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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?

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!

FIA WEC

• 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.”

FIA WEC

“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

Le Mans

Le Mans 2018: GTE Preview

Le Mans 2018 GTE Preview

While the 2018 Le Mans 24 Hours may be packed with story-lines across all four classes, this year’s GTE battle looks more likely than ever to deliver the best racing in the field. Both GTE Pro and Am have numbers, quality teams and drivers, new cars and some of the best engine notes. They may not have the glamour of the LMP1 field, which features the likes of Fernando Alonso on his ‘triple crown run’ and Jenson Button making his LMP debut, or the sheer numbers that LMP2 has, but it does have 17 factory entries, and 13 further privateer outfits set to do battle, door-to-door, for 24 hours.

GTE Pro is, as it has been for the past few years, made up of pure factory teams. Manufacturers are taking the GTE Pro class increasingly seriously now, and that’s evident in the size of some of these efforts. Porsche and Ford are bringing four cars each to Le Mans and Ferrari is bringing three, while Aston Martin and BMW are debuting their new cars and Corvette is putting a huge amount of resources into what could well be the final run for its hugely popular C.7R.

It is near-impossible to call a winner, even this close to the big race, with so many cars and no weak driver crews. This really is, the most stacked GTE Pro field we’ve ever seen. The question is, who has the edge? Back for a third year, with a quartet of cars, Ford would like to think it has as good a chance as any. After dominating the field during its debut year in 2016, somewhat controversially, and finishing a surprise second in 2017 after the chaotic ending to the race, the ‘Blue Oval’ is back for a third crack at winning on the hallowed French ground.

Ford at Le Mans

It is incredible to think that the Ford GT is the second oldest car in the field at this point, only the C7 in its current form has a longer history. It still looks arguably the most modern of the six cars in the class and just keeps on earning silverware wherever it goes. Once again Chip Ganassi’s UK team will join forces with the US outfit at Le Mans, creating what is one of the strongest GT crews in the world. The car’s ability is obviously a major factor, but a big part of Ford’s successes stem from the perfect blend of experienced drivers such as three-time World Touring Car Champion Andy Priaulx and multiple Champ Car winner Sebastien Bourdais, as well as younger talent like Billy Johnson and former LMP2 Le Mans class winner Harry Tincknell. There is no weak link in the team’s 12-driver stable, and the car continues to be almost bulletproof. If the Balance of Performance is as solid as it was last year, and all the marques are in with a shout, expect Ford to be right there, and ready to take a second Le Mans win.

Le Mans

Porsche on the other hand, is searching for its first Le Mans class win since 2013 in GTE Pro, a result which the brand feels is long overdue, especially considering the successes at the top end of the field in LMP1 in recent years. The current 911 RSR though is an absolute monster, which is ready to win, and win now. If Porsche can break through, it may prove to be a very popular victory with fans, as the mid-engined, four-litre, flat-six in the car houses is a screamer. With four entered in Pro (two running retro liveries, that look stunning), Porsche, to celebrate its 70th anniversary, are going for the ‘loud and proud’ approach. To boost its chances of a win, the two additional cars re from its IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship programme, which bolsters its already spectacular driver line up from the FIA WEC, with the likes of overall Le Mans winners Nick Tandy, Earl Bamber, Romain Dumas and Timo Bernhard.

AF Corse meanwhile, has adopted a similar strategy to Porsche, but instead just adding one extra Ferrari 488 GTE. All three running with the 2018 Evo kit. Ferrari is another brand starved of Le Mans wins in recent years, it’s last coming in 2014. It will be hoping that its championship-winning form from last year’s FIA WEC campaign carries over into this year’s race, which is coincidentally the second round of the 2018/19 season.

Corvette Racing, the last of the brands using tried and tested machinery, has its trusty pair of IMSA C7.Rs entered. In what could well be the swan-song for the car, Pratt and Miller’s experienced outfit will be gunning for its ninth class win at Le Mans this year, and, as you’d expect, it has a real chance. The past couple of seasons, the C7.R has won races and titles in the USA, but fallen short on French soil. In 2016, the team were unable to unlock the pace of the car due to the Balance of Performance situation and last year, a titanic battle in the final laps with the winning Aston Martin ended in tears, with the leading ‘Vette limping across the line after multiple offs and tyre troubles when Aston Martin Racing’s Jonny Adam made his move. This time around, they’ll hope it can be different. Don’t count them out!

Le Mans

So that leaves BMW and Aston Martin; two brands that have a long, history in sports car racing. Both head to Le Mans with high expectations this year, and new cars that during their pre-season development work already look like race winners. BMW’s M8 may well have the advantage off the bat, after running at both the Rolex 24 and Sebring prior to Le Mans with its parallel IMSA programme. The car, which sounds great in the flesh, and is built like a tank, is likely to capture the imagination of the fans trackside. The brand, which let’s not forget hasn’t had a big result at Le Mans since the turn of this century, comes with an experienced team running its factory operation – MTEK – and a set of drivers more than capable of going toe-to-toe with the GTE Pro regulars. In amongst its crew, watch out for DTM champion and Martin Tomczyk and Spa 24 Hours winners Alex Sims and Philipp Eng; they know how to win big races.

