Virtual Le Mans – A spectacle in sim racing

As has been the case with a lot of the major motorsport championships during this pandemic, we have seen the rise of sim racing to fill that void. Had these motorsport events not been postponed, the weekend of June 14th would have been the season finale for the 2019-20 FIA World Endurance Championship season with the 88th running of the 24 hours of Le Mans. That has been postponed until September, but in its original June slot will be a virtual rendition sanctioned officially by the FIA and ACO.

Normal Le Mans 24 will not happen til September 19th. Image courtesy of Joao Filipe, Adrenal Media / FIA Wec

Dubbed the Le Mans 24 Virtual, the race will be held using rFactor 2 and will feature 50 entries consisting of four drivers each across two classes; LMP2 will be the leading class with all entrants using the Oreca 07 and they will be accompanied by LMGTE cars from the likes of Ferrari, Porsche, Aston Martin and Corvette. It looks set to be the peak of sim racing already, as the list of drivers who have signed up to compete is absolutely incredible!

Where to begin? Perhaps with some prominent F1 drivers. Max Verstappen and Lando Norris are back again in a 24 hour virtual race, hoping to repeat their win in the iRacing Spa 24 hours only this time without Max’s brake pedal falling off 15 minutes from the end. They’re racing with Team RedLine once again, one of if not the most successful sim racing team of all time and they’ll be partnered up with sim racers Atze Kerkhof and Greger Huttu.

Team RedLine will also be running the two entries of the WEC team Jota Sport, featuring the likes of Formula E championship leader António Félix da Costa and 2019 IndyCar rookie of the year Felix Rosenqvist alongside two very successful sim racers. The sim racers being inaugural World’s Fastest Gamer winner and former McLaren simulator driver Rudy van Buren, who is Mahindra’s Formula E simulator development driver and will be racing this year in Porsche Carrera Cup Deutschland, and the other being McLaren Shadow Project Final winner Kevin Siggy who is currently leading the Formula E Race at Home Challenge for sim racers.

Another prominent team in the world of sim racing is Veloce Esports, and they’re fielding three entrants in the top class with current and former F1 drivers: Pierre Gasly, Stoffel Vandoorne and Jean-Éric Vergne. F1 Esports race winner Jarno Opmeer, 14-year old Veloce Academy protégé Tomek ‘Hyperz’ Poradzisz, and the second World’s Fastest Gamer winner James Baldwin who is set to race this year in the GT World Challenge for Jenson Button’s Team Rocket squad.

Speaking of Jenson Button, he’s also racing in this, as are his former F1 teammates Fernando Alonso and Rubens Barrichello. Even the likes of Indy 500 winners Juan Pablo Montoya, Tony Kanaan and Simon Pagenaud are competing. Let’s just hope the latter doesn’t try to take Lando out again!

Two other current F1 drivers are competing, that being Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc and Alfa Romeo’s Antonio Giovinazzi, and they’re paired up with Ferrari’s current F1 and SRO GT Esports drivers, reigning F1 Esports champion David Tonizza and 2018 eRace of Champions winner Enzo Bonito. Alongside them in the GT class will be Felipe Massa and Giancarlo Fisichella, who are racing an entry backed by Strong Together, a foundation set up by Charlene, Princess of Monaco.

The FIA’s Women In Motorsport is represented by Katherine Legge, Sophia Flörsch, Tatiana Calderón and Emily Jones with the Richard Mille Racing Team. However the most notable woman in racing right now, W Series champion Jamie Chadwick is also racing and she’s going to be sharing driving duties with YouTube sim racing royalty Jimmy Broadbent!

The 2020 Virtual Le Mans entry list. Image courtesy of Fia Wec
Second part of the 2020 Virtual Le Mans entry list. Image courtesy of Fia Wec

Other notable drivers taking part include Pietro Fittipaldi and also F2 drivers Louis Delétraz and Jack Aitken who are both racing for Williams and Rebellion’s collaboration effort. Former F1 driver Olivier Panis is also competing, and that’s before we even get onto some of the regulars of the WEC and the 24 hours of Le Mans.

