Category Archives: Motorsport News

Le Mans Classic 2020

Le Mans Classic Moved To 2022

Historic racing event organiser Peter Auto, has announced that the 2021 edition of the Le Mans Classic in July has been postponed to 2022 and will now run from June 30th to July 3rd* next year.

The decision has been made in light of the current health guidelines in France which would prevent it from hosting the event with a large crowd and all its usual fan-facing activities. By pushing the event back a year Peter Auto hopes to put on a spectacular show in 2022.

It has also confirmed that it will hold the Le Mans Classic on two consecutive years for the first time as a result of this change, with a 2023 event now scheduled too. This allows Peter Auto to hold the Le Mans Classic on the centenary year for the Le Mans 24 Hours and add to the celebrations and festivities the ACO is planning for the 24 Hours proper in June 2023.

“The maximum figures of people imposed by the government do not allow us to maintain this event on the initial dates (July 1 to 4, 2021),” said Patrick Peter, head of Peter Auto. “Moreover, even though it had been considered, a Le Mans Classic without fans would not do justice to this event and would considerably reduce the beautiful tribute to the great history of endurance. A Le Mans Classic without the public, without exhibitors and without car clubs is not the Le Mans Classic.

“We will nevertheless meet again in August during the 24 Hours Le Mans race week, with the presence of Endurance Racing Legends cars as the support race. Enthusiasts will have two successive years of Le Mans Classic since we will do another edition in 2023 which will be an opportunity to reinforce the tribute to the centenary of creation of the 24 Hours of Le Mans race.”

Pierre Fillon, President of the Automobile Club de l’Ouest added: “Organising Le Mans Classic behind closed doors would not make any sense. This event is made for the public, and the lack of visibility on the current situation generates this logical decision.

“This event loved by all enthusiasts will be held in 2022, before a return in 2023 for a centenary edition of the 24 Hours of Le Mans which promises to be exceptional.”

Anyone who has a booking with Travel Destinations for the 2021 Le Mans Classic will be contacted individually in due course by email and phone to discuss options. We would therefore request that you refrain from contacting us to ask about the status of your booking at this time.

The Travel Destinations team would like to thank you for your patience, loyalty and understanding and we look forward to seeing you all again soon.

*2022 dates currently provisional and subject to ratification. The event may be moved to the second weekend in July if the date of the Le Mans 24 Hours falls a week later than usual. Confirmation is expected in September.

Porsche’s LMDh Commitment Is A Huge Moment For Sportscar Racing

The dust has barely settled on Porsche’s withdrawl from IMSA’s GTLM category at the 2020 season finale in Sebring last month and already the German marque has announced its return to sportscar racing as a factory.

Let’s not beat around the bush here, last night’s news that Porsche will return to top-class sportscar racing and compete in both IMSA and the FIA WEC with a new LMDh prototype, is as significant as it gets.

Audi was technically the first marque to commit to LMDh, with its brief statement of intent to race at Le Mans and Daytona in LMDh as part of the fallout from its Formula E exit earlier this month. But Porsche’s bulletin is the first full confirmation for IMSA’s LMDh formula, which will replace DPi and be eligible to race alongside Le Mans Hypercars in the FIA WEC as part of top class convergence.

Better still, Porsche’s commitment to the new LMP2-based, hybrid-powered category will likely add two full-season factory cars to both IMSA and the WEC’s grids, and potentially, multiple customer cars too.

“The new LMDh category allows us to fight for overall victories with a hybrid system at the Le Mans, Daytona and Sebring classics – without breaking the bank. The project is extremely attractive for Porsche. Endurance racing is part of our brand’s DNA,” explains Oliver Blume, CEO at Porsche AG.

Michael Steiner, Board Member for Research and Development at Porsche AG, adds: “In the medium term, Porsche focuses on three different drive concepts: fully electric vehicles, efficient plug-in hybrids and emotional combustion engines. We want to represent this trilogy in both the development of our cutting-edge road cars and in motorsport.

“We use the all-electric drive to contest the FIA Formula E as part of our works commitment, and the highly efficient and emotional combustion unit in GT racing. Now, the LMDh class closes the gap for us. There, powerful hybrid drives – like the ones that are mounted in many of our brand’s models – go up against each other. If the regulations eventually allowed the use of synthetic fuels, then that would be an even greater incentive for me in terms of sustainability.”

