Earlier today in a rather snowy Paris, the Automobile Club de l’Ouest held their annual press conference to launch the new FIA World Endurance Championship season and the entry list for the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
The FIA World Endurance Championship officially launched their new Super Season at their yearly press conference in Paris today, revealing the full season entries for the WEC as well as the 2018 entry list for the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
The WEC will host their largest ever grid, comprised of 36 full season entries, including 10 LMP1 entries – a class that until fairly recently was believed to be on its last legs. This year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans will see a 60 car entry list, featuring an additional manufacturer in GTE Pro and more than double the full-season WEC entries in LMP2.
New life for LMP1
Despite having lost all but one of its hybrid manufacturers, the LMP1 category is looking very healthy for the season ahead with a combined total of 10 entries between hybrid and non-hybrid cars.
Toyota have revealed their new-look TS050 and confirmed their six-driver, two-car effort for the season. The line-up remains largely unchanged, apart from one notable addition – Formula One world champion Fernando Alonso. The Spaniard has been confirmed for the full season and will be joining Sebastien Buemi and Kazuki Nakajima in the #8 car.
The remaining eight entries in the class are made up of privateer, non-hybrid entries. The ByKolles is the only familiar car here, returning with their ENSO CLM P1/01 with Ollie Webb as their named driver. Two Ginetta chassis have been entered by CEFC TRSM Racing (formerly known as Manor) with Charlie Robertson and Oliver Rowland the only drivers confirmed so far. Rebellion will be returning to LMP1 after a brief reprieve with two brand new Rebellion R13 entries. Andre Lotterer and Thomas Laurent are listed to be driving the #1 and #3 respectively, and while the team has announced the full lineup, they are yet to specify who will be in which car. The final three LMP1 entries are all fielding a BR1 chassis – two are from Russian outfit SMP Racing, and the third belongs to Dragonspeed. SMP Racing have so far only declared Vitaly Petrov and Mikhail Aleshin on the entry list, but Dragonspeed have confirmed their full driver lineup: Henrik Hedman, Ben Hanley and Renger van der Zande.
In December, we reported that the World Motorsport Council had approved changes to the regulations in LMP1 and several of these were confirmed today. The points system will be changing from a manufacturer based system to a team orientated one, with points being awarded to the highest finishing car in a given race. Tyres changes will be allowed to take place simultaneously with refuelling, and penalties can now be applied to a specific driver’s license as opposed to team penalties.
Smaller full-season entry for LMP2
With the addition of privateer LMP1 chassis, it’s unsurprising that the LMP2 grid has shrunk somewhat. Dropping from an 11 car entry to just 7, there are some returners as well as some new faces.
TDS Racing are back for another season with their Oreca 07 and confirmed drivers Francois Perrodo, Matthieu Vaxiviere and Loic Duval. Signatech Alpine Matmut are also making the return and have confirmed Nicolas Lapierre, Andre Negrao and Pierre Thiriet for their assault on the championship. Jackie Chan DC Racing are the only two car entry on the grid this season and have only listed Jazeman Jaafar and Ho-Pin Tung so far.
Newcomers include European Le Mans Series graduates Racing Team Nederland who will be entering the only Dallara chassis with Frits Van Eerd, Giedo Van Der Garde and Jan Lammers, and Dragonspeed with their Oreca 07 – Roberto Gonzalez is the only listed driver for their LMP2 effort. The final full-season LMP2 entry goes to Larbre Competition, a team we’re used to seeing running a Corvette. This will be the French team’s first go at LMP2, and they’ll be bringing Erwin Cred, Romano Ricci and Fernando Rees to pilot their Ligier JSP217.
At the 2018 Le Mans 24 Hours, the LMP2 grid more than doubles in size with 20 entries lining up. Jackie Chan DC Racing will be fielding an extra two cars, Ligiers this time, with David Cheng and Jaques Nicolet as named drives, filling two more of their five automatic entries. Plenty of ELMS teams will be joining for Le Mans – G-Drive Racing have entered a pair of Orecas, and United Autosports will follow their 2017 Le Mans debut with a two-car entry. ELMS regulars Algarve Pro Racing, Panis Barthez Competition, Graff Racing, Eurasia Motorsport and IDEC Sport all have single car entries to the 24-hour race. Finally, SMP Racing and Cetilar Villorba Corsa are both entering Dallaras.
