The longest season yet is just around the corner!

The World Endurance Championship is back with a revised calendar, hanging its title on the back of the GT manufacturers and a sleuth of new cars in the P1 class – as well as a return to Sebring! Less than a week separates us from the start of the seventh season of the FIA WEC, and this one will be historic, as it marks the transition of the series towards a “winter” schedule via a Super Season that starts in May of this year and ends in June of next year. The schedule includes two visits to Le Mans for the fabled 24 Hours race, two at Spa-Francorchamps, as well as one at Sebring in the same weekend as the IMSA 12 Hours race.

Continue reading for the full story.

The Grid

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No fewer than four new or revised non-hybrid prototypes entered alongside the sole remaining works hybrid beasts from Toyota

After Porsche and Audi both quit the ultra-expensive hybrid LMP1 category, ACO and FIA got together in a bid to save the class and, in a way, the championship in itself. What resulted from those meetings was an increase in privateer interest, no fewer than four new or revised non-hybrid prototypes filling the entry list alongside the sole remaining works hybrid beasts from Toyota.

There’s also news to discuss down the order in LMP2, the class seeing growth in numbers after a stale 2017 that saw only ORECA (some rebranded as Alpine) chassis racing in most of the rounds. This season, two other manufacturers are joining the party, and the junior prototype class will be absolutely massive for Le Mans this June.

Moving ever closer to the back of the grid we find the two GT divisions, first of which is the GTE-Pro that is now the flag-bearer for the championship, as it has the minimum of three manufacturers needed for the series to earn its “World Championship” status. In fact, no less than five manufacturers will take on all of the eight rounds across three continents.

Finally, GTE-Am boasts an increased grid with nine cars entered at Spa from three manufacturers. Sadly for the Americans, the legendary Corvette will only make its yearly trip to Le Mans with the works program after Larbre pulled the plug on the GTE-Am side of things to concentrate on racing in LMP2.

The Calendar

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Many were looking for the fat lady preparing her last song after hearing that Porsche would quit the FIA WEC at the end of 2017

Many were looking for the fat lady preparing her last song after hearing that, indeed, Porsche would quit the FIA WEC at the end of 2017. I’ve talked before about the chain reaction that decision caused, from promptly changing the proposed rulebook for 2020 to making the transition to a winter schedule at least one season quicker than originally planned. With that in the back of our minds, we must congratulate the powers in charge, the FIA and the ACO, for sorting it all out – at least on paper.

The paper I’m talking about is the entry list for the upcoming Spa-Francorchamps Six Hours race, which will kick-off this unique Super Season that will stretch over two years. Let’s take a look at this year’s calendar, which is one race shorter than that of last year but still manages to tick three continents without returning to Mexico.

Spa-Francorchamps Six Hours May 5th, 2018
Le Mans 24 Hours June 16th to June 17th, 2018
Silverstone Six Hours August 19th, 2018
Six Hours of Fuji October 14th, 2018
Shanghai Six Hours November 18th, 2018
Sebring 1,000 Miles March 15th, 2019
Spa-Francorchamps Six Hours May 4th, 2019
Le Mans 24 Hours June 15th to June 16th, 2019
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There will no longer be any distinction between the Hybrid or non-hybrid cars in P1

The only change to the above schedule from the dates that were announced in the latter part of last year was the switch to the Sebring race, from Saturday morning after the IMSA 12 Hours race to Friday afternoon. The length of the race was also changed, from 1,500 miles (or 402 laps) to 1,000 miles which equates to about eight hours of racing. Sadly, there never was the possibility of the WEC joining in and racing in the 12 Hours IMSA race as we saw in 2012 when Sebring hosted the first ever FIA WEC race.

With the calendar out of the way, let’s talk cars. As per usual, there will be four classes: LMP1, LMP2, GTE-Pro, and GTE-Am. There will no longer be any distinction between the Hybrid or non-hybrid cars in P1, so everyone should be able to battle everyone but, as you’ll see below, this isn’t quite the case as the ACO seems to favor Toyota if we look at the latest EOT update. In the LMP1 class, we don’t deal with BoP – that’s for GT cars – instead, rule makers call the same procedure (roughly) EOT or Equivalence of Technology.

