Prologue

  • Prologue 2018 - What did we learn?

    30 Hours of testing, 53,000km covered by all entries and it was Toyota Gazoo Racing who came out on top of the official pre-season test at Paul Ricard.

    #8 Toyota

    LMP1

    Toyota covered 5872km across the two cars, Mike Conway, topping the timing screens with a time of 1:32.662, significantly quicker than the non-hybrid LMP1 cars. It was however confirmed that Toyota had been running an unrestricted set up to test a new cooling system. This will perhaps come as some kind of relief to the competition with the closest non-hybrid entry, the #11 SMP Racing BR1 falling 4.3 seconds shy of the quickest pace. However, this is only pre-season testing, how much are the teams willing to reveal at this stage? Qualifying at Spa in just a few weeks’ time will be the first time to see the cars being pushed to the maximum.

    #1 Rebellion

    The huge amount of change in LMP1 over the winter break has been a major point of discussion and speculation in the past few months. Rebellion Racing have returned to LMP1 with the Rebellion R-13 piloted by Neel Jani, Andre Lotterer and Bruno Senna, arguably one of the most experience trios in the class and certainly one to watch as the super season unfolds! A deal was announced prior to the Prologue between TVR and Rebellion which sees the brand return to Le Mans for the first time in over a decade. TVR will be present as an “automotive partner”.

    It was a promising start for the LMP1 non-hybrid field with SMP Racing and Rebellion split by just 0.010 on the fastest lap, the #11 SMP besting the #1 Rebellion R-13 to take third and fourth respectively in the overall quickest lap time. An impressive start for Rebellion considering the lack of testing during the winter break. Unveiled to the world in Bahrain at the end of last season, the two SMP entered BR1s between them ran 515 laps.

    It was a quiet but good weekend for ByKolles in the updated CLM P1/01. The team dropped out of the 2017 season after Nurburgring as planned to focus on developing the new car. The car managed to run 331 laps, a significant improvement on this time last year when at Monza, they ran just a handful of laps.

    #6 CEFC TRSM

    CEFC TRSM (Manor/Ginetta to you and I), step up to LMP1 this year with a pair of Ginetta G60-LT-P1s. They experienced a number of minor issues throughout the test, struggling to get anywhere near the competition in terms of lap times complete. The #6 car finished with 121 laps on the board whilst the #5 made a late debut on Friday after a water leak stopped the team from running early on Friday. It was a fantastic job from the Ginetta and Manor pit crew to get the car up and running considering it was still being built on Thursday. The #5 made an initial run around sunset on Friday evening but was forced back to the pits with a few teething problems. The car returned later that night with Mike Simpson at the wheel before getting some consistent running in early Saturday morning, managing to clock 138 laps as a result.

    DragonSpeed split their efforts between LMP1 and LMP2 this year, running a Gibson BR1 in LMP1. This was one of the first outings for the car with the team focused on trialling different set ups and getting track time for Henrik Hedman. They completed the session with 145 laps on the clock.

    LMP2

    #38 Jackie Chan Racing

    Its the same old faces but with additional variety this year in LMP2. Jackie Chan DC Racing return to the championship with their two Gibson powered Oreca 07s alongside TDS Racing and Signatech Alpine. Championship regulars and 2016 champions G-Drive have stepped back from a full season campaign and were absent at The Prologue but will join the grid at Spa in preparation for Le Mans. Team Nederland join the championship running the Dallara P217 whilst Larbre return to the WEC but this time in the Ligier JSP217, not the GTEAm Corvette of recent years. Along with multiple chassis this year, the teams are also running different rubber, split between Michelin and Dunlop tyres.

    #31 Dragon Speed

    It was a pretty quiet event for LMP2 with none of the teams signed up to run the full 30-hour session, all of them pulling into the pits before the sun set and re-joining the following morning. The DragonSpeed Oreca will be driven this season by Roberto Gonzalez, Ben Hanley and Pastor Maldonado, looking to relaunch his career after a few years out of F1. Maldonado was the quickest driver of the class, the only one to lap.

    GTE Pro

    #91 Porsche

    Porsche took a 1-2 finish at the top of the time sheets looking dominant throughout the weekend, the #91 leading the way in the hands of Richard Lietz and Gianmaria Bruni with a time of 1:51.332, half a second ahead of the #92 which posted a time of 1:51.837. Ford were the only real challengers of the weekend, the four cars completing over 200 laps and split by less than a second.