The car, Dailysportscar.com says, is planned to be powered by a twin-turbo V8, while the engine used by fellow VAG-brand Audi, is tipped to be a four-cylinder turbocharged engine from its outgoing Class One DTM chassis.

From the teaser renders meanwhile, it appears that the next-generation Multimatic LMP2 chassis has been selected as the base for Porsche’s LMDh car. Travel Destinations understands that it will also used for Audi’s forthcoming challenger also.

A further similarity is that like Audi, Porsche’s new car will hit the track in 2023, the year which Travel Destinations believes will be the first for LMDh as a formula, with IMSA set to delay its inception by 12 months to allow manufacturers more time to prepare. Crucially, this coincides with a hugely significant year for the Le Mans 24 Hours, which will celebrate the 100th anniversary of the inaugural running of the race held back in 1923.

The 2023 edition of the ‘Grand Prix of Endurance’ is shaping up to be an extraordinary occasion, with the ACO planning a whole host of festivities in the build up to what should be one of the most hotly contested races ever at La Sarthe. As it stands now, Toyota, Peugeot, Audi and Porsche are all set to be on hand for the 2023 race, with the potential for Glickenhaus and ByKolles to join the fun running privately entered Le Mans Hypercars. And that’s without any additional marques or privateers committing to either LMH or LMDh.

Don’t expect the coming months to be quiet though; we’re likely to hear about more programmes very soon. Acura is believed to be close to confirming its LMDh participation with ORECA, McLaren and Mazda are still actively assessing options and rumours persist that Ferrari is working on something behind the scenes following its participation in the technical working group meetings.

After a heavily disrupted year for motorsport, and the world as a whole, this news comes as a real boost. The future of both IMSA and the FIA WEC’s top classes are is taking shape. Convergence looks increasingly likely exceed the expectations of the key industry stakeholders on hand back in January when IMSA and the ACO’s top brass made their historic announcement.

With Porsche now on board, even if nobody else pushes the button on an LMDh or LMH programme going forward, the grids for the big endurance races like Rolex 24 Hours, Sebring 12 Hours and Le Mans 24 Hours are all set to be blockbuster, with multiple major marques in wildly different cars battling for the overall wins. And that, as we sit here more than two years out from LMDh’s debut, may be the best news of all…

ACO President Pierre Fillon puts it best: “This eagerly anticipated announcement is excellent news for endurance racing. It proves that our regulations, boosted by a historic agreement with the USA, are an attractive proposition.”

Stephen Kilbey

Want to be trackside at Le Mans in 2021? Call our office today on 01707 329988 or email info@traveldestinations.co.uk to make a booking…

Travel Destinations’ 2021/22 Brochure Out Now!

Leading UK-based motorsport and motoring tour operator Travel Destinations has released its extensive 2021/22 brochure, featuring all of its motorsport and historic racing packages as it prepares for an extremely busy year in 2021.

You can download a copy of the brochure today (see below), or request a free physical edition by either calling our office on 01707 329 988 or emailing your name and address to info@traveldestinations.co.uk.

The level of demand from customers eager to return to motorsport events around the world and travel across Europe by car as part of a group tour has been sky high over the past few months. Travel Destinations’ biggest sellers, the Le Mans 24 Hours and Le Mans Classic, are selling out fast. With so much pent up demand from this year’s postponed meetings, certain campsites and accommodation options are already sold out in 2021 for both events.

Nevertheless Travel Destinations still has spaces remaining at some of its private accommodation areas for both the 24 Hours and Classic like the Flexotel (pop-up hotel) Village at Antares Sud and Event Tents (glamping) site on the Porsche Curves. A limited number of hotel rooms off circuit and spaces in the official circuit-run campsites, hospitality packages and off-circuit camping spaces are also still available.

For 2021 Travel Destinations has created full travel packages to the 24 Hours Moto event too, which feature in the brochure with both camping and hotel options on offer.

Beyond Le Mans, details and prices for all of Travel Destinations’ other motorsport and historic racing events feature in the brochure. Customers are making bookings for other major race meetings across Europe in 2021 such as the Nurburgring 24 Hours in June and Spa 24 Hours in July daily.

Packages for our selection of historic race meetings are also selling fast, with spaces on its tours to the Grand Prix de l’Age d’Or in Dijon and the Circuit des Remparts in Angouleme now limited.

