2012 FIA WEC Preview

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.

Calendar

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

Prototypes

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.

GT

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.

Others

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!

I’m Watching… #2

This weekend was all about one race…. at least, it was supposed to be.

We all know that F1 races are quite boring this year. We also all know that the battle between Audi and Peugeot for overall honours over the 24 Hour race at Le Mans has turned into an epic annual contest which has been enthralling for several years now, with further depth through the classes.

Not this year.

Le Mans 24 Hours

I didn’t think the 2010 24 Hours was a classic, but a mediocre race at Le Mans is more evocative than a decent race at many other venues.

– LMP1

It promised much, but as early as Wednesday night’s qualifying session Peugeot laid down lap times so fast as to effectively smack down the improved Audi’s challenge in terms of an out and out race. This was going to be a reliability run rather than a strategic battle, and with Peugeot having successfully completed a 30-hour endurance test it looked all sewn up before the race had started.

As it turned out, Audi’s race pace wasn’t that poor and they seemed to be able to maintain their top pace for much longer – Peugeot had far faster cars but they couldn’t maintain 3m19s laps for long. This mean the French team held a 1 or 2 lap lead over the German team for a considerable amount of time, but no more. All of the seven cars were pushing.

In terms of an actual race, things went wrong early when a Safety Car period for Mansell’s crash split the frontrunners, giving the four Peugeots an extra minute over the three Audis. On the green flag the Audis held that gap for ages, proving they could’ve got amongst the Pug’s early on had they been given the chance. Once we were into the meat of the race the Peugeots were easily the things to have and they extended a gap, so there wasn’t much in the way of racing, either passing or on pit strategy.

This was ‘run until someone either wins or breaks’. Eventually all four Peugeots broke down or were involved in incidents (and one of them broke surprisingly early), and the Audis didn’t ran near-flawlessly save for an ‘off’ by TK. Win sealed, go home. It wasn’t enthralling waiting for something to happen for so many hours. Interestingly it was the faster car from each team that dropped back – that is unless the others were managing their pace while these two pushed to catch up) and while both cars put in their customary supreme stints overnight, it wasn’t for the win.. Didn’t grab me.

Petrol cars:  AMR were ‘best of the rest’ for nearly the whole race but died near the end, leaving ORECA’s other car to take the spoils. Not necessarily a bad result, it had been quicker than I’d expected it to be and could’ve won it on merit, but as it turned out it was the last car standing. Again though, not much of a race because the team I expected to really hustle AMR – Rebellion and its pair of Lolas – suffered all manner of difficulties, which was a shame. This sub-class turned into a survival of the fittest. I know that’s what Le Mans is about, I guess we’ve just been spoiled with a different type of fight in the past.

– LMP2

Two cars were the class of the field: the two HPD (nee Acura) chassis run by Strakka and Highcroft. I tipped Highcroft for the win because they are so good in the US and this is Strakka’s first year with the car, plus Highcroft had 3 good drivers and Strakka had 2+ 1 average. As it turned out it went the other way, Stakka’s experience of 24-hour racing shone through and they led the class throughout – well done to them. Highcroft were racing outside North America for the first time, in a 24 hour race for the first time, unfamiliar with the ACO’s different way of doing things and without as much support gear with them as they are used to. Highcroft ran into several difficulties during the race but they seemed to pick themselves up and push on, all credit to them. Unfortunately this meant the expected duel between the two never really materialised for any length of time.

There were a few other good teams – notably RML – but they couldn’t stay in contention, and there were the usual few makeweights/fieldfillers.

– GT1

Pathetic. To think that this class used to provide the best race in the field, and now the cars can barely finish let alone even beat GT2. In fairness to the class it has been completely neutered so that the power advantage it had is now reduced, they barely have a time advantage over the GT2s, while the extra weight and fuel consumption and therefore extra pit stops drops them back every time. I’m sure the development this style of racing is famous for would recover much of that over the coming years, they won’t be allowed the chance to find out, the class has been removed for 2011 in the mistaken belief the cars can’t be turned into endurance racers. Ostensibly this is because of the increasing cost of the previous regulations which did need addressing, but the ongoing bunfight between the SRO and ACO has lost us the chance to rebuild the class at a more reasonable cost – instead we get some lame GT2 sub-category for amateurs. A real shame.

– GT2

This class featured the best racing and the most contenders for victory, and the highlight of the entire race for me was the on-track race for the lead between the Corvette and the Risi Ferrari, the positions changing from straight to straight for several laps – at sunset, no less! That’s Le Mans fever right there. It was a real shame the Risi car suffered the gearbox problem, and then (much) later the two Corvettes had their own issues with one breaking the other apparently being pushed off track by a Peugeot, if not by physical contact then by not giving the ‘Vette the racing room. Attrition hit this class too, leaving the Felbermayr Porsche to take the win.

A very high attrition rate throughout the field this year, was that due to underfunded teams, a harder pace, or some other unknown reason? I have a feeling it is a mixture of those things. Still, new rules for 2011 and 2012 see the 24 move into a new era – let’s see what it brings.

