Speed Chills - World Endurance Championship

  • 2016 FIA WEC Season Review

    Welcome to our review of the 2016 FIA WEC Championship. Put the kettle on, make a brew, settle down in your favourite chair and enjoy!

    LMP1 Season Review 

    Neel Jani, Marc Lieb and Romain Dumas took the FIA World Endurance Championship crown for the first time with a fifth place finish in the 6 Hours of Bahrain, however this season was by no means easy on the crew. They took the first win of the season at Silverstone after the #7 Audi crew were disqualified, second place at Spa Francorchamps in round 2 before taking a last minute win at Le Mans after Toyota heart break in the dying minutes. With double points at Le Mans, the #2 car held a substantial lead at the mid point, 94 points out of 103 on offer saw them sitting at the top of the championship with a 39 point lead. Le Mans was the turning point for the #2 car, early promising performances were replaced with recurring technical issues, reportedly with the cars hybrid system and a distinct lack of pace. Jani, Lieb and Dumas failed to see the podium again this year. Despite these issues, going in to Bahrain, talking to Neel Jani before the start of the race, he was confident the team had what it took to take the title.

    This fall in pace surely held the door wide open though for the ever consistent Audi team to close the gap and take the lead at some point before the season was out? This season however’ Porsche got lucky. A string of issues for Audi meant they were unable to capitalise on the #2 crew’s bad luck in the second half of the year.

    The #8 Audi crew of Oli Jarvis, Lucas di Grassi and Loic Duval were Audi’s main title hopes this year. They were on the pace and working well together, claiming two victories this season in Spa and Bahrain. Uncharacteristically, Audi were hit with a string of issues this year and as a result, both cars arrived in Bahrain out of the championship. Their pace in Austin was phenomenal but hybrid issues for the #8 and a badly timed safety car took both cars out of contention and gifted the win to the #1 Porsche of Webber Bernhard and Hartley. Mexico was yet another poor race for Audi. The #8 was out in front when Jarvis went off at turn one in tricky conditions. Lotterer then hit the wall during a lock up. Porsche came through to take another solid points hall towards both the teams and drivers championship challenge. Another difficult run to fifth in Shanghai for the #8 further dented their title challenge.

    Toyota came in to 2016 with a brand new car, the TS050. The car was a big improvement on the 2015 TS040, the car was competitive and even took the win on home soil in Fuji. As we headed out to Bahrain, Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and Stephane Sarrazin were the only 3 drivers capable of challenging the #2 Porsche for the drivers title. Toyota had more than their fair share of difficulty this year though. They were leading the race at Spa before the #5 car broke down and leading the race at Le Mans before heartbreak on the final lap.

    LMP2 Season Review

    The 2016 LMP2 season was dominated by the #36 Signatech Alpine, adding the FIA WEC to their 2014 European Le Mans Series crown. Nicolas Lapierre, Gustavo Menezes and Stephane Richelmi won half the races in 2016 in the Nissan powered Alpine A460 and never once finished outside the top four. They fought hard with the #43 RGR Sport and #26 G-Drive racing cars throughout the season with Strakka and Manor mounting outside challenges in what was arguably the most competitive class of the season. The LMP2 grid was heavily involved in the FIA driver rating changes this year, a number of teams, including the #36 Signatech, found themselves benefitting from "Super Silver" drivers, drivers classified silver but professional drivers rather than amateur racers. Gustavo Menezes was one of those "Super Silvers" who found himself lapping inside the top 10% of the field on a frequent basis. However, it was a dominant performance from the crew and drivers which saw them take the title.

    Silverstone was the season anomaly for the #36 squad with all three drivers complaining of tire ware issues, they took fourth place and their joint worst result of the season. It was one of only two times they would finish off the podium. Their absence from the podium was filled by the newly formed RGR Sport team running the #43 car with Bruno Senna, Filipe Albuquerque and Ricardo Gonzalez who took their maiden victory. One of the standout events of the season however was Spa Francorchamps. Nico Lapierre made a last minute move to pass Pipo Derani around the outside. The Tequila Patron ESM got caught up behind Marino Franchitti’s Ford GT.