“It’s clear that this year’s challenges and restrictions are inspiring people to return to attending events and race meetings as soon as possible,” said Andrew Melley, the Director of Travel Destinations.

“Our customers have been brilliant and their loyalty has helped us a great deal through a tricky period. They know all their bookings are financially protected, and that any coronavirus cancelled bookings can be transferred or refunded, so they have confidence to commit to travelling when they give us a call.

“This means we have been able to plan ahead and are now looking forward to what we hope will be a memorable 2021, with so many unmissable events on our calendar coming together and thousands of bookings already made.”

You can download a low-resolution of the new brochure below.  Alternatively please email your name and address to info@traveldestinations.co.uk and we will mail you a copy (UK addresses only).

Travel Destinations Acquired By Motorsport Tickets

Motorsport Tickets, which is part of Motorsport Network, the digital market leader in motorsport and automotive with a 56 million-strong monthly audience of global racing and automotive fans, has acquired Travel Destinations Ltd, the UK’s leading tour operator for sports car and historic motorsport events. The announcement broadens Motorsport Tickets’ reach in tickets and travel business, accelerating a defined specialism within the motorsport space.

Travel Destinations, established in 1996, is a specialist motorsport event accommodation solutions provider, including a breadth of historic races and club car tours. They provide the best accommodation solutions for their customers, delivering a variety of on-site camping and accommodation options. As an official ticket agent of the 24 Hours of Le Mans and the only sports car tour operator to be a member of both ABTA and ATOL, they show their expertise in providing customers with unforgettable expert experiences and peace of mind throughout their international product offerings. Along with the 24 Hours of Le Mans, these offerings include: Nurburgring 24 hours, Rolex 24 at Daytona, Bathurst 12 Hour, Monaco Classic, and a breadth of Car Club tours for a variety of iconic brands including the MG Owners’ Club, Jaguar Enthusiasts and Morgan Sports Car Club.

Motorsport Tickets, is the Motorsport Network’s ticketing and experiences brand, created from the successful integration of leading ticket providers BookF1 (UK) and SportStadion (Holland). The strong customer base and the development of an all new in-house developed mobile first platform, gives it the strength to expand into different racing series and drive global expansion. The integration with Travel Destinations, is part of the network’s strategic vision to expand Motorsport Ticket into a truly global platform. Already in seven languages and five currencies, the new platform launching at the end of the year, will expand to accommodate fifteen languages as part of its first two-year roadmap, offering a fully immersive and seamless brand experience to an ever-broader customer base. This follows the successful expansion of Motorsport.com from a single language web platform to now a global leader in 15 languages.

Andrew Melley, Founder of Travel Destinations said “It’s great to be joining Motorsport Network. Their enthusiasm, passion and skill set across the automotive and motorsport sphere, aligns perfectly with what has been our driving principle of the business. The ability to leverage their extensive digital knowledge to open up the Travel Destinations’ product offering to a wider audience, the opportunity to bring new commercial partners into the fold and support the business with a complementary online service, is a once in a lifetime opportunity”.

Mehul Kapadia, Chief Operating Officer, Motorsport Network adds “Motorsport Tickets’ acquisition of Travel Destinations, brings their unique suite of products to our digital ticket platform, complementing our wider Formula 1 and MotoGP travel products already being offered.  The focus now is on delivering this audience with these rich motorsport experiences. It also strengthens Motorsport Network’s overall presence across automotive and motorsport-based experiential products. This complements our acquisition of Canossa which organises annually over 300 premium events & experiences, and Duke Travel which is the Official Licensed Travel Partner of the Isle of Man TT Races. We’re excited by the future product road map we can forge together”.

Speed Chills

Open for business again

Apologies for not posting content on here recently, but rather than doing nothing for the last couple of months, all the Travel Destinations team have been working remotely and have been very busy trying to assist all our customers with their future travel plans.

All our events up until the end of August have now been postponed; either to dates in September & October or to similar dates in 2021. All events originally scheduled for September and October retain their positions in the calendar and whilst they continue to be reviewed by the relevant authorities, if the events can go ahead, we will be there!

The Travel Destinations team would like to say a genuinely big thank you to all our customers for your patience and understanding during what has been difficult times for everybody. Quite early on we decided that we should try, where possible, to contact all our customers individually to discuss their bookings and the best options available to them. This has been quite an undertaking and has taken time, so we are grateful for everyone bearing with us.

