Neel Jani

  • 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.

  • Interview with a Champion - Neel Jani

    Neel Jani, Porsche factory driver and FIA World Endurance Champion doubles up with Rebellion in LMP2 to contest the North American Endurance Championship in 2017 alongside his regular duties at Porsche. Jani will be making his racing debut at Daytona and the Rolex 24 in the brand new Rebellion Oreca 07. Jani already has a Le Mans win to his name and has now set his sights on another 24 hour classic, the Rolex 24 At Daytona.

    In a Speed Chills Exclusive, we sat down with Neel and discussed his return to Rebellion Racing, the Roar Before the 24 and the upcoming Rolex 24 At Daytona.

    How did you get on at the Roar Before the 24?

    It is kind of hard to say, we obviously got on really well the first two days, we topped the time sheets but teams are holding back, not wanting to show their true performance just yet, but we were not playing games. We wanted to get out and see what the car could do. The Mazda is quick but Cadillac looked slow, but I’m not paying too much attention to lap times yet. We focused on our preparation, the new Oreca 07 is great, its clearly very different to the 919 so a lot to learn. It is a new car to everyone on a new circuit, and to me, I have never driven LMP2 so it was quite an experience doing my first LMP2 laps around Daytona. The team did a great job to build the car in such a short space of time after Stephane (Sarrazin) destroyed the first one at the December test at Sebring. The team had to completely rebuild the car from a new chassis and get everything set up in just a few weeks. It was important to us to get kilometres on the car to test the reliability and performance over long distance runs and the car performed perfectly all test.

    How is it being back at Rebellion after running with Porsche for 3 years?

    It is great to be back at Rebellion, there have been a number of changes to the team since I was first here but a lot of the top guys are still around (Team Manager Bart Hayden). We have a very strong line-up for the Rolex 24 and the North American Endurance Cup with Seb (Buemi) Steph (Sarrazin) and Nick (Heidfeld) in the car. It's nice to be partnered with Nick again after this time and although we have an on track rivalry, everyone gets on well and works together well, we have all come through the development together and so know each other well. It is our first time running an LMP2 car together so it is new to us all. But it is what I wanted to do. I didn't want to race in GT, I have never done it, it is very different to my background. I wanted to race in LMP2 and fight for overall victory and I believe with this team we have a very good chance, we have arguably the strongest line up. We work well with each other, we all have a lot of experience and we trust each other, that is important.

    This year, you will also be joining Rebellion for their North American Endurance Cup Races?

    We worked hard with Porsche to agree this deal with Rebellion and I am very happy it paid off. Porsche are usually very strict with other commitments so it is nice to do. It is great to get Rebellion Racing back in to North America and see what happens. (Rebellion have taken on the Robertson Racing facility in Georgia for their American campaign this season). Two of the four races will be done by the start of the WEC season so it is easier to manage than the guys doing Formula E. I am looking forward to it, we last raced here in 2013 along with Nick (Heidfeld) so it's good to be back. We are keeping one car in the US and hoping to use the same team on WEC and the North American Endurance Cup.

    This is your first time at Daytona, how did you find it and what were your impressions?

    Wow! Daytona is an incredible place and track. My first experience of Daytona was playing an old Nascar video game when I was a child so to be there racing now it was great. Doing the track walk before the test was amazing. The banking is so steep! you wonder.. how can you drive on that? It really is a special place. Driving the first few laps were very special with the car up on the banks at speed, thinking, how steep are these banks?! You get used to it quite quickly. The car took to the circuit well and I got used to it and start to push it. The infield is tight and bumpy but the outside oval is very quick. Traffic is very different to WEC, traffic is a bit easier because we don’t gain that much lap time through corners but we are much faster than the GT along the straights, better breaking and more grip. The new Daytona Prototypes, the Mazda in particular look amazing. Balance of Performance will come in to it, but IMSA have all the data and will decide accordingly so it is perhaps too early to gauge cars performance just yet. That said, it is going to be an impressive race. The grid is like a who’s who of racing with some very talented drivers from GT, Nascar, Indy Car and Prototypes. It is going to be a very hard fought race. We haven't really stopped yet. The off season was 3 weeks between end of season testing and Roar Before. It's great that the race falls when it does as it keeps me sharp and on form and helps me train and prepare for the upcoming season. I have a little bit of time off between Sebring and The Prologue at Monza but we have two big races and testing with Porsche before that time off so were always busy.

    What are your thoughts on Audi withdrawing from the WEC?