    The #36 car quickly found themselves back on the top step of the podium next time out at Le Mans, an incredible performance from the team considering Richelmi and Menezes were in their debut Le Mans and Menezes, who at 21 years old, had never completed a 24 hour race before. All three drivers put in a remarkable performance, Menezes especially who pulled out a quadruple stint in the early hours of Sunday morning to keep the car in site of the podium. A strong drive from Nico Lapierre, who had taken victory just one year before helped the team take the flag.

    A third straight win for the crew at the Nurburgring, round 4 in July, continued to build their lead. RGR Sport took victory in Mexico with a fitting win, driver Ricardo Gonzales the official promoter of the event took the top step of the podium on home soil. Alpine returned to the top of the podium at the Circuit of the Americas with three races left to run. The team took the title in Shanghai finishing second, wrapping up the title with one race to spare, they were never really under threat.

    G-Drive put on a strong showing in the final three races of the season, taking  a hat trick of wins for Roman Rusinov and Alex Brundle. They were joined for two of those wins by former Manor F1 driver Will Stevens, with Rene Rast stepping back on board for the final outing in Bahrain. Rusinov had trouble in Mexico which cost the team the win with a catastrophic brake failure in the final hour. Despite the team coming from the back of the grid to take the win, RGR managed to secure second place in the championship.

    GTE-Pro Season Review

    Aston Martin Racing headed in to the 2016 FIA World Endurance with a heavily upgraded Vantage GTE. They were up against the new Ferrari 488GTE and the new Ford GT run by Ford Chip Ganassi Racing UK. Porsche opted to take a year out to focus on the 2017 car, however, Dempsey-Proton Racing ran a customer team Porsche.

    Aston Martin’s Nicki Thiim and Marco Sorensen proved themselves more than capable of the challenge, taking the drivers championship in Bahrain with a win in the #95 car. The teams championship however, went to Ferrari, marking a successful first year for the new 488 GTE. The 488 had some big boots to fill. Ferrari own the 2012, 2013 and 2014 GT Manufacturers title with the hugely successful 458 and two drivers titles in 2013 and 2014. The 458 also won Le Mans in 2012 and 2014. No >pressure then.

    Aston Martin stalwart Darren Turner began alongside them at the start of the season, the trio claiming a podium at Silverstone behind the AF Corse Ferraris which dominated the race. Sam Bird and Davide Rigon dominated the race in the #71 Ferrari ahead of Gimi Bruni and James Calado in the #51 which also had to serve a three minute time penalty for an engine change between qualifying and the race. It should be noted, that Bruni set the quickest ever GTE time around Silverstone this year, the first driver to break the 1:59 barrier, going 2.5 seconds quicker than his previous record.

    Disaster struck for the team at Spa, Nicki Thiim was spun in to the barriers by an LMP2 car and came to a rest on his roof at Courbe Paul Frere.

    Ferrari capitalised, however a late engine failure for Calado stripped Ferrari of the projected 1-2 finish they were after. The charge came to a stop at Le Mans though with severe mechanical difficulties. Fourth for the GTE-AM AF Course however gifted the team 24 points, a valuable contribution to the teams title chances.

    Despite not making the podium at Le Mans, the trio took points as the second placed WEC entered car. Both the #51 and #71 cars failed to finish and Aston Martin took the championship lead. Ford put on an incredibly dominant performance at Le Mans which saw them bring home three cars in the top four. The #82 Ferrari of Fisichella, Vilander and Malucelli spoiling a Ford front three lock out with a second place. This dominance would see a BOP adjustment later in the season.

    After Le Mans, Aston Martin had a reshuffle of their driver line up which saw Turner swap to the #97 car. Thiim and Sorensen took third place behind the dominant Ferraris before taking third place in Mexico. Turner and Stanaway took the first AMR win of the season in Mexico which put Turner in to the championship lead. Thiim and Sorensen finally took their first win in Austin at the Circuit of the Americas which put them at the top of the table with three races to run and a 12 point lead. Fords dominance returned for Shanghai and Fuji, taking 1-2 finished in both races ahead of #51 Ferrari of Gimi Bruni and James Calado. Heading in to the final race of the season, AMR had a 12 point lead. Turner and Adam set identical qualifying laps to take pole in the #97 before the #95 took the race and a second win of the season.

