LMP1

  • "Le Mans is an incredible place" - Mike Conway Interview

    Earlier in the week ahead of the first practice session for the 2018 24 Hours of Le Mans we caught up with Mike Conway to find out about some of the preparation work that has gone into the race and hear his thoughts on how things will pan out for Toyota Gazoo Racing.

    ”For me personally, I am as prepared as I always am. I am not approaching it any differently apart from that every year, you feel a bit more prepared. You know what’s coming I suppose. You kind of prepare for the worst situation, knowing that anything could be thrown at you. It’s Le Mans.”

    ”The team has done a lot of perpetration with the drivers as well so that if something does go wrong, and the systems fail, then we know what to do to get the car home and back to the pits. With all that work in place and the work that has gone on through winter testing, we just need to go out and do it. We are now just counting down the days until Saturday now. It’s really fun though and I’m really looking forward to getting out on track later today to get some more laps done. I am hoping for some mixed conditions because you never know what could be thrown at you on Saturday and Sunday.”

    ”There was a 2-lap gap to the privateers at Spa but they were closer at test day and I think they will be pretty close to be honest. They run pretty quick through Sector 1 and Sector 2 as they are running a lot more downforce than us, so they will be quick through there. But of course, they are at a disadvantage as well. They have one lap less running per stint and have a longer fuel time and stuff to meet so we’ve just got to keep that in mind all the time. They may be quicker at the start, so be it. We just need to live with it and fight when we can fight. I think it will be a good race.”

    ”2018 is an important year for us. Obviously the last few years it just hasn’t happened, but we’ve always shown that we have the fight, the spirit and the speed to be there. We just now need to execute the win and the 1-2 finish. A winning result for the team is a 1-2, and that is a bloody hard thing to achieve, two cars over the line and on the same lap close together. That’s the objective and that’s what we will be trying to do, we will be pushing as hard as we possibly can for that.”

    ”We have tested loads of system failures and punctures, any scenario we could think of, over the winter break. All of the issues were sprung upon us unknowingly. Initially you think it could be a problem with the simulator and you find yourself crabbing down the road at speed, then you realise you’ve had a puncture or the suspension has collapsed or something. It’s good to get prepared because there is a high risk of getting a puncture at this place and you can destroy the car if you try and recover the car too quick. Hopefully its all enough and it will get us a good result.”

    ”We saw last year that the LMP2’s are quicker at the end of the straight, especially with a fuel lift so if we haven’t quite got a move done and have to lift to conserve fuel, then the LMP1 and LMP2 cars will get back by. They have more top speed and more power so it’s always a case of juggling where about we are in the corner, whether we fight them or let them by. Of course, we have the advantage of over boosting and things like that to make sure we get the move done so that’s definitely on our side. But they have great speed through a lot of the corners so if we don’t get by through Porsche Curves, chances are we won’t pass them through turn one, possibly all the way down to turn 7 before we can get the move done. You’ll see them go through traffic just as easy as us so it’s going to be a close fight in LMP1 and LMP2.”

    ”We have discussed team orders within the team, they are always in place to make sure we achieve the best result for the team. We don’t want to risk any un-necessary fights amongst ourselves that cost the result for one of the cars. So sometimes, it’s the right move to make the call to bring both cars home in one piece. We should be able to race properly for 95% of the race, however, things change during the race so much that it is incredibly hard to plan an effective team strategy from the get go. At one point, you may have a 40 second advantage but you could easily lose that with a safety car, and let’s face it, there have been a few at Le Mans over the years. We will focus on running our race and see where we are by the final hour. As drivers, we are smart enough to make the right move and think about the big picture. We’ll do whatever we need to do. We’ll see how it all pans out. Le Mans is an open book. Hopefully we’re all together close to the end.”

    ”The passion and excitement surrounding Le Mans is definitely still there for us as a team. The car has been developed around this race but as soon as it is done, our focus will shift to Silverstone. Le Mans is an incredible place, the excitement, the occasion and the track. It’s special. You don’t get to drive it whenever you want, it’s a special place and all the drivers love being here. There is an excitement within the team. It’s intense and intimidating but it is what we live for. You want to be the guy that is driving the car the wrong way down the pit lane a couple of minutes after three on Sunday afternoon on the way to the podium. You want to be on the top step, seeing all the fans down there. It is an incredible moment and for the team, they just want a 1-2 finish. It is entirely open between the two cars as to who takes the win, so we will wait and see who is in the best position come Sunday afternoon.”

  • #7 Toyota ends the first day of Le Mans running on top despite crash

    The #7 Toyota Gazoo Racing TS050 Hybrid of Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and Jose Maria Lopez finished the first full day of running at the Le Mans 24 Hours on the top of the times, but lost a chunk of time after crashing into an LMP2 Oreca.

    Having also led the four-hour free practice session held under mixed conditions on Wednesday afternoon, Lopez struck early in the night-time Qualifying One session to set the provisional pole-time of 3m17.161. The #7’s programme was curtailed though as it was caught out by Roberto Gonzalez in the LMP2 pace-setting DragonSpeed Oreca. Gonzalez was recovering from a spin at the Ford Chicane and pulled back on track in front of Conway, causing the Brit to smash into the nose of the LMP2. After rapid repair work, both cars managed to get back out on track – the DragonSpeed got out with 25 minutes still to run while the Toyota completed the final 16 minutes. Despite the incident, the #7 Toyota’s time beat the closest of the LMP1 privateers – the #17 SMP Racing BR1 – by half-a-second. That doesn’t tell the full story though, as the sister #11 had set the fastest time for the bulk of practice thanks to Stoffel Vandoorne, until Kobayashi’s penultimate lap put Toyota back on top by almost two seconds.

    The #11 couldn’t match the same pace in the darkness, finishing P7 – behind the two eye-catchingly liveried Rebellion R13s which have both been in the top five mix throughout the day – the fastest of the Swiss cars beating the #8 Toyota of Kazuki Nakajima, Fernando Alonso and Sebastien Buemi in both sessions. The car finished fourth in both sessions after a tricky day for that entry.

    Propping up the lead prototype class in both sessions was the ByKolles Enso CLM P1/01 of Paolo Ruberti, Tom Dillmann and Oli Webb.

    LMP2 went the way of DragonSpeed - Pastor Maldonado’s 3m26.804 early in the session enough to keep the Signatech Alpine A470 in second by 0.131s. United Autosports claimed third at the end of day one, four-tenths behind the Alpine but half-a-second ahead of practice pace-setters IDEC Sport in a category that is shaping up to be anyone’s game come race day, with G-Drive Racing’s Aurus 01 performing strongly in the earlier session.

    GTE Pro provisional pole is currently in the hands of Harry Tincknell in the #67 Ford Chip Ganassi Team UK Ford GT. The Brit set his lap in the dying moments of qualifying, finishing 0.028s ahead of Nick Tandy in the #93 Porsche GT Team Porsche 911 RSR ran by the CORE Autosport team.

    Third went to the #97 Aston Martin Racing Vantage of Alex Lynn, Jonny Adam and Maxime Martin, with the additional three Porsche GT Team entries in fourth, fifth and sixth.

    The #77 Dempsey Proton Porsche set the bar in Free Practice 1 with a time of 3:55.304 with the #54 Ferrari and #98 Aston Martin less than half a second behind. The #88 Dempsey Proton Porsche of Satoshi Hoshino caused a Fully Course Yellow after the car went off at Porsche Curves, through the gravel and into the wall. Around 45 minutes of the session was red flagged following an incident involving Tracy Krohn, the #99 Dempsey-Proton Porsche appeared to have bounced off the crash barrier several times on the approach to the second chicane. With a lack of cameras on that part of the track, it was not exactly clear what had happened but its believed that the Am driver was clipped by a faster LMP2 car. The crash damaged the chassis and whilst Porsche confirm there is a backup chassis available at Le Mans, it is unclear whether the team will use it at this stage.

    In the first of the night sessions, it was the #88 Porsche that took provisional pole position with Matteo Cairoli's best time of 3:52.454. The #56 Project 1 Porsche finished second three tenths down whilst the #77 Dempsey-Proton Porsche took third place.

  • #8 Toyota secures lights-to-flag victory at Sebring

    The #8 Toyota Gazoo Racing TS050 of Fernando Alonso, Sebastien Buemi and Kazuki Nakajima took a dominant victory in the maiden 1000 Miles of Sebring, despite a late rain storm causing chaos.

    Starting on pole ahead of the sister #7 driven by Jose Maria Lopez, Kamui Kobayashi and Mike Conway, Buemi – who took the first stint – was untroubled at the head of the field as he pulled clear of the competition. Even as day transformed into night, the #8 ran like clockwork over the airfield circuit’s fearsome bumps to open up a comfortable lead over the #7. Its victory was all but assured with just over three hours of the eight-hour race remaining when Lopez clattered over a kerb at turn 15 trying to avoid the TF Sport Aston Martin Vantage. He was called into the pits so the car could be checked over and lost more than four minutes while the Toyota mechanics went to work.

    The #8 had a scare of its own with less than 15 minutes on the clock as Nakajima slithered off the track despite using wet tyres. He only lost a handful of seconds, but it could have been much worse for the race winners, as the Japanese driver only just missed the barriers.

    After the #28 TDS Racing Oreca, with Loic Duval behind the wheel, went straight on into a tyre wall at low-speed, the last 12 minutes of the race was run under the safety car – guaranteeing a fourth win of the season for the #8.

    Brendon Hartley claimed a podium finish on his return to endurance racing as the #11 SMP Racing BR1 survived an early explosive tyre failure to finish third – the team’s second consecutive podium after success in Shanghai. Their cause was helped by a crash for the #1 Rebellion Racing R13 with three hours to go which sent the car to the garage. The #3 Rebellion also had a number of mechanical issues which relegated it to a distant fourth in LMP1. The #17 SMP machine was on course for a good result in the top class, but Egor Orudzhev crashed into the barriers at turn one just before the two-hour mark. The Russian was running third at the time, having pulled clear of the #3 Rebellion in the opening quarter of the race. Also failing to finish was the DragonSpeed BR1, which was pushed into the garage with a mechanical issue with two hours and 40 minutes still on the clock.

    A decisive move on the opening lap of the race proved to be decisive for the #37 Jackie Chan DC Racing crew of David Heinemeier-Hansson, Jordan King and Will Stevens. Passing the sister #38 at turn one on the opening lap, the trio was unchallenged as they took victory in LMP2 by more than 50 seconds. The pole-sitting #38 Jackie Chan DC Racing Oreca endured a frustrating race. The car lost almost an hour in the pits as the team dealt with a gearbox fault in the car and then lost more time after a bizarre issue with the door failing to open on the Oreca at a driver change. It eventually finished 30th, last of the classified runners.

    Finishing second, a familiar position for the team after the three Free Practice sessions, was the Signatech Alpine A470. Despite a clean race for the French team, its crew of Andre Negrao, Nicolas Lapierre and Pierre Thiriet couldn’t match the front running pace of the DC Racing team. Despite disappointment in LMP1, DragonSpeed picked up a podium in LMP2 as the #31 of Anthony Davidson, Pastor Maldonado and Ricardo Gonzalez had enough pace to counteract two unscheduled pitstops to replace the rear-wing twice – once for a failure on the bumps and once after Maldonado swiped the barriers on the exit of turn 17. Despite a herculean effort to get the car from last on the grid to P8, the Racing Team Nederland entry could only manage fifth in class at the chequered flag – behind the Larbre Competition Ligier.

