FIA WEC

PREVIEW: 2024 FIA World Endurance Championship – 6 Hours of Imola

6 Mins read
Credit: Ferrari Media Centre

For the first time, the 2024 FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) is heading to Europe for the 6 Hours of Imola on 21 April. After an absolutely thrilling season opener at the Qatar 1812km, excitement is building for the first European race on the calendar.

The Track

Credit: Toyota Gazoo Racing

Imola appears on the WEC calendar as a replacement for Monza, as the “Temple of Speed” is undergoing renovations in 2024. This is the first time the championship has headed to the Autodromo Internazionale Enzo e Dino Ferrari and the first 6 Hours of Imola since the 2011 Le Mans Sports Series. The 4.9 kilometre track is the home event for many WEC teams and drivers, all of whom will be wanting to impress.

The legendary track, familiar to racing fans the world over, presents a very different challenge to the Lusail International Circuit which hosted the previous round. The most significant difference is that Imola is much narrower. The tight twisting nature of the track will present complications as the faster Hypercars try to overtake the slower LMGT3 class. Porsche Penske Motorsport driver André Lotterer is already considering how best to compensate for this. “It will definitely be a challenge, it’s not a very big track and it’s narrow too so traffic will be tricky” the German explained, adding “setting up the car correctly will be key.”

The winning #6 Porsche 963 in Qatar. Credit: Porsche AG

LMGT3 driver Charlie Eastwood said, after a recent testing session at Imola, “we found that the delta of lap time between GT3 and Hypercar was significantly smaller than most circuits. The main reason for this is that at Imola in the GT3 cars, you can take a lot of kerbs. There has been a completely new profile of the kerbing around most of the circuit so that the GT3s can get right on top of the kerbs, which the Corvette was handling very well at the test but the Hypercars cannot – they have to drive around them. They are going to struggle to pass the GT cars very easily and likely see a lot of aggression into braking zones.” It should be a thrilling and action packed race.

Hypercar

Lotterer’s team, Porsche Penske Motorsport, were the class of the field in Qatar, with the #6 car comfortably winning the race and the sister #5 car taking pole position and eventually finishing 3rd in the race. As if that weren’t enough, privateer Porsche outfit Hertz Team JOTA secured a brilliant 2nd place, just 1.1 seconds ahead of the #5 factory Porsche. All eyes will be on whether they can maintain that momentum at such a different circuit.

Ferrari AF Corse need a better weekend in Imola than they had in Qatar. Credit: Julien Delfosse / DPPI

One team that needs to turn their fortunes around is Ferrari AF Corse. Their Qatar 1812km could not be more different from Porsche’s, having suffered multiple setbacks throughout the race, leading to the Le Mans winning factory cars finishing 6th and 12th, and the privateer #83 Ferrari 499P coming in 4th. Expectations will be high at the Scuderia’s home race at a track bearing the name of their founder which is just 90km south of Maranello, the team’s base.

Ferrari racing in Italy under any circumstances is always quite the occasion. Car #51 driver Antonio Giovinazzi said “After the 1812 km in Qatar, an unlucky race for us, we come to Imola aiming for a positive result to celebrate with our fans. Climbing the podium in front of what I expect will be a large crowd would represent a significant achievement.”

The new look 2024 Peugeot 9X8 with its brand new rear wing. Credit: Stellantis / Peugeot Sport

Another team hoping to bounce back is Peugeot TotalEnergies. In the last race for the wingless Peugeot 9X8, the #93 car was competing extremely well and looked on course to secure a podium position before a fuel issue led to the car dropping out of contention. After limping over the line in 7th, the cruelty was compounded after the race when the car was disqualified. Now, with a brand new car for the rest of the 2024 WEC season more suited to tracks like Imola, the French team will want to prove their competitiveness. After all, in 2011 the 6 Hours of Imola ended with a Peugeot 1-2 finish.

Peugeot weren’t the only team to be hit with a post-race disqualification. After crossing the line in 4th place, Cadillac Racing were slapped with a disqualification a full four weeks after the event had finished due to a technical infringement with their Cadillac V-Series.R rear diffuser strakes. The American team also only has two drivers for this event, Earl Bamber and Alex Lynn. It will be intriguing to see how this impacts their weekend, especially with such a desire to make up for the disqualification in round one.

