Tag Archives: LMP1

Le Mans 2018

Le Mans 2018: A Review

In a flash, the 86th running of the Le Mans 24 Hours has been and gone. And while early preparations for the 87th running are already underway, there is still plenty to reflect on from last weekend’s race.

Here is five key talking points from the Le Mans 24 Hours in 2018

1. LMP1 was messy, but still interesting and historic
Overshadowed by endless Equivalence of Technology debates, the LMP1 race at Le Mans this year left a lot to be desired for many, but still wowed some of the new audience who tuned in for the first time to check out the star drivers. What did we see? Toyota’s race against the race, rather than it’s privateer competitors. With the privateers forced to pit more frequently, and spend more time re-fuelling, any sort of wheel-to-wheel action was always going to be a long shot. The fact that most of them weren’t quick enough either though, meant the closest a privateer came to leading the race was at Turn 1 at the very start, and even that was messy!

Le Mans
So did Toyota deserve their big win? Will it feel as satisfying? Well, you can argue yes to both. This is a brand that has invested countless millions into the sport, and come close to winning so many times since it started racing since at Le Mans in the early 1990s. This win has been a long-time coming, and to many involved in the programme, a trouble-free (Kobayashi missing his penultimate stop aside), clean run with no issues will serve as a breath of fresh air. After all, the fact that the competition wasn’t as hot as year’s past, isn’t their fault. Oh, and seeing Kazuki Nakajima take the flag in the No.8, putting the demons of 2016 behind him, was a sight to behold!

Behind Toyota, the battle for the final podium spot was pretty open early on, with SMP Racing’s No.17 BR1 able to challenge Rebellion’s R-13s. Into the second half of the race though, it became clear that in a race of attrition, the BR1s didn’t have the legs, both cars hitting trouble (one early in the race, and one in the final hour) and therefore had to leave Rebellion’s two cars to fight amongst themselves for the third-place prize. Ginetta, ByKolles and DragonSpeed meanwhile, didn’t feature, perhaps unsurprisingly. The ByKolles CLM crashed out in a big way, both TRSM Ginettas ran effectively a public test programme (one G60-LT-P1 remarkably making the finish) and DragonSpeed’s race ended prematurely in the wall at the Porsche Curves after an error by Ben Hanley. So Le Mans 2018 was not a perfect race, but there were flashes of what could be to come from all the private teams. With a re-think in how the EoT works, and more development work done to the cars, next year’s race could spring a surprise or two!

2. GTE Pro was astonishing
It was far from a surprise, but GTE Pro provided the fans track-side and at home with the best action in the race. It was the only class which delivered the goods, and thank goodness it did as all the other classes suffered lengthy lulls throughout. While the ‘Pink Pig’ Porsche 911 RSR eventually took a comfortable (and popular) victory, due to the car being handed an advantage due to an early safety car period falling its way, the action behind was stellar.

Le Mans
For much of the race, the battles from second place down to as low as 12th, were superb. Some of the best GT drivers in the world were able to run door-to-door, and cleanly too, with no major incidents occurring despite the nature of the pack racing on the faster parts of the circuit. BoP was of course, a big talking point, and unfortunately so. However, once the race arrived, most of the negativity in and around the paddock was put to one side. Only one factory struggled, and that was Aston Martin, its new Vantage AMRs wildly off the pace, and by such a margin that after two BoP breaks, neither car was able to run much better than just ahead of the GTE Am class leaders. While, that was a shame, seeing BMW, Porsche, Ford, Corvette and Ferrari all battling hard was a treat. Ultimately, Ford and Porsche had a slight upper hand though, Porsche’s 911 RSRs improving further as the temperature dropped, but that did little to detract from what we saw.

3. The standout performances in the Pro/Am classes
Beyond the headlines focusing on F1 megastars, there were some very bright stars involved at Le Mans this year, with several putting in truly head-turning performances. In LMP1, the entire No.3 Rebellion line-up of Thomas Laurent, Gustavo Menezes and Mathias Beche was stunning. Menezes and Laurent have of course, already taken Le Mans class wins, but up against their teammates in the No.1 (Neel Jani, Andre Lotterer and Bruno Senna) they spent most of the weekend on the front foot and now look destined to become household names.