    The latest generation of the Ferrari 488 GTE struggled all weekend. The #71 caught fire during re-fuelling early on Saturday and didn’t run again that day whilst the #51 struggled with tyre wear.

    #95 Aston Martin

    Aston Martin Racing debuted the new Vantage this weekend, not going for outright pace but favouring long distance running. The #95 completed 852 laps with all six drivers behind the wheel at one point or another, some of them splitting time between the #95 and #97 which got a further 235 laps under its belt.

    It was the championship debut for the new BMW M8 GTE (which had its official race debut at The Rolex 24 At Daytona back in January), the #82 car clocked up 682 laps whilst the #81 only completed a six-hour run.

    GTE Am

    #86 Porsche

    Paul Dalla Lana, Pedro Lamy and Mathias Lauda return as defending champions in the #98 Aston Martin. They will once again face up against Dempsey Proton, who this year field a two-car line up, Gulf Racing back once again with the #86 Porsche, Spirit of Race Ferrari and Clearwater, each of whom have entered one car for the season. The class regulars will be joined by Team Project 1 (911 RSR), MR Racing (Ferrari 488) and TF Sport (Aston Martin).

    As in GTEPro, Porsche led the way in GTE AM, each team for the first time running the 911 RSR. Gulf Racing UK and Dempsey Proton were the ones to watch, the #88 of Matteo Cairoli eventually taking and holding the top spot with a time of 1:52.936. What was interesting about GTEAm however this year was how, on one lap pace, they mixed times with the GTEPro category. Will some of the faster Am drivers be able to fight with the back runners in GTE Pro?

    The Class of 2018

    17 Prototypes and 19 GTE cars lined up at Paul Ricard. There is clearly still a lot to learn and no one is really giving away their true performance just yet, however, it is going to be an incredible season. The championship new comers will hopefully shake the championship up this year, the privateer LMP1 teams challenging Toyota, the new LMP2 chassis with varying tire choices adds another variable to the competition who will have the advantage this year after an Oreca chassis lock out in LMP2 in 2017?

    Can BMW and the new Aston Martin Vantage look to challenge Porsche and Ford who have both enjoyed successes in the past couple of years?

    And with a number of championship new comers joining the fight in GTE Am, will it be the experienced WEC veterans who come out on top or the new challengers?

    Join us at Spa Francorchamps in May when the season truly begins.

  • Prologue Kick Starts the WEC Super Season

    Taking place at Paul Ricard this weekend is the official pre-season test for the World Endurance Championship. The cars were unveiled to the global media on Thursday in the south of France with the 30 hour test session kicking off Friday morning, the first time in 2018 that all the competitors will run together on track.

    In total there will be 35 cars from across LMP1, LMP2 and the LMGTE Pro and Am categories preparing frantically for the curtain-raiser 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps in May and then the big one of the 24 Hours of Le Mans in June. The session will run straight through the night, beginning 10:00 local time and finishing at 16:00 Saturday Afternoon.

    “FIA

    There will be particular interest in this Prologue as much is different this WEC season. First off it will be an eight-race ‘Super Season’ that stretches across the calendar year of 2018 and the first half of ’19, as WEC transitions to a winter-series format for 2019/20.Therefore this campaign will contain the next two Le Mans 24 Hours – the Super Season will conclude at the 2019 race, and subsequent seasons will end with Le Mans also. Also Silverstone returns to the calendar in August and the 1000 miles of Sebring in Florida is added next March. Other races from 2017 – Austin, Bahrain, Mexico City and the Nurburgring – are dropped.

    There also will be a new look among the LMP1 frontrunners. Champion Porsche has pulled out, leaving Toyota as the only manufacturer. But if you think that means a Toyota walkover, not so fast. Toyota is challenged by five other privateer LMP1 teams. Last year only a single ByKolles Racing Team entrant joined Toyota and Porsche in LMP1 and only for the opening four rounds of nine. And performance parity between Toyota’s hybrid technology and the privateers running non-hybrid P1 machinery – via a system of regulations and penalties – is promised. Toyota has expressed worry too, particularly for Le Mans. The Prologue will be our first chance to see how the rest actually measure up against Toyota; Toyota intends to run its Le Mans-spec car in The Prologue’s night running.

    LMP2 champion Rebellion returns to LMP1 after a year away and has a tie-up with the iconic British sportscar manufacturer TVR. It also boasts a strong driver line-up including former Porsche LMP1 pilots Neel Jani and Andre Lotterer.

