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PREVIEW: 2024 FIA World Endurance Championship – Qatar 1812km, Qatar

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The Lamborghini SC63 at the Prologue event in Qatar. Credit: Lamborghini Squadra Corse Iron Lynx

The first round of the highly anticipated 2024 FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) is almost upon us. The 2024 Qatar Airways Qatar 1812km takes place on Saturday 2 March. With an astonishing 19 Hypercars, 18 LMGT3 cars, and a record breaking 14 manufacturers taking part, it promises to be a spectacular opener to the new golden age of endurance sportscar racing.

The Lusail International Circuit in Qatar hosted the season Prologue event on 26/27 February. This gave the teams their first chance to test their 2024 machinery against each other around the 5.4km long track. Featuring 16 corners and a start/finish straight over a kilometre in length, the circuit is a fine venue for the opening of such a spectacular series.

Hypercar – Returning Teams

Toyota Gazoo Racing debuted their striking new black livery at the Prologue. Credit: Toyota Gazoo Racing

Toyota Gazoo Racing are back for 2024, aiming to continue their extraordinary run of success in 2024. The undisputed Hypercar champions since the category’s inception in 2021, the team’s striking new black livery is designed to encapsulate their mantra of “speed” and their hatred of losing. The Japanese team won six out of seven rounds of the 2023 season, missing out only at Le Mans.

The line-up of the championship-winning #8 car remains the same, with Sébastian Buemi, Brendon Hartley and Ryo Hirakawa back to defend their title. In the #7 car, Mike Conway and team principal Kamui Kobayashi are joined by ex-F1 driver and WEC newcomer Nyck de Vries.

The stunning yellow livery of the third Ferrari 499P. Credit: Ferrari Media Centre

2023 Le Mans winners Ferrari AF Corse return with an unchanged driver line-up for the Qatar 1812km. What is new for the Scuderia in 2024, and what has set the pulses of many motorsport fans racing, is the addition of a third car with a stunning new livery. Behind the wheel of the third Ferrari 499P are LMP2 champion Robert Kubica, Robert Schwartzmann and former Porsche driver Yifei Ye. With the 499P proving very competitive in 2023 and with three cars contending this year, Ferrari will be expecting great things from this season.

The still wingless pair of Peugeot 9X8 cars. Credit: Stellantis / Peugeot Sport

Peugeot TotalEnergies have similarly kept a very familiar driver line-up for 2024. The distinctive Peugout 9X8, notable for its lack of rear wing, was a fan favourite, even if not particularly competitive in 2023. A couple of their drivers have switched cars and former reserve driver Stoffel Vandoorne steps up to claim his full time seat with the French outfit.

Similarly to 2023, the most familiar shape on the grid will be the Porsche 963. In 2024, there will be no less than five of them on the grid, run by three different teams. The line-up at Porsche Penske Motorsport remains largely unchanged over their two cars, with Australian Matt Campbell being the only new addition to the team in car #5. The customer Proton Competition team also returns, with WEC stalwart Harry Tincknell leading the charge.

Both Hertz Team Jota Porsches in Qatar. Credit: Javier Jimenez / DPPI

But the biggest news from Porsche is that customer team Hertz Team Jota are running two cars for the first time in 2024. Leading the charge in the #38 car is none other than 2009 F1 champion Jenson Button. The British legend, who will be partnered by Phillip Hanson and Oliver Rasmussen, impressed at Le Mans 2023 when he raced the extraordinary NASCAR Chevrolet Camaro ZL1, turning heads wherever it went. 2020 F2 champion Callum Illott joins the team in the #12 car alongside William Stevens and Norman Nato.

The #2 Cadillac at Fuji in 2023. Credit:  2023 FIA WEC / FocusPackMedia – Gabi Tomescu

The final team returning to the Hypercar grid is Cadillac Racing. The distinctive engine rumble of the Cadillac V-Series.R will be making its welcome return to the 2024, driven by Earl Bamber, Alex Lynn, and Sébastian Bourdais, one of the most successful drivers in American open-wheel competition, who joins them for the 2024 campaign.

New Hypercar Challengers

The BMW M Hybrid V8 makes its debut in Qatar. Credit: Marius Hecker / DPPI

What makes the 2024 WEC season so exciting is the addition of new factory teams on top of an already very competitive grid. BMW M Team WRT are one such team, fielding a very impressive driver line-up. BMW has won Le Mans only once back in 1999. Now, having teamed up with LMP2 legends Team WRT and having secured DTM champions and WEC legends in their line-up, they are back to challenge for victory.

The highly anticipated Lamborghini SC63. Credit: Marius Hecker / DPPI

One of the most highly anticipated teams entering WEC in 2024 is Lamborghini Iron Lynx. Having unveiled their dramatic Lamborghini SC63 at the 2023 Goodwood Festival of Speed, the partnership between the Italian manufacturer and the very successful Iron Lynx team, who are also running cars in the LMGT3 class, promises to be scintillating. The car produced promising lap times during the Prologue and proved to be reliable, giving the new team a solid base from which to progress.

