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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 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: 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-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; 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

 

LMP1

Le Mans 2017: LMP Preview

This time next week the wait will nearly be over for the Le Mans 24 Hours 2017. Anticipation for the on track action will be at its peak and all the cars will be being prepared for action. Here we look at the talking points from a new look prototype field and what we can expect to see during Le Mans 2017.

Toyota vs Porsche
It is the clash of the titans we’ve all been waiting for. This year it is slightly different too, with Toyota, for the first time, bringing three cars to Le Mans. Toyota will be out to right the wrongs of last year, and try out some new talent too. The No. 9 car features returnee Nicolas Lapierre, Japanese Super Formula champion Yuji Kunimoto and WTCC champion Jose Maria Lopez (who was in the No.7, but has been moved to the third car after his shunt at Silverstone cost him a race at Spa, and the experience to go with it).

Le Mans 24 Hours
Whilst the picture at Toyota has been of wholesale changes to technical parts and personnel, at Porsche, the car has taken a much more evolutionary approach, but the driver squad has had a thorough shake up. Out is the retiring Mark Webber, and last year’s Le Mans winners Roman Dumas (here in an Alpine LMP2) and Marc Lieb who is here as a reserve. In has come ex-Audi LMP1 star Andre Lotterer, and returning Le Mans winners from 2015, Nick Tandy and Earl Bamber.

So far it’s been advantage Toyota, winning at Silverstone & Spa and setting the fastest times at the Le Mans Test Day. However, Porsche shouldn’t be counted out, the new (for 2017) 919 has proved quick, using an aero package which wasn’t designed for use at Silverstone and Spa, and its driver set is both experienced and youthful. Who will come out on top? At this point it’s too early to say. One thing’s for sure though, it will be a historic result whatever happens. It’ll either be Toyota’s first victory, or Porsche’s 19th!

Le Mans 2017

ByKolles
Without competition, but still with interest, the ByKolles Racing Team has kept the LMP1 privateer on life-support this year. The Austrian team, with its Nissan-powered CLM P1/01 has the potential to mix in with the new and high powered LMP2s. It may not sound like much, but the car will be fast in a straight line, and should be competing with the top-end LMP2 teams. This year in particular, filling the gap between LMP1-H and LMP2 is not necessary, instead, the team will be excited about the prospect of seeing just how high up the order it can finish.

Le Mans 2017

Oreca vs everyone else in LMP2
The non-Oreca 07 runners could very well be in trouble. At the Le Mans Test Day, with their new low-downforce kits, the Orecas were seconds ahead of the competition, that without even being fastest in a straight line! In the end they finished 1 to 13 in the LMP2 running order, leaving frightened faces at Ligier, Dallara and Riley in their wake. Will this domination continue during race week? It’s distinctly possible. There are contingencies in the rules, to re-balance performance, but it’s by no means clear whether at this point the race officials intend to act. Certainly Ligier, has publicly accepted that its low-drag kit, is not working, with it becoming clear that Dallara has gone far too far down the blindingly fast route, and not nearly far enough on the goes round corners quickly aspect. The commercial future, for this brand new class, could well hinge on what, if anything, emerges in the coming days.

Le Mans 24 Hours 2017
World Endurance Championship vs European Le Mans Series
There has been plenty of discussions over the past couple of years about a perceived gap in standard between the FIA WEC and ELMS LMP2 teams. This will be put to the test next week, as the entire WEC field (all Orecas!) and all but one of the ELMS LMP2 teams are on the entry list. There are entries from the likes of Signatech Alpine, Rebellion, United Autosports, DragonSpeed and G-Drive Racing, some of the best teams in sports car racing. Which series will emerge with the winning, or highest placed car? Time will tell. It’s time to settle the debate!

Riley
While there’s strength in numbers for Oreca, Ligier and Dallara at Le Mans, the fourth LMP2 constructor, Riley, has just one bullet in its gun. There are some very good aspects to this programme, mainly Keating Motorsports fielding Jordan Taylor – who has won every IMSA WeatherTech race this year – and ultra-fast Dutchman Jeroen Bleekemolen alongside team owner Ben Keating. The problem though, is that the car has had little testing, particularly with its Le Mans aero set up. The Keating outfit only received the car six weeks ago, but it will receive support from Bill Riley himself and Multimatic at the race week, as Keating is their only customer racing in Europe. They will be desperate to show off what the car can do too, as a good result next week could well boost future sales.

Le Mans 2017
Reliability
We don’t talk as much about reliability in sports car racing now, because modern machinery is almost bullet proof at times. But this year in LMP2 there is cause for concern when it comes to niggles, serviceability and durability. While the new breed of LMP2 cars have been surprisingly durable, there have been signs that over the course of Le Mans there could be some issues which affect the race.
The electronic systems have had the problems that are the most widespread, with compatibility issues that have caused many teams to lose functions on their steering wheel. Gearboxes, and in particular, gear-shift actuators, have also played up, particularly on the Ligiers. While a race of attrition shouldn’t be expected, the age of the LMP2 cars must be taken into consideration. Expect at least some of the contenders to fall by the wayside, spending unscheduled time in the garage.