In a class like this though, a driver is only as good as its car. But BMW has ensured that the M8 was put to the test, with multiple runs at a variety of circuits, and in a variety of conditions. So far it appears to be both reliable and fast, almost winning at Sebring in only its second race start. While it remains to be seen whether the Bavarian brand, this early in its programme, can take a big win against such stiff competition, they certainly can’t be counted out.

Le Mans

It is much the same story for Aston Martin Racing, which starts 2018 with far more factory support from Aston Martin and a brand new, stunning-looking Vantage. The new Vantage, replacing the previous model which remarkably, raced for 13 years, helps usher in the new era for the brand in motorsport. Aerodynamically it’s far more aggressive, the new turbo-charged Mercedes engine is touted as a revelation in drivability terms and just about every other system in the car is new and upgraded too. The driver-crew has seen a refresh also, with former BMW driver Maxime Martin, and all round rapid Britain Alex Lynn joining the team. The big issue here is that so far this season, the Vantages have struggled mightily. In both pace and reliability, it’s been way off, and at the Test Day, Marco Sorensen has forced the team to build up a brand-new chassis for the race after a heavy impact on the run down to Indianapolis during the morning session. Even with the other car managing a full day of running, the signs aren’t good; the No. 97 was just under five seconds off the pace. Now, this is GTE Pro, and things can change quickly, so don’t count them out just yet.

So far, it looks as if Porsche and Ford have the upper hand. At the Paul Ricard Prologue, the season opener at Spa, and the Le Mans Test Day, both marques have looked to have the pace required to win Le Mans. In a Balance of Performance world, and with the politics that come with it, it may be a smokescreen. There are rumours that only Porsche and Ford have shown their true hand thus far, though it’s impossible to know. Let’s hope that means next week we’ll see a close race, with the other marques able to go toe-to-toe, rather than a lop-sided affair.

In GTE Am meanwhile, there’s a few notable additions and omissions. The class, as in recent years, is hotly-contested and oozing talent. While we do have the addition of the new Porsche 911 RSR to the mix, what’s not on the entry are any Corvettes, meaning the entire class is made up of Ferrari 488s, Aston Martin Vantages and Porsche 911 RSRs. There is still variety, but maybe not as much as we’re used to. Nevertheless, with a wide array of top pro drivers, budding young talents and well-versed gentlemen drivers, GTE Am promises to be worth following throughout the 24 hours.

Who are the favourites? Despite having its running cut short due to engine damage, the 2017 WEC GTE Am championship-winning No.98 Aston Martin Racing Vantage of Paul Dalla Lana, Pedro Lamy and Mathias Lauda is both in-form after winning Spa and due some good luck at Le Mans after falling short so many times. The old Vantage, let’s not forget, won the GTE Pro race overall last year, so still has life in it.

Le Mans
The three Dempsey Proton Porsches too should be considered contenders, the 911 RSR is likely the chassis to have, and all three sets of drivers entered containing a mix of experienced drivers and young hot-shoes. Watch out for Matteo Cairoli (last year’s surprise package), Julien Andlauer (fastest at the test) and the ageless Pat Long, the foundation of this ambitious three-car effort.

Another contender comes in the form of the the Clearwater Racing team, which surprised everyone back in 2017, winning on its debut in the FIA WEC. Matt Griffin, Keita Sawa and Weng Sun Mok work so well as a team, and the crew behind the scenes always turn out an immaculate (chrome liveried!) Ferrari. TF Sport too, could well prove to be a force. The British team, stepping up from a successful 2017 spent in the European Le Mans Series, almost won at Spa in its first-ever appearance; Euan Hankey, Charlie Eastwood and Salih Yoluc combining for a near-perfect drive in the Ardennes. TF Sport has won both big races and championships before, and all three drivers are more than capable of going toe-to-toe with the best in the class. Watch this space!

Le Mans
Last year’s Le Mans winner JMW Motorsport meanwhile, may have a bit of a struggle this time, in its quest to repeat its 2018 feat. This year, its driver line-up isn’t quite as star-studded, though Cooper MacNeil and Jeff Segal both have plenty of Le Mans experience to draw from. That’s not to say after 24 hours, it couldn’t be at the head of the field, but this time around there’s no expectation of a run like last year.

So both GTE Pro and Am promise much for next week’s Le Mans 24 Hours. Close racing and stories throughout each field will unroll before our hours as the clock ticks by. The best place to be is track-side with Travel Destinations so you don’t miss any of the action!

Written by Stephen Kilbey
Photography by Dailysportscar

FIA WEC

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.

FIA WEC

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.

FIA WEC

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.

FIA WEC

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!

FIA WEC

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.

FIA WEC

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.

FIA WEC

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

Le Mans 2018; The GTE Pro Battle

Whilst much of the chatter around the prospects for Le Mans 2018 endurance racing season has focused on the heavily revised FIA WEC calendar, and the comings and goings in the prototype marketplace, there’s an underlying story that deserves every race-goers full attention even before we find out who will be racing for the overall win.

