Championships could be decided this weekend as the FIA World Endurance Championship reaches its penultimate round at China’s Shanghai International Circuit.
The main accolade on offer is the LMP1 manufacturers’ title, which is currently heading in Porsche’s direction after a clean sweep of victories for the German team after Le Mans. Audi is 53 points behind Porsche in the standings, with Toyota a further 92 points back, so a first or second place finish for either Porsche this weekend will be enough to seal the title.
The LMP2 and GTE-Am drivers’ championships can also be sealed on Sunday, although both points races were tightened up after poor results for the class leaders at the preceding 6 Hours of Fuji. KCMG’s non-finish in Japan means that the #26 G-Driver Racing Ligier will win the LMP2 title if KCMG retire again at Shanghai, while SMP Racing can round out a near-perfect GTE-Am season with a victory, despite finishing a lowly sixth at the most recent round.
Last year’s 6 Hours of Shanghai was won by the championship-winning Toyota TS040 Hybrid of Anthony Davidson and Sebastien Buemi, although Porsche impressed many by taking pole position. The state-of-the-art 3.38 mile Shanghai International Circuit has hosted two other FIA WEC events: in the inaugural 2012 season the six hour contest closed the eight-race calendar with Toyota Racing coming out on top, while the following year’s race was moved to early November and won by Audi Sport Team Joest.
This year, Porsche heads to China as the overwhelming favourite to take the spoils after a string of dominant performances with its 919 Hybrids. Mark Webber, Brendon Hartley and Timo Bernhard superceded Audi drivers Andre Lotterer, Marcel Fassler and Benoit Treluyer at the top of the standings, but with a point separating the two teams there is still plenty of margin for error heading into the final two events.
Rain would certainly play to Audi’s advantage this weekend – in dry conditions the Porsches have been largely impenetrable and their overall pace advantage is only likely to be restricted if the elements intervene.
Toyota is now fully focusing on its 2016 plans after another off-pace showing at Fuji, but can still advance in the drivers’ standings. Anthony Davidson and Sebastien Buemi were closing in on the world title this time last year, but this weekend the Japanese manufacturer will have to step back and watch its rivals battle for supremacy after a visibly straining 2015.
Rebellion Racing features the only lineup swap in LMP1 this weekend, as Swiss GP3 driver Mathéo Tuscher replaces Formula E-bound Daniel Abt.
The LMP2 class is still rebounding from the controversial incident that impacted the result of the 6 Hours of Fuji, in which KCMG’s Matt Howson tangled with G-Drive Racing’s Gustavo Yacaman minutes before the finish. The #47 KCMG ORECA 05 subsequently slipped below the #26 G-Drive Ligier at the top of the standings, despite dominant performances at Le Mans and the Nurburgring, and will require two high finishes if it is to win the category title.
In terms of points, #26 G-Drive leads the way with 134, while KCMG is 14 points back on 122. The #28 G-Drive car that was involved in the Fuji shunt is still in contention with 119. The #30 Extreme Speed Motorsports Ligier is fourth in the standings, but lies a distant 63 points adrift. ESM drivers Ryan Dalziel, Scott Sharp and David Heinemeier Hansson will be hoping for a third-time lucky effect after two fourth place finishes at COTA and Fuji, although the pace of the leading trio will once again be hard to match.
European Le Mans Series outfit Pegasus Racing might have concluded its regular season schedule, but the FIA WEC’s return to China has persuaded the team to make a world championship cameo with its trusted Morgan Nissan. The ever-popular David Cheng will partner Ho Pin Tung and Alex Brundle after a solid if not slightly disappointing ELMS campaign, but the known reliability and pace of the Morgan could herald a surprise podium result.
One single-driver alteration has been made for the 6 Hours of Shanghai, with Formula Renault 3.5 racer Tom Dillmann replacing Vincent Capillaire in the Signatech Alpine A450b Nissan. Dillmann, who has won races in GP2 and Formula 3, is set to replace Capillaire for the rest of the season.
The GTE ranks have been shaken up this weekend, with the omission of the #95 Aston Martin Racing Vantage making fronting the news. The ‘Dane Train’ car of Marco Sorensen, Christoffer Nygaard and Nicki Thiim has been withdrawn from the Shanghai round at least as a response to performance cuts imposed on the Aston Martin entries.
At the top of the Pro standings, though, fans will be treated to a battle royale between Ferrari and Porsche for the manufacturers’ title. The 228-215 swing in Ferrari’s favour comes after a brilliant victory for the #51 crew of Gianmaria Bruni and Toni Vilander at Fuji, but the known pace of the Porsches at Shanghai (a 1-2 finish was recorded last year) should provide an adequate and fascinating challenge as the season winds to a close.
In terms of the drivers’ title, Bruni and Vilander are now fully in contention after their Japan victory, although it is still Porsche’s Richard Leitz who leads the way. The Austrian driver is holding onto a slim seven point lead over Davide Rigon and James Calado (#71 Ferrari), while the #51 pairing is a further 9.5 points back. This makes Bruni and Vilander an outside bet for the title but after Fuji’s shake-up there is still plenty to be decided.
GTE-Am is also set to be a close affair, with SMP Racing looking to get back to winning ways after a disappointing Fuji. The Russian squad is a win away from claiming its second FIA WEC title in as many years, following victory in the LMP2 class last season.
A first-ever FIA WEC class win at Fuji has placed Dempsey Proton Racing in contention for the class championship, but the Porsche-backed squad lies a fairly arduous 36 points behind the SMP trio. However, a second successive victory and a poor weekend for SMP could see Patrick Dempsey, Patrick Long and Marco Seefried battling for the title in Bahrain.
Another team entering the penultimate round of the FIA WEC with a chance of claiming GTE-Am honours is AF Corse, although the #83 entry driven by Rui Aguas, Emmanuel Collard and Francois Perrodo will need to break its trend of podium-but-winless results that have allowed the SMP Ferrari to manufacture its lead in the standings.
There are no driver changes to note in the Am category, although Fuji FIA WEC debutantes Liam Griffin (#96 Aston Martin Racing) and Nicolai Sylvest (#50 Larbre Competition Corvette) have retained their places in the respective lineups.
This weekend’s 6 Hours of Shanghai takes place over three days, with free practices one and two running on Friday, October 30 at 10:30 and 15:30 (times local).
FP3 is scheduled for Saturday, October 31 at 09:00, while qualifying will get underway shortly afterwards at 14:00.
The race itself is set to go green at 11:00 on Sunday, November 1 (03:00 UK time).
Support is provided by the Audi R8 LMS Cup, FASC Super GT Festival and Porsche Carrera Cup Asia.