Race Calendars: FIA WEC 2019/20

Race dates for FIA WEC 2019/20

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2019 FIA WEC

*As at 26 August 2019*

1 Sep 4 Hours of Silverstone Silverstone with ELMS
6 Oct 6 Hours of Fuji Fuji Speedway
10 Nov 4 Hours of Shanghai Shanghai International
14 Dec 8 Hours of Bahrain Bahrain International
1 Feb 6 Hours of Sao Paulo Autodromo Carlos Pace
20 Mar (Friday) 1000 Miles of Sebring Sebring International with IMSA
25 Apr 6 Hours of Spa Spa-Francorchamps
13-14 Jun 24 Heures du Mans Circuit de la Sarthe

From Autumn to Summer & New Race Lengths

The FIA World Endurance Championship (FIA WEC) returns to an annual schedule again, after the transition of the long “Superseason” which included two editions of the Le Mans 24H, with every season now starting in the autumn.

The 2019/20 season will be the first in WEC to run through the Northern Hemisphere’s autumn/winter/spring, with summer being the new off-season.

The other change this season is to vary the race distances following fan survey feedback which asked the series to mix up the race lengths from race to race, rather than have every round being 6 Hours except for the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

The season opener (this week!) is the 4 Hours of Silverstone. On the one hand it seems a little harsh to chop two hours from one of the most popular rounds of the season and I am disappointed by it. On the other hand, this is the only routine WEC round to feature a further 4 hour race for the European Le Mans series on the Saturday. 8 hours of multi-class racing is quite a good deal. ELMS races are can be quite frantic, I wonder if we’ll see that intensity in WEC again?

Similarly, the other big sports car festival is the successful Sebring event. The WEC joins up for the second time with the popular IMSA Weathertech Sportscar Championship weekend. IMSA retains the prestigious, decades-old 12 Hours of Sebring, with the WEC running a separate 1000 Mile (8 Hour) race on the Friday evening. It works where COTA didn’t because it is simple: put the sports car racing in front of the sports car fans.

Fuji, Shanghai and Spa all continue on the calendar although Shanghai is reduced to a 4 hour race. Fuji is popular among Japanese fans. I really do think the Asian Le Mans Series should share a weekend with WEC either at Fuji or Shanghai. Then the WEC would pair with all the continental series at least once.

Bahrain returns after a year away and is extended to an 8-hour ‘into-the-night’ race. Interlagos is back after a few years away, this time the race will be on February 1st. These two rounds eliminate the massive gap between Shanghai and Sebring. Indeed Bahrain’s race is just 10 days before Christmas – there is no off-season these days!

And of course Le Mans is on the traditional 13th/14th June weekend.

End Of An Era

And this will be the final season with the current LMP1 cars. Quite what the “hypercar” era will bring us 12 months from now isn’t quite clear, at the moment it looks like two Toyotas, two Aston Martins and a whole lot of unknowns.

“Hypercar” is planned to be some 8-10 seconds slower around Le Mans than a current LMP1 car, a similar pace to a current LMP2 car. That’s probably 3-4 seconds slower at somewhere like Silverstone.

So you can expect both sets of existing prototypes to be slowed down to run behind the new ‘premier class’. GTE cars shouldn’t be affected. Therefore this is the final WEC season where you can watch this generation of LMP1 and LMP2 cars unrestricted.

And I’ve seen that Toyota TS050 live (and the Porsche 919 when it was there). You want to see that acceleration and direction change in person while you can.

Links

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For more championships click here.

Races Watched (2019 Week 16): WEC COTA 2017

Week 16:  15-21 April 2019

A very quiet weekend in the racing world. The only active series were those I don’t follow closely, but that’s probably my fault for not following British GT as closely I should.

In the UK it was Easter Bank Holiday weekend with Good Friday and Easter Monday off work. The sun was out so I didn’t spend a lot of time indoors watching racing and I opted out of going to Oulton Park’s British GT due to other goings on.

It was a good opportunity to continue my endurance racing catch up which I did on Sunday evening. There’s little point blogging it for an audience because frankly none of you care about a race that happened 18 months ago but I did it anyway because I like the practice of writing weekly.