    Manor Ginetta, racing under the CEFC TRSM Racing banner, also steps up from LMP2 to LMP1 and has just added Alex Brundle to its driving roster, as well as former GP3 runner-up Dean Stoneman for the opening two rounds.

    And of course this season we’ll have two-time Formula 1 world champion Fernando Alonso joining Toyota’s driver line-up, alongside Sebastien Buemi and Kazuki Nakajima. Alonso isn’t at The Prologue however, as he’s competing in the Bahrain Grand Prix, neither is Nakajima or Kamui Kobayashi, due also to calendar clashes. Anthony Davidson and Alex Wurz therefore join its Prologue line-up.

    Graham Kielloh is a member of the Autosport Academy and contributor to Speed Chills View

  • WEC Prologue: Day One – 01/04/2017

    The World Endurance Championship Prologue is the first official test of the WEC and the first time that all of the teams race the new cars together on the track. Although it is testing, so lap times and relative pace must be taken with a pinch of salt, it is the first chance to see these cars up against each other and get a sense of where people may be with their cars heading to the first round of the Championship in a fortnight’s time.

    Day one of the Prologue consisted of three track sessions: two of three-hours in durations (one in the morning and one in the afternoon) and one of two-hours in duration (the evening session). Taking place for the first time around the Autodromo Nazionale Monza, the cars have been showing a step up in overall pace compared to previous years. Although rain fell in the evening session, reducing the amount of running that took place, the day sessions were filled with a lot of track action and very little incident.

    Only three Full Course Yellows fell upon the track today. The first was due to an LMP2 systems check of the Full Course Yellow system and so lasted around three minutes at the beginning of the morning session. Luckily, there were no mistakes or misfortunate moments in the wet evening run. In fact, due to the rain, very few people took to the track for the evening session, with only 15 of the 27 in attendance of the test taking to the track and 13 setting lap times.

    The other two Full Course Yellows came in the afternoon session. Just after the end of the first hour, the #24 CEFC Manor TDS Racing went off track at Variante Tribune and was unable to recover itself. The session took a turn for the worse as it was later reported, once the #24 had made it back out on track, that the car was losing liquid around the track. It took about an hour for the car to get back on track with whatever issues it had to have been resolved.

    The pace-setting LM GTE Pro Porsche GT Team #92 was the only other car to bring out the Full Course Yellows. Towards the end of the second hour, the car went off at Variante Ascari, getting stuck in the gravel trap on the exit of the corner. The Full Course Yellow soon turned into a red flag to get the truck on track to clear the car, putting a delay of about twenty minutes on the session. Like the Manor, the Porsche #92 was not deterred by the off and finished the afternoon session fastest of the LM GTE Pro cars.

    The LMP1 field, of Porsche and Toyota, is looking very close upon reflecting on the first day of the Prologue. Although in the speed trap, Porsche are recording 319kph whilst Toyota are setting 306kph, all of the data we are gathering is relative. It is unknown exactly what set up, tyres, fuel, or programme teams are running to generate these numbers. For example, at last year’s Prologue, Toyota were setting 20kph faster than any other team in the speed trap, but when it came to the first few races their car could not keep up with Audi or Porsche. The difference in pace could also be down to which aero kit the teams have installed on the cars, which Porsche refuses to confirm as of this moment.

    Toyota took the fastest lap in the afternoon session, whilst it was Porsche on top in the morning and evening session. However, the fastest time set so far this weekend was a 1:31.332, which was set by Mike Conway in the #7 Toyota about halfway through the evening session. All of the LMP1 cars have now set times in the 1m31s bracket, but no one could go faster than Conway’s time. The evening session was heavily rain affected and it was only the LMP1 cars that set respectable times as they took to the track at the very start of the session and set their times before the track got saturated.

    Problems for the #4 ByKOLLES Racing LMP1 privateer held it in the garage for most of the day. The team were waiting for parts to arrive for their Nismo engine and working through some teething problems, meaning they couldn’t get the car out on track. With half an hour of testing left, Robert Kubica took the ENSO CLM P1/01 out for six laps, setting a lap time of 2:17.915 on a rain-soaked track. The hope is that the issues the team were faced with will have been sorted and they can get to their proper testing programme tomorrow when track action gets underway again.

    There was also a rumour of potential issues on the #2 Porsche LMP1 from an electrical stand. In the morning session, the #2 slipped down the pit lane silently, implying that there was no power to the car and it was just rolling to the pit box. No issues have been confirmed by the team, but it will be interesting to see if there is any significant improvement to the Porsche in tomorrow’s running.