G Drive Racing

There were also some stunning drives in LMP2, with Andrea Pizzitola in the G-Drive Racing ORECA looking bullet-proof – until the team was disqualified. And the Panis Barthez three of Will Stevens, Julien Canal and Timothe Buret proved the surprise package of the entire week, putting the French team, Michelin and Ligier in contention for a win until reliability issues cost them a podium in the closing stages of the race.

Le Mans

Down in GTE Am, there were a number of young drivers that shone in what was a class that didn’t really ever get going. The talent of Dempsey Proton’s Matteo Cairoli (his off at the Ford Chicanes aside) is no real news here – but now looks even more likely as a full factory driver for the future after showing such poise once again. Julien Andlauer in Dempsey Proton’s ranks impressed too, winning on his Le Mans debut after not putting the team on pole and running a faultless race. Porsche has a real logjam now, with so many young hot shoes and experienced GT veterans on its books, all capable of much the same in terms of performances.

4. LMP2’s final result was unfortunately decided by penalties
Nobody likes to see a race decided by a stewards enquiry, but that’s what we got with LMP2. G-Drive Racing’s ORECA 07 Gibson which dominated the class from early in the race all the way to the flag, was disqualified after the team was found to be tampering with its fuel rigs, giving it an advantage in the speed in which the team could fuel its car.  In the end, the team was so dominant, that even without the handful of seconds gained at each stop, it would almost certainly have cruised to the line for a win anyway. But rules are rules, and Signatech Alpine was eventually crowned LMP2 champion for the second time in three years.

Signatech Alpine
The team’s other car (run under the TDS Racing banner) was caught out too, and lost fourth. This promoted United Autosports’ #32 Ligier JS P217 to the podium, giving Juan Pablo Montoya, Will Owen, and Hugo de Sadeleer, as well as chassis supplier Ligier a positive result after a tough week.

5. Alonso should be celebrated
There’s plenty of ways to look at the ‘Alonso factor’. You can be cynical, you can also be incredibly supportive, there’s no right or wrong answer. Either way, everyone had to sit down, soak up all the headlines he create and watch the Spanish F1 champion take on Le Mans for the first time. Ultimately, he is, a Le Mans champion now, and will be forever referred to as a multiple F1 world champion and Le Mans winner. Did he win a race in which there may have been an element of favouritism at play between Toyotas two TS050 HYBRIDs? Maybe. Did he have only the sister car as true competition? Yes? Is it his problem? No.

Le Mans 2018
If you are going to take away one thing from Fernando Alonso’s Le Mans 24 Hours, it’s that he was pushing. Despite the race not being the toughest and most competitive for Toyota, Alonso ended up with the fastest laptime average time of anyone in the class. He was not taking it easy, and put in the car for the least time possible to nab the win with the least effort. He didn’t even drive early on Sunday morning when the temperatures track-side provided the best conditions for drivers to put in qualifying-level lap times.

Will he keep coming back? That’s not something we know yet. But should we all appreciate that he has come along, and conquered the race? Yes. At a time where the FIA WEC and Le Mans 24 Hours is at its lowest in terms of factory involvement in the prototype ranks, Alonso kept the race feeling big, historic, and relevant. And we should thank him, in part, for that.

And so Le Mans 2018 is already just a memory, but Le Mans 2019 (the final race of the FIA WEC Super Season!) is already on the horizon. You can book and reserve your place at Le Mans with Travel Destinations now. Call our experts now on 0844 873 0203 to guarantee your place!

