ferrier’s team mean business this year, and that its ambition to win the world title in the ‘Super Season’ is not unrealistic. The only issue may turn out to be the Porsche 911 RSRs in the class, as so far, on pace they’ve been head and shoulders above the Ferrari and Aston teams. Porsche’s customers could have dominated at Spa, but due to a cocktail of poor luck and driver error none of the four found the podium. Le Mans is therefore going to be very interesting indeed!

4. LMP2 looks open
This year’s LMP2 field in the FIA WEC has a fresh look about it, with new teams, new drivers, new chassis and a tyre war. The racing, while far from thrilling for most of the race at Spa, did show some really positive signs. The main signal for positivity, was just how open this year’s title race is. DragonSpeed, Jackie Chan DC Racing, G-Drive Racing and Alpine all look capable of winning races this year and challenging for the title. Even Racing Team Nederland’s Dallara, with its 2018 Joker package, looked pacey too, and could make waves later in the year when hot-shoe Nyck DeVries steps into the car’s third seat.

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Michelin’s tyres also appear to be capable of going toe-to-toe with Dunlop, so it could be interesting to see if anyone else makes a switch mid-season to gain an edge, as in raw pace, the French rubber does look to have an advantage at this stage.

5. Shaky start for the non-hybrids
Spa provided fans with their first chance to see the new LMP1 non-hybird challengers, though it was a somewhat fractured showing from the eight-car group, only five of which started the race. CEFC TRSM Racing’s weekend unfortunately never got going, financial issues preventing Ginetta from releasing its G60-LT-P1s for the race. DragonSpeed’s BR1 meanwhile, had a monster shunt at Eau Rouge, Pietro Fittipaldi going straight on into the tyres at full-speed, fracturing both his legs, and ending his chances of an Indy 500 birth just a month out from the race.

The cars that did take the start however, did put on a bit of a show, ByKolles CLM, SMP Racing’s BR1s and Rebellions pair of R-13s did all enjoy some thrilling on-track battles, giving us a glimpse into what could be a very competitive race for third place each weekend during the season.

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There were two issues though, one being that SMP Racing’s No.17 BR1 failed to finish after a big shunt at Raidillon, and that other that none of the Privateers came even remotely close to challenging the Toyotas in pace or efficiency, the whole field getting lapped, not just by the eventual winners in the #8, but by the No.7 crew, which started a lap down.  That’s not very encouraging, especially given the promises made to the privateers that they would have a chance should they run a perfect race. Rebellion’s No.3 R-13, which finished third, did indeed enjoy a perfect race debut, and wasn’t even in with a slim chance of securing second or first.

Equivalence of Technology, is crushingly difficult to understand and indeed work out if you’re a rule-maker. But so far, it’s not hard to spot that it appears to be skewed very much in the favour of Toyota, which could mean it goes one of two days at Le Mans: either the EoT swings back the other way – or Toyota run away with the French classic.  The only saving grace here, is that there are rumblings in the paddock that due to the what’s capable for the non-hybrids in terms of top speed, could mean that they are far closer to the Toyotas in June. A number of the cars, are perfectly capable of blowing by the Toyotas on top speed, once the Hybrid cars’ superiority under acceleration peters out. The wide open spaces at Mulsanne and the run down to Indianapolis could prove to be happy hunting grounds for a well sorted and well driven non-hybrid LMP1.

We’ll have to wait and see…

Written by Stephen Kilbey
Photography by Dailysportscar

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FIA WEC 6 Hours of Spa Preview

Looking Ahead to the FIA WEC  6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps

After months and months of intrigue and speculation, the FIA World Endurance Championship’s 2018/19 ‘Super Season’ is finally here. This weekend, the teams and drivers will head to Spa-Francorchamps to kick off the season with the traditional Le Mans dress rehearsal in the Ardennes Forest. But with so much new technology up and down the order, just what can we expect? Will it deliver and what should we be keeping an eye on as the countdown to the 86th edition of the Grand Prix D’Endurance enters its final stages?

Up at the front, the LMP1 class looks completely different, and far bigger, than it did in 2017. In fact, what we have, for better or for worse, is the biggest LMP1 field in the FIA WEC’s six-year history. It is packed with privateer cars, fresh and still unproven, and just two hybrid entries from Toyota after Porsche’s withdrawal. But don’t let the lack of factory competition for the Japanese marque put you off. This is very much a David vs Goliath situation, and there is still far more questions than answers at this time.

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Toyota’s big news story this year, isn’t concerning the car. Instead, the headlines surround the driver crew which will feature two-time Formula One World Champion Fernando Alonso. It is no secret he’s coming this year, and it is no secret that he is taking on the FIA WEC as part of a ‘Triple Crown’ run. But just how will he fare? Well, we don’t know yet, but what we do know, is that his supreme talents in an F1 car aside, when he stepped into an IndyCar last year he was quick straight away. You would also think that his performance at Daytona this year (for his sportscar debut) would give a good indication. But his car wasn’t up to the task, resulting in a rather quiet run to the finish for the Spaniard. Time will tell just how quickly he can adapt to what is a very different style of driving required in LMP1 H.

Can Toyota’s pair of mildly-revised TS050 HYBRIDs be challenged by the slew of private competition? In truth, especially at this stage, it seems unlikely. There is still plenty of creases to be ironed out in the class’ EoT (Equivalence of Technology), and in the new cars themselves. So we may have to wait a little before we see the true potential of SMP and DragonSpeed’s BR1s, CEFC TRSM’s Ginettas, ByKolles upgraded CLM and Rebellion Racing’s R-13s. The FIA WEC Prologue though, was if nothing else, encouraging; Toyota setting its fast times running outside the rules, leaving some hope for a competitive race at the start of the season.

