Wednesday 24 February 2016

WEC 2016 : A look into the LMP1 and LMP2 class

Almost three weeks ago, the entry list for the 2016 World Endurance Championship has been revealed at a press conference in Paris.  With more and more teams presenting their cars and driver line-ups in the past days and weeks, the entry list is now almost complete and ready for the WEC prologue next month at the Paul Ricard track at Le Castellet.

So far, this is what we know about teams and drivers in both prototype classes; LMP1 and LMP2.  Not all drivers have been announced at this moment, and a few cars still have to be revealed,  most of them scheduled at the prologue.

After the withdrawal of Nissans's LMP1 project, there will be no changes to the LMP1 field compared to last year.   At Le Mans however, none of the 3 major manufacturers will field a third car (as Audi and Porsche did last year).

Porsche returns to defend its 2015 title with the 919 Hybrid and retains both of their 2015 driver line-ups : defending champions Timo Bernhard, Mark Webber & Brendon Hartley in the #1 and Romain Dumas, Neel Jani & Mark Lieb in the #2. The introduction of the new 919 Hybrid last year was a big success for Porsche winning Le Mans and the WEC title, showing some really fast pace over the season.  The revised and upgraded version of the 919 has already been tested since the end of last season. Expect some major aerodynamic upgrades and a revised engine for 2016. As last year, Porsche will compete in the 8 MJ hybrid class.

Challengers Audi and Toyota both will bring a brand new car on track, hoping to close the gap with Porsche this season. The new Audi R18 was presented last november and has been tested thouroughly since then.  The new LMP1 sees a radical design change with a much more agressive front and what appears to be gullwing doors.  Audi stays faithfull to a diesel powered engine but introduces a new hybrid system, abandoning the flywheel energy storage system in favour of a lithium-ion battery, the technology that's also been used by Porsche last season.  They will also step up to the 6 MJ class instead of the 4 MJ class last year.  No changes in the driver line-ups at Audi for 2016 with Marcel Fässler, Benoit Tréluyer and Andre Lotterer in the #7 and Lucas Di Grassi, Loic Duval and Oliver Jarvis in the #8. 

Toyota Gazoo Racing enters 2 new TS050 Hybrids this year. A brand new car, with new engine and hybrid system.  No more big naturally aspirated V8 in the back of the TS050 but a smaller sized turbo charged engine (V4 or V6 ?). With the introduction of the new engine and a battery energy storage hybrid system, Toyota will also compete in the 8 MJ hybrid class. After the retirement of Alex Wurz (a rather short one, as he raced at the Daytona 24 Hours last month), Kamui Kobayashi will take his place at the #6 car together with Stéphane Sarrazin and Mike Conway.  The line-up of the #5 car will stay the same with Anthony Davidson, Sébastien Buemi and Kazuki Nakajima.

As last year, we will see 2 privateers entering in LMP1 with Rebellion Racing and byKolles. Rebellion enters 2 R-One's again, powered by the revised AER P60 V6 twin turbo engine.  Rebellion switches from Michelin to Dunlop rubber this year, which sees Dunlop coming back into to the LMP1 class for the first time since 2012.  No change in the driver line-up for 2016; the #12 will be driven by Nicolas Prost, Mathias Beche and Nick Heidfeld; the #13 by Mathéo Tuscher, Dominik Kraihamer and Alexandre Imperatori.

The second team in the privateer class is the Austrian ByKolles Racing, fielding one CLM P1/01 again, also powered by the AER engine.  A new aero package, suspension upgrades and several performance upgrades should make the CLM