GTE Pro is set to be a barnstormer!  New cars, star drivers, new teams and much more besides.

Le Mans 2018

For Le Mans 2018 there’ll be two new factory backed cars to add to the already established Ferrari 488 GTE and Ford GT, both of which still feel like the new kids on the block, by next season, in Pro, they’ll be the oldest cars from the FIA WEC ranks and only the Corvette C7.R is older. The first newcomer is the brand new Aston Martin Vantage GTE. The British marque gave its current car the best send-off possible this year by winning GTE Pro at La Sarthe after a dramatic finish. The new car, which has yet to be formally unveiled, has been out testing over the past month with some of Aston Martin Racing’s factory driver stable. It’ll look very aggressive with hints of the über-Aston Vulcan, sound aggressive thanks to its Mercedes turbo-charged V8 engine, and should be in immediate contention for a good finish at Le Mans if the scale of the upgrades reported by those who have driven it, are to be believed.

Le Mans 2018

BMW meanwhile, brings the other new bit of kit to Le Mans 2018, its M8 GTE, which sees the Bavarian marque return to the French endurance classic for the first time since 2011. Last time round, the world-famous Schnitzer team ran the programme – which saw two M3 GT2s take on the race – this time, it’s MTEK, who move over from DTM competition to take on the full WEC, and of course Le Mans 24 Hours.  The team has been practicing – hard! MTEK have had a full pit set-up to play with, with constant pit-stop and problem solving drills, for months, months before receiving their first M8! The new M8 is a looker, and under the hood is set to stun! It features a c.500bhp twin-turbo four-litre V8, with a cylinder block and cylinder head identical to the road going 8 series engine. It’s a light car too, weighing in at just under 2,700 pounds, the reduction in weight achieved through the extensive use of ultra-light CFRP components. BMW has never won at Le Mans in the GTE era, in fact the last BMW to win a class at the race was back when it won overall in 1999! The MTEK crew will be looking to right that in 2018.

Having BMW along for the ride at Le Mans 2018 means that at the very least, GTE Pro is slated to feature two car factory teams from Ferrari, Porsche, Aston Martin, Ford, Corvette and BMW, that’s without the potential for Ford to bring its other two IMSA-regular GTs, a third Porsche 911 RSR joining the fight plus the likelihood of a third Ferrari from the IMSA ranks too.

Le Mans 2018

Of the current crop of runners, there’s plenty to look forward to also. The 2017 Porsche 911 RSR is back for its second season; its screaming engine note, the team’s selection of world class drivers and year of running under its belt could well see the German team take its first GTE Pro win since 2013. Gianmaria Bruni will surely feature, a key signing from Ferrari last season alongside established GT racing superstar Laurens Vanthoor – with a number of the marque’s LMP1 refugees also likely to be involved including Britain’s Nick Tandy. Ferrari’s rapid Brits will be on hand too with James Calado and Sam Bird both on race winning form in the super rapid turbocharged 488 GTEs.

Le Mans 2018

Then there’s Corvette Racing, the Pratt and Miller-run American crew, which are always a fan-favourite, will race with the C7.R for the final time. The new car is quietly in development, and could well be a radical change for the American manufacturer. Fans will be urged to enjoy the C7.R one last time though, the attention firmly on its Le Mans and IMSA-winning GTE monster, which will be gunning for its second GTE Pro class title.

Being confident beforehand though, will be hard. This year’s new ‘Automated Balance of Performance’, with Le Mans-specific balancing proved a raging success, with a close race up and down the field in the GTE ranks, all the marques able to gun for podium spots. Gone it seems, are the days when the BoP ruined teams’ chances before the on-track action started on the Wednesday, and behind us, is the 2016 Le Mans 24 Hours, where Ford dominated the field after revealing its true hand in Qualifying.

And all of that is before we look to GTE Am where a gaggle of new cars are set to feature, the 2017 Porsche 911 RSR, and the Ford GT are now eligible for the Pro-Am class in 2018 with Porsche sales already confirmed.

Le Mans 2018 will be loud, it’ll be close and it should be thrilling for 24 straight hours. The GTE Pro race at Le Mans in 2018 could be one of those ‘I was there’ contests, which will be looked at as one of classic bouts in a golden era for sportscars.

Book here to be at Le Mans 2018

Written by Stephen Kilbey
Photography by Dailysportscar

Le Mans 2017

Le Mans 2017: Sunshine & shocks

The 85th running of the Le Mans 24 Hours may be most remembered for sunshine and shocks; the race was completed under clear skies and daytime temperatures in excess of 30 degrees centigrade, and shock results as most of the factory team cars fell by the wayside allowing two LMP2 cars on to the overall Le Mans 2017 podium.

Le Mans 2017
LMP1
Although the Le Mans 2017 had a relatively low attrition rate, that could not be said of the top LMP1 class. In the end, no car avoided lengthy time in the garage & only two cars actually completed the distance. The writing was perhaps on the wall early when a Toyota sustained damage in the early laps, causing debris to hit the ByKolles Racing team car. Despite it limping back to the pit lane, the car was never going to return. With the numeric disadvantage of only 2 cars, Porsche suffered a blow when the No. 2 car dropped out of the top 50 cars, after having to spend an hour in the garage for a rebuilt front axle.