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Who should we be looking to at this stage to challenge for the final podium spot? SMP Racing and Rebellion Racing look to hold the advantage at this stage in the pace department. The Russian BR1 AER’s look quick, and at the Prologue they didn’t suffer any major troubles. Not surprising, as the car, designed by Dallara, has had the most running of the new breed, and has a good set of drivers to get the most out of its cars. This will include Jenson Button this year, but unfortunately not until after the Spa round.

Rebellion meanwhile, was unable to get its pre-season test programme underway before the Prologue, due to the lead time from ORECA of its new Gibson-powered chassis. The team, has been out testing since the trip to Paul Ricard, but its R-13s are still very new. The pace appears to be there, so it’s all down to durability this weekend in Belgium if the Swiss-flagged effort is to leave with silverware at this early stage. Elsewhere, ByKolles, DragonSpeed and CEFC TRSM showed flashes of what is to come in France, but there is still a long way to go for all three teams. The focus at this stage is very much on using Spa as effectively as possible as preparation for Le Mans, which is going to be a far harder, but more important task in the long run.

While LMP1 may hold the most interest to those in the stands, let’s not forget that there is plenty to look for in the other three classes too. GTE Pro is stacked. Now with the addition of a full BMW factory effort, the category is 10-cars strong, and oozing talent. While little has changed at Ferrari, Porsche and Ford in the off-season, that is by no means a bad thing. With the added value of BMW’s new M8 GTE and Aston Martin’s new Vantage, with fresh driver crews, there’s going to be a real fight for the podium spots this year.

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Both new cars set to grace the class have been out testing for months now, and have completed some serious mileage. Both cars look strong, not bullet proof, but certainly further down the line in their development than you might expect considering neither have a FIA WEC start to their name.

Aston Martin’s driver crew sees two newcomers set to debut at Spa; Maxime Martin, who’s astonishing performance at the 2013 Nurburgring 24 Hours still lives in the memories of many, and Alex Lynn, who’s won races in GP2, LMP2 and in DPi. Both are rapid, and are already up to speed with the car and their new surroundings. BMW meanwhile, will start the season with a quartet of FIA WEC new-boys: Martin Tomczyk, Nicky Catsburg, Tom Blomqvist and Antonio Felix Da Costa. There’s no weak link there, it is hot-shoe central in the BMW garage!

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Then there is both the LMP2 and GTE Am classes which are set to deliver quality racing all season long, as they did in 2017. LMP2 has variety, with a Dallara P217 from Racing Team Nederland (driven by none other than Dutch hero Jan Lammers at Spa and Le Mans) and a Ligier JS P217 fielded by Larbre Competition. That means  we don’t have an an ORECA spec-class, instead we have a division with three of the four LMP2 global chassis present, and two tyre brands, with Michelin entering the class to go head-to-head with Dunlop.

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DragonSpeed’s 07 Gibson may well prove to be the class of the field. At the Prologue it ran fastest, courtesy of a rapid lap by the polarising figure that is Pastor Maldonado, the Venezuelan signed up for his sportscar race debut at this weekend too, with Mexican Roberto Gonzalez and Frenchman Nethanael Berthon.

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GTE Am meanwhile, may have been consistently the best class on the wheel-to-wheel racing front in 2017, and that could well be exacerbated this season, as the car count has grown significantly to nine cars, up from five last year. There is plenty of familiar faces in the class too. Aston Martin Racing return as champions with the same line-up and the older, rumbling V8-powered Vantage, Clearwater Racing looks to be everyone’s favourite team again with its all-chrome Ferrari 488, and the ageless Jorg Bergmiester rejoins the series with Team Project 1 – the most successful Porsche one-make team, which expands its programme with a debut FIA WEC run this year. As unpredictable as ever in 2018/19, GTE Am should continue to throw some real surprises throughout the season. At the moment, going on the form from the Prologue, which saw the new Porsche 911 RSRs in the class look clearly faster in pure lap time, it’s advantage Stuttgart. But with BoP set to be tweaked throughout, nobody is crowning any winners just yet.

So sit back, and enjoy the ride. This weekend, the FIA WEC, with its new look grid and new calendar is back, and some might say, better than ever. The new era, starts now.

Written by Stephen Kilbey
Photography by Dailysportscar

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Confusion & Controversy at FIA WEC Prologue

More questions than answers after the FIA WEC prologue

With the 30 hours of FIA WEC testing at the Paul Ricard circuit now in the books, it is clear that the 2018/19 “Super Season” will be an intriguing one across every class. 35 cars were present, and all of them got a good number of laps in, with no teams suffering any major dramas. We saw many new teams enjoy the experience of competing in the world endurance championship; new cars put to the test, and notable new faces turn heads in their respective machinery.

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In the LMP1 class, there is reason to believe that it may not be quite the Toyota whitewash that many are expecting. In fact some of the running indicated plenty of reasons for optimism that it may turn into a fierce contest. The final time sheets after the two days of running had concluded, showed that the Toyotas were far ahead of its privateer competitors on pure lap time. But that wasn’t the full story. On Saturday morning, long after its fastest times were set, Toyota revealed that it had been able to achieve such quick times, because it was running its TS050 HYBRIDs un-restricted and so outside of the current LMP1 regulations. This Toyota said was to stress test a new cooling system.

What conclusions can we draw from this?
One; the gap between Toyota and the rest of the LMP1 field come the first race at Spa-Francorchamps may not be as big as the time sheets indicated here.
Two;  it appears that real politics are already at play. Toyota were accused by some of trying to see just how fast the privateers could lap by secretly pushing its own cars beyond the enforced limits. If that wasn’t their game, then there is a legitimate question as to why they didn’t make it clear it was running un-restricted before the test began?
Three; Toyota are not beyond causing a little controversy to obtain their goals this season. Namely winning the FIA WEC championship and most importantly winning at Le Mans.