Toyota drivers Sébastien Buemi, Kamui Kobayashi, Mike Conway, José María López and Brendon Hartley will be in the top class. Along with the likes of André Lotterer, Nicki Thiim, Will Stevens, Bruno Senna, Neel Jani, Norman Nato, Nicolas Lapierre, Darren Turner, Nick Tandy, Dries Vanthoor, Filipe Albuquerque, Nicky Catsburg, Jan Magnussen, Miguel Molina, Tommy Milner and Thomas Laurent, all of these are just some of the 200 names you will see when you tune in to the Virtual 24 hours of Le Mans on June 13th!

So how do you watch? It will be streamed on the official Motorsport TV website and possibly Twitch as well? TV scheduling may or may not happen and will vary between country, you will need to check back on social media, Fia Wec’s website

But what does this really mean? This is probably the biggest sim race of all time in terms of driver caliber, and it’s just absolutely incredible to behold. It could open up doors to potentially get more of these sim races to happen in the future during the off-season and maybe for a great cause too!

Yes we’re probably all fed up of sim racing and a lot of the controversies to come along with it, but you can’t deny it’s better than just twiddling our thumbs waiting for real racing to begin again. Sim racing has been immense during this wait, and it doesn’t look set to be slowing down even when real racing gets back going again.

So until that happens, I hope you will join me as a viewer of this landmark sim race. A real spectacle in sim racing!

Featured image courtesy of FIA Wec

Michael Schumacher – a true great but left with no competition

When we watch sports – be it tennis, football (round and pointy) or our favourite motorsport series we look for the new star, that person who will shake things up. Senna did that in the Tolman, Niki in the Ferrari and Lewis in the McLaren, with one of the most awe inspiring first season’s in F1.

There’s one person I left off of that list, and that is Michael Schumacher. His rise to fame was nothing short of amazing jumping from Endurance cars  to F1 in the Jordan and then to eventually win seven Formula One World Driver Championships.

True greats end up with two situations which can be blemishes on their career, firstly teammates that look grey in comparison. Senna, Prost, Lauda, Alonso and Hamilton – barring when teammates were world champions themselves had less than stellar teammates, either via talent not being the same or because of contracts, is one thing that is to be expected. You aren’t going to be a world champion in a no.2 seat – ask Mark Webber. McLaren and Mercedes have mostly for instance run with no preferred main driver. Hamilton/Alonso and Senna/Prost are the two that most remember. But since Mercedes returned as a works team in 2010, their drivers have no preferential treatment. Alonso more or less dismissed the talent of Hamilton, and then scrapped with his teammate for the most of the season, perhaps to his cost and his Championship chances. Senna and Prost, were completely different in how they raced, both were racers. They mostly worked “well together” until well that corner at Suzuka and Senna, being Senna wasn’t happy with the tarmac being “inferior” to the P2 slot of Prost’s Mclaren.

One team in Formula One has traditionally has had contracted driver placings, that is Scuderia Ferrari S.p.A.. The system of number one and two drivers has worked well for them up until the mid 90’s. That started to erode, first with the paring of Eddie Irvine and then later with Rubens Barrichello from 2000. Both were fast drivers, and if Michael wasn’t there, they’d have probably won championships with Ferrari.  Both Barrichello and Irvine suffered from retirements, we won’t ever know if those were due to testing parts or for genuine reasons.

The 2006 Ferrari team at Brazil at Schumacher’s last race for Ferrari. Image courtesy of Ferrari

The second situation which nearly every dominant world champion faces (Senna and Prost didn’t as much), is that if you start to win as many world championships as Prost, Lauda, Senna, Vettel, and perhaps more acutely, Schumacher and Hamilton – well drivers retire, either to race in another series, or start their own vineyard!. Sometimes you are done with the sport, for which theirs many reasons, from health issues to the simple fact of not being good enough to be beat the best. But as a world champion you crave to have the best fight for the championship that you can, ideally not with the little new kid but that one, who has won a lot.

In any sport, you have golden eras, where there isn’t just one great but three maybe four individuals (and teams in team sports) who stand out. In Formula One we’ve had had the late 80’s, where we had, Piquet, Prost, Senna and Mansell whom where fighting for the world championship, they all became world champions.

In the 90’s we had Häkkinen, Hill, Villeneuve, Senna, Prost and Mansell all gunning for the championship. Schumacher won two world championships in 94-95 – early in his F1 career, it was a rich fabric of talent, that were World champions or in waiting. Schumacher became the best because he beat the best. But slowly one by one, they, had their names engraved upon the Formula One world champions trophy. Some jumped to another Series, Mansell to Indycar in 1993. Or others, going to less competitive cars, Villeneuve (British American Racing) and Hill (Arrows). Others simply stayed on a year and retired, Häkkinen and Prost. Senna, of course sadly lost his life at Imola in ’94.