    Bruni and Calado lost vital points this season and despite finishing on the podium in every race they finished, including a win at the ‘Ring, DNF’s at Spa and Le Mans took them out of contention for the title. They did however, finish third ahead of both the Fords who finished half a point apart, Muecke, and Pla having the slight advantage over Tincknell and Priaulx. Ford took two victories this year and max points at Le Mans enroute to third in their first season back in endurance racing. Three cars in the top four at Le Mans meant they scored max points, whilst two second places at Fuji and Shanghai meant the #66 bested the #67.

    GTE-AM Season Review

    The stats show that the #83 AF Corse Ferrari 458 was not the quickest car in class. They took one win this season but finished every race and claimed 50 points at Le Mans. They took six second place finishes, only failing to take the podium in Austin. The #98 Aston Martin Vantage was notably quicker. The car with Paul Dalla Lana, Pedro Lamy and Mathias Lauda at the wheel took six pole positions including the final race in Bahrain, and five wins. Unfortunately, they took hard knocks at Le Mans and Mexico,not finishing either race. Pole position under the night sky of Bahrain gave them hope.That margin of hope however was incredibly small. Collard, Aguas and Perodo just needed to finish, they crossed the line third whilst the engine failed on the #98.

    The #88 Abu Dhabi Proton took victory on the WEC’s first visit to Mexico and again in Bahrain. The retirement of the #95 gave second in the championship to Al Qubaisi and Heinemeier Hansson. With Klaus Bachler replaced by Patrick Long at Le Mans, Al Qubaisi and Heinemeier-Hansson again came close to beating the Ferrari for the top WEC-registered team, but a late charge from Collard saw the Frenchman take second spot in the final hour, which resulted in a decisive 14-point swing.

    The Porsche crew came on form in the final race, Pat Long put pressure on Lauda which saw the #95 spin, Long then lead the rest of the way fending off Wolf Henzler in the KCMG Porsche. The #78 took their fifth consecutive podium in Bahrain but after technical infringement at Nurburgring and technical failure at Silverstone, they were out of the running. Gulf Racing had a solid performance across the year with some big improvements seen across the season for Ben Barker, Adam Carroll and Mike Wainwright.

  • Porsche Withdraw from LMP1

    It has now been confirmed that Porsche will be leaving the LMP1 category in World Endurance Championship at the end of the season. Rumours had been circulating the team at the 6 Hours of Nurburgring, where Team Principle Andreas Seidl stated the team would decide on its future later this month. Porsche released a statement on their website this morning to confirm that 2017 would be the final season they would participate in LMP1 as they were turning their attention to enter the 2019 Formula E season.

    In the statement posted to their website, Michael Steiner, a member of the executive Board for Research and Development at Porsche AG, stated that is was the “growing freedom for in-house technology development [that] makes Formula E attractive to us.

    “Porsche is working with alternative, innovative drive concepts. For us, Formula E is the ultimate competitive environment for driving forward the development of high-performance vehicles in areas such as environmental friendliness, efficiency and sustainability.

    “We want to be number one. To do that, we must invest accordingly.”

    Since their return to sports car racing in 2014, Porsche has had a lot of success in the LMP1 team. In their first year, they almost challenged Audi Sport for the overall win at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Since then, the team has gone on to take three consecutive Le Mans victories and look to be set to take their third consecutive Drivers’ and Manufacturers’ titles at the end of the season in November.

    “Building up the Le Mans team from scratch was a huge challenge.” Fritz Enzinger said on the Porsche statement. “Over the years, we have developed an incredibly successful and professional team. This will be our basis going forward.

    “I am certain that we will maintain our high level in Formula E. Confidence is high, and we are excited to get started”

    Porsche had claimed that they will keep the LMP1 team together, with the six factory drivers staying on board, but which capacity has not been clarified. Along with this, the team will still run their GT programme, with the newly developed 911 RSRs in both the WEC and International Motor Sport Association.

