The 2017 World Endurance Championship gets underway this weekend with the season opener, the 6 Hours of Silverstone, taking place over easter weekend. A 27-strong grid will line up at the classic British circuit to put the new 2017 cars through their paces for the first endurance race. After the Prologue, it appears there are no clear favourites as to who will run away with the respective class championships.
In the LMP1 Hybrid class, only two teams remain after the sudden departure of Audi at the end of last season. This leaves just Porsche and Toyota to battle for the World Driver’s and Manufacturer’s Championships. Both cars looked especially strong at the Prologue at the start of the month, but with the two running different aero packages until the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the beginning of the season could see a big advantage handed to one team.
Porsche have elected to run the low-downforce ‘Le Mans’ specification aero kit on their two Porsche 919 Hybrids for the first three rounds of the championship, whilst Toyota has chosen to play into the circuits by putting on the high-downforce aero kit until Le Mans. The multiple fast corners at Silverstone are better run with the high-downforce aero body kit so it is suspected this may give Toyota an advantage this weekend.
However, the new rules for the LMP1 cars this season state that they can only have two aerodynamic body kits rather than the three they had last year, and once a body kit is homologated onto the car it cannot incur any major changes or updates. This means that, in the latter stages of the season, Toyota will not be able to make a massive change to their high-downforce body kit ahead of the fifth round, the 6 Hours of Mexico, whereas Porsche will be able to develop and change their high-downforce body kit through the summer break.
In the Privateer section of the LMP1 class, only one team remains after Rebellion Racing moved to LMP2 ahead of the 2017 season. ByKOLLES Racing are the sole entrant of this class and are looking to develop their 2017 challenger over the season so they can have good on track battles with the Ginetta-based cars when they join the class next season. So far, the campaign is not looking very good for ByKOLLES as, due to engine issues during the Prologue, they have barely got any miles on the new car. It is possible the team may not even finish the 6 Hours of Silverstone.
The LMP2 field had an option of four chassis ahead of the 2017 season whilst they all had to run the Gibson V8 engine. By coincidence, the entire field elected to run the ORECA 07 chassis, meaning the whole field is running ORECA 07/Gibson cars. This has lead to what appears to be a very close grid, with the whole class covered, on average, by around 2 seconds during the Prologue. Hopefully, the pace stays relative to the Prologue results and the LMP2 class will be a close fought championship.
New to the class this season are two Variante Rebellion cars, run by the team that was formerly in LMP1. Two cars are also being raced under the banner of Jackie Chan DC Racing with pilots on board such as Bruno Senna and ex-Audi LMP1 driver Oliver Jarvis.
Manor gets a rebranding as CEFC Manor TRS Racing and will take two cars to the track. However, it appears the second Manor entry may be Le Mans only as it does not appear on the 27 cars entered for the 6 Hours of Silverstone nor did it turn up for the Prologue at Monza. Signatech Alpine come back to defend their title with a two car team, whilst G-Drive brought on board ex-GP2 driver Alex Lynn alongsideRoman Rusinov and Pierre Thiriet. What was the second G-Drive car last year will race under the banner of TDS Racing in honour of the new G-Drive pair up with the team.
LM GTE Pro
Eight cars line up to take on the LM GTE Pro class this season with last year’s champions Nicki Thiim and Marco Sorenson returning to the #95 Aston Martin. Porsche GT Racing was the team to watch during the Prologue and look like they may be the favourites to win the first round of the season. Each manufacturer has two cars racing in this class. Ferrari will bring two Ferrari 488 GTEs under the team name of AF Corse while Ford bring along their two UK based Ford GTs for the Ford Chip Ganassi Team UK entrant.
Two cars will race for Aston Martin Racing with the other cockpit being shared by Darren Turner and Jonny Adam. The two cars have been handed a 15kg BoP for the opening round at Silverstone. If this is additional to anything the team were running at the Prologue this could see them struggling in the first race.
LM GTE Am
With the loss of last year’s class-winning Ferrari, five cars line up for the LM GTE Am class. Porsche and Ferrari have two customer cars in the GTE Am field whilst Aston Martin only placed one. Gulf Racing and Dempsey-Proton Racing have Porsche 919 RSRs whilst Spirit of Race and Clearwater Racing challenge with Ferrari 488 GTEs.
Last season, Paul Dalla Lana, Pedro Lamy, and Mathias Lauda made some noise, being very competitive and taking class poles and five class victories. It was reliability and retirements in three of the events that saw them unable to fight for the class title. This year the trio combines again to take an Aston Martin Vantage V8 to the track as the sole Am car for Aston Martin Racing.
The first practice session of the 6 Hours of Silverstone gets underway tomorrow at 11:45 BST. The Checker Flag will be trackside to bring you all the latest updates and reports from the 6 Hours of Silverstone as they happen.