He didn’t have the competition. Those world champion weren’t there, or in uncompetitive cars. Ferrari where the only competition, and Rubens was prevented from racing Michael, which came to a head in 2002 at the Austrian GP with Barrichello being ordered to let Schumacher pass him for the win. This lead to one of the most embarrassing podiums known in recent years.

Schumacher won in 94,95 and then from 2000,01,02,03 and 04 being his last championship win before he retired in 06. Those years (00 to 04) whilst showing his ability as a driver, to win. But you always felt with the team orders that win rate was partly Barrichello’s input as well as his own.

I entitled this piece, “Michael Schumacher – a true great but left with no competition” that is true, his existing competition of world champions left the sport one way or another. But he then had to fight off new competition in the form of Raikkonen and Alonso, whom ended up with three world championships between them. Alonso beat Schumacher in 2005 and 2006, Räikkönen nearly did so in 2003 but bested McLaren teammates Alonso and Hamilton in 2007 by one point.

Featured Image courtesy of Ferrari

Autosport International Show Gallery 2020

At this years Autosport International Show, there were some pretty iconic cars on display, from all parts of the motorsport world.

The main feature included Seventy Years of Motorsport, and there were some incredibly beautiful cars on display from Le Mans, World Rally Championship, Indycar, British Touring Car Championship, Formula One and Formula E.

All were game changers in their own way.

The decades of the 1950’s, ’60s, ’70s, ’80s, ’90s, ’00s, ’10s are all represented.

Away from there, there were other amazing displays. The Le Mans Toyota TS050 from 2018, the car that finally gave Toyota the victory that it has craved for decades, with Sébastien Buemi, Fernando Alonso and Kazuki Nakajima sharing the driving duties.

There was a display of Formula One cars as well.

Below is a group of classic rally cars – Some iconic machinery here, from the seventies, eighties, nineties and two-thousands. Three cars driven by Colin McRae featured as well.

Well, we hope that you have enjoyed this look back to this year’s Autosport International Show, while we wait for the racing season to re-start.

 

All photos courtesy of Warren Nel

Le Mans 24: Midnight report

LMP1:

As expected, Toyota hold the lead of the LMP1 field at midnight. Mike Conway kept the #7 TS050 in front at the start, leading from pole position during the first two hours before handing over to Kamui Kobayashi.

The two Toyotas briefly traded places later in the evening as a series of safety car periods brought the cars nose-to-tail. Kazuki Nakajima, taking over the #8 Toyota from Fernando Alonso, passed José María López in the #7 to take the lead. Lopez retook the lead shortly after only to surrender it with a trip through the gravel, but by hour 9 the two cars had swapped once again and the #7—with Conway back the wheel—resumed the lead.

Third place was long held by the #3 Rebellion which, in the hands of Gustavo Menezes, moved up from fourth on the grid and held off advances by Vitaly Petrov in the #11 SMP. However this came to an end later in the evening, when Thomas Laurent put the #3 in the wall and dropped two laps behind the two SMPs, with Egor Orudzhev’s #17 now the Russian team’s lead car.

There was trouble throughout the first ten hours for the remaining privateers. Bruno Senna picked up a puncture for the #1 Rebellion in the first hour and dropped to last in class, while the #4 ByKolles made eight difficult pitstops in the by hour 3. Later in the afternoon the #10 DragonSpeed entered the garage and has remained there since.

Joao Filipe, Adrenal Media / FIA WEC Media

LMP2:

Signatech Alpine took an early lead as Nicholas Lapierre moved the #36 up from third to first off the line. But impressive pace from Jean-Éric Vergne and Dutch rookie Job van Uitert in the #26 G-Drive soon put the #36 under pressure, and Van Uitert took the class lead during his second stint.

The remaining class podium position changed hands several times during the first ten hours of the race. Initially Matthieu Vaxiviere held third in the #28 TDS Racing, but a strong opening stint from Giedo van der Garde took the position for the #29 Racing Team Nederland.