    The announcement for Porsche to leave the WEC and join a fully electric race series comes days after the announcement that diesel and petrol cars will be banned from the roads in the UK and France from 2040. Whether or not this has anything to do with Porsche decision to leave the Hybrid racing series behind is unknown. Volkswagen are also still in a lot of financial issues from the “dieselgate” debacle which was one of the main reasons Audi pulled out of the series last year.

    Toyota Gazoo Racing have commented on Porsche’s decision to leave the LMP1 class, saying that it is “unfortunate” the German manufacture has left the sport. There has been no comment on Toyota’s future plans in the WEC. If they stay next season, as they are contracted to, they will be the only competitors in the LMP1-H class.

    It is clear that the WEC is not happy with Porsche’s sudden decision to leave WEC for Formula E. Before Porsche withdrew at the end of last week, both LMP1 teams – Porsche and Toyota Gazoo Racing – had confirmed commitment to participating in LMP1 until the end of 2018: “[Porsche] recently confirmed its participation in the FIA LMP1-H World Endurance Championship as a manufacturer up to the end of the 2018 season, and which has been actively involved in the development of the technical regulations that will come into force in 2020.” Toyota were clear that they were not going to make any comments about Porsche departure from the sport, but they have conceded that they only agreed to stay in the sport until the end of 2018 as they believed they would have factory competition. With this revelation, now not even Toyota have binding commitment after then end of this year.

    However, as there were rumours at the 6 Hours of Nurburgring that Porsche would not see past the end of the year in LMP1, the WEC and ACO have not been caught napping at the announcement of this news. There is already work underway to make sure the 2018 season is “a season which promises to be quite exceptional thanks to the introduction of new innovations.” Some of the regulations changes that were supposed to be coming in in 2020 are now being brought forward, with some changes due to come into effect as early as next year. WEC will make an announcement at the 6 Hours of Mexico about the new plan for the LMP1-H class for 2018.

    WEC’s main concern will be to keep Toyota on board net year, but with no one to race against there needs to be a very good reason for Toyota to stay.

    If Toyota were to leave there would no longer be an hybrid field in the WEC. This could be detrimental to the series as, with automotive vehicles becoming greener, the hybrid technology is the closest to road car technology for the future in the field.

    The WEC ended their statement by putting stress on the fact that cost and stability reduction, and inventiveness and audacity held the key to getting more manufacturers into the sport. This backs up Toyota’s claims that if the technical factor of the cars was reduced to save cost they would walk away from the LMP1 class.

    Right now, WEC’s priority must be keeping Toyota in WEC, but the question that remains is how are they going to do that when there are no longer any competitors for Toyota to try and beat?

  • Toyota take Pole for 6 Hours of Nurburgring

    After Porsche dominated Friday, Saturday belonged to Toyota. Taking the fastest lap in final practice and in qualifying, Jose Maria Lopez helped take the #7 Toyota Gazoo Racing car to pole position for the 6 Hours of Nurburgring. The close fights for pole position continued down the field, with the biggest advantage a pole sitter had was 0.4 seconds. Both the #26 G-Drive Racing and the #98 Aston Martin Racing cars continue to have an unbroken streak of pole positions this season, whilst Porsche GT Team made it four different manufacturers on pole in Pro in the first four rounds.

    Lopez was a man on a mission after returning to the #7 car for the first time since his crash at the 6 Hours of Silverstone. He proved to the team why he should be in that car by taking the fastest lap in both free practice three and qualifying. Giving Kamui Kobayashi a two-tenth advantage on the second-placed Porsche #2 at the driver change over, it was a nice simple job for the Japanese driver to set a relative lap time that gave them pole position.

    Timo Bernhard tried his hardest to close the gap on the Toyota team, but traffic meant he could get Brendon Hartley and his average lap time any closer than 0.154 seconds. The advantage for the #2 car is that it was not their championship rival Toyota who took the pole position point today, and tomorrow they have the sister Porsche between them. Hartley stated that he hoped team orders would not come into play with so much of the season left, but it can be assumed that Porsche will not risk their championship-contending car losing points to Toyota if they can manipulate the situation.