    It will be strange with only two manufacturers in LMP1, they will be missed. We had some great battles with Audi last year and in previous years. Nurburgring last year was great, going wheel to wheel with Andre (Lotterer) to finish fourth. It was a disappointing result for us but a great race. We fought hard, we fell down and got back up again and closed the gap. I think that Toyota will come back strong this year and be competitive. Toyota are racing a brand new car (as of the start of 2016) whereas the 919 is a three year old chassis. But I am confident and I am looking forward to it. We have a lot of testing before the start of the season and it is going to be a good fight.

    How did you feel winning Le Mans 2016?

    Winning Le Mans was great! We fought hard for the whole race and always felt like we could win. However, winning it with Toyota breaking down was a shock. You don't wish that on anyone and I feel for them. But equally, I think we deserved the win. We had a lot of bad luck in that race. We had two punctures in the last six hours but we kept fighting back. The car was quick and definitely capable of winning on it's own. In the end, it was a two car race. But I want to repeat my point, you don’t wish Toyotas luck on anyone. It was a shock result that is for sure and one that will go down in history and that is something I am proud to be part of. I know my friends and family will never forget it and neither will I. I hope we have many more wins to come.

    There have been some big changes at Porsche since Bahrain, how do you feel about going into the season as the only World Champion?

    Yes it is a big change for the whole team. I feel confident though, Nick (Tandy) and Earl (Bamber) have experience racing the 919 (Le Mans winners 2015 along with Nico Hulkenberg). We have done a lot of testing at Motorland Aragon and everyone is getting on well. Andre is obviously new to the car and has to adjust to it. We have a lot of testing coming up in the next few months and I feel confident that Porsche will do well this year, we have a good team and Toyota are going to be tough competition. Its going to be a great battle this season!

  • Preparing for Le Mans

    With the 24 Hours of Le Mans getting underway later on this afternoon, the build up to one of the most important races of the year is almost over. Catching up with some of the drivers in their final preparation week for the prestigious event, Speed Chills got some exclusive quotes on the driver’s feelings before they embarked on the 24-hour endurance race.

    Neel Jani showed great excitement before the 24 Hours of Le Mans, but remained respectfully realistic when discussing his prospects for the race weekend, openly stating Porsche was “definitely not the favourites” to win. Coming from the Le Mans test where Toyota Gazoo Racing were competitively faster than Porsche has put the German team on the back foot. But they are still hopeful that over the 24 hours of racing the luck can fall their way.

    “I think, for me, and it will be me and Timo doing the start, I think this will be the hardest point in the race probably for us.” Jani said, discussing what he believed would be the most trying part of the weekend. “I think we will also struggle more at the start than Toyota I think we will come when the evening comes. So yeah, Timo and I have the most difficult job at the start.”

    However, at Toyota, Anthony Davidson was confident that Porsche were yet to show their hand and believed there would be more to come from the German outlet. “I’m expecting them to raise their game this week.” Davidson said assertively. “Especially for the race. Even if we don’t see anything in qualifying, just like Silverstone they didn’t try, but they knew they had a good car for the race probably and they did.”

    Le Mans is one of the most important races in the World, a fact that is not lost on any of the drivers. Davidson added that Le Mans was his Mount Everest, stating that: “I may never get to the top but as long as I do the job I know I can do I’ll be happy.”

    Andy Priaulx echoed the thoughts of Davidson in the importance of Le Mans and the extra pressure that the drivers feel in this race weekend. “Le Mans is one of the biggest races on the planet and you’ve got to try and win that.” Priaulx commented to Speed Chills on Wednesday morning. “I think you have to learn to live with a lot more pressure at Le Mans, from the manufacturers. There is a lot more focus on the win here.”

    The Porsche #2 drivers Timo Bernhard and Brendon Hartley were equally as passionate about the importance and prestige of this race, with Hartley coining it as the “most important race of the year.”

    Having won Le Mans once in the past (2010 – Audi), Timo Bernhard reflected on the feeling a Le Mans victory can give a driver. “Le Mans, to be honest, is the highlight of our year.” Bernhard smiled. “It has the most prestige. If you win Le Mans your year is already incredible, magic, I mean, there cannot be more to ask for.”

    With so much riding on a win at Le Mans it is certain to be a spectacular race. With last year’s dramatic ending still clearly in people’s minds, it will be 24 hours of racing you will not want to miss a second of.

