I’m off to Silverstone tomorrow for the FIA World Endurance Championship opener, but who is there and what does it all mean?
Toyota Racing once again rely heavily on former Formula 1 talent for their LMP1 roster; Alex Wurz and Kaz Nakajima join with Stephane Sarrazin in the #7 TS040, with the #8 crew formed by Ant Davidson, Sebastien Buemi and Nico Lapierre (A1GP winner).
Over at Audi Sport, former Pirelli tester Lucas di Grassi takes the seat of Allan McNish in the #1 R18 e-tron quattro, alongside Loic Duval and Le Mans legend Tom Kristensen. The #2 car of 2012 LM24 winners Fassler, Lotterer and Treluyer is not to be counted out.
Porsche makes a return to the Prototype ranks with their new 919 Hybrid, Mark Webber is the obvious name to look for in the #20 car and he shares with Brendon Hartley who has impressed for other teams in the LMP2 class and elsewhere, and top sportscar stalwart and Le Mans winner (while loaned from Porsche to Audi) Timo Bernhard. The #14 is shared by top sportscar talent Romain Dumas (another LM-winner when loaned to Audi), Marc Lieb and Neel Jani, the latter you may know from Champ Car and A1GP.
LMP1 is split into two sub-divisions this year and these three heavyweight teams compete in a category called LMP1-H, or ‘Le Mans Prototype 1 – Hybrid’. This features energy recovery and fuel flow regulations similar to, but more open than Formula 1 in 2014. This allows each of the three teams to run a different hybrid solution. The rules are complex but the simplest explanation is to say a team can choose how much energy it can recover with their hybrids, anything from 0-8 MJ per lap of Le Mans (and this is adjusted by a ratio for the other tracks). The more energy you recover in this way, the less fuel flow per lap you are allowed. Toyota and Porsche are at 6MJ and, in a surprise, Audi at just 2MJ at this opening round. Last year’s restrictions on only operating hybrid above 120 km/h and in specific zones, has been removed.
Audi: 4.0 litre turbo V6 running on diesel, with a single hybrid system on the front axle with energy stored by flywheel; Audi elected to run to 2MJ rules, so less hybrid power in exchange for more fuel flow per lap compared to their rivals.
Toyota: 3.7 litre normally-aspirated V8 running on petrol, with a dual hybrid system using front and rear axles with energy stored in supercapacitors; Toyota are running to the 6MJ rules with the ability to use more recovered power, the talk I’ve heard on Radio Le Mans suggests they can do 8MJ easily if they want to, just not necessarily over a full stint.
Porsche: 2.0 litre turbo V4 running on petrol, with a dual hybrid system with F1-style braking recovery on the front axle and exhaust energy recovery on the rear. Porsche are also running to the 6MJ rules.
The other ‘branch’ of the top class is LMP1-L, or ‘Le Mans Prototype 1 – Light’. This is aimed at privateer entries without manufacturer backing who cannot afford all this expensive hybrid stuff. There were due to be three entrants here too, but all three have run into supply difficulties building their new cars – especially with the common motorsport supplier base also having to work around the new F1 rules – so none of those cars are here.
Thankfully one of the teams has very sportingly decided to bring along their Lolas from last year for one last hurrah, and Rebellion Racing must be applauded. Their lead line-up in car #12 features Nick Heidfeld and Nicolas Prost alongside Mathias Beche. The #13 car has the pairing of Dom Kraihamer and Andrea Belicchi and remarkably they are joined by 2013 GP2 Champion Fabio Leimer. What does it say about GP2 (or Leimer?) when the Champ isn’t signed by an F1 team?
Lotus are one of the other teams and when they rejoin the series it will be with ex-Minardi ex-Spyker man Christijan Albers. OAK Racing were also building a car but seem to have put it off to 2015.
The second prototype category is for privateer teams who buy chassis and engines. The dominant powerplant in LMP2 globally is now Nissan and they power the whole WEC LMP2 field, sat in the back of chassis from Oreca, Morgan (OAK), or Dome. The important note here regarding drivers is that this is a Pro-Am category.
Sadly the best and most high-profile teams have all withdrawn from Silverstone either because their new cars aren’t ready (Strakka Racing), or their financial backers are having a bit of difficulty (Millennium / ADR). This is a shame as it costs us the sight of last week’s Long Beach Grand Prix winner Mike Conway, and former F1 drivers Shinji Nakano and Stefan Johansson, as well as rapid drivers Oliver Turvey, Danny Watts and Jonny Kane.