    GTE Pro proved to be the hardest fought category during the race, with almost every entry in the 11-car class enjoying a spell in the lead and half-a-dozen cars often covered by less than three seconds. Despite the back-and-forth between the teams, it was the heavy rain with less than 20 minutes of the race remaining that made the decisive difference. With teams scrambling into the pits to swap their slicks for wets, Gianmaria Bruni – in the #91 Porsche GT Team 911 RSR – jumped the #81 BMW Team MTEK M8 GTE in the pits and with the late safety car to recover the #28 TDS Racing Oreca, the Italian held on to secure the victory.

    The #81 finished second, the best result of the season for Martin Tomczyk, Nicky Catsburg and Alexander Sims, with the #67 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Team UK Ford GT in third. That car had led for the majority of the opening four hours, but faded as the race went on – that was summed up by a great overtaking move by Bruni to relegate the #67 from the lead, the Porsche driver out-braking Jonathan Bomarito going into the turn seven hairpin. James Calado, Alessandro Pier Guidi and Davide Rigon ensured four manufacturers were represented in the top four as the #51 AF Corse Ferrari 488 GTE Evo finished ahead of the #92 Porsche of Kevin Estre and Michael Christensen. The latter lost time late on as Estre was given a stop & go penalty for rear-ending the #95 Aston Martin Racing Vantage of Darren Turner. The Aston was running in second at the time, but the contact, which sent turner spinning across the grass, dropped the car down the order.

    Dempsey-Proton Racing secured top honours in GTE Am to make it a Porsche clean sweep of the GTE classes as the #77 of Matt Campbell, Christian Ried and Julien Andlauer fought hard to pass the #54 Spirit of Race Ferrari. The Ferrari finished second, despite receiving a penalty for side-to-side contact which sent the Team Project 1 Porsche into the barriers early on in the race. Thankfully for the Project 1 team, the damage proved to only be minor and thanks to a strong charge from Egidio Perfetti, Jorg Bergmeister and Patrick Lindsey, the team recovered to the third step of the podium. Gulf Racing took advantage of a black and orange flag for the TF Sport Aston Martin – after the rear diffuser on the Vantage broke apart on track – to finish fourth. The TF Sport car crossed the line sixth after hasty repairs – behind the MR Racing Ferrari.

  • 2016 FIA WEC Season Review

    Welcome to our review of the 2016 FIA WEC Championship. Put the kettle on, make a brew, settle down in your favourite chair and enjoy!

    LMP1 Season Review 

    Neel Jani, Marc Lieb and Romain Dumas took the FIA World Endurance Championship crown for the first time with a fifth place finish in the 6 Hours of Bahrain, however this season was by no means easy on the crew. They took the first win of the season at Silverstone after the #7 Audi crew were disqualified, second place at Spa Francorchamps in round 2 before taking a last minute win at Le Mans after Toyota heart break in the dying minutes. With double points at Le Mans, the #2 car held a substantial lead at the mid point, 94 points out of 103 on offer saw them sitting at the top of the championship with a 39 point lead. Le Mans was the turning point for the #2 car, early promising performances were replaced with recurring technical issues, reportedly with the cars hybrid system and a distinct lack of pace. Jani, Lieb and Dumas failed to see the podium again this year. Despite these issues, going in to Bahrain, talking to Neel Jani before the start of the race, he was confident the team had what it took to take the title.

    This fall in pace surely held the door wide open though for the ever consistent Audi team to close the gap and take the lead at some point before the season was out? This season however’ Porsche got lucky. A string of issues for Audi meant they were unable to capitalise on the #2 crew’s bad luck in the second half of the year.

    The #8 Audi crew of Oli Jarvis, Lucas di Grassi and Loic Duval were Audi’s main title hopes this year. They were on the pace and working well together, claiming two victories this season in Spa and Bahrain. Uncharacteristically, Audi were hit with a string of issues this year and as a result, both cars arrived in Bahrain out of the championship. Their pace in Austin was phenomenal but hybrid issues for the #8 and a badly timed safety car took both cars out of contention and gifted the win to the #1 Porsche of Webber Bernhard and Hartley. Mexico was yet another poor race for Audi. The #8 was out in front when Jarvis went off at turn one in tricky conditions. Lotterer then hit the wall during a lock up. Porsche came through to take another solid points hall towards both the teams and drivers championship challenge. Another difficult run to fifth in Shanghai for the #8 further dented their title challenge.

    Toyota came in to 2016 with a brand new car, the TS050. The car was a big improvement on the 2015 TS040, the car was competitive and even took the win on home soil in Fuji. As we headed out to Bahrain, Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and Stephane Sarrazin were the only 3 drivers capable of challenging the #2 Porsche for the drivers title. Toyota had more than their fair share of difficulty this year though. They were leading the race at Spa before the #5 car broke down and leading the race at Le Mans before heartbreak on the final lap.

    LMP2 Season Review

    The 2016 LMP2 season was dominated by the #36 Signatech Alpine, adding the FIA WEC to their 2014 European Le Mans Series crown. Nicolas Lapierre, Gustavo Menezes and Stephane Richelmi won half the races in 2016 in the Nissan powered Alpine A460 and never once finished outside the top four. They fought hard with the #43 RGR Sport and #26 G-Drive racing cars throughout the season with Strakka and Manor mounting outside challenges in what was arguably the most competitive class of the season. The LMP2 grid was heavily involved in the FIA driver rating changes this year, a number of teams, including the #36 Signatech, found themselves benefitting from "Super Silver" drivers, drivers classified silver but professional drivers rather than amateur racers. Gustavo Menezes was one of those "Super Silvers" who found himself lapping inside the top 10% of the field on a frequent basis. However, it was a dominant performance from the crew and drivers which saw them take the title.

    Silverstone was the season anomaly for the #36 squad with all three drivers complaining of tire ware issues, they took fourth place and their joint worst result of the season. It was one of only two times they would finish off the podium. Their absence from the podium was filled by the newly formed RGR Sport team running the #43 car with Bruno Senna, Filipe Albuquerque and Ricardo Gonzalez who took their maiden victory. One of the standout events of the season however was Spa Francorchamps. Nico Lapierre made a last minute move to pass Pipo Derani around the outside. The Tequila Patron ESM got caught up behind Marino Franchitti’s Ford GT.

    The #36 car quickly found themselves back on the top step of the podium next time out at Le Mans, an incredible performance from the team considering Richelmi and Menezes were in their debut Le Mans and Menezes, who at 21 years old, had never completed a 24 hour race before. All three drivers put in a remarkable performance, Menezes especially who pulled out a quadruple stint in the early hours of Sunday morning to keep the car in site of the podium. A strong drive from Nico Lapierre, who had taken victory just one year before helped the team take the flag.

    A third straight win for the crew at the Nurburgring, round 4 in July, continued to build their lead. RGR Sport took victory in Mexico with a fitting win, driver Ricardo Gonzales the official promoter of the event took the top step of the podium on home soil. Alpine returned to the top of the podium at the Circuit of the Americas with three races left to run. The team took the title in Shanghai finishing second, wrapping up the title with one race to spare, they were never really under threat.

    G-Drive put on a strong showing in the final three races of the season, taking  a hat trick of wins for Roman Rusinov and Alex Brundle. They were joined for two of those wins by former Manor F1 driver Will Stevens, with Rene Rast stepping back on board for the final outing in Bahrain. Rusinov had trouble in Mexico which cost the team the win with a catastrophic brake failure in the final hour. Despite the team coming from the back of the grid to take the win, RGR managed to secure second place in the championship.

    GTE-Pro Season Review

    Aston Martin Racing headed in to the 2016 FIA World Endurance with a heavily upgraded Vantage GTE. They were up against the new Ferrari 488GTE and the new Ford GT run by Ford Chip Ganassi Racing UK. Porsche opted to take a year out to focus on the 2017 car, however, Dempsey-Proton Racing ran a customer team Porsche.

    Aston Martin’s Nicki Thiim and Marco Sorensen proved themselves more than capable of the challenge, taking the drivers championship in Bahrain with a win in the #95 car. The teams championship however, went to Ferrari, marking a successful first year for the new 488 GTE. The 488 had some big boots to fill. Ferrari own the 2012, 2013 and 2014 GT Manufacturers title with the hugely successful 458 and two drivers titles in 2013 and 2014. The 458 also won Le Mans in 2012 and 2014. No >pressure then.

    Aston Martin stalwart Darren Turner began alongside them at the start of the season, the trio claiming a podium at Silverstone behind the AF Corse Ferraris which dominated the race. Sam Bird and Davide Rigon dominated the race in the #71 Ferrari ahead of Gimi Bruni and James Calado in the #51 which also had to serve a three minute time penalty for an engine change between qualifying and the race. It should be noted, that Bruni set the quickest ever GTE time around Silverstone this year, the first driver to break the 1:59 barrier, going 2.5 seconds quicker than his previous record.

    Disaster struck for the team at Spa, Nicki Thiim was spun in to the barriers by an LMP2 car and came to a rest on his roof at Courbe Paul Frere.

    Ferrari capitalised, however a late engine failure for Calado stripped Ferrari of the projected 1-2 finish they were after. The charge came to a stop at Le Mans though with severe mechanical difficulties. Fourth for the GTE-AM AF Course however gifted the team 24 points, a valuable contribution to the teams title chances.

    Despite not making the podium at Le Mans, the trio took points as the second placed WEC entered car. Both the #51 and #71 cars failed to finish and Aston Martin took the championship lead. Ford put on an incredibly dominant performance at Le Mans which saw them bring home three cars in the top four. The #82 Ferrari of Fisichella, Vilander and Malucelli spoiling a Ford front three lock out with a second place. This dominance would see a BOP adjustment later in the season.

    After Le Mans, Aston Martin had a reshuffle of their driver line up which saw Turner swap to the #97 car. Thiim and Sorensen took third place behind the dominant Ferraris before taking third place in Mexico. Turner and Stanaway took the first AMR win of the season in Mexico which put Turner in to the championship lead. Thiim and Sorensen finally took their first win in Austin at the Circuit of the Americas which put them at the top of the table with three races to run and a 12 point lead. Fords dominance returned for Shanghai and Fuji, taking 1-2 finished in both races ahead of #51 Ferrari of Gimi Bruni and James Calado. Heading in to the final race of the season, AMR had a 12 point lead. Turner and Adam set identical qualifying laps to take pole in the #97 before the #95 took the race and a second win of the season.

    Bruni and Calado lost vital points this season and despite finishing on the podium in every race they finished, including a win at the ‘Ring, DNF’s at Spa and Le Mans took them out of contention for the title. They did however, finish third ahead of both the Fords who finished half a point apart, Muecke, and Pla having the slight advantage over Tincknell and Priaulx. Ford took two victories this year and max points at Le Mans enroute to third in their first season back in endurance racing. Three cars in the top four at Le Mans meant they scored max points, whilst two second places at Fuji and Shanghai meant the #66 bested the #67.

    GTE-AM Season Review

    The stats show that the #83 AF Corse Ferrari 458 was not the quickest car in class. They took one win this season but finished every race and claimed 50 points at Le Mans. They took six second place finishes, only failing to take the podium in Austin. The #98 Aston Martin Vantage was notably quicker. The car with Paul Dalla Lana, Pedro Lamy and Mathias Lauda at the wheel took six pole positions including the final race in Bahrain, and five wins. Unfortunately, they took hard knocks at Le Mans and Mexico,not finishing either race. Pole position under the night sky of Bahrain gave them hope.That margin of hope however was incredibly small. Collard, Aguas and Perodo just needed to finish, they crossed the line third whilst the engine failed on the #98.

