Prologue Kick Starts the WEC Super Season

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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