Toyota looked to dominate the first period of the race. They secured a 1-2 for much of this time with the lone Porsche never far behind. The No. 7 Toyota leading the way and looking particularly fast in the early stages. However it was all going to go wrong for Toyota as darkness fell and the demons arrived. One by one, they experienced power problems. Only the No. 8 car managed to return to the race, but after losing more than 2 hours in the garage, they were never in contention for the overall win, despite setting the race’s fastest lap.

The demise of Toyota’s challenge left the No.1 Porsche with a free run at the chequered flag. They managed to survive the night and most of the morning, until, with just four hours to go, oil pressure problems left them limping with just electric power down the Mulsanne straight. Despite Andre Lotterer’s best efforts the car ground to a halt and could not get going again.

The demise of the No. 1 Porsche briefly opened the window for an LMP2 win, as No.38 Jackie Chan DC Racing Oreca-07 Gibson, inherited the lead. However, their hopes were dashed, with the flying return of the No. 2 Porsche. Despite their early delay in the garage, the No. 2 Porsche came flying back through the field. Brendon Hartley, Earl Bamber & in particular Timo Bernhard got the best out of the car, and managed to avoid and pass the traffic with ease. They took the lead with almost exactly an hour to go and didn’t look back, eventually crossing the finish line more than half a lap of the second placed car. A remarkable turnaround then from the No.2 Porsche team, who were not even in the top 50 cars after their technical woes.

Le Mans 2017

LMP2
Whilst the top class suffered with a very high attrition rate, the opposite could be said of the biggest field in the race; LMP2. Only four of the twenty-five cars in this class failed to finish. This is all the more remarkable considering there were new regulations for this class this year, and none of the contenders had completed a race of this distance. Despite many expert predictions to the contrary the LMP2 class not only showed the necessary endurance, but also very nearly pulled of the overall win.

For the majority of the race the two cars from Vaillante Rebellion showed their experience and stayed at the front of the pack. Having raced LMP1 cars over the last few year, the Rebellion team clearly know a thing or two about how to race at Le Mans. The G-Drive and CEFC Manor TRS Racing teams, also showed strong performances, but ultimately the story of this class enfolded late on. Having watched the LMP1 cars disappear in front, and finding themselves more than 10 laps behind the leaders, the LMP2 cars started to climb the leader-board as the manufacturer LMP1s began to retire. When the leading No.1 came to a halt on the track, it was the No. 38 Jacki Chan DC Racing car that caught up and inherited the lead of the race. They managed to defend that position from other LMP2 challenges, and for 2 hours they continued at the front. It would have been the most remarkable story. A David vs Goliath type victory, however it was not to be. Despite the best efforts of Thomas Laurent, Oliver Jarvis and ultimately Ho-Pin Tung, behind the wheel, they were unable to compete with the superior speed of the Porsche No. 2 car that reeled them in; hunting them down shark-like and then passing them with only an hour of the race to go.

Despite this the all involved with the No. 38 car should be immensely proud of what they achieved; not only winning the LMP2 class, but finishing second overall at Le Man. The No. 13 Vaillante Rebellion ended second in class, so took the third step on the overall podium which was just reward for the excellent Rebellion team.

Le Mans 2017

GTE Pro
There had been much criticism before the race about the rule makers and the changes made under the balance of performance regulations. It is a complex thing trying to make all cars competitive and in the past, this has been hugely unsuccessful. However, credit where credit is due, they definitely got it right this time and they provided the spectators with a remarkable race. In fact had Hollywood script writers come up with the story they would have probably rejected the idea under grounds of lack of reality.

No one manufacturer was able to dominate this class. Even Ford’s numeric advantage didn’t help them get ahead. Hour after hour, often minute after minute, the lead changed hands. The racing was so close, that as cars peeled off to complete their pit stops, the next car would inherit the lead. Once that car pitted the baton was passed on. And do it went on throughout the race.

Quite unbelievably going in to the last hour of the 24, each manufacturer had a car on the lead lap. Corvette, Aston Martin, Ford, Porsche and Ferrari all had a chance to win. Nobody was able to pull away and seconds separated all five cars. In the end it came down to pit lane strategy and a bit of luck as to when the race was actually going to finish. Aston Martin were leading, but had to have an extra stop for fuel. This opened the door for Corvette. With the other three cars fast catching, Corvette with Jordan Taylor at the wheel, left the pit lane with Aston Martin and Jonny Adam filling its mirrors. It was going to go right down to the wire. The two cars continued to lap just seconds apart as Jonny Adam looked for a place to attack. It looked as though Jordan Taylor had done enough to keep ahead and take the win, when the Aston Martin braked late at Mulsanne and tried to pass. Quite legitimately the Corvette closed the door as they exited and the corner, but there was contact between the two.

