How to Watch the FIA World Endurance Championship


The FIA World Endurance Championship features four classifications of cars competing in six-hour long endurance races. The 24 Hours of Le Mans is the headline race of the series, the race that most of the cars are built for, and the only race in the series to be longer than six hours.

Before the WEC, the series was known as the Intercontinental Le Mans Cup and began in 2010. In 2012, the FIA and the ACO announced that the series would be known as the World Endurance Championship. The rules changed very little as the WEC replaced the ILMC.

As the 2017 FIA WEC Prologue gets underway, The Checkered Flag has presented the rules and formats of the World Endurance Championship so that you can enjoy the season to it’s fullest.

Calendar

The WEC calendar this year consists of nine rounds running from April to November. Eight of the rounds host six-hour long endurance races whilst the third round of the season holds the highly anticipated Le Mans 24 Hours in France at the Circuit de la Sarthe. The season gets off to a slow start as the teams focus on Le Mans in June, with only two rounds occurring before the blue-ribbon event. But once Le Mans testing and racing is complete, the championship fights can really be seen.

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Race Format

All four classes of cars race together at the same time but qualification is split into two half an hour sessions, with the LM GTE classes going out for the first half hour and then the LMP classes going out and qualifying in the second half hour. The grid is composed of all four classes, so if an LMP2 car is particularly slow or has a fault it could see itself starting down the grid amongst the LM GTE cars.

Qualifying is also done as a team. Two drivers from each team must set a lap time during the course of their qualifying session. The best lap time of each driver is put together to form an average. Whichever team has the best lap average from their two drivers gets pole position. Each pole sitter in class gains an extra championship point for getting pole position.

Porsche GT Team, Porsche 911 RSR, LMGTE Pro, #92, Michael Christensen, Kevin Estre, FIA WEC Prologue Autodromo Nazionale Monza Credit: Craig Robertson/SpeedChills

Classification

To classify in the race, cars must cross the finish line on track when the chequered flag is shown. Because of this rule, there will be some cars that have had problems all race frantically trying to fix the car so that it can cross the line and take the flag.

Classification of a car means it will get at least half a point, so it is always worth it. Cars must also have completed 70% of the race distance covered by the winner. So if the winning car completes 100 laps all other cars must complete at least 70 laps to be classified and get their points. The official number of laps completed by contenders will be rounded to the nearest whole number.

Drivers have a set amount of tyres they can use through the race weekend. These are listed below. The tyre providers are Michelin and Dunlop. Each class of car is allowed to have a different number of tyres to the other classes and in some races, more tyres are provided because degradation is higher.

Pit Stops

As the races are so long it is common for drivers to return to the pits with an issue, be wheeled back into the garage for repairs and then be returned to the track a little while later. In these instances, no work is allowed to be done on the car in the pit lane. If a front wing needs to be changed the car must be returned to the garage before the team can make these changes.

Pit stops are also highly scrutinised. Only two members of the team are allowed to be passed the pit lane line outside the garage at a time. Refuelling must be complete before any tyres are changed. Drivers may change over whilst refuelling is happening.

Pit stop infringements will give a team a drive through or potential stop and go penalty. Infringements are given for things such as dropping a tyre in the pit lane, as this could potentially cause a dangerous situation or having too many team members in the pit lane at one time.

Jackie Chan DC Racing, Oreca 07-Gibson, LMP2, #37, David Cheng, Alex Brundle, Tristan Gommendy, FIA WEC Prologue Autodromo Nazionale Monza Credit: Craig Robertson/SpeedChills

Safety Car

The safety car system is very sophisticated in WEC. As well as having a virtual safety car, which can be deployed around the track for incidents where a full safety car is not needed, there is also the real safety car. Every track has one safety car in operation and is usually based in the pit lane.

If the track exceeds a distance of 7km there may be other safety cars in place at intermediate positions on the track. For example, the Le Mans 24 Hours has three safety cars that are all deployed at the same time if the safety car is needed. This splits the grid into three groups, and each safety car group is controlled by whichever car is at the front of the pack. This could be that, once the safety car is brought back into the pits, a GTE Am car could be restarting the racing.

 

In a safety car period, drivers cannot pit within the first three laps. The only reason drivers would be allowed to enter the pit lane before the safety car has completed three laps is to replace damaged tyres. If this happens teams may also fuel cars for five seconds only. Refuelling does not have to happen in these pit stops. Once three laps under the safety car have passed drivers and teams are allowed to pit as usual.

The virtual safety car forces all cars to drive with a limiter on. It slows the cars down to a certain speed, which has been deemed safe for the competitors to continue racing whilst any debris on track or incidents is cleaned away. No overtaking is allowed under the virtual safety car, just as it is not allowed under a regular safety car.

The Championship

WEC has two world titles the drivers and teams can fight for: the FIA World Endurance Driver’s Championship and the FIA World Endurance Manufacturers’ Championship. Last year, Neel Jani, Romain Dumas, and Marc Lieb won the driver’s title and their team Porsche took the Manufacturers’ title.

There is also a World Endurance Cup for the best GT drivers and Manufacturers’. Last year, Nicki Thiim and Marco Sørensen took the GT Driver’s cup, whilst Ferrari took the Manufacturers’. The other contenders compete for trophies earned by being the best of their class. Each class has a team’s champion and driver’s champions – apart from GTE Pro, which only has a team’s trophy.