LMP1 Class

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There will be a total of ten LMP1 cars at Spa, all of which will go on to contest the entirety of the season

There will be a total of ten LMP1 cars at Spa, all of which will go on to contest the entirety of the season. Two of these will be the hybrid Toyota TS050s, three will be BR Engineering BR1s for SMP Racing and DragonSpeed, two will be Ginetta G60 LT-P1s entered by CEFC TRSM Racing, while the final three come courtesy of Rebellion Racing who will field a pair of ORECA-developed R13 prototypes and a sole ENSO CLM P1/01 with Nissan power.

Since the only works team in LMP1 is Toyota Gazoo Racing, the German-Japanese outfit decided from the get-go that their 2018-2019 challenger will be merely an improvement to last year’s car since a new set of rules for 2020 are also cooking. It’s worth noting that Toyota could continue in the WEC beyond 2019 in the bridge season before the new regulations come into effect if these new regulations meet its expectations. What we know so far about the new rules is that the hybrid aspect will not be removed, efficiency being an important element for the ACO. Another interesting element could be a convergence with the upcoming DPi rules which could see a shared platform being used in P1 as well as DPi. But that would, undoubtedly, push the budgets beyond the reach of some of the privateers that we now see compete in America.

2016 Toyota TS050 Hybrid LMP1
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The Toyotas were by far the fastest things out there on the first days of testing

But before talking about the ifs and buts, let’s look at what happened during the official Pre-Season test days at Paul Ricard. The Toyotas were by far the fastest things out there on Friday, Mike Conway reeling in an amazing 1:32.662, over four seconds faster than anything coming from the non-hybrid P1 machines. Only after the test was concluded did Toyota tell everyone that the astonishing pace came as a result of the cars running outside of their EOT parameters in order for the team to test a new cooling system. Toyota went to great lengths to ensure they will NOT fail in their quest to win Le Mans this time around, even testing how their car will handle returning to the pits with only three wheels still attached!

So, when the Toyotas finally dialed a legal setup, they weren’t that fast anymore. In fact, Toyota’s quickest legal lap on Saturday, that couldn’t get into the 1:37s, was only good enough for fifth while the quickest car, Vitaly Petrov’s No. 11 BR was 1.1 seconds faster and managed a lap in 1:37.034. Toyota did, however, lay down the most laps in the test but that’s no surprise given that the rest of the P1 field is made up of brand-new cars. While it’s unclear how fast Toyota is on a single lap against the privateers, it’s clear that the ACO thought they aren’t fast enough.

The latest EOT change before next weekend’s race sees the new cars slowed down compared to the Paul Ricard test. In numbers, the privateers will be able to employ 14% less energy while the tank’s capacity has been reduced by 6.9 kilograms. That means that Toyota’s original 69% maximum fuel power deficit to the privateers will be down to just 49% for Spa. There was also a tweak made to the amount of fuel a privateer car can carry during a stop with the maximum fuel load reduced to just 47.1 kilograms as opposed to 54 kilograms at the test.

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Toyota was already the more efficient car given its 8MJ hybrid system, and so one can expect it to be pulling extra long stints regardless of the aero package

Toyota was already the more efficient car given its 8MJ hybrid system, and so one can expect it to be pulling extra long stints regardless of the aero package. The No. 7 car will be driven by Kamui Kobayashi, Mike Conway and Jose-Maria Lopez while the No. 8 will see Kazuki Nakajima, Sebastien Buemi and McLaren’s Fernando Alonso share driving duties. Alonso’s arrival caused quite a stir in the WEC Family, so much so that the organizers saw fit to change the date of the Fuji round to accommodate Alonso’s schedule. I thought, at the time, that the move is unfair given that the race now is on the same weekend as the IMSA season finale at Road Atlanta where many WEC regulars were due to participate. Apparently, one famous and gifted driver from F1 means more to the WEC than just about anyone else – as you’ll see below.