    The #88 Abu Dhabi Proton took victory on the WEC’s first visit to Mexico and again in Bahrain. The retirement of the #95 gave second in the championship to Al Qubaisi and Heinemeier Hansson. With Klaus Bachler replaced by Patrick Long at Le Mans, Al Qubaisi and Heinemeier-Hansson again came close to beating the Ferrari for the top WEC-registered team, but a late charge from Collard saw the Frenchman take second spot in the final hour, which resulted in a decisive 14-point swing.

    The Porsche crew came on form in the final race, Pat Long put pressure on Lauda which saw the #95 spin, Long then lead the rest of the way fending off Wolf Henzler in the KCMG Porsche. The #78 took their fifth consecutive podium in Bahrain but after technical infringement at Nurburgring and technical failure at Silverstone, they were out of the running. Gulf Racing had a solid performance across the year with some big improvements seen across the season for Ben Barker, Adam Carroll and Mike Wainwright.

  • 2019 Le Mans Test Weekend Session 1 Catch Up

    It was a record breaking 62 cars which took to the track for the 2019 official Le Mans test day at Circuit de la Sarthe at the weekend with 8 LMP1s, 20 LMP2, 17 GTE Pros and 17 GTE Ams entered into the race this year.

    Normally a 60 car grid, limited by the amount of garages at Le Mans, would run but the ACO and FIA announced they would be extending the entry list to 62 cars, allowing the second United Autosport entry and High Class racing into the LMP2 category.

    A proportion of GTE cars were running one off custom livery designs for the 24 Hours with both Ford and Porsche running in one of colours for the final round of the 2018/2019 World Endurance Championship. Ford opted for a retro livery on each car with the four liveries representing wins in 1966, 1967, 2016 along with the 2019 colours.

    In GTE Am, the Keating Motorsport Ford GT will be running in the stunning purple colour of Wynn’s racing whilst Project 1 features a specifically designed art car layout to showcase Porsche’s Second Skin technology.

    With 186 drivers set to take part in the 2019 race, the majority of them were on site already on Saturday morning with a number of reserve drivers also lined up to take part in the test. Aston Martin rising star Ross Gunn had some valuable seat time lined up for Sunday’s test in both GTE Pro Aston Martin’s. Of those 186 drivers however, there were 20 drivers taking part in the Paul Ricard 1000KM race as part of the 2019 Blancpain Endurance Cup. There were also 11 drivers taking part in the Detroit Grand Prix at Belle Isle as part of the 2019 IMSA championship in the United States. Project 1 driver Patrick Lindsey was on call as pilot for the chartered flight back to Europe.

    Scott Dixon and Sebastien Bourdais were given special dispensation not to run in the test weekend as they were both on Indy Car duty on Sunday in Detroit.

    With the first session of the day kicking off at 9AM Sunday morning, it wasn’t long before Toyota were topping the time sheets, Sebastien Buemi putting the #8 Toyota on top of the times in the first of the two four hour sessions with a time of 3:21.875, a second faster than the previous best set by Fernando Alonso. The #7 Toyota was second fastest with Jose Maria Lopez posting a time of 3:22.027. The #3 Rebellion led the way for the P1 privateer cars, Gustavo Menezes setting a marker of 3:23.978.

    Pastor Maldonado led the way in the #31 DragonSpeed Oreca in LMP2 for most of the session, posting a lap time of 3:32.244 early on however, Felipe Albuquerque pushed the Columbian off the top spot by just 2 thousandths of a second in the dying moments of the session.

    Ford were leading the way for most of the session in GTEPro, Billy Johnson’s best time in the #66 car was beaten on the final lap of the session by Antonio Garcia in the #63 Corvette by just 0.024 of a second, Garcia setting a time of 3:55.704 on his final run. Gimmi Bruni rounded out the top three, putting the #91 Porsche in front of the two AF Corse Ferrari’s. The top 7 in the 17 car class were split by just 1 second.

    Francesco Castellacci led the way in GTEAM for most of the session, posting a time of 3:58.478 in the #54 Spirit of Race Ferrari, not only did this put Castellacci at the front in GTEAM, it was also faster than the two factory Aston Martins and the #82 BMW Team MTEK M8 GTE.

    By the end of the first session, it was a Ferrari top 4 with the #61 Clearwater, #84 JMW and #57 Car Guy Ferraris finishing ahead of Pat Long in the #99 Krohn Racing Proton Competition 911 RSR.

  • A look ahead to the 2019/2020 Prologue

    The provisional entry list for the FIA World Endurance Championship's pre-season Prologue Test at Barcelona has been released this week. Initially the entry list unveiled 30 cars to take part in the 16 hours of track time over two days of running following the European Le Mans Series 4H Barcelona which takes place this coming weekend.

    LMP1 will see six entries taking part in the pre-season test at Circuit Catalunya with Toyota Gazoo Racing bringing the full 2019-2020 line-up featuring Brendon Hartley who steps in to replace Fernando Alonso in the #8 Toyota TS050 Hybrid. Frenchman Thomas Laurent is a late addition to the #7 Toyota ahead of the test. Rebellion are yet to confirm who will be taking part in the test but both cars will be present in Barcelona, however, they will only run one car for the season. Team regulars Bruno Senna, Gustavo Menezes and Nathanael Berthon are expected to drive along with several newcomer at the Barcelona test. with Team LNT bringing Charlie Robertson and Michael Simpson to test the Ginetta G60-LT-P1 AER. SMP Racing have recently withdrawn from the championship reducing the LMP1 class to just six entries.

    There will be four new teams entered in LMP2, United Autosport, High Class Racing, Cool Racing and Cetilar Racing have all stepped up to the WEC from the European Le Mans Series. Cetilar Racing will run the Dallara P217 Gibson with Andrea Belicchi, Roberto Lacorte and Giorgio Sernagiotto taking the wheel. High Class Racing will run with Mark Patterson, Anders Fjordbach and Kenta Yamashita. Cool Racing will also run the Dallara with Nicolas Lapierre, Antonin Borga and Alexandre Coigny. United Autosport will run regular drivers, Philip Hanson, Filipe Albuquerque and Paul Di Resta for the test in the Oreca 07. Anthony Davidson, Pastor Maldonado and Robert Gonzalez have made the switch from DragonSpeed to Jota Sport. Signatech Alpine, Jackie Chan DC Racing and Racing Team Nederland will also run at the Prologue, each team fielding the Oreca 07. The #36 car will feature Andre Negrao, Thomas Laurent and Pierre Ragues for the 2019/2020 season. Jackie Chan DC Racing have confirmed the addition of Will Stevens to the confirmed pairing of Ho-Pin Tung and Gabriel Aubry.

    Five cars will run in LMGTE Pro, two Ferrari 488 GTE Evo's run by AF Corse, two Porsche 911 RSR-19 cars and one Aston Martin Vantage. Ferrari return with James Calado, Alessandro Pier Guidi and Davide Rigon, the fourth seat usually occupied by Sam Bird, will be occupied by Miguel Molina. Porsche have entered Gianmaria Bruni, Richard Lietz, Michael Christensen and Kevin Estre for the 2 day test.

    LMGTE Am expands for the 2019/2020 season, with Red River Sport joining the series in partnership with Spirit of Race in the Ferrari 488 GTE EVo, Bonamy Grimes, Charlie Hollings and Johnny Mowlem listed to drive the car. Team Project 1 expand to a two car line up with Egidio Perfetti, Patrick Lindsey and David Heinemeier Hansson the three named drivers so far.

    AF Corse have entered two 488 GTE Evo's in the class with Thomas Flohr, France Castellacci, and Giancarlo Fisichella set to take the wheel of the #54 car whilst Francois Perrodo, Emmanuel Collard and Nicklas Nielsen entered in the #83 car. Regular LMGTE Am entries Aston Martin Racing, Gulf Racing and MR Racing will also take part in the Barcelona test. The #86 Gulf Porsche will be driven by Mike Wainwright, Andrew Watson and Nico Bastian. Jonny Adam returns to the #90 TF Sport Aston Martin, absent of Salih Yoluc and Euan Hankey who will both be taking part in the Spa 24 Hours. Paul Dalla Lana and Mathias Lauda return in the #98 Aston Martin but will be joined by Darren Turner, Ross Gunn and Matthieu Vaxiviere for the test.

    There are still a large number of seats to fill ahead of the test, with drivers to be announced in the coming days.

  • Conway and Lopez seal pole position for Toyota Gazoo Racing

    For the third time this year, Toyota take pole position, however this time, its the #7 car that will lead the field at the start of tomorrows FIA WEC 6 Hours of Silverstone

    Fernando Alonso set the early pace in the LMP qualifying session with just one flying lap earlier this afternoon but Mike Conway returned to the top of the time sheets shortly before the driver change, beating Alonso by just 0.020 seconds. Kazuki Nakajima struggled to match Alonso’s pace after the switch over in a session hindered by traffic. The Japanese driver could only manage a time that was eight tenths slower than Lopez resulting in the first pole of the year for the #7 car. Although the #7 car took pole at Spa, it was disqualified in post qualifying scrutineering. The #7 car set a time of 1:36.895 with Alonso and Nakajima managing a 1:37.306.

    It was a relatively strong performance for SMP Racing, the #11 BR1 of Mikhaeil Aleshin, Vitaly Petrov and Jenson Button qualified third in class but just over two seconds off the qualifying pace of the lead Toyota with a time of 1:38.932. Rebellion will start fourth and fifth in class tomorrow afternoon, the #3 leading the #1 car by just four tenths of a second.

    In LMP2, the #37 Jackie Chan DC Racing car led a front row lock out, Jazeman Jaafar and Nail Jeffri setting a combined average of 1:44.896. The sister car, the #38 of Ho-Pin Tung, Gabriel Aubry and Stephane Richelmi was just three tenths back whilst the championship leader, the #36 Signatech Alpine of Lapierre, Negrao and Thiriet finished the session in third place with a time of 1:46.370.

    Pastor Maldonado caused the first incident of the session, sending the #31 Dragonspeed into the gravel trap early on. This was shortly followed by contact between the #50 Larbre Competition Ligier JSP217 and the #29 Racing Team Nederland entry through Becketts. With just 5 minutes on the clock, Frits Van Eerd spun the #29 into the gravel backwards at Copse, causing a temporary red flag before a last minute dash to the flag.

    In GTE Qualifying, Aston Martin continued to show an improved performance as a result of the rebalancing of the BOP regulations. Stefan Mucke and Olivier Pla put the #66 Ford on pole position despite a strong challenge from the #97 Aston Martin of Maxime Martin and Alex Lynn. The Aston duo qualified less than a tenth behind the Ford with a time of 1:55.805. Marco Sorensen and Nicki Thiim will start from third on the grid.

    It was a disappoint session for Andy Priaulx and Harry Tincknell in the #67 Ford who will start tomorrows race in fourth. Both drivers struggled with traffic and will have a hard job tomorrow to recover lost ground.

    BMW once again found themselves at the back of the pack, the #82 and #81 qualifying seventh and eighth respectively.

    Championship new comers this year Project 1 secured the teams first pole position in the hands of Jorg Bergmeister and Egidio Perfetti, taking pole by two tenths over the Le Mans winning #77 Dempsey Proton Racing Porsche. Aston Martin took third an fourth in class, TF Sport taking third position ahead of the #98 AMR.

    Tomorrows race kicks off at 12:00
  • Getting Ready for the 6 Hours of Nurburgring

    The World Endurance Championship is back this weekend with more thrilling track action at the Nürburgring. The 24 Hours of Le Mans brought a spectacular race to the blue riband event and the fourth round of the championship promises to be just as gripping. With the championship battles closer than ever throughout all the classes in the WEC, the teams are going to more determined to take class victory as every point counts. As this is the last race before the summer break, the grid will be looking to end the first half of the season on a high and come back in Mexico with a positive mentality.

