The Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring got off to a hectic start. Pole sitter, Tristan Vautier, lost the drag race down to turn one to Olivier Pla who took the Tequila Patron ESM down the inside of Vautier but contact between the two saw Pla spin into the gravel. Vautier continued but the #2 ESM re-joined at the back of the grid and retired shortly after. The #3 Corvette and #51 Spirit of Race Ferrari also made contact in the opening stages, the Ferrari picking up a left rear puncture.

In GTLM, BMW found themselves in a 1-2 position at the end of the first lap, James Calado had fallen like a stone and the #62 Risi Competizione Ferrari was running in seventh place.

It wasn’t long into the race when the first Full Course Yellow was called. The #52 Mathiasen Motorsport Ligier LMP2 lost control through the final corner, collecting the #64 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari and sending the GT car in to a low speed barrel role, which ended in the crash barriers. Frankie Montecalvo escaped the incident unharmed while Sebastian Saavedra managed to limp the damaged Ligier back to the pits. There were further incidents up and down the grid as the race reached the first pit window, Jordan Taylor made contact with one of the Audi GTD cars when exiting the pits and the two Ford GTs collided as they both left their respective boxes at the same time.

As the race closed in on the end of the second hour, Felipe Nasr had extended his lead, running up the front in clean air. But into the 120-minute mark, Graham Rahal had made some ground, reeling in the Brazilian former F1 driver as his tyres began to wear. Neither car would hold the lead by the end of hour three. But, with both drivers coming into the pits, the Rahal Acura dropped to fourth as the Cadillacs took up a one-two position with the Curran leading Taylor in the #31.

Closing in on the half way point and it was Pipo Derani who was setting the pace in the #22 ESM Tequila Patron Ligier Nissan. Ricky Taylor was running in second in the #7 Team Penske Acura - having established a 17 second lead before the latest FCY period.

Derani managed to take advantage of a number of slow Penske pit stops and a drive-thru penalty for Mike Conway in the #31 to pull a gap on the rest of the field. Spencer Pigot held third at this point in time, demonstrating the Mazda’s efficient fuel economy to undercut the front runners and despite a drive-thru penalty for Harry Tincknell (for running into the back of the #99 JDC Miller Motorsport), it was an impressive performance from the Team Joest Mazda. That said, the sister car lost eight laps due to rear brake issues for Tristan Nunez.

In the fifth hour of the race - in a rather bizarre turn of events - a spectator gazebo was blown over the trackside fence and landed on the circuit! Perfect timing for Ricky Taylor and the Acura squad who had just completed their pit stop before the caution, allowing them to emerge ahead of Pipo Derani and Mike Conway at the restart.

Alex Brundle span the #32 United Autosports Ligier at the restart, running off line at the final corner to overtake the GT field. Race Control called another caution as a result before restarting the race.

The safety car was called out again not long after Brundle’s spin to allow marshals to recover debris from the #99 car on the front straight and to clear up the collision between the #24 BMW of Jonathon Edwards and the #66 Ford GT of Dirk Muller.

Christina Nielsen spun the #58 Porsche at the restart in the process of attempting to overtake Jorg Bergmeister. Nielsen ended up facing backwards, the on coming back splitting to avoid the stricken Porsche, she spun the car around and got back into the race. It was this period of running that saw Derani begin to draw out his 17 second advantage and with a string of cautions and pit stops, the penalties previously awarded to the #55 and #31 cars were effectively written off, the two cars now occupied third and fourth respectively.

The race would be green for around 90 minutes before Dominik Baumann’s front end came lose on the #14 Lexus, blocking his view. He left the track at turn 1 and 2, taking an advertising board with him before re-joining the track, leaving the advertising board on the circuit. The safety car was called to allow the marshals to safely collect the advertising board as Baumann came into the pits.

The #25 BMW and #62 Ferrari dominated the early stages of the race in GTLM with the #25 holding the lead at the half way point.

Former Porsche LMP1 driver and Le Mans winner Nick Tandy sat third in the #911 Porsche while in GTD, a three-way battle raged between the #48 Paul Miller Racing Lamborghini, the #86 Michael Shank Racing Acura and the #29 Monaplast by Land Motorsport Audi.

Luca Stolz lead the field at the half way point in the #33 Riley Motorsports AMG Mercedes with Bryan Sellers tucked in behind him in the #48 Lamborghini.

With nine hours on the clock, the race was really heating up. Six Prototypes were running on the lead lap with the #55 Mazda leading the way. Battles up and down the pack were intensifying as darkness fell over Florida, all eyes were on the fight between the #31 Whelen Engineering Racing Cadillac of Mike Conway and the #22 Tequila Patron ESM Nissan Onroak DPI of Nicolas Lapierre whilst the #90 Spirit of Daytona Racing Cadillac kept an eye on the battle from a safe distance waiting to pounce.

The #55 Mazda was running a different strategy at this point, jumping to the front before falling back again through the pit stop windows. The car was in the hands of Jonathan Bomarito who had taken over from Harry Tincknell.

The #31 Whelen Cadillac was lucky to be in contention having escaped any punishment for spinning the #5 Mustang Sampling Racing Cadillac of Christian Fittipaldi at the start of the seventh hour. The #5 Cadillac, in the hands of Joao Barbosa collided with the #32 Performance Tech Motorsports Oreca at the final corner in the eighth hour of the racing, forcing both cars into the pits with significant damage to both. The #90 Spirit of Daytona Cadillac, now up in fourth place had Alex Brundle hot on his heels in the #32 United Autosports Ligier. The #10 Wayne Taylor Racing Cadillac completed the six-car line up in the lead lap of the race.

The third quarter of the race proved to be the end of the road for the Acura Team Penske squad. The #7 of Ricky Taylor was the first to fall with mechanical failures while the #6 of Juan Pablo Montoya also suffered mechanical difficulties stopping out on track before being recovered to the pits.

Fred Makoweicki held the lead in GTLM in the #911, with all five manufacturers still represented on the lead lap and in contention for the win. With 246 laps on the clock, the Porsche GT Team held an advantage of just two-tenths over the Risi Competizione Ferrari of James Calado. While the #3 Corvette C7.R of Tommy Milner was less than nine seconds further back in third place. The #912 Porsche, in 4th placem was lucky to have escaped a penalty earlier on in the hands of Nick Tandy after losing a rear bumper running across a kerb resulting in a FCY to allow the body work to be recovered.

In GTD, the top 10 cars were all still running on the lead lap. The #93 Michael Shank Racing Acura NSX GT3 of Lawson Aschenbach was leading the way from the #48 Paul Miller Racing Lamborghini Huracan of Madison Snow.

After nine hours of running, the top eight were covered by just 13 seconds! The #86 Acura holds third with the #33 Mercedes AMG Team Riley Motorsports and #63 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari rounding out the top five. The #29 Montaplast by Land Motorsport Audi, #58 Wright Motorsports Porsche and #75 SunEnergy1 Racing Mercedes were all arguably still in contention in this incredibly close class.

The Tequila Patron ESM Nissan Onroak DPI of Luis Felipe Derani, Nicholas Lapierre and Johannes van Overbeek took the win for the 2018 Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring with Porsche GT and Paul Miller Racing taking the GTLM and GTD category wins.

Derani took the final stint, climbing to the front of the field as the #55 Mazda Team Joest fell out of contention due to a slow pit stop, losing two minutes and a lap to the leaders. What made this worse for the team is that they had only been six seconds behind when they came into the pits! So when the clock hit 12, Derani had a 12.427 second advantage on the #10 Wayne Taylor Cadillac of Renger van der Zande, Jordan Taylor and Ryan Hunter-Reay.

The #31 Whelen Engineering Racing Cadillac took third place in the hands of Felipe Nasr, Mike Conway and Eric Curran although the #32 United Autosports Ligier gave them a run for their money. The final podium position was decided in the dying moments as Paul di Resta was forced in to the pits for a splash and dash. The additional pit stops resulted in the #38 Core Autosport Oreca leaping ahead of the #32 Ligier to claim fourth place ahead of the #55 Mazda which finished fifth.

Six laps off the pace in seventh was the #99 JDC-Miller Motorsports Oreca of Mikhail Goikhberg, Chris Miller and Stephen Simpson, while the second Mazda, delayed earlier in the race, was eighth, with the #77 of Oliver Jarvis, Tristan Nunez and Rene Rast ten laps behind the race winning Nissan.

The final hours of the GTLM battle was solely between Nick Tandy and Alexander Sims, the #911 Porsche of Tandy narrowly beating the #25 BMW Team RLL M8 GTLM by just 6.23 seconds at the end of the 12 hours. The sister #912 Porsche took third place 11 seconds behind Sims whilst the #67 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing GT recovered to fourth place, passing the #62 Risi Competizione Ferrari with just 15 minutes left on the clock.

In the final moments of GT Daytona, Bryan Sellers made a move on Jeroen Bleekemolen to take the win for Paul Miller Racing by 8.169 seconds. Sellers, alongside Madison Snow and Corey Lewis were fighting hard for much of the final quarter with the Riley Motorsports AMG GT3. The Mercedes crew were forced to defend from the #63 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari allowing the Paul Miller crew to pull ahead just out of reach.

Christopher Mies, Sheldon van der Linde and Alessio Picariello ended off the podium in fourth in the Montaplast by Land-Motorsport Audi, with the #15 3GT Racing Lexus RC F GT3 of Jack Hawksworth, David Heinemeier Hansson and Dominik Farnbacher fifth.

The top ten in the GT Daytona class all finished on the lead lap, with the #58 Wright Motorsports Porsche, the #93 and #86 Michael Shank Racing Acuras, the #73 Park Place Motorsports Porsche and the #75 SunEnergy1 Racing Mercedes all completing the same number of laps as the class victors.

Action Express Cadillac held the early advantage in the 15 minute qualifying session with 16 cars vying for poll position at the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring. Juan Pablo Montoya temporarily held pole position in the Penske Acura before Tristan Vautier, in the #90 Spirit of Daytona Cadillac took the qualifying lap record twice, first of all with a 1:47.71 and then shortly after, he posted a time of 1:47.432 to cement pole position for the Florida team.

All 10 DPIs were ahead of the P2 entries with ESM in the mix as well for the front positions on the grid, Olivier Pla took second place despite power sliding through turn 17 in the #2 ESM.  The #7 Acura took third position ahead of the #22 ESM with a time of 1:47.834. It was positive news from the Mazda Team Joest camp, Rene Rast qualified in seventh place ahead of the Mustang Sampling and Konica Minolta Cadillacs. The 10 DPI entries were split by just 9 tenths of a second whilst seven tenths split the P2 runners, the quickest of which, the #99 JDC Miller/Gainsco Oreca was about 1.4 seconds off the pace of the #90 SDR Cadillac. Oreca hold the advantage in LMP2, all four chassis ahead of the two Ligier entries.

