The Return of the WEC

It’s a safe bet that - seeing as you’ve arrived at and are thus a proper racing fan - you spent Monday 16th June either asleep at your desk or nursing a giant hangover on a ferry bound for England.

Porsche 20 Le Mans

It’s been three whole months since then though, a sensible recovery period for an event like the 24. Happily, we’re just in time for a five race, twelve week World Endurance Championship barrage.

The silver lining of a WEC-less July and August is that we’re about to crash into a truly hectic end to the season. Starting in the USA next weekend and travelling to Brazil via Japan, China and Bahrain, the world’s premier endurance series is getting ready to drag us by our collars right through to the end of the year.

So, what do we have to look forward to over the next 30 hours of proper endurance action? Here’s Speed Chills’ quick guide:

Lone Star Le Mans - 18th-20th September

We’re supposed to be calling it ‘Lone Star Le Mans’ now, and the first race back promises to be as suitably XXXL, acronym-ish and American as the name change suggests. The into-the-night WEC race is part of a double header with the COTA round of the TUSCC (the mutant offspring of the old Grand-Am and ALMS series), which means we’ll be getting two top races on the same day.

The 2h 45m TUSCC race starts at half 5 in the afternoon UK time before the 6 Hours of Circuit of the Americas kicks off an hour before midnight - which means that we can legitimately pull a racing all-nighter - beer optional but recommended.

6 Hours of Fuji - 10th-12th October

Last year’s race in the shadow of Mount Fuji promised to be a classic, right up until the gods flipped us the Vs and sent in the deluge. As it happened the 2013 6 Hours of Fuji ended up being one of the more memorable races in the WEC’s history so far with pizza box boat races down the pit lane and Aston Martin’s cardboard racing fish (us neither…), but it was disappointing to be deprived of a proper race.

The WEC returns to Fuji with fingers and toes crossed for more clement weather, and Toyota will be hoping that they can pull off another victory at their home race. Hopefully this time the 3am wake up call will be followed by something more interesting than the 6 hours of puddles and sodden Japanese fans.

6 Hours of Shanghai - 31st October - 2nd November

The Chinese round was a definite highlight of the 2013 season with the Shanghai circuit proving its credentials as a proper challenge for the endurance racing circus. 2014 should be no different with the notorious, ever-tightening Turn One and the hugely fast back straight making an enticing proposition for both prototypes and GTs to sink their teeth into.

Like Japan the 6 Hours of Shanghai will be an early start for us UK fans with a roughly 3am start. Stock up on good, British tea and biscuits.

6 Hours of Bahrain - 13th-15th November

Last year’s season finale moves up a slot to become the penultimate race of 2014, which considering the crowds garnered can only be a good thing. Despite this the Sakhir circuit seems to always provide a decent challenge and the high temperatures will be a tough test. The time difference to Bahrain is pretty slim and the race goes into the dark, so it’s another opportunity for an evening with racing, mates and beer.

6 Hours of Sao Paulo - 28th-30th November

Making the move from first-race-back to season closer, the 6 Hour showdown at the famous Interlagos track will be a fitting send off for the 2014 World Endurance Championship. The Autódromo José Carlos Pace always throws up a couple of curve balls (who can forget the innovative Audi wheel retrieval system!), and the evening race time along with the overall champagne-crown will make this the race not to miss.

Lotus LMP1

And what can we expect from the teams? Well, Lone Star Le Mans will be our first opportunity to see how the mid-season testing has affected the relative performances of the big factory prototype teams; Toyota have dominated the 6 hour format so far but Porsche and Audi have spent three months putting in lap after lap, so expect the next few races to be a slightly closer affair.

This raises an exciting prospect: the first Porsche win in more than a decade could be on the cards, and with the driver lineups on offer it’s surely just a matter of time. LMP1-L should be a mite more interesting too with Lotus’ brand new car debuting in Austin to take on the already-improving Rebellions.

LMP2 is also looking a bit rosier than before with guest entries already slated for a few of the remaining races and the eagerly anticipated Strakka-Dome due to make its first appearance in Brazil. G-Drive have upgraded to the new Ligier which confounded expectations on its Le Mans debut, and the ever-impressive bevy of young drivers spilling out of the class will give us something to keep an eye on.

The GTE classes, of course, will be as exciting as always. The Porsche, Ferrari and Aston Martin pros might be a little less balanced than in 2013 but that doesn’t mean any less paint will be traded, and the varying degrees of talent in the Am ranks will surely throw up the usual mix of stunning performances and cringe-inducing moments.

Overall, we’ve got a lot to look forward to over the next couple of months. Proper endurance racing is back in a big way, with more than a whole day’s worth of racing still to come and a truck load of unknowns still to play out.