2012 Season Preview: The FIA World Endurance Championship

We begin the year with a series of previews of the 2012 race season starting with the new FIA World Endurance Championship and its showpiece; the Le Mans 24 Hours.

Graham Goodwin from dailysportscar.com gives us an exclusive insight in to what to expect in 2012:

2012 sees the birth of a brand new World Championship. The FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) is a collaboration between the FIA and the ACO; the body responsible for running the Le mans 24 Hours and for putting together the rules and regulations that have governed Endurance racing worldwide for decades.

Born from the basis of the successful Intercontinental Le Mans Cup (ILMC) the WEC is designed to attract manufacturer interest back to the endurance racing discipline and the early signs are that it has been very successful indeed thus far in that regard.

The inaugural season will see 8 races around the globe with a class structure familiar to anyone who keeps track of happenings at Le Mans.

The top LMP1 category is for the fastest prototypes, pure racing cars. This is a class that has been dominated in recent years by diesel powered cars from Peugeot and Audi but 2012 will see the diesels reeled in a little – The factories though are looking for an edge once again and rumours suggest that both Peugeot and Audi (see photo below) may field hybrid versions of their existing cars.

Audi 2012 Season LMP Test Car

They’ll be joined (for a part season at least) by Toyota, the Japanese manufacturer bringing a single car, at least initially, to the fray. The car hasn’t yet been seen in public but it’s known to be a petrol powered hybrid – an answer appears to be just over the horizon as to whether a factory developed petrol powered programme can truly go head to head with the diesels.

There’s a supporting cast of privateers as usual with the Toyota powered Lolas of Rebellion Racing looking set to return. They’ll be joined by British team Strakka Racing with a brand new Honda LMP1, rumoured to be a toe in the water ahead of another factory programme!

The ‘baby’ prototype class, LMP2, looks set to be hotly contested too with a hefty grid of production engined, Pro-Am crewed cars currently assembling – Lola, HPD, Pescarolo and Oreca chassis are likely with Nissan, Honda and Judd BMW power – It looks likely to provide a real race within a race for 2012.

As will the two GT classes, GTE Pro reserved for the newest cars and all Pro driver line ups – GTE Am for cars at least a year old with Pro-Am line ups.

Aston Martin are set to return to the GT ranks with a full factory effort and they look set to be joined on the grid by several examples of the near all conquering Ferrari 458, Chevrolet Corvette and Porsche 997 (plus more besides we hear!). GTE racing is well worth watching as a stand alone formula – Put the Prototypes into the mix and there is never a dull moment!

So where can this little lot be seen racing in 2012? Well it’s a mix of well established events and brand new markets for the endurance racers.

The season starts in the United States on 17th March at the 12 Hours of Sebring and 2012 will see a double celebration at the opening round of the WEC. The 12 Hours of Sebring not only marks the dawn of a new era for the sport but also celebrates its own 60th anniversary – This is an event in the truest meaning of the word and, with Orlando just a couple of hours drive away it’s both easy to get to and offers real opportunities for a longer break too.

Sebring 12 Hours

2012 will also see the WEC join forces for a combined grid with the hotly contested American Le Mans Series – a 60 plus car grid is possible, and with a crowd which often tops 200,000 this should be on everyone’s bucket list.
(You can join us this March in Sebring. Book now by calling us on 0844 873 0203 or email us atinfo@traveldestinations.co.uk)

The traditional curtain raiser for the Le Mans 24 hours is the 6 hours of Spa Francorchamps, in 2012 that will be held on 5th May, a classic circuit and a classic race – the dead hand of 21st century circuit design has left an oasis of wonderfulness in the Ardennes and, again, this is a race, and an event, not to be missed – The factory teams usually roll out their full Le Mans line-ups, boosting the grids more than a little, and with frites and mayo, and Belgian beer aplenty available it’s an ideal weekend’s entertainment.

Then it’s the big one on 16th & 17th June, the Le Mans 24 Hours – 56 cars, 24 Hours and the biggest race meeting in the world, with pre race razzamatazz and on track action for a full week before the race proper – It’s a double points scoring round too for the WEC, the season’s regulars being joined by strengthened factory teams and the best of the rest from the European and American Le Mans Series.

Le Mans 2012
It might also be your first chance to see the spectacular and controversial Deltawing racer, the car has been accepted as the 56th entry for 2012 and plans to display what can be done via radical aerodynamics with a much smaller engine than the norm – Will it work? You could be one of the first to see for yourselves! (Tickets for Le Mans 2012 are selling fast. If you haven’t booked your place already call us now on 0844 873 0203 to discuss your requirements and book your place at the greatest race event on the calendar.)

After a break during the London Olympics the WEC reconvenes in the UK of 26th August at the revamped and super quick Silverstone circuit – By now the Championship battles will have been well defined – A win mid season might make the difference for a team or driver being in the title hunt – or not!

After Silverstone the Championship goes global – Four more races will take the WEC to South America, the Middle East, Japan and China – Four races, four very different circuits and World Championship glory up for grabs.

14 September sees the WEC race at the world famous Interlagos circuit in Brazil. An increasingly important global player, Brazil is a key market for many of the competing manufacturers and they’re sure to pull out all of the stops – Interlagos, of course has played host to the Brazilian Grand Prix many times and the passion for motorsport runs deeply there – The birthplace of Ayrton Senna, a trip to his grave has become part of the pilgrimage for many motorsport fans.

By far the most controversial addition to the WEC calendar is the 6 Hours of Bahrain on 29th September. The tiny Gulf state has had more than its share of political controversy of late but for those fans that have made the trip in recent years Bahrainis have proven to be warm and welcoming, the circuit is truly world class and the racing could be spectacular.

Mount Fuji Circuit

The 14th October sees the penultimate round for the WEC at the exciting Fuji circuit. Owned by Toyota and substantially redesigned in recent years Fuji will be a new test for almost all of the WEC contenders, and there are signs that there is still a substantial Japanese fanbase for Endurance racing – Could this event become a new classic? Certainly there will be plenty of support in evidence for the Toyota LMP1 effort, and for the Honda privateers and Nissan engined LMP2s too!

The season closes in China, though, at present, we don’t have a confirmed date or a confirmed location – Early versions of the calendar suggested either the 11th or 18th November, with the Championship organisers still negotiating with both Zhuhai and Shanghai circuits to determine which will host the season finale – Whichever it is a visit to China is a must – Utterly different, fascinating and let’s remember, the potential for a World Championship deciding endurance race too!

With so many races happening in so many different parts of the World the WEC offers a real opportunity to race fans to expand their global horizons – Experience a new event, Experience a new country, Experience a new culture – Just experience it! Believe me you won’t regret it

Graham Goodwin

Register your interest for tickets & travel to any of the FIA WEC rounds in 2012 by calling 0844 873 0203 or by emailing info@traveldestinations.co.uk