Headlines in GTLM also this weekend as the BMW M8 GTE took its first pole position, Connor de Phillippi beating the 2017 lap record by a tenth with a time of 1:55.839. It was by no means an easy pole for the BMW however, James Calado in the Risi Competizione Ferrari came within just 0.058 of the pole time whilst Joey Hand also challenged the #25 BMW but to no aveil. By the end of the session, the top six were split by just 0.412s, the #24 BMW rounded out the top three whilst Ford Chip Ganassi Racing took fourth and fifth and the 912 Porsche 911 RSR took sixth position.

The #51 Spirit of Race Ferrari took pole position in GTD in the hands of Daniel Serra who has teamed up the Aston Martin GTE Am factory line up of Paul Dalla Lana, Pedro Lamy and Mathias Lauda.

Gunnar Jeannette took an early lead in the #63 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari, posting a time of 1:59.609 early on in the session. Serra was quickly up to speed, going just over a tenth slower on his first flying lap, Jack Hawksworth the same behind Serra in the #15 Lexus before both Christopher Mies and Jack Hawksworth briefly each topped the time charts. Serra continued to push hard though and made it four provisional pole sitters in just a matter of minutes, five GTD cars under the previous lap record. The battle went down to the closing minutes, Serra taking a further few tenths out of his lap time was now 1 second below the previous record and half a second clear of Christopher Mies in the Montaplast by Land-Motorsport Audi.

The 6 hours of Spa Francorchamps kicks off a new era for the FIA World Endurance Championship on May 5th as the premier series for long-distance sports car racing launches its unique ‘super-season’ – and you can be there to witness it with Speed Chills.

As you may have seen, your favourite motor racing travel operator has some great offers for the race at Belgium’s majestic Spa-Francorchamps circuit – and it got us thinking: what exactly is it about this place that makes it a mecca for motorheads?

Having fun at Spa Francorchamps

So here it is: our six-point guide to the jewel of European motor racing. If you haven’t been, it’s a must for any bucket list. And if you have, well, treat this as a reminder why a return is long overdue.

1. Spectators’ paradise

From Les Combes to Rivage, down to No Name and Pouhon, sweeping through the Les Fagnes esses to Stavelot and on to Blanchimont… there’s no finer strip of race track anywhere in the world. The elegant pines of the Ardennes forests make for a stunning setting as the circuit climbs through the epic Eau Rouge and Raidillon, then along the Kemmel straight before swooping and diving back through the valley over 4.3 magnificent miles. Our tip: take a decent pair of walking boots and stroll all the way up to the inside of Rivage. The views all the way back to the paddock are stunning, and there’s nowhere better to watch (and listen) to the world’s finest racing cars.

2. The adorable Ardennes

There’s something in the air around these parts – and we don’t just mean the odd drop of rain… Even away from the circuit, you can almost taste the motor racing history that has seeped into this ancient woodland over the past near-century. Francorchamps village, just a wander up the hill from La Source and the prime location for the Speed Chills guest houses, is quite charming – the perfect place to relax with a glass of something good after a day at the races. And a visit to the town of Spa itself, connected by superb Belgian country roads, is worth a visit too – especially if you’re looking for somewhere with a touch of class to eat. Fine restaurants are plentiful.

Porsche 911 GTE-Pro at Spa Francorchamps

3. frites and mayonnaise: magnifique!

But in truth, who needs haute cuisine when you can indulge in the pride of Belgian fare. After a long hike around the circuit’s sweeps, the sustenance from a portion of local frites topped with a dollop of mayo will be the best thing you’ve ever tasted – and that’s a cast-iron promise. We know: you’re thinking ‘they’re only chips’. But think again. In these parts, they are a genuine delicacy that are an essential side order to a weekend feast of motor racing.

4. Belgian beer (hic!)

And what better way to wash them down than with a glug of the area’s famous local mineral water… Only joking! Belgium is quite correctly famous for its range of dark and blond beers. Our next vital tip: tuck the car up for the night and take a table at L’Acqua Rossa or Le Relais de Pommard in Francorchamps. The food is good; a quaffed beer or three even better.

5. The awesome old circuit

‘If you love the new circuit, you should have seen the old one…’ It’s something of a cliché for old timers to rave about the ‘old’ Spa – but clichés usually only enter the lexicon because of a fundamental truth, and that’s certainly the case here. Brian Redman, veteran of fearsome Porsche 917s and Ford GT40s and one of the finest sports car races ever, admits he used to cry himself to sleep the night before a race, such was his white fear for the flat out 8.7-mile triangle. Where the modern track turns right at Les Combes, the original circuit ploughed straight on downhill to Burnenville, sweeping right and on to Masta before turning again at Stavelot for the tree-lined blast back to Blanchimont. A true road course, it’s all still there to experience – albeit at a somewhat more modest pace than Henri Pescarolo’s all-time lap record set in 1973 (in a Matra sports car, not a Formula 1) of 163mph… Do not even consider visiting Spa without a drive around the old track, ideally after digging out some old photos to understand just how crazy it used to be. You’ll be mesmerised.

6. Be a part of history

A trip this year to the 6 Hours will stand out in the memory for one more significant reason: the birth of the exciting ‘super-season’. In a bid to break with tradition and end a world championship season at Le Mans in June, WEC’s organisers have chosen a new format for their series. Starting at Spa, the championship will then head for the famous 24 Hours at Le Mans, before three more six-hour rounds at Silverstone, Fuji and Shanghai complete the schedule for 2018. But the season won’t stop with the calendar year. In March 2019 it continues with a new 1500-mile race at Sebring in Florida, before returning to Spa for another 6 Hours and finishing at Le Mans. So yes, two 6 hours of Spa Francorchamps and two Le Mans 24 Hours counting for one, single season. It will surely live up to its ‘super’ status.

Oh, and if this isn’t all reason enough for a visit, there’s also the small matter of a certain Spaniard making his WEC debut at Spa this year. Some bloke from F1. Fernando Alonso, we believe he’s called. In a Toyota LMP1.

Toyota LMP1 at Spa Francorchamps

You won’t want to miss that, will you? Come on: what are you waiting for? More on the WEC 6 hours of Spa-Francorchamps

Damien Smith, former Editor of Motor Sport Magazine

The capital is the place to be this week for car and racing enthusiasts as the London Classic Car Show returns to the cavernous halls of the ExCel complex.

If you head to the ExCel (and you really should) be sure to pop by the Speed Chills stand in the Historic Motorsport International Show section (HM133) where you can win a trip for four to Le Mans Classic this summer. Scooping that prize really would make your visit worthwhile.

Historic Motorsport International 2018

Highlights of previous shows include curated displays celebrating the careers of F1 design heroes Adrian Newey and Gordon Murray, while six-time Le Mans winner Jacky Ickx made a rare public appearance in Britain last year to celebrate his 70th birthday. He was on great form, as I found out first-hand during a privileged one-on-one interview before the show opened.

So the 2018 edition has a lot to live up. Thankfully, the line-up looks certain to deliver once again.

Nigel Mansell is guest of honour this time around and will receive the show's Icon Award. The 1992 F1 World Champion (who, you might remember, also made an ignominious appearance at Le Mans in 2010, crashing out early on) will appear on Sunday afternoon and is bound to draw a crowd. He always does.

Among the cars from his career that will be on display is the Williams-Renault FW14B in which he claimed his F1 title in emphatic fashion more than 25 years ago. Hard to believe it was that long ago.

Another draw will be the Getaway Car display curated by TV actor Philip Glenister (he of Ashes to Ashes fame and therefore a man who will always be associated with the Audi Quattro). For me, a Jaguar Mk2 has to be the ultimate getaway car, in real life or fiction, so I was cheered to see Glenister agrees. One is among his collection.

More motoring personalities will appear on stage at the Supagard Theatre, situated in the sister Historic Motorsport International show taking place in a nearby hall (and open to all Classic Car ticket holders). My old mate Henry Hope-Frost is hosting and will ensure plenty of entertaining chatter to complement the wonderful array of machinery on display.

The London Classic Car Show, which uniquely includes a Grand Avenue upon which road and racing cars parade each day, opens on Thursday evening with a special preview, then runs through Friday and into the weekend.

Speaking of Le Mans, you can't have missed the big news for this year's 24 Hours in June. I must admit, I thought it was a long shot for 2018 – but it's confirmed: Fernando Alonso is heading for La Sarthe to make his Le Mans debut in a Toyota hybrid LMP1.

What a huge boost for the race, particularly in the wake of Porsche's withdrawal. Alonso's status in F1 will make him the headline figure in June and even if one driver can't make up for Porsche's LMP1 absence, his presence will probably draw more attention to the great race this year than we've seen for a while.

Can he win first time out, as his F1 comrade Nico Nulkenberg did a couple of years ago for Porsche? Well, that's absolutely his intention. And with Toyota bound to be hot favourites in the absence of ‘factory' opposition, the Spaniard knows he has a great chance.

He should at least get further than Mansell managed... Then again, he'll also be more than aware that he can't take anything for granted, especially give the team he's driving for. Toyota's hoodoo at Le Mans is becoming a heavy weight for the Japanese giant to bear as each year passes. To win the race, Alonso and his team-mates will have to beat the race – and that is something Toyota has famously never achieved, despite a chain of painful close calls.

What a time to lift the curse. It's going to be unmissable.

Remember to visit Speed Chills on stand HM133!

This afternoon in Paris, the ACO/FIA unveiled the entrance list for the 2018/2019 FIA World Endurance Championship "Super Season" and the 2018 24 Hours of Le Mans.

The "Super Season" consists of 36 entries across the four categories with teams representing 12 different countries. The grid consists of 10 LMP1 cars, 7 entries in LMP2, 10 entries in GTE Pro with the addition of BMW for this year and 9 entries in GTE Am.

"It's very satisfying to have 36 competitors including six major manufacturers and a good balance between prototypes and GTEs. This is just the start!" WEC CEO Gerard Neveu said. "Now the show goes on and we are confident the figures will continue to increase as they have done for the last six years. Welcome to the Super Season!"

After Porsche pulled out of the championship towards the end of 2016, everyone thought LMP1 was done but just six months later, there are 10 full season entries in the class, one of which has Fernando Alonso at the wheel. Toyota recently announced their updated TS050 for the 2018-2019 season and a commitment to the sport and the championship to help them develop further their hybrid technology.

Toyota will be the only two hybrid cars on the grid this year which features eight privately entered cars. Rebellion make a return to LMP1 with the R13, Andre Lotterer and Neel Jani included in the line-up after making the switch from Porsche.