SMP Racing was fastest at the test, as I’ve said, and their BR Engineering cars powered by AER engines were also seen doing hundreds of laps in testing. Boris Rotenberg’s team contracted Stephane Sarrazin, Egor Orudzhev, and Matevos Isaakyan to drive the No. 17 chassis while the No. 11 car will be shared by Vitaly Petrov and ex-IndyCar driver Mikhail Aleshin. The Russians will, however, add a third driver to the No. 11 car’s roaster and he is Alonso’s former team mate at McLaren, Jenson Button.

The Briton will miss the season-opener in the Ardennes because his current commitments with Honda in the Super GT overlap and he’ll race at Fuji the next weekend. Sadly for Button, an F1 World Champion in his own right, his move was made in short notice so we can guess the WEC had no time to react and change (again) its schedule – or maybe Button isn’t as “big” of a name as Alonso? One can only wonder…

Jon Olsson Selling His Rebellion R2K For A Little Over $250k
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After a year spent in LMP2, the Bar Hayden’s crew is back in P1 with a new car: the Rebellion R13-Gibson

Up next is Rebellion Racing, the Swiss team backed by the maker of some of the world’s most exquisite time pieces. After a year spent in LMP2, the Bar Hayden’s crew is back in P1 with a new car: the Rebellion R13-Gibson. The car is based on the highly successful LMP2 ORECA 07 and will see the return of TVR to motorsport as a branding exercise. Porsche’s world champion drivers Neel Jani and Andre Lotterer will share the No. 1 car with Bruno Senna while the No. 3 will be driven by longstanding Rebellion driver Mathias Beche alongside Thomas Laurent and American Gustavo Menezes. Rebellion was by far the best privateer LMP1 team the last time they competed at the sharp end but, with only the ByKolles to measure themselves against, it’s not really useful information. They did, though, finish second and third on the timesheets at Paul Ricard and will most likely be the ones to watch among all of the privateers.

Elton Julian’s DragonSpeed steps up to LMP1 for the Super Season and will run a sole BR Engineering BR01 with Gibson power, unlike SMP Racing who developed the car and will use AER. Henrik Hedman, Ben Hanley and Pietro Fittipaldi will pilot the car that was one of the few to run into some mechanical gremlins during the test days. As ever with new cars – and cars of such complexity – reliability is a big unknown.

Ginetta was the first manufacturer to announce its desire to build a privateer LMP1 car – followed by the hopeless Perrinn project – and Laurence Tomlinson went as far as to say that they’d already sold six chassis to three different teams. In reality, only two will see the race tracks this season in the hands of the CEFC TRS Racing team, formerly known as Team Manor Racing. The two Chinese-entered Ginettas will be powered by Mecachorme engines and the lineups will be headed by Charlie Robertson and Oliver Rowland. Alongside Rowland in the No. 6 will be Alex Brundle and Oliver Turvey while the No. 5 will also see the likes of Dean Stoneman and Leo Russel exchange stints with the aforementioned Robertson.

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Colin Kolles went from being unable to keep up with the top brass of LMP2, to a possible contender at the present moment

What’s interesting on this front is the Chinese backing behind this program. David Cheng’s Jackie Chan, DC Racing outfit, is also looking at a way to get to LMP1, Cheng hoping that he can attract a Chinese manufacturer who will partner him in building a car for the new 2020 rules. So, watch out for more Asian rounds in the future in WEC as the market in the Far East is booming and more and more businesses become interested in motorsport.