2017 FIA WEC – R6 – 6 Hours of Circuit of the Americas
Circuit of the Americas, Austin, Texas, USA
Took place 16th September 2017
Watched 21st April 2019

Qualifying:
LMP1:  Porsche, Porsche, Toyota, Toyota;
LMP2:  Signatech, Rebellion, Jackie Chan DC, Rebellion;
GTE Pro:  AF Corse, Ford Ganassi, Aston Martin, AF Corse;
GTE Am:  Aston Martin, Spirit of Race, Clearwater, Dempsey-Proton;

Just four cars in LMP1 for the last few races of the 2017 season and Porsche’s 919 was clearly faster than Toyota’s TS050, just as it was in Mexico. Yet the Toyotas had better low speed boost, the traction off the corner visibly better and they got past the no.2 Porsche in the early laps. Toyota then ran 1-2 by not taking tyres at the first pitstops when the Porsches did. That made a race of it for the next hour! They’d play strategy all race.

LMP2 teams were single-stinting drivers due to the high heat. Really close racing in the class. Signatech Alpine were the class of the field, though in the middle Alex Brundle’s Jackie Chan DC Racing car pulled a big lead for a while. This class was the one most affected by tyre regulations (just 4 sets for a 6 hour race) on a high degradation track, so the order changed a lot based on who was single-stinting and double-stinting tyres.

GTE Pro again had really good close, clean racing this time between the Aston of Nicki Thiim and the two AF Corse Ferraris in the first hour. Thiim had got the lead through the melee of turn one lap one when all the cars spread out wide. In the 2nd hour the Ferraris got clear. Despite qualifying last, the Porsche GTs had great race pace and caught the Ferraris.

GTE Am’s pole-sitting Aston Martin had Paul Dalla Lana driving first so we found him fall behind the Pro drivers early and the two Ferraris pull away. It turned around later when Mathias Lauda and Pedro Lamy raced through the pack.

A Safety Car just after halfway after the Gulf Porsche spun twice. That allowed the GT Porsche to catch and overtake the Ferraris for the Pro lead. But with 12 minutes to go the leading no. 51 Ferrari had a slow puncture, the pit stop put Ferrari and Porsche side by side for the lead! The Ferrari would just about come out on top.

And within 10 minutes to go the lead Porsche 919s swapped places, team orders, the No. 1 slowing to allow No. 2 to win. That gives the No.2 car its 4th consecutive win including Le Mans and a handy points lead, while No.1 failed to score back at the double-points Le Mans and so is the sacrificial lamb.

As ever in WEC the field spread out in the last couple of hours but there were stories all the way through. I was expecting to be able to F.Fwd through chunks and get the race done in 5 hours or less, I ended up not skipping any of it.

LMP1

  1. No. 2 Porsche 919 – Hartley, Bernhard, Bamber [4th win of the year];
  2. No. 1 Porsche 919 – Lotterer, Tandy, Jani;
  3. No. 8 Toyota TS050 – Buemi, Nakajima, Sarrazin;

LMP2

  1. No. 36 Signatech Alpine – Lapierre, Menezes, Negrao  [1st win of the year];
  2. No. 13 Rebellion – Piquet Jr, Beche, Heinemeier Hansson;
  3. No. 31 Rebellion – Senna, Prost, Canal  [5th podium of the year];

GTE Pro

  1. No. 51 AF Corse Ferrari – Calado, Pier Guidi  [2nd win of the year];
  2. No. 92 Porsche – Christensen, Estre;
  3. No. 71 AF Corse Ferrari – Rigon, Bird;

GTE Am

  1. No. 98 Aston Martin – Dalla Lana, Lamy, Lauda  [2nd win of the year];
  2. No. 61 Clearwater Ferrari – Sun Mok, Sawa, Griffin;
  3. No. 54 Spirit of Race Ferrari – Castellacci, Flohr, Molina;

The next WEC race was the 6 Hours of Fuji, though the ELMS 4 Hours of Spa is next on my list by calendar date.

Next Week

The weekend of 26th to 28th April, a fairly busy one depending on your interests. My pick of the week is Baku because that race is crazy fun.

  • F1 Azerbaijan GP at Baku (with F2 support);
  • Formula E in Paris;
  • VLN 3 at the Nordschleife;
  • GT Open at Paul Ricard;
  • Blancpain America at VIR;
  • WTCR at Hungaroring;
  • BTCC at Donington Park;
  • WRC in Argentina;
  • NASCAR at Talledega;

I will watch F1 and Formula E. If the weather is terrible Saturday I may stay home and watch VLN. I plan to catch up on BTCC and WTCR at the end of the year as, guess what, I’m two years behind!