ByKolles dropped out of the 2017 season after the European leg to focus on developing the 2018 car. They will make a return to the championship this season in the ENSO CLM P1/01. They will be joined by two CEFC TRSM Racing entries, the new Ginetta G60 LT-P1.

BR1 LMP1 2018

BR Engineering unveiled their new car in Bahrain at the end of 201, two of them will be run by SMP Racing who return to the series for the first time since 2016 with an AER engine and the third will be run by Dragon Speed who have established a new driver line up that includes Renger van der Zande and Ben Hanley. In LMP2, there will be seven entries across three different chassis manufacturers, Oreca, Dallara and Ligier. Signatech Alpine Matmut and TDS Racing make a return alongside Jackie Chan DC Racing. Along with their LMP1 entrant, DragonSpeed will also field an LMP2 entry and Racing Team Nederland join the championship with Giedo ven der Garde leading their line up. Making their return to the FIA WEC, Larbre Competition make the switch from the GTE Corvette in to LMP2 having sat out the 2017 season.

GTE sees the addition of BMW to the grid this year with the M8 GTE, the two cars will line up alongside the all new Aston Martin Vantage AMR, (with two new drivers this year, Alex Lynn and Maxime Martin). AF Corse Ferrari of course return with the latest generation 488GTE whilst Ford return with the two Chip Ganassi Team UK GT's and Porsche return with the latest generation 911 RSR.

The LM GTE class is the largest it has been this year featuring nine full season entries across three different manufacturers. 2017 champions Paul Dalla Lana, Pedro Lamy and Mathias Lauda return for Aston Martin and will be joined by a second Aston entered by TF Sport. Clearwater Racing return to the championship alongside Spirit of Race along with new entry MR Racing. The Aston Martins and Ferrari's will be joined by four Porsche 911 RSRs from Depsey Proton Racing, Gulf Racing and Project 1.

Start of the Le Mans 24 Hours

The entry list for the 24 Hours of Le Mans was released shortly after the WEC announcement with a capacity grid of 60 cars announced for the event due to take place on June 16th-17th.

All 10 LMP1 cars will challenge for the overall win, eight non-hybrid LMP1 cars alongside the two Toyota TS050 Hybrids.

In LMP2, there will be three chassis manufacturers represented this year with entries from Ligier, Oreca and Dallara. The 7 full season entries will be joined by 13 other LMP2 entries totalling 20 LMP2 prototypes alongside the 10 LMP1.

17 cars have been entered in the GTE Pro class at Le Mans with Ford also entering the two IMSA GT's along with Porsche who will also field the two American 911's. Corvette return for the French endurance classic whilst Ferrari will also field an additional 488 GTE under the AF Corse team.

In GTE Am, the 9 full season entrants will be joined by an additional four cars from Ebimotors, JMW Motorsport, Proton Competition and Keating Motorsports. There are nine reserve entries this year including Scuderia Corsa, Krohn Racing and BAR1.

Alongside the FIA WEC and Le Mans entry release this afternoon, Ginetta confirmed their first two drivers for the G60-LT-P1 which will both be run by CEFC TRSM Racing (Manor Endurance). Formula 2 race winner Oliver Rowland and 2015 European Le Mans Series LMP3 Champion Charlie Robertson will each pilot one of the cars.

Ginetta LMP1 2018 - Manor Endurance

Ginetta Chairman Lawrence Tomlinson said; "I'm delighted to confirm that CEFC TRSM Racing will be running a two car effort in the FIA WEC and LE Mans 24 Hours. Our LMP1 project has brought together some of the brightest stars in motorsport design and engineering, and the next chapter will see CEFC TRSM Racing announcing driving talent of equally high measure. Personally, I am delighted to see Charlie Robertson's name on the entry list. We have taken him from a 14 year old experiencing his very first race car in the Ginette Junior Championship, all the way to the pinnacle of international motorsport and that's something we strive to do for every one of our drivers."

Graeme Lowdon, President and Sporting Director: "We are very happy to welcome Oliver to the team, we have followed him closely over the years and have been very impressed with his performances. Although this will be his first season in sports cars we have every confidence that he will adapt to LMP1 very quickly. It is great to be returning to FIA WEC and we are looking forward to starting the season at the Prologue in April."

Oliver Rowland, Driver: "I am very excited to be joining TRSM for the LMP1 World Endurance Championship. Endurance racing is a new experience for me and it will create a fresh challenge, but I am really looking forward to working with the team and driving such an amazing car.

Competing in the 24 Hours of Le Mans is extremely exciting and it's something that I've always wanted to race in. I can't wait to get started with the team to ensure we get the best out of the package and moving forward seeing if we can challenge for some fantastic results in the championship."

Felipe Albuquerque brought the #5 Mustang Sampling Racing Cadillac home with 808 laps complete to take the distance record and Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona victory. Albuquerque was under instruction from the team to lift and coast during the final hour, even switching off the engine completely in an effort to keep the overheating issue under control. He crossed the line with a 70 second lead over the #31 Whelen Engineering car to take his first overall victory at Daytona whilst Christian Fittipaldi and Joao Barbosa celebrate their third each.

British GT4 Champion and Sunoco Challenge winner Stuart Middleton took the #31 car home in second place ahead of Colin Braun in the #54 CORE Autosport P2. The #32 United Autosport Ligier was handed P4 late in the day with Antonio Felix De Costa called into the pits for a penalty for speeding in the pit lane. Will Owen took the #32 car home 15 seconds ahead of De Costa. Middleton takes the record for the youngest podium finisher in the Rolex 24, a record he took from team mate Felipe Nasr who previously claimed it in the 2012 event.

Taking 11th place overall, the #67 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing GT won the GTLM class.

"It was just an amazing 24-hour race," said Westbrook. "Racing with our team-mates, they're our friends, and racing that hard for 24 hours, there was just nothing in it. It felt like ages we were just one second apart. It was just incredible and was so intense. I thought we put on a really good show. To come away with the 200th win for Chip and have Dan Gurney on our car made it ever so sweet."

"To get to drive a Ford GT is just a dream come true and to win the Rolex 24 is just awesome," added Briscoe.

It was a disappointing start for BMW with the new M8 GTE which finished seventh and ninth in GTD. BMW felt they were hit badly by the Balance of Performance guidelines and will be looking to discuss this with IMSA officials before the next round of the IMSA WeatherTech Sports Car Championship in March at Sebring International Raceway.

The #11 GRT Grasser Racing Team Lamborghini took the win in GTD, claiming Lamborghinis first ever 24 hour race victory, not just for the Huracan but overall. Despite starting at the back of the grid, Mirko Bortolotti, Rik Breukers, Franck Perera and Rolf Ineichen fought through the pack to take the win.

Stefano Domenicali, the Chairman and CEO of Automobili Lamborghini, was delighted to see the Italian mark on the top step of the podium:
"First of all I would like to congratulate the Grasser Racing Team and the Paul Miller Racing Team for this extraordinary result," said Domenicali. "The first and third position in GTD class represent something special, obtained in one of the most famous endurance races in the world. Along with them the drivers, who did a fantastic job and have conducted our cars in an impeccable way.

"A special thanks to the whole team of Lamborghini Squadra Corse, from our Chief Technical Officer Maurizio Reggiani to the Head of Motorsport Giorgio Sanna and to all those who work with passion every day in motorsport at Sant'Agata Bolognese, but also worldwide in the various championships where Lamborghini is racing with its cars and its customer teams.

"I was also particularly pleased to see the Italian flag waving on the podium in Florida. The United States is a reference market for us and having achieved such an important victory in the US gives us the boost to continue improving both on motorsport and product side."

As the race closed in on the half distance mark, the two Team Penske Acura's and the two Action Express Racing Cadillacs were more than two laps clear on the rest of the field. The #7 Penske Acura held the lead in the hands of Ricky Taylor before the next round of pit stops with fierce competition from Joao Barbosa (#5 Mustang Sampling Racing) and Felipe Nasr in the #31 Whelen Engineering Racing Cadillac. The young Brazilian's experience was shining through, and was demonstrated by a great move which saw the #31 jumped from fourth in to second. From the exit of the infield on to the banking, Nasr tucked in behind the #5 and #6 Acura's, around the banking and down the back straight before pulling out of the slip stream and beating both cars on the brakes into the bus stop chicane.

The #2 Tequila Patron ESM and #23 United Autosport cars were both suffering mechanical faults. Ryan Dalziel was forced into the pits with gearbox issues on the #2 car whilst Fernando Alonso was forced into the pits with a brake master cylinder failure. Lando Norris took the wheel as the car emerged from the pits after a 40 minute stint in the garage.

Ford Chip Ganassi Racing were dominating in GT Le Mans, Dirk Muller leading the way in the #66 car from the #67 of Ryan Brisco with just a couple of seconds between them. Corvette were standing strong in third and fourth with Laurens Vanthoor rounding out the top five in the #912 Porsche GT 911 RSR.

In GT Daytona, the #33 Team Riley Motorsports Mercedes AMG of British GT and Blancpain racer Adam Christodoulou was leading the way from the #11 GRT Grasser Racing Lamborghini Huracan of Rolf Ineichen.

As we passed the 12 hour point, Graham Rahal lost control of the #7 Acura under breaking into turn one, with competition at the front so close, Rahal dropped down to fourth before he could get the car going again. Simon Pagenaud inherited the lead in the #6 sister car with Christian Fittipaldi taking second in the #5 Mustang Sampling Cadillac and Toyota factory driver Mike Conway moving into third in the #31 Whelen Engineering Racing car. The four cars were split by just 20 seconds with Fittipaldi and Conway running nose to tail.

Ford were still running nose to tail in GTLM with Dirk Muller and Ryan Briscoe over a lap ahead of Mike Rockefeller and Marcel Fassler in the two Corvettes.

By the end of hour 13 Jan Magnussen (#3) was one lap down on the two Fords whilst Oliver Gavin was two laps down in the #4.

The front four were still out in front of the rest of the field, the cars swapping positions through the pitstops Mike Conway was in the lead by the end of hour thirteen. The gap between the four cars was beginning to grow and was now out to thirty five seconds. Dane Cameron held second place at the wheel of the #6 Team Penske Acura thirteen seconds behind whilst Christian Fittipaldi now back in third having led in the previous hour. Graham Rahal was still in fourth having spun in the previous hour and pushing to close the gap. Pipo Derani lost a lap on the leaders having regained in in the past hour. The #22 Tequila Patron ESM was two laps down in fifth place. The #37 Jackie Chan DC Racing Jota sat sixth in the hands of Felix Rosenqvist. Ho-Pin Tung had issues in the sister Jackie Chan DC car left the track at the Bus Stop Chicane, damaging the rear wing and rear body work.