The #8 Toyota at the forefront of picture that demonstrates the beauty of the Golden Hour. Credit: Toyota Gazoo Racing

Another team eager to bounce back is Toyota Gazoo Racing. The reigning champion team finished 5th and 8th once all the post-race penalties were meted out. The team has never raced at Imola, and neither have Sébastian Buemi or Mike Conway, meaning that one driver in each car has no previous experience of the track. However, this should be balanced out by the experience of the other drivers, as well as the team’s indomitable professionalism and relentless determination to get back to the top.

The Lamborghini SC63 making its WEC debut in Qatar. Credit: Lamborghini Media Centre

For the remaining teams, all of which are new to WEC Hypercar in 2024, the successful completion of the season opener provided valuable experience. For Lamborghini Iron Lynx, the goal was to complete the whole ten hour race, which they managed to do, providing a strong foundation and a wealth of experience that the team can now use to build on. They even had a close battle with the 2023 Le Mans winning #51 Ferrari, which must surely be a confidence boost as the season progresses. The team first tested its 3.8 litre V8 Lamborghini SC63 at Imola in August 2023, a circuit just over an hour away from the team’s headquarters, so this event is a homecoming in more ways than one.

As with Ferrari, the importance of racing in Italy is not lost on the team, nor on Isotta Fraschini. The tiny Italian team retired after six hours in Qatar, but nonetheless showed the spirit and determination crucial to succeeding in endurance racing.

The gorgeous Alpine A424 in the Golden Hour, featuring the Alpine logo in the brake lights. Credit: Julien Delfosse / DPPI

Alpine Endurance Team managed quite the coup by finishing their #35 car head of last year’s championship winning #8 Toyota. The team logged an astonishing 2,500km at the season prologue, also in Qatar, and translated that into great performance on the track. The French team will be hoping to continue that development in Imola. They have the only other change to the driver line-up in addition to Cadillac, as reserve driver Jules Gounon steps up to replace the injured Ferdinand Habsburg.

The two BMW M Hybrid V8s in Qatar. Credit: BMW M Motorsport

BMW M Team WRT, however, suffered a more challenging weekend. In the words of Andreas Roos, head of BMW M Motorsport, “It certainly was not the season opener we all had wished for. It quickly became apparent that we couldn’t show the necessary pace in the race. This needs to be carefully analysed now and the necessary steps must be taken to extract the maximum.” However, he was able to find some positives, pointing out that “in our first race together with BMW M Team WRT in FIA WEC, all procedures worked very well.” Once again, a new team has a strong foundation from which to build.

LMGT3

The very impressive #46 BMW M4 LMGT3. Credit: BMW M Motorsport

In the LMGT3 category, however, BMW had no such issues. The #46 BMW M4 LMGT3 finished fourth behind the unstoppable Porsche 911 GT3 R LMGT3 of Mathay PureRxing and the two Aston Martin Vantage AMR LMGT3 cars of Heart Of Racing Team and D’Station Racing. While there are Hypercar teams with home advantage, it is entirely possible that the loudest cheers will be reserved for BMW and their star driver, born less than two hours drive away from Imola, Valentino Rossi. After a mighty impressive run in Qatar, BMW will have their sights firmly set on the podium.

The winning Porsche 911 GT3 R LMGT3 alongside the winning Porsche Hypercar. Credit: Julien Delfosse / DPPI

For all that Porsche and Aston Martin dominated the podium, they were not the fastest in qualifying. That honour went to the #81 TF Sport Corvette ZO6 LMGT3.R which unfortunately was forced to retire in Qatar. They will be determined to bounce back and secure some points in Italy. Vista AF Corse, Ferrari’s LMGT3 team, will be eager to build on their 5th and 7th positions in Qatar and put on a good show in front of the Tifosi.

The distinct Iron Dames Lamborghini Huracan LMGT3 Evo 2. Credit: Julien Delfosse / DPPI

The Iron Dames team, while not Italian themselves, will also be keen to put on a good show in their Lamborghini Huracan LMGT3 Evo 2. The female drivers finished 8th in Qatar and acknowledged that there is work to do to break into the top 5. However, with the race winning experience they have, be in no doubt that they will be able to find it. Their teammates at Iron Lynx drove consistently to take advantage of the misfortune of others, but ultimately finished outside the points. They will be feeling the pressure not to repeat that on home soil.

The Weekend

The 2024 6 Hours of Imola kicks off on Friday 19 April with the first practise session at 12:00 CET. Saturday afternoon is the day for qualifying, and the main event, the race itself, takes place on Sunday 21 April starting at 13:00 CET. The Checkered Flag will be on hand covering the action as it takes place.

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Lifelong fan of motor sport, covering the FIA World Rallycross Championship and the FIA WEC, the shortest and longest races covered by the FIA!
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