The two cars continued around for one more lap, but suddenly the Corvette had an issue and cut one of the chicanes on the Mulsanne straight, skidding across the gravel, but retaining the lead. However, Jonny Adam could sense he might get one more opportunity. It came literally at the start of their last lap. Coming through the Ford chicane on to the start finish straight, the Aston Martin took advantage of the damaged Corvette and powered past. Despite the great skills of Jordan Taylor there was nothing he could do to protect the lead. As the Aston Martin disappeared to take the win, salt was rubbed in to Corvette’s wounds as the No. 67 Ford managed to catch the limping Corvette and demote them to third in Class. Nevertheless all teams involved should take great credit for their efforts. This was a very hard fault battle that really entertained the fans, and should be remembered for a very long time.

Le Mans 2017

GTE Am
The battle in GTE Am was not as close as the Pro class. In the early running, it appeared that the No. 98 Aston Martin would run away with it. However, technical issues dragged them back. The speed shown by the Larbre Competition Corvette in qualifying never reappeared, and it was left to the Ferraris to dominate the class. The No. 84 yellow and black, JMW Motorsport Ferrari 488 GTE took the lead in the darkness and was not in the mood to relinquish the position once daylight returned. For hours they remained at the front of the class, often mixing with the back markers of the GTE Pro field. They managed to spend the minimum of time in the pit lane and came home to be quite comfortable winners in the end. The other class podium slots were also filled by Ferraris, clearly the car to have in this class, with Spirit of the Race and Scuderia Corsa coming home second and third.

Overall this was an excellent race, and one that will be much talked about around the trackside barbecues tonight. Porsche were the outright winners, but the plaudits will be taken elsewhere in the classes below. Le Mans 2017 will be remembered for the hot temperatures around the circuit and the amazing racing that took place on it. Roll on Le Mans 2018.

If you enjoyed the Le Mans 24 Hours this year, why not join us trackside at Le Mans 2018? Travel Destinations is an official ticket agency for Le Mans, and we have a large number of different options available for the Le Mans 24 Hours 2018 and the Le Mans Classic 2018. You can book this week with a small deposit and secure your place at Le Mans 2018. Call us on 0844 873 0203 to reserve your place.

Written by Richard Webb
Photography by Dailysportscar

 

Le Mans 2017

Le Mans 2017: GTE Preview

With just days left before the Le Mans 24 Hours 2017, we take a closer look at the GTE entrants at Le Mans 2017 & what we should expect from them with our man in the stands; Stephen Kilbey.

GTE Am; The Second Battle of the Brands
While GTE Pro may feature full factory-backed GT entries, GTE Am’s grid this year, will be just as fiercely competitive, with almost as much variety. There’s something for everyone, with a smattering of Aston Martins, including a factory-supported Aston Martin Racing effort, lots of brand new Ferrari 488s, some Porsche 911s and as usual, a single Larbre Corvette. The driver talent is also high in the Am class, with plenty of factory talent placed in among the teams to assist the amateurs; and they’ll be the difference. When the world-class drivers are out of the cars, and its down to the more inexperienced gentlemen drivers, that’s when the race will be won. It’ll be fascinating, it’ll be unpredictable, and well worth keeping an eye on all week at Le Mans 2017.

Le Mans 2017

Tyre Wars
There’s a tyre war in GTE Pro and GTE Am. Michelin vs Dunlop. The Pro class Aston Martins and the Am class Astons and Porsches wearing the Dunlops. The Fords, Corvettes (Pro and Am), Pro Porsches and all of the Ferraris are with Michelin. Last season saw the Dunlops in Pro come on strong for Aston Martin (the weather at Le Mans 2017 could be another curve ball in this battle). Pace in the dry might not be the only story! Commercial success here will be measured by the colour of the caps on the podium on Sunday afternoon!

Porsche’s New Weapon
Porsche have followed Ford into the new era of GTE Pro racing by utilizing the more open rule-book to produce the fabulous looking 2017 spec 911 RSR. As is well known, the car now features a mid-mounted (ahead of the rear axle) flat six, and the car looks and sounds fabulous, particularly in the cauldron of the pit straight at Le Mans. With Porsche foregoing the opportunity for a turbo power plant the race long performance might be one to watch, certainly in wet running so far there’s no sign that Porsche have lost their wet-weather traction edge!

Le Mans 2017

Corvette
Fastest at the Test Day on the full circuit in the Pro Class, with the solo Am ‘Vette right at the sharp end too. Things look good for the 5.5 litre V8 bellowing Chevys. The soundtrack of the Corvettes is a highlight at Le Mans for many and a top pit crew, top quality and highly international driving squad and, by the look of things, a Balance of performance that should see the ‘Vettes back in the leading group should mean that ‘America’s SportsCar’ is back at the sharp end.

Le Mans 24 Hours

With Marcel Fässler back at Corvette for the first time since 2009 (after his Audi adventure) there’s even more depth of talent beyond the long-stay talents of Oliver ‘The Tall One’ Gavin, Antonio ‘The little Spanish One’ Garcia, Tommy ‘Don’t Call Me Junior’ Milner and Jan’ Kevin’s Dad’ Magnussen – Jordan ‘the Wacky One from Social Media’ is the other third man for this one.