High speeds
One of the more spectacular aspects of this year’s 24 hours is going to be the speed of the new LMP2s. The new Gibson engine, and Le Mans aero has relegated the quickest LMP1 car to 13th on the speed trap in a straight line. The fastest of the bunch is the Dallara P217, which managed 341kph (about 205mph) down the straights during the Test Day. That can be bettered during race week too, when the track gets worn in. The new cars are seriously quick, and will breeze past the GTE cars in a straight line, which should dazzle the spectators on hand, who are used to seeing LMP2s have to fight traffic solely through corners.

Le Mans 2017
Tyres
It is not quite the GTE tyre war, but LMP2 does have a handful of Michelin and Dunlop runners in the race this year. It is fair to say that not only does Dunlop have the better rubber in ideal conditions, but also the customer base behind it, as there’s only three Michelin-shod cars in the 25-car field. If the conditions take a turn for the worst though, it may throw a spanner in the works, as neither tyre manufacturer has raced in the wet this year.

Noteworthy names
LMP2’s continued growth has led to many of the world’s best drivers, or most aspirant, wanting to give racing in LMP2 a go. In the field this year are former F1 star Rubens Barichello, Le Mans winner Jan Lammers, ex-F1 drivers Karun Chandhok & Jean-Eric Vergne, LMP1 Audi star Oliver Jarvis, GP2 race-winner Alex Lynn, Formula E champion Nelson Piquet Jnr and Bruno Senna among others.
It is an incredible 75-driver pool this year, and up front should make for a fierce battle for the win!

Rubens Barichello at Le MansRecord times
It is hard to believe that the LMP2 Le Mans lap record is held by Jos Verstappen, in a 2008 Porsche RS Spyder. Since then certain cars have flirted with breaking it but the 3mins:32secs barrier is proving a tough one to break. This year though, it will be shattered, with drivers predicting 3mins:25secs during qualifying. The new LMP2s were lapping quicker than the Pole-time set by the Audi R10 less than a decade ago. It is staggering how far they have come. They are fast down the straights, grippy through the corners, and punchy on exits. They are so fast, that it is going to be like having 31 LMP1 cars on the grid for Le Mans 2017.

Written by Stephen Kilbey
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

Test Day

Le Mans 2017; Test Day Results

The annual curtain raiser for the Le Mans 24 Hours race week is test day. This is chance for teams and drivers to experience the unique Le Mans track before the racing starts in earnest. Although many of the sixty cars have been running in the FIA World Endurance Championship, the Le Mans test enables teams to practice in the new environment of Le Mans and try different aero packages and set ups before race week and the race itself on the 17th & 18th June.

Toyota at Le Mans
The Le Mans test has become an event in itself and more than 20,000 spectators were in attendance to watch the cars take to the full 13.6km circuit. It is often difficult to deduce much from the results of Test day, after all the laps are not competitive and it is unclear what fuel and tyres are being used during a particular session. However, Toyota will no doubt be pleased with their day’s work as not only did they set the best time of the day; a rapid 3 minutes & 18.132 seconds, but they also registered a 1-2-3 at the top of the time sheets at the end of the day.

Porsche at Le Mans
Porsche will be relatively pleased with their efforts, having had to perform an engine between the two practice sessions. This reduced the track time available to them and they managed 32 less laps in their No. 2 car compared to Toyota’s No. 9. Porsche will rather sort out those gremlins during test than have to do something similar in race week. The difference between the quickest Porsche and the slowest Toyota was just over half a second, so we can expect a close battle at the front of grid come race weekend.

Le Mans test
The speed of the new LMP2 cars was there for all to see. The fastest of which was the No. 35 Signatech Alpine which clocked 3 minutes, 28.146 seconds. There was a flurry of quick times towards the end of Le Mans test day, that saw second in class taken by the No. 24 Manor Racing Oreca and then third by No. 37 Jackie Chan DC Racing. Interestingly all of the top 13 cars were Gibson powered Oreca chassis.

Corvette Racing
Another engine change was required by the Corvette Racing team in GTE Pro. They performed a remarkably quick 90 minute turnaround on the No.64 car, mid-session, before setting the fastest time in the class at 3 minutes, 54.996 seconds. The two new Porsche 911 RSRs had previously dominated the timing screens and they ended the day second and third ahead of the second Corvette. Perhaps surprisingly the Ferraris and Fords weren’t able to compete with this pace, although they both could have been leaving their best times for race week.

Aston Martin Racing

Just a 10th of a second separated the first two cars in the GTE Am class. Aston Martin Racing secured top spot on the timing sheets with a 3 minute, 58.250 seconds lap ahead of the Labre Corvette. The No. 77 Proton Porsche rounded out the quickest 3 place GTE Am.

Race week will begin on the 11th June, when scrutineering for the Le Mans 24 Hours will begin. The cars will return to the track on Wednesday & Thursday 14th & 15th June, before the race itself on the 17th & 18th June 2017.

Written by Richard Webb
Photography by Dailysportscar