    Make sure to be following @SpeedChillsView for LIVE updates and the latest throughout the 24 hours of racing as the 85th 24 Hours of Le Mans unfolds.

  • Seven magnificent reasons why we’re excited about 2018

    On the face of it, the consecutive losses in the past year of both Audi and then Porsche from the LMP1 ranks have dealt hefty blows to the world of sports car racing, worthy of an Anthony Joshua right hook.

    But have the Le Mans 24 Hours and the FIA World Endurance Championship crumpled to the canvas, out for the count in their wake? Of course not.

    In fact, the jewel of long-distance sports car racing and its associated series have weathered the double blow remarkably well, and as we power on towards the brightening horizon of 2018 both appear decidedly spritely. Motor racing’s ability to sniff the smelling salts, rejuvenate and punch back stronger than ever never ceases to amaze.

    Le Mans in particular has always proven bigger than any single manufacturer, throughout its illustrious 95-year history. So as we settle into the brief seasonal hibernation induced by the heady mix of minced pies and mulled wine, let’s ponder exactly what will get our juices running again in 2018 as a new era dawns for the greatest motor race in the world.

    1. LMP1 takes a leaf from Mark Twain’s book

    Sure, as the last manufacturer standing with a hybrid thoroughbred, Toyota will never have a greater chance to end its infamous Le Mans jinx – with or without Fernando Alonso – running an updated version of its TS050 HYBRID.

    Toyota TS050 Hybrid 2017

    But with only two entries expected from the Japanese giant, even now nothing can be taken for granted. As Toyota knows only too well from recent (bitter) experience, the first competitor any manufacturer at Le Mans has to conquer is the race itself. Even with an apparent open goal, the capacity to balloon it over the bar once again, either through technical failures or driver mistakes, will be all too real for this team come June 16/17.

    2. There’s Rebellion in the ranks…

    Fresh from WEC title success in the super-competitive LMP2 arena, top prototype privateer Rebellion Racing has confirmed its return to the top category for 2018 with a two-car entry bristling with promise.

    And with the new rules designed to equalise performance between factory hybrid and privateer non-hybrid power, the Anglo-Swiss squad will carry genuine hope into the new year that its new contender will have the capacity to carry the fight to Toyota. Whether that’s realistic or not remains to be seen.

    The new car, said to be another creation from seasoned partner ORECA, will be revealed at the Geneva Motor Show in March. Meanwhile, a superstar line-up of drivers has already been confirmed.

    Porsche LMP1 refugees Andre Lotter and Neel Jani have been named among the six, which also includes Bruno Senna – nephew of Ayrton – and talented youngster Thomas Laurent, who has controversially switched from the rival DC Racing LMP2 squad that came so close to sensationally winning the race overall last June.

    Rebellion is a seriously good racing team. Toyota will not underestimate its challenge.

    3. Privateers on parade: the new arrivals

    Along with Rebellion, the promise of greater LMP1 competition between manufacturer might and privateer pluck has enticed optimistic new projects into the top class, and one in particular looks certain to give the hordes of British Le Mans disciples a new focus come June.

    Successful LMP2 chassis builder Ginetta has accepted the challenge with an exciting all-new design set to be revealed at the Autosport International show at Birmingham’s NEC in January. The company has linked up with former F1 entrant Manor Racing for what promises to be a potent challenge.

    Then there’s SMP Racing’s new Dallara-built LMP1, dubbed the BR1, which was unveiled at the Bahrain WEC season finale in November. Run by top GP2/F2 team ART Grand Prix, with former Renault F1 ace Vitaly Petrov among the drivers, this is another serious effort with long-term potential.

    Fingers will be firmly crossed among sports car racing’s rule-makers that this revived interest in LMP1, fueled by ‘realistic’ budgets, will reap rewards for the privately funded entrants who have made the commitment. The silver lining of Audi and Porsche’s withdrawal glistens with genuine hope.

    4. GTE: who needs prototypes?

    Even if LMP1 does fall flat at Le Mans in June, the intensity of what will be happening behind them in the GTE ‘supercar’ class will more than compensate. Manufacturer interest has shot through the roof, and in a certain respect, it’s just a pity the influx of contenders aren’t competing for the overall win…

    That’s a debate for another day. For now, what matters is that the ‘race within a race’ at Le Mans promises serious bragging rights for some of the biggest and most famous motoring brands in the world.

