The FIA World Endurance Championship enters its first winter season, with the racing calendar spreading over 15 months. Many changes have been seen in the WEC over the winter break, but at the heart of the series, competitive wheel-to-wheel racing is the pulse.
36 cars will compete in the full ‘Super Season’ whilst the number more than doubles for the blue-ribbon 24 Hours of Le Mans in June.
With the 2018 Prologue at Paul Ricard starting today, The Checkered Flag will take you through the grid and what should be expected over the course of the season.
LMP1 – All change in the top class
After Porsche’s departure from this class at the end of last year, there have been some big changes in the top class of the WEC. The majority of the field will be privateer cars, and not have hybrid engines. Toyota Gazoo Racing will be the only car on the entire field to race with a hybrid power unit.
This has been a point of discussion in the lead up to the 2018/19 season, as it is unclear whether the hybrid or non-hybrid cars will be faster. The FIA have stated that the racing will be made as equal as possible, but it still remains to be seen if Toyota will have a headache or an easy season on their hands. Toyota’s primary goal this season is to bring home the elusive Le Mans trophy, and they’ve put forwards a strong campaign to do so. Bringing two-time Formula One driver Fernando Alonso on board is an underlining of their intent to be as strong as possible this season.
The LMP1 field has seen a massive growth over winter, as some of the LMP2 teams have progressed up into the top discipline. Rebellion Racing has teamed up with TVR as they return to LMP1 after having a single season out in LMP2. They have attained ex-Porsche LMP1 factory drivers Andre Lotterer and Neel Jani into their driver line-up, showing they are serious about challenging for the overall championship. Manor Racing have also stepped up to LMP1, now racing under the CEFC TRSM Racing banner.
SMP Racing return to the WEC grid this year, with two BR1 cars in their stable. They’ll be looking for a strong return after their year hiatus from the sport in 2017. DragonSpeed will field the third BR1 LMP1 chassis in the field. Also returning to the grid, after leaving the WEC halfway through 2017, is ByKolles Racing Team. They left the championship early last year so that they could focus on developing their 2018/19 entrant and are hoping to return to the WEC in a stronger position than when they left.
LMP2 – Familiar faces look to fight back
The LMP2 grid is still strong, even though a few of the teams have progressed to LMP1. Jackie Chan DC Racing is still one to watch as they return to the grid with two cars, as they did last year. They were so close to taking the LMP2 Trophy last year, with the class championship being stolen from them in the last race of the season. They’re looking to build on their year of ‘could-have-been’ from 2017 to come back even stronger in 2018.
Also returning to this year’s LMP2 grid is TDR Racing, who will once again field one car for full season entry. 2016 class champions G-Drive Racing are stepping back from a full entry this year. They will join the LMP2 class for the 2018 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps as a preparation race for the 24 Hours of Le Mans, but after the prestigious race the team will drop off the grid. It is unknown at the moment whether or not G-Drive will compete in the second 24-hour event that will host the finale of the 2018/19 ‘Super Season’.
As some teams move up, other teams move in. As well as having an LMP1 entry, DragonSpeed will be running an ORECA 07/Gibson with Roberto Gonzalez, Pastor Maldonado and recently confirmed Anthony Davidson at the wheel. Davidson will join the team after Le Mans, so until then Nathanaël Berthon will keep the third seat warm.
Larbre Competition and Racing Team Nederland are the only two cars on the grid not to be running the 2017-favourite ORECA/Gibson combination. Larbre will banner the only Ligier JSP217 chassis whilst Team Nederland run a Dallara P217. All the LMP2 cars will be powered by a Gibson 08 engine.
LM GTE Pro – New focus for Porsche as usual suspects return
GTE Pro sees the usual suspects return for another year of racing, whilst new manufacturer to the class BMW brings two entrants. Class size increases this season to ten cars, with five manufacturers battling against each other to be recognised as one of the most successful GT cars. The line-ups for AF Corse, Ford Chip Ganassi Teak UK and Porsche GT Team remain the same as last year, aside from Gianmaria Bruni taking over the second seat of the #91 from Frederic Makowieki.
Aston Martin Racing still retains a similar line-up to last year. Brit Darren Turner will join the ‘Dane-Train’ will pilot the #95, Whilst Jonny Adam returns in the #97 to try and defend his 2017 Le Mans victory, with new Aston Martin drivers Alex Lynn and Maxime Martin. The two trios will take the new Aston Martin Vantage for its first competitive outings in the WEC, and will be looking for more victories, chasing another GT World Championship and Le Mans wins.
BMW look to have a successful entry into the WEC, and it is hoped that their addition this season only means more manufacturers are interested in the global championship for GT cars. Two M8 GTEs will be seen on the grid this season. BMW has increased their racing programme this year, with the manufacturer appearing in other GT championships such as British GT and Blancpain GT. They will surely be one to watch as they try to ruffle some feathers in the Pro class.
LM GTE Am – Defending champions set to face challenge from new teams
Paul Dalla Lana, Pedro Lamy and Mathias Lauda are back this years, finally as defending champions of the class. They will race together in their #98 Aston Martin to try to continue their winning roll. However, they are no longer the only team representing Aston in the Am class, as ex-European Le Mans Series team TF Sport have made the progression up the categories with their #90 machine.
Dempsey-Proton Racing returns this season with two Porsche 911 RSRs, whilst Gulf Racing brings the third Porsche to the Am grid. 2017’s third place in championship Clearwater Racing once again has one full season Ferrari 488 GTE with Spirit of Race running a customer car as well.
Two new teams join this year’s full season grid. Team Project 1 enter with a Porsche, whilst MR Racing bring the third Ferrari to the grid. The two manufacturers will be strengthened in the manufacturers’ championship with the new editions. Porsche will have the best chance for scoring points across the season as they have supplied the highest number of cars to the grid, with four of their 911s racing on track.
The ‘Super Season’ is shaping up to be one of the most intense seasons the WEC has seen. With grid growth and class shakeups, it is clear to see that the WEC is going through an evolution, and it appears to be only for the best. Questions will begin to be answered at the Prologue, a 30-hour straight test running on the 6th and 7th of April, but the first well-defined conclusions will be drawn at the first race of the year, where the competition finally gets underway again.