Fernando Alonso, Sebastien Buemi and Kazuki Nakajima of the Toyota Gazoo Racing #8 look in a good position to take the FIA World Endurance Championship Drivers’ title this year, as do Kevin Estre and Michael Christiensen in the #92 Porsche GT Team for the GT class, but there are still many championships left to be decided at next month’s prestigious 24 Hours of Le Mans.
The 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps put all teams and drivers through their paces as an array of seasons crossed the track during the endurance event. It was most impressive to see that, for only the third time in WEC history, all of the cars that started the race made it to the chequered flag. That is not to say that the race was without incident, but only one of the many Safety Car/Full Corse Yellow periods was due to clearing debris off track.
Both the Manufacturers’ World Championship in LMP and GTE were wrapped up at the 6 Hours of Spa, with Toyota and Porsche taking the titles respectively. Both teams are guaranteed to take the double, as their highest standings cars (#8 and #92 – leading the championships) are above 39 points ahead of the third-placed car. This means that even if the third-placed car in the championship wins Le Mans and the championship leaders do not finish, they cannot surpass them.
Both championships present inter-team battles, meaning that team orders will almost definitely be off the table, and if not the drivers will probably ignore them. Not only is the next race Le Mans, something every driver wants the honour of winning, but the teams have wrapped up the manufacturer titles, which means there is no longer a team game to play. So long as there is no inter-team collisions, we hope there is not a lot that can be done to stop the sister cars battling it out until the chequered flag.
In LMP1, there is a closer battle to be had. Mike Conway, Jose Maria Lopez and Kamui Kobayashi‘s sixth-place finish at Spa has not helped their championship hopes, giving the sister car a nearly uncatchable 31-point lead. Something disastrous would need to happen to the #8 to bring the competition closer, as a one-two finish for Toyota with the #7 on top would not be enough for them to steal the championship.
The 6 Hours of Spa is the first time all season we have seen a sign of weakness from Toyota. The sensor failure in the middle of the race for the #7 car completely dropped it out of contention. It is unknown whether or not Toyota were running anything new or updated on their cars, or if they had turned up the cars a little in response to the Privateers having unrestricted fuel usage during their stints.
This was the first time all season that it was not a Toyota one-two on the track at the chequered flag, showing that their car is not invincible as it has seemed throughout the majority of the Superseason. Although the hybrid car’s pace is still superior to the Privateers, this chink in their armour may lead to some more hopeful teams come next month’s season finale.
The picture is a little more concluded in GTE Pro, as the only way the #91 can pass the sister car in the championship is if they take pole position, win the race and the #91 finishes tenth or lower in class. Without securing pole position, the #92 will need to finish outside the top ten in class for Gianmaria Bruni and Richard Lietz to be GTE Endurance Champions.
LMP2 presents one of the closest championships left to be settled, with the top three all still mathematically able to claim the LMP2 Endurance Trophy at the end of the season. Signatech Alpine‘s consistency of always finishing on the podium puts them at the top of the points table, even though current second place #38 Jackie Chan DC Racing have claimed three victories to their one.
Maiden winners, and winners of the 6 Hours of Spa, DragonSpeed also still have their hat in the ring, only 26 points off the leaders. If DragonSpeed win the 24 Hours of Le Mans (or are the highest placed WEC entrant) and Signatech Alpine come 6th or lower with #38 Jackie Chan car behind them, so long as the #36 Alpine A470 does not start on pole, Pastor Maldonado and Roberto Gonzalez will take the championship. This will be an impressive achievement for DragonSpeed as they are in their inaugural year of the WEC.
Team Project 1 still lead the way in GTE Am, with a 23 point lead over second-placed Spirit of Race. However, with three consecutive race wins, the 2018 Le Mans winning #77 Dempsey-Proton Racing has put itself back in contention for a shot at the title. After having all of their points from the first four rounds retracted after a fuel sensor infringement, the duo of Matt Campbell and Christian Ried are only 30 points behind the Porsche-running Team Project 1 (Julien Andlauer was replaced by Riccardo Pera for the 6 Hours of Spa, dropping him out of contention for the Drivers’ Trophy).
The Dempsey-Proton team need to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans, and if the Team Project 1 finish eighth or lower (if the #77 doesn’t start on pole) or seventh or lower (if the #77 does start on pole), it will be the comeback story of the season as they will take the Am Drivers’ Championship at the end of the year, whilst also securing the Teams’ Trophy.