Pipo Derani came in to the pits shortly into the fourteenth hour with smoke pouring from the engine. A blown turbo charger knocked the #22 Tequila Patron ESM out of contention. The #31 Cadillac continued to pull ahead at the front of the pack with just three cars left on the lead lap now. Having got into the car a couple of hours previously, young Lando Norris was lapping almost a second quicker than the race leaders.

Filipe Albuquerque retook the lead at the end of hour 15 in the #5 Mustang Sampling Cadillac. The Portuguese driver lead a three way fight for the lead between the Cadillacs and the #7 Team Penske Acura which now had Helio Castroneves at the wheel. Eric Curran in the #31 Whelen Engineering Cadillac began the hour in the lead from Action Express Racing team-mate Albuquerque but was soon delayed as rear brake light failure necessitated changing the rear wing in a off-sequence pit-stop. The stop dropped him a minute and a half behind his team-mate and had dropped a lap off the leader by the end of the hour. Albuquerque took a 12 second lead as a result.

Bruno Senna sat in fourth place in the #32 United Autosports Ligier two laps down on the top 3. Former Audi driver Loic Duval held fifth in the #54 Core Autosports Oreca.

In GTLM, Ford were still leading the way comfortably, Sebastien Bourdais leading the #67 Ford of Scott Dixon. Corvette were over a lap behind still, Antonio Garcia holding third place in the #3. The two Fords switched positions every couple of laps, the gap holding at less than a second as they swapped positions around the banking, it was a fantastic display of precision driving from the two cars, neither driver putting a foot wrong. Antonio Garcia was out on his own, one lap up on Tommy Milner but a lap behind the Fords.

It was a tough debut for BMW who were debuting the M8 GTE. The #25 car of Philipp Eng spent a prolonged period of time behind the wall.

In GTD, Alvaro Parente took the lead for Acura from the #48 Paul Miller Racing Lamborghini and the #11 GRT Lamborghini that had been running nose to tail for most of the hour. Trent Hindman gave the #86 Acura over to Parente who quickly set about hunting down the #48 Lamborghini Perera under went a full brake change at the pit stop and dropped down the order to fifth.

A third Full Course Yellow during hour 16 but all attention was on the outcome of unseen contact to the #7 Team Penske Acura saw the car pulled into the garage for repairs. Hello Castroneves dropped a number of laps and as a result, the #32 United Autosports car inherited third.

The Full Course Yellow was caused by Jorg Bergmeister who ran wide through the Bus Stop Chicane, the Park Place Motorsports car span and made contact with the inside wall. Bergmeister got the car going again and continued on down in twelfth place in GTD. A number of cars took the opportunity to pit for new tyres and fuel under the FCY; the #48 Paul Miller Racing Lamborghini took the opportunity for a brake replacement and tyres, gifting the lead back to the #11 GRT Lamborghini. The #48 returned to the race in third. The caution period lasted for fifteen minutes before returning to green. The #5 car lead the restart and quickly lapped the #31 Mustang Sampling Racing Cadillac which had suffered issues in the previous stint.

Renger van der Zander suffered yet another right rear puncture before the team made the decision to withdraw the car from the race on safety grounds. Speaking on IMSA Radio, "I can't put into words how disappointing this has been for our partners, the team, the drivers" Wayne Taylor said after retiring the car. "We had a tyre failure with Jordan in the car once, we went to Continental and we were within the tyre pressures. We continued on and Renger had six or seven catastrophic failures. We have gone through so many parts on the car that now, because nobody can tell us what is happening, I can not afford to put a driver at risk."

With the sun rising over Daytona, the #5 was pushed back into the garage for a service under Full Course Yellow conditions. The car had been losing water overnight resulting in overheating. The car was back on track with minimal delay. The #86 Michael Shank Racing Acura GTD caused the off FCY after briefly leaving the track.

Having suffered from a multitude of issues throughout the race, the #55 Mazda Team Joest car pulled onto the side of the track, the rear of the car engulfed in flames. Jonathan Bomarito exited the car safely as the marshals extinguished the blaze. The #55 had been running fifteenth at the time, aiming for a top ten finish. The #77 sister was was later pushed in behind the wall. At the front, Colin Braun was pushing hard in the #54 CORE Autosports P2 car, hunting down third place which was currently occupied by the #32 United Autosport Ligier.

Ford were still dominant in GTLM, the two #66 and #67 GT's a lap up on Corvette. The #3 car was arguably still in contention should something happen to either one of the Fords.

Katherine Legge was slowly catching the GTD class leader in the #86 Acura NSX as the sun rose higher over the Florida coast line. Having run off the circuit and through an advertising banner at the International Horseshoe in front of other cars, Legge was under stewards investigation. Running through the advertising barrier resulted in debris and sandbags being scattered all over the track which led to a Full Course Yellow.

Mike Conway's hopes of taking victory came to an end in the 19th hour. The #31 Cadillac lost three laps due to a leak in the radiator system which saw the car return to the its to be refilled. Unlike the #5 Cadillac which was suffering from similar issues, Conway pitted under full green flag running and lost a substantial amount of time to the race leaders. The problem struck for Conway in the midst of battle with Christian Fittipaldi as the pair raced through the Daytona infield. Fitipaldi was left with a comfortable lead but he was under pressure from Colin Braun who was fighting to reclaim a lap on the leaders. Brauns move on Fittipaldi meant he was now on the same lap as the third place #32 United Autosport Ligier and in genuine contention for third place. Braun took the quickest lap of the race at this point, taking two seconds from Will Own in the Ligier. Braun took third place shortly after, Paul Di Resta had clutch problems leaving the pits but eventually got going with the clutch removed. The #32 car was now running firth behind Ho-Pin Tung in the #78 Jackie Chan DC Oreca. Meanwhile, it was more bad luck for the #23 United Autosport Ligier as it was back behind the wall.

The previous FCY had eliminated Fords advantage in GTLM, the #3 Corvette with Mike "Rocky" Rockenfeller was right under the rear wing of Ryan Briscoe in the #67 Ford but was unable to get by. The fight was on as the race entered the final hours. Adam Christodoulou was leading GTD but was out of sync on the pitstops, in reality, it was the #11 GRT Lamborghini with Lamborghini factory driver Mirko Bortolotti at the wheel that would hold the lead once Christodoulou stopped. The #11 GRT crew had put in a stunning performance having started the race last due to a qualifying infringement. but halfway through hour 19, with the Mercedes in the pits, Bortolotti took the lead from the #48 Paul Miller Motorsports Lamborghini. The #86 Michael Shank Acura held third place. The #29 Monaplast Land Audi of Christopher Mies had fought his way back up the field and now sat in sixth place. The #51 Spirit of Racing Ferrari ended the hour in the wall at the Bus Stop, Paul Dalla Lana made heavy contact with the tyre wall.

Back at the front, Joao Barbosa held a four lap lead and backed off the pace a fraction to conserve the car, putting in a record length stint in the process of 24 laps. Felipe Nasr held second place in the #31 Whelen Engineering Cadillac but he had Loic Duval rapidly closing the gap in the #53 Core Autosports Oreca. Both lead Cadillacs were still suffering from overheating issues but whilst Barbosa could ease off the pace to save the car, Nasr was having to push to hold of the advancing Duval.

Despite the gap closing dramatically in GTLM between the Fords and third place Corvette at the end of the last caution period, both of the Chip Ganassi GTs managed to pull out a 40 second advantage by the end of hour 21. Risi Competition suffered another right rear puncture which dropped them to the rear of the GTLM field. Speculation from the pit lane during the night questioned whether Continental had issued 12 month old tyres which was resulting in the failures? The more likely cause of failures was the amount of green flag running we have seen this year. The 2018 Rolex 24 At Daytona is on track to be a record breaking distance race.

Filipe Albuquerque held a comfortable lead as the race entered the penultimate hour of the 2018 Rolex 24 At Daytona. Albuquerque had backed off the ultimate pace to ensure the engine made it to the end of the race. As a result the four lap advantage the team had held just a couple of hours previously was now down to just one lap over the #31 Whelen Engineering Cadillac. All of a sudden, having been 3 laps down, Mike Conway was now back in the game. His focus however was on the car behind him and securing a 1-2 finish for Action Express Racing. By the end of the hour, the CORE Autosport car had dropped back a lap on Conway.

Slightly further behind, the battle was raging for fourth place between Bruno Senna (#32) and Antonio Felix de Costa in the #78 Jackie Chan DC Racing Oreca. De Costa was hit with a drive thru penalty for speeding in the pits which saw Senna extend his lead. Juan Pablo Montoya was also handed a drive thru penalty after forcing the #29 Audi of Kelvin van der Linde off the circuit on the infield Kink.

The #23 United Autosports Ligier was back behind the wall with further undisclosed issues.

In GTLM, it was the same old story; Ford out front, the #66 leading at this point in time as we near the end of hour 23 by just 2.3 seconds. Jan Magnussen was a lap off the pair down in third.

Lamborghini continued to lead the way in GTD and are on track for their first ever 24 Hour race win. Lamborghini have never won a 24 hour race be-it Daytona, Nurburging, Le Mans or Spa to name but a few. It is Mirko Bortolotti who leads the way for Grasser Racing Team Lamborghini. The car that started last after a qualifying infringement, carries a 30 second lead over the #86 Michael Shank Racing Acura of Alvaro Parente.

As the halfway point looms closer, it is the #5 Mustang Sampling Motorsport leading the way, as it has since the green flag started the race. Ford Chip Ganassi have found their footing in the GT Le Mans class and have steadily been increasing their lead over the Corvette Racing cars who round off the top three. It had been the #29 Montaplast GT Daytona car dominating the scene, but a long stop/go penalty just a few hours ago has handed the advantage to Mercedes-running #33 Team Riley Motorsport.

Cadillac and tyres were the talk of the opening ten hours of racing at the 56th Rolex 24 at Daytona, with both aspects dominating the race. Cadillac had shown the pace over the week, but within the first hour the manufacturer had locked out the top four. Helio Castroneves and the #7 Team Penske have been the only non-Cadillac running Prototype to put in any sort of challenge for the overall victory, currently running second to the Mustang Sampling car.

It was drama from before the green flag as the #58 Wright Motorsport Porsche suffered damage. On cold tyres, the car was lost on the formation lap and spun, hitting heavily into the barriers. The car limped back to the pits, unable to make the start. It returned to the track two and a half hours into the race, currently running in last place.

The battle for the prototype/overall lead of the race originally looked to be a battle between the #10 Wayne Taylor Racing and the #5 Mustang Sampling, but a puncture saw the #10 drop down the grid with a lot of work to do if they wished to repeat their successes from last year. Punctures would quickly become the talk of the race as car after car made an unscheduled pit stop to replace damaged tyres.

