Prologue sets stage for new FIA WEC season

April 9, 2018

Prologue sets stage for new FIA WEC season

April 9, 2018

From Thursday through Saturday, the FIA World Endurance Championship assembled at Circuit Paul Ricard for the annual Prologue preseason test event.

The two-day test was a bit different than normal this season. A 30-hour simulation occurred Friday and Saturday, for teams interested in doing more than just eight hours of running.

Additionally, a bevy of new cars and teams appeared, primarily in LMP1 and GTE-Pro.

In GTE-Pro, the new Aston Martin Vantage and BMW M8 GTE made their European public debuts. Aston Martin won last year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans in GTE-Pro. Meanwhile BMW returns to Le Mans for the first time since 2011, and makes its full-time debut in the new-look FIA WEC.

Porsche ended its LMP1 program at the end of 2017, and Toyota is the only manufacturer entrant. But other teams such as Rebellion Racing, SMP Racing, DragonSpeed and CEFC TRS Manor are moving up into the class this year.

Cumulative times from the Prologue test are linked here. Toyota’s gap in LMP1 was significant, while DragonSpeed (LMP2), Porsche (GTE-Pro) and Dempsey Proton Porsche (GTE-Am) also led their specific classes. Of the 35 cars that tested, all but four in LMP2 tested on Michelin tires.

FIA WEC ‘SUPER SEASON’ CHALLENGES

Michelin Motorsport outlined its FIA WEC program going into the weekend. One challenge Michelin faces in the “Super Season” is that the eight-race schedule runs over two calendar years, 2018-2019. Tires will be the same in both years as the regulations forbid any evolutions or “jokers.”

“We effectively need to have a range of competitive tires for two Le Mans, one of which takes place in more than a year’s time. That’s a considerable challenge but one that all our partners are intent on carrying off,” said Jérôme Mondain, manager, Michelin FIA WEC program.

Another change for this season is that tire changes and refueling will be done simultaneously on pit stops. This rule has been in existence in IMSA but is new to the FIA WEC this year. Mondain explained that adjustment.

“We provide our partners with tires that deliver consistent, high performance and which are capable of completing two or even three stints,” he said. “The new rule clearly has consequences for Michelin because it will incite teams to change tires more frequently than we have seen in the recent past, especially at Le Mans. They will therefore consume more and this will have an impact in strategy.”

ENTRY LIST NEARING COMPLETION

Recent confirmations have almost completed the FIA WEC entry list for the new season. There have also been several other key Le Mans driver announcements.

Among those who’ve been confirmed in recent weeks include Toyota reserve driver Anthony Davidson in DragonSpeed’s LMP2 car, starting after Le Mans, Alex Brundle, Dean Stoneman and Leo Roussel in CEFC TRS Manor LMP1 Ginettas, two Russian rookies in SMP BR1s, several young talents in LMP2 at Jackie Chan DC Racing, and Julien Andlauer and Giorgio Roda as two more young drivers to watch in Dempsey Proton Porsches in GTE-Am.

United Autosports has made two big splashes with extra drivers announced to its two-car Le Mans lineup. Acura Team Penske’s Juan Pablo Montoya and Paul di Resta will make their Le Mans debuts as third drivers.

ADDITIONAL NOTES

  • Porsche replaces Audi as the FIA WEC’s new Safety Car supplier (more here)
  • Rebellion Racing has announced a partnership with TVR (more here)
  • The annual all-car shot took place prior to the test itself
  • Toyota’s Alexander Wurz completed 150 laps in the No. 7 TS050 Hybrid. Wurz (retirement) and Davidson (reserve driver) were called upon with several of Toyota’s full-season drivers, including Fernando Alonso, unavailable this test

The new season begins with the Six Hours of Spa-Francorchamps on May 5, 2018.

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