The Automobile Club de l’Ouest and Federation Internationale de l’Automobile have announced plans for a new look FIA World Endurance Championship at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez during the 6 Hours of Mexico race weekend. The changes, prompted by Porsche Motorsport’s sudden withdrawal from the championship, will see the series move from a traditional calendar to a winter series via a transitional year in 2018-19.
As part of the changes several events are facing the chop from the calendar, including the traditional season opener at Silverstone, the visit to the only F1 grade venue in the USA, the Circuit of the Americas and the traditional post Le Mans race at the Nurburgring on the GP-Strecke. The transitional year, being called a ‘Super Season’, will include two 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps and two 24 Heures du Mans. The ‘Super Season’ also includes a visit to Sebring for the first time since the Intercontinental Le Mans Cup gave way to the FIA WEC in 2012.
After the ‘Super Season’, each season of the championship will culminate at the Blue Riband event at Le Mans. This change had been muted for several seasons but resistance from the FIA had held it off due to concerns that the winners of the 24 Hours of Le Mans upstaging the crowning of the new World Champions. The change will also see the removal of the double points bonus for the big race of the year.
Sebring is the biggest shock in the new format, with the FIA World Endurance Championship returning to an event sharing format with the IMSA WeatherTech Championship. The weekend will feature a double 12-hour race, with the IMSA 36 Hours of Florida, formed by the Rolex 24 at Daytona and the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring, presented by Fresh from Florida ending at the event. The IMSA teams will have their traditional 10am to 10pm race, then have two hours to complete post-race festivities while the FIA WEC prepares to get underway. At midnight on the Saturday, the FIA WEC will begin a 12-hour race, uniquely racing from darkness into light.
Other calendar changes for the transitional year include a February race, at an event to be confirmed in 2019. The Prologue will return to Le Castellet’s Circuit Paul Ricard, where unlike in previous years the teams will be able to complete a full 36-hour test. The return is due to noise regulations at the Autodromo Internazionle Monza which would make a 36-hour test impossible.
While the FIA WEC will not be visiting Silverstone in the two years of transition, the European Le Mans Series round at the UK’s Formula 1 circuit is secure, though it may not hold its traditional season opening position in the calendar going forward.
Once the transitional super season has passed, teams should see a reduction in costs. The 2018-19 season will see a reduction from nine competitive events in 2017 to eight, spread over 18 months rather than the usual eight-month calendar. From 2019 onwards a seven-round schedule should reduce costs for an LMP2 team by 20%, similar to the level of expenditure in 2016. The extension of the calendar also allows team to take greater advantage of the cost savings involved in sending freight by sea rather than by air.
Somewhat controversially, the FIA and ACO have declined to let Toyota pick and choose the events they want to participate in while they are the only manufacturer in LMP1. The ACO have confirmed that if Toyota want an entry to the 24 Hours of Le Mans, they must commit to a full season in the FIA WEC, and of course with the transitional season holding two 24 Hours of Le Mans, it will not be possible for Toyota to do as other teams have, by initially committing to a full FIA WEC season, then withdrawing after the big race.
It should be said here that there have been no indications that Toyota had planned this approach to gaining an entry to Le Mans.
Changes won’t only apply to the calendar either. The 2020 LMP1 Hybrid regulations are set to see significant changes. The ACO and FIA remain committed to the Hybrid technologies but in the short to medium term are going to shift the balance of technologies so that LMP1 non-Hybrid entrants have a chance at success. This move supports Ginetta and SMP-Ligier who are both developing LMP1 Privateer products.
The planned requirement for the first kilometre of each stint, and the finish of the 24 Hours of Le Mans to be completed on electric drive only has been dropped.
In another move to boost the faltering LMP1 class, the organisers now see the need to allow non-Hybrid LMP1 manufacturer entries but will not accept the IMSA DPI model as a way forward for LMP1.
As a result of all these changes the FIA WEC will no longer feature separate classes for LMP1-H and LMP1-L. The new look series will see a single combined class for 2018/19 with a single classification and podium at the end of each race.
In GTE there is now talk of hybridisation but no timescale has been set. GTE isn’t a major problem for the FIA however with the fifth factory team set to join in 2018/19. BMW are well into testing their new GTE entrant, the BMW M8 GTE which will make its competitive debut in IMSA before joining the FIA World Endurance Championship for the ‘Super Season’. Other manufacturers are also assessing an entry into the GTE championship, which will continue as a world championship into the new format.
Plans for a qualifying race for the GTE cars have been shelved through the transition but will be looked at again in 2019/20. The hold on these plans is purely down to cost, with the ‘Super Season’ having 24 hours more racing than this year along with the additional practice and qualifying associated with a second 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Jean Todt, the President of the FIA said “I am delighted with the new schedule and the changes to the WEC championship that will allow this great discipline within motorsport to make a fresh start.”
President of the Automobile Club de l’Ouest, Pierre Fillon, added, “We would like to sincerely thank Jean Todt, President of the FIA and Sir Lindsay Owen Jones, President of the Endurance Commission and all the commission members for their support. Many decisions, essential for the future of the WEC, have been made in record time.
“With the support of the WEC’s friends and partners at IMSA, agreement has been reached to return to Sebring with the 12 Hours of Sebring in the WEC calendar and we are really delighted about this.
“With all these decisions, we are confident of seeing a full and very competitive grid next season. We are already discussing with several manufacturers and privateer teams who are investigating very seriously entrance from 2018/2019 season in LMP1, taking into consideration that the LMP2 and GTE grids are already strong with a high level of commitment for the future.”
Proposed Calendar 2018/19:
• 5 & 6 April: The Prologue, Circuit Paul Ricard (FRA) **
• 4 & 5 May: WEC 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps (BEL)
• 16 & 17 June: 24 Hours of Le Mans (FRA)
• 13 & 14 October: 6 Hours of Fuji (JPN)
• 03 & 04 November: 6 Hours of Shanghai (CHN)
• February 2019: Place and event TBC
• 15 & 16 March 2019: 12 Hours of Sebring (USA) *
• 3 & 4 May 2019 WEC 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps (BEL)
• 15 &16 June 2019: 24 Hours of Le Mans (FRA)
*Joint weekend with the IMSA WeatherTech Sportscar Championship and Continental Tyres Sports Car Challenge.
*36 Hour general test session.