    The LMP2 field suggested a very close fight in the class is expected. With all teams having elected to run ORECA 07 chassis (Signatech Alpine run a modified version of the ORECA 07 to give them the Alpine A470) and all having to run the Gibson V8 engine, the class order will be determined more on aero packages and if teams can capitalise on any innovative technology or design features.

    From the testing today, it looks like Vaillante Rebellion may have the best full package. They finished the first session with a one-two and the second session fastest with the #13. The afternoon session was taken by last year’s class champions #36 Signatech Alpine. But most of the time the LMP2 field was covered by just over a second, with the gaps between cars as little as a tenth of a second. It looks like there is not one dominate team in the LMP2 field. Perhaps if a different chassis had been chosen by someone there would have been some more variation, but from the first look at the cars going round the track it looks like LMP2 is going to be closely fought this year.

    The new Porsche 911 RSRs look to be the benchmark for the rest of the LM GTE fields. Of course, the lap times and data must be looked at whilst keeping in mind the teams may have been on different programmes or set ups, but the Porsches were fastest in LM GTE Pro with the #92 Porsche GT Team entrant and in LM GTE Am with the Gulf Racing #86 in all three sessions today.

    Ford look, at the moment, to be Porsche biggest rival in LM GTE Pro. Although Porsche took the fastest lap time of each session, Ford were never more than two-tenths off their pace. Ferrari looked to be getting into the fight in the afternoon session, placing a car in between the two Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Team UK entries to take fourth fastest in class. Unfortunately, it seems that Aston Martin are a little way off the pace of the other GTE manufacturers. The deficit is not massive – on average, around half a second slower on their fastest laps – but they were always at the bottom of the LM GTE Pro class times.

    Aston Martin has a similar situation in LM GTE Am. As of the last chequered flag today, The Am Aston Martin Racing entry #98 was, on average, the slowest LM GTE Am on track. The deficit, like in the Pro class, is not a massive one, but it may be cause for concern for the British manufacturer. There is a potential that the Aston Martins are sandbagging and they could take to the track at Silverstone and be fastest in class. This is the only issue with analysing the data and times that we get from pre-season tests; so much is left unknown and there is a very strong chance that all of the 27 cars have been sandbagging this weekend.

    The #86 Gulf Racing Porsche was the pace setter for the Am class today. Like the LM GTE Pro Porsche, the Porsche 911 RSR (991)s of Gulf Racing and Dempsey-Proton Racing dominated the top of the times for their class, finishing the two dry sessions with a one-two. The Clearwater Racing and Spirit of Race Ferraris were next to line up behind the Porsches. The situation in both GTE classes is very similar; where Ford are just off the pace of Porsche in GTE Pro, it is Ferrari who is just off the pace of the Porsches in GTE Am.

  • WEC Prologue: Day Two – 02/04/2017

    With the pre season testing now complete before the season opener in a few weeks at Silverstone, it is still not clear as to which teams are on top of their respective classes. Both Porsche and Toyota finished the day with a fastest lap, whilst LMP2 still looks to be a mixed field with every team running the same chassis and engine combination. Only in the LM GTE fields do things look a bit clearer, but Balance of Performance could see the predicted order muddled when we get to the first race of the season.

    Today’s running consisted of only two track sessions. Both lasted three hours and one took place in the morning and one in the afternoon. A new fastest lap time was set today, with Nicolas Lapierre putting Toyota on top in the final session of the test with an impressive 1:30.547, nearly a second up on Mike Conway’s faster overall lap time set yesterday.

    Only one incident saw track action halted in today’s sessions. With half an hour left of the afternoon, and final, session, an unexpected rain shower glanced over the track. It did not seem to be too heavy down at Variante Tribune, but at the top end of the track (near the Lesmo corners) there was a lot less grip. Due to this it is assumed that is the direction the rain came from, meaning it hit the Lesmo corners first.

    Matthew Rao was out in last’s year’s LMP2 champion car #36 Signatech Alpine when, going through Lesmo One, the car snapped away from him on the damp track. Caught unaware, Rao was a passenger as the car spun out and into the tyre barrier. As there was a lot of damage to the tyre barrier, the session was red flagged for ten minutes. Rao was surveyed trackside and cleared by the medical doctor, not even needing to go to the medical centre.

