Preview: FIA WEC 6 Hours of the Nürburgring

As a venue steeped in history, it’s surprising that the Nürburgring hasn’t already played host to a round of the regenerated FIA World Endurance Championship.

This weekend, however, the world’s premier endurance racing series will have the chance to grace one of the sport’s most venerable circuits once again, following in the footsteps of the legendary 1000km races that attracted vast crowds and the fastest prototype machines throughout the 20th century.

Now it’s the turn of the Hybrid-powered monsters to tackle the 16 turn, 3.11 mile Sudschleife. While this year’s LMP1 class battle has lived up to (and surpassed) many expectations, there will be an added aura heading into this weekend’s race as three of the four major manufacturers are based in Germany.

Porsche, recent winners of the Le Mans 24 Hours in June, heads into the fourth round of the championship as the favourite to take the spoils in the Eiffel foothills. The 919 Hybrid has been quick in the post-Le Mans tests, so expect to see another podium finish at least for the Weissach-based team.

Porsche 919 Hybrid, Porsche Team: Timo Bernhard, Brendon Hartley
Porsche enjoyed a successful Nüruburgring test (Credit: Porsche Presse)

However, many are tipping Audi for another six-hour success on a track that has proven to favour the now permanent low-downforce aero configuration of its R18 e-tron quattro. Audi was actually the quickest of the manufacturers at the two day test in July – 0.2s ahead of the fastest Porsche 9191 Hybrid – so the Joest team will undoubtedly be challenging for the overall spoils once again. Despite finishing third at Le Mans, victories at Silverstone and Spa-Francorchamps are enough to keep the #7 crew 23 points ahead of the nearest full season Porsche in the standings.

Toyota will be keen to ameliorate its recent dry patch after a disappointing week at Le Mans. The Cologne-based team has struggled for pace so far this year – seemingly caught out by the vast improvements of Audi and Porsche – and will have to benefit from rivals’ misfortune if it is to get its second podium of the year.

Nissan opted to miss the Nürburgring test, instead traveling to the Circuit of the Americas (the venue for round five of the FIA WEC) to try out several new components for its GT-R LM NISMO. Running without an energy recovery system, and with a new FRIC suspension setup, the car submitted times approximately eight seconds off the pace of the Toyota TS040 last year. Despite the alterations, Nissan will miss the 6 Hours of the Nürburgring to focus on the continued development of its unique front-engine racer.

Round 4 of the 2015 WEC
The Rebellions have already arrived at the circuit (Credit: FIA WEC/Jeff Carter)

Rebellion Racing and Team ByKolles will both be present at the Nürburgring, fielding their respective LMP1 non-hybrid designs. After a strong performance on the car’s debut at Le Mans, the #13 Rebellion-AER of Dominik Kraihamer, Alex Imperatori and Daniel Abt currently leads the privateer standings by 14 points from the sister #12 car of Nick Heidfeld, Mathias Beche and Nicolas Prost. Three non-finishes for the ByKolles CLM-AER (driven this weekend by Simon Trummer and Pierre Kaffer) suggest that reliability would be its likeliest downfall at the Nurburgring, although the Austrian team is hopeful that it can gain some much-needed championship points at its home round.

The LMP2 grid has been slightly shaken up for the Nürburgring 6 Hours, with Strakka Racing set to debut the exciting Gibson 015S Nissan that it will use for the remainder of the FIA WEC season. The Gibson, which already features in the European Le Mans Series under Jota Sport and Greaves Motorsport’s reign, was the fastest of the LMP2 runners at the test day and will likely compete at the sharp end of the class field, should the known pace of the former Zytek chassis be complemented by reliability.

Interest will also be heavily bestowed upon the KCMG Oreca 05 – fresh from its victorious performance at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. LMP2 drivers’ championship leaders Matthew Howson and Richard Bradley are just four points ahead of the fancied #28 G-Drive Racing Ligier trio, but are this weekend bolstered by the presence of overall Le Mans winner Nick Tandy, who is set to complete the season with the Chinese outfit.

KCMG will be looking to repeat Le Mans success (Credit: Nick Dungan/FIA WEC)

OAK Racing is another team that has made changes since Le Mans, with the all-gentleman #35 car being pulled from this weekend’s event, owing to a business clash. However, the Ligier JS P2 will still get a healthy representation in Germany, as ESM brings its pair of cars over from the United States for the team’s first six hour race in Onroak-produced machinery.

Team SARD Morand continues to field its solitary Morgan Evo Nissan, which this weekend will sport both a new livery and a new driver. A menacing dark red and black design replaces the blue of old, with  British racer Archie Hamilton set to make his FIA WEC prototype debut alongside Pierre Ragues and Oliver Webb.

The GTE-Pro class battle is once again shaping up to be a close-fought affair, with Porsche looking to break its 2015 winless streak on home soil. The usual two 911 RSRs will compete against the two AF Corse Ferraris that have so far excelled in the championship, while Aston Martin Racing brings its three V8 Vantage machines.

There is a slight driver change in the #97 Aston Martin that currently props up the team’s standings in seventh, as British GT Championship regular Johnny Adam makes his FIA WEC bow in place of Rob Bell.

Unleashing the beast! (Credit: FIAWEC/Jeff Carter)

Aston Martin Racing’s non-finish at Le Mans means that the GTE-Am order has swung dramatically in favour of SMP Racing heading to Germany. The Russian squad’s victory at La Sarthe places Victor Shaytar, Alexey Basov and Andrea Bertolini 14 points ahead of the #83 AF Corse crew of Francois Perrodo, Rui Aguas and Emmanuel Collard, while the #98 Aston drops to fourth, behind the Dempsey Racing Porsche.

Nevertheless, the #98 Aston’s pre-Le Mans form is enough to suggest that Paul Dalla Lana, Pedro Lamy and Mathias Lauda will be in contention for a third win of the season, as redemption for their agonising 23rd hour exit at La Sarthe.

The #83 Ferrari remains a dark horse, especially after three strong performances to open the year – while the experienced driver line-up is arguably one of the strongest in class. This puts AF Corse in good stead for an Am podium, although picking out a winner in the ‘orange’ category is not easy considering the strength of the rivals – including the Larbre Competition Corvette C7.R that has been quick but plagued with misfortune, and the Dempsey Racing Porsche squad that will still be on a high after its much-storied podium at Le Mans.

The FIA WEC 6 Hours of the Nürburgring will get underway with Free Practice 1 at 12:00 on Friday, August 28. Qualifying, which is split into GT and Prototypes, will commence at 14:00 on Saturday, August 29, while the race itself goes green the following day at 13:00 (all times local).