    5. The Porsche factor: Mark Twain still relevant!

    Yes, I’m borrowing that cliché once more: the number one Le Mans manufacturer’s demise at the 24 Hours has been greatly exaggerated, despite that headline LMP1 withdrawal. That’s because Porsche has now doubled its efforts to conquer the GTE class, following its hat trick of overall wins between 2015-17.

    Regular GT aces Richard Lietz, Frederic Makowiecki and Gianmaria Bruni, who will make his first start for Porsche at Le Mans following his defection from Ferrari, are all confirmed. But also expect to see former LMP1 stars Nick Tandy, Earl Bamber, Timo Bernhard and Romain Dumas in action. That’s quite a squad to keep the winning run going, albeit in the lower class.

    6. German flavour remains potent

    As Porsche shows a renewed commitment to GT racing, so too do two other German automotive giants. For the first time since 2011, BMW is returning to Le Mans with an all-new GTE contender, while Mercedes will also be represented – even if it’s in disguise.

    Aston Martin will keep the British end up once again, with its fantastic-looking new Vantage set to defend the hard-fought victory of 2017. But the German link is under the hood: an AMG Mercedes twin turbo now powers Aston’s front-engined GTE contender, following the engineering tie-up between two brands.

    Aston Martin Vantage LM-GTE 2018

    Add in an unchanged Ford line-up, Ferrari coming off the back of WEC title success and a continued challenge from Corvette, and GTE offers potentially one of the strongest manufacturer entries in Le Mans history. The battle between Ferrari vs Porsche vs Aston Martin vs Corvette vs Ford vs BMW… take a breath… will be simply immense.

    Who needs LMP1?

    7. Super-sized season with a double helping of Le Mans

    All this is then set in the context of the WEC’s new-era ‘Super Season’ calendar. For the first time in the series’ history, the WEC will carry over into a second calendar year – allowing two consecutive Le Mans 24 Hours to count towards one world title campaign. Intriguing.

    The marathon season kicks off in May with the Spa 6 Hours, before the teams take in the 2018 Le Mans 24 Hours in June. The next six-hour round follows at Silverstone, now running in spectator-friendly August (we hope!) rather than at wet and windy Easter, before the calendar year concludes with races at Fuji and Shanghai.

    FIA WEC 2018-19 Super Season Calendar

    Then in 2019 the ‘super season’ picks up once more in March, with an exciting new 1500-mile round at Sebring in Florida, taking place the day after IMSA’s blue-riband 12 Hours. The weekend of action creates a fantastic double-header that looks certain to become a new and hugely popular sports car racing tradition.

    Following Sebring, the teams return to Spa for another 6 Hours, before the series hits its climax at the 2019 Le Mans 24 Hours. That establishment of a new rhythm to the sports car racing season, with the series ending at its most famous race, should hopefully boost the profile of the WEC – and in the future will offer a season shape that mimics that of football. It makes sense.

    So there you have it. Far from hand-wringing at a weakened LMP1 entry, sports car racing fans can look forward to fresh beginnings in 2018 – and Le Mans will be as unmissable as ever.

    Care to join us?

    In the meantime, have a very merry Christmas and here’s to a flat-out new year.

    Damien Smith, former Editor of Motor Sport Magazine

  • Silverstone Qualy - Toyota on top

    Qualifying for the LMP1 class looked, in the end, to be fairly one sided. Porsche did not seem to be able to get close to the rapid pace of the Toyota TS050 Hybrids. Kamui Kobayashi setting the fastest lap of the weekend, a 1:36.793, that Porsche could not get any closer than 1.3 seconds slower than. With the battle of down force packages seeming to be the main talking point in the LMP1 field, it will be interesting to see just how far behind, if at all, Porsche are come race day tomorrow. Speed Chills got a chance to talk to some of the LMP1 drivers after their qualifying session.

    Being one of the drivers to qualify, Anthony Davidson was happy with the set up of the car and the performance of his #8 Toyota TS050 Hybrid. He stated that this year’s Toyota is the “Best the car has ever been in Silverstone,” with it “just doing pretty much everything I wanted.” Davidson explained that the impressive time set by Kobayashi was at the result of the two Toyotas running different options of down force in different set ups for the weekend. Even so, Davidson had nothing but praise for the 2017 challenger, claiming the #8 crew is “really confident with our car for the race,” and he is “Really happy to drive such a good car.”