    The disastrous Le Mans for the LMP1 class has seen the World Endurance Drivers’ Championship already narrowed down to being between two cars. This means that for the rest of the season both Toyota Gazoo Racing and Porsche will probably employ team orders to promote the #2 and #8 entrants to score more points. The closest LMP1 car to the lead battle is last year’s champion car with Neel Jani, Andre Lotterer and Nick Tandy onboard, 55 points behind.

    Jackie Chan DC Racing had one of the best races of their career out in Le Mans. After the #13 Vaillante rebellion was disqualified for illegal alterations to the car’s bodywork, Jackie Chan DC Racing scored a double overall podium. This puts the overall second-place finishers of the #38 car in a comfortable lead in the LMP2 Drivers’ and Team Championships. However, it is still a battle between Rebellion and Jackie Chan Racing as the #31 team are 38 points of the Le Mans class winners. However, Rebellion’s main concern will be the #36 Signatech Alpine who sit third in the championship, only 10 points off them.

    The last minute second place that #67 Ford Chip Ganassi inherited at the end of Le Mans has kept them ahead in the GT Drivers’ Championship. Harry Tincknell, Andy Priaulx and Pipo Derrani lead the Le Mans GT Pro class winners of Jonny Adam, Darren Turner and Daniel Serra for the lead of the championship by nine points. Aston Martin have gained an advantage this weekend as the automated BoP has come into action. They will be running lighter than the other competitors in their classes, which could aid them in taking the Championship lead.

    Due to the amount of non-scoring LM GTE Am entrants at Le Mans, the 24-hour event did not cost the #98 Aston Martin Racing team too much. Although ending eighth in class, Pedro Lamy, Paul Dalla Lana and Mathias Lauda were awarded points for fourth position, meaning they have only fallen six points behind the new Am Driver’s Trophy competitors #61 Clearwater Racing. With the BoP advantage that Aston Martin is supposed to have this weekend, the sole Aston Martin Am crew could get back ahead of the Ferrari-run team by the end of the weekend.

  • Ginetta and Manor Endurance Racing Split

    Ginetta and Manor Endurance Racing part ways ahead of the FIA WEC 6 Hours of Fuji

    Manor Endurance Racing have stated that they will have no further involvement in the running of the Ginetta AER G60 LT-P1 program due to commercial reasons. It is no secret that the Chinese backers involved in the project, CEFC China Energy have been having financial difficult from the early stages of the program which forced both cars to sit out the season opening race at Spa Francorchamps. Both cars faced technical issues at the Prologue back in March which severely limited the amount of running they were able to do. As As a result, the competition debut of the car was this summers 24 Hours of Le Mans.

    The entry is held by TRSM China Motorsport who contracted Manor Endurance Racing as a service provider. Ginetta have heavily subsidised the running of the program this year in the interest of getting the cars out on the grid and competing on the world stage and are now focused on getting the car back out there with the new AER engine to see how they stack up against the competition. Manor Sporting Director Graeme Lowdon stated that Ginetta were not in a position to change the engine ahead of the Silverstone race, however, Ginetta insisted the car had been homologated in time for the event. However, this was apparently not the case with both cars failing to take the start of the FIA WEC 6 Hours of Silverstone as the team had missed the deadline for dispensation from the FIA Endurance Committee to enter under a different model of car.

    A single G60-LT-P1 is still entered for the FIA WEC 6 Hours of Fuji in October with Oliver Rowland, Alex Brundle and Mike Simpson on the entry list.

  • Ginetta to Join LMP1 in 2018

    After trying to become a listed LMP2 chassis constructor, and being denied the possibility, Ginetta has switched focus to the LMP1-L class. It has been confirmed today that they will enter into the LMP1 field in 2018.

    The ACO’s five-year rule freeze in LMP1 appears to be working; the reason for the freeze was to entice more manufacturers into the class to extend the grid after the departure of Rebellion Racing and Audi Sport Racing at the end of last year. Ginetta is hopefully the first of many to look into developing a car to enter into the World Endurance Championship LMP1 class.

    The project is already underway and Ginetta looks to be aiming high for their debut in 2018. Already having confirmed being at an advanced stage in talks with Mecachrome as an engine supplier and Xtrac for their gearbox supplier, they have recruited Adrian Reynard as the head of aero development, Paolo Catone to be heavily involved in the LMP1-L design, and a yet to be named Head of Aerodynamics who bring LMP1-H experience.

    Ginetta is in no rush to get the operation complete. They plan to produce ten chassis and, instead of running a factory-based outfit, supply three teams to run a two-car operation. This should hopefully bring an extra six cars to the LMP1 class, which would bring the grid numbers about what they were in 2016 for the class. Although the 2017 grid in LMP1 will hold only five cars for full season, the future of LMP1 looks a lot less bleak than it did at the end of 2016.

  • Le Mans 2017 6 Hour Report

    For a brief session at the beginning of the race, the #7 Toyota lost the lead to the sister #8 car, but apart from that the #7 Toyota has led the 24 Hours of Le Mans for the first six hours. Vaillante Rebellion has been commanding the field in LMP2 after the pole-sitting #26 G-Drive Racing had a terrible start that led to an early retirement from the race. Aston Martin have been the teams to beat in the GTE classes but they have not run away with the pace, with Ferrari and Ford keeping the teams on their toes.

    It seemed to be an easy six hours for the #7 Toyota as all three drivers have climbed aboard to competitively lead the race. Neel Jani made quick work of overtaking Sebastien Buemi in the #8 Toyota to steal second place and split the Toyotas. Buemi did fight back and keep the pressure on Jani, but after the first driver changes Anthony Davidson seemed unable to keep up with Nick Tandy in the Porsche #1.

    Issues have plagued a couple of the LMP1 cars. The #9 had an issue with their door not closing and was forced to make an extra stop in the fifth hour so the team could try and resolve the issue. At the time of publishing, the door was no longer an issue.

    But disaster struck for the #2 Porsche as a front axle drive failure forced the car into the garage. The team lost nearly an hour of the race sitting in the garage as the team did an incredibly quick job of replacing the entire front unit of the car. At the time of publishing, Brendon Hartley was in the car pushing for damage limitation with the car down in an overall 55th position.

    The ByKolles looked to have a strong start by before the end of the first lap it suffered a rear left puncture. Having to pit so early saw it fall down the order but a suspected engine failure saw the car become the second official retiree of the 2017 24 Hours of Le Mans in the second hour.

    The first official retiree of the race was the #88 Proton Competition Porsche. After having a bad start and a spin at the Ford Chicane, pole-sitting #26 G-Drive Racing was pushing hard to recover lost positions. Misjudging the space between the two cars, Roman Rusiov got the overtake on the #88 wrong and sent both cars into the barriers at the Porsche Curves. Both cars, with significant damage, made it back to the pits as slow zones covered the Porsche Curves area for barrier repairs. However, neither of them had repairable damage and both cars retired from the race.

    The misfortune for the #26, which dropped down the field on the start lap, handed the advantage to Vaillante Rebellion, who has led the class since the second hour. The CEFC Manor TDS Racing #24 has been keen to challenge for a top two spot but has yet to get any higher than third in class. #38 Jackie Chan DC Racing is also battling up the front of the class and all four cars are looking strong as the first quarter of the race is complete.

    At the start of the race, the Aston Martins pulled an advantage on the GTE fields, but the Ferrari-running teams were hot on their heels. As the day has begun to cool as the evening running gets underway, the Ferraris have fallen off a little and the battle in Pro is now between the Fords and the Aston Martin. Harry Tincknell had a mega lap that has seen the #67 Ford Chip Ganassi Team UK car in strong contention for a podium position.

    The #66 Ford was looking good for a high position but an early issue with the rear light forced the car to pit out of sequence for a quick repair. The car is still lapping with the top of the class, but the advantage is with the other cars around it as it has to pit after the other LM GTE Pro cars have taken their pits.

    Ferrari had an impressive stint around the third hour in the Am class, with a Ferrari one-two-three led by Will Stevens in the JMW Motorsports #84. The JMW Motorsports entry is still running strong at the sharp end of the class but Aston Martin has come back with a strong pace from the works #98 car. It’s an impressive performance from the #90 TF Sport crew who, at the time of publishing, were running third in class.

    Four cars have been lost in the first quarter of the race, with the fourth retiree coming in the closing stages of the fifth hour. Matthieu Vaxiviere lost the car under braking for the Forza Motorsport Chicane and side swiped the #82 Risi Competitione. The #82 was spun into the Armco barrier, which suffered a lot of damage, and destroyed the front of the Ferrari 488 GTE. It retired on the spot as the marshals lifted the stricken car off of the racetrack.

    The #28 TDS Racing was undamaged from the incident. The LMP2 team has received a 7-minute stop/go penalty for taking out the Risi Competitione.

  • Porsche Dominate 6 Hours of Nurburgring

    Porsche took a dominant one-two around their home race at the Nurburgring. Toyota Gazoo Racing had no respose as, after leading for most of the first hour, the Porsches disappeared with nearly a lap lead. The #38 Jackie Chan DC Racing LMP2 car also had an easy race to victory. None of the other cars could close in the gap to challenge for the win, so the team converted their inherited pole position into the race victory. The GTE classes delivered the predicted Porsche/Ferrari battles. Ferrari came out on top in the Pro class with the #51 AF Corse whilst Dempsey-Proton Racing #77 did a splendid job for their first victory of the season.

    The action of the race started before the green flag dropped as disaster hit the #8 Toyota. On the formation lap, Sebastien Buemi had a fuel pump failure that saw the team bringing the car into the pits to replace the part. This instantly turned their race into one of damage limitation as they fought back from the back of the grid. They ended five laps down but managed to classify fourth overall, only losing 13 points to their championship rivals in the Porsche #2.

    The LMP1 race very quickly became a inter-team battle as Porsche clearly have a pace advantage with their high aerodynamic kit. Due to pick pick ups of rubber the two Porsche were suffering from aero degradation that created a “yo-yo” effect for which car was leading. Both of the cars were evenly matched pace wise and presented a fantastically close race to the chequered flag. Just 1.6 seconds separated Timo Bernhard and Andre Lotterer as the chequered flag fell.

    For the first time this season, both LMP1 teams were running the high-downforce aero packages on their cars. It became clear by the end of the 6 Hours of Nurburgring that Porsche had a pace advantage over Toyota Gazoo Racing with this aero kit. Toyota will need to spend some time over the summer trying to improve that if they wish to have any chance of catching Porsche or fighting them for the World Endurance Championships.

    The race behind the #38 was where the action was in the LMP2 class. Nicolas Lapierre once again showed his speed with some fantastic stints for the #36 Signatech Alpine that helped Gustavo Menezes, Tristian Gommendy and he get third place in class. Gommendy’s stints in the middle of the race were also a big contributing factor to help Lapierre pass and extend a lead from the #13 Vaillante Rebellion crew.

    Rebellion had shown they had a strong pace behind the #38 car. Bruno Senna, Julien Canal and Filipe Alburquerque drove to a competitive second place whilst the sister #13 battled valiantly with the #36 and the #37 that challenged for their then third place in class. The #13 finished just off the podium in fourth place.

    Although a difficult final race for the team, the #4 ByKolles Racing did see the chequered flag, classifying 14th overall. From their side of things, the race was fairly uneventful and they had an incident and garage time-free six hour race to the flag. Only one car retired from the race. The #35 Signatech Alpine suffered damage that would have taken too long to repair. They dropped out of the race just before the halfway point.

    The thrilling track battles came from the GTE classes. AF Corse and Porsche GT Team had a tough battle for the lead of class in the first hour. Frederic Makowiecki came out on top of that battle to see the Porsche get ahead. However, around the halfway mark James Calado pulled off a stunning move passed the then-leading #91 Porsche GT to claim the class victory. There looked like there would be another inter-team battle between Porsches as Kevin Estre was closing in on the sister car #92 with Richard Lietz on board. However there were not enough laps for Estre to demote Lietz and Makowiecki off the second step of the podium.

    At the back of the grid was the battle of BoP. Championship rivals #97 Aston Martin Racing and #67 Ford Chip Ganassi kept ending up nose to tail on track. However, it is assumed that the BoP advantage Aston had coming into this weekend gave them a pace advantage on the straights. Daniel Serra kept both the #66 and #67 at bay for a long duration of time by driving defensively and using the extra pace they had on the straights to get far enough ahead that Ford could not challenge them. Olivier Pla had to get very clever with his driving line, compromising his entrance into corner to get a much better exit to try and get closer to the Aston so their pace advantage did not matter.

    In the end, the #67 lead the trio over the line, taking up fifth, sixth and seventh in class. This gives Harry Tincknell and Andy Priaulx an extra four points in the championship battle with Darren Turner, Jonny Adam and Daniel Serra as we head into the summer break.

    The fight for the lead in Am was exhilarating from green flag to chequered. From pole, the #98 Aston Martin Racing car of Pedro Lamy, Paul Dalla Lana and Mathias Lauda lead the way, gaining just over a minute advantage on the field by the 90-minute mark. But Porsche and Ferrari had proven through the practice sessions that they has better pace this weekend, and the race was no exception. Matteo Cairoli was a man on a mission as he chased down the #98 in the second half of the race. With a better pace, he managed to pass the Aston Martin and extend a competitive lead to the end of the race.

    But Miguel Molina also saw his opportunity this weekend. Within the final hour of the race, Molina in the #54 Spirit of Race Ferrari was in hot pursuit of at least a podium, if not the class win. He deposited the Clearwater Racing #61 with ease before chasing down Dalla Lana for the second step of the podium. The Aston Martin had no power in which to stop the rapid pace of the Spanish driver and he cut down an 18 second lead to a 4.6 second lead in 30 minutes. Had there have been an extra five minutes of the race the Dempsey-Proton Porsche and the Spirit of Race Ferrari would at least crossed the line nose to tail.

  • Porsche Lead the Way for Nurburgring Practice

    Both Timo Bernhard and Earl Bamber have shown that the Porsche 919-Hybrid has a competitively strong pace ahead of this weekend’s 6 Hours of Nurburgring. The Porsche #2 has led both session at the chequered flag, whilst the #1 gave Porsche a one-two as the day came to a close. Aston Martin may have a BoP advantage this weekend, but so far it is yet to be shown. The GT classes, both in Am and Pro, look close on a pace basis. This will hopefully promise some spectacular racing come the six-hour event on Sunday.

    Toyota Gazoo Racing appeared to be on the back foot in the afternoon session of practice. They kept the competition close in the morning, with just three-tenths of a second separating the four LMP1 Hybrid cars, but in the cooler temperatures of the afternoon they could not keep up with Porsche. They were a clear second off the pace in free practice two, and even when Anthony Davidson climbed aboard with a few minutes left he was unable to close the gap to the Porsches ahead.

    ByKolles had a troubled session in the morning, spending most of it in the garage and only getting six laps on the board, but the second practice session looked to be an improvement for the team. This will be the last race that ByKolles compete in as they are taking the second half of the season to test and develop their car ahead of the 2018 season. This decision was made before Le Mans as ByKolles feel they are not currently prepared enough, nor would they be prepared enough if they completed the full season, to take on the new LMP1 Privateers that are joining the field next year.

    Vaillante Rebellion looked to be strong once again. They set the pace in the first practice session and were only two-tenths off the pace-setting #26 G-Drive Racing in the second practice session. However, at the end of the first practice session, the #31 Rebellion made contact with the #77 Dempsey-Proton Racing Porsche. Both cars were fastest of their respective classes when the contact happened. With only four minutes left on the clock the red flag brought out a premature chequered flag, not allowing for any late improvements.

    But the incident caused some internal damage to the #31 which meant that they were unable to participate in the second practice session. The two teams were called into the stewards office but no further action will be taken with either team. The left side pod of the #31 was damaged and the front of the #77 was damaged, suggesting that the #77 hit the side of the #31. The #31 was also seen in the barrier at the entrance of the pit lane.

    Although the advantage was predicted to be with Aston Martin due to their lighter BoP, it has been Ferrari and Porsche dominating the Am class. The field is close, with only half a second covering the entire class at the end of Free Practice One, so the racing come Sunday is predicted to be intense. Aston Martin Racing has finished both sessions fourth in class so they will be looking for some improvement during the final practice session before qualifying.

    The BoP advantage that Aston Martin believed to have at the start of the weekend has yet to be discovered by either the Pro or Am team. The first practice session saw the Aston duo at the back of the class field whilst AF Corse and Porsche GT Team battled for fastest lap. It seems that Porsche and Ferrari have an advantage in the GT classes and should be the ones to watch come race day.

  • Prologue 2018 - What did we learn?

    30 Hours of testing, 53,000km covered by all entries and it was Toyota Gazoo Racing who came out on top of the official pre-season test at Paul Ricard.

    #8 Toyota

    LMP1

    Toyota covered 5872km across the two cars, Mike Conway, topping the timing screens with a time of 1:32.662, significantly quicker than the non-hybrid LMP1 cars. It was however confirmed that Toyota had been running an unrestricted set up to test a new cooling system. This will perhaps come as some kind of relief to the competition with the closest non-hybrid entry, the #11 SMP Racing BR1 falling 4.3 seconds shy of the quickest pace. However, this is only pre-season testing, how much are the teams willing to reveal at this stage? Qualifying at Spa in just a few weeks’ time will be the first time to see the cars being pushed to the maximum.

    #1 Rebellion

    The huge amount of change in LMP1 over the winter break has been a major point of discussion and speculation in the past few months. Rebellion Racing have returned to LMP1 with the Rebellion R-13 piloted by Neel Jani, Andre Lotterer and Bruno Senna, arguably one of the most experience trios in the class and certainly one to watch as the super season unfolds! A deal was announced prior to the Prologue between TVR and Rebellion which sees the brand return to Le Mans for the first time in over a decade. TVR will be present as an “automotive partner”.

    It was a promising start for the LMP1 non-hybrid field with SMP Racing and Rebellion split by just 0.010 on the fastest lap, the #11 SMP besting the #1 Rebellion R-13 to take third and fourth respectively in the overall quickest lap time. An impressive start for Rebellion considering the lack of testing during the winter break. Unveiled to the world in Bahrain at the end of last season, the two SMP entered BR1s between them ran 515 laps.

    It was a quiet but good weekend for ByKolles in the updated CLM P1/01. The team dropped out of the 2017 season after Nurburgring as planned to focus on developing the new car. The car managed to run 331 laps, a significant improvement on this time last year when at Monza, they ran just a handful of laps.

    #6 CEFC TRSM

    CEFC TRSM (Manor/Ginetta to you and I), step up to LMP1 this year with a pair of Ginetta G60-LT-P1s. They experienced a number of minor issues throughout the test, struggling to get anywhere near the competition in terms of lap times complete. The #6 car finished with 121 laps on the board whilst the #5 made a late debut on Friday after a water leak stopped the team from running early on Friday. It was a fantastic job from the Ginetta and Manor pit crew to get the car up and running considering it was still being built on Thursday. The #5 made an initial run around sunset on Friday evening but was forced back to the pits with a few teething problems. The car returned later that night with Mike Simpson at the wheel before getting some consistent running in early Saturday morning, managing to clock 138 laps as a result.

    DragonSpeed split their efforts between LMP1 and LMP2 this year, running a Gibson BR1 in LMP1. This was one of the first outings for the car with the team focused on trialling different set ups and getting track time for Henrik Hedman. They completed the session with 145 laps on the clock.

    LMP2

    #38 Jackie Chan Racing

    Its the same old faces but with additional variety this year in LMP2. Jackie Chan DC Racing return to the championship with their two Gibson powered Oreca 07s alongside TDS Racing and Signatech Alpine. Championship regulars and 2016 champions G-Drive have stepped back from a full season campaign and were absent at The Prologue but will join the grid at Spa in preparation for Le Mans. Team Nederland join the championship running the Dallara P217 whilst Larbre return to the WEC but this time in the Ligier JSP217, not the GTEAm Corvette of recent years. Along with multiple chassis this year, the teams are also running different rubber, split between Michelin and Dunlop tyres.

    #31 Dragon Speed

    It was a pretty quiet event for LMP2 with none of the teams signed up to run the full 30-hour session, all of them pulling into the pits before the sun set and re-joining the following morning. The DragonSpeed Oreca will be driven this season by Roberto Gonzalez, Ben Hanley and Pastor Maldonado, looking to relaunch his career after a few years out of F1. Maldonado was the quickest driver of the class, the only one to lap.

    GTE Pro

    #91 Porsche

    Porsche took a 1-2 finish at the top of the time sheets looking dominant throughout the weekend, the #91 leading the way in the hands of Richard Lietz and Gianmaria Bruni with a time of 1:51.332, half a second ahead of the #92 which posted a time of 1:51.837. Ford were the only real challengers of the weekend, the four cars completing over 200 laps and split by less than a second.

    The latest generation of the Ferrari 488 GTE struggled all weekend. The #71 caught fire during re-fuelling early on Saturday and didn’t run again that day whilst the #51 struggled with tyre wear.

    #95 Aston Martin

    Aston Martin Racing debuted the new Vantage this weekend, not going for outright pace but favouring long distance running. The #95 completed 852 laps with all six drivers behind the wheel at one point or another, some of them splitting time between the #95 and #97 which got a further 235 laps under its belt.

    It was the championship debut for the new BMW M8 GTE (which had its official race debut at The Rolex 24 At Daytona back in January), the #82 car clocked up 682 laps whilst the #81 only completed a six-hour run.

    GTE Am

    #86 Porsche

    Paul Dalla Lana, Pedro Lamy and Mathias Lauda return as defending champions in the #98 Aston Martin. They will once again face up against Dempsey Proton, who this year field a two-car line up, Gulf Racing back once again with the #86 Porsche, Spirit of Race Ferrari and Clearwater, each of whom have entered one car for the season. The class regulars will be joined by Team Project 1 (911 RSR), MR Racing (Ferrari 488) and TF Sport (Aston Martin).

    As in GTEPro, Porsche led the way in GTE AM, each team for the first time running the 911 RSR. Gulf Racing UK and Dempsey Proton were the ones to watch, the #88 of Matteo Cairoli eventually taking and holding the top spot with a time of 1:52.936. What was interesting about GTEAm however this year was how, on one lap pace, they mixed times with the GTEPro category. Will some of the faster Am drivers be able to fight with the back runners in GTE Pro?

    The Class of 2018

    17 Prototypes and 19 GTE cars lined up at Paul Ricard. There is clearly still a lot to learn and no one is really giving away their true performance just yet, however, it is going to be an incredible season. The championship new comers will hopefully shake the championship up this year, the privateer LMP1 teams challenging Toyota, the new LMP2 chassis with varying tire choices adds another variable to the competition who will have the advantage this year after an Oreca chassis lock out in LMP2 in 2017?

    Can BMW and the new Aston Martin Vantage look to challenge Porsche and Ford who have both enjoyed successes in the past couple of years?

    And with a number of championship new comers joining the fight in GTE Am, will it be the experienced WEC veterans who come out on top or the new challengers?

    Join us at Spa Francorchamps in May when the season truly begins.