Last but not least is Colin Kolles long-standing team that went from being unable to keep up with the top brass of LMP2, to a possible contender at the present moment. The Nissan-powered ENSO CLM P1/01 will be driven by Oliver-James Webb, Tom Dillman and Dominik Kraihamer. Team Principal Manfredi Ravetto announced that the team will expand starting with the Six Hours of Silverstone when they hope to have a second chassis ready and running. With the significant pool of drivers that the Austrian team has circulated during its test sessions, which include the likes of ex-Audi driver Marco Bonanomi or former team regulars Pierre Kaffer and James Rossiter, it’s probably not hard to put a second lineup together although the entry will have to be approved by the ACO Selection Committee.

LMP2 Class

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Eight cars will take the green flag at Spa, five of which are ORECAs

The junior prototype class feels rejuvenated this season. Eight cars will take the green flag at Spa, five of which are ORECAs with one Alpine, one Dallara, and one Ligier.

ORECA proved to be dominant in 2017, but things may shuffle a bit this year, although Ligier and Dallara still have some catching-up to do. The good news is that the first five at Paul Ricard was within a second of each other on the overall time sheet. DragonSpeed’s LMP2 entry was quickest, former F1 bad boy Pastor Maldonado is the only one to dip under the 1:41s.

It’s also notable that Maldonado was fastest running with Michelins, a change from last year when all teams chose Dunlop rubber. Petrov will share the No. 31 ORECA with Nathanael Berthon and Roberto Gonzalez. G-Drive Racing will return to the grid as will Signatech-Alpine with a sole Alpine A470 for Nicolas Lapierre, Andre Negrao, and Pierre Thiriet.

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David Cheng’s team will again enter two cars, the only team to do so in P2

David Cheng’s team will again enter two cars, the only team to do so in P2. The No. 37 car will be driven by an all-Malaysian crew while the No. 38 will be driven by Ho-Pin Tung and Gabriel Aubry. TDS Racing will be the final ORECA-running team, and it will feature former Audi man Loic Duval alongside Mathieu Vaxivier and Francois Perrodo.

Larbre steps up to LMP2 after a few seasons down in GTE-Am running the Corvette C7.R. Jack Leconte tried time and again to convince those in charge at GM to allow him to enter a GTE-Pro entry with help from the factory but the green light was never on for that program so Leconte finally gave up and, considering the age of the Corvette, decided to move up to LMP2 with a fresh OnRoak-built Ligier JS P2-17 for Erwin Creed, Romano Ricci and Julien Canal. Brazilian Fernando Rees was slated to be the third driver but he was dropped from the team as a means to cut costs after a big sponsor parted ways with Leconte’s operation – as Rees himself put it.

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Racing Team Nederland steps up to the FIA WEC after only racing at Le Mans last year

Racing Team Nederland steps up to the FIA WEC after only racing at Le Mans last year. The Dutch team will no longer welcome Rubens Barrichello in its lineup although veteran Jan Lammers is still onboard and looking forward to increasing his record at Le Mans. Alongside Lammers will be Fritz van Eerd and Giedo van der Garde.

Another man eyeing a record at Le Mans is Emmanuel Collard. Porsche and Pescarolo veteran Collard is looking for his 24th consecutive drive at Circuit de la Sarthe after no longer being part of the TDS Racing operation. The Frenchman is the 2016 GTE-Am champion and you shouldn’t be surprised if you see him aboard a LMP2 or GTE-Am car in June.

Also, on the topic of people showing up in June, you’ll probably recognize one Juan-Pablo Montoya arriving to drive for United Autosports. The Columbian will make his Le Mans debut but, sadly, not in a car that’s able to win overall so his dreams of achieving the Triple Crown will have to wait… at least for now.

GTE-Pro Class

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Aston-Martin continues its devotion to the World Championship and will debut their new Vantage at Spa

Works-backed and full of wheel-to-wheel action, the top GT class goes from strength to strength. Aston-Martin continues its devotion to the World Championship and will debut their new Vantage at Spa. Ford CGR Team UK is also back with its pair of GTs, as is Porsche and Ferrari with Amato Ferrari’s AF Corse. Also in the game is BMW, back after a six-years hiatus following the end of the M3 GT2 programme. The Munich-based manufacturer will have its cars run by MTEK, not Schnitzer as it was the case last time around.