FIA WEC
Despite Toyota’s debatable actions, all five privateer teams left either encouraged, or extremely positive. SMP Racing turned in a lot of laps with its BR1 AERs, Rebellion Racing showed its (brand new, and untested) R-13 had both pace and real potential in the reliability department, ByKolles’ enjoyed a near faultless run with its new revised Nissan engine, DragonSpeed’s new BR1 Gibson was in the mix on pace and the CEFC TRSM team were pleased with the output of its very new team of drivers, three of the five, lacking any prior LMP1 experience. So all boxes ticked.

FIA WEC
Whether at Spa and Le Mans, the LMP1 privateers will prove to be as reliable and quick enough to challenge Toyota, and or whether or not Toyota has a lot in reserve, remains to be seen. But at this stage, fans of the FIA WEC should be excited, because all of the new LMP1s are clearly quicker than the LMP2s, and at the very least were able to produce very similar lap times. The fact that there are so many unknowns can only be a good thing. Even if Toyota do run away with it at times, there is sure to be a titanic battle for the third podium spot.

In LMP2, and GTE Pro too, it appears we have a real war on our hands. The secondary prototype division produced a major surprise, DragonSpeed’s ORECA 07 Gibson pacing the field with Michelin tyres; notable, considering last year the whole class ran with Dunlop. There is a tyre war breaking out, which will only add to the spectacle throughout the FIA WEC season.

FIA WEC
GTE Pro meanwhile, saw Porsche and Ford lap fast, with Ferrari, BMW and Aston Martin leaving a little concerned. With almost a two-second gap between the top two and the bottom three, many in the paddock were left wondering whether the Balance of Performance, which Le Mans aside is fixed until after Silverstone, is way off, or whether there are some games being played. It must be noted though, that the three models off the pace are still being developed at this stage. AF Corse’s 2018 evo-spec Ferrari 488s had a tough time, the No.71 catching fire and missing a day’s worth of running, and the No.51 struggled with tyre degradation (an issue nobody else suffered). Aston Martin and BMW’s cars meanwhile, are brand new, so their true pace is likely yet to be unlocked.

FIA WEC
We have seen all of this before. In a Balance of Performance formula like GTE, there is little point in showing what you’ve got until the last possible minute. The big takeaway here is therefore that Aston Martin’s new Vantage, and BMW’s new M8 GTE both seem up to the task. They proved near-bullet proof, and managed hundreds and hundreds of laps, which bodes well for the rest of the FIA WEC super season, that includes two Le Mans 24 hours races.

FIA WEC

Over all this was a good FIA WEC prologue weekend; tinged with a little controversy, confusion over the real pace of much the field, but ultimately pointing the way to the excitement yet to come.

Written by Stephen Kilbey
Photography by Dailysportscar

If you haven’t yet booked your tickets for this year’s Le Mans 24 Hours, from the 16th – 17th June 2018, then there is still time. Call the Travel Destinations team on 0844 873 0203 to book your place track-side now. 

FIA WEC

Le Mans Classic

Le Mans Classic Returns

Former winners return to Le Mans

The Le Mans Classic returns from the 8th – 10th July giving spectators a unique opportunity to see the cars that took part in the Le Mans 24 Hours between 1923 and 1993 back racing at La Sarthe. It is not only the cars that are returning, as many famous drivers also use the Le Mans Classic to get back behind the wheel.

Le Mans Classic

Of the nine former winners down to drive, the man with the highest number of victories is Emanuele Pirro, five-time winner of the race with Audi (2000, 2001, 2002, 2006 and 2007). The popular Italian has been a regular member of the Peter Auto grids and in the Le Mans Classic he will be driving an Alfa Romeo T33/3 (1969), a Lola T290 (1972) and a Lancia Beta Gr.V (1979). Out on the track he may come across his former team-mate, Marco Werner, three-time winner of the Le Mans 24 Hours, who is also entered to drive three different cars: a Lotus IX (1955), a Maserati T63 Birdcage (1961) and a Maserati A6 GCS Barchetta (1954). The most recent winner is current works Porsche driver Romain Dumas who won at Le Mans just a few weeks ago in the Porsche 919. This time he will compete in the Group C grid with a Porsche 962C.

Romain Dumas
Romain Dumas

In homage to his father Jean-Pierre who died last year, Julien Beltoise will race in grid 6 with Henri Pescarolo (who still holds the record for the highest number of races; 33) in the same Inaltera that he drove with Jean-Pierre in 1976. Another driver who spearheaded the Matra attack in the early 70s, Gérard Larrousse, the current president of the Drivers’ Club, is back at the wheel of a Porsche 550 Spyder (1958). Eric Hélary, a hero of Peugeot’s historic triple in 1993 will share his time between a Chevrolet Corvette C3 (1970), a Lancia Beta Gr.V (1979) and an Alfa Romeo T 33 TT (1971).

Emanuele Pirro
Emanuele Pirro

British driver Andy Wallace, who won the race in 1988 in a Jaguar, remains faithful to the make as he will be at the wheel of a D-Type (1955). The Englishman is among the drivers who have raced in the event on multiple occasions with 19 starts. But his former team-mate in 1988 Jan Lammers from Holland, entered in an Austin Healey 3000, has racked up more starts than Wallace as he has 22 to his name. Emmanuel Collard has also reached this number after just competing the Le Mans 24 Hours for the 22nd time this year. At Le Mans Classic he will be tackling the long circuit in a Porsche 908/3 (1971) and a 911 Turbo RSR (1974).

Emmanuel Collard
Emmanuel Collard

Other outright winners Jochen Mass (1989) and Gijs van Lennep (1971 and 1976) are back in a De Tomaso Pantera Gr. IV (1971), a Porsche 911 RSR 3L (1974) and a Porsche 908 LH (1968) respectively. A number of class winners will also be on the grid including Casper Elgaard, first in the LMP2 category in 2009, in a 1964 Porsche 904 as well as John Fitzpatrick, Ralf Kelleners and Uwe Alzen, all victorious at the wheel of Porsche 911s (1975, 1996 and 1999 respectively), who remain faithful to the Stuttgart make. Double Grand Touring winner, Raymond Narac, is at the wheel of a prototype, a Group C Porsche 962 (1987).