F1: Canadian Grand Prix

What a race! This was easily the best Formula 1 race of the year. Every season F1 throws up two or three excellent races, this was one of them and the best F1 race I’ve seen since Brazil’s title decider last year. There was action throughout, split strategies and sometimes it seemed like guesswork. The soft tyres were entirely inappropriate for what turned out to be a far more abrasive track than Bridgestone anticipated, yet that was exactly what created such a good race. Could the softs last long enough? Had they brought a compound step higher this could’ve been another snorer. Thankfully Bridgestone won’t be around to make use of that lesson next year!

McLaren were expected to walk away from the rest with their F-Duct, but then they deployed their ‘interesting’ strategy of using the soft tyres first in the hope of a Safety Car that never came. And yet… it worked! I’ve no idea how they pulled it off, in a race with so many early stops it left the Lotus of Kovalainen in 7th for a short while it was difficult to know what was going on for a while, thankfully I had the aid of live timing else I’d have been completely lost.

One more note on Canada – did you see how full those stands were?! Absolutely brilliant, and I’m sure there were more than usual. Welcome back to the schedule, Montreal – you were missed.

Other

Among this glut of racing I managed to catch the England v USA World Cup game, which ended in a disappointing but perhaps expected draw. I have a feeling both teams can win their remaining games and will both qualify, I hope so.

I also booked my ticket to the Goodwood Festival of Speed! I’ll be there on the Sunday and I’m really looking forward to it.

2009 Le Mans 24 Hours – Entry List

Last Thursday the ACO released the official entry list for the 2009 edition of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, and it confirmed some pre-announced deals, verified some rumours and offered some complete surprises – as it does every year!

I’m writing this quite late so I’m going to just do short notes.

LM P1

1 / Audi Sport Team Joest / Audi R15
3 / Audi Sport Team Joest / Audi R15
2 / Audi Sport North America / Audi R15

Audi are returning with a new car, which will be raced first at Sebring but will probably not contest the full 2009 season.

14 / TME Kolles / Audi R10
15 / TME Kolles / Audi R10

I’m not sure if this is backup plan from Audi, but they’ve sold or loaned to R10s to Colin Kolles. They’ll still need to be adapted to the narrower rear wing regulations.

7 / Team Peugeot Total / Peugeot 908
8 / Team Peugeot Total / Peugeot 908
9 / Peugeot Sport Total / Peugeot 908

Peugeot also return with three cars. An updated car and revised driver line-up should mean they are quietly confident ahead of this year’s race – but they said that last year.

17 / Pescarolo Sport / Peugeot 908
16 / Pescarolo Sport / Pescarolo Judd

Count this is as a surprise. A customer Peugeot for Pescarolo. Surely this is in response to Kolles? It seems to be a 2008 car modified to new rules from what I’ve read, and not the ’09 cars of the factory team.

007 / Aston Martin Racing / Lola Aston Martin
009 / Aston Martin Racing / Lola Aston Martin
008 / AMR Eastern Europe / Lola Aston Martin

Three entries also from Aston Martin, who are in a naming dispute with Lola at the moment. First year with these cars so a win surely isn’t on the cards, but they’ll be looking to show good speed. AMR Eastern Europe is Charouz, in fact they all might be, but this is the only one under the Czech flag.

13 / Speedy Racing Team Sebah / Lola Aston Martin

This entry seems to be being run more at ‘arms length’ from the factory/Prodrive.

10 / Team ORECA Matmut AIM / Courage-ORECA AIM
11 / Team ORECA Matmut AIM / Courage-ORECA AIM

Can’t say I know much about this so I’m assuming it’s a continuation from last year.

6 / Team LNT / Ginetta Zytek
23 / Strakka Racing / Ginetta Zytek

Zytek and Ginetta merged toward the end of last year and LNT have stepped up from running a GT2 Panoz (and they entered Petit with this car). Quick chassis, promising for the privateer sub-class.

12 / Signature Plus / Courage Judd

The Formula 3 team makes the switch to endurance racing. ‘Tis all I know.

20 / Epsilon Euskadi / Epsilon Euskadi Judd

I’m surprised this only got one entry.

4 Creation Autosportif Creation Judd

Yay, Creation are back. I like them.

LM P2

5 / Navi Team Goh / Porsche RS Spyder
31 / Team Essex / Porsche RS Spyder
49 / Vitaphone Racing Team / Porsche RS Spyder

Team Goh won overall with the Audi R8 a few years back, they’ve been absent for a while. Team Essex weren’t going to enter and changed their minds. Vitaphone are a surprise announcement, they run Saleens in FIA GT and did enter Le Mans last year with an Aston GT1 but a prototype wasn’t expected at all.

25 / RML / Lola Mazda Coupe
44 / KSM / Lola Mazda Coupe

RML are always strong. No idea who KSM are. This Lola is fast, I think it’s basically the P2 version of what Aston Martin are running.

30 / Racing Box / Lola Judd Coupe
33 / Speedy Racing Team Sebah / Lola Judd Coupe

More Lola coupes for these guys but a choice of Judd engines instead. It’ll be an interesting battle between the four Lolas!