The times at the Paul Ricard Prologue give almost nothing away about the pace of the five manufacturers although there are some notable things worth pointing out. First of all, the automatic BoP system debuted last year is still in place and will probably stay as is until after Silverstone.

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Porsche was fastest with Ford trailing within the same second. Both manufacturers covered over 200 laps

Porsche was fastest with Ford trailing within the same second. Both manufacturers covered over 200 laps while Aston went for long runs to test the reliability of its new car. The No. 95 managed to tick off a full endurance test and clocked over 850 laps but was not among the quickest in class. In fact, the two Vantages were two seconds adrift but did not encounter any mechanical issues.

Ferrari, however, had a troubled run. Last year’s champions ran both 488 GTEs in Evo. The No. 71 car suffered a fire during a pit stop while the No. 51 saw huge tire degradation on the newly resurfaced Paul Ricard hinder its progress. This was an anomaly as the new surface proved light on tires for just about everyone else.

BMW ran without trouble too, minus some issues for the No. 82 which anyway traveled over 680 laps.

On the driver front, there aren’t too many changes compared to 2017. However, we’ll see some new faces, for example Ford will employ Tony Kanaan in the No. 67 car while Billy Johnson will be the third driver in the No. 68. Gianmaria Bruni is back in the WEC with Porsche alongside Richard Lietz while Michael Christensen will team up with Kevin Estre. Maxime Martin and Alex Lynn will reinforce Aston-Martin Racing’s lineup while BMW will feature the likes of Martin Tomczyk, Augusto Farfus and Nicky Catsburg, as well as Alex Sims, Philipp Eng and Antonio Felix Da Costa.

GTE-Am Class

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AMR will have a car for the familiar pairing of Paul Dalla-Lana, Pedro Lamy, and Mathias Lauda but, just like TF Sport’s Vantage, it will be last year’s car

The formerly depleted Am class is getting a new lease on life for the Super Season with nine cars entered for Spa from three manufacturers.

AMR will have a car for the familiar pairing of Paul Dalla-Lana, Pedro Lamy, and Mathias Lauda but, just like TF Sport’s Vantage, it will be last year’s car. Aston-Martin will only be allowed to run the new car in the Am division from the next season. Charles Eastwood will complete the TF Sport crew alongside Euan Hankey and Salih Yoluc.

Four Porsches will also be on the grid, the German brand unleashing its mid-engined 911 in the Am class. This car was also the one to beat in the test and seems to be the favorite at the races as well if we are to consider the car’s pace in the ELMS season opener. Ferrari, however, will be close as we saw at Paul Ricard where a 488 GTE stole what should’ve been a Porsche win at the last grasp.

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Four Porsche 911s will be entered by Dempsey-Proton Racing, Gulf Racing UK, and Team Project 1 of German Porsche Cup fame

The four 911s will be entered by Dempsey-Proton Racing, Gulf Racing UK (which also received a second 911 GTE) and Team Project 1 of German Porsche Cup fame. American Patrick Lindsey will be seen in the orange-and-black machine as well as former Flying Lizards stalwart Jorg Bergmeister and Egidio Perfetti. Meanwhile, the Proton team relies on an almost unchanged lineup compared to last year, Team Gulf bringing in Australian Alex Davison alongside Mike Wainwright and Ben Barker.

Finally, the class will be rounded out by a trifecta of Ferraris: One from Japanese team MR Racing, one from Singaporean Clearwater Racing and a third from AF Corse’s Swiss subsidiary, Spirit of Race. MR Racing got the driving talents of both Eddie Cheever III and Olivier Beretta, and they will drive with Ishikawa Motoaki. Matt Griffin will drive with Clearwater alongside Keita Sawa and Mok Weng Sun while Giancarlo Fisichella will be the pro driver in the Spirit of Race lineup.