Gerard Larrouse
Gerard Larrouse

Many other well-know figures who have raced in the Le Mans 24 Hours are also expected such as David Halliday (BMW 3.0 CSL), Jean Ragnotti (Alpine M 65, Renault Alpine A443), Paul Belmondo (Ford GT 40), Chris Mac Allister, Eric De Doncker, Gareth Evans, Roald Goethe, Lucien Guitteny, Stuart Hall, Sam Hancock, David Hart, Hans Hugenholtz, Wolfgang Kaufmann, Patrice Lafargue, Franck Lagorce, Michel Lecourt, Erik Maris, Jean-Marc Merlin, Jacques Nicolet, Martin O’Connell, François Perrodo, Christian Pescatori, Frédéric Da Rocha, Lucien Rossiaud, Alain Serpaggi, John Sheldon, Pierre de Thoisy and more. It promises to be quite a reunion.

Marco Werner
Marco Werner

The Le Mans Classic takes place on the full Le Mans circuit from the 8th – 10th July. Travel Destinations are official agents for the Le Mans Classic and are proud to have been looking after spectators at the circuit since its inception, offering private trackside camping, pre-erected glamping tents, and our Flexotel Village cabins all on the circuit. For late bookings for the 2016 Le Mans Classic please call 0844 873 0203.

FIA WEC Silverstone

Countdown to Le Mans; Part 1

Countdown to Le Mans: Five Post-Silverstone Storylines

The FIA World Endurance Championship – which includes the Le Mans 24 Hours – had its opening race last weekend at Silverstone, and provided a few hints as to what we can expect from this year’s twice-round-the-clock classic at La Sarthe.

Dailysportscar.com’s lead WEC reporter Stephen Kilbey looks back five of the key topics as the dust (& snow) settles on the 6 Hours of Silverstone:

1. Audi is back to winning ways… Well, sort of.

Audi R18

With so many question marks surrounding both Audi and Toyota, who enter the 2016 season with brand new cars, Silverstone was always going to be fascinating from an LMP1 point of view.

While Toyota were once again lacking pace, throughout the weekend, Audi and its brand new R18 looked like it may have the pace to challenge Porsche’s formidable 919 which won both Le Mans and the WEC title last season. Qualifying was held on a drying track after snowfall early Saturday morning, and Andre Lotterer and Marcel Fassler managed to stick their #7 Audi on pole for the first time since the 2013 6 Hours of Fuji.

In the race, the reigning WEC champion #1 Porsche of Mark Webber, Brendon Hartley and Timo Bernhard managed to snatch the lead off the Audi and race off into the distance. Hartley though, crashed out in dramatic fashion just before the halfway mark, almost rolling the prototype after tagging a GTE Porsche running through Farm curve.

The incident handed Audi its lead back, and triple Le Mans champions managed to hold off the other Porsche until the finish. However, a post-race technical check of the winning R18 revealed that the front plank was too worn, and therefore prompted the organisers to disqualify the car from the race. The #2 Porsche of Marc Lieb, Romain Dumas and Neel Jani therefore claimed the victory.

While it’s way too early to tell if Porsche will win Le Mans again or not this year, all signs point to the 24 Hours being another close-fought affair.

2. The pace of the Hybrid prototypes is still astonishing

Porsche 919 Hybrid

The current era of P1 cars really do need to be seen to be believed. Last year, the factory prototypes took an enormous step in regard to raw performance, especially towards the end of the WEC season when Porsche turned up at the Nürburgring fresh from its 17th Le Mans win with a new aero package.

Going into 2016 the ACO has tried to peg back the top cars, forcing them to use 30% less fuel per lap. But intelligent engineers at Toyota, Porsche and Audi seem to have managed to gain the previous level of performance back that and a little bit more by improving other areas.

At Silverstone the P1 cars were going faster than 2016, producing lap-times comparable to that of a mid-pack Formula One car, but with a weightier chassis and more traffic to deal with. If the form continues on a low-drag circuit like Le Mans, then expect the lap-record to be broken once again in Qualifying if the weather holds out.

3. Ford could well have a good run at Le Mans

Ford GT

There’s a lot of pressure on GM’s finest going into this year’s Le Mans 24 Hours, it being the 50th anniversary since Ford’s historic first win. Nevertheless, the new GTE programme continues to impress. The new Ford GT’s first outing at Daytona back in January was problematic, but fast forward a few months and it looks far more capable of a head-turning debut at the big one in eight weeks time.

Both of Ford Performance’s new cars ran faultlessly during the race at Silverstone, finishing up fourth and fifth in the GTE Pro class. On pace they weren’t able to challenge the might of AF Corse’s Ferraris, but the raw speed should come with its new found reliability.

With four factory-entered Fords due to compete at Le Mans, don’t be surprised if the GTE newcomers leave with an impressive result.

4. Aston Martin Racing looks far more competitive this year

Aston Martin Racing

2015 was tough for the British factory team run by Prodrive. Its Vantages were often far off front-running pace throughout the year and failed once again to win the GTE Pro class at Le Mans.

If the first round of 2016 is anything to go by though, Aston Martin looks in a lot better shape than was predicted. With brand new Dunlop tyres that will only get better with further development, a return to a green paint scheme and an aggressive aerodynamic overhaual to its Vantages, it should be able to build on the solid podium finish on home soil and win its class for the first time at Le Mans in eight years.

5. The WEC continues to build on its extremely positive foundation

Gulf Racing UK

While the Le Mans 24 Hours will always be the jewel in the WEC’s crown, the exceptional racing, interest from more blue-chip manufacturers and a very stable calendar is paying off big time for the FIA’s youngest World Championship.