    The qualifying session for the #8 Toyota was a messy one which cost them in the fight for pole. Although the car had been set-up with more focus on the race, as Anthony Davidson told Speed Chills, LMP2 traffic hindered the majority of their session. Davidson’s teammate Kazuki Nakajima was nearly driven off the track by #35 Signatech Alpine driver Nelson Panciatici. Exiting Bilstein Curve, the LMP2 driver ran Nakajima wide, looking like he had not seen the LMP1 car before swerving away. The #35 has picked up a 30 second stop/go for the incident.

    The drama did not stop there. Davidson went on to explain to Speed Chills that as he was starting his flying lap another LMP2 car came out of the pits, traveling much slower than Davidson, and drifted onto racing line. This compromised Davidson’s fast lap and contributed to the #8 Toyota only managing a fourth-place start, half a second off the pace. Davidson was not happy about the way the LMP2s had driven in the qualifying session, saying that the drivers needed to learn to “Look in their mirrors.”

    Aside from the incidents with the #8 Toyota, the racing in the LMP2 class for pole position was between #26 G-Drive and the Le Mans-winning #38 Jackie Chan DC Racing car. Oliver Jarvis was pushing hard to try and close in on the #26, but the G-Drive team proved once again why they have had four consecutive pole positions. The astounding pace of Pierre Thiriet and Ben Hanley, standing in for Alex Lynn who is in New York for Formula E, gave G-Drive Racing their 20th WEC pole position. However, the #26 G-Drive failed scruteneering after qualifying had finsihed because their front barge board was at too steep of an angle. This means that the car will start at the back of the grid, whilst #38 jackie Chan DC Racing inherits its first class pole position of the season and Vaillante Rebellion hold a strong two-three.

    The GTE Pro Le Mans-winning Aston Martin had a bad qualifying session as the team ended up at the back of the class. Multiple infringements for track limits saw lap time after lap time deleted for the team, meaning they could only get an average 1.3 seconds off the time of the pole-sitting #92 Porsche GT Team. This was a positive thing for GT Drivers’ and Team Championship leaders in the #67 Ford Chip Ganassi car. With a small disadvantage due to a heavier BoP, Ford have appeared to be on the back foot all weekend. It was a surprise when Olivier Pla managed to jump the #66 up to fastest in class in the final moments of free practice three this morning. The #67 did not have the best qualifying, but they will start ahead of the #97 Aston Martin tomorrow, meaning they have a track advantage. If they can keep the British team behind them they will extend their championship lead before the summer break.

    It was an impressive performance from Michael Christensen and Kevin Estre in the #92 Porsche. The Porsche 911 RSRs have been the cars to beat this weekend and look to be in for a tight fight with the AF Corse Ferraris tomorrow. Their pole position today means that all four of the manufacturers in the GTE Pro class this year have taken pole position this season. Four different pole sitters in four races just proves how close the fight between the GT cars is this year. The pole position is also the first for the new Porsche 911 RSR so a great achievement for the team.

    The sole Aston Marin in GTE Am performed spectacularly in qualifying. Pedro Lamy and Paul Dalla Lana are the qualifying duo for the team and did not disappoint as they took to the track to take their fourth consecutive pole position of the season. The #77 Dempsey-Proton Racing Porsche, however, cannot be overlooked ahead of tomorrow’s race. The team pushed hard, keeping the pressure on the Aston Martin to the chequered flag. With the two going wheel-to-wheel in tomorrow’s race, the Am class holds the potential for some fantastic on track battles. The #54 Spirit of Race Ferrari 488 GTE has also been very quick so far this weekend. Stating from third, the team could really muscle into the fight for class victory.

    The entire grid was very close on pace today, showing that there should be some tight fights come tomorrow’s six-hour endurance event. Make sure to follow @SpeedChillsView on twitter for live updates from trackside as the race unfolds.

    Lights out for the 6 Hours of Nurburgring is at 13:00 CEST.