All in all, the upcoming FIA WEC season promises to be unpredictable, exciting and historical. For sure, not something that you’ll want to miss, especially since Velocity has picked up the rights to broadcast the whole Super Season in the United States. The agreement also sees the races and qualifying being streamed on Motor Trend On Demand.

Six Hours of Spa-Francorchamps Entry List

LMP1

No Team Car Drivers
1 Rebellion Racing Rebellion R13 - Gibson Jani / Lotterer / Senna
3 Rebellion Racing Rebellion R13 - Gibson Beche / Laurent / Menezes
4 ByKolles Racing Team ENSO CLM P1/01 - Nismo Webb / TBA / TBA
5 CEFC TRSM Racing Ginetta G60-LT-P1 - Mecachrome Robertson / TBA / TBA
6 CEFC TRSM Racing Ginetta G60-LT-P1 - Mecachrome Rowland / TBA / TBA
7 Toyota Gazoo Racing Toyota TS050 - Hybrid Conway / Kobayashi / Lopez
8 Toyota Gazoo Racing Toyota TS050 - Hybrid Conway / Nakajima / Alonso
10 Dragonspeed BR Engineering BR1 - Gibson Hedman / Hanley / Fittipaldi
11 SMP Racing BR Engineering BR1 - AER Aleshin / Petrov / TBA
17 SMP Racing BR Engineering BR1 - AER Sarrazin / Orudzhev / Isaakyan

LMP2

No Team Car Drivers
26 G-Drive Racing Oreca 07 - Gibson Rusinov / Vergne / TBA
28 TDS Racing Oreca 07 - Gibson Perrodo / Vaxiviere / Duval
29 Racing Team Nederland Dallara P217 - Gibson Van Eerd / Van Der Garde / Lammers
31 Dragonspeed Oreca 07 - Gibson Gonzalez / Maldonado / Berthon
36 Signatech Alpine Matmut Alpine A470 - Gibson Lapierre / Negrao / Thiriet
37 Jackie Chan DC Racing Oreca 07 - Gibson Jaafar / Tan / Yazid
38 Jackie Chan DC Racing Oreca 07 - Gibson Tung / Aubry / TBA
50 Larbre Competition Ligier JSP217 - Gibson Creed / Ricci / Rees

GTE-Pro

No Team Car Drivers
51 AF Corse Ferrari 488 GTE EVO Pier Guidi / Calado
66 Ford Chip Ganassi Team UK Ford GT Mucke / Pla / Johnson
67 Ford Chip Ganassi Team UK Ford GT Priaulx / Tincknell / Kanaan
71 AF Corse Ferrari 488 GTE EVO Rigon / Bird
81 BMW Team MTEK BMW M8 GTE Tomczyk / Catsburg / Eng
82 BMW Team MTEK Car Farfus / Da Costa / Sims
91 Porsche GT Team Porsche 911 RSR Lietz / Bruni
92 Porsche GT Team Porsche 911 RSR Christensen / Estre
95 Aston Martin Racing Aston Martin Vantage AMR Sorensen / Thiim / Turner
97 Aston Martin Racing Aston Martin Vantage AMR Lynn / Martin / Adam

GTE-Am

No Team Car Drivers
54 Spirit of Race Ferrari 488 GTE Flohr / Castellacci / Fisichella
56 Team Project 1 Porsche 911 RSR Bergmeister / Lindsey / Perfetti
61 Clearwater Racing Ferrari 488 GTE Sun Mok / Sawa / Griffin
70 MR Racing Ferrari 488 GTE Motoaki / Beretta / Cheever
77 Dempsey-Proton Racing Porsche 911 RSR Ried / TBA / Campbell
86 Gulf Racing Porsche 911 RSR Wainwright / Barker / Davison
88 Dempsey-Proton Racing Porsche 911 RSR Al Qubaisi / Roda / Cairoli
90 TF Sport Aston Martin Vantage Yoluc / Alers-Hankey / Eastwood
98 Aston Martin Racing Aston Martin Vantage Dalla Lana / Lamy / Lauda
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