Ten entries from five manufacturers in GTE Pro
No surprises in GTE Pro as ten entries have been confirmed. Each manufacturer will field two-car entries with only BMW Team MTEK running three drivers per car. AF Corse and Ford Chip Ganassi Racing are retaining their drivers from last season. Porsche have brought in Gianmaria Bruni to race alongside regulars Richard Lietz, Michael Christensen and Kevin Estre.
Following the launch back in November last year, the FIA WEC Super Season will be the race debut for Aston Martin’s new challenger – the Aston Martin Vantage AMR, complete with its luminous livery. Marco Sorensen and Nicki Thiim will be behind the wheel of the #95 Aston Martin, while Alex Lynn and Maxime Martin will be joining forces in the #97.
The other new face in GTE Pro is the BMW M8 GTE entered by BMW Team MTEK. The car made its race debut at the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona in January this year, with the two entries finishing 7th and 9th in class. BMW have opted to run three drivers per car, with Martin Tomczyk, Nicky Catsburg and Phillipp Eng in the #81 and Augusto Farfus, Antonio Felix Da Costa and Alexander Sims in the #82.
GTE Pro will gain an extra seven entries for the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Both Ford and Porsche will be running four cars, and AF Corse have entered an extra Ferrari 458. Corvette Racing are jumping across the pond and bringing two Corvette C7.Rs with them.
GTE Am field grows in size
GTE Am has gained four full-season entries over last season as Dempsey-Proton Racing enter an extra car and two new teams join the fray. The nine-car grid will be made up of Ferraris, Porsches and a pair of Aston Martins.
All of last year’s teams are returning to the FIA WEC for the Super Season. Spirit of Race are back with their Ferrari 488, to be driven by Thomas Flohr, Francesco Castellacci and team newcomer Giancarlo Fisichella. The #61 Ferrari of Clearwater Racing has confirmed the same driver lineup as 2017, keeping Weng Sun Mok, Keita Sawa and Matt Griffin in their seats. Aston Martin Racing have also kept their lineup the same, with Paul Dalla Lana, Pedro Lamy and Mathias Lauda remaining aboard the #98. Dempsey –Proton Racing are entering the #88 Porsche 911 alongside last year’s #77 but have only listed Matteo Cairoli and Matt Campbell as drivers so far.
Newcomers for this season include TF Sport, continuing up from ELMS, entering their Aston Martin Vantage with Salih Yoluc, Euan Alers-Hankey and Charlie Eastwood. Team Project 1 have entered a Porsche 911 with Jorg Bergmeister, Patrick Lindsey and Egidio Perfetti and Japanese outfit MR Racing have entered a Ferrari 488 with Ishikawa Motoaki, Olivier Beretta and Eddie Cheever being selected for their first run at the FIA WEC.
For the Le Mans 24 hours, a total of 13 cars will make up the GTE Am grid, with Proton Competition, Ebimotors, Keating Motorsports and ELMS champions JMW Motorsport joining the lineup.
It is worth noting that as GTE Am cars must be 2017 spec cars, and this regulation runs through the entire Super Season, the earliest you’ll see the new Vantage and BMW M8 GTE in the Am teams will be 2019/2020, depending on how next season’s calendar is worked out
Changes in the championship
There were several other announcements made in today’s conference, most notably a somewhat controversial calendar change.
Fernando Alonso had been booked to run the entire super season, but when the calendar was initially drawn up, there was a clash between the 6 Hours of Fuji and the United States Grand Prix, meaning Toyota’s new star would not have been able to participate at their home race. It was confirmed today that the 6 Hours of Fuji will now be pushed forward a week to the 14th of October, though this now clashes with IMSA’s Petit Le Mans. So while Fernando Alonso can now take part in the Fuji round of WEC, a number of drivers who were booked to participate in both the 6 Hours of Fuji and Petit Le Mans now have a decision to make.
Elsewhere in the championship, it was announced that Richard Mille is the new president of the FIA’s Endurance Committee and Dr Wolfgang Ulrich will be making a welcome return to the endurance racing world as a special adviser to the ACO.
The FIA World Endurance Championship Super Season will see its first track action during testing at Paul Ricard in April, ahead of the first round, the 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps.