Friday, 9 February 2018

Capacity grid for the FIA WEC super season with 36 full season entries

The 2018/2019 FIA WEC "Super Season" really lives up to all expectations with a record breaking grid of 36 cars; 17 prototypes and 19 GTE cars over 4 different classes.  After a booming grid for the European Le Mans Series on Thursday, a maximum capacity grid for the WEC shows endurance racing at the highest level is alive and kicking. 

No less than 10 cars will feature in LMP1, the highest number since Le Mans in 2015 when 4 manufacturers were competing. This time though it's Toyota versus 5 privateer teams, all with brand new non-hybrid LMP1's. LMP2 saw a slight setback in entries, mainly because several teams stepped up (again) to LMP1. A small grid of 7 cars this season but for the first time with 3 different manufacturers.  BMW joins the LMGTE Pro ranks with the big and brutal M8, facing stiff competition from all 4 returning manufacturers.  In LMGTE Am, there's an increase to 9 cars  with 3 new teams in the championship.

As expected (or feared), the date of the 6 Hours of Fuji has been changed again to accomodate Toyota so Fernando Alonso can race in Toyota's home race.  This means the third round of the FIA WEC now clashes again with the final race of the IMSA/NAEC championship, Petit Le Mans.  A controversial clash as several drivers have contracts in both championships, especially in the North American Endurance Cup.  Olivier Pla, Harry Tincknell, Augusto Farfus and Renger van der Zande are a few of the drivers who would be on double duty that weekend. For van der Zande, who drives with Wayne Taylor Racing in IMSA, this could leave him out of the WEC in Spa and Fuji.  It's unclear whether a change of date for the Petit would still be possible with a very cramped schedule in that time of the year. 

LMP1 - 10 cars

Rebellion Racing will enter two Gibson powered, Oreca built R13 prototypes.  The leading driver in the #1 is André Lotterer, Thomas Laurent who climbed from LMP3 to LMP1 in just 3 seasons time has been appointed as the leading driver in the #2 R13.  Other drivers for Rebellion are Neel Jani, Bruno Senna, Mathias Beche and Gustavo Menezes. The exact driver pairings are still to be announced. 

Next up is ByKolles Racing which returns with its updated Nismo powered Enso CLM P1/01. The Austrian team stepped out the FIA WEC after the race at the Nürburgring last year to prepare itself for the super season. An intensive test program already saw several updates on the car. Oliver James Webb is the first confirmed driver. 

CEFC TRSM Racing, also known as Manor, is now confirmed with not one but two Ginetta G60-LT-P1 proto's, both powered by the new Mechachrome engine. It's been rumoured for some weeks, but it was only 'till this afternoon that the second car has been confirmed. The driver line-up of the #5 will be led by Ginetta factory driver and ELMS LMP3 champion Charlie Robertson, Oliver Rowland who made his way up in Formula racing is named as first driver in the #6 Ginetta. 

Toyota Gazoo Racing is the only OEM manufacturer left in the World Endurance Championship and the sole entry in the LMP1 Hybrid class. The Japenese team returns with two cars for the WEC and their chase to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans. As previously confirmed, the #7 car will be driven by Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and Jose Maria Lopez, the #8 will be in the hands of Sebastien Buemi, Kazuki Nakajima and Formula 1 ace Fernando Alonso. 

Dragonspeed is the first customer team with a BR Engineering BR1 which will be powered by the Gibson LMP1 engine. Drivers are Hendrik Hedman, Ben Hanley and Renger van der Zande.  Van der Zande will make his debut at Le Mans, but might have to miss the 6 hours of Spa and Fuji because the clash with IMSA dates where he's one of the drivers in the Wayne Taylor Racing Cadillac DPi. Hedman has gotten a waiver from the ACO to race in the LMP1 class as bronze driver. 

The final team in the LMP1 class is SMP Racing which fields 2 BR Engineering BR 1's. SMP's cars will use an AER engine, opposite to the Gibson in the Dragonspeed car. 2 Russian drivers have been confirmed so far: Mikhail Aleshin in the #11, Vitaly Petrov in the #17. BR Engineering has been testing the car intensively since November last season, this team might be the biggest challengers of Toyota.  A full Russian line-up is expected in at least one car, with several Russian drivers part of the test program. 

LMP2 - 7 cars

The growth in LMP1 and several LMP2 teams stepping up to the top class of the championship reflects on the amount of cars in LMP2.  Just 7 cars have applied for a full season entry this time. However, for the first time since the unification of the class, 3 different manufacturers will be present for the super season. Oreca still has the upper hand with 5 cars, compared to 1 Dallara and 1 Ligier. 

TDS Racing is first up, François Perrodo returning for his second season in the World Endurance Championship in their Oreca 07. He will be joined by Matthieu Vaxivière and ex Audi factory driver Loïc Duval. Racing Team Nederland will field the only Dallara P217, stepping up from the European Le Mans Series last season. Team owner and gentleman driver Frits Van Eerd leads the driver-line up and will be joined by Giedo van der Garde and "good old" Jan Lammers.  Lammers will race at Spa and Le Mans (his 24th race at La Sarthe), but might be replaced for the remainder of the season. 

Dragonspeed not only fields a car in the LMP1 class, but will also race in LMP2 with a Gibson powered Oreca. Mexican Roberto Gonzalez is the sole driver confirmed so far in the #31. Next up is Signatech Alpine Matmut, back with their #36 Alpine A470 rebranded Oreca for Nicolas Lapierre, Andre Negrao and Pierre Thiriet. Thiriet raced with G-Drive last season until Fuji and now returns to the championship with Alpine. No second car for Alpine as they had last season. 