We are so pleased that in the majority of cases, customers have chosen to transfer their bookings forward to the revised event dates. Not only does this help us, but it also gives us all something to look forward to, which is really positive looking forward. Thank you.

Thankfully, as some lock-down restrictions are lifted, from this week, we are now able to return to our office. Initially this will be limited to a few staff at a time on a rota basis, whilst others will continue to work remotely. The phone has already started ringing, so we are now trying to answer as many calls as we can. You can reach us on our usual number 0044 (0) 1707 329988, but if initially you can’t get through, you can still contact us via email (info@travelestinations.co.uk) and we will call you back as soon as we can.

All the new dates for our events have been confirmed on our websites www.traveldestinations.co.uk and www.lemansrace.com and we will continue to update these as further news is announced, so please do keep checking-in for future events.

Thank you again & we look forward to seeing you on your travels soon.

Travel to Le Mans

Temporary Office Closure: How to contact us

Dear All,

Due to the ongoing Covid-19 outbreak and current restrictions being imposed, our office is now closed with all staff working from home during office hours; Monday – Friday 09:00hrs – 17.30hrs.

Should you need to contact us please do so via email, leaving your full name, booking number, the nature of your enquiry and your contact details.

If you know the person that you would like to contact, please email them directly using their first name, followed by @traveldestinations.co.uk

If you aren’t sure who to contact then please email info@traveldestinations.co.uk and one of our staff will respond as soon as they can.

Yours sincerely.

Andrew Melley
Managing Director

Speed Chills

Speed Chills joins the Travel Destinations family

Travel Destinations Ltd is pleased to confirm that the Speed Chills brand will be returning to Le Mans as part of the Travel Destinations family.

Speed Chills

Speed Chills was set up by Directors Neil Matthews & Chris Daynes to look after race fans at Le Mans, offering a comprehensive service of travel, tickets and camping offers. In recent months Neil’s work commitments away from the company, meant he was unable to devote the time he would like to Speed Chills & its customers.


Neil Matthews said “With Speed Chills, our aim was always to put the customer at the heart of everything we did and then to surround them with rock-solid administration and the best team of like-minded people we could muster to deliver a great experience. So, when the time came to pass on the baton, there was only one organisation to work with; the team at Travel Destinations. I am confident that our customers will be extremely well looked after and the spirit in which we developed the brand will be upheld.”


Richard Webb, Director at Travel Destinations, added “We have always kept good relations with Neil and the Speed Chills team, so we were delighted when Neil approached us to continue the Speed Chills brand. We see Speed Chills as a very good fit with Travel Destinations & we look forward to welcoming Speed Chills customers to Le Mans and our other events.”

Travel Destinations

Initially Speed Chills customers will notice a face-lift to the Speed Chills website in the coming days and then all Speed Chills registered subscribers will receive a further update in the next week.

Your questions answered:

  • We usually book for Le Mans now, when can we book for Le Mans 2020? We are open and on sale now for the Le Mans 24 Hours & the Le Mans Classic. Initial bookings are best made by telephone by calling 01707 329988. If you have already lodged a booking request with Speed Chills, that information has been passed to Travel Destinations and we will be in touch
  • Can I still contact Speed Chills?
    The Speed Chills brand will now be owned by Travel Destinations. Initially the Speed Chills phone number will be diverted to the Travel Destinations reservations team, who will be happy to assist.
  • I normally buy just my tickets through Speed Chills; can I still do this? Of course, you can still call to purchase your tickets, ultimately these will be processed via www.tickets-2-u.com, another member of the Travel Destinations family.
  • Will the Speed Chills private camping areas resume?
    Speed Chills last offered private camping at Le Mans in 2018. Travel Destinations were actually the first company to offer private camping and continue to offer private camping at Porsche Curves. We hope that Speed Chills customers will enjoy their new home there. Travel Destinations also offers glamping and our Flexotel Village cabins, which will also be available to Speed Chills customers.
  • Were Speed Chills in financial difficulties?
    No. Speed Chills were always successful, but Neil recognised that his time was being spent away from the business. By transferring the brand to Travel Destinations, Speed Chills customers will continue to receive a knowledgeable & experienced customer service.
  • In the past we travelled with Speed Chills to Daytona and hoped to return.
    This is also no problem; Travel Destinations already have 2 very similar offers available for the Daytona 24 Hours & the Daytona Classic. We also have offers for Sebring & Bathurst. All Travel Destinations offers are available now on www.traveldestinations.co.uk and will also be available to Speed Chills customers
  • We booked through Speed Chills because they were members of ABTA so we knew our money was safe.
    Travel Destinations are also ABTA bonded. We are also members of AITO and hold an ATOL license, so you can book with confidence through Travel Destinations.