Crowds at European rounds like Silverstone and Spa have been growing year on year, and that’s only a good thing for the future of sportscar racing as well as the Le Mans 24 Hours. Last year, a record crowd of 263,000 people turned up to La Sarthe in June to witness history, and with momentum continuing to build don’t be surprised if that record is shattered once again.

If you would like to attend the Le Mans 24 Hours 2016 then Travel Destinations have a selection of travel, ticket and camping packages available.

If you would like to attend the FIA WEC 6 Hours of the Nurburgring in July, then Travel Destinations also have an exclusive travel, ticket and trackside camping option available.

If you would like more information on either of these offers please click on the links above or call our reservations team on 0844 873 0203.

Sports Car News Round Up

Sports Car News Round Up

In the first of a new series of articles exclusively for Travel Destinations, our man in the media centre, Graham Goodwin, keeps you up to date with all the news on and off track in the sports car world. With the first round of the FIA World Endurance Championship and the European Le Mans Series taking place next weekend at Silverstone, Graham looks at what has been happening in the build up over the last month.

 

March was one heck of a busy month in the world of Sportscar racing.

We’ve had the pre-season tests for both the European Le Mans Series and the FIA World Endurance Championship; New cars, new drivers, new teams and a pair of very healthy grids.

That was followed up with a London launch for the opening round of the FIA WEC with cars and drivers on parade, and some unexpected news from Championship Boss Gerard Neveu.

European Le Mans Series

The European Le Mans Series will get under way next weekend with the first of five, four hour races for LMP2, the new LMP3, GTE and GTC cars.

More than 30 cars are billed to take the start with an excellent LMP2 grid – Jota Sport will be looking to take a win at the start of their campaign with the team featuring a pair of factory LMP1 drivers from different teams on their line-up, Simon Dolan joined by Audi’s Filipe Albuquerque and Nissan’s Harry Tincknell.

Look out too for the Orecas from Murphy Prototypes and AF Corse, the latter a renamed SMP Racing who have decided to delay the debut of their new in-house designed Coupe until round two – Both teams have very quick drivers on the roster and the older Oreca car still has fire in its belly.

Thiriet by TDS Racing do have the new Oreca 05 Coupe, and a good driver line up too. The car is fast, and a stunning good looker. If it is reliable too then it will be one to watch.

There will be huge interest too in the ‘junior’ LMP3 class, a world first for Silverstone as the new class makes its racing debut. Several manufacturers have made their intentions to build cars clear but they have all been beaten to the punch by Yorkshire-based Ginetta who plan to bring up to five of their new LMP3 coupes to the opening round.

It is early days yet for the pretty little coupe but with clever aero and a powerful, and under stressed Nissan V8, these cars might be nipping at the heels of the LMP2s before very long!

Team GB Olympic legend Sir Chris Hoy makes his LMP racing debut alongside fellow Scot Charlie Robertson in one of a pair of cars entered by Ginetta factory based Team LNT.

 

FIA World Endurance Championship

Neither the brand new Nissan GTR LM LMP1 nor the newly re-engined Rebellions will make the opening round (Though a Nissan will be on display in the paddock with all of the team’s drivers planned to be present too).

That won’t be too much of an issue for great racing though with all three of the other factory LMP1 teams bringing heavily updated versions of their stunning hybrid racers to the grid.

Porsche ended 2014 with a race win in Brazil and arrive in the UK with their 2015 919 Hybrid now punching out more than 1000bhp between it’s turbo four pot engine and its pair of hybrid systems. The car is the very first to enter the maximum 8 megajoules bracket, a bold step forward that the Porsche boys hope will give them an edge.

Defending World Drivers, and Manufacturers, Champions Toyota bring an updated version of their TS040 Hybrid to the fight – the team have confirmed a three year commitment to the FIA WEC and whilst they stick with last years 6 megajoule package alongside their howling V8, their acknowledged aero expertise might well play a part.

Audi found themselves breathless in the wake of the opposition at times last year and have responded. They stick with diesel power but have produced a massively enhanced evolution on last year’s car with a doubling of their hybrid boost (up to 4MJ) and huge attention to detail on the weight management and aerodynamic front. A confident looking Audi is a worrying prospect for the opposition and whilst Porsche grabbed the pre-season headlines with astonishing pace at the Prologue test last month the Audis were faster over a full stint (and Toyota are reputed to have lapped quicker at Paul Ricard in their pre-season tests!)

In LMP2 the rather disappointing grid of last season is history – replaced by a full season entry that has more than doubled to 10 cars. There is plenty of variety too:

G-Drive double their effort to a pair of Ligier Nissans in an eye catching new Orange and black livery – Brit start Sam Bird replaces Olivier Pla in the lead #26 car but look out for the all South American crewed #28 too.
Tequila Patron ESM arrive as full season entrants from the USA but not with the new HPD Coupes they planned to field, issues with the new cars have seen the team dust off their older Hondas ahead of a pair of Ligiers arriving in time for Round 2. Watch for Scot Ryan Dalziel to star here.

Team Sard Morand bring a pair of revised Morgan Evos with SARD badged Judd V8s – Another quick young Brit, Oliver Webb is one to watch in #43

The only all British effort on the grid comes from the locally based Strakka Racing, the team making a belated comeback after almost a year’s delay to their new car – The Strakka Dome S103 Coupe looks like Darth Vader to the Ligier’s Princess leia – It will be quick, especially in the hands of the team’s two top pros Jonny Kane and Danny Watts.

The ELMS Champions from 2014 arrive in the WEC with their French Blue weapon from last season – Signatech Alpine looking to climb the ladder in the WEC.

If anything even more ‘blue’ though is the stunning new Oreca 05 Coupe of Hong Kong based KCMG, the team investing in the future after race winning success last season – The car’s astonishing electric blue livery is going to be a crowd pleaser for sure and with an all- British driver line up for Silverstone it will be one to watch!

The GT ranks will see the factory backed Ferraris defending their crown from a pair of factory Porsches and a trio of Aston Martins in the Pro class whilst the Am class too sees all three marques going head to head with the additional V8 powered spice of a new Corvette C7.R into the mix.

