It seemed to drag on forever but finally the FIA World Endurance Championship superseason came to an end. The transition to a winter season was designed to place the Le Mans 24 Hours as the showcase finale of the season. The result was a near 18 month long season which in the end felt too drawn out even for die-hard fans.
Looking to the future the championship has one more hurdle to overcome. With just one factory team in the top class of LMP1-H and enthusiasm waning amongst the privateer LMP1 teams as EOT changes give the advantage to the factory team, this coming season feels a little empty.
For others it’s a swansong, an end of an era that should be celebrated which saw some of the finest endurance racing ever seen. An era of multiple manufacturers battling for overall victory deploying technology at the cutting edge of automotive design. The highs of Audi versus Peugeot, followed swiftly by Audi versus Porsche. The tenacity of Toyota and the high drama of their car rolling to a stop on the Circuit de la Sarthe finish line with just minutes of the 24 hours remaining.
With that in mind we can still expect some strong racing in the coming months and the best and possibly last opportunity for a privateer LMP1 or even LMP2 team to pounce onto an overall Le Mans 24 Hour victory if the favourites hit trouble.
There will be a total of 8 races of varying lengths taking in Europe, Asia, North America and South America. Race lengths will vary with 4-hour races at Silverstone and Shanghai, 6 hours at Fuji, Sao Paulo, Sebring, Spa and 8 hours in Bahrain. The final will of course take place at Le Mans over 24 hours.
The change in race length came about following a long consultation between the ACO and the fans however the inclusion of 4-hour races came as a surprise to many. The general feeling was that races should be longer taking in 10 and 12 hours. Nobody expected Silverstone to have 2 hours cut making it the same distance as the ELMS race it shares the weekend with.
LMP1 hybrid is as last year just the two Toyotas and unchanged line ups apart from Kiwi Brendon Hartley taking the seat vacated by Fernando Alonso in the #8 car. Alongside him will be Sébastien Buemi and Kazuki Nakajima. The #7 crew remains the same with Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and José María López.
The Toyota TS050 made its debut at Silverstone in 2016 and this season will be the final time this car is seen on track before the new regulations come into play next year. It’s not unreasonable to expect the fight for the championship to be between the two Toyotas but there will be other challengers waiting to benefit from any misfortune that befalls the factory backed cars.
Top of that list will be Rebellion Racing with their Gibson powered R13. Originally only entering a single car, the team made a late decision to enter a second R13 with Bruno Senna, Gustavo Menezes and Norman Nato piloting the #1 and Nathanaël Berthon, Pipo Derani and Loïc Duval in the #3. Having picked up the overall race win at Silverstone last year following the disqualification of both Toyotas, Rebellion will be expecting to be at the sharp end again all season.
Team #REBELLIONRacing is proud to announce the entry of a second car in LMP1 category at the #4HSilverstone. https://t.co/wCDpNSwOuN
The R-13 N. 3 car will be composed of @NatBerthon, @PipoDerani and @loicduval. 🏁#REB13 #Matmut #BecauseWeAreRebells pic.twitter.com/olGH0uYCWn
— REBELLION Racing (@RebellionRacing) August 20, 2019
Finally in LMP 1 is the Ginetta G60-LT-P1 which made its debut at Spa in 2018. The car only completed a couple of installation laps in practise before the sponsorship money ran out. Run by Manor Racing, the car didn’t appear in the championship again except for an appearance in the 2018 Le Mans 24 Hours where recurring problems resulted in it finishing last in P41, 105 laps down. This shouldn’t detract from the fact that the car finished the race and didn’t join the 17 DNF’s in the 2018 race, a worthy achievement in itself.
Part of the team’s issues were that the Mecachrome engine was underpowered and a refusal from the engine’s manufacturer to increase the power saw the two part ways and Ginetta fit an AER P60B engine in place of the Mecachrome V634P1.
In the upcoming season Ginetta will compete with two cars run under the LNT Racing banner, the private team of Ginetta owner Laurence Tomlinson. Team stalwarts Mike Simpson and Charlie Robertson will return in either car with Robertson’s teammates in the #5 being Ben Hanley and Egor Orudzhev. Joining Simpson in the #6 will be Christopher Dyson and 2003 Le Mans winner Guy Smith, however, Dyson will skip the opening round at Silverstone following a wrist injury he picked up in an accident at Road America last weekend. Taking his place will be Oliver Jarvis.