However, at hour 3 Nyck de Vries picked up a puncture during his stint in the #29. Anthony Davidson’s #31 DragonSpeed was briefly promoted to third, but was dropped down to fourth by the #38 Jackie Chan DC Racing.

Joao Filipe, Adrenal Media / FIA WEC Media

GTE:

Corvette took first blood in the Pro class with Antonio Garcia moving the #63 up from third to first. But over the course of the afternoon the Porsches hauled in the Corvette and the #92 took the lead with Kevin Estre at the wheel.

In the Am class, Matteo Cairoli in the #88 Dempsey-Proton Porsche converted pole into an early lead. But this was lost when he handed over to Satoshi Hoshino, who spun the #88 on the Mulsanne Straight and handed the lead to Giancarlo Fisichella in the #54 Spirit of Race Ferrari.

Hoshino would be involved in another, much heavier incident later in the evening as he collided with Marcel Fassler’s #64 Corvette, making the first official retirement of the race.

The 24 Hours of Alonso

The Canadian Grand Prix was a milestone for one of the drivers. Fernando Alonso would start his 300th Grand Prix in Formula 1 (although some still argue it was his 297th start as he did not start all of them). This was enough reason to make it a memorable weekend for the Spaniard. Knowing that he doesn’t have a winning car in the McLaren-Renault, the expectations were not that high. Finishing in the points would be more than enough. After a very disappointing qualifying; he only ended up in P14, hoping to get just one point as overtaking at Montreal can be difficult. He didn’t have an amazing start, which doesn’t happen often to the Spanish McLaren driver, but he did fight his way through the field. This ended in vein as he had to retire the car again due to problems with the electronics.

A disappointing 300th Grand Prix in F1 it was then for Fernando. However, he did have something else to look forward to. As part of his pursue to the Triple Crown, he would participate at the 24 Hours of Le Mans with the Toyota LMP1 team. He already won the Monaco GP twice, but he didn’t have an overall victory at the 24 Hours of Le Mans yet. The third piece of the Triple Crown is a victory at the Indy 500. Fernando did participate at that race last year and it looked like he could actually win the race as a rookie, until his Honda engine blew up near the end of the race. He thus still has to win both of them. This weekend Alonso had his first try at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Could he get this important victory after another disappointing weekend in Formula 1?

Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve, Montreal, Canada Fernando Alonso, McLaren.
Image courtesy of Steven Tee/McLaren ref: Digital Image _1ST9206

The Toyota number 8 car with Nakajima, Buemi and Alonso as the drivers took pole as Nakajima posted the fastest time in Qualifying 3 with a 3:15.377, putting them in front of their sister car number 7 with a gap of two seconds. This of course meant that the first ever victory for the Toyota team at Le Mans was within reach.

As Alonso was a rookie at Le Mans, it would be a risk to put him behind the wheel for the start of the race as it can be quite busy. That’s why Buemi was allowed to go first. Their race could’ve ended very early as Buemi had to defend hard to keep his first place, which led to a light touch with the Rebellion number 1 car which then went on and crashed into the Dragonspeed car.

It was at night, with thirteen hours left on the clock, where Alonso showed his full potential. The Spaniard took the wheel over from Buemi who had a good stint, but the gap to the number 7 Toyota kept growing. Fernando solely closed the gap to the number 7 Toyota from 1 minute and 30 seconds to just 40 seconds. Finding his way through the traffic he posted some very fast lap times. With eleven hours to go, Nakajima took over from the Spaniard and the fight for victory would go on between the Toyotas. They didn’t have a complete flawless race, as both cars got stop-and-go penalties for speeding during a slow zone. These penalties eventually got the number 7 car out of the running for the victory as they got two penalties in succession near the end of the race. Toyota, however, decided to not let Fernando take the flag, but the Japanese drivers Nakajima for the number 8 car and Kobayashi for the number 7 car. This was a good choice, as Nakajima finally could get his redemption for the drama in 2016, where the car stopped working with just one lap left. After 24 hours, the Toyotas took the flag in P1 and P2, giving them their first ever overall victory at Le Mans.