    However, Toyota are under no illusion that tomorrow’s race will be an easy one to take the victory for. Although they have an advantage running the high down force package compared to the low down force aero kit Porsche elected for, Davidson is confident Porsche will be back and closer in the race. “They’re definitely going to be closer in the race than they were in qualifying,” Davidson admitted. “This has never been a strong circuit for us in terms of how we use our hybrid system. Our system is a kinetic system only whereas the Porsche system lends itself a bit better to this kind of track where you don’t get much kinetic recovery. They rely more on their turbo for the heat recovery than we can do round here.

    “We are expecting them to be closer but we’re still unsure about how it’s going to pan out in terms of the double stint. How we’re going to use the tyres compared to them. Normally, under the normal circumstances, you’d say we use the tyres better than them, we’d be able to eek out more life in our tyres than them because running more down force should keep the surface of the tyre in better condition, putting less friction through them, we don’t know. One thing is for sure, they’re going to be closer in the race.”

    Brendon Hartley was keen to echo this sentiment when discussing the benefits and downsides to running the low down force ‘Le Mans’ specification aero package at a track that prefers high down force. Although he stated that “Qualifying wasn’t very important with only four cars,” and that the #2 crew and Porsche were “really focused on the race.” in the free practice sessions, Hartley believes Porsche is not that far off the pace Toyota was setting in their long runs. “Toyota’s pace was awesome in qualifying but we didn’t see the same in free practice.

    “Honestly their time this morning [in qualifying] was really impressive but I think that also there’s a bigger gain for them in qualifying compared to us for a few reasons, with how you manage energies and what not. It was an impressive lap, but I don’t think you’re going to see such differences tomorrow.”

    Hartley revealed that the #2 car never ran any qualifying simulations in free practice, opting to use the 240 minutes of free practice time to fully focus on long runs and making sure the car was set up perfectly for the race whilst collecting as much data about tyre wear. This meant they never got the balance right when they put the qualifying set up on the car for the first time in the qualifying session which is what Hartley suggests is the reason they start at the back of the hybrid field. On average, the lap times the Porsches were setting on their long runs were fairly close to the pace of the Toyotas in the same circumstance.

    Although Neel Jani has been fairly avoidant that Silverstone will be Porsche’s “joker” race, one that he does not expect them to perform well at due to using the low down force aero kit on the Porsches, Hartley is optimistic about his expectations of tomorrow’s race. “I think we can win.” He claimed boldly. “There is gonna be a fight, everyone has to pull together; strategy, pit stops, there could be a bit of weather in play so there is always a challenge. We’re going for the win.”

    The low down force aero package appears to not be as much of a deficit to Porsche this weekend, something the team is pleasantly surprised about. However, qualifying third and fourth ahead of the six-hour race tomorrow was all Jani expected out of the cars today. “P1 and 2 definitely out of reach just due to strategy with the down force package over the season.” Jani explained, using a term he has used a lot this weekend by calling Silverstone Porsche’s ‘joker race’. “We know we give away performance but we hope to gain a lot in the second half [of the season].”

    In terms of the pace Porsche produced in qualifying with all things considered, Jani was ‘positively surprised’. “I think is important to mention. Last year, we did a 39.6 with a high down force package, or a higher down force. This year with the low down force package and we go one second quicker. Even though we lost down force and whatever we still went quicker. So I think that’s actually giving me a positive outlook for the future with that car.”

    Unlike his teammate, though, Jani does not think there is much they can do to catch the Toyotas in tomorrow’s race. “I think the only chance is if we pass them lap one.” He said when asked if there was any possibility they could challenge for a higher position. “2015 I had this big battle with Marcel, with the Audi. Audi was two seconds a lap quicker but because we were so much quicker on the straight they couldn’t overtake us. That worked out nearly until the end with a four second difference at the end. So I’m not sure that would work tomorrow but I would say that is our only big chance on track.

    “But on the other hand, just with racing, you need a bit of luck. Like last year, we won, we were not meant to win but we still won. You know, you never know how a race can turn out.”

    Jani may have written off the first round of the championship but he is nothing but positive about the prospect of round two at Spa-Francorchamps even with the low down force package on the car. Silverstone, in Jani’s opinion, should be the only race that sees Porsche losing performance to Toyota. “We think in Spa we could be not looking too bad. If we look really bad in Spa I think we should get a little worried.

    “I also think at Spa it could help us overall with traffic management because you can only do lap time on the straight line and over take on the straight line. In the middle sector you cannot overtake. So maybe in the race it will be helping us more than it will help us in qualifying. But I think we go with the positive outlook or view to spa after what we felt here.”