The more things change…

In early March, prototypes and GT cars gathered at the High Tech Test Circuit of Paul Ricard to conduct the one and only open test session for the FIA World Endurance Championship. Seventeen hours of track time were available and with 29 cars entered, there were a lot of things to find out during the two testing days.

Like last year, the second day of the test was open to the general public. The open-for-all test day saw a big increase in visiting public from the year before, probably due to the great weather–which saw yours truly end up pretty sunburnt–and the people having a longer weekend than normal due to the Easter festivities.

First out of the pits was the LMP1 category. The three factory teams present were out to stake their claim as early as possible in the season.

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First blood was drawn by the Porsche LMP1 team, who return to WEC after a stellar 2015 season which saw the team capture the title in the both the team and manufacturer world championship. The Weissach-based LMP1 squad managed to cover an astounding 2,197 kilometres with its two new Porsche 919 Hybrid prototypes. The number 2 car was used on Friday and the number 1 came out for the Saturday session to show the public who was the new king.

Working from Cologne, Toyota Motorsport GmbH, now racing under the new name of Toyota Gazoo Racing with a matching new colour scheme, managed the second fastest time. The brand-new TS050 is now sporting a twin turbo V6 and a battery pack to rival and match the 919 Hybrids.

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Third place has gone to Audi Sport Team Joest. Facing an un-Audi-like chassis problem on the first day of the test, the Ingolstadt squad was forced to build up a second monocoque to be able to complete the Prologue without further problems. The R18 has been completely revised for this year: out is the flywheel-based hybrid system and in is the battery system. Also new for this year is the extreme aerodynamics on the car: where both Porsche and Toyota have pretty flat-looking cars, the Audi is all wing at the front giving the car a very aggressive and intimidating look.

In the LMP2 category Signatech Alpine is looking to impress with their new Alpine A460, a rebadge of the Oreca 05 car. The French squad topped the time-sheet at the end of the two test days. LMP2 looks to be the class where the smallest of differences can make or break a race. With the top eight LMP2 cars setting a best time within a second of each other, this looks to be a class which could bring out some surprises this season.

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In the GTE-Pro category there are also a couple of changes to the regulations for this year. The cars are all looking a bit more aggressive, because of the more relaxed aerodynamic rules. Back are the big diffusers previously seen on beasts like the Corvette C6.R GT1 and the Aston Martin DBR9 GT1.

New cars this year are the Ferrari 488 GTE and the Ford GT. Both cars have a turbocharged engine, which is a first for the GTE category.

Although AF Corse didn’t run a lot of laps with their new 488s, they were the quickest at the end of the test, edging out the Larbre GTE-Am team by four tenths of a second. Closely behind the Larbre Corvette was the duo of Chip Ganassi-run Ford GTs. The American sportscars are already proving to be plenty reliable and ran a lot of laps during the test. 

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Porsche have scaled back their effort in the GTE category and have once again teamed up with Proton to enter just one Pro squad for this year’s campaign.

Aston Martin were also present with just one Pro and one Am car.

But despite all these changes, at the end of the test one conclusion had to be drawn: the more things change, the more they stay the same. Porsche are still on top in the LMP1 category, LMP2 is still anyone’s game to take, and both GTE categories still appear to field many close competitiors, with AF Corse remaining the top dog of the lot.

This was only a test, however. Things are likely to be different come the 6 Hours of Silverstone in just a couple of weeks’ time.

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Fan of racing in all shapes and forms, automotive and motorsports photographer. Always looking for new opportunities to photograph racing. Especially interested in prototype endurance racing, but anything will do.

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Niels Breider

Fan of racing in all shapes and forms, automotive and motorsports photographer. Always looking for new opportunities to photograph racing. Especially interested in prototype endurance racing, but anything will do.