    When the track returned to green the rain shower had made what had been a dry track, after last night’s fully wet evening session, damp. This meant that most teams did not risk taking back to the track and the test ended slightly anticlimactically with only Toyota lapping round in short stints.

    Lapierre set the fastest lap of the prologue at the start of the afternoon session. The morning session started a little damp as the track was still wet from last night’s downpour. It was the #1 Porsche crew who took the fastest lap in the morning session with the sister #2 car finishing 0.004 seconds slower than their fastest lap of a 1:32.020.

    But it looked like, in both sessions, the LMP1 Hybrid teams were focusing on mileage rather than fastest laps. In the morning session, Porsche were able to put 212 laps on the Porsche 919s collectively and without fault on the cars. Porsche also elected to run some hybrid tests where they completed a lap or two on only hybrid power. This was to make sure that, if there is an engine failure on the cars during a race, the drivers can get them back to the pits on hybrid power alone for repairs.

    After such a bad first day of the test yesterday, it had looked more positive for #4 ByKOLLES entrant as they managed to get their car out for six laps towards the end of the evening session last night. Sadly, this seemed to be full of false hope. Within an hour of the first session today the team withdrew from the rest of the test without getting the car out for one lap. It does not look like the best start of the year for the team nor the best start to their advantage over Ginetta for the 2018 season. There will be no advantage to gain if they cannot have the car running competitively or, at least, full race distance.

    LMP2 did not disappoint today in promising what looks like a closely fought season. The #28 TDS Racing car took the fastest lap time in the morning session, whilst Oliver Jarvis put the #38 Jackie Chan DC Racing car fastest in the afternoon in what was effectively his first outing in the car. But the LMP2 field remained close for the entire day, with the field being covered by around 2 seconds.

    In the morning, a few of the LMP2 cars suffered with a few issues, one of those being the #38 Jackie Chan DC Racing. The car managed to get out for a few laps towards the end of the session when Jarvis got on board for the first time with his new team. He managed to get eighth fastest in that session and picked up the fastest lap in the afternoon session within the first hour. His pace showed consistency and competitiveness, so hopefully Jarvis will be able to convert his talents from LMP1 to LMP2 for the 2017 season.

    The #31 Variante Rebellion entrant also suffered some issues in the morning session. The team managed to get 25 laps on the board and took to sending the car out for short stints throughout the session. But whatever troubles seemed to ale the car in the first session of the day were resolved when it came to the second one. LMP2 is looking like a strongly competitive field, with not one car breaking away from the pack. Hopefully this will be something that is echoed in the season opener in a fortnight’s time and will lead to some excellent racing in the class over the season.

    The #92 Porsche GT Racing team were not able to take a clean sweep of fastest LM GTE Pro laps for the test as the afternoon test was taken by Harry Tincknell in the #67 Ford Chip Ganassi Team UK. Ford have been the closest contenders to Porsche in the Pro class all weekend. They may have been finishing as the third and fourth car for most of the sessions, but the time gap was never over a couple of tenths of a second.

    Aston Martin looked to be struggling the most in class, with their two cars consistently occupying the bottom two spots of the class in every session. Again, the deficit is not massive (around half a second on average) and over the course of a six-hour race they could make up for any lap time disadvantage they have. But they are the slowest of the Pro cars and this should cause some concern for the Aston Martin crews. It looks like they will not be able to push for wins on a pace basis by may need to rely on other cars failing to get onto the podium.

    The second day of testing saw a new manufacturer on top in the GTE Am field. #61 Clearwater Racing took charge in the afternoon whilst the morning had belonged to the other Ferrari 488, the #54 Spirit of Race. Ferrari didn’t run away with it, with the #86 Gulf Racing Porsche only three-tenths off the leading pace in the afternoon in third and two-tenths, in second, off the fastest lap time of the #54.

    Aston Martin were, once again, at the back of this field. The situation here is very similar to the one in LM GTE Pro: the Aston Martins are not significantly slower on pace time but are certainly and consistently the slowest in class. The #98 Aston Martin Racing piloted by Paul Dalla Lana, Mathias Lauda, and Pedro Lamy was four-tenths off the fastest lap in the afternoon session, but they did not look like the were possible of closing that gap down as they proved by being consistently slowest in the LM GTE Am class.

    For reasons undisclosed by the team, the Dempsey-Proton Racing #77 Porsche sat out the final three-hour session, not coming out of the garage at all. It joined the #4 ByKOLLES LMP1 privateer car on the sidelines and ended the session early. The car had been running strong in the morning session with no problems seeming to be on the car.