Colours
Not the LA Gang turf war colours, instead the ‘give Andy Blackmore a nightmare by producing intricate liveries to stand out’ sort. From variations on the traditional Porsche white, Ferrari red (this year the Pro cars are in a gorgeous deeper shade), Aston Martin green and Corvette yellow, through the Gulf liveried Porsche in Am, the tricky to tell apart Fords, Duncan Cameron’s dark green Ferrari in Am and the oh so simple, but oh so very effective Risi red Ferrari.

Le Mans 2017

There’s also JMW’s new yellow Am Ferrari 488, Clearwater Racing’s pair of contrasting dragon liveried Ferraris (one chrome-based the other matt grey based) and the Art Car for this year, the gloriously bonkers comic book themed ‘Human’ Larbre Corvette – this grid of 29 GTE cars has something for everyone’s visual tastes!

Who’s The Daddy?
With the FIA WEC qualifying format not used at Le Mans its all about raw speed in qualifying. With such a depth of talent on tap it’s a tough call on who will be setting pole in GTE Pro. Nicki Thiim has been the pace man at Aston Martin, ably assisted by Darren Turner. Fred Mako and Patrick Pilet are amongst Porsche’s usual picks, Harry Tincknell has Andy Priaulx edging him on at Ford UK whilst Joey Hand has always been quick here too. Brit pair James Calado and Sam Bird look set to do battle for Ferrari, Toni Vilander for Risi, and at Corvette Oliver Gavin and Jan Magnussen just seem to forget that advancing years should take the edge off by producing stellar times.

Balance of Performance
A system designed to ensure close competition has become an annual battle of who can befuddle the rule makers by more than the opposition! Last year it was Ford, ‘finding’ a huge amount of pace between the Test Day and race week much to the irritation of the race organisers, and their competition! This year Ford were again off the pace at the Test Day after a turbo boost restriction was enforced as part of their BoP – the values can be amended at any point before the race – but will they be, and if they are what will be the response to another Ford win at Le Mans 2017?

Le Mans 2017

Aston Martin meanwhile have a car which is in its last season as the Factory weapon, up against cars that, for the most part, are no more than a season old. For them BoP is an important part of staying in the game, can they – or will a brand new Porsche, cutting edge Ferrari and four car Ford effort relegate them to minor placings at Le Mans 2017?

Am Dram
Whilst the big budget GT drama surrounds the factory-backed efforts in the Pro class don’t ignore what is likely the strongest GTE Am field in recent years. 16 cars, plenty of variety, and a tyre war there too, should dole out plenty of excitement. Pick a favourite or two and watch their progress. Eight Ferrari 488s (including teams from The UK, mainland Europe, Asia and the USA) four Porsches, including the gorgeous Gulf liveried No.86, three Aston Martins all upgraded to 2016 specification (GTE AM cars MUST be a spec that is at least a year old) and the single Art Car Corvette will entertain for sure. Check the entry list for some very familiar names from national and international racing.

Le Mans 24 Hours

Ford vs Ferrari
A classic confrontation and one which the events of 2016’s 24 Hours of Le mans did little to dissipate. Ironically though whereas back in period it was the Fords taking on the ‘establishment’, this time around it feels almost the opposite. 2016 saw controversy about Balance of Performance, a meltdown by the factory-backed AF Corse pair then a race long battle between the four Fords and a solo Ferrari from the Risi Competizione outfit that took the race to the wire. There is respect, but with a razor edge, to this battle at Le Mans 2017 – don’t miss a moment of it.

Le Mans 2017

Aston Martin vs Corvette
Another classic encounter, and one that is likely to be overlapping with the Ford/Ferrari battles for added spice! Here though whilst the on-track battles are no less more seriously contested, the off-track dynamics are altogether more respectful. It dates back to the old GT1 days, pit crews exchanging banter, an annual near impromptu car pushing race up the grid and much back slapping and bear-hugging depending on the result Green vs Yellow is as much a part of this great race as the factory battles in LMP1 at Le Mans 2017.

Le Mans 2017

Written by Stephen Kilbey
Photography by Dailysportscar

Porsche at Le Mans 2016

Countdown to Le Mans: GTE Pro Preview

10 Things To Watch For In GTE Pro At Le Mans 2016

The 2016 GTE Pro class at Le Mans, consists of a 14 high-quality entries, with a wealth of manufacturer efforts including the return of Ford on the 50th anniversary of its maiden win. Five marques are represented in the field, with the seven full-season WEC entries being joined by two Ford entries from IMSA, two factory Porsches, an IMSA Ferrari from Risi Competitizione the two factory Corvettes.

Make no mistakes about it, this is going to be a dogfight, one we may well remember for a very long time to come. Here’s 10 key storylines to follow in this year’s Pro battle:

1. Ford’s return
It’s becoming ever more clear that Ford is desperate to win this race. The team – run by Chip Ganassi – already stated its intentions last year when it announced it would bring four cars to France, but since then the reception and sheer amount of of exposure of the car from the ‘Blue Oval’ has put this programme on another level. The car has won a race heading into June, after a magnificent fuel-saving run provided a surprise victory from one of its IMSA cars at Laguna Seca, which was a big moment for the programme. Prior to the big race the car has been handed a weight reduction too, which should up its pace on race week. By how much? Few people know, but it could put the Fords into contention after very quiet outings at Silverstone and Spa in the WEC.

