Just two months ago, the FIA World Endurance Championship Super Season came to an end with the season finale at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, but it is already time to get the cars back on track again for more endurance racing. This year sees the first regular winter season, occurring over ten months. A mix of race length feature in this season’s calendar, and first up is the classic Silverstone race, which will last four hours.
The Super Season was dominated by Toyota Gazoo Racing, who only failed to take the top step of the podium at one race last year; the Silverstone race due to excessive wear on the skid blocks of the cars. Governing bodies of the WEC – FIA and Automobile Club de l’Ouest – have worked hard to bring in new ballast systems and success penalties to try and bring the LMP1 fight closer together.
Toyota have seen a 100kg increase of weight for the 4 Hours of Silverstone in comparison to the minimum weight they had at Le Mans. The Rebellion Racing cars looked to be on the tail of the Japanese team during the prologue, so there is a chance a fight for victory could be on this weekend.
The new season sees the return of Brendon Hartley to the WEC paddock, in the #8 Toyota, as well as Team LNT, powered by Ginetta, who have two cars on the field. The six car grid looks competitive ahead of the start of this season.
Oliver Jarvis sees his LMP1 return this weekend with Team LNT as he steps in for Chris Dyson. This is a temporary replacement as Dyson has injured his wrist and cannot race.
LMP2 saw some late changes ahead of the British round, with Pastor Maldonado departing the JOTA team ahead of the first race. Ex-BMW GTE driver Antonio Felix da Costa will fill the seat and race alongside Roberto Gonzalez and Anthony Davidson.
Other changes in the LMP2 class have seen United Autosports move to a ORECA chassis instead of the Ligier that they have used for the past few years. ORECA has been the dominant chassis in the ‘standardised’ class (meaning that all LMP2 runners have to use Gibson V8 engines and one of four chassis), so it came as no surprise to see United Autosports make the switch. This leaves just the Cetilar Racing car of Roberto Lacorte, Andrea Belicchi and Giorgio Sernagiotto as the only non-ORECA car, with the team using a Dallara chassis.
The GTE Pro line-ups have seen few changes between seasons, just the slimming down of the field. With BMW and Ford leaving the GTE class at the end of last season, only Porsche, Ferrari and Aston Martin remain to battle it out. Porsche GT Team and Aston Martin have made no changes to their duo-line-ups in their two cars. However, AF Corse have dropped Sam Bird to leave a seat for Miguel Molina.
This move comes from the continued confusion about clashes between WEC and FIA Formula-E. Still two clashes remain – with the 8 Hours of Bahrain and 1,000 Miles of Sebring clashing with unannounced electric races – which was too many for Ferrari to retain Bird as a full-time racer. Bird is still a works Ferrari driver and will likely return to the WEC paddock at the longer races, where three drivers are needed (pending on Formula-E clashes).
The Am class is the biggest class this year, with 11 cars on the field. Season champions from last year, Team Project 1, return to the grid, but this year they will field two cars instead of one. Defending his class title, Egidio Perfetti stays with the team from the Super Season, getting new team mates Matteo Cairoli and David Heinemeier Hansson in the #56. The sister #57 will be in the hands of Jeroen Bleekemolen, Ben Keating and Felipe Fraga.
Dempsey-Proton Racing are looking to come back as strong as their were last season with their two car-strong team, and will be fighting hard for the championship they arguably should have taken last season. Paul Dalla Lana has gained some new team mates for this season, with Pedro Lamy and Mathias Lauda being replaced with Aston Martin Racing veteran Darren Turner and the British team’s new hot shot Ross Gunn.