#8 TOYOTA GAZOO RACING / JPN / Toyota TS050 – Hybrid – Hybrid / Sebastien Buemi (CHE) / Fernando Alonso (ESP) / Kazuki Nakajima (JPN)
Image courtesy of fia wec

Of course this victory for Toyota couldn’t come without complaints from critics. With Toyota being the only factory team in the LMP1 class, there wasn’t any competition . The privateer teams like Rebellion and SMP couldn’t match the pace of the Toyotas at all. Bykolles retired early in the race after a crash, and Rebellion number 1 with Lotterer behind the wheel knew a difficult start after hitting the Dragonspeed LMP1 car.

Many fans thus say that the victory wasn’t that unexpected and some even say it was undeserved because of the lack of competition. This might be partially true as it was indeed just a fight between the Toyotas up front. However, the last two years the Toyotas retired from the lead, with perhaps the most dramatic finish ever at Le Mans in 2016, But to win at Le Mans you have to battle against Le Mans itself.  It was not a battle against an Audi or a Porsche, but a fight against themselves as they still had to survive those 24 hours. An engine problem could end their race in a second, a crash could end their race, a suspension failure could end their race  and so on. Even with the fastest car you’re not safe from the wear and tear of Le Mans, hence the comment “to win at Le Mans you have to beat Le Mans”.

And it isn’t just the cars that have to survive, the drivers need to survive as well. Especially with a rookie, in endurance racing that is, it can be tough. Keeping up the pace all 24 hours long, fighting through the always unpredictable traffic and driving for more than two hours straight each stint wears those drivers out. A good example of that were the faces of Alonso and former F1 teammate at McLaren Jenson Button in their cars near the end of the race. They both had very tired eyes and in interviews they looked and sounded very tired as well.

A win at Le Mans therefore is never undeserved. It might be less special without the competition from other factory teams, but it is still a tough race on itself.

#8 TOYOTA GAZOO RACING / JPN / Toyota TS050 – Hybrid – Hybrid / Sebastien Buemi (CHE) / Fernando Alonso (ESP) / Kazuki Nakajima (JPN)
Image courtesy of Joao Filipe/fia wec

Winning at Monaco and Le Mans, Alonso just needs one win to be the second person ever to take the Triple Crown, the Indy 500 victory. The Le Mans win could mean then that he will focus fully on Indycar and this might be his last season of Formula 1. The WEC ‘superseason’ ends with the Le Mans race of 2019, where Alonso potentially could get a second victory there. He already has two wins at the Monaco GP. Could Alonso be the first driver ever to achieve the Triple Crown twice?

 

Featured image courtesy of Steven Tee/McLaren ref: Digital Image _1ST0758

Le Mans LMP2: G-Drive takes maiden Le Mans win

The #26 G-Drive of Jean-Éric Vergne, Andrea Pizzitola and Romain Rusinov put in a commanding display at the 24 Hours of Le Mans to take the outfit’s first win at the event.

The #26 initially had a poor start, with Vergne losing places at on the opening lap and dropping to seventh. But after recovering one place to sixth, Vergne then went a lap longer before pitting than the leading group and the offset was enough to bring the #26 out into first, where it remained for the rest of the race to finish fifth overall and two laps up on the rest of the LMP2 field.

#36 Signatech Alpine A470 / Andrej Alesko, WEC Media

Finishing a distant second behind G-Drive was the #36 Signatech Alpine, driven by Nicolas Lapierre, Pierre Thiriet and André Negrão.

For most of the race, the #36 had been locked in a close fight over the runners-up spot with the #23 Panis-Barthez Ligier, with the two cars trading second and third throughout Saturday evening and into the night.

But with four hours remaining on Sunday morning, Will Stevens brought the #23 Ligier into the pits with technical issues—he was kept there for over an hour, dropping him to 11th and allowing Signatech Alpine to finish second unchallenged.

Panis-Barthez’s lengthy stop promoted the polesitting #48 IDEC Sport Oreca into third, until gearbox problems ended the latter’s race within the final hours.

In the #48’s absence, the #39 Graff Oreca inherited third and held the position until the chequered flag, with Tristan Gommendy fending off a late charge by former race winner Loïc Duval in TDS Racing’s #28 car.

#47 Cetilar Villorba Corse Dallara P217 / Marius Hecker, WEC Media

Juan Pablo Montoya ended his Le Mans debut in fifth in the #32 United Autosports after a puncture in the penultimate hour dropped the Colombian a lap behind the LMP2 leaders. Jackie Chan DC Racing’s all-Malaysian #37 car finished sixth while the #31 Dragonspeed, which had started second and led early on, finished seventh.

