A lot has happened in the world of WEC since Sebring. Time for a quick recap ahead of the Super Season’s next outing – the 6 Hours of Spa.
This weekend sees the start of the penultimate round of the FIA World Endurance Championship’s Super Season. New for 2018/19, this 14-month long slog will wrap up at Le Mans (the second of the season) in June. The thirty-four strong grid returns to the iconic Spa-Francorchamps for a six-hour long race on Saturday. The championship hasn’t been out since Sebring in February, so before we settle in for free practice, let’s recap some of the headlines.
Seven Again for LMP1
Despite the return of the plucky ByKolles team, the LMP1 grid still sits at seven entries. Dragonspeed have withdrawn their BR1, citing a late delivery of required parts. The team is still represented in the LMP2 grid by Roberto Gonzalez, Pastor Maldonado and Anthony Davidson however, and they’ll inevitably be incredibly busy back at the workshop as preparations continue for the Indy 500.
We are disappointed to announce that our @FIAWEC LMP1 #10 @DallaraGroup @gibsontech1 entry will not race this weekend @ Spa. We have not been able to acquire the electronics that needed fixing after our DNF at Sebring. A little time, a test and focus on @24hoursoflemans pic.twitter.com/EORkOfbNO1
— DragonSpeed (@DragonSpeedLLC) April 30, 2019
ByKolles skipped out on Sebring, but have rejoined the grid here in Spa with yet another engine for the ENSO CLM P1/01. It’s NISMO out and Gibson in this time around, as the team join Rebellion in using Gibson power. The engine has already proven itself in Rebellion’s R13, so let’s see if it’s a good fit for the ByKolles!
There’s a change in the driver line-up at SMP Racing as the #11 waves goodbye to its former F1 champion, Jenson Button. The decision to withdraw has come from Jenson himself, deciding that he wants to spend more time with his family.
His departure has allowed Stoffel Vandoorne to make his LMP1 debut, and the Belgian driver will be joining SMP for Spa and Le Mans.
“I am very pleased to join SMP Racing and drive the BR1 №11 prototype in my home race in Spa-Francorchamps and in the legendary 24 Hours of Le Mans.” Vandoorne said. “The LMP1 cars are really demanding and their performances are very close to Formula 1. I will have the opportunity to re-join ART Grand Prix and a lot of people that I’ve been working with during my successful campaign in GP2. Also, it´s great to work alongside such experienced drivers as Vitaly Petrov and Mikhail Aleshin. My objective is to contribute to the Team’s performance and work in collaboration with all drivers to develop the BR1 prototype and to make a good impression.”
New Names in LMP2
It’s an eight-strong grid for LMP2 as G-Drive make a guest appearance with the ELMS-entered car. Jean-Eric Vergne, Roman Rusinov and Job Van Uitert (or R. Rusinovski, Good Job, Job and J. E. Verge if the side of the car is to be believed) will take to the track in the team’s new Aurus 01.
— Oreca (@Oreca) May 1, 2019
The Aurus is similar to the Alpine in that it’s a re-badged Oreca, but the car had a good debut at Paul Ricard in the ELMS, finishing fourth. G-Drive also join TDS Racing and Jackie Chan DC Racing on the Dunlop side of the LMP2 tyre war. The team finished second here last year, narrowly missing out on the win thanks to the ‘Mighty 38’ Jackie Chan DC Racing, so expect a strong showing this weekend.
The GTE Battle Rages On
Coming into this weekend, it’s Porsche with its hands on the both the GTE Manufacturers’ and Drivers’ Championships. The German marque has a 100 point lead over Ferrari in the Manufacturers’ standings while Kevin Estre and Michael Christensen are 25 points clear of teammates Gianmaria Bruni and Richard Lietz. Unsurprising, considering that Estre and Christensen are the only entry to have won more than one race this season – Le Mans 2018 and Fuji.
GTE has consistently proven to be the more exciting category to watch this season. GTE Pro has frequently had long, yet intense battles between multiple cars throughout the race. We expect nothing different here. Ford will no doubt be looking for a good result again. The #66 car won here this time last year. Plus, this will likely be the penultimate race for the factory team, so it’d be best to go out on a high!
Free practice will give us the first inkling of how the BoP might play out here and where the cars may sit come qualifying.
Please Exit to the Left, the Rollercoaster is now Over
One of the headlines from Sebring was from Team Project 1 – the team suffered a significant fire during the official test days, ultimately destroying their championship-leading car. The team put in a mammoth effort and managed to get a brand new car shipped over, scrutineered and ready by the time free practice two kicked off round the bumps. According to Dailysportscar, that part of the chapter can now be closed, as the ELMS car the team used in Sebring is back where it should be, and they have a brand new chassis for this weekend.
Sitting behind Team Project 1 in the standings is Thomas Flohr, Francesco Castellacci and Giancarlo Fisichella in the #55 Spirit of Race Ferrari, and Paul Dalla Lana, Pedro Lamy and Mathias Lauda in the #98 Aston Martin Racing Vantage.
Alonso Out, Hartley In
News came out yesterday that Fernando Alonso intends to step away from the WEC following the season finale at Le Mans. The Spaniard will apparently be pursuing other motorsport endeavours with Toyota. The Japanese team wasted no time in announcing his replacement – step forward Brendan Hartley. He’ll be joining Sébastien Buemi and Kazuki Nakajima in the #8 and will be making his race debut at the season opener at Silverstone in August.
Thursday’s track action includes FP1 and FP2, while the third free practice and qualifying take place Friday. The 6 Hours of Spa begins at 13.30 local time on Saturday May 4th.