The End of a Racing Era?

The World Endurance Championship has changed a lot during its three short years. In 2012, amid all of the fanfare and uncertainty shouldered by a new race series, there was just one real competitor and a handful of hopeful tag alongs.

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Having won both drivers’ and manufacturers’ world championships by that inaugural year’s halfway point, it looked like nobody would be able to topple the ominous juggernaut of Audi Sport’s dominant operation.

How far we’ve come.

This weekend’s final round of the 2014 WEC offers a completely different picture to the world’s millions of racing fans. Now we have legendary names owning the headlines, the series is pushing the boundaries of what’s technologically possible and words like ‘ominous’ and ‘juggernaut’ are off the agenda.

Most importantly we have a new heir about to step up to the throne. Having once been just token competition to the four ringed overlords, Toyota Racing travel to South America looking for their first ever track-based world championship.

And while Ant Davidson and Sebastien Buemi may already have been crowned best of the pedallers make no mistake: it’s the brand victory that really matters to the world’s biggest car maker.

With just six hours left on the clock all that stands in their way is a 2.7 mile grey ribbon painted onto the side of a Sao Paulo hill. The shiny new tarmac, changeable weather and tricky elevation changes have their part to play, but with Audi needing 40 points from the 44 on offer it really is Toyota’s title to lose.

The same six hours separate Porsche from the end of their first full endurance season in more than a decade. Their ‘debut’ year has been a strong one with regular podium appearances and strong performances but that first win remains elusive.

In 2015 they will no longer be the new guys. Nissan’s much publicised return to top-flight sports car racing is likely to be the news-du-jour next year, so the 6 Hours of Sao Paulo will be the German marque’s last chance to have a go at the established leaders. A win could change the chatter about historied underdogs to serious talk of reemerging titans.

Both Toyota and Porsche have a chance to be heralds of the new era of sports car racing. But as one age dawns another wanes, and for one man this weekend’s race will be his last as a professional racing driver.

Tom Kristensen

Although Tom Kristensen will never publicly agree to being called Mr. Le Mans his nine (nine!) victories at the greatest race in the world leave him with a record that is unlikely to be beaten. TK’s retirement brings to an end a phenomenal career at the pinnacle of motorsport, and his absence behind the wheel next year is sad to think of.

Luckily for us there are plenty of pretenders to his crown working their way up through the ranks. High calibre drivers are peppered throughout the WEC field, and with Nissan bringing another six top-drawer seats to the game next year there will be an eagerness among the up-and-comers to impress the decision makers this weekend.

There’s also a large amount of noise surrounding one of the bronze rated local newbies, one E. Fittipaldi. Apparently he won a couple of single seater titles back in the day, so it may be worth keeping an eye on his GTE-Am Ferrari come race day.

The Brazilian is unlikely to have an effect on the championship tables however, as the #95 Aston Martin Racing V8 Vantage of Thiim, Poulsen and Heinemeier-Hansson has already sealed that particular deal. The same is true in GTE-Pro with the AF Corse duo of Vilander and Bruni having taken the drivers title and given the Ferrari backed team a commanding grasp on the GT manufacturers trophy.

LMP2 is a different prospect. The age of the gentleman’s prototype having a lid on top has arrived with G-Drive’s Ligier JSP2 topping the standings going into the final round, eight points ahead of compatriots SMP Racing.

The P2 trophy will definitely go to one of these two Russian teams and is likely to last right to the chequered flag. G-Drive may have the better race pace but their brand new Ligier has been known to suffer from reliability problems, and SMP will be relying on their Oreca-Nissan to sweep up the title should the black and orange car falter.

So the 6 Hours of Sao Paulo will be a tale of futures being born and amazing stories coming to a close. Is this the beginning of the golden age of LMP2? Can Audi keep a leash on the wild talents of their opponents? Will Emerson Fittipaldi finally get the one win he’s always wanted?

The Autodromo Jose Carlos Pace is the stage and the World Endurance Championship is an opera. Our players are some of the greatest names in the world of racing and none of them have read the script. What’s going to happen? Who knows; this is endurance racing. The lights go out at 3pm UK time this Sunday, and when the flag drops six hours later we’ll have our answers.