Written by Stephen Kilbey
Photography by Dailysportscar 

Le Mans

Le Mans 2018: Prototypes Preview

Le Mans 24 Hours 2018: LMP preview

This year’s Prototypes field at the Le Mans 24 Hours, is big, full of variety and high-profile talent. LMP1 is the biggest it has been in years; bolstered by privateer teams, while LMP2 is again huge, and features a chassis and tyre war for everyone to look forward to. Both classes will be intriguing, and with so many questions yet to be answered in each, fans track-side and at home will have plenty of reasons to stay up all night and follow the action.

Let’s start with the 10-car LMP1 field, because it is the big story, and will (almost certainly) produce the overall winner. Porsche’s LMP1 programme may be over, but Toyota has stayed put, meaning that we will see Hybrid LMP1 cars running at incredible speeds around La Sarthe once again. The one question on most fans minds though will be whether or not the Japanese marque’s new privateer competition will be able to give it a run for its money. At this point, answering that question is hard, as it’s become a very complicated subject over the last few months.

Le Mans

What are we likely to see? Toyota having a noticeable (but not dominant) advantage in pace, being able to run longer, and spend less time in the pits, through the Equivalence of Technology (EoT) regulations which seemingly have pegged the privateers back. So do the privateers stand any chance at all? Well… Yes and no. There is a good chance that one of them will lead the race, most likely in the opening stint, before the artificial EoT restrictions come into place. But beyond that, if the race runs clean and to plan, then expect them to slip further and further out of contention. It must be pointed out though, that Toyota has entered 13 cars at Le Mans in the hybrid era, and only two of them have had a clean run to the finish. This is a team that has come achingly close, on multiple occasions, and fallen short. This year, the pressure is off more than it has been in the past – it’s running the same TS050 HYBRIDs as last year (with minor tweaks) and the privateer competition is (as expected) not going to be a strong as the might of Porsche and Audi. Anything can happen though.

But, even if Toyota does win the race in dominant fashion, it will more than likely be a popular victory, because this is a brand that at this point, almost deserves a win after showing such loyalty and class over the years, without claiming any wins in France. It will also go down a storm if Fernando Alonso is in the winning car. Say what you will, but this is a ‘Triple Crown’ run, and we should all be rooting for it. It is rare that we see Formula One drivers looking outside of the bubble for other opportunities while in the prime of their careers, so make the most of this. It’s a big story, and there’s no avoiding it. Keeping Le Mans and the FIA WEC relevant to the public is a very hard task, so having a two-time F1 champion fully committed to a dual programme should be greeted with open arms.

Le Mans

Outside of Toyota, we have five LMP Non-Hybrid entrants, with varying degrees of expectations. At this point, it seems that Rebellion Racing and its brand new R-13s are head-and-shoulders the best of the bunch. A good run at Spa, and a pacy run at the Test Day (where the No.3 finished up just six tenths off the fastest Toyota) have put the team in good stead to score an overall podium. Both cars have proven to be reliable (despite limited running) and have standout driver crews including 2016 LMP2 Le Mans winner Gustavo Menezes, and former overall Le Mans winners Neel Jani and Andre Lotterer. If there is going to be a privateer in with a shout, look no further than the Swiss.

Elsewhere, SMP Racing will hope it can also be in the fight with its BR1 cars. The car has shown potential, but the horrific blow which Matevos Issakyan suffered at Raidillon will inevitably put a microscope on this effort, especially as Jenson Button is joining the team from Le Mans onwards. Changes have been made to the car to prevent a repeat of what we saw in Belgium, but there hasn’t been enough running yet to categorically rule out any similar occurrences at Le Mans. Do Button and the Russian team have a shot here? Yes. Reliability could well become the deciding factor in which privateer finishes closest to the Toyotas, and the BR1 is the most developed of the non-hybrid chassis.

Le Mans

Outside of that, we have ByKolles, CEFC TRSM and DragonSpeed. All three have a lot of work to do, in the reliability and speed department to be considered contenders. It’s just too early for all three to expect much from Le Mans, which for them will be used as more of an extended (and very public test). DragonSpeed, like SMP, also had a huge incident (though a very different one) at Eau Rouge/Raidillon, leaving the team in a race against time to prep a brand new BR1 for the big race. ByKolles’ poor form over the years leaves very few with any sort of confidence and CEFC TRSM just hasn’t run its Ginetta G60-LT-P1s enough due to financial difficulties to expect anything more than a week full of new-car niggles and data gathering.