  • Rebellion edge closer, but Toyota remain on top at the end of the Prologue

    The LMP1 non-hybrid runners edged closer to Toyota in the first session of the final day of testing at Circuit de Catalunya.

    Rebellion lowered the initial split time from 1.6 seconds to less than a second with Gustavo Menezes posting a time of 1:30.110 in the #3 Rebellion R13, less than half a second behind Toyota, Mike Conway setting the sessions's best time of 1:29.623. Brendon Hartley finished second in the #8 car, quickly getting up to speed in the Toyota, which the Kiwi driver stated, is "very different to drive to the Porsche" due to the different way's the two cars deploy their Hybrid boost. Charlie Robertson put the #5 Ginetta into fifth place with a 1:31.006.

    In session two, all six cars improved again with the lowering temperatures. Jose Maria Lopez set the fastest time of the session in the #7 Toyota, just 0.046 seconds quicker than Kazuki Nakajima in the #8. Gustavo Menezes improved to within just three tenths of Lopez's time in the #1 Rebellion and Formula 2 star, Luca Ghiotto in the #6 Ginetta G60-LT-P1 went two tenths faster than the #3 Rebellion to claim fourth spot. Most importantly however, all six cars were less than 1.1 seconds apart at the end of the final session. A good sign of things to come this season? We will find out at Silverstone later in August.

    Racing Team Nederland led the way in LMP2 during the first session of the day, dropping under the 1m 33s barrier with Nico Lapierre just over a tenth behind in the Cool Racing Oreca. The session was briefly red flagged following a minor crash for the #47 Cetilar Racing Dallara which hit the barriers at Turn 4 with Roberto Lacorte behind the wheel. De Vries again led the way in the final session of the test, beating Paul Di Resta in the United Autosport Oreca in the final moments of the session.

    Just 14 of the 30 entries ran in the final session with the majority of teams opting to pack up early with both teams and drivers required in Belgium for the 24 Hours of Spa this weekend. None of the GTE-Pro cars ran in the final session with the majority of the GTE-Am class also absence. AF Corse topped the session, Miguel Molina posting a time of 1:43.593, beating the #92 Porsche 911 RSR-10 by less than half a tenth. Aston Martin finished the session approx. 1.5 seconds behind with a time of 1:44.953.

    And finally wrapping up GTE-Am, Team Project 1 finished 1-2 in class, Matteo Cairoli leading the way in the #57 from #56 whilst Ben Barker made it a Porsche 1-2-3 in the Gulf Racing machine. The #88 Dempsey Proton Racing Porsche 911 RSR topped the final session but was unable to best the time set by Cairoli in session three.

  • Seven magnificent reasons why we’re excited about 2018

    On the face of it, the consecutive losses in the past year of both Audi and then Porsche from the LMP1 ranks have dealt hefty blows to the world of sports car racing, worthy of an Anthony Joshua right hook.

    But have the Le Mans 24 Hours and the FIA World Endurance Championship crumpled to the canvas, out for the count in their wake? Of course not.

    In fact, the jewel of long-distance sports car racing and its associated series have weathered the double blow remarkably well, and as we power on towards the brightening horizon of 2018 both appear decidedly spritely. Motor racing’s ability to sniff the smelling salts, rejuvenate and punch back stronger than ever never ceases to amaze.

    Le Mans in particular has always proven bigger than any single manufacturer, throughout its illustrious 95-year history. So as we settle into the brief seasonal hibernation induced by the heady mix of minced pies and mulled wine, let’s ponder exactly what will get our juices running again in 2018 as a new era dawns for the greatest motor race in the world.

    1. LMP1 takes a leaf from Mark Twain’s book

    Sure, as the last manufacturer standing with a hybrid thoroughbred, Toyota will never have a greater chance to end its infamous Le Mans jinx – with or without Fernando Alonso – running an updated version of its TS050 HYBRID.

    Toyota TS050 Hybrid 2017

    But with only two entries expected from the Japanese giant, even now nothing can be taken for granted. As Toyota knows only too well from recent (bitter) experience, the first competitor any manufacturer at Le Mans has to conquer is the race itself. Even with an apparent open goal, the capacity to balloon it over the bar once again, either through technical failures or driver mistakes, will be all too real for this team come June 16/17.

    2. There’s Rebellion in the ranks…

    Fresh from WEC title success in the super-competitive LMP2 arena, top prototype privateer Rebellion Racing has confirmed its return to the top category for 2018 with a two-car entry bristling with promise.

    And with the new rules designed to equalise performance between factory hybrid and privateer non-hybrid power, the Anglo-Swiss squad will carry genuine hope into the new year that its new contender will have the capacity to carry the fight to Toyota. Whether that’s realistic or not remains to be seen.

    The new car, said to be another creation from seasoned partner ORECA, will be revealed at the Geneva Motor Show in March. Meanwhile, a superstar line-up of drivers has already been confirmed.

    Porsche LMP1 refugees Andre Lotter and Neel Jani have been named among the six, which also includes Bruno Senna – nephew of Ayrton – and talented youngster Thomas Laurent, who has controversially switched from the rival DC Racing LMP2 squad that came so close to sensationally winning the race overall last June.

    Rebellion is a seriously good racing team. Toyota will not underestimate its challenge.

    3. Privateers on parade: the new arrivals

    Along with Rebellion, the promise of greater LMP1 competition between manufacturer might and privateer pluck has enticed optimistic new projects into the top class, and one in particular looks certain to give the hordes of British Le Mans disciples a new focus come June.

    Successful LMP2 chassis builder Ginetta has accepted the challenge with an exciting all-new design set to be revealed at the Autosport International show at Birmingham’s NEC in January. The company has linked up with former F1 entrant Manor Racing for what promises to be a potent challenge.

    Then there’s SMP Racing’s new Dallara-built LMP1, dubbed the BR1, which was unveiled at the Bahrain WEC season finale in November. Run by top GP2/F2 team ART Grand Prix, with former Renault F1 ace Vitaly Petrov among the drivers, this is another serious effort with long-term potential.

    Fingers will be firmly crossed among sports car racing’s rule-makers that this revived interest in LMP1, fueled by ‘realistic’ budgets, will reap rewards for the privately funded entrants who have made the commitment. The silver lining of Audi and Porsche’s withdrawal glistens with genuine hope.

    4. GTE: who needs prototypes?

    Even if LMP1 does fall flat at Le Mans in June, the intensity of what will be happening behind them in the GTE ‘supercar’ class will more than compensate. Manufacturer interest has shot through the roof, and in a certain respect, it’s just a pity the influx of contenders aren’t competing for the overall win…

    That’s a debate for another day. For now, what matters is that the ‘race within a race’ at Le Mans promises serious bragging rights for some of the biggest and most famous motoring brands in the world.

    5. The Porsche factor: Mark Twain still relevant!

    Yes, I’m borrowing that cliché once more: the number one Le Mans manufacturer’s demise at the 24 Hours has been greatly exaggerated, despite that headline LMP1 withdrawal. That’s because Porsche has now doubled its efforts to conquer the GTE class, following its hat trick of overall wins between 2015-17.

    Regular GT aces Richard Lietz, Frederic Makowiecki and Gianmaria Bruni, who will make his first start for Porsche at Le Mans following his defection from Ferrari, are all confirmed. But also expect to see former LMP1 stars Nick Tandy, Earl Bamber, Timo Bernhard and Romain Dumas in action. That’s quite a squad to keep the winning run going, albeit in the lower class.

    6. German flavour remains potent

    As Porsche shows a renewed commitment to GT racing, so too do two other German automotive giants. For the first time since 2011, BMW is returning to Le Mans with an all-new GTE contender, while Mercedes will also be represented – even if it’s in disguise.

    Aston Martin will keep the British end up once again, with its fantastic-looking new Vantage set to defend the hard-fought victory of 2017. But the German link is under the hood: an AMG Mercedes twin turbo now powers Aston’s front-engined GTE contender, following the engineering tie-up between two brands.

    Aston Martin Vantage LM-GTE 2018

    Add in an unchanged Ford line-up, Ferrari coming off the back of WEC title success and a continued challenge from Corvette, and GTE offers potentially one of the strongest manufacturer entries in Le Mans history. The battle between Ferrari vs Porsche vs Aston Martin vs Corvette vs Ford vs BMW… take a breath… will be simply immense.

    Who needs LMP1?

    7. Super-sized season with a double helping of Le Mans

    All this is then set in the context of the WEC’s new-era ‘Super Season’ calendar. For the first time in the series’ history, the WEC will carry over into a second calendar year – allowing two consecutive Le Mans 24 Hours to count towards one world title campaign. Intriguing.

    The marathon season kicks off in May with the Spa 6 Hours, before the teams take in the 2018 Le Mans 24 Hours in June. The next six-hour round follows at Silverstone, now running in spectator-friendly August (we hope!) rather than at wet and windy Easter, before the calendar year concludes with races at Fuji and Shanghai.

    FIA WEC 2018-19 Super Season Calendar

    Then in 2019 the ‘super season’ picks up once more in March, with an exciting new 1500-mile round at Sebring in Florida, taking place the day after IMSA’s blue-riband 12 Hours. The weekend of action creates a fantastic double-header that looks certain to become a new and hugely popular sports car racing tradition.

    Following Sebring, the teams return to Spa for another 6 Hours, before the series hits its climax at the 2019 Le Mans 24 Hours. That establishment of a new rhythm to the sports car racing season, with the series ending at its most famous race, should hopefully boost the profile of the WEC – and in the future will offer a season shape that mimics that of football. It makes sense.

    So there you have it. Far from hand-wringing at a weakened LMP1 entry, sports car racing fans can look forward to fresh beginnings in 2018 – and Le Mans will be as unmissable as ever.

    Care to join us?

    In the meantime, have a very merry Christmas and here’s to a flat-out new year.

    Damien Smith, former Editor of Motor Sport Magazine

  • The Countdown to Le Mans 2019

    LMP1

    Having taken the LMP1 Manufacturers Championship last time out at Spa, Toyota Gazzoo Racing will finish the Le Mans weekend at the top of the championship with the drivers championship also wrapped up by the end of the 24 Hour endurance classic. The only question is, which trio will win it? The #8 trio of Alonso, Buemi and Nakajima currently have a 31 point lead following the #7’s technical difficulties at Spa last month and are undoubtedly favourites. It would have to go catastrophically wrong for the #7 to win the drivers championship however, this is Le Mans, and as we all know, anything can happen…

    Toyota have already stated there will be no team orders for the race so both cars will be giving it absolutely everything.

    Don’t write off any of the privateer teams yet either. Toyota maybe out right faster, but it’s a long race. Flashback to 2017 and we had an LMP2 car leading the race with the 919 Hybrid hunting it down to the finish. The battle for best of the rest and the first of the non-hybrid contenders is to come down to the wire between Rebellion Racing and SMP Racing. The two teams have been at the front consistently throughout the season even with some minor changes to driver line ups throughout. Mathias Beche stepped into the #1 for the 1000 Miles of Sebring filling in for Andre Lotterer but has now been replaced in the #3 car by Nathanael Berthon who will partner up with Thomas Laurent and Gustavo Menezes.

    ByKolles Racing and DragonSpeed round up the LMP1 field, each fielding a single car. Le Mans is the final race for DragonSpeed who will be leaving the WEC to focus on IndyCar commitments. It’s been a difficult season for DragonSpeed who have never really proved their potential. ByKolles will be looking for a better performance to wrap up a disappointing season. Oliver Webb is back in the car this weekend alongside Tom Dillmann and Paolo Ruberti.

    The #10 DragonSpeed car will be sporting a tribute Gulf livery for its final outing in the WEC. The livery is a tribute to Gulfs three outright wins at Le Mans, each marked on the tail fin with names of 10 circuits plastered across the rear wing where Gulf took previous wins.