Aston Martin Racing, Aston Martin Vantage, LMGTE Pro, #95, Nicki Thiim, Marco Sorensen, Richie Stanaway,
FIA WEC Prologue Credit: Craig Robertson/SpeedChills

Points

The points system for the WEC is standard to other FIA competing motorsports. Positions 1 to 10 gets points on a scale starting with 25 points for the winner. If a car finishes outside of the top ten and is classified as finishing the race the team/drivers gain a half point. For the Le Mans 24 Hours, points are doubled:

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Car Classes

There are two different classes of car with two sub-classes within each of these. Le Mans Prototype cars hold LMP1 and LMP2 whilst GTE cars run in the LMGTE Pro and LMGTE Am classes. Each class of cars has their own rules and regulations dictating which cars and drivers can compete.

Most Le Mans Prototype teams have a three-man driver line-up whereas the G teams usually opt for two drivers. This is not in the rules and it is more than possible to have a two-man team in LMP2 or a three-man team in LMGTE Pro. For Le Mans, some two-driver teams will take on a third driver to help with the high-intensity endurance driving.

Le Mans Prototype cars are closed cockpit. They are produced specifically for racing in the 24 Hours of Le Mans and developed exclusively for on-track competition. These cars can also be seen competing in races for the European Le Mans Series and International Motorsport Association.

LMP1

LMP1 is a classification for manufacturers to push their car designing skills to the limit. There are two different types of LMP1 cars that can participate in this class. LMP1 Hybrid cars include an ERS (Energy Recovery System) in their cars whilst the LMP1 Non-hybrid cars do not have any ERS. The LMP1 Non-hybrid cars are reserved for privateer cars. Privateer cars are teams that are independent of a manufacturer. This means that they will be provided with an engine from a manufacturer but that is the only input the manufacturer will have on the car. Manufacturers are not allowed to help with chassis development of the privateer cars.

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LMP2

LMP2 cars also have to be closed cockpit. Only teams independent of manufacturers may enter LMP2, following similar rules to the privateers’ teams in LMP1. Where rules and regulations have been changed for this season for some of the class series, LMP2 has remained pretty much the same for 2017.

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Le Mans Grand Touring Endurance cars are usually modified road cars, so they are more apt for racing and competing at high levels of endurance. They have two doors, two or 2+2 seats inside (or at least have the capability to include this many seats). They are perfectly legal road cars so could be seen in a car showroom and sold. The basis of a road car can be found in these two categories but they have been heavily modified for endurance racing.

LMGTE Pro

The two LMGTE classes of cars have very similar rules and regulations. The biggest difference between the two is the type of drivers that must be included on the team. The Pro class is more designed for professional drivers than amateur drivers. In this year’s field, the driver line-ups are composed of solely Gold and Platinum drivers.

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LMGTE Am

The LMGTE Am cars are the same as the Pro class and have the capability of competing at the same pace and level as them. However, the drivers on board the Am class are usually amateur drivers. The cars are also one year old or meet the requirements of last year’s regulations. This factor usually gives the Pro class and drivers the edge over the Am class and drivers.

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Driver Classification

Driver classifications determine which classes of car drivers are allowed to race. All drivers must at least hold an International B Racing license to take part in ant class of World Endurance Racing. The drivers are sorted into four categories: A – platinum, B – gold, C – silver, and D – bronze. The categories are explained along with their criteria below:

Platinum

Platinum drivers are professional drivers that are recognised on an international level. A platinum driver must be under the age of 50 and complies with one of the below criteria:

  • Has held a Super License (for Formula One)
  • Has won the Le Mans 24 Hours outright
  • Has been a Works Driver, paid by a car manufacturer
  • Has finished in the top 10, in general classification, in either F3000, CART/Champcar, IRL or Formula 2 series
  • Has finished in the top 6, in general classification, in either a Formula 3 international series (British/Euro F3) or a major single-seater Championship (for example, World Series by Renault)
  • A driver whose performance and achievements, despite not being covered by one of the definitions above, may be considered as Platinum by the Endurance Committee 

Gold

Semi-professional driver in international series or who had distinguished themselves in national Championships and complies with one of the below criteria:

  • A driver who meets platinum criteria but is aged 50-59
  • Has competed competitively in the World Karting Championships or single-seater series and is under 35 years of age
  • Has finished top 10, in general classification, of a secondary international single-seater series (A1 GP, Renault V6, FR2000 international etc.)
  • Has finished top 6, in general classification, of a national single-seater series (F3, FR2000 etc.)
  • Has finished top 5, in general classification, in an entry-level single-seater series (F-Ford, F-BMW, F-Zip, Autosport Academy etc.)
  • Has finished top 6, in general classification, of the Porsche Supercup
  • Has finished top 3, in general classification, of a national or international series organised by a manufacturer (Porsche, Seat, Peugeot, Renault etc.)
  • A driver whose performance and achievements, despite not being covered by one of the definitions above, may be considered as Gold by the Endurance Committee

Silver

An amateur driver that complies with one of the following criteria:

  • Under the age of 30 and does not comply with any of the Gold or Platinum criteria
  • Driver satisfying the Platinum criteria but is aged over 60
  • Has finished 1st, in general classification, in a national Championship or international series associated with a professional driver
  • Has won a non-professional driver’s series (Ferrari Challenge, Maserati Trofeo, Lamborghini Supertrophy etc.)
  • A driver whose performance and achievements, despite not being covered by one of the definitions above, may be considered as Silver by the Endurance Committee

Bronze

Is an amateur driver and must hold an International B license. A bronze driver is a driver whose performance and achievements may be considered as Bronze by the Endurance Committee.

The only class with a free driver combination is LMGTE Pro. LMP1 teams may not include a Bronze driver. LMP2 teams must have 2/3 drivers that include at least one Bronze or Silver driver. LMGTE Am must also have a 2/3 driver team, but they must have and least one Bronze driver and a Silver driver or at least two Bronze drivers.

Full entry list for the 2017 World Endurance Championship can be seen below.

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