The gorgeous blue Alpine A424. Credit: Germain Hazard / DPPI

Having only confirmed their full driver line-up on 7 February, Alpine Endurance Team were on track in the Prologue with their visually stunning Alpine A424. The team are started afresh with their line-up, with new signings Ferdinand Habsburg and Paul-Loup Chatin joining Charles Milesi, who raced for Alpine in LMP2 in 2023, in the #35 car. Meanwhile, WEC veterans Nicolas Lapierre and Matthieu Vaxiviere are joined in car #36 by former F1 driver Mick Schumacher, the German star making the switch to WEC for the 2024 season.

The Isotta Fraschini car out in the Prologue. Credit: Marius Hecker / DPPI

Rounding off the Hypercar grid is Isotta Fraschini. The Italian marque boasts the youngest driver line-up on the grid. The drivers of the Isotta Fraschini Tipo 6 Competitione LMH are Jean-Karl Vernay, 21 year old Antonio Serravalle, and Carl Wattanna Bennett who is only 19 as the season gets underway. These young drivers and new team to WEC are really being thrown in at the deep end with such a competitive Hypercar field.

LMGT3

Hypercar may be the biggest class stealing most of the headlines. However, the new class for 2024, LMGT3, is arguably just as exciting. This class is similar to the LMGTE class that came to an end at the close of 2023 and is based around the FIA’s existing GT3 specifications. 18 LMGT3 cars will line up on the grid, featuring two cars each from nine different manufacturers.

The Team WRT BMW M4 LMGT3. Credit: Julien Delfosse / DPPI

The biggest headline was grabbed by Team WRT when it was announced that seven-time MotoGP world champion Valentino Rossi would be racing for them. He is part of a two-car line-up for the Belgian WEC veterans racing the BMW M4 LMGT3, with Rossi’s car carrying his signature #46. Rossi is relishing the challenge of switching from two wheels to four, saying “I’m eager to race in the main event at Le Mans, and at places like Austin and São Paulo, a brand new experience for me and hopefully we will be competitive.”

The Iron Dames Lamborghini Huracan LMGT3 Evo 2. Credit: Marius Hecker / DPPI

Iron Lynx and the Iron Dames are back having been triumphant in the LMGTE class in 2023. Their two Lamborghini Huracan LMGT3 Evo 2s are in their usual distinct colours for their team. The Iron Dames line-up of Sarah Bovy, Michelle Gatting and Doriane Pin is particularly eye-catching, as the team won the final round of the 2023 season, while Pin was making headlines in LMP2.

McLaren and United Autosports team up for 2024. Credit: Marius Hecker / DPPI

Now that LMP2 is no longer a part of WEC, United Autosports have moved into the LMGT3 class where they have teamed up with British racing royalty. The team will be fielding two McLaren 720S LMGT3 Evo cars as the British marque makes their WEC debut. With two such strong names working together, expect this team to be fighting for victories from the start.

The Lexus RCF LMGT3. Credit: Marius Hecker / DPPI

Akkodis ASP Team are celebrating 25 years of GT racing in 2024 by joining WEC for the first season of LMGT3. As well as a quarter of a century’s worth of experience to their pair of Lexus RCF LMGT3s, the team are bringing in a star driver to pilot them. José Mariá López spent a considerable amount of time at the top of the Hypercar podium in 2023 as part of Toyota Gazoo Racing. Now in LMGT3, he has a chance to claim the first ever title in this class.

Vista AF Corse running their Ferrari 296 LMGT3. Credit: Marius Hecker / DPPI

Ferrari are, of course, never far away from GT action. Vista AF Corse are running two Ferrari 296 LMGT3s. Car #54 remains unchanged, with the line-up of Thomas Flohr, Francesco Castellacci and Davide Rigon, the line-up that took victory in Fuji in 2023 and finished third in the overall standings for the year. Car #55 features WEC stalwarts Simon Mann and Alessio Rovera and will be joined by Scuderia debutant Alessio Rovera.

The Proton Competition Ford Mustang LMGT3. Credit: Marius Hecker / DPPI

Proton Competition will be bringing the thunder with their duo of Ford Mustang LMGT3s for anyone who is missing the NASCAR rumble from Le Mans 2023. The German team have been racing in GT classes since the late 1990s and are no strangers to winning. Team owner Christian Reid said “we are starting the new era with strong drivers who have been part of the Proton family for a long team and know our team very well.

Corvette Z06 LMGT3.R as run by TF Sport. Credit: Marius Hecker / DPPI

Continuing the theme of thunderous American muscle, British GT and LMGTE stalwarts TF Sport have teamed up with 2023 LMGTE champions Corvette Racing for 2024. Completing the extraordinarily broad grid are Heart of Racing Team and D’Station Racing who will put forward two Aston Martin Vantage AMR LMGT3s, and Manthey Ema and Manthey PureRXRacing competing in an evolution of the most successful GT3 car of them all: the Porsche 911 GT3 R LMGT3.

It’s Race Week

Congratulations for making it to the end of the article! I’m sure by now you are equally as excited about the WEC season kicking off.

The opening round of the 2024 FIA World Endurance Championship takes place at the Qatar 1812km on 2 March 2024 at 8am GMT. All of the action is on the FIA WEC tv channel, and The Checkered Flag will be reporting on all of the action as it takes place.

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