The battle was actually between #5 and #7 as the Team Penske crew fought hard to overcome the pace deficit they had on the Cadillac-running cars. Pit stop cycles keep swapping the cars, but at the time of publishing it’s the #5 Cadillac controlling the race.

The only change to this came in the sixth hour of the race. The rain had started to fall, and Mike Conway pitted his #31 Whelen Engineering Racing at the perfect time to swap for wet weather tyres. He was rapid off the bat, blasting into the lead of the race with superior pace and skills on the damp track. Unfortunately, this only lasted until the rain stopped and the track began to dry. After that, normal proceedings of Mustang Sampling vs Team Penske returned.

Fernando Alonso’s 24-hour race debut got off to a strong start as he finished his first hour stint in ninth place overall. His team mates Lando Norris and Phil Hanson continued his good work to get the #23 United Autosports placed eighth overall as the highest placed LMP2 car on track. However, just before publishing the #23 was taken behind the wall for repairs and has yet to return to the circuit.

Only two full course yellows have hindered the racing in the first half of the race, with significantly better weather conditions this year compared to last. The #38 Performance Tech Motorsport was making an impressive debut at the IMSA Rolex 24 at Daytona when, in the third hour, it ran out of fuel at the oval.

The second full course caution came in the early stages of the morning. The #52 Mathiasen Motorsport came out of the pits on cold tyres and pushed too hard. The result was a big spin into the barrier with a lot of debris to clean up. The second full course caution lasted about twenty minutes.

GT Le Mans has been dominated by Ford Chip Ganassi Racing since the third hour. It had looked like Corvette Racing were going to put in a decent fight for the lead, but the two Ford GTs have disappeared into the distance with a competitive 1-2 in class.

The Porsche 911 RSRs have started to come to life in the last few hours. The #911 Porsche GT Team car was competitively fighting for the last spot of the podium in hour six and seven; and is still in contention now as they battle with the #62 Ferrari Risi Competizione. They are still within a big chance of taking a podium finish in their first race of the year.

James Calado had some misfortune in the #62 which dropped the car down to fourth in class. A loose door saw him have to take an unscheduled pit stop during the first full course caution, meaning that he lost time in his stop. The Ferrari team are currently in a close battle with the two Porsches holding the positions in front and behind them.

The GT Daytona class looked to be in the hands of the #29 Monatplast, with the promise of a to-the-line battle with the #33. But race stewards dashed that hope when they handed the GTD leader a 5 minute stop and go penalty for a violation of the balance of Performance. Monatplast team boss thought the issue was to do with the fuel flow rate, but nothing further has been said on the matter.

The Ferraris have dropped back a bit in GTD, leaving the lead to be taken and extended by the Mercedes #33. It had looked like the Ferraris were going to be a threat to the front runners, but such pace has not been seen since around the third hour of the race.

Amid all the damage and issues the cars have been having, particularly the two Mazda prototypes that hav been in and out of the pits for repairs and electrical issues througout the first half of the race, only one car has officially retired from the race. The #90 Spirit of Daytona Cadillac was forced to park in the garage as a misfire issue plauged the car in the ninth hour and was not repairable. A maximum of 49 cars will take the chequered flag.

A staggering lap from Renger van der Zande gave last year’s overall winners, #10 Wayne Taylor Racing, pole position ahead of the 2018 Rolex 24 at Daytona. It was a very close battle in the Prototype Class, with less than 100th of a second splitting the top two. Corvette Racing took glory in the GT Le Mans class, whilst the Spirit of Race/AF Corse #51 crew took pole in the GT Daytona class.

Helio Castroneves was favourite to claim pole ahead of the first 24 hour race of the year after the #7 Penske Acura had been the pacesetter throughout practice sessions. He started the session strong, taking the ARX-05 to provisional pole with a 1:36.090. However, the session was far from over and a late surge from Dutch-driver van der Zande put him 0.007 seconds faster than the #7 Penske to steal pole position.

Cadillac continued to prove their strength in the new DPi era, with Filipe Albuquerque placing the #5 Action Express Racing car third on the grid. He was close to the top two fight, but fell 0.111 seconds off fellow Cadillac driver van der Zande at the chequered flag.

With the top three locked out by DPi runners, Pato O’Ward could only place his LMP2 ORECA fourth fastest. The #38 Performance Tech Motorsport car set a 1:36.318, two tenths off the top three times. But it was a close battle for O’Ward to hold onto fourth as the Spirit of Daytona #90 pressured for a second-row start.

After a year away from Cadillac, Spirit of Daytona have returned to the manufacturer this season, away from the LMP2 chassis and back to a DPi one. It looks to have been a good decision as the team were only 0.154 seconds off fourth place. It should mean the team can have a competitive season ahead of them, starting off very strong.

Robin Frijns in the #37 Jackie Chan DCR JOTA qualified sixth while Felipe Nasr made it two Action Express cars in the top ten, taking seventh. #54 CORE Racing will start the race from eighth place.

Jonathan Bomarito was the only Joest-run Mazda driver to set a time in qualifying, putting the #55 ninth. The Tristan Nunez/Rene Rast/Oliver Jarvis sister car did not take part in qualifying. Despite setting the fastest time in the first practice session, an undisclosed technical issue side-lined the car from the start of qualifying. The #2 Tequila Patron ESM Nissan DPi also did not take part in qualifying.

Fernando Alonso set a 1:37.008 in his first 24-hour race qualifying session. Alonso described the qualifying session as the “least important qualifying session” he would ever take part in, referencing to the fact that in a 24-hour race, starting on pole is not that crucial. Along with team mates Lando Norris and Phil Hanson, he will start from P13 for Saturday’s race.

In their 20th year of racing, it was the best start for Corvette who claimed GT Le Mans pole position. Jan Magnussen set a lap time of 1:42.779 in the #3 that was unchallenged by any of the other competitors. However, it was not a calm drive to pole as Joey Hand in the #66 Ford GT piled the pressure on. At the chequered flag, however, Hand was not able to find the extra 0.019 seconds needed to take pole from the Dane.

Porsche locked out the second row with their two 911 RSR entrants, with Laurens Vanthoor piping Patrick Pilet for the top-three position in the closing stages of the session. The second Ganassi Ford could place no higher than fifth in class, but beta the second Corvette to the line, holding them down in sixth.

The sole GTLM Ferrari #62 Rizi Competizione settled for seventh on the grid, ahead of the two new BMW M8 GTEs. It was not the strongest start to the weekend for the team who were hopeful they could get a good result from the Rolex 24 at Daytona, but a 24-hour race is not over until the chequered flag.

Daytona’s GT class was led by the #51 Spirit of Race/AF Corse Ferrari with a lap time of 1:46.049. The strong driver line up of Pedro Lamy, Paul Dalla Lana and Mathias Lauda has proven very successful in the last few years. The addition of Daniel Serra (who set the pole time) will only make the line up stronger. Serra was four-tenths faster than Miguel Molina in the #82 Rizi Competizione Ferrari who took second on the grid.

Grasser Racing’s Mirko Bortolotti had qualified third, but after failing a stall test in post-qualifying tech inspections it has been demoted to the back of the grid. The #15 3GT Racing Lexus has been promoted up into the top three.

Lewis Hamilton has cleaned out his social media history, apparently, after a thoughtless Christmas gaff involving some unfortunate comments about his little nephew wearing a princess dress caused the world champion a heap of angry heat.

Yep, that's as good as it gets on Formula 1 news this winter. Let's just say it's been a particularly quiet off-season in the Grand Prix world.

Thankfully, there's been plenty of real news to savour in sports car racing. Forget F1 - long-distance endurance racing has given motor racing fans plenty to chew on during the bleak midwinter.

First, there was the 'Roar before the Rolex 24', the traditional test weekend at the Daytona International Speedway in early January that offered action-starved race fans something of real nourishment to savour.

Cadillac's DPi dominated, with Action Express, Spirit of Daytona and Wayne Taylor Racing showing the rest the way. Felipe Nasr, recently of Sauber F1 fame, set the pace in the final day 'qualifying' session that decides garage allocations for the race itself on January 27-28. He's raced at Daytona before, way back in 2012, so the Brazilian shouldn't have any trouble recalibrating to long-distance sports car racing at the end of this month.

Roar Before the Rolex 24 Cadillac DPi

The bigger question will be whether Fernando Alonso - a slightly higher profile and more successful F1 ace - can make the transition as smoothly.

The Spaniard was surprised at the lack of running he managed in his first taste of Daytona for the United Autosports team, driving an LMP2 Ligier JSP217. That was a consequence of the test schedule rather than a team shortfall, but whatever the reason, Alonso will be taking steps into the relative unknown come race weekend.

He was only 12th fastest at the 'Roar' in a car that isn't entirely suited to Daytona's mix of oval banking and twisty road course, but speed is hardly likely to be a problem for one of the great racing drivers of the modern era. What will test him is to know when and how to use that awesome natural ability.

Lapping traffic is a significant feature at Daytona, perhaps more than at any other sports car race thanks to the size of the grid and the - ahem - mixed quality of drivers. The Rolex 24 remains a genuine pro-am challenge, which makes for an unpredictable cocktail. Is a backmarker you are approaching an experienced hand who knows how to keep clear of contact while maintaining his own pace - or is it a so-called 'gentleman' driver who hasn't checked his mirrors? Alonso won't have a clue.

Victory at the Rolex 24 certainly looks a long shot for the two-time F1 champion, sharing with impressive youngsters Lando Norris and Asian Le Mans Series LMP3 champion Phil Hanson. Still, his progress will be fascinating and he's sure to be a huge story at Daytona.

And as the man himself has admitted, this is all about laying the groundwork for a future Le Mans campaign. When and in what car this will happen is impossible to say - sadly it looks unlikely to be 2018 and in a Toyota at this stage - but Le Mans is Alonso's real target.

For another genuine global motorsporting hero, Le Mans has also long been in his sights, but like Alonso, Alex Zanardi will be testing the waters at Daytona - although he has at least raced in GTs before.

The Italian, who lost his lower legs in a terrible Indycar crash back in 2001, told me when I interviewed him two summers ago that Le Mans was still an ambition for him. Now, with long-time manufacturer partner BMW, he has gone public on an aim to race at the Rolex 24 in 2019, with a specially adapted M8 GTE. After that, Le Mans will surely be next.

Zanardi is hugely popular in America after his dominance of Indycar racing in the late 1990s - and his accident only lifted his folk-hero status to new heights.

When I met him he was preparing for the Rio Paralympics, in his new sport of hand cycling. Success in Brazil added to his London medal haul in 2012, and he now has four golds and two silvers to add to the eight world titles he has won in this discipline. The man is quite incredible, up there with the most charismatic and inspiring racing drivers I ever had the good fortune to meet.