Oh and it’s the London Marathon on Sunday morning and that’s often a good watch if you like endurance racing of any type.

2019 Calendars: Blancpain GT Europe

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The ‘mothership’ Blancpain GT series is based in Europe.

For 2019 the five Sprint rounds have been renamed Blancpain GT World Challenge Europe to match the Asian and American series.

There are three titles:

  • Blancpain GT Endurance, five rounds:  24 Hours of Spa, 1000km Paul Ricard, the other three rounds are 3 hours each;
  • Blancpain GT World Challenge Europe, five rounds: 2 x 60 minute sprint races;
  • Overall Blancpain GT title combining all 10 rounds into one series;

Teams can compete in the entire series or just decide to do the sprint or endurance cups.

All races are for FIA GT3 cars exclusively. The class structure is based upon driver ratings with a mix of Pro, Pro/Am and Am classes.

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For more championships click here.

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2019 Calendars: Blancpain GT America

blancpain gt america 2019

Blancpain GT World Challenge America is a series for GT3 cars running across North America. It is the replacement for Pirelli World Challenge. The series structure is considerably more simple than before, with the new rules and new name bringing the series into line with Blancpain Asia and Blancpain Europe.

Every Blancpain America round consists of two 90 minute races, one on Saturday and one on Sunday. There is no need to think about ‘Sprint’ and ‘SprintX’ any more. The downside is a reduction in the number of race meetings.

GT4 and Touring Car have been split into their own categories and they already ran their own races anyway. I have not (currently) included calendars for these but can do so on request.

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For the other Blancpain GT Series and even more championships click here.

Continue reading “2019 Calendars: Blancpain GT America”

2019 Calendars: Blancpain GT Asia

series-btn-bgtwc-asia

Blancpain GT World Challenge Asia is a series for GT3 and GT4 cars running across Asia. It is slightly renamed this year following SRO’s acquisition of the ‘World Challenge’ name, so now there are GT World Challenge sprint series in Asia, America and Europe.

Google/iCal Calendar links:   ICAL  -or-  HTML

For the other Blancpain GT Series and even more championships click here.

Continue reading “2019 Calendars: Blancpain GT Asia”

2019 Calendars: Autobacs Super GT

Super GT 19

Japan’s top sports car series features two classes.

GT500 is the playground of Honda, Lexus and Nissan and drivers like Jenson Button, Heikki Kovalainen, Kazuki Nakajima, Ryo Hirokawa. In 2020 the class will share regulations with the DTM.

GT300 sees a big grid of GT3 cars and similar, from Mercedes, Porsche, Audi, Nissan, Honda, BMW, Aston Martin, McLaren.

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For more championships click here.

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Update: 2019 Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona

Well that was eventful!

The first four hours were so intense I needed to take a break for a bit. Completely unlike last year’s relatively quiet race, this year incidents happened thick and fast. Whether it was close, tight racing or incidents of minor contact delaying cars or sending them into spins. Thankfully nothing major in the early stages and the race was able to stay green flag for much of the time. It settled into a rhythm after that.

The evening and overnight racing was fantastic. The top DPi cars were passing and repassing. Alonso (Cadillac) passing Castroneves (Acura) about 8 hours in was a particular highlight. The GT classes were having their usual fights. Even the sparse LMP2 was eventful.

At one stage quite deep into the race was a train of 7 DPi cars running 4 seconds apart, all for position, with Alonso taking over 7th. After a yellow he restarted 5th and in the next half hour raced his way to the class lead against the likes of Helio Castroneves (Acura), Rene Rast (Mazda) and Alexander Rossi (Acura).

Nick Tandy (Porsche) was similarly impressive in GTLM. He overtook Oliver Gavin (Corvette) and James Calado (Ferrari) in quick succession.

GTD is always hard to follow because there are so many cars and so many position changes, either by on track passes or by pit strategy. The purple 33 Mercedes was up front quite a lot, so was the green Grasser Lamborghini.