There will be a different look to the race start this year too – No grid girls, a specific decision from the WEC and the cars will leave the grid from an ‘ear of corn’ formation after a pre grid that will see all the teams line-up with their cars, it should make for quite a sight from the pit straight grandstands!

 

Nurburgring 24 Hours

Sadly we end this month’s round up with some bad news.

A tragic accident at the Nurburgring last weekend with a spectator killed in a freak incident has left questions to be answered before plans for the 2015 Nurburgring 24 Hours can be confirmed.

At present the fastest GT cars are under a temporary ban but moves are underway to confirm plans for the race proper in May – We’ll bring an update to these pages as soon as we can confirm what those plans entail.

 

Porsche win the race, Toyota win the Championship

Porsche win the race, Toyota win the Championship

The last FIA World Endurance Championship race of the 2014 season had a dramatic end, following some very close racing throughout the six hours race in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Porsche secured their maiden win in the FIA WEC with the No. 14 car taking the chequered flag first. They were hotly pursued by the No. 8 Toyota, who had already secured the drivers’ championship in the previous race, and now secured the team title too. Taking the third step on the podium was the No. 1 Audi, securing an emotional farewell to racing for the retiring legend Tom Kristensen.

brazil-start

The race finished in dramatic circumstances, behind the safety car, after a high speed accident involving Mark Webber in the No. 20 Porsche 919, and Matteo Cressoni in the No. 90 8Star Ferrari. The accident occurred as the race entered the last half hour & race control eventually conceded that they could not start the race again. Cressoni was able to walk away from his stricken Ferrari, whilst Webber was stretchered from the scene of his mangled Porsche. Fortunately both drivers were reported OK, following stringent medical assessments.

Neel Jani, Marc Lieb and Romain Dumas brought home the No. 14 Porsche 919 Hybrid to score Porsche their first overall win of the season, and crucially, their first since Porsche’s return to the prototype ranks this year. “In the final race of the season we got our first win,” said a triumphant Jani after the race. “We’ve come so close before, and now to get the win is such a relief. It made our mission for the year. A success.”

brazil-porsche

It was an up and down race across every class. Many on-track battles lasted the entire The No. 20 Porsche dominated the first quarter of the race with Lieb and Webber behind the wheel, but the performance of the car deteriorated towards the end of the race. The 16 second lead they had vanished.

The No. 14 Porsche and the No. 8 Toyota battled for second place overall for hours during the middle portion of the race, with the No. 1 Audi getting involved during the middle portion after double-stinting tyres to save time. This eventually turned into the battle for overall honours, with the No. 14 holding the advantage of pit-stop strategy going into the final hour.

brazil-toyota

Too many mistakes by the Sebastian Buemi and Anthony Davidson cost them a chance to control the race for Toyota. The newly crowned drivers’ champions followed the lead Porsche home under the safety car, wondering what could have been as the medical team and marshals on site dealt with the cleanup of the race-ending accident.. Their finishing position did give them the manufacturers’ title for Toyota, sparking celebrations in the Toyota garage that may have not yet finished. “It has been difficult, we have tough opposition. Our car wasn’t really up there today, so we are having to over-drive it to keep up,” admitted Buemi.

Tom Kristensen ended his career on another high, finishing third overall after a great race by himself, Loic Duval and Lucas Di Grassi in the No. 1 Audi. The Dane, who announced his retirement prior to the race, was greeted by an emotional Dr Wolfgang Ullrich after getting out of the car at the end of the race – his former teammates Dindo Capello and Allan McNish were also on the scene for his big send off. The man who played a major part in Audi’s dominance of sportscars since the turn of the century has officially hung up his helmet to end an illustrious era for Danish sport and the German marque, he stayed a class act from start to finish.

Rebellion Racing’s No.13 R-One won LMP1 L in a race which saw all three entries spend a lot of time in and out of the garages. It has been a tough season of development for both them and the Lotus crew.

brazil-smp

KCMG won the LMP2 class in what turned out to be a rare race of attrition for all four entries. Richard Bradley, Alexander Imperatori and Matt Howson took charge in the class early after a bad start for the G-Drive Ligier. But Howson would have an impact with a barrier from the lead which cost him a lap as the race settled down, which at the time looked like it would hand the win to SMP.

It was no easy ride for the other LMP2 runners though. Olivier Pla had a sizeable accident in the Ligier which cost the G-Drive the team the title after just 90 minutes of running. The Frenchman went flying in to the barriers at turn 1 after a suspected brake issue. “I think there was a problem with a front right brake. It was quite bad. To lose the race like that, it is difficult.” said his teammate Romian Rusinov after the incident.
Both SMP Orecas suffered issues throughout, and handed the lead back to the KCMG crew towards the end. The No.27 would take the LMP2 title though, as all it needed to do was finish. The team held it in the garage to conserve the car in the final stages, and brought it out to cross the line and win the LMP2 championship.

brazil-amr

Darren Turner and Stefan Mücke took their second win of the season for Aston Martin after a tough start to the race. The team lost a lot of time early when the full-course yellow was called for by the race director to clean up the debris left by Pla’s Ligier. They spent the remainder of the race playing catch up, but in the end held the lead when the safety car came out at the end, knowing they would need to make one last stop unless the race was interrupted.

Porsche had a much better outing, especially with the No. 92 car of Fred Makoweicki and Patrick Pilet which came home second and led the Pro class for a considerable amount of the race. The No. 99 Vantage of Darryl O’Young, Fernando Rees and Andy McDowell slowly faded away after providing the British team with hope of winning at the start. The trio lost time due to an incident with the other Porsche GT entry of Jorg Bergmiester who tapped the car into a spin at turn one late in the race.