He'll be a huge draw at Daytona next year.

Many thousands of miles from the Florida speedbowl and a little closer to home, there was more to whet sports car appetites this week.

The annual Autosport International racing car show took place in Birmingham, where the wraps came off Ginetta's striking new LMP1 car. Beside new racers from BR Engineering and Rebellion Racing, whose car will be seen for the first time at the Geneva Motor Show in March, the Ginetta represents a shot in the arm for privateer participation at Le Mans.

Ginetta G60 LMP1 Launch

As I wrote in my last blog for Speed Chills, new regulations promise to allow non-hybrid privateer entrant a genuine chance to compete with the technical masterpieces that have come from the factory teams in recent years - now reduced to one in the form of Toyota, following the consecutive withdrawals from first Audi and then Porsche.

Former F1 team Manor Motorsport will run at least one Ginetta at Le Mans in June, and appear to carry genuine hope that the new rules will give them a shot. The evidence of 2016, when an LMP2 almost won overall thanks to the problems endured by the factory hybirds, offers support to that point of view.

Sitting here right now in the depths of January, before the Ginetta has turned a wheel in anger, it's hard to believe Manor can really challenge Toyota. But the Japanese giant is famous for its abysmal record at the greatest race in the world - so who knows?

The day of the underdog could be about to return.

Whatever the reality, right now there is so much to look forward to as Le Mans and the World Endurance Championship begins a bright new era. And it's certainly more interesting than Lewis Hamilton's Twitter feed.

POSTSCRIPT: Before I sign off, I must add a word or two about another hero: Dan Gurney, the great American all-rounder whose death was announced on Monday morning this week.

For sports car fans, Gurney's headline achievement was sharing the winning Ford MkIV with AJ Foyt at Le Mans in 1967 - then subsequently inventing the tradition of spraying champagne.

But of course, that was just one glorious moment in a wonderfully full life. Gurney could race anything, anywhere. A winner in F1, sports cars, Can-Am, Indycars, Trans-Am and NASCAR, he also had a brilliant engineer's brain and in the Eagle Mk1 F1 car, was perhaps responsible for the best-looking Grand Prix car of all time - and one in which he conquered Spa just a week before that Le Mans win.

Later in life, Gurney's Eagles also took IMSA by storm in the high-powered GTP era of the 1980s and early '90s.

His life and career straddled the eras like only a handful of other racing men - and perhaps most impressively of all, he remained a much-loved gentleman through it all.

A great all-rounder in more ways than one, then. RIP.

Damien Smith, former Editor of Motor Sport Magazine

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

Was it just me, or did the motorsport world perceptibly shift off its axis in late October? The Indy 500 had been amazing enough – but Fernando Alonso, two-time Formula 1 world champion and the man considered the greatest grand prix driver of his generation, was now dropping another sensational news bomb.

He told us he's all set to race in the 2018 Rolex 24 at Daytona in an LMP2 prototype.

Come again?

This is a race that 15-20 years ago had been all but reduced to the status of a glorified 'clubbie', featuring a hardened band of specialist teams, with seasoned pros mixing it with well-heeled amateurs. It was a curio, a throwback to previous eras – and little more.

To those who only follow F1 today, it still won't offer much of a blip on their radar. But to anyone with a wider (and more developed) racing perspective, the Daytona 24 Hours is now back to its best, the season opener for a terrifically healthy and entertaining American sportscar championship featuring a selection of some of the best long-distance racing drivers on the planet.

It's still an oddity thanks to its quirky and utterly charming character. But it's also a race that once again matters, just as it did when Porsche 917s and Ferrari 512s were duking it out around its high banking in the early 1970s.

Fernando Alonso - Copyright Formula 1

But why on earth is Alonso doing it?

The Spaniard's new ambition to chase alternative motor racing goals was born, of course, from depressing frustration at McLaren-Honda's failure to deliver him a competitive F1 car. For so long, he's been desperate to add a third world title to the pair he won for Renault way back in 2005-06. But as the years have slipped by in monotonous disappointment, Alonso has opened his eyes to the rich racing world around him.

This man is super-bright and, against the common perception of F1 heroes, he genuinely loves motorsport – with the ability to see far beyond the privileged, blinkered world of the grand prix paddocks.

I'd got an inkling there was more to him during his Ferrari years when he told my old friend Nigel Roebuck that he enthusiastically read our magazine, Motor Sport – and not just the bits about modern F1. But still, could I have predicted one of the most ambitious and ruthless F1 drivers in history would soon be vying to win classic races considered 'obscure' among the elite he mixes with in his day job? No way.

But it's happening nevertheless, even though the Rolex doesn't form part of the unofficial 'Triple Crown' Alonso has set his heart on chasing.

Only Graham Hill managed to clinch the magic trio – the F1 world championship, the Indy 500 and the Le Mans 24 Hours. Alonso has reasoned, quite logically, with Michael Schumacher's record seven F1 titles now out of his reach, his quest for legendary status lies in an ambition to show all-round ability: to win in a variety of machinery in a variety of racing disciplines, just like versatile legends such as Mario Andretti, Vic Elford and Stirling Moss.

He was a genuine contender to add the Indy 500 to his collection last May, but as I was lucky enough to witness first-hand, was robbed by yet another blown Honda engine. He'll return to Indy one day to try again – because he'll have to if he wants that triple crown.

Meanwhile, there's Le Mans, a race he has experienced as an enthusiastic visitor. We're all hooked to see if he'll be the magic ingredient Toyota craves to end its jinx at the great race next June – if he signs up as we all hope he will. His maiden test in Bahrain following the FIA World Endurance Championship season closer this autumn certainly whetted his appetite for LMP1 machinery, so fingers crossed.

But Alonso in LMP2? Really?


For me, this shows the man is serious about these extra-curricular activities. The United Autosports Ligier JSP217 is a great little car, but in performance terms this is a prototype designed for amateurs to handle as much as seasoned pros. It's hardly going to test him.

But that's not the point. He's taking on Daytona as part of his preparation to build experience for Le Mans. He needs endurance miles and the Rolex is a prime opportunity to gain a load.

Also, I suspect, he knows it'll be fun. And that's also the point of this diversion to Florida.

United Autosports boss Zak Brown does, of course, have the more significant day job of steering the McLaren F1 team through their current trouble, and it's the American who's smashed the glass ceiling for Alonso's new-found ambitions. Brown is no stranger to Daytona and will have fed the Spaniard tall stories about just how great Florida can be at the end of January.

He's right to, because it is.

Back in 2011, Zak invited me out to a race I'd attended before, but this time to specifically write about his latest entry. He'd convinced F1 old boys and good mates Martin Brundle and Mark Blundell to race alongside him in a Daytona Prototype. The pair jumped at the chance of reliving past glories, for both had raced at the Florida speedbowl in the Group C/GTP era – in Brundle's case successfully so, as he won for Jaguar in 1988.

I interviewed the pair before the race in United Autosport's motorhome, the ‘Brundell brothers' enjoying the bonhomie and banter. On Daytona, Martin stated categorically that "physically, it was the hardest race I ever did. The Jaguars were heavy, and I think it was particularly humid when we raced here with three drivers."

Alonso will have been told such tales. He won't be expecting an easy time, even if the Ligier is no Jaguar XJR-12. But 24 hours on Daytona's mix of oval banking and infield road course should never be underestimated – even by a maestro.

Especially as he'll be facing a competitive field full of sports car specialists, and a heady mix of Indycar and NASCAR heroes. So many turn out at Daytona to shake the winter cobwebs, to have some fun of their own – and also to try to win a Rolex… This race matters to so many for so many reasons.

The Daytona Banking

And that's why, as much as Alonso is a great story for the race and a gilt-edged reason to pay a visit next January, he's not the only reason why a trip to Daytona should be on everyone's motorsport bucket list.

Daytona doesn't need a global superstar pitching up to be one of the best experiences in racing, from either the perspective of the cockpit or the grandstands.

First of all, the place is huge, especially now the main stand has been expanded beyond its already colossal size. And without the mammoth crowds attracted by the more nationally famous NASCAR 500-miler that takes place a couple of weeks later, it's also spectator-friendly. Such is the size of the site, even if thousands do turn up, it never really feels like it.

The spectacle on the banking, the sense of history, the accessible nature of US motorsport, an escape from frozen Europe in January… the Rolex 24 might not be included among the Triple Crown, but it's still special – it's an ‘event' like no other.

For Alonso, the penny has dropped that F1 isn't the be-all and end-all. He's ready for new adventures, and Daytona offers an experience he will never forget – much as it will be for any visitor.

Racing's North Turn, Daytona Beach, Florida

One final tip if you're tempted (and you should be!): take a drive about 20 minutes south down the coast to the North Turn restaurant. This is the site of Daytona's first beach races that began way back in 1936, long preceding NASCAR's foundation and the building of the famous superspeedway in '59.

Daytona's motorsport heritage was born on the beach, with land speed records broken on its sands when professional stock car racing was but a glint in the eye of founding father Bill France and its first aces were still running moonshine... The North Turn, with its fantastic photos and memorabilia, is a quiet little racing mecca – and the perfect coda to any Daytona trip.

And after all we've seen in the past year, I wouldn't even be surprised if you bumped into a curious Spaniard checking it out for a bite of lunch… Stranger things have happened, and on this evidence, will again in 2018 and beyond. The adventure is just beginning.

Damien Smith, former Editor of Motor Sport Magazine

Image Formula 1 (Fernando Alonsa portrait)

Porsche LMP1 Team were hoping to end their final season in the World Endurance Championship with a victory but it was not to be as the #8 Toyota Gazoo Racing claimed the win. It was a close battle for the LMP2 championship as pit strategy played a big part in the closing stages. It was the #31 Vaillante Rebellion that took the win, gifting Bruno Senna and Julien Canal the LMP2 Endurance Trophy. GTE Pro and Am had looked to have an exciting race at the start, but by the halfway point it had settled into a fairly static race. The #71 AF Corse took a lights-to-flag victory whilst the sister car took second, securing the GT Drivers’ World Endurance Championship. After four years of trying, Pedro Lamy, Paul Dalla Lana and Mathias Lauda finally secured the 2017 Am Endurance Trophy.

The winning trio of Sebastien Buemi, Kazuki Nakajima and Anthony Davidson were the only LMP1 car to not suffer any incidents during the six-hour race. Toyota had the pace on Porsche, but it should have been a closer battle than it was. Because of the carnage behind them, the #8 was the only car to end up on the lead lap at the chequered flag.