    SMP Racing are now without Jenson Button who left the team at the beginning of 2019 to focus on his Super GT commitments. Brendon Hartley stepped in for Sebring but has now been replaced by Stoffel Vandoorne who came on board before Spa and remains for Le Mans. Vandoorne will partner up with Vitaly Petrov and Mikhail Aleshin in the #11 SMP entry. Sergey Sirotkin steps into the #17 car, taking the wheel from Matevos Issakyan and will partner up with Egor Orudzhev and Stephane Sarrazin.

    LMP2

    Following the extension of the Le Mans grid to a record breaking 62 entries, High Class Racing and a second United Autosport entry were added to the line up which features seven entries from the FIA WEC, eight from the European Le Mans Series and two fro the Asian Le Mans Series. The WEC Championship battle has come down to the final race and is a close fought competition between the Signatech Alpine #36 entry and the #38 Jackie Chan DC Racing. Consistency from Lapierre, Negrao and Thiriet in the #36 plus a win at the 2018 Le Mans race sees them top of the championship with a four point advantage.

    Algarve Pro were forced into a late driver change prior to Le Mans with Mark Patterson suffering an injury in an event at Monza. Zollinger was drafted in to replace him and has previous Le Mans and VdeV experience under his belt. John Falb is a former LMP3 champion and is making his LMP2 debut this year. The pair are joined by ELMS Drivers Champion Andrea Pizzitola and is a fantastic addition to the team.

    Alpine have to be favourites going in to the race, with a win in 2016 and 2018 and a pair of overall podiums in 2017 and 2018, the team have the win and the championship in site. They took the win in 2018 following the exclusion of G-Drive and currently lead the championship. Nico Lapierre takes on his twelfth Le Mans 24 this year and his third in LMP2. Its an incredibly strong team with Andre Negrao and Pierre Thiriet in the line up and some of the fastest LMP2 drivers around.

    After failing to make the entry list for Le Mans last year for ARC Bratislava, Miro Konopka expanded the teams efforts in Asia to take the LMP2 Am title. The Slovakian driver is joined by Henning Enqvist and Konstantin Tereschenko.

    The #31 DragonSpeed entry is in with an outside chance of taking the LMP2 title this weekend in the final outing before the crew switch to Jota Sport for next season. DragonSpeed are in with a genuine chance of winning this weekend. With Le Mans legend Anthony Davidson behind the wheel, Roberto Gonzalez and Pastor Maldonado, the team stand a great chance.

    Duqueine Engineering are joined by FIA WEC and double Le Mans winner Romain Dumas who joins Nico Jamin and Pierre Ragues for the 24 Hour. The team are strong but lack Le Mans experience which will be critical this weekend.

    Graff only have one car entered in the 2019 race with local driver Vincent Capillaire partnering up with ELMS regulars Tristan Gommendy and Jonathan Hirschi. The team are fast and have performed well in the European Le Mans series so far this season.

    ELMS champions G-Drive Racing return again with Romain Rusinov joined this time by Jean Eric Vergne and Job van Uitert. After taking the win in 2018 but being stripped of victory in post race scrutineering, the team will be fighting hard to take the win this year. They return with an ELMS title to their names and a new colour scheme adopted from the Aurus brand. Rusinov and Vergne have campaigned Le Mans before together, Job van Uitert joins the team following a championship win in the ELMS LMP3 category last year. High Class Racing make their Le Mans debut this year, the Danish team have been racing in the ELMS with a Dallara chassis but have now made a switch to Oreca. The pace has been strong and the team have a lot of promise. Make sure to keep an eye on them as they are an outside contender this weekend. IDEC Sport have been performing well in the ELMS so far in 2019 with Paul Loup Chatin one of the fastest drivers on the grid. Memo Rojas has had a solid year with the team and Paul Lafargue, having missed the race last year through injury and surgery is back on form. Inter Europol Competition make their Le Mans debut following a successful campaign in the Asian Le Mans Series LMP3 category and made the step up this year into LMP2. It’s run by ex Zakspeed man Sascha Fassbender. They have James Winslow in to the team last minute to cover for an injured Leo Roussel, Nigel Moore and Le Mans debutant Jakub Smiechowski. Certainly one to look out for given the previous experience within the team.

    Two incredibly strong driver line ups, both cars still in contention for the title make Jackie Chan DC Racing the team to watch this weekend. The #37 car almost took the overall victory in 2017 with both cars on the podium behind the the Porsche 919 Hybrid which eventually took the win following a 45 minute chase. The team are set to drop back to a single car entry next year with a second car entered under the Jota Sport brand. The two cars are split by a single point and just 4 and 5 points respectively off the lead. Ricky Taylor steps into the #37 to replace Will Stevens who is on duty with Panis Barthez.

    Larbre regulars Ricci and Creed will once again be joined by Nic Boulle, the first driver all season to remain with the team for more than one race.

    Panis-Barthez are making their fourth appearance at Le Mans this year. The team were founded in 2016 by Olivier Panis and former Manchester United goal keeper, Fabien Barthez. This year the team will have Julien Canal, Will Stevens and Le Mans rookie Rene Binder behind the wheel. The team are campaigning just one of their ELMS Ligier’s on new Dunlop rubber. 2019 will be Canal’s 10th consecutive Le Mans 24 Hours, the first three he took wins in GT cars before making the switch to LMP2.

    Racing Team Nederland are supporting a Minardi tribute livery this year, in what will be Frits van Eerd’s last outing with the team before a switch to TDS. Giedo van der Garde led the teams best performance last time out at Spa but the team have not really delivered all season.

    RLR MSPort are a new name in LMP2 and sees LMP3 customer John Farano who is looking to take the next steps forward. Arjun Maini, the ex Formula 2 driver joins the team for Le Mans only with Norman Nato taking the place of ELMS regular Bruno Senna. Nato has winning pace from last seasons ELMS and Le Mans experience with SMP in 2018. The #28 TDS car has not achieved this season in the FIA WEC, former GTE Am driver Francois Perrodo made the switch up to LMP2 and had a strong outing at Le Mans last year, finishing fourth in the race before post race scrutineering excluded them from the results. Perrodo is joined by Loic Duval and Matthieu Vaxiviere who certainly have the outright pace to take the car to the front of the race.

    United Autosport will once again field a two car line up, the Asian Le Mans Series championship winning car will see Filipe Albuquerque, Philip Hanson and Paul di Resta behind the wheel whilst the ELMS car will be driven by Alex Brundle, Ryan Cullen and Will Owen. Podium finishers in last years race, United Autosports will be hoping for a strong performance this year. The two cars have high calibre driver line ups with impressive raw speed with Felipe Albuquerque and Paul Di Resta. The #32 has an equally impressive line up with Alex Brundle, Ryan Cullen and Will Owen partnering up. Brundle is undoubtedly fast, Ryan Cullen is quickly rising up the Prototype ranks and Will Owen knows the team well. Its the final outing for Villorba Corse and Team Manager Christian Pescatori before the team moves on to the FIA WEC and AF Corse Ferrari. The Dallara chassis has shown brief moments of promise and speed this year. Andrea Belicchi returns after injury alongside Giorgio Sernagiotto and Roberto Lacorte.

    GTE Pro

    The LM GTE Pro category consists of the usual suspects for 2019. All 10 FIA WEC entries are joined by their North American counter parts with the addition of a single entry Risi Competizione Ferrari 488 GTE, and the two car IMSA entries from Corvette, Ford and Porsche joining once again.

    Jonny Adam and Darren Turner make a welcome return to Aston Martin, joining the #97 and #95 respectively for the final race of the Super Season. The new Vantage GTE has shown promise the past season, winning in Shanghai and Spa but it been by no means a faultless season for the team with mechanical issues, challenging conditions and tyre choices all playing a part in the teams under performance this year. The team will be looking to relive their 2017 success, after all, who can forget Jonny Adam chasing down the Corvette and over taking in the dying moments of the race.

    With recent news that BMW will be bowing out of the FIA WEC, this is the teams final chance to pick up their season and get a good result. It’s been a challenging season for the German team who came into the championship with so much promise. MTEK ran the car in conjunction with the IMSA entered RLL cars so had the experience but at the end of the day, they have not delivered and will drop out of the championship after a relatively poor season. The team have worked hard all season long and although they claimed a couple of podiums along the way, they never managed a race win.

    Corvette are back for their 20th anniversary at Le Mans and what is potentially the final outing for the C7.R which looks set to be replaced by a mid engined model currently under going testing. The #63 and #64 cars will be driven by a trio of drivers, Jan Magnussen, Antonio Garcia and Mike Rockenfeller in the #63 with Oliver Gavin, Tom Milner and Marcel Fassler piloting the #64.

    Ford once again return to Le Mans with four cars, each in different liveries and each paying tribute to historic moments in Fords long racing history. It’s the teams final race with Ford backing out of the series after three seasons of racing. Team UK have been strong all season with the #66 taking the win at Spa back in 2018. Billy Johnson will be stepping into the #66 car having joined the team at Spa whilst Bomarito steps in to the #67 for his Ford Debut. Bomarito last raced at Le Mans back in 2013 but has previous experience in the GT having stepped in with Priaulx and Tincknell for the 1000 miles of Sebring.

    Ford Team USA will fight on until the end of 2019 through the remaining IMSA races before Fords official departure from GTE and a win would be a great way for Team USA to round off Fords time at Le Mans following the #68s win back in 2016. Joey Hand, Richard Westbrook and Dirk Muller return alongside Sebastien Bourdais, Ryan Briscoe and Scott Dixon.

    Ferrari return with the same line up as last year, Daniel Serra joining the #51 car whilst Miguel Molina steps back into the #71 line up. Its been a difficult season for Ferrari in some respects. Porsche have a substantial lead in the championship meaning the best the Italian marque can hope for this year is third in the championship for the #51. The #51 car has been consistently on the podium with the exception of the first round of the Silverstone back at Silverstone in 2018, taking a win, a second place and three fourth places. The #71 car on the other hand have a single third place finish to their name, their best result of the season which came at Silverstone right back at the beginning of the super season. Since then, it has been a string of poor results with a best finish of sixth in the subsequent races. Miguel Molina joins the team for one final push at Le Mans.

    Porsche return to Le Mans knowing that come Sunday afternoon, one of the cars will claim the GT Drivers Endurance Championship. It’s not always been the fastest but time after time, they have finished on the podium and won races. They took the manufacturers title at Spa with a 93 point lead over Ferrari. Estre and Christensen currently lead Bruni and Lietz by 36 points. Laurens Vanthoor will step into the #91 this week with Fred Makowiecki jumping into the #92. Patrick Pilet will join Nick Tandy and Earl Bamber in the #93 whilst the #94 will have Mathieu Jaminet, Sven Muller and Dennis Olsen behind the wheel.

    GTE AM

    As per GTE Pro, the GTE AM category features 17 cars this year and for the first time, will contain a Ford GT in its ranks, entered by American team Keating Motorsport. Weathertech Racing join the grid from the IMSA WeatherTech series with Cooper MacNeil, Robert Smith and Toni Vilander in the cockpit in a Ferrari 488 GTE, one of six in the class.

    Having won the class in the Asian Le Mans Series, Car Guy Racing join the grid for the first time with the highlighter yellow #57 488 GTE with Kei Cozzolino, Takeshi Kimura and Come Ledogar sharing the driving.

    Its been a long time since the #98’s last win, the 2018 6 Hours of Spa. The 2017 champions have had a difficult time this season and a win at La Sarthe has always eluded the long standing trio of Dalla Lana, Lauda and Lamy. A win for the team would be a great result for the crew.