Jackie Chan DC Racing is the only team with 2 cars on the grid this year. Again opting for the Oreca 07, the Fortunecat 37 will be driven by Jazeman Jafaar, the Mighty 38 by Ho-Pin Tung. More driver announcements are forthcoming for the Japanese team. 

A new - and rather surprising - face in the prototype paddock is Larbre Competition. Jack Leconte's team coming into the LMP2 class for the first time since 2014, celebrating their 25th participation in the 24 hours of Le Mans with a full season campaign. Larbre will be the sole team to enter a Ligier JSP217. All drivers have been announced today for the #50: Erwin Creed, Romano Ricci and Fernando Rees will be behind the wheel of the Ligier. 

LMGTE Pro - 10 cars

The usual suspects arrive in the LMGTE Pro class for the super season.  2 new cars on the grid with the arrival of BMW and their M8 GTE and the all new Aston Martin Vantage AMR. A few changes to be noted in the driver line-ups too at Porsche and Aston Martin. 

AF Corse defends last year's title with the updated Ferrari 488 GTE Evo. No change in the driver line-ups here with Alessandro Pier Guidi and James Calado in the #51 and reigning champions Davide Rigon and Sam Bird in the #71.  Ford returns in what might be the final cycle of the Ford GT with the #67 for Stefan Mücke and Olivier Pla and the #68 for Andy Priaulx & Harry Tincknell. 

BMW returns to the FIA World Endurance Championship with BWM Team Mtek, running 2 M8 GTE's. BMW is the only team running three drivers all season. Martin Tomczyk, Nicky Catsburg and Philipp Eng will be driving in the #81; Augusto Farfus, Antonio Felix Da Costa & Alexander Sims are on duty in the #82. 

The second season for the Porsche 911 RSR marks the return of Gianmaria Bruno to the FIA WEC after moving over from Ferrari to the Stuttgart based manufacturer.  Bruno will share the #91 with Richard Lietz, replacing Fred Makowiecki who moves back to IMSA for a full season drive. No changes in the #92 where Michael Kristensen and Kevin Estre are back in the cockpit.

Aston Martin arrives for the super season with its all new "poison green" Vantage AMR. 2016 GTE champions Marco Sorensen & Nicky Thiim ara back in the #95, the #97 will feature a complete new driver line-up. New signings Alex Lynn and Maxime Martin will replace Darren Turner and Jonny Adam. 

As in the past season, this will be the class with the most close racing in the whole field.  BMW arrives with a new car, but already showed some good reliability at Daytona in January.  If they are able to pick up the pace by the first race in Spa, they might be in the mix from the beginning of the season.  Like Priaulx said at the press conference this afternoon: LMGTE Pro will be a titanic dog fight all season long. 

LMGTE Am - 9 cars

The future of the LMGTE Am class seemed uncertain for a while with the increase in LMP1 teams and the uncertainty about the numbers in the LMP2 class, even with stories emerging teams would be led off to the European Le Mans Series instead.  An unexpected increase to 9 cars in the class however with 3 new teams, makes the Am class a very healthy one for the super season.  Combined with the Pro class, 19 GTE's will feature on the 2018/2019 grid, an all time record for the World Endurance Championship. 

AF Corse will have its hands full next season, not only fielding their own 2 factory Ferrari's in the LMGTE Pro class, but also running 3 Ferrari's in the Am class.  Spirit of Race and Clearwater return to the championship, while MR Racing is new to the WEC. 

Thomas Flohr is back in his silver #54 Spirit of Race 488 GTE, now joined by Giancarlo Fisichella who returns to the FIA WEC after racing in IMSA and Blancpain series in the past seasons. Francesco Castellacci returns to the team, while Miguel Molina is being replaced by Fisichella.  Also returning for their second season is Clearwater Racing in the #61 F488 with an unchanged driver line-up: Weng Sun Mok joined again by Keita Sawa and Matt Griffin. 

New in the WEC is Japanese team MR Racing, who will also race a Ferrari 488 GTE. Ishikawa Motojaki and Olivier Beretta tested the Clearwater Ferrari at the rookie test in Bahrain last year after which the team confirmed its intention to race in the championship. They will be joined by 3 time Le Mans veteran Eddie Cheever III in the #70 Ferrari.


The second new team in the Am class is Team Project 1, a successful German team in GT3 and Carrera Cup racing, winning last seasons Carrera Cup Germany and racing in several GT3 championships. The team acquiered a new Porsche 911 RSR and will make its debut in the FIA World Endurance Championship. The #56 will be driven by Porsche works driver Jorg Bergmeister, Patrick Lindsey and Egidio Perfetti. 

Dempsey Proton Racing is the second team racing with Porsche, and brings back 2 cars to the Am field.  Matteo Cairoli is already confirmed on the #77 (expect team owner Christian Ried also on this one), Matt Campbell will lead the #88 entry.  The fourth and final Porsche in class will be entered by Gulf UK Racing, now in its second season in the WEC. Michael Wainwright is confirmed as the lead driver in the #86, Ben Barker also almost certain to join in again. 

The first Aston Martin in the Am class is the #90 TF Sport Vantage of Salih Yoluc, Euan Hankey and Charles Eastwood. The 2017 runner-up of the European Le Mans Series quickly announced its move up to the WEC after the end of last season. Yoluc and Hankey already drove together in the ELMS with Nicki Thiim last season.  Last, but not least, are last years champions Paul Dalla Lana, Pedro Lamy and Mathias Lauda in the #98 Aston Martin. Their entry was unsure for a long time, as they won't be able to race with the new Vantage and all other competitors will race much more recent machinery.  With a BoP in favour of the "older" Aston, they still might have a chance to fight for victory this season.  

The provisional entry list for the 2018/2019 "Super Season" can be downloaded here

Kristof Vermeulen. 

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