Ford GT at Le Mans 2016
2. Balance of performance blues
It’s dull, but sometimes it has to be spoken about. The BoP changes appear to have aided Aston Martin and Ford and kept Ferrari, Corvette and Porsche at bay. The issue isn’t whether or not BoP should be enforced, it’s how it will play out. After receiving a significant weight reduction, the gap from Ferrari and Corvette to Ford was much the same at the Le Mans Test Day, which means Ford were either playing games or are extremely disappointed. It could be a very interesting final qualifying on Thursday night, as the pace of the GTE cars could be off the charts.

3. The champs return!
2015 Le Mans winners Earl Bamber and Nick Tandy, while unable to defend their title, will be in the race with Porsche, and likely eager to make an impression. Both drivers had a rough outing at the Nürburgring 24 Hours last month, with their co-driver Kevin Estre crashing in Top 30 Qualifying and Tandy also having a shunt in the race’s opening laps. The expectation of the 2016 Porsche 911 RSR is unclear because Porsche as a factory has opted to only compete at Le Mans in GTE in order to focus on LMP1 and the development of the 2017 GT challenger. Nevertheless, I wouldn’t count them out, especially with so much brand new machinery and technology in the class.

Porsche at Le Mans 2016
4. Magnussen tooking to bounce back
After his hefty shunt at the Porsche Curves during Qualifying last year, forcing the #63 Corvette to withdraw from the event before the race, Dane Jan Magnussen will be looking to move on and score a good result. A real fan favourite over the years, 2016 is Magnussen’s 18th start. Along with Spaniard Antonio Garcia and Ricky Taylor, he has a real chance to get a fifth class win too. Corvette should never be counted out, and the trio all have enough experience at the circuit and in the car to be right up there.

5. The 488’s grand debut
The Ferrari 488 GTE is the first turbo-charged Ferrari to race at Le Mans since the F40, and it has the potential to do damage in the first year of its development cycle. It’s no secret that the 458 and 430 before it evolved into race-winning machines very quickly, and the 488 GTE looks to be no different. Reliability issues aside the #71 from AF Corse has dominated in the WEC this year, controlling the race at Silverstone and inheriing the win at Spa after the #51 had mechanical issues with 10 mintues remaining. The real worry is reliability here, as the #51 has had issues all year, but the pace of it isn’t. If Davide Rigon, Sam Bird and Allessandro Pier Guidi have a faultless run to the finish, then look out! And if they win, they’ll take a very controlling lead in the WEC points standings too.

Ferrari at Le Mans 2016
6. Brits galore!
For all Brits travelling to the race looking to support the locals, look no further than the GTE class, which is packed with drivers sporting union flags on their overalls. All of them are factory drivers too.
Marino Franchitti, Richard Westbrook, Harry Tincknell and Andy Priaulx are driving a Ford GT, Darren Turner and Jonny Adam are in Astons, James Calado and Sam Bird are piloting Ferraris, and Nick Tandy and Oliver Gavin will be in a Porsche and Corvette respectively.

7. Risi’s return
For the first time since 2010, a red Risi Competizione Ferrari will be competing at the French classic. The American squad is looking for its fourth class win at the race, after most recently winning the with the 430 at the turn of the decade. With ex-F1 star Giancarlo Fisichella, Ferrari GTE stalwart Toni Vilander and Matteo Mallucelli aboard the car should be quick too. It’s good to see them back!

8. Aero makeover
Anyone standing trackside at the race who hasn’t studied the new crop of GTE machinery could well be in with a shock. The aggressiveness of the cars has been ramped up to 11, with the Ford GT and Aston Vantages in particular looking like birth childs of DTM and LMP1 cars. One glance at the rear of the new Aston will tell you one thing: downforce is key now. Nobody knows just where this class will end up in the future, but right now, if you look over at one and squint your eyes, it’s like we’re back in the GT1 days again.

Aston Martin Racing at Le Mans 2016
9. Factory stars in factory cars
As was eluded to in the British driver paragraphs, the amount of factory drivers in the race is staggering. Every car in the 14-car field is packed with top class factory talent, with only Phillip Eng and the aforementioned Pier Guidi and Malucelli being exceptions; though even they are factory nominees. The quality of teams and drivers has literally never been higher at the top end of GT racing at Le Mans, so soak it in, sit back and enjoy. This is a golden era.

10. Tyre war
It’s been a while since GTE Pro at Le Mans has seen a tyre war, but it looks like competition between rubber manufacturers is back, and here to stay. Aston Martin has signed a technical partnership with Dunlop, and 2016 is the first year. While the tyres being used this year are pretty much an unknown quantity, both Aston and Dunlop will be looking to make the most out of running in mixed conditions – if there is any. Michelin vs Dunlop could be interesting in 2016, especially if the weather becomes a real factor. And it most definitely will in the coming years after further development of bespoke compounds for Prodrive’s machines.