24 / Oak Racing / Pescarolo Mazda
35 / Oak Racing / Pescarolo Mazda

Pescarolo with a Mazda engine? Fair enough.. I’m sure I read who Oak Racing are, it’s a name change of a team I know about but I can’t remember who at the moment.

40 / Quifel-ASM Team / Ginetta Zytek 09S

The P2 version of the P1 car above. ASM had a Lola last year.

41 / Gac Racing Team / Zytek 07S

No idea. Seems like they have the previous version of the car ASM will run.

26 / Bruichladdich Bruneau / Radical AER

I like this team too and the Radical is pretty quick.

LM GT1

63 / Corvette Racing / Corvette C6.R
64 / Corvette Racing / Corvette C6.R

With no works Astons, guess who’ll win this class? This is the last appearance of works GT1 Corvettes though, so enjoy it.

72 / Luc Alphand Aventures / Corvette C6.R
73 / Luc Alphand Aventures / Corvette C6.R

Back-up for a fight that never came. They weren’t going to enter after a fight with the ACO over the promotion of the LMS, but changed their minds last minute. Not to mention wanting to prove how pacesetters in European GT racing fair at LM.

60 / Gigawave Motorsport Ltd / Aston Martin DBR9
66 / Jetalliance Racing / Aston Martin DBR9

Two quick Astons may just push Corvette hard enough.

55 / IPB Spartak Racing / Lamborghini Murcielago
68 / JLOC Isao Noritake / Lamborghini Murcielago

Is it unkind to say these are field-fillers?

This is probably the last year of GT1 in this spec. I know Ratel’s FIA World GT coming next year will run to different rules.

LM GT2

76 / IMSA Performance Matmut / Porsche 911 GT3 RSR (997)
77 / Team Felbermayer-Proton / Porsche 911 GT3 RSR (997)
80 / Flying Lizard Motorsport / Porsche 911 GT3 RSR (997)

Just three Porsches this year in GT2. I’m amazed, they used to dominate! Shame the Lizards didn’t get a second entry.

78 / AF Corse Srl / Ferrari F430 GT
82 / Risi Competizione / Ferrari F430 GT
83 / Risi Competizione / Ferrari F430 GT
84 / Team Modena / Ferrari F430 GT
89 / Hankook – Team Farnbacher / Ferrari F430 GT
92 / JMW Motorsport / Ferrari F430 GT
96 / Virgo Motorsport / Ferrari F430 GT
97 / BMS Scuderia Italia / Ferrari F430 GT
99 / JMB Racing / Ferrari F430 GT

Nine Ferraris!! I think that shows this is the faster car, as everyone gravitates toward it.

87 / Drayson Racing / Aston Martin V8
85 / Snoras Spyker Squadron / Spyker C8 Laviolette

Good to see that Drayson got an entry. You have to say they are aiming to score a finish, but that’s what Le Mans is about. Nice to see Spyker still plugging away but only one car this time.

You’ll note I’m not tipping winners in any class (except GT1!). Frankly with this field it’s much too difficult to go picking winners this early, and with no Test Day it’s even harder.

Reserves
There are ten reserves this year as opposed to 8 in previous years. As always they’ll enter the race in this order should any of the above withdraw, regardless of class. So if a P1 drops out the first reserve, a GT2 this year, will take that spot.

R1 / GT2 / Team Seattle Advanced Eng / Ferrari F430 GT
R2 / GT2 / Endurance China Team / Porsche 911 GT3 RSR (997)
R3 / GT2 / IMSA Performance Matmut / Porsche 911 GT3 RSR (997)
R4 / LMP2 / Barazi Epsilon / Zytek 07S
R5 / LMP2 / Gerard Welter / Zytek
R6 / LMP1 / Epsilon Euskadi / Epsilon Euskadi Judd
R7 / GT2 / Team Felbermayer-Proton / Porsche 911 GT3 RSR (997)
R8 / GT2 / Snoras Spyker Squadron / Spyker C8 Laviolette
R9 / GT1 / Team Larbre Competition / Saleen S7R
R10 / LMP2 / Racing Box SRL /Lola Judd Coupe

That answers where Epsilon Euskadi and Spyker’s second cars are, as well as several Porsches. How did Barazi and Larbre not get entries??? That’s nuts.
I don’t think we’ve seen Welter on the list for a while..

More Info

Okay I think I’m done. Unfortunately I don’t have time to scout for more information, sorry, but I hope this was enough to work as a little primer.

No doubt the boys at RadioLeMans.com will discuss this in great detail (along with more USF1 news and lots else) in tomorrow’s Midweek Motorsport which you can hear live at 8pm GMT / 3pm EST. I think it’s repeated at 8pm EST. If that’s not helpful, the podcast will follow on a day or so later. You need to count MWM as a ‘Must Listen’ even if sportscars isn’t your thing, ‘cos they cover all sorts of stuff.
(I also recommend FastMachines.com for a quick weekly hit and Sidepodcast.com for specialist F1 talk)

And of course there’s always the official website of the race.