Porsche had to be happy with a double podium at the end of the race, but with that having been unlikely it was a nice send off for the German team. An incident between the #92 Porsche GT Team and the #7 Toyota Gazoo Racing in which the #7 made contact and took the #92 out of the race saw the second Toyota drop out of contention, leaving the path clear for Porsche to take a two-three.

Championship-winning #2 Porsche were taken out of the victory contention early on when a bollard got wedge under Timo Bernhard in the first few minutes. Due to contact between the #1 and the #86 Gulf Racing Porsche that gave the #1 a puncture, the #2 car were able to make up some lost time and take second with the sister car behind.

Starting from sixth, the #31 Vaillante Rebellion made a great start in the hands of Senna, getting up to second behind a flying Vitaly Petrov in the #25 CEFC Manor TRS Racing within the first hour of the race. It was exactly where they needed to be to secure the championship.

As the race progressed, tyre and pit stop strategy began to come into play. With the challenging #38 Jackie Chan DC Racing taking stopped about every 20 minutes, the Rebellion duo countered that with longer stints. It put the #38 ahead in the middle of the race, but come the end there was a big pit stop window available for Senna to use and retain the win.

With a power steering issue, it was predicted that Senna would use his last stop for new tyres and a driver change, bringing them very close on track to the #38 Jackie Chan car. However, in fear of being caught, Senna soldiered on with the issue and only took fuel in his last stop, leaving him with a 30 second advantage on Oliver Jarvis in the #38 behind.

A crack in the fuel tank cost the #38 some pace, but Jarvis was pushing hard. They finished behind the #31 Rebellion, with ten seconds being the gap between winning and losing the championship.

#71 had led the race competitively from the start, but the full course yellows that hit the track to clear the stricken #92 Porsche came at the wrong time for them. Having just had their pit stop, they went from a 20 second lead to a 30 second deficit in one lap. AF Corse tried a different strategy, but it did not pay off.

As they had used the #71 as a guinea pig for the strategy, they had cost them time on track, meaning the #51 sister car was ahead. With just five minutes to go, AF Corse ordered for a car swap so that the #71 took victory. With both the championship rivals of the #51 behind, it did not matter that the car finished second. James Calado and Alessandro Pier Guidi took the championship.

It had looked at one point that Andy Priaulx and Harry Tincknell could claim the win. They were leading with the #51 in third behind the #71, meaning there was enough points between them for the Ford Chip Ganassi team to steal the victory. A fire up issue in their pit stop lost them too much time to stay in the Ferrari fight, so they had to settle with taking their last podium of the season with third.

Aston Martin, after a promising start to the weekend, could not give the Vantage the send out they wanted to. They could do no better than sixth and seventh at the chequered flag, with Jonny Adam and Darren Turner’s #97 leading the duo.

After a fight between the #61 Clearwater Racing and the #98 in the first few hours of the race, the Aston Martin got the edge on the Ferrari and took a pleasant dominant race to class victory by 1m17s, claiming their first AM Endurance Championship. The team have had 12 race victories in their four-year career, with four of those being won this season, all pole to flag.

The two Ferrari-run Am teams joined them on the podium, with Clearwater ahead of Spirit of Race.

The championship battle everyone was hoping for never really appeared as the #77 Dempsey-Proton Racing was not a threat to the Aston at any point of the weekend.

In September, the World Endurance Championship banded together with Motorsport Network and Nielsen to put together and extensive fan survey. As the WEC has gone through some changes over the past couple of years and looks to be having even more of a revamp from next year onwards (with things like the winter ‘super season’ and LMP1 being more focused on privateers than manufacturers), it was necessary for the WEC to see how fans felt about the sport to increase their engagement, not decrease it. Today, the WEC have released the results of the survey, promising they will take every aspect into consideration when making decisions about the series going forwards.

WEC had responses from 179 countries across the world, with approximately 54,500 surveys being completed. They took a sample of about 37,200 surveys to produce the results that will be presented below. It rates as the largest survey to have ever been conducted among sportscar fans.

It was discovered that the WEC has a well-established fan base, with around 58% of those who took the survey claiming they had watched it for over six years (since before WEC had been inaugurated). The other 42% showed promise of a younger fanbase coming into the sport, with most of those stating they had watched for at least three years. Responses from Europe were most popular, with 65% of the responses coming from the continent. Americas were next, with 20%, leaving 10% to have come from Asia-Pacific and the remaining 5% coming from outside these regions. With a good balance of loyal, long-term fans and newer, younger fans the series appears to have a strong support basis going forwards.

The majority of WEC fans appeared to be hard core motorsport enthusiasts, on average not having much interest in other sports outside motorsports. The brand health of WEC looks healthy, but a startling 80% of those who participated said that the WEC was not as healthy as it was three years ago. With the demise of LMP1 and the loss of teams over the last few years, this is not a surprising conclusion.

The fans are happy with WEC, describing it with key attributes of technological, competitive, innovative, exciting and global. The competitive of WEC in comparison to Formula One sees the endurance series come out on top, and in expensiveness the WEC also appears better value for money. So long as WEC can continue to deliver exciting, close racing in state of the art cars, the results of the survey suggest fans will still be happy with the series.

Official websites and motorsport websites come out as the top source of information, with TV coverage coming in as second best. With younger spectators, it seems that on demand and live streaming videos are more desired, with the WEC YouTube account seeing a 60% rise in usage compared to last year. Fans would prefer to pay nothing for additional content, but are willing to pay up to $25, as revealed by the survey.

In discussing the spectacle of WEC, is was indicated that fans desire a diverse range of things from the series. The range of classes on the track is very appealing to spectators, whilst the format of the race weekend, input of manufacturers into the sport and race events are the key elements of the WEC that sees fans attracted to the sport. Unsurprisingly, the LMP1 class rated as the most followed category in the series, but the positive that WEC can pull from this is that 80% of fans said they followed GTE classes as well as LMP1. It does mean that the WEC are going to have to make sure LMP1 stays as successful as it has been in the coming seasons, with the new privateers taking more of a focus than the hybrids, as it appears from the survey results to be the most anticipated series of the championship.

A championship of eight to ten races was concluded to be the ideal length by the fans in this survey. With this season having raced nine races, including Le Mans, it seems the fans are satisfied with how many race events occur in a season. When asked about which circuits are most appealing to fans around the world, the top five circuits were listed as: Le Mans Circuit de la Sarthe, Fuji Speedway, Sebring International Raceway, Silverstone, and Spa-Francorchamps.

In conclusions, the WEC draws from the results that it is currently in good health. Fans agree that the sport is good and enjoyable to watch, but 90% do also believe that more should be done to entice more spectators. Given the success and the enormous amount of responses to the survey, the WEC wish to conduce another before the start of the 2020/2021 season to see how fans have reacted to the radical changes that are about to come into action. It does seem that the WEC are taking the results seriously, and plan to used the fans comments to make positive steps in the future of the World Endurance Championship.

The fairytale starts as Porsche want it: taking pole position in their final outing of the LMP1 919-Hybrid, but the story is far from over. Toyota are hot on their heels and seem to have the pace advantage in the race. The LMP2 championship battle is going to be one to not take your eyes off. The leading #31 Vaillante Rebellion starts down the grid whilst their rivals in the #38 are on the front row. With just four points splitting them, it will be a tense six-hours. AF Corse have pole for the last race, but not with the championship contending car. In the Am class, #98 Aston Martin Racing may very well be on their way to claiming their first title after claiming another pole position this season.

Porsche led a one-two into the final practice session of the weekend, giving them an edge before the teams took on qualifying. It was a fairly calm 60-minutes for the LMP1 teams, with Timo Bernhard setting his time board-topping 1:42.438 within the first five minutes of the session. No one seemed to be able to close in on that time, with the closest being Neel Jani in the sister car, six tenths off the pace.

But this was not the case in qualifying. Toyota used a strategy that saw them leaving the pits five minutes after everyone else in an attempt to get some clear track. It worked, and Mike Conway set the first sub 1m40s lap time of the weekend with a 1:39.517. It was clear after Porsche’s second drivers had climbed in the cars it was going to be a big ask to get them ahead of the Toyotas.

But Jani was determined to give the Porsche one last pole position. Pushing the car to the limit, he produced a lap time that even his team mates were astounded by, putting the #1 in close contention with the proivional pole-sitting #7 Toyota. Nick Tandy climbed back into the Porsche cockpit, with pressure on his shoulders, with the mind set of not letting Jani’s lap time go to waste. A small personal improvement saw the #1 Porsche take its final pole position by just over two tenths of a second.

The sweltering heat of Bahrain played its hand on the LMP2 field this morning, with both the #24 CEFC Manor TRS Racing and the #36 Signatech Alpine bringing out a brief Full Course Yellows as they slowed and stopped on track. The Jackie Chan DC Racing cars seemed best equipped for the high morning track temperatures as they secured their first one-two of the weekend, also being the first time either of their cars have been fastest in a practice session this weekend. The 1:48.879 set by Ho Pin Tung in the #38 gave them half a second advantage on the rest of the field. After battling with the #37 for second place, G-Drive Racing #26 had to settle for third.

The #36 got back on top of the pace after it’s earlier issue and put in an impressive lap average to take pole by four tenths. Gustavo Menezes declared that team mate Andre Negrao had “pulled the boat along” with his lap time, making Menezes job simple when he got in the car.

Lining up beside them tomorrow will be the #38 Jackie Chan car. A bad qualifying for both Vaillante Rebellions sees the #38 crew on the front foot going into the race. Just four points separate the two and with the #31 Rebellion starting four sixth it is going to need to be the recovery drive of all drives from Bruno Senna, Nicolas Prost and Julien Canal if they are to secure the 2017 LMP2 Trophy.

After a short red flag period brought out by the #86 Gulf Racing Am Porsche, which caught fire and stopped on track at Turn 9 – leaking fluid, the GTE classes were in qualifying simulation mode for the end of free practice three. The leaders of both classes changed every lap, with lap times tumbling as the end of the session drew closer. James Calado put the #51 AF Corse fastest with a 1:57.972, ahead of championship rival Andy Priaulx in the #67 Ford Chip Ganassi Team UK car. The second AF Corse Ferrari, #71, rounded off the top three, half a second off the sister car.

Qualifying quickly became a Ferrari affair with consistent laps from the #71 AF Corse pair too much for anyone else to contend with. The prediction had been that the two Astons would be fighting for pole position in the final qualifying session, but in the end there was no stopping Sam Bird and Davide Rigon who had struggled throughout the practice sessions.

Andy Priaulx was set to place his championship contending #67 second on the row, but the weekend’s rapid Adam put an early end to that, dropping in a lap time that was quick enough to demote the team. Harry Tincknell said after the session that they were happy with the performance, but that it was all to play for tomorrow. As the underdogs for the championship now, they have the least to lose in the race, but starting ahead of the other championship contenders is definitely a positive.