Corvette at Le Mans 2016

Written by Stephen Kilbey
Photos by Dailysportscar

Le Mans 24 Hours: A week of entertainment!

Le Mans 24 Hours: A week of entertainment!

In addition to the racing action unfolding on the track on 13th & 14th June, spectators can enjoy a full week of entertainment from 7th -14th June. A host of festive, fun-filled events will run alongside the 83rd Le Mans 24 Hours, inside the circuit, on the track and around its immediate surroundings.

Scrutineering: Sunday 7th (14h30 – 19h00) and Monday 8th June (10h00 – 18h00)
As has been the case since 2012 scrutineering and administration checks (Pésage in French, term used in the early days of motor sport) will be held at the Place de la République in the heart of the town. Over a day and a half the 56 cars and the 168 drivers in the 83rd Le Mans 24 Hours will present themselves one by one to the scrutineers to see if the cars comply and the drivers are fit to drive them.

Autograph session: Tuesday 9th June 17h00 – 18h30
During the autograph session in the pits straight spectators will be able to meet and speak to the drivers entered for the 2015 Le Mans 24 Hours. They can also get a close look at the cars that will be on the grid a few days later.

Entertainments village: Wednesday 10th to Sunday 14 June
In addition to the Le Mans 24-Hours official village with its numerous exhibitors, stalls and boutiques, an new entertainments village will be installed in the International Karting Complex. The traditional fun fair with its big wheel, the children’s’ village, the Young Drivers’ Criterium and many other side shows (concerts, diving demonstration, etc) will be located in this space. The Alain Prost Kart track will be open to the public all week as well as the 24 Building with its simulators and games arcade. It’s accessible on foot and there will also be a permanent free shuttle service (lines 7 and 9).

Concerts
The open-air evening concerts are a key ingredient of the Le Mans 24 Hours. Three POP & ROCK live concerts will be put on for spectators on the stage near the Dunlop Footbridge. It is free for general enclosure ticket holders.

Wednesday 10th June 2015 at 20h00
The Lemon Queen a foursome from Angers will warm up the crowd before Jabberwocky. The French electro-pop group will play its tunes infused with joyful and melancholy undertones.

Thursday 11th June at 20h00
Cali will be on stage to entertain spectators and thrill them with his proud and sentimental rock music as well as extracts from his latest album. Tom Zinc will ensure the first part of the show.

Saturday 13th June at 20h00
The star of this exceptional evening will be British singer, Charlie Wilson. DJ Loran will go on stage before him to fever up the ambience followed by the Honeymoonshaker duo.
The night at Le Mans will go on rocking until the small hours with DJ Moule and the Dixon Brothers bringing down the curtain.

In addition on Friday 12th June on the International Kart Complex site four groups of DJs will follow one another on the stage to entertain the crowd. They can dance to the rhythms of Jr Yellam accompanied by Green & Fresh Band, Trinity and DJs Willy Williams plus Irie Ites Sound who will mix live!

Women’s pavilion: Wednesday 10th to Sunday 14th June
In 2015 for the first time the Automobile Club de l’Ouest is providing a zone entirely devoted to women and the motor car during the Le Mans 24 Hours. The Women’s Pavillion covers over 400 m2 and will be an exclusively female meeting place with many activities.

Ford-Ferrari Duel exhibition: Wednesday 10th to Sunday 14th June
An exhibition devoted to the one of the most legendary duels in the history of the Le Mans 24 Hours will be on show in the village.

Track and pits visit: Friday 12th June from 10h00 to 18h00
All spectators who have a general entry ticket can visit the pits and walk on the legendary tarmac as far as the Dunlop Footbridge. The cars in the Le Mans Legend field will be on display during the pit walk.

Starting ceremony Saturday 13th June
The Automobile Club de l’Ouest is bending over backwards to put on a great show for the crowd with a grandiose and moving ceremony prior to the start. The festivities will began at 07h30 with the parade, followed by the warm-up for the Le Mans 24 Hours, the Le Mans Legend race and the Aston Martin Racing Le Mans Festival, the national anthems of the entrants and various other events including the handing back of the Le Mans 24-Hours Trophy to the president of the ACO and the French Patrol’s overfly of the track.

And don’t forget the numerous boutiques of our partners, brands and suppliers and bring home souvenirs of the 83rd Le Mans 24 Hours.

The Le Mans town centre and the neighbouring municipalities will also beat to the rhythm of the Le Mans 24 Hours with many festive events. A Concours Tradition et Elégance on the square on the Quinconces of Le Mans and the first R’Hunaudières in Ruaudin will be held on Tuesday 9th June. On 11th June Arnage will continue the fun with Arnage in the Race. No rest for the spectators on Friday either with the Virage de Mulsanne shows, the Classic British Welcome in Saint Saturnin, a show devoted to Porsche in Teloché as well as the Drivers Parade that will set off through the streets of Le Mans at 17h30!

Lots of entertainment for everyone during Le Mans week.