This year’s endurance racing calendar is something special, for the first time in 20 years we have a world championship for long-distance sportscar racing and it promises to develop into something big over the coming years.
It is a shame that one of the main instigators of the FIA World Endurance Championship, Peugeot, was forced to withdraw before the season. Audi vs Peugeot would’ve been even more fraught than we’ve seen in the past with a world title on the line! Toyota had already planned to join midseason. They, the FIA and the ACO should be applauded for working to have then enter more races than was originally planned and for adjusting the points system to allow dropped scores, so the LMP1 championship is mathematically still on the line even if Audi will surely win it comfortably.
The centrepiece is of course Le Mans, with a calendar featuring some of the best events of the international endurance racing calendar of the past few years, added to new events in Brazil, Japan and controversially, Bahrain.
A curious and notable absence is Petit Le Mans which will revert to being ALMS-only this year, not a popular decision and even worse when Bahrain was originally scheduled for the same weekend. That madness has been avoided but PLM still falls between two Asian WEC events on weekends either side of it, so it’ll be very difficult indeed for any WEC teams to compete in Georgia.
March 17th – 12 Hours of Sebring (with ALMS)
May 5th – 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps
June 3rd – Le Mans Test Day
June 16th – 24 Hours of Le Mans (with other invitiationals)
August 26th – 6 Hours of Silverstone
September 16th – 6 Hours of Sao Paulo
September 30th – 6 Hours of Bahrain
October 14th – 6 Hours of Fuji
Novmeber 11th – 6 Hours of Shanghai
In LMP1, the fight between the HPD teams Strakka, JRM and at Sebring, Muscle Milk should be tight and they’ll be up against the Lolas of Rebellion, and OAK and Pescarolo with their eponymous chassis. Throw in a mix of engines from HPD (Honda) to Toyota to Judd and at Sebring a Mazda as well. All the runners are on Michelins except for the Dunlops on the OAK and Dyson cars. Familiar names include Brabham, Prost, Chandhok, Heidfeld, Bleekemolen, Watts, Kane, Collard and Boullion.
LMP1 isn’t the only interest, there is a strong field in the petrol half of LMP1, and in LMP2 and the two GTE categories. At Sebring we have the added excitement of the ALMS contenders joining the fun, and at Le Mans we’ll see some of the best teams from the ALMS and ELMS join the WEC for the classic 24 Hours. Also at Le Mans we will see the race debut of the Delta Wing which promises to be very exciting – I hope it is reliable!
LMP2 is worth watching for once. No longer is it a collection of underfunded teams with cars which break down easily. There are solid entries from Signatech, OAK (again), Greaves, PeCom and even the GrandAm team Starworks are entering the WEC. Cars range from Lolas to Orecas to Zyteks to HPDs to Morgans (rebadged OAK) and engines from Nissan, Judd, HPD and Lotus. All cars are on Dunlops. The drivers may be less familiar but Starworks signed a coup with Stephane Sarrazin for the longer races.
GTE Pro features Fisichella and Bruni with AF Corse, in their other car Olivier Beretta switches from Corvette. They’re up against the similar car of Luxury Racing with Vernay, Melo and Makowiecki. Aston Martin rejoin the field after their LMP stints and they have Mucke, Turner and Fernandez. Felbermayr’s line-up of Lieb and Lietz is not to be doubted either. At Sebring of course they are joined by the very strong ALMS teams of Corvette, BMW and various Porsche teams.
GTE Am is for year-old cars and they must run at least one (or two?) amateur drivers. Larbre Competition have a couple of Corvettes and Pedro Lamy, AF Corse and Luxury also entered Ferraris here (including one for Michael Waltrip at least for Sebring), Felbermayr have another Porsche and don’t count out Krohn’s green Ferrari.
There are 35 cars signed up for the full season. These will be joined by ‘wild card’ entries through the year, though we don’t know the details yet.
At Sebring we add in the Prototype and GT Challenge classes for spec Orecas and Porsches respectively. 64 cars at Sebring, and 56 at Le Mans including the Delta Wing.
Even if Audi does win it all, the other classes should be interesting. Perhaps more interesting is this is the first ‘building’ year of the series, taking a step up from last year’s ILMC. After showing what it can do this year, who else might enter in 2013 and 2014? There are exciting years ahead!