Then there’s LMP2. It’s a big field once again, with three of the four LMP2 chassis represented (ORECA, Dallara and Ligier) and two tyre brands (Dunlop and Michelin). There’s a lot to like about this year’s field, though it appears that in low-downforce trim, even with the new evolutions of the Dallaras and Ligiers, the ORECA is still the car to have.

Le Mans

At the Test Day, ORECA 07s ended up locking out the top five, with the fastest of the other chassis being the No.22 Ligier JS P217 from top team United Autosports. There is a divide in performance in raw pace, but during long runs, it remains to be seen what the Ligier and Dallara teams can do. As a result, for the moment it looks like the winner will most likely come from the ORECA camp, even though many will be rooting for the likes of Juan Pablo Montoya (also on a ‘Triple Crown’ run, with United) or the legendary Jan Lammers (in his 24th and likely, final appearance in the race) to feature up front.

Le Mans

Of the ORECA teams, who are the favourites? DragonSpeed’s No.31 car, spearheaded by a highly-motivated Pastor Maldonado, which is on Michelin rubber, looks to make noise. Former LMP2 winner Signatech Alpine does too, its A470 (an ORECA re-badged) driven by former Toyota factory man Nicolas Lapierre, the rapid Andre Negrao and fast amateur Pierre Thiriet. It does look though, like a more balanced class than years past. There’s no ‘outrageous’ line-up, and the fact that five of the 20 cars are running on Michelin could well add spice when the chips are down.

There is not long to go now, so soon all will be revealed. Hopefully we will have safe race & one that will live long in the memory.

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.

FIA WEC
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.

FIA WEC
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.

FIA WEC
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.

FIA WEC
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.

FIA WEC

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

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; An LMP1 Update

When Porsche announced its withdrawal from LMP1 earlier this year, it appeared to many, to be a near-fatal blow to the future of top-line prototype racing and most notably for Le Mans 2018. But, since Porsche followed Audi in fleeing the LMP1 Hybrid ranks in exchange for a cheaper Formula E project in the wake of the emissions scandal, privateer teams and Toyota have stepped up to the plate. And to the surprise of many, everything is falling into place. Like the GTE field, LMP1 looks set to be healthy, and provide us with one of the most intriguing Le Mans 24 Hours in recent memory in 2018.

Toyota is set to return, meaning the hybrid era in LMP1 is not yet over! The Japanese marque announced its intention to return at the WEC end-of-season gala in Bahrain, meaning we will get at least two more chances to see some of the most technologically advanced racing cars at La Sarthe. It’s a decision which appears to be part of a strategy to continue racing at Le Mans into the 2020 regulations cycle, should the new rules attract other marques back to the fold.

Le Mans 2018

For Le Mans 2018, Toyota is likely to come back with a two-car effort, utilising 2017 TS050 HYBRIDs with minor upgrades. In addition to the hoards of fans that will be interested in seeing Toyota as a marque try once again win its first Le Mans, it may also be a landmark race in the driver ranks. As it stands, it looks incredibly likely that two-time F1 world champion Fernando Alonso will commit to racing with Toyota at Le Mans and in the FIA WEC, after he tested with the team at Bahrain after the season finale.

His LMP1 debut in Sakhir was the first step in his drive at Le Mans, in his pursuit of motorsport’s ‘Triple Crown’, following on from his impressive Indy 500 debut last year, which he retired from after leading a significant portion of the race. If he does come and play, then it will certainly be unmissable, as it will be fascinating to see how he performs aboard what is a very different machine to his usual McLaren F1 car.

But who will Toyota race against? Well, over the last two months there have been a slew of announcements, the privateer grid set to rise from a single entry to more than seven; resulting in what should be an LMP1 grid for Le Mans 2018, the biggest it’s been since 2015.