For further information or to make a booking for Le Mans or any of the other Travel Destinations packages, please call Travel Destinations directly on +44 01707 329988.

www.traveldestinations.co.uk
www.lemansrace.com
www.speedchills.com
www.tickets-2-u.com

FIA WEC

FIA WEC at Silverstone; The start of the race to Le Mans

GTE Pro is back with a vengeance

Last weekend’s World Endurance Championship (FIA WEC) / European Le Mans Series (ELMS) double-header at Silverstone, in racing terms, was a huge success. Both series four-hour races were exciting from start to finish and included changeable weather conditions and class wins being decided in the closing laps.

Arguably the most intriguing battle of them all came in the GTE Pro class in Sunday’s FIA WEC race. Aston Martin, Porsche and Ferrari were all in contention for the class win until the final hour of the race.

FIA WEC

On the newly-resurfaced Silverstone circuit, the racing was fast and frantic. Across the weekend all WEC class Qualifying and Race lap records were shattered and drivers and teams alike gave positive feedback. In the GTE Pro class this change to the circuit threw up an interesting variable in race strategy. Heading into the weekend AF Corse selected soft and medium compound Michelin tyres, while Porsche and Aston Martin opted for the medium and hard selections. In practice this kept the race close and created a game of cat and mouse.

Once the wet weather had passed by the halfway mark, it was down to the drivers in with a chance to push as hard as possible to score the first victory of the season. AF Corse changed its tyres at each stop, while Porsche and Aston Martin were able to double stint. This meant that at each round of stops they gained a time advantage, and spent each stint trying to fend off the sole remaining hard-charging No.51 488 GTE EVO of James Calado and Alessandro Pier Guidi which was on fresher rubber.

There were plenty of door-to-door battles, but on this occasion, AF Corse lost out to a safety car infringement which forced the organisers to dish out a drive-through penalty to the No.51 car. This meant that AF Corse dropped from the lead, to fourth in class, and was unable to rely on its second car (which retired after a collision with a Team LNT Ginetta) to pick up the pieces. This gifted Porsche a 1-2 finish to start the season, with Richard Lietz and Gianmaria Bruni in the No.91 911 RSR 19 leading home the No.92 example. It was a dream debut for Porsche’s new chassis, which has been tasked with defending the marque’s FIA World GTE Manufacturer’s crown this season.

FIA WEC

Aston Martin completed the podium and seemed far more competitive on home soil with the Vantage AMR than it did last season. While it wasn’t quite the home-town success some in the garage had hoped for, a third place finish to kick off its second campaign with the current-spec Vantage is far from disappointing.

All this proved that, in metaphorical terms, you only need two cars to make a race. Losing Ford and BMW was a blow to WEC, financially in particular, but right there, in the opening race of the season, we saw a far more entertaining ‘battle of the brands’ than we did at any point during the ‘Super Season’. With fewer cars it’s easier to manage Balance of Performance, and with all three marques more eager than ever to collect wins and triumph at Le Mans, this season has all the makings of a classic between three sportscar giants, that will tide us over before the cavalry arrives in the top class next season.

Speaking of the top class, Toyota scored a 1-2, but the privateers were closer than ever before over the course of a race. All four challengers finished off the lead lap, but mainly down to errors and minor mechanical issues. Rebellion’s third-place-finishing No.3 R-13 was on the lead lap until late on, and Team LNT’s Ginetta’s were able to muster up-front-running pace at times. Once the ‘Success Handicap’ comes into play, it will only get closer, and that starts with Fuji, where the other classes, LMP2 and GTE Am included, promise to provide plenty of action in the WEC’s first six-hour race of the season.

Which of the many storylines in the paddock will make the headline next time out? At this point it’s impossible to tell, which is exactly what the FIA WEC needs.

Written by Stephen Kilbey
Photography by Dailysportscar

Join us at the FIA World Endurance Championship rounds at Sebring, Spa-Francorchamps and Le Mans in 2020. Take a look at our exclusive offers and join us track-side.

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?

FIA WEC

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.

FIA WEC

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.

FIA WEC

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