James Calado explained that they were focused on the race in the championship leading #51. He said that they were happy starting from fourth and were looking to have a nice, simple race to get them back home to the championship. If the race finished with the grid positions as they have qualified, there would not be enough of a points gain for the #67 to take the title. Porsche GT Team #91 starts further down the grid and has the most to do tomorrow if they want any chance of stealing the title.

It had looked like the #98 Aston Martin Racing car was going to take its first fastest lap of the weekend, but it did not seem to be able to keep up when the fast laps started pouring out at the end of the session. Glory went to the #61 Clearwater Racing team that has recently confirmed it’s return to WEC for the 2018/19 ‘Super Season’. Championship contending #77 Dempsey-Proton Racing was second, with the #54 Spirit of Race taking third.

After it’s earlier fire, the #86 car sat out of qualifying, using the time to repair the car so it will be ready for the race tomorrow. It was Paul Dalla Lana’s day as his second driver lap pulled the #98 ahead of the #61 Clearwater Ferrari that had looked to have pole position in the bag. In terms of championship battles it’s a positive for the Aston Martin as now they take an 11-point advantage into the final six-hour endurance of the season, making it harder for Dempsey-Proton to steal the title from under their nose. The trio have come close to taking the title in the past, but this would be the first time they had actually secured it if all goes their way in tomorrow’s race.

Thursday brought about the first two practice sessions of the last race for the 2017 World Endurance Championship. Albeit close, Toyota Gazoo Racing had the edge over Porsche LMP1 Team in both sessions and finished the day with two one-twos in their back pocket. There was a mix of teams at the top of LMP2, but Vaillante always featured, giving them a good advantage heading towards the race. Aston Martin Racing surged after their recent few race slumps, with Jonny Adam charging the #97 to an impressive finish. The Am championship fight looked to be on in the first practice session, but the Ferrari-running teams shone in the second.

Toyota are pushing hard to take their third win in a row and fifth of the season. If they manage this, they will have won more races than Porsche this season without winning the championship, showing how important double points at Le Mans may be. Porsche always remained close to Toyota today, but Toyota’s half a second advantage in both sessions suggests they may have pole position in the bag. It should still be a close battle for the race win if early indicators are anything to go by.

The #7 took glory for Toyota after a horrid end to their 6 Hours of Shanghai last time out. Mike Conway set a 1:42.313 at the start of the first session that was enough to keep them at the top of the board. Anthony Davidson took fastest lap in the cooler second session with a 1:40.095. The Porsche also swapped order between sessions, with the #1 taking third in session one and the #2 taking third this evening.

In the second session, Earl Bamber and #26 G-Drive Racing newbie Leo Roussel had a moment of contact at Turn 11. The pair were summoned instantly to the race stewards at the end of the session to discuss what happened. It is unclear exactly what happened out on track and who is in danger of being penalised. At the time of publishing, no verdict had been given.

Vaillante Rebellion were the team to try and beat in LMP2, looking to be favourites to take race victory on Saturday. The #13 kept the #26 G-Drive at bay in the first session to secure a fastest lap of 1:48.707. The #31 had looked to have a poor first practice session, but resolved that when Bruno Senna put in a staggering 1:47.664, a clear six tenths fastest than the sister car. With a one-two in the second session, it is looking ominous for the Rebellion team to be the ones to beat come race day.

The #38 Jackie Chan DC Racing championship-challenging car had a bit of a quiet day, ending the first session seventh. They came back in the second session to take third behind the Rebellion pair. Having lost the championship lead for the first time of the season last race, the #38 team are fighting to take back the four points to take the LMP2 trophy at the end of the season, something they had thought was theirs until last race.

GTE Pro is looking as close as it has done all year, with three different manufacturers featuring in the top three at the end of the first session. In the cooler track conditions, the grid settled into a two-by-two order which is hopefully something that will not be repeated when the race goes dark just after the start of the six-hour race.

James Calado and Alessandro Pier Guidi, leading the GT Drivers’ World Endurance Championship, ended the earlier session fastest, with Aston Martin’s Adam placing the #97 just behind them. Ex-championship leaders Andy Priaulx and Harry Tincknell managed to improve to third after an oil leak in their Ford that put a 36-miunte red flag delay on the first session. The additional 30 minutes that were added to the first session to make up for lost time definitely helped the Ford team get back on track.

In the second session, Adam was back on a mission, taking the wheel from team mate Darren Turner for a couple of laps to set a breath-taking 1:57.014. No teams could get close to that time, not even the sister car that had to settle for second, four-tenths off. Sam Bird in the third-placed AF Corse #71 was a further half a second off Nicki Thiim and Marco Sorensen, nearly a full second off Adam’s time.

Aston Martin’s pace should be a cause for concern for the other three teams who are fighting for the championship. The better they place, the harder it will be for Ford and Porsche to stop AF Corse claiming the title. On the flip side, Aston Martin are pushing hard to have a perfect race for the Vantage’s last outing, so a send off in victory would be a fantastic way to end this era’s Vantage’s racing career.

It seems, from today’s practice sessions, that the Dempsey-Proton Racing car may have an advantage on the #98 Aston Martin. To win the championship, the #77 must win and take pole whilst the #98 has to finished third or lower. Ten points separate the two teams with the Aston Martin ahead after taking race win last race out at Shanghai.

However, Ferrari could play a part in the championship decider after showing they may have a better pace in the night, when the track is cooler. Ferrari-running cars Clearwater Racing #61 and Spirit of Race #54 took one-two for the manufacturer respectively. If they can get between the Porsche and the Aston Martin fighting for the Am title, they could help or hinder either of the car’s chances.

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?

Porsche took a dominant one-two around their home race at the Nurburgring. Toyota Gazoo Racing had no respose as, after leading for most of the first hour, the Porsches disappeared with nearly a lap lead. The #38 Jackie Chan DC Racing LMP2 car also had an easy race to victory. None of the other cars could close in the gap to challenge for the win, so the team converted their inherited pole position into the race victory. The GTE classes delivered the predicted Porsche/Ferrari battles. Ferrari came out on top in the Pro class with the #51 AF Corse whilst Dempsey-Proton Racing #77 did a splendid job for their first victory of the season.

The action of the race started before the green flag dropped as disaster hit the #8 Toyota. On the formation lap, Sebastien Buemi had a fuel pump failure that saw the team bringing the car into the pits to replace the part. This instantly turned their race into one of damage limitation as they fought back from the back of the grid. They ended five laps down but managed to classify fourth overall, only losing 13 points to their championship rivals in the Porsche #2.

The LMP1 race very quickly became a inter-team battle as Porsche clearly have a pace advantage with their high aerodynamic kit. Due to pick pick ups of rubber the two Porsche were suffering from aero degradation that created a “yo-yo” effect for which car was leading. Both of the cars were evenly matched pace wise and presented a fantastically close race to the chequered flag. Just 1.6 seconds separated Timo Bernhard and Andre Lotterer as the chequered flag fell.

For the first time this season, both LMP1 teams were running the high-downforce aero packages on their cars. It became clear by the end of the 6 Hours of Nurburgring that Porsche had a pace advantage over Toyota Gazoo Racing with this aero kit. Toyota will need to spend some time over the summer trying to improve that if they wish to have any chance of catching Porsche or fighting them for the World Endurance Championships.

The race behind the #38 was where the action was in the LMP2 class. Nicolas Lapierre once again showed his speed with some fantastic stints for the #36 Signatech Alpine that helped Gustavo Menezes, Tristian Gommendy and he get third place in class. Gommendy’s stints in the middle of the race were also a big contributing factor to help Lapierre pass and extend a lead from the #13 Vaillante Rebellion crew.

Rebellion had shown they had a strong pace behind the #38 car. Bruno Senna, Julien Canal and Filipe Alburquerque drove to a competitive second place whilst the sister #13 battled valiantly with the #36 and the #37 that challenged for their then third place in class. The #13 finished just off the podium in fourth place.

Although a difficult final race for the team, the #4 ByKolles Racing did see the chequered flag, classifying 14th overall. From their side of things, the race was fairly uneventful and they had an incident and garage time-free six hour race to the flag. Only one car retired from the race. The #35 Signatech Alpine suffered damage that would have taken too long to repair. They dropped out of the race just before the halfway point.

The thrilling track battles came from the GTE classes. AF Corse and Porsche GT Team had a tough battle for the lead of class in the first hour. Frederic Makowiecki came out on top of that battle to see the Porsche get ahead. However, around the halfway mark James Calado pulled off a stunning move passed the then-leading #91 Porsche GT to claim the class victory. There looked like there would be another inter-team battle between Porsches as Kevin Estre was closing in on the sister car #92 with Richard Lietz on board. However there were not enough laps for Estre to demote Lietz and Makowiecki off the second step of the podium.

At the back of the grid was the battle of BoP. Championship rivals #97 Aston Martin Racing and #67 Ford Chip Ganassi kept ending up nose to tail on track. However, it is assumed that the BoP advantage Aston had coming into this weekend gave them a pace advantage on the straights. Daniel Serra kept both the #66 and #67 at bay for a long duration of time by driving defensively and using the extra pace they had on the straights to get far enough ahead that Ford could not challenge them. Olivier Pla had to get very clever with his driving line, compromising his entrance into corner to get a much better exit to try and get closer to the Aston so their pace advantage did not matter.

In the end, the #67 lead the trio over the line, taking up fifth, sixth and seventh in class. This gives Harry Tincknell and Andy Priaulx an extra four points in the championship battle with Darren Turner, Jonny Adam and Daniel Serra as we head into the summer break.

The fight for the lead in Am was exhilarating from green flag to chequered. From pole, the #98 Aston Martin Racing car of Pedro Lamy, Paul Dalla Lana and Mathias Lauda lead the way, gaining just over a minute advantage on the field by the 90-minute mark. But Porsche and Ferrari had proven through the practice sessions that they has better pace this weekend, and the race was no exception. Matteo Cairoli was a man on a mission as he chased down the #98 in the second half of the race. With a better pace, he managed to pass the Aston Martin and extend a competitive lead to the end of the race.

But Miguel Molina also saw his opportunity this weekend. Within the final hour of the race, Molina in the #54 Spirit of Race Ferrari was in hot pursuit of at least a podium, if not the class win. He deposited the Clearwater Racing #61 with ease before chasing down Dalla Lana for the second step of the podium. The Aston Martin had no power in which to stop the rapid pace of the Spanish driver and he cut down an 18 second lead to a 4.6 second lead in 30 minutes. Had there have been an extra five minutes of the race the Dempsey-Proton Porsche and the Spirit of Race Ferrari would at least crossed the line nose to tail.

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