AF Corse had a tough race in both GTE classes, the champion No. 51 458 Italia of Gianmaria Bruni and Toni Vilander never featured and the No.71 of James Colado and Davide Rigon had to settle for third in class after struggling to match the pace of the frontrunners. AF Corse did manage to win the manufacturers title for Ferrari though, as Porsche didn’t quite score enough points.

Aston Martin Racing would do the double, as their domination of the GTE Am class continued at Sao Paulo. The No. 98 Aston Martin of Paul Dalla Lana, Christopher Nygaard and Pedro Lamy ran a perfect race, coming home ahead of the Dane train No. 95 entry which spent much of the race recovering from a spin, puncture and a penalty.

brazil-podium

So the 2014 FIA World Endurance Championship concluded in Brazil. There were smiles all round. Porsche secured their win (& their star driver survived a big impact), Toyota secured the Championship & will inherit the No. 1 car next year. Audi were also happy to bid farewell to their legendary driver with a place on the podium in Tom Kristensen’s last race.

brazil-tk

 

A special note should also be made for Howden Haynes, the Audi Sport lead race engineer, who also retires after this race. Never one to seek the spotlight, his career has mirrored the success of Audi over the last decade. He moves on to new projects and will be missed on the pit wall next year.

So we move on to the 2015 season where the FIA WEC starts again at Silverstone in April. Those interested in attending the other European rounds at Spa-Francorchamps, Le Mans & the Nurburgring should visit the Travel Destinations website for the best offers available.
Written by Richard Webb
Photos by Dailysportscar

Toyota Drivers Are World Endurance Champions

Toyota Drivers Are World Endurance Champions

Although the No. 7 Toyota of Alexander Wurz, Mike Conway and Stéphane Sarrazin took their first win of the season in Bahrain, at the end of a thrilling FIA WEC Six Hours of Bahrain, it was their teammates in the No. 8 Toyota who claimed the overall FIA World Endurance Championship crown. Anthony Davidson and Sébastian Buemi can now call themselves “World Champions”.

toyota-champions-500
Although technical issues prevented a top step finish for the Toyota pair, the ongoing issues for Audi’s challenge helped seal the championship for the Davidson & Buemi. “We were really unlucky with alternator issues at this race. If we didn’t have the problem we would have also been fighting at the front,” said a relieved Buemi. “It is not the best way to win it, but we are really happy! We have to focus on the manufacturer title now in Brazil.”

It was Porsche who made the best start to the race in Bahrain. The No. 14 car led from pole position with Romain Dumas at the wheel. Brendon Hartley in the No. 20 sister Porsche joined Dumas at the front by climbing to second place at the first corner to make it a Porsche 1-2.

porsches-start-bahrain
The Porsche lead would be short-lived, as the pair of Toyotas soon battled to the front. Indeed the pace of the Toyotas was so good that Buemi not only took the lead, but stretched the gap considerably in a relatively short space of time. All changed again with an early full course caution for debris on the track & so the relative strategies of the leading LMP1 teams were altered. Toyota’s cars came in for early stops, whilst Porsche gambled by staying out. This decision was one the Porsche would later regret as they could never get back on terms with the Toyotas after they eventually pitted.

It seemed like the No. 8 Toyota would once again take a commanding victory in what has been a dominant season, but just under two hours into the race the car was brought in to the garage to fix a mechanical issue which cost the team more than half an hour. This enforced stop meant that they could finish only 11th overall, but lucky for them, the No. 2 Audi title challenger didn’t have the pace to profit from the Toyota’s issues, handing them the title anyway. Le Mans champions Marcel Fässler, André Lotterer and Benôit Tréluyer could only manage fourth in Bahrain.

toyota-no-8-bahrain
With the championship contending Toyota out of the picture, the lead of the race was taken over by the No. 7 Toyota crew, who fought off both Porsches until the end of the race. Both the No. 14 and No.20 Porsches had a chance to catch Davidson during the final two hours, but Mark Webber and Neel Jani couldn’t find the pace required. Jani complained of a lack of hybrid power, and Webber was struggling for grip towards the end of his stint. In the end the winning margin was under a minute, but it seemed like an eternity for the Porsche squad, who in their best all-round performance of the season, still couldn’t claim that elusive first FIA WEC victory.

Rebellion Racing won the LMP1 L class once again, with the No. 13 car coming home ahead of the No. 12 after late race electrical issue curtailed another excellent run. Their only rivals from the Lotus team retired on lap 2 with a gearbox issue.

smp-lmp2-bahrain
The LMP2 class was won by KCMG for the second time this year. Matt Howson, Alex Imperatori and Richard Bradley fought hard against the two SMP Orecas throughout, after the G-Drive Ligier suffered a wishbone failure after contact with the No. 37 SMP entry of Kyril Ladygin on lap 1. The Ligier never recovered, hurting their chances of winning the championship going into the final round.

The FIA WEC GTE Pro and Am titles were also decided in Bahrain. Gianmaria Bruni and Toni Vilander won the 2014 GT Drivers’ World Cup in the No. 51 AF Corse Ferrari, while David Heinemeier Hansson, Nicki Thiim and Kristian Poulsen in the No. 95 Aston Martin won the GTE Am title with their class victory.

af-corse-ferrari

Bruni and Vilander won GTE Pro class in Bahrain, but only just! A great battle for almost the entire race with the No.97 Aston Martin of Darren Turner and Stefan Mücke went down to the wire with Turner catching Vilander at a rate of knots, reducing a gap of over 20 seconds down to just over 2 in his final stint. The pair ran bumper-to-bumper for a long time, but the No. 97 needed to make one more stop than the AF Corse, which created the gap at the end. It was frustrating for the British team, who given just another couple of laps would have had a chance to snatch the win in what was clearly the faster car.

