FIA WEC 2018-2019 ‘Super Season’ Preview
FIA WEC 2018-2019 ‘Super Season’ Preview
This week sees the FIA World Endurance Championship kick off its 2018-2019 “Super Season.” It stands apart from the first six seasons since its 2012 formation.
The WEC is moving towards an eventual winter-to-summer calendar. To get there, they’ll use this season to run the series’ marquee and kickoff events twice within the same calendar.
Spa-Francorchamps kicks off the festivities with the traditional six-hour dress rehearsal.
Then this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans runs on June 16-17.
The WEC globetrots to Silverstone, Fuji and Shanghai later this year. Once the calendar flips to 2019, the WEC returns to Sebring in March as part of IMSA’s 12-hour weekend, and then has Spa and Le Mans again to cap off the season.
Most competitors in the FIA WEC will run on Michelin tires to begin this season. Only a handful of LMP2 cars will race with another brand.
What’s different in 2018 and 2019 for the WEC? It’s quite a bit.
STAR DRIVER POWER
The WEC has traditionally relied on its star cars. But this year, WEC is instead hoping star driver power will draw significant attention.
Fernando Alonso will balance his Formula 1 commitments with McLaren Renault alongside a new full-season FIA WEC drive with Toyota Gazoo Racing. A bevy of drivers have come to FIA WEC after following the end of their F1 careers. Alonso likely exceeds Mark Webber in terms of known “star value” joining the series.
How he handles two separate types of cars – the lone remaining LMP1 hybrid along with his current F1 car – will be fun to watch.
It will not be unprecedented though. Brendon Hartley did the same the tail end of last year, as Porsche’s LMP1 days dwindled and Hartley’s F1 career began with Toro Rosso.
Alonso isn’t the only major “name.” His former teammate at McLaren, Jenson Button, will also be in the LMP1 class starting at Le Mans, driving a SMP Racing BR1 AER car. Button has expanded his racing horizons to Super GT and now into the FIA WEC.
See you at Le Mans! I think every driver at some point in their racing career dreams about the big one, the 24hrs of Le Mans, now it’s a reality for me thanks to @smp_racing, Very happy to be sharing a car with @vitalypetrov and @mikhailaleshin. #24hLeMans #smpracing #BR1 ?? pic.twitter.com/paeaKSCbOf
— Jenson Button (@JensonButton) April 27, 2018
Another ex-F1 driver, and past IndyCar and Indianapolis 500 champion Juan Pablo Montoya, will make his Le Mans debut with United Autosports. It’s a one-off drive for now, but lays the ground for “JPM” to make future Le Mans starts.
With more former open-wheel drivers and young stars throughout the grid, the FIA WEC still has a strong driver crop.
RESHUFFLED LMP1 GRID
Toyota stands alone as the sole remaining LMP1 hybrid entrant this year, without Porsche and Audi around. However, with eight other privateer LMP1 cars, the class isn’t just a two-horse race. On paper, Toyota should have a significant pace advantage before the series’ Equivalence of Technology (EoT) platform works to try to reduce the gap.
Toyota has won an FIA WEC title before, but the program’s not yet won at Le Mans. It has a golden opportunity to check that box this season.
Rebellion (left), ByKolles, CEFC TRS Manor, DragonSpeed and SMP Racing teams will vie for top privateer honors. These are all capable teams, with different chassis and engine combinations. Might one or more of them snag a victory if Toyota hits trouble?
STACKED GTE-PRO GRID
BMW joins the quartet of Ferrari, Ford, Porsche and Aston Martin this year. Its new M8 GTE races in the FIA WEC as well as in IMSA.
Aston Martin debuts a new Vantage this year. It replaces its venerable previous generation car, and additionally switches from Dunlop to Michelin tires.
Ferrari, Ford and Porsche press ahead with their current cars. Ferrari introduces an EVO version of its 488 GTE in its third year. Ford runs the GT in its third year and Porsche its new 911 RSR in its second year.
This is a tough class to predict because the pendulum swings depending on the series’ automatically adjusted Balance of Performance. Aston Martin had the oldest car last year but still won Le Mans on guile, strategy, and pressure against the then-leading Corvette. Ferrari won the class title overall at season’s end. Ford and Porsche remain solid threats. The new BMW is the wild card.
WHO STARS IN LMP2, GTE-AM?
The pro-am classes of LMP2 and GTE-Am provide a balance among up-and-comers, sports car veterans and gentlemen drivers. These classes often provide an opportunity for drivers and teams to thrive somewhat under the radar.
LMP2 features quite a bit more car diversity this year. Oreca, Ligier and Dallara chassis are all represented. The seven-car grid also features either Michelin or Dunlop tire selections.
Past factory LMP1 drivers Loic Duval, Anthony Davidson and Nicolas Lapierre are among those ‘known quantities’ in this class. Meanwhile young guns such as Nyck de Vries and Gabriel Aubry are two to watch from the Racing Team Nederland and Jackie Chan DC Racing teams.
Similarly in GTE-Am, there are pros such as Giancarlo Fisichella, Joerg Bergmeister, Olivier Beretta, Matt Griffin and Pedro Lamy along with a number of solid Silver-rated young drivers.
It’s the Bronze-rated driver though that generally makes the most difference here. Whichever of those gentlemen sustain the most pace and consistency usually puts the cars in the best spots for later in the race.
HOW TO WATCH
The FIA WEC announced a deal with Velocity and Motor Trend on Demand for its 2018-2019 television package. This will mean the official FIA WEC App is geo-blocked within the U.S. and Canada.
Velocity will show the first and last hour of most races. Expanded coverage is planned at Le Mans and Sebring.
Further details from this release are linked here, via the FIA WEC’s website.
May 2018 to June 2019