Sadly the quick Mazda DPis expired, as I said in my preview I feared they might. I had hoped to be wrong. The pole-sitting 77 car of Oliver Jarvis had an engine problem originally reported has a turbo failure, not sure if that’s the final diagnosis. This was about 2 laps after the sister 55 car went to the pits with electrical gremlins which cost 15 minutes or more. Then while I was sleeping the 55 had some other problem which caused it to retire.

I had a sleep break from around 4am UK time, about 16 hours to go. I’d been trying to go earlier but so much was happening and I’d eaten a lot of Haribo, that sugar rush kept me up! I wound up sleeping an hour longer than planned, but on rejoining at 9:30am UK the rain had started falling at the track. Still dark over in Florida of course where it was 4:30am.

And rain would be the story from here. When the rain started it mixed things up but didn’t cause many problems that I saw, everyone got across to the wet tyres and they were all cautious in the conditions, We continued to see great racing in every class.

In the wet, Fernando Alonso was 2 or 3 seconds per lap faster than anybody else in class! Absolutely remarkable performance.

Jordan Taylor got into the no.10 and picked up where Alonso left off earlier. He again was several seconds per lap faster than the competition. This proved to me firstly that Jordan continues to be an under-rated driver and secondly that it wasn’t an accident. It looked like drivers and team had deliberately dialled it in well for the wet. Kobayashi overnight put up a real stout defence against Juan Pablo Montoya of all people! Even had Juan on the apron in avoidance. Somehow I missed most of Renger van der Zande’s driving but he’s perfectly at home in this company. There’s no doubt the driving crew of the no.10 had the edge in this race.

Not to say the other teams weren’t on it, because they were, but the no.10 met everything head on. The Mazdas were quicker when they ran, the Penske Acuras were up there all race, but the Taylor car seemed able to drive away in damp conditions, even from the other Cadillacs.

Once the rain started it never really let up. That lead to more Safety Car periods and red flags.

Tommy Milner suffered a terrifying aquaplaning spin into the tyre wall at turn 1. He was cleared OK but the response crews weren’t with him for at least 5 minutes while the race director let the pit sequence play itself out. I get the sporting imperative and usually agree with it, but Milner’s hit was pretty hard and I’d have liked to have seen someone there considerably more quickly.

The rain intensified so we stayed yellow for an hour, which turned into a red flag which in turn lasted 1 hour 45 minutes.

We got a restart which lasted half a lap, at the back of the field cars went spinning into the tri-oval and turn 1. At this point Twitter erupted. Half the people wanted it stopped, half the people considered it a test.

For as long as it was wet-but-driveable, I was in the latter camp. Racing in the rain is an under-rated skill in modern racing where the emphasis is to mash the gas at all times. Endurance racing is just that, a test of endurance, backing off when necessary to get the car home. But the line is thin when rain intensifies. It quickly flips into dangerous territory.

The moment it became clear drivers were aquaplaning into spins at low speed, after allowing plenty of room for braking and a gap to the car ahead, it was unsafe to continue and the race should be stopped. Arguably they left it a little too long but they made the right call in the end.

Still, for a time it looked raceable and it looked like some guys did a ‘Spa ’98’, kept their right foot in as they entered a wall of spray. I think in an endurance race perhaps it is prudent, if you are at the back at the restart, to lift off the right foot? Maybe that’s just me.

The ensuing Safety Car period lasted 1 hour 45 minutes or so because during the yellow the rain had intensified again, the track was getting deep puddles on the racing line and the grass was saturated. It was obviously not in a condition to race. And I thought that would be it.

Yet at nearly 4pm UK time we were green again, but again only for a lap or so. Cars were aquaplaning across turn 1 if they got even slightly off line. Personally again they could’ve backed off, but the rain was harder now and the track was waterlogged, so the margin was much more difficult to judge than it was earlier.

40 minutes later at another restart Toni Vilander piles into the back of a Porsche he couldn’t see. Again, would you drive into a wall of spray? Did he have a choice? Maybe he didn’t, maybe someone would’ve driven into the back of him if he had slowed earlier. After all, the Porsche had backed off because another car was slowing ahead.

And it was sketchy. Drivers in all classes were spinning out when they hit puddles that were deeper than the lap before, because they couldn’t see them through the spray. And that was going too far, trying to restart in those conditions, the track was getting worse all the time.

I do appreciate the series and the track crews kept trying, they never gave up, but it was too heavy.