Racing Team Nederland’s #29 was the highest Dallara finisher in ninth, sandwiched between the #38 and #33 Jackie Chan cars. There were issues for the #35 SMP and the #47 Cetilar Villorba Corse, with steering problems for the former and a late crash for the latter putting them 12th and 13th in class respectively.

As well as the #48 IDEC, there were four other retirements in the 20-car LMP2 field. The #34 Jackie Chan became the first after suffering an engine failure during the night, and was followed two laps later by the #40 G-Drive, which was spun into the Porsche Curves wall by José Gutiérrez. The #25 Algarve Pro Racing also retired, and United Autosports’ #22 car crashed out from fourth with four hours left.

The #44 Eurasia did not retire, but went unclassified as it failed to complete the final lap of the race.

#22 United Autosports Ligier JSP217 / Joao Filipe, WEC Media

Le Mans LMP1: Alonso adds to Triple Crown bid with #8 Toyota win

Toyota broke its 24 Hours of Le Mans curse with an emotional 1–2 finish led home by the #8 car of Sebastien Buemi, Kazuki Nakajima and Fernando Alonso.

#8 and #7 Toyota TS050 Hybrids / Toyota Gazoo Racing

The Japanese marque was the overwhelming favourite coming into the 86th running of Le Mans, and aggressive opening stints from both Buemi and the #7 car’s Mike Conway soon put the two TS050 Hybrids well ahead of the privateer LMP1 entries battling for third.

The #7 gained the advantage late on Saturday when Buemi earned the #8 car a 60-second stop-go penalty for speeding in a slow zone. But a pair of rapid nighttime recovery drives by first Alonso and then Nakajima saw the #7’s lead disappear. Nakajima then completed the #8’s comeback in the 16th hour by snatching first place from Kamui Kobayashi on the inside of Arnage.

The #8 went on to hold the lead for the remaining eight hours, while the #7 dropped back after a series of late difficulties that included Jose Maria Lopez spinning at the Dunlop chicane and Kobayashi missing a pit stop and needing to take an extra lap at full course yellow speed to save fuel.

In the end Nakajima brought the #8 Toyota across the line with two laps in hand over Kobayashi in the sister car, which was a further ten laps clear of the #3 Rebellion in third. The win was Toyota’s first at Le Mans after 19 attempts and the first by a Japanese manufacturer since Mazda in 1991. Nakajima meanwhile became the first Japanese driver to win since Seiji Ara did so with Audi in 2004.

#3 Rebellion Racing R13 / Joao Filipe, WEC Media

Behind the Toyotas, Rebellion and SMP Racing immediately established themselves as the chief contenders for best-of-the-rest.

After Andre Lotterer lost the nose of his #1 Rebellion in a first lap collision, it was Thomas Laurent in the sister #3 who took charge of the Swiss team’s race by pressuring the #17 SMP of Stephane Sarrazin for third.

The two Frenchmen and their subsequent replacements swapped third and fourth position several times in the opening hours of the race, although the battle was eventually ended early and in Rebellion’s favour when Matevos Isaakyan spun the #17 into the barriers at the Porsche Curves shortly after midnight.

Isaakyan’s crash came not long after Dominik Kraihamer spun the #4 ByKolles out of the race at the same part of the track. The #10 Dragonspeed was another casualty of the Porsche Curves with Ben Hanley finding the barriers in hour 17, while the Manor-run #6 CEFC Ginetta and the #11 SMP were both waylaid by mechanical troubles to make it five LMP1 retirements by the end of the race.

That left the #1 Rebellion—which recovered from its opening lap crash and several late penalties to take fourth—and the #5 CEFC Ginetta, as the only surviving LMP1 cars outside of the podium.

#6 CEFC Ginetta G60-LT-P1 / Joao Filipe, WEC Media

Toyota can’t fail this year

Le Mans 24 – Iconic. Photo credit Toyota Gazoo Racing WEC

Toyota have never won the 24 hours of Le Mans which is one of the world’s most demanding races. They are massive favourites this year and they have got the best chance through various reasons! 

Toyota are the only team in the leading LMP1 Hybrid class, as Porsche withdrew from the series last year. They have no realistic competition and you could say the LMP1 rule book gives them an advantage that places Toyota in firm control.