This week saw Rebellion Racing throw their hat in to the ring by returning to the LMP1 class, after a short detour to win the FIA WEC LMP2 Championship in 2017. Rebellion are likely to bring 2 Oreca LMP1s to the start line in June (although this has yet to be confirmed at the time of writing). They have confirmed a driver line-up with considerable experience and well capable of being on the top step of the podium. Andre Lotterer & Neel Jani will join Bruno Senna and Mathius Beche alongside Gustavo Menezes and rookie of the year Thomas Laurent.

Le Mans 2018

In the Ginetta camp, TRS Racing/Manor is the only confirmed outfit so far; the former Formula One team, with Chinese backing confirming a single LMP1 entry with Ginetta last month. The team has yet to confirm which engine or tyre supplier it will use, or whether a second car is on the cards; either way though, they’re locked in for a serious effort.

Then we have DragonSpeed, the newly-crowned ELMS champion, which is set to be the first American-flagged LMP1 effort in FIA WEC history. The team, run by Elton Julian, will race with a Dallara BR1 LMP1 chassis and a Gibson engine. The choice to go with BR Engineering’s Dallara-built chassis comes after extended talks with ORECA, though the French constructor was unable to commit to supplying the team within the required time frame.

Le Mans 2018

In addition to that, SMP Racing will also compete with BR1s, though the Russian team will race with two cars, and a different engine; an updated AER P60B twin-turbo V6. The Russian team’s driver line-up should be strong for its Le Mans assault, the team having already tested the car at length, IndyCar veteran Mikhail Aleshin and ex-F1 driver Vitaly Petrov.

ByKolles has also confirmed its participation, the Austrian team making the announcement after a three-day test at Motorland Aragon last week in which it ran its Enso CLM P1/01, powered by the same NISMO engine as 2016. In Spain, ByKolles tested regular British drivers James Rossiter and Oliver Webb, in addition to single seater ace Tom Dillman, GT Asian Champion Edoardo Liberati and Mikael Grenier.

The confirmation from the team brings the total number of confirmed entries to nine for next season, although there are other programmes believed to be in the works.

Manor may run with a second Ginetta, in addition the other possible teams in talks with the Yorkshire-based marque. Ginetta is believed to still be in active discussions with its unnamed customer, which said back in the summer that it will purchase three cars, as well as a third outfit, that’s yet to make any sort of public announcement.

LMP2 constructor ORECA is also rumoured to still be working on supplying an LMP1 chassis for the ‘Super Season.’ The French company is known to have fielded interest from several teams, and is believed to favour working with just one for the upcoming season. Whether any plans come together or not though, remains to be seen, with much of its focus on the Acura Penske DPi effort that will debut at the Dyatona 24 Hours in January.

Beyond this, there are other teams within the FIA WEC and beyond that are evaluating, or have already evaluated programmes.

Nevertheless, even with what we have already confirmed, there’s nine cars on the list, a growth of five cars from this season. Within that there’s set to be a variety of chassis, and engine supplier too, which should make Le Mans as un-predictable as ever. Whether or not privateer entries can go toe-to-toe with Toyota is a question yet to be answered, but the ACO’s plan is to balance the both factory and private entries in performance terms, leaving Toyota with an advantage only in the efficiency department.

With so many new cars, and the potential for some real superstar driver talent to join the ranks, Le Mans in 2018 is set to be a corker; and with more announcements on the way, it can only get better.

Could we see more than 10 LMP1 cars on the grid at Le Mans next year? Yes, and if we do, you’ll want to be there to see how that pans out trackside!

Written by Stephen Kilbey
Photography by Dailysportscar

You can book your Le Mans 2018 tickets now by calling Travel Destinations on 0844 873 0203 or read more here.

Audi at Le Mans

Countdown to Le Mans: LMP1 Preview

With all the cars finally taking to the track later today, it really feels like Le Mans 2016 has begun. We are rounding up our previews by looking at 10 talking points from the top LMP1 class on the grid.

