On a bumper weekend for motorsport around the globe, one event stands out above the rest. Season five of the FIA World Endurance Championship is upon us, and is bigger than ever.
It is only fitting that probably the most advanced racing series in the world right now begins its 2016 journey with the oldest prize in the sport. 111 years after the first RAC Tourist Trophy was presented, 33 entries are planning to go after the same ornate silverware at Silverstone this weekend.
Four classes are once again in action for Sunday’s six hour event, featuring plenty of new faces and interesting driver combinations.
#1 Porsche Team – Brendon Hartley/Mark Webber/Timo Bernhard (Porsche 919 Hybrid)
#2 Porsche Team – Neel Jani/Marc Lieb/Romain Dumas (Porsche 919 Hybrid)
#4 Bykolles Racing – Simon Trummer/Oliver Webb/James Rossiter (CLM P1/01 AER)
#5 Toyota Gazoo Racing – Anthony Davidson/Sebastien Buemi/Kazuki Nakajima (Toyota TS050)
#6 Toyota Gazoo Racing – Stephana Sarrazin/Kamui Kobayashi/Mike Conway (Toyota TS050)
#7 Audi Sport Team Joest – Marcel Fassler/Andre Lotterer/Benoit Treluyer (Audi R18)
#8 Audi Sport Team Joest – Lucas di Grassi/Oliver Jarvis/Loic Duval (Audi R18)
#12 Rebellion Racing – Nicolas Prost/Nelson Piquet Jr/Nick Heidfeld (Rebellion R-One AER)
#13 Rebellion Racing – Matheo Tuscher/Dominik Kraihamer/Alexandre Imperatori (Rebellion R-One AER)
LMP1 is the least altered of the four categories, with most of the manufacturer lineups remaining unchanged from last season. Porsche and Audi stick with their usual two-car crews, while Toyota has a slight change in the #6 TS050, bringing in ex-Formula 1 star Kamui Kobayashi. Rebellion Racing and ByKolles, the two privateers, have also done some reshuffling as Nelson Piquet Jr joins the former while Britain’s Oliver Webb and James Rossiter take their places in the latter.
Silverstone was Audi’s circuit last year, but after a troublesome Paul Ricard test there were doubts about how competitive the R18s will be this time around. However, the Joest squad has since been working hard with a private test at Monza, so fans of the four rings can rest assured that the earlier issues have been dispelled.
Porsche, by contrast, enters the 2016 season with bags of momentum following its championship sweep last year. The 919 Hybrid carried a massive speed advantage on the Silverstone straights last year, but the Prologue results imply that Toyota and Audi have closed the gap. Even so, a perfect test that saw world champs Brendon Hartley, Mark Webber and Timo Bernhard finish first overall was enough of an indication that Porsche will be firmly in the hunt for its seventh consecutive FIA WEC race win.
Toyota has had a resurgent post-season with the birth of its next-gen hybrid racer, the TS050. The eight megajoule beast provided worthy opposition to Porsche during testing and is looking quick particularly in the high-speed sections. Last year, the Japanese outfit benefited from rivals’ misfortune to reach the podium at Silverstone, but this time the package is capable of getting there on its own.
#26 G-Drive Racing – Roman Rusinov/Nathanael Berthon/Rene Rast (Oreca 05 Nissan)
#27 SMP Racing – Nicolas Minassian/Maurizio Mediani/David Markozov (BR01 Nissan)
#30 Extreme Speed Motorsports – Scott Sharp/Ed Brown/Johannes van Overbeek (Ligier JS P2 Nissan)
#31 Extreme Speed Motorsports – Ryan Dalziel/Pipo Derani/Chris Cumming (Ligier JS P2 Nissan)
#35 Baxi DC Racing Alpine – David Cheng/Ho Pin Tung/Nelson Panciatici (Alpine A460 Nissan)
#36 Signatech Alpine – Gustavo Menezes/Nicolas Lapierre/Stephane Richelmi (Alpine A460 Nissan)
#37 SMP Racing – Vitaly Petrov/Kirill Ladygin/Viktor Shaytar (BR01 Nissan)
#42 Strakka Racing – Danny Watts/Jonny Kane/Nick Leventis (Gibson 015S Nissan)
#43 RGR Sport by Morand – Ricardo Gonzalez/Bruno Senna/Filipe Albuquerque (Ligier JS P2 Nissan)
#44 Manor – Tor Graves/Will Stevens/James Jakes (Oreca 05 Nissan)
#45 Manor – Matt Rao/Richard Bradley/Roberto Merhi (Oreca 05 Nissan)
LMP2 is looking healthy once again with 11 entries listed for Silverstone. Many of these come in pairs, with two-car efforts from Extreme Speed Motorsports, SMP Racing and Manor giving the field a distinct team element.