We do still have Nicolas Minassian for SMP Racing although his team-mates across both cars are obscure to me to say the least. An interesting addition is Asian Le Mans Series team KCMG and it’ll be fascinating to see how they get on. Also SMP Racing from Russia, who have cars entered in the ELMS as well.
Hopefully the field bulks out a bit for the next round at Spa. In the meantime, the best LMP2 racing this weekend will be in the supporting ELMS.
Grand Touring Endurance for cars based on road-going sportscars is split into two classes, a Pro class and an Am class. The cars are identical but the latter, like LMP2, runs to a Pro Am format (a mix of some professionals and some.. not) whereas the former is stacked with top professionals throughout.
GTE Pro is the one to watch. It features:
Gianmaria Bruni and Toni Vilander driving the #51 AF Corse Ferrari. Their #71 car will have hot GP2 talent James Calado and former Superleague Formula champion Davide Rigon.
Ram Racing’s #52 Ferrari has Alvaro Parente, who was hot in GP2 and WSR not so long ago, along with Matt Griffin who is very fast.
Then you have two Porsches, you can never count out the likes of Bergmeister, Tandy, Pilet, Holzer, Makowiekci and Lietz.
Finally there are the two Aston Martins. No Bruno Senna at this race, but they do have Darren Turner and Stefan Mucke and I wouldn’t necessarily rule out MacDowall, O’Young and Rees who might struggle against this field but should be there at the end.
GTE Am may be Pro Am but the Ams are quite good these days, and the Pros could race anywhere.
AF Corse signed GP2 man and Mercedes F1 tester Sam Bird for the #81 car at Silverstone and Le Mans.
Ram Racing are another team present in both GT classes, they have Johnny Mowlem and former ‘Stig’ Ben Collins.
Aston Martin are here too, with the all-Danish car likely a contender, programmer David Heinemeier Hansson is no slouch. Their other car has Pedro Lamy who is both an asset and a liability at times, at least when he did LMP1 for Peugeot!
My bets for the wins at Silverstone:
LMP1-H: Toyota #7
LMP1-L: Rebellion #12
LMP2: G-Drive Oak Racing #26
GTE Pro: Porsche #91
GTE Am: Ram Racing Ferrari #53
The 6 Hours of Silverstone starts at 12:00 on Sunday with coverage on MotorsTV, Eurosport and Eurosport Player, the FIAWEC.com website and app (both subs), and in audio at RadioLeMans.com.
European Le Mans Series
Silverstone also sees the opening round of the ELMS with a 4-hour race at 2.30pm on Saturday again with coverage on MotorsTV, RadioLeMans.com and I think the ELMS website.
The ELMS features the LMP2 class and a much larger field of them than the WEC, and a little more variety in chassis and engine combinations.
Notable names include Christian Klein (#43 Morand Racing) and Karun Chandhok (#48 Murphy Prototypes), but I think it’ll come down to a battle between Jota Sport’s #38 with Filipe Albuquerque (who’ll drive the Audi #3 at Spa and Le Mans) and Harry Tincknell, whose manager is none other than Allan McNish, up against the #41 Greaves Motorsport car of ALMS winner Chris Dyson and ultra-fast Tom Kimber-Smith.
There is only one GTE class in ELMS and it runs to the same rules at WEC GTE Am. There are a whole fleet of Ferraris, 8 of them in a 13-car class. One of them is driven by footballer Fabien Barthez who apparently won the French GT championship last year, so look out for the #58 Team Sofrev-ASP entry. I think AF Corse will win this class, though they could be pushed hard by the Aston Martin and Gulf Racing teams.
The 3rd class here is GTC where the cars run to GT3 rules. A nice big field of 15 cars full of names I’ve never heard of makes it hard to pick a winner, but look out for Corvette Racing’s Jan Magnussen in the #60 Formula Racing Ferrari. Ultimately though I think it will be hard to look beyond the car of Alex ‘son of Martin’ Brundle and Ricardo Gonzalez in the #99 McLaren of GP2 team ART Grand Prix. Mika Salo was due to race this class but I think their car has been withdrawn.
My winners at Silverstone:
LMP2: Jota Sport #38
GTE: AF Corse #55
GTC: ART Grand Prix #99
Depending on battery and coverage I will be attempting to tweet from @toomuchracing on Saturday and Sunday, and possibly uploading to my new Instagram accounts either @toomuchracing or @patwotton.