1.  Rebellion Racing
There’s a buzz around Rebellion Racing this year that has smiles on faces in the leading LMP1 Privateer camp. After engine woes in the latter part of last season the team have reverted to an earlier spec of AER twin turbo V6. That’s paid off in spades, the team finding speed, and taking advantage of an extraordinary early season set of failures for the factory LMP1s. A pair of overall podiums at Spa and Silverstone have put the #13 crew of Dominik Kraihamer, Alexandre Imperstori and the only teenage Le Mans starter in 2016. Mathéo Tuscher in the lead of the LMP1 drivers Championship coming into Le Mans. The other Rebellion meanwhile has Nick Heidfeld joined once again by Nico Prost with Nelson Piquet Jr added into the mix A Piquet and Prost together! Heidfeld and Prost have had a pair of fourth places overall at Le Mans and know how to produce the fast and reliable run that will be needed. Piquet has raced here before too, in an Aston Martin DBR9 back in GT1 days. Rebellion will have to play to their strengths, and keep to their plan – The R-One is the fastest car in a straight line in the entire field, 336 Km/h at the Test Day, but rather slower than the 1000 bhp+ hybrids over the full lap. They cannot win on pace, but will be looking to stay close enough that if those ahead suffer issues, the Rebellions could pounce!

Rebellion Racing at Le Mans

2. Porsche Team
Porsche took a famous win last year and are back for another shot, aiming now for an 18th win to further cement the 919 Hybrid alongside Porsche Legends including the 917, 936, 936, 956, 962 and 911. The signs look good for a reliable and very fast run, and a switch back to last year’s battery pack will only enhance their likelihood of a competitive finish. As above there have been reliability woes in the early races of the season, but Porsche say those issues are now well understood and if they can display the reliability shown there in 2015 then Porsche are looking very, very good indeed.

Porsche at Le Mans 2016

3. Toyota Gazoo Racing
This is a race that Toyota want to win – desperately. Their Le Mans history has been peppered with ‘almosts’. Second place does not feel like an achievement to this team., it tastes of failure. So they’re back for 2016 with a brand new car, the TS050, a brand new look – the blue and white is gone, and a brand new mechanical/ hybrid package, a 2.4 litre V6 turbo replaces the much loved wailing V8, and the Super-capacitor electrical storage medium is replaced by a battery pack, battery tech having overtaken the Super-Cap’s abilities. They have been much faster already than in 2015, helped too by a move up to the maximum 8 MJ category, and led convincingly as other faltered at Spa until they too hit trouble. Those issues are now well understood, the cars had been bottoming out badly and the shocks, passed through the structure of the car, caused vital components to fail – All fixed we are told! Will they be on Pole – unlikely, will they lead the early stages, unlikely – Do they have a plan – Most certainly! Expect to see the TS050s in the mix if the Hybrids stay out of trouble.

Toyota at Le Mans 2016

4. Audi Sport Team Joest
Audi are chasing an astounding 14th win in 2016, and they are doing it with a radically different new R18. Before we deal with the looks of the car let’s focus on the hybrid system, now equipped with the currently de rigour battery storage medium rather than the previous mechanical flywheel. It has allowed Audi to move up top the 6MJ bracket, more hybrid energy available then and with an improved, and now uniquely to Audi, diesel fuelled primary engine. The aero work on the car can best be described as radical, the car utterly different to anything that has come before from Audi and, whilst the car is certainly fast, it is unlikely to win anyone’s vote for “most beautiful race car”. If it first to take the flag next Sunday afternoon though few will care!

5. Dunlop
Dunlop have returned to LMP1 with both Privateer teams opting to use the rubber from the boys and girls in Yellow. They are finding new pace too. Dunlop’s LMP2 rubber has proven to be remarkably long-lasting in recent years – could that provide a further edge as the Privateers look to stay close enough to the hybrids to profit from misfortune elsewhere?

