Its fair to say that there have been some pretty big announcements from the World Endurance Championship in the past couple of weeks, the biggest of which is the change to the 2018 Calendar and the switch to a winter based “Super Season” running between 2018 and 2019.
There have been a lot of public comments surrounding a joint merger between the FIA/ACO LMP class and the IMSA DPI class; however, there is no evidence of any interest to bring the two formulas together. The ACO stands by the future of LMP1 in a combined Hybrid/non-Hybrid professional driver format with LMP2 remaining as a Pro/Am driver format with a separate performance band to LMP1.
Where does the future of LMP1 stand however? With Audi withdrawing from the championship at the end of 2016 and Porsche set to withdraw at the end of 2017, the future of LMP1 as we know it is in doubt but the ACO stand by the demand for Hybrid LMP1 to continue. There has been talk for a long period of time that Peugeot and possibly one other manufacturer could join the World Endurance Championship as early as 2019/2020. CEO of the FIA World Endurance Championship Gerard Neveu has stated that Toyota would not be granted entry to Le Mans in 2018 or 2019 unless they commit to the full FIA WEC season.
The WEC were forced to show there hand early with Porsche announcing they were withdrawing. A change of regulations were set for 2019/2020 anyway and this proved to be a good opportunity to implement at least some of the changes early. The changes were approved by the FIA WEC within just four weeks.
The “Super Season" will be made up of eight races, beginning at Spa Francorchamps in May 2018. Le Mans will make up the second round of the championship and also the final round of the championship in the summer of 2019. The championship will return to Fuji and Shanghai in 2018 before an unconfirmed event in early 2019 and a 12 hour endurance race at Sebring run on the same weekend as the IMSA Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring. The WEC event will run from 12 midnight through until 12 midday starting just two hours after the end of the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring.
The pre-season test will return to Paul Ricard once again after being held at Monza in 2017. The teams will complete a 36 hour endurance test. Monza was without doubt a big success back at the beginning of the 2017 season, but the local noise limitations mean that it would be impossible to run a 36 hour continuous test. Whilst a number of teams run 36 hour tests in private, this will be a fantastic opportunity for both teams and drivers to experience running for prolonged periods of time with other cars on track.
The structure of the calendar is designed to reduce the freight and running costs for the teams and to attract more teams to the championship. It is of course a shock that some of the circuits have been removed from the championship such as Silverstone and Circuit of the America’s but the addition of the 12 Hours of Sebring to the championship is a clear move from the FIA to create a second blue riband event. Running costs will still be a struggle however, especially for the Pro/Am teams who will have to budget for running Le Mans twice and Sebring. Neveu has mentioned that the 2019/2020 seven race season will see a 20% reduction in costs for an LMP2 budget, running at a similar cost to that of 2016. This will be achieved through a reduction in entry fees and running costs.
After the “Super Season” the WEC will settle on a seven round format and whilst Silverstone looks set to return to the championship, Bahrain, Circuit of the Americas and Nurburgring do not look set to make a return. The race in February 2019 is still not decided with both Mexico City and Sepang in the mix.
There is clear commitment from the FIA to bring the non-hybrid LMP1 cars inline with the performance of the Hybrid cars through increased fuel allocation/fuel flow. The Hybrid cars will be able to run longer stints throughout the races and make fewer stops and so will still have some advantage over the non-hybrid cars. The proposed formula moving forward in to the 2018/2019 season will make it possible for smaller manufacturers such as Ginetta or an LMP1 Privateer to win the 24 hours of Le Mans and the FIA World Endurance Championship.
Moving away from prototypes to the GTE field, there are five full factory teams confirmed for the 2018/2019 super season with Aston Martin, Ferrari, Ford and Porsche being joined on the grid by BMW. Aston Martin are set to bring their new GTE contender, the replacement for the successful Vantage with BMW debuting the M8GTE in 2018. The hybridisation/electrification of GTE is still in open discussion, Don Panoz unveiled the all electric GT car he intends to run at Le Mans in 2018 this summer; however, there is no time frame in place as things stand. Pierre Fillon made the point however, that with increasing factory interest effort needs to be made to keep a cost cap in place on technical development. There is little doubt that electrification/hybridisation will occur in the coming years, however it needs to be approached with a sense of realism to keep budgets and spending under control.
Before the announcement of Porsche withdrawing from the championship and the introduction of the 2018/2019 Super Season, the next generation of regulations were due for introduction in 2020. The new LMP1 regulations will be implemented for the 2019/2020 season. The original proposal for hybrid cars to begin each stint under electric power for the first 1km and to finish Le Mans on electric power is gone and so the regulations are under review to help re-kindle an LMP1 factory interest. The regulations need to follow a format that relates directly to what manufacturers are trying to achieve in their every day road car performance.
There has been a lot of public kick back in the past 10 days since the announcement at the FIA WEC 6 Hours of Mexico, however, the coming years are set to be an exciting time for the FIA WEC. The FIA are going to clear efforts to include all of the teams in the decision making progress, case and point was made in Mexico when Porsche announced that a January race in 2019 would clash with their commitments to the Rolex 24 At Daytona. The proposed January race was quickly changed to February.
The 2018/2019 Super Season is by no means perfect, there are a number of tweaks that will need to be made to it before the implementation next year; however the future is promising. Already we have a strong entrance list in GTE with 10 factor cars set to line up on the grid next year and it will be interesting to see the new non-hybrid LMP1 cars in action for the first time at Paul Ricard next April.