So with barely 3 green flag laps in some 5 hours, I did feel like I was robbed of a great run to the flag. Not the fault of the series or the drivers just a consequence of the weather. It happens.

And what of my picks to win?

DPi:
Winner:  No.10 Konica Minolta Wayne Taylor Cadillac – Fernando Alonso, Kamui Kobayashi, Jordan Taylor, Renger van der Zande.
My Pick:  No.7 Acura Team Penske – Helio Castroneves, Ricky Taylor, Alexander Rossi.
Finished 3rd.

Incredible race from the start and right through the night. After some 8 hours the top 7 cars were still just 5 seconds apart, okay after a yellow, but still impressive after long green flag running not to have gaps of laps. Shame to see the quick Mazdas go. The Nissan caught up a bit and was fast with Duval and Dumas aboard, but I still think Bennett should stand down from driving.
Rubens Barrichello was a star for JDC-Miller. The team still new to the Cadillac and generally a little off the pace, Rubens in the wet was a master just as he always was.

LMP2:
Winner:  No.18 DragonSpeed ORECA 07 Gibson – Pastor Maldonado, Sebastian Saavedra, Ryan Cullen, Roberto Gonzalez.
My Pick:  Won!

Class was close in the first half of the race but imploded in the rain. No.18 closed down an 4 lap deficit when the sister DragonSpeed car crashed, to then hold a 4 lap lead over Performance Tech. Then 18 was crashed with a lap to go in seriously heavy rain and limped to the pits at the last red flag.

GTLM:
Winner:  No.25 Rahal LL BMW M8 GTE – Colton Herta, Ausgusto Farfus, Connor De Phillippi, Philipp Eng.
My Pick:  No.67 Ganassi Ford GT – Ryan Briscoe, Richard Westbrook, Scott Dixon.
Finished 4th after falling to the back early on, recovered all the lost laps to lead until they pitted under yellow, 2 laps before the final red flag. Eventful.

A fortuitous win for BMW, but a heartening one after the death of Schnitzer’s Charly Lamm on Thursday. Excellent overnight performances from Nick Tandy (Porsche) and James Calado (Risi Ferrari) left me assuming one of those would win.

And the fantastic Alex Zanardi. What a legend. Their car was delayed by some 20 laps but they never gave up.

GTD:
Winner:  No.11 GRT Grasser Lamborghini Huracan – Mirko Bortolotti, Christian Engelhart, Rik Breukers, Rolf Ineichen.
My Pick:  No.48 Paul Miller Lamborghini Huracan – Bryan Sellers, Corey Lewis, Ryan Hardwick, Andrea Calderelli.
Finished 17th, 70 laps down to the class leader, after being involved in a startline accident in heavy spray along with at least three other cars. Also sent to the back at the start of the race for not getting enough night laps for one driver.

Another slightly fortunate win. The 33 Riley Mercedes of Bleekemolen etc. was in control much of the race and was leading until a pitstop late on. They were caught out when IMSA announced the race was going green, so they pitted for strategy, then half a lap later the series threw the first red flag. 7th wasn’t representative.

That’s not to say GRT Grasser are undeserving – they were Riley’s main rival all race long. They battled back from early delays. It was a very good job from them and they earned it. It’s very possible GRT could’ve beaten Riley on pace if the race had stayed dry.

Good performances in the field included the AIM Vasser Lexus (3rd), the Audis slow on the straights in the dry but with extra downforce quickly regained ground in the wet, the Shank Acura cars including the all-female drivers who were one of many cars to fall back due to accident damage suffered in heavy rain but before that were solidly inside the top 10 in a class of 23 cars.

EDIT:  4 days after the race the 2nd-placed Land Motorsport Audi was demoted to the back with a drive time infringement of just 15 minutes, which seems draconian to me. This promotes one of the Lexusususus to 2nd.

Next

Like last year the rest of the IMSA season will be well worth watching. It is surprising to me how many general motorsports fans don’t watch it, especially outside the US when it has free streaming. Do give it a chance.

Coming up next is another iconic event, the 12 Hours of Sebring on Saturday March 16th.

Interestingly, for the first time the FIA WEC will run a 1000 mile or 8 hour race on the Friday night. It’ll be fascinating to find out how logistically this will work – and who will “do the double”!