AF Corse’s No. 71 Ferrari of James Calado and Davide Rigon came home third. Whilst the Porsche challenge continued struggle for pace, meaning they were unable to challenge for a podium as the race wore on.

amr-95-bahrain

There was some consolation for Aston Martin as they did win the Am class once again, clinching the title in the process. The No.95 was untouchable, coming home a lap ahead of the No. 81 AF Corse Ferrari and the No. 98 Aston Martin which recovered well from an early penalty. A well deserved title was handed to the Danish trio who have been the best of the Am competitors all-season long.

The final round of the season will see the teams head to Sao Paulo at the end of the month, where the remainder of the titles will be decided.

The dates for the FIA World Endurance Championship 2015 have already been confirmed. As well as the Le Mans 24 Hours in June you can also join us at two other European rounds. The Six Hours of Spa will take place on the 2nd May 2015 and the Six Hours of the Nurburgring will take place on the 30th August 2015. We have camping and hotel options available for both. Secure your place by calling us now on 0844 873 0203.

Report & photos by Dailysportscar

Audi beat the rain to take victory at Austin, Texas

Ultimately it was the contrasting weather and the teams’ choice of tyres at crucial moments during this race that decided the outcome. After a long summer since the Le Mans 24 Hours, all FIA World Endurance Championship teams reconvened at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas for round 4 of this ongoing battle.

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LMP1
From the start the Toyotas took the lead. In particular Sebastien Buemi was flying in the No. 8 car before a spin undid his earlier good work. The sister Toyota car closed the gap closely followed by the Audis that seemed to have a power advantage over the chasing Porsches early in the race.
It was the interruption of the weather that changed everything. Austin had been suffering from storms all week and race day was no exception. The dark clouds threatened and then delivered a deluge of rain. Audi called in both cars to change to wet tyres. Porsche called in their cars as well but changed only to new slick tyres. Toyota chose to stay out on their existing slicks, gambling on a brief period of rain.

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The problem for Toyota and Porsche was that the rain continued for some time, leading to a few incidents where drivers were no longer in control of their vehicles. The No 7 Toyota was caught out at the Esses and slid through sideways, whilst the No 20 Porsche bounced through the gravel and into the barriers. Six other cars including the No. 8 Toyota were caught out by standing water at turn 11 that led to more cars becoming beached in the gravel.
With Audi the only prototypes seemingly able to stay on the track, & no safety car in sight, the race was red flagged. Even then wrong decisions were made as some cars erroneously returned to the pit lane, whilst others correctly stopped on the grid. The race was stopped for more than an hour as the rain continued to pour.

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The race ultimately restarted behind the safety car with all the cars on new tyres & those rejoining from the pit lane behind those that had stopped on track. The race now had the Audis ahead of the No. 14 Porsche on the lead lap. The spins in the wet had left the Toyotas a way behind.
The No. 14 Porsche did manage to take the lead from the Audis during this latter part of the race as the night descended but engine issues ultimately ruined their challenge. The second Porsche and both Toyotas put in some quick laps in an attempt to catch the Audis, but ultimately it was to no avail as Audi claimed another 1-2 to match their Le Mans result. Those 2 results combined enabled Audi to take the lead in the FIA WEC Manufacturers Championship.

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A brief mention here should also be made to the LMP1 L class, where Lotus joined Rebellion Racing for the first time this year. The No. 12 Rebellion Racing ultimately took the honours ahead of the Lotus with the sister Rebellion car unable to finish.

 

LMP2
With the addition of the Extreme Speed Motorsports HPD car there were 5 LMP2 cars that took to the starting grid in Austin. The G-Drive Ligier Nissan started on pole but couldn’t hold the position, whilst early leader KCMG Oreca were ultimately overtaken by Extreme Speed.

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All three cars lost out during the downpour as SMP Racing benefited and took the class lead. The No. 37 SMP Oreca succumbed to damage resulting from contact in traffic, whilst Extreme Speed’s challenge was dented quite literally from contact to the rear. The No. 30 car would ultimately recover to claim third position. The G-Drive Ligier mounted a challenge to the remaining No. 27 SMP Oreca, but suffered after mounting Austin’s kerbs too many times.
A similar fate befell the No. 47 KCMG Oreca Nissan, who was sent spinning into a tyre barrier. However, the car did recover & eventually chased down the leading No. 27 SMP Oreca. It was a close battle between the two as they approached the chequered flag, but it was the Chinese car that managed to take the win, thus reducing the gap to the No. 27 SMP Oreca in the Championship.

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GTE Pro
Aston Martin Racing will be very pleased to record a win at Austin, after a hard fought battle with the factory Porsches. The inevitable strong challenge from the Ferraris of AF Corse for once faded in the wet although they recovered in the dark to take a podium spot.

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During the middle hours of the race, the Porsches looked comfortable. Having taken the lead from the Ferraris, the 2 Porsches looked to be unchallenged. However, as the race progressed so the Aston Martins began their attack. Initially Sefan Mucke lead the challenge, but after an electrical issue curtailed their challenge it was Darren Turner who pushed the Aston Martin challenge home in the No. 97 car. The Leading Porsche was only able to defend the position for so long.

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Further back the Corvette and the Ferraris were left on the back foot after the rain stoppage and failed to register a challenge. The Corvette’s race on home soil was particularly disappointing for the local crowd.

 

GTE Am
Aston Martin Racing claimed a double GTE victory as the rain put an end to the Proton Porsche challenge. Both Prospeed Porsche set the initial pace but mechanical issues & dropping a lap behind the safety car left them out of contention.

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All three AF Corse Ferraris suffered issues as well as being on the wrong side of the safety car when the rain came, whilst the 8Star Ferrari spun in the wet and at turn 20 and was lucky not to collect the traffic behind. The No. 57 Krohn Racing Ferrari also suffered damage in a collision with the No. 99 Aston Martin.

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As everyone else faltered the two Aston Martins continued trouble free at the front with the No. 95 car taking the win and extending the crew’s lead in the GTE Am class.

The FIA World Endurance Championship now moves on to Fuji, Japan from the 10 – 13th October.

Written by Richard Webb
Photos by Dailysportscar