Defending champions G-Drive Racing will be keen to make an early statement at Silverstone. The Russian squad is now racing with Oreca, and features a heavily revised lineup. Roman Rusinov is the only remnant of that 2015-winning crew, and is joined this weekend by Nathanael Berthon, one of the quickest ELMS drivers last year, and Rene Rast who has driven for Audi at Le Mans.
Another eye catching lineup is boasted by RGR Sport by Morand, a new team for the 2016 season. Former F1 star Bruno Senna joins Audi factory man Filipe Albuquerque and team owner Ricardo Gonzalez in the first Mexican entry to the FIA WEC.
However, even a strong driver lineup will not guarantee victory this weekend. All 11 cars are capable of running at the front, so it will take a mix of racing speed, effective pit strategy and possibly a bit of fortune to determine the winner here.
#51 AF Corse – Gianmaria Bruni/James Calado (Ferrari 488 GTE)
#66 Ford Chip Ganassi Team UK – Billy Johnson/Stefan Mucke/Olivier Pla (Ford GT)
#67 Ford Chip Ganassi Team UK – Marino Franchitti/Andy Priaulx/Harry Tincknell (Ford GT)
#71 AF Corse – Davide Rigon/Sam Bird (Ferrari 488 GTE)
#77 Dempsey-Proton Racing – Richard Lietz/Michael Christensen (Porsche 911 RSR 2016)
#95 Aston Martin Racing – Nicki Thiim/Marco Sorensen/Darren Turner (Aston Martin Vantage)
#97 Aston Martin Racing – Richie Stanaway/Fernando Rees/Jonny Adam (Aston Martin Vantage)
Would anyone like to call a winner in this GTE-Pro field? Once again, the top class for production-based racing cars is littered with driving talent and manufacturer involvement. Although Porsche has scaled back its program from two cars to one this season, the Dempsey-Proton lineup containing reigning champion Richard Leitz and his trusted partner Michael Christensen should be vying for trophies from the start.
The big news comes from Ford, and a project that has been exponentially building steam since it was announced at Le Mans. Two cars are present, with the all-British #67 crew in particular looking for a big result on home soil. This is actually the busiest racing weekend in the history of Chip Ganassi Racing, with cars also racing in the IMSA sportscar championship, IndyCar Series, Xfinity Series and NASCAR Sprint Cup!
Ferrari retains its familiar two-horse stable for 2016, although there are still plenty of changes to note. Out goes the Ferrari 458 Italia and in comes the equally rapid 488 GTE, while LMP2 champion Sam Bird rejoins the team in a driver reshuffle that also sees James Calado move into the #51 car with class icon Gianmaria Bruni.
Aston Martin won the PR war before the 6 Hours of Silverstone, hovering one of its Vantage GTE racers above a London skyscraper as part of its pre-event hype. The British marque will once again be loud and proud at its home event, this time sporting the all-too-fitting British racing green on its #95 pro car. Aston struggled for pace at the Prologue, but Silverstone has been kind in the past and could give the expectant fans something to cheer about come Sunday evening.
#50 Larbre Competition – Yutaka Yamagishi/Paolo Ruberti/Pierre Ragues (Corvette C7.R)
#78 KCMG – Christian Ried/Wolf Henzler/Joel Camathias (Porsche 911 RSR)
#83 AF Corse – Rui Aguas/Francois Perrodo/Emmanuel Collard (Ferrari 458 Italia)
#86 Gulf Racing – Michael Wainwright/Adam Carroll/Ben Barker (Porsche 911 RSR)
#88 Abu Dhabi Proton Racing – Khaled Al Qubaisi/David Heinemeier Hansson/Klaus Bachler (Porsche 911 RSR)
#98 Aston Martin Racing – Paul Dalla Lana/Pedro Lamy/Mathias Lauda (Aston Martin V8 Vantage)
Despite being the least populous class there is still an exciting mix of GTE-Am competition at Silverstone this weekend. For fans of American muscle, the Larbre Competition Corvette will return after registering the fastest time (by far) at the Prologue. 2015-spec cars are allowed this season as the FIA and ACO try to work in the new GTE machinery that is evident in the Pro class. That means the Ferrari 458 Italia of AF Corse is back after finishing second in the championship last year, while the older Porsche 911 RSRs (one racing in Gulf colours) and an Aston Martin V8 Vantage are also racing.
Also to the category is KCMG, which is running a Porsche featuring Wolf Henzler and Christian Ried, who are two of seven FIA WEC drivers also competing in the European Le Mans Series race on Saturday.
Other stars performing double duty are Rui Aguas (Am), Richie Stanaway (Pro), Jonny Adam (Pro), Harry Tincknell (Pro) and Richard Lietz (Pro).
Sessions for the 6 Hours of Silverstone will be split across Friday, Saturday and Sunday (April 15-17). Full local timings are listed below:
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