Le Mans 24

6. Swiss drivers in every team
Extraordinarily every single LMP1 team in the race this year has a Swiss driver on their roster – Except Swiss flagged Rebellion Racing who have two! Audi’s Marcel Fassler, Porsche’s Neel Jani, Toyota’s Seb Bulemi and ByKolles driver Simon Trummer are joined by Mathéo Tuscher and Alexandre Imperatori. Two of the factory teams have Brit drivers too with Oliver Jarvis in the #8 Audi, Anthony Davidson in the #5 Toyota and Mike Conway in the sister #6 TS050. Oliver Webbn fly the flag in the Privateer class for the UK in the #4 ByKolles CLM

7. Regulations change for boost and fuel
LMP1’s Hybrid Regulations are all about efficiency and once again in 2016 the powers that be have reeled in the fuel allowance – down 7% on 2015. That means that Audi, for instance, are now using much less than 50% of the fuel they used at the start of the diesel era for cars that are producing faster lap times! In no small part of course that is because of the increased capabilities of the hybrid systems but there too there is a change for 2016 – As the race organisers look to try to put a brake on tumbling lap times a Le mans only restriction on the amount of hybrid boost that can be deployed in one shot has been introduced. The reality though is that the overall energy capacity of the systems has not been reduced so the cars can deploy the lower power output allowed for longer! That saw lap times at the Test Day within tenths of the times seen last year!

8. Leena Gade
Le Mans in 2016 marks the final races in the FIA WEC for one of the most recognisable faces in the paddock. Audi Sport Race Engineer Leena Gade has been with the factory outfit for a decade, and in that time has contributed to multiple major race wins, including no fewer than three Le Mans wins, and a World Championship win. She’s moving on to a management role with the Bentley Motorsport outfit, handling customer programmes with their GT3 cars. She’ll be looking to make it a nice round four wins though for ‘her’ crew, the #7 car. And for the final time the Radio Le mans crew will be able to say – Don’t second guess ‘The Gade!’

Audi at Le Mans

9. No third cars
One of the most noticeable changes this season is the reduction from three cars to two for the Porsche and Audi squads, this a response to the VW Gate emissions scandal with all VAG group companies forced to make cuts in programmes. It adds a frisson of uncertainty, one fewer bullet in the gun means strategy options are reduced – Will they employ one ‘Tortoise’ and one ‘Hare’ once the race settles down? We’ll see!

ByKolles Racing Team
Last but not least is the solo effort from ByKolles Racing, the CLM P1/01 AER does battle with the Rebellion pair in the Privateer sub class. The only ever Austrian flagged LMP team at Le Mans it is, realistically, looking to run for the finish and see what that brings. The team invested in new aero for 2016 and whilst that has worked elsewhere their speed at Le Mans seems somewhat underwhelming at present. Brit Oliver Webb joins the team for 2016 and Pierre Kaffer rejoins the effort for Le Mans, the ex Audi factory pilot back from US racing commitments thus far in 2016.

Bykolles Racing Team

 

To all Travel Destinations customers at Le Mans this week, we hope that you enjoy a great race. We look forward to making your reservations for Le Mans 2017 when you return.

Written by Graham Goodwin
Photography by Dailysportscar

FIA WEC 2016

Introducing the FIA WEC 2016

The official prologue for the 2016 FIA World Endurance Championship took place over Easter weekend. This was the first chance for the public to see the new teams and cars in the flesh. Although little can be concluded from lap times at this stage, Stephen Kilbey from Dailysportscar, was trackside at Paul Ricard to give Travel Destinations a briefing on what to expect in the FIA WEC and at Le Mans 2016.

LMP1
Porsche, Audi and Toyota are all back for another season which is posed to be just as enthralling as last year. Each team will be entering 2 cars each in 2016, so there is a level playing field at the front of the grid.

Porsche 919 Hybrid

Porsche has opted to tweak its 919 Hybrid for the new season and take lots of small steps in an attempt to improve on performance, and nullify the ACO’s new restrictions on fuel-flow imposed to slow all the LMP1 cars down.