The number seven car will be piloted by Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and José María López. Photo credit, Toyota WEC

The handicaps that the privateer LMP1 teams are as follows. They are not allowed to lap faster than the hybrid class, and if the privateers do, they will get a drive through penalty. The others involves the pit stops, in that a hybrid car can go a lap longer of 11 laps on fuel, whilst the privateer cars can only go 10 laps. Finally the hybrids also have a minimum pit stop time of 5 seconds which shorter than the other class. Toyota therefore will spend much less time in the pits than any other team. So realistically reliability is the only thing that would prevent them. 

Toyota have come so close in recent years and it was reliability that stopped them. The team came closest in 2016, it was leading for 23hrs 55mins until a failure happened on the penultimate lap. Porsche overtook them for victory, it was heartbreaking for the Japanese team. To add insult to injury the car took them over 11 minutes to finish the last lap which meant they were not even classified. In the race you have to complete the last lap in under 6 minutes by regulation 10.5 to be classed.

Sébastien Buemi, Kazuki Nakajima and Le Mans rookie Fernando Alonso pilot the number eight car. Photo credit, Toyota WEC

In their #8 challenger, they have Sébastien Buemi, Kazuki Nakajima and Fernando Alonso, who is driving for them as well McLaren in Formula 1. Alonso has taken to endurance racing like a duck to water as it was his car that took victory in the first round of the World Endurance Series in Spa, Belgium. It was his first win since the 2013 Spanish Grand Prix in F1. 

To have without a doubt the fastest car on the grid, rules restricting the limited opposition they have and an increased calibre of drivers is it just a matter of the #7 or #8 taking victory?

It would be embarrassing for the manufacturer to lose this year, they would become a laughing stock. If they fail to win I also see the end of the LMP1 Hybrid category. To have one team in that field is also just ridiculous. 

We’ll find out! Follow @PitCrew_Online as we’ll have commentary throughout,  and get the kettle on for the early hours. 

WEC Super Season – 2018/19

As the World Endurance Championship heads to the 6 Hours of Shanghai and then onto the 6 Hours of Bahrain, thoughts have turned to 2018/19, the ‘Super-Season’.

The big news coming from the provisional calendar is that Spa and Le Mans now feature twice, with the return of the Sebring 12 Hours to the calendar which last appeared in 2012. The prologue returns to Paul Ricard in April.

The Sebring 12 Hours will be on the same weekend as the IMSA race, but starting at midnight.

Silverstone remains, though this is partly due to negotiations falling through to bring the race to Mexico City, if that had materialised then the British circuit may not have appeared at all on the calendar. Gone are CoTA, Bahrain and the Nurburgring.

Le Mans and the Sebring 12 Hours will not feature double points, but enhance points the details of which are yet to be announced. It seems fitting that the season will end at Le Mans (second visit), in most fans eyes the greatest race in the world.

The season will now begin in April 2018 and run for 14 months until June 2019. The FIA state the calendar has been designed in conjunction with the regulations to keep costs under control and offer a viable business model for the future of the series.

BMW will join the GT ranks to compete against Aston Martin, Ferrari, Ford and Porsche.

TRS and Manor have confirmed they will compete in LMP1 using a Ginetta chassis, with another unconfirmed team due to enter using another Ginetta chassis.

From next season the WEC will see the incorporation of the LMP1 Non-Hybrid cars into a single classification with the hybrid cars, be it that Porsche have now left Toyota as the only hybrid competitor. It is also proposed to equalise the lap performance of the best LMP1 Non-Hybrid cars by adjusting the instantaneous fuel flow and fuel consumption per lap for the Non-Hybrids. A fuel range advantage for Hybrid cars (one extra lap at Le Mans) will also be enforced.

With two Le Mans races in one season to enjoy, there is a lot of entertainment on offer from the WEC for 2018/19.

Provisional calendar:

5 May 2018 – 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps

16/17 June 2018 – 24 Hours of Le Mans

19 August 2018 – 6 Hours of Silverstone

21 October 2018 – 6 Hours of Fuji

18 November 2018 – 6 Hours of Shanghai

16/17 March 2019 – 12 Hours of Sebring

4 May 2019 – 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps

15/16 June 2019 – 24 Hours of Le Mans

 

Neil Simmons

Twitter: @world_racing