The Big Season Review: WEC 2013

This year’s WEC was supposed to be a last hurrah. With 2014 bringing huge rule changes and the promise of Porsche’s return to prototypes, our loyalties were split between the season ahead of us and the one that was due to step it up a level in 12 months time.

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That spectre followed us around throughout the year, but in almost every way the 2013 FIA World Endurance Championship proved to be just as exciting as we had hoped. The race to race action kept us hooked on the championship tables while in the background teams worked furiously to try and gain an edge on the opposition.

Strangely, if not unpredictably, it wasn’t the top dogs that provided the biggest draw. While they certainly looked the part as they shot past at supersonic speeds, it wasn’t until the twilight hours of the season that the tantalising Audi vs. Toyota battle really came alive. Indeed, it was only at the final race in Bahrain that the Japanese team showed that they could win races on pure merit.

The German endurance behemoths were just better at it from the start. Toyota were good, but Audi were more reliable, faster on race day and better at dealing with the ins and outs of long distance. In short they were the Audi that we all expected to turn up; punctual, efficient and dominant. A championship for Tom Kristensen, Loic Duval and now-retired Allan McNish in the #2 was all but assured from half way through the season.

Rebellion made a game attempt to challenge the leaders but were never likely to cause too much trouble, while Strakka never really got off the starting blocks. Meanwhile the rest of the grid were throwing great big handfuls of twists and turns in our direction. We turned up to the final race with seven titles still to be decided, and many of those had the forerunners separated by stick-thin margins.

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The GTE Pro war was especially good at flexing its muscles in front of the camera, with Porsche’s final-moments Le Mans win leaving Aston and AF Corse to scrap desperately over points on race weekends.

The WEC benefitted from F1’s obsession with profit as both Bruno Senna and Kamui Kobayashi made their way into sportcars and brought a legion of fans with them. With household names both on and in the cars GTE Pro stood out easily, and the epic narrative of comeback, error and tragedy raced along right until the final flag.

AF Corse took the overall honours in the end with a fabulously understated season-long performance from Gimi Bruni. I remember seeing him sitting in his 458 on the grid in Bahrain, staring straight ahead with a determined look on his face and oblivious to my weak efforts at being a paparazzo. A number of drivers deserved to win the Pro title, but Bruni was most deserving of all.

Aston Martin’s centenary year didn’t go quite as planned, with a bevy of technical errors and lost, juicy opportunities leaving them inches from the trophies at the end. As for their assault on Le Mans, Chris Welch summed it up in our Facebook poll: “The art car was all over the back of the new Porsche 911 RSR. With an hour and twenty to go and a race long battle coming down to the wire, the heavens opened and they vanished in the spray! I was chewing my hands off”.

It was a brilliant return to La Sarthe for the German endurance legends, but a bitter disappointment for the British team. They were in better spirits at the Fuji pool party though, with their cardboard Gulf Racing fish and Senna’s one-man-mexican-wave-off with a sodden Japanese fan being particularly memorable (thanks to @acerace_99 on Twitter for that one).

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P2 was another highlight too, if you could follow it. It’s a difficult one to get into but it was so worth it this year, as Oak (not the art car, obvs.), Pecom and G-Drive lit up a hugely competitive championship. That said, it would have been sewn up much earlier had the two black and pink Oaks not crashed into each other in Austin.

To everyone except the experienced observer the highly balanced second prototype class is still a bit confusing. It’s like going to a brilliant football game where you don’t know either of the teams; easy to appreciate the sport but difficult to get invested in the action when you don’t recognise separate cars or competitors.

It’s a shame because with the exciting racing and emerging talent on offer (props to Greaves for running astonishing newbies Jann Mardenborough and Wolgang Reip from Nissan GT Academy) P2 really is a superb class. Perhaps it’s us media types’ fault for not giving it enough coverage; if so we must try better in 2014.

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The gentlemen drivers of GTE Am had a close time of it too, with late season wins for the #96 AMR of Stuart Hall and Jamie Campbell-Walter seeing them win the title by a single point while 8 Star were crowned the team champions.

Impressive showings came from the Am AF Corse and IMSA Performance Matmut in their Porsche (which looked stunning at every race), but on performance alone it should have been a dominant season for the all Danish Aston #95. However it wasn’t to be, as the awful loss of Allan Simonsen at Le Mans hit them understandably hard and a catalogue of mechanical failures had them retiring again and again from leading positions.

Simonsen’s death in the early stages of the 24 Hours shocked the racing world. It reminded us that while racing is safety obsessed for a reason there’s still a risk to life for the people behind the wheel; memories of the blank, drawn faces in the Aston garages and the echoing quiet around the track will always remind me of that.

The response from Simonsen’s family and Aston Martin was absolutely perfect; Aston asked whether they should carry on and the Dane’s nearest and dearest said that of course they should; it was what Allan would have wanted and expected. It was times like this that showed that at its heart motorsport is about people doing what they love doing; driving fast in magic machines.

The WEC showed what it could do in 2013, and with next year bringing Porsche and those rule changes there’s a lot to be excited about. Audi and Toyota will be desperate to show these old pretenders that history counts for nothing in endurance, while GT teams will be working furiously to improve their supercars for that unfair advantage.

It might only be two years old, but the FIA World Endurance Championship is already an established great in the racing series pantheon. 2013 proved that the series continues to grow, and 2014 can only continue that trend. Bring on the new regs, bring on Porsche and bring on another year of beer at the world’s best endurance events; if it’s anything like the one we’ve just experienced then it’s sure to be a thriller.