LMP2 has eight teams on the entry list including last year’s champions Signatech Alpine who return with a revised driver line with only André Negrão returning with new teammates Thomas Laurent and Pierre Ragues. Of Negrão’s teammates from last year only Nicolas Lapierre is returning to the championship jumping to an Oreca chassis with Cool Racing.
Elsewhere, United Autosports are back after sitting out last season with the familiar line up of Philip Hanson, Filipe Albuquerque and Paul Di Resta. Even now the driver merry-go-round still hasn’t quite come to a halt as Pastor Maldonado has pulled out of the entire season citing the inability to reach a “balance agreement between the parties”. The now free seat at the #38 Jota will be filled by former BMW man Antonio Felix de Costa.
LMGTE Pro will be contested by just 3 manufacturers with Ferrari, Porsche and Aston Martin fielding teams. Porsche will look to add to their three FIA WEC victories last year and will field their usual two car line up of Gianmaria Bruni/Richard Lietz and Michael Christensen/Kévin Estre.
AF Corse will field two Ferraris with James Calado and Alessandro Pier Guidi looking to add to their two victories last season. Davide Rigon and Miguel Molina take the seats in the second car continuing their successful partnership across championships. The Ferrari team has dominated GTE Pro at Silverstone and is the only team in class to win multiple times at the Northamptonshire circuit so are likely to dominate again this weekend.
Aston Martin will be looking to build on the two victories in 2018/19 for their new for 2018 car which replaced the 2012 Vantage. Wins at Shanghai and Spa should give confidence to the team with Marco Sørensen/Nicki Thiim in the #95 and Alexander Lynn/Maxime Martin in the #97.
Missing this year are the Americans with Ford ending their factory backed effort and also the much loved Corvette notable by its absence from the championship for a second year. BMW have also ended their commitment bringing a sad end to the oversized car meme that was so popular across social media.
You must be God damn kidding me! One year & you leave us… Just wenn I Start enjoy whooopping your A** 😁👊🏽 Anyway we will all miss the German master peace of a Tank 🥳 Let’s enjoy one last Le Mans together 🤜🏽🤛🏽 pic.twitter.com/fMOaG6isk8
— NICKI THIIM (@NickiThiim) May 22, 2019
LMGTE Am looks to be as strong as ever with 11 entries covering 3 manufacturers. Aston Martin have now released the 2018 Vantage to the privateers and two will appear in the hands of TF Sport and Aston Martin Racing where Ross Gunn makes his debut alongside Darren Turner and Paul Dalla Lana. The TF Sport entry see’s the return of Salih Yoluc, Charles Eastwood and Jonny Adam.
Four Ferrari 488 GTE EVOs appear run by AF Corse, MR Racing, and championship debutants, Red River Sport. Run as a driver development agency by Johnny Mowlem, Red River Sport fields Bonamy Grimes, Johnny Mowlem and Charlie Hollings and is the culmination of several year’s work for Mowlem bringing Am driver Bonamy Grimes through domestic UK series such as Britcar and GT Cup to his final destination of the Le Mans 24 Hours.
Porsche bring 5 cars to the field with two 911 RSRs at Team Project 1, two at Dempsey Proton Racing and a single car at Gulf Racing UK. Dempsey Proton dominated the Am championship last year with 5 victories for the #77 car and drivers Julien Andlauer, Matt Campbell and Riccardo Pera. This year sees Andlauer replaced by Christian Reid which only makes the team even more formidable. If they can comply with the rules and avoid having their points tally stripped as happened last year then the team will be definite title contenders.
2018 was the debut for Team Project 1 and they did well with two victories at Fuji and Le Mans and this year will field two cars with experienced drivers in both. Egidio Perfetti returns to the team in the #56 car but with new teammates in the form of David Heinemeier Hansson and Matteo Cairoli.
The addition of the #57 car sees Ben Keating, Felipe Fraga and Jeroen Bleekemolen complete a line up which will undoubtedly be challenging the Dempsey team for victories this year.