    This year, Clearwater Racing return to Le Mans with a different driver line up following the departure of Weng Sun Mok and Keita Sawa, leaving just Matt Griffin in the car. Luis Perez Companc and Matteo Cressoni stepped into replace them and so far have had a difficult season. The car was terminally damaged before the race at Sebring following a big crash in night practice but they fought back to third at Spa.

    Dempsey Proton have had a turbulent season thus far, having taken race wins early on before having all of their points docked at Fuji for data tampering. The #77 has had further wins at Shanghai, Sebring and Spa and could still claim the championship with a good result and the odds in their favour here at Le Mans. Proton are fielding four cars this time out with the #77 joined by the the WEC #88 and the two ELMS cars, the #78 which features Bentley Boy Vincent Abril and Louis and Phillippe Prette. None of the crew have raced at Le Mans before and this is their first race together in the 911 RSR. And finally, there is the Krohn backed #99 featuring Tracy Krohn and Nic Jonsson who return for the 14th consecutive time. They will be joined by Porsche factory driver Patrick Long.

    It’s been a challenging season for Gulf Racing, the team unable to find the podium so far. Their performance will hinge on Mike Wainright having a good weekend as the tother two drivers certainly have the pace to run at the front. Preining has had a good strong year in his debutant season in the WEC and has a strong future ahead. Ben Barker is arguably one of the fastest Porsche drivers on the planet and more than capable of putting the car at the front.

    Kessel Racing make their official Le Mans debut this weekend however, they have previous experience at Le Mans running under the Scuderia Corsa banner. The #60 Ferrari earns its place having won the 2018 Michelin Le Mans Cup whilst the all female #83 car arrives via a partnership between the ACO and the FIA Women in Motorsport Commission. Both cars do however race full time in the 2019 ELMS with Kessel looking at a one car entry to the 2019/20 FIA WEC.

    Keating Motorsports make a return to Le Mans but this time in a Wynn’s liveried Ford GT, the first customer Ford GT to be entered and the teams first time with the car. Its the race winning 2016 chassis so it has history and potential to run well this weekend. The team have limited time with the car however, but there is plenty of time for practice before the big race on Saturday. Bleekemolen, Keating and Fraga are one of the stronger line ups in the class.

    JMW won the GTE Am class back in 2017 and all three drivers certainly have plenty of GT experience with them having been competing in the World Challenge America series but only one of them Segal, has a Le Mans start to his name.

    MR Racing entered the WEC at the start of the 2018 but have failed to make a mark on the championship. Ishikawa has struggled with pace and although the team has the backing of AF Corsa, and two quick drivers in the form of Cheever and Beretta, a good result here may be a struggle. This will be Beretta’s 23rd consecutive appearance at Le Mans, a record that also has six class wins and five podium finishes included.

    Project 1, on their debut season currently top the championship by 23 points. Its been an impressive season for the team with five straight podium finishes, including a win at Fuji. Patrick Lindsey, Egidio Perfetti and Jorg Bergmeister are certainly in a strong position but as we all know, anything could happen at Le Mans.

    Spirit of Race have had a good year in the WEC and present a genuine risk to Project 1 claiming the championship. They’ve not won any races but have had two second places finishes and two fourth places. They’re 23 points off the lead but are still mathematically in with a shot.

    TF Sport may be running the oldest car in the class, but they have a genuine shot at taking the GTE Am win and class title albeit, they have a 26 point deficit to over come first. A win and some poor luck for the other entrants however, could swing things their way.

    Cooper MacNeil returns for a fifth time to Le Mans in the company of 2017 class winner Rob Smith and double GTE Pro Le Mans winner Toni Vilander. The trio will race the Weather Tech Racing Ferrari 488 GTE topped the class times in test day following an over night flight from Detroit (for Macneil and Vilander) and Paul Ricard (for Rob Smith). The car certainly has potential and is being managed by Scuderia Corsa who took the AM win back in 2016.

  • Toyota Lead By 2 Seconds

    The #7 TSO50 topped the time sheets in FP2, Mike Conway setting the pace with a time of 1:56.172, a considerable margin over the non hybrid LMP1 entries.

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    The #10 DragonSpeed BR1-Gibson fell over 2.5 seconds off the pace with a time of 1:58.835 in the hands of Pietro Fittipaldi. Once again, both the CEFC TRSM Racing Ginetta’s failed to run a competitive lap, both cars did one installation lap before returning to the pits. Speculation is rising in the paddock that the team are suffering financial problems with one of the Chinese backers under investigation. Whether this has any impact on the teams involvement with the rest of the season is unclear at this moment in time. SMP Racing were also having problems with the #17 BR1, the car came to a stop mid way through the session causing a red flag whilst the car was recovered.

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    In LMP2, Pastor Maldonado continued to set the pace in the #31 Dragonspeed Oreca 07, posting a time of 2:02.901 ahead of the second place #37 Jackie Chan DC Racing Oreca 07; Nail Jeffri posting a time of 2:03.306. Roman Rusinov took third in a one off return to the championship in the #26 G-Drive Racing Oreca 07. Matthieu Vaxiviere caused the second red flag of the session, going off at Turn 14.

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    In GTE-Pro, Ford returned to the top of the time sheets, the #66 car posting a time of 2:13.733 in the hands of Stefan Mucke. Gianmaria Bruni lead the session early on however in the #91 Porsche, the #66 Ford was late to the session after spending the first 40 minutes in the garage. The #67 Ford rounded out the top three. As per FP1, the new Aston Martin Vanatage AMR and the new BMW M8 GTE struggled for pace this session, the #82 BMW setting a time outside of the top three times in GTE-AM.

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    Porsche once again led the way in GTE-AM, the #86 Gulf Racing UK Porsche topping the session with a time of 2:16.113 in the hands of Benjamin Barker. The #77 Dempsey Proton Porsche finished second, but it was the #98 Aston Martin that broke Porsche’s dominance, Pedro Lamy posting a time of 2:16.790.

  • Toyota lock out the front-row at Spa

    Toyota takes dominant one-two in Belgium to continue rapid Friday pace

    Toyota Gazoo Racing swept to a one-two in qualifying for the penultimate FIA World Endurance Championship race of the Super-Season at Spa-Francorchamps. Having rediscovered the pace the Japanese team had lost on Thursday in FP3 earlier in the day, the two TS050s continued their untouchable pace at the top of the field as the #7 qualified 0.496s ahead of the sister #8 to take the third pole of the season for the car crewed by Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and Jose Maria Lopez. Claiming third, and best of the non-Hybrid LMP1s, was the #17 SMP Racing BR1 shared by Egor Orudzhev, Sergey Sirotkin and Stephane Sarrazin. The trio finished almost one second down on the pole-sitting Toyota, but held the same margin over the fourth-placed #3 Rebellion. Fifth and sixth went to SMP and Rebellion respectively, with ByKolles a long way off the pace - the best average time for the CLM P1/01 slower than the bulk of the LMP2 class in a troubled session for the team, which caused the only red flag of LMP qualifying after stopping on track at the hands of Tom Dillmann.

    Pole in the LMP2 class went to the pacesetting G-Drive Racing team which has topped a number of practice sessions so far in its Aurus 01. The Russian team fought off the combined threat of the Jackie Chan DC Racing pairing as the bumblebee-liveried #38 out-muscled the #37 by 0.333s. DragonSpeed - which showed pace in the wet FP2 session yesterday - claimed fourth by just 0.016s from the Signatech Alpine.

    Ford Chip Ganassi Team UK claimed GTE Pro pole in the Ford GT’s penultimate race as a factory effort as Harry Tincknell and Andy Priaulx combined to edge out the #97 Aston Martin Racing Vantage of Alex Lynn and Maxime Martin by 0.067s. In a sign of how close the lead GTE class was, the BMW Team MTEK M8 GTE of Antonio Felix Da Costa and Augusto Farfus combined to set an average lap time that was only 0.092s down on the pole time.

    It was the #90 TF Sport Aston Martin Vantage that took pole position in GTEAM, combining with Carlie Eastwood, the duo set an average lap time of 2:16.061 to take P1 by just 0.11 ahead of Matteo Cairoli and Gianluca Roda. The #56 Project1 Porsche 911 RSR took third with a time of 2:16.39.

    All four classes broke the qualifying lap records here at Spa but with rain and snow set to fall tomorrow, the race could go any way.

    The 2019 FIA WEC 6 Hours of Spa Francorchamps kicks off at 13:30 local time tomorrow.

  • Toyota take 1-2 finish in Shanghai

    Toyota Gazoo take a 1-2 finish in the FIA WEC 6 Hours of Shanghai.

    The #7 TS050 Hybrid of Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and Jose Maria Lopez took the win in a rain soaked 6 Hours of Shanghai that was interrupted by numerous red flags. The storm began before the race, intensifying in the run up to the start. The race began under safety car and with poor visibility it was quickly red flagged after the #3 Rebellion R-13 slammed into the barriers after aquaplaning on standing water. The race began briefly before a second red flag as the rain intensified. The race eventually went green with just over three hours to run as the track began to dry. The ByKolless CLM caught fire on the pit straight bringing out another safety car. With the safety car back in the pits, the race re-started before a final safety car and late rain storm towards the end of the race added to the drama.

    Behind the Toyota, SMP and Rebellion fought for the last step of the podium, SMP claiming their first podium of the season. The #11 BR1 of Jenson Button, Vitaly Petrov and Mikhail Aleshin finished a lap down on the two Toyotas but ahead of the Rebellions and the sister car - Matevos Issakyan having a big off in the final 20 minutes and triggering the final safety car. The #1 Rebellion R13 finished fourth ahead of the #3. Lotterer and Petrov fought hard in the closing stages, Lotterer unable to keep up with Petrov in the final minutes.

    In LMP2, the #38 Jackie Chan DC Racing of Stephane Richelmi, Gabriel Aubrey and Ho Pin Tung took their third win of the season in difficult conditions. The car had multiple offs during the race but managed to keep consistent when on track. The DragonSpeed #31 Oreca led the race for most of the second half before eventually finishing second. The Signatech Alpine took third after the TDS Racing Oreca had to pit on the final lap. The #38 now has a good lead in the championship, both cars having started the race on equal points. The LMP2 cars struggled throughout the race, the GTE Pro cars performing better in the wet conditions saw the GTE-Pro class winning #95 Aston Martin finishing ahead of the LMP2 field.

    It was a massive victory for Aston Martin in GTE-Pro, taking the first win of the season for the new Aston Martin Vantage. Nicki Thiim and Marco Sorensen mastered the tricky conditions, fighting their way through the field from fourth in the fifth hour after the ByKolles fire. Behind them, Richard Lietz took the #91 Porsche to second place, passing Tom Blomqvist in the #82 BMW, Davide Rigon in the #71 Ferrari and Alex Lynn in the #97 Aston Martin. The #92 Porsche finished third in the hands of Michael Christensen who fought past Maxime Martin in the finally stages. The #51 Ferrari rounded out the top five. BMW fell down the order as the race progressed, the #82 falling outside of the top 10 whilst the #81 crossed the line in sixth place.

    Having started on pole, the #66 Ford got caught up in contact with the #92 Porsche early on. Kevin Estre hit Olivier Pla into Turn 1. The stewards put it down to a racing incident with no penalty for either car. Andy Priaulx lost control of the #67, sending the Ford into the gravel trap. Priaulx and Tincknell finished in seventh.

    Dempsey Proton Racing took the win in GTE-Am, the team having lost all of their points following technical infringements and data tampering after Fuji. The #77 won the race, leading the way from the Project 1 Porsche who have now inherited the AM Class Championship. The #88 Dempsey Proton Porsche finished the podium places having lost second in the closing moments.

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