Audi R18 e-tron quattro

Audi and Toyota meanwhile enter 2016 with entirely new packages. Both the new Audi R18 and the Toyota TS050 are very different to what the teams ran last year, and that’s very apparent not just aesthetically, with new liveries and noticeable aero developments, but also under the covers too. The gamble here is whether the new technology will be as reliable as the tweaked tried and tested formula adopted by Porsche. Porsche topped the time sheets at Paul Ricard, but both Audi and Toyota showed quick sector times, without needing to put them all together. Ultimately the first race at Silverstone will really show us what each car is capable of.

Toyota TS050

In the privateer subdivision, one of the two teams present – Rebellion Racing – makes a return with two R-Ones, in a very similar package to last season, but a very shiny new livery which up-close is extremely detailed and in some ways mesmerising. The ACO have promised to review this class to try and enable them to be more competitive moving forward. Perhaps Rebellion’s efforts and consistency over the last few years deserves more.

Rebellion Racing

LMP2
There are plenty of new faces in the LMP2 class this year. This is probably the most difficult grid to predict with many similarly powered cars lining up alongside each other. G-Drive Racing, after winning the LMP2 Championship last season, have partnered up with Jota Sport to run a brand new Oreca 05, sporting the team’s standard eye-catching livery.

Manor

Aside from that, both Signatech Alpine and ex-F1 outfit Manor have also purchased Orecas for the new season. Alpine’s blue and orange looks just as good on a prototype with a roof, and Manor’s fresh look – conceived by team principal Graeme Lowdon – will certainly stand out in what promises to be a very competitive field.

RGR Morand

RGR Morand’s very patriotic livery representing the re-branded team’s Mexican ties on the new Ligier is also one to look out for.
GTE Pro
Much like LMP1 class the GTE Pro grid is oozing manufacturer interest, and the addition of Ford is a testament to the class’ relevancy in global GT racing.

Ford GT

On the subject of Ford, Chip Ganassi Team UK’s pair of GTs look astonishing up close, and with some more development should be in the running for some results throughout the season having already run at Daytona and Sebring in the States this year.

Ferrari 488

Outside of the Ford’s new car on the grid, the well-established AF Corse squad are back with two brand new Ferrari 488 GTEs which promise to be in contention for the title right away. When has a Ferrari not been in the mix over the last few years?

Aston Martin Racing

Aston Martin Racing and Dempsey Proton Racing – Porsche’s only Pro representative this year – meanwhile have revised cars for the season. Aston martin’s Vantages are substantially more meaty in the rear diffuser department, and livery wise, after sporting Gulf colours since 2008, Aston Martin return to the team’s roots by running in a very smart (and British) green.

GTE Am
Although the Aston Martin’s will no longer be carrying the Gulf Oil branding, the famous colours won’t be missing from the grid, as European Le Mans Series graduates Gulf Racing UK are participating in the full FIA WEC season this year with their Porsche. It is certainly a striking car and sure to be a fan favourite.

Gulf Racing UK

Top to bottom, GTE Am’s foundations remain unchanged, although 2015 LMP2 runner-up KCMG are also set to run a Porsche in the 2016 FIA WEC championship.

As the clock ticks down to the start of the season at Silverstone from the 15th – 17th April, the work behind the scenes will be ramped up. The official prologue has certainly whetted the appetite for what is going to be another great endurance racing season.

 

The Le Mans 24 Hours remains the pinnacle in the endurance racing calendar and the jewel in the crown of the FIA World Endurance Championship. For those wishing to watch the racing live, travel, ticket and camping packages are still available from Official Agent Travel Destinations. Availability restrictions for certain areas apply, but it is still possible to reserve your place Le Mans 2016.

Travel Destinations also have exclusive offers to attend the FIA World Endurance Championship  rounds at both Spa-Francorchamps and the Nurburgring. Visit our dedicated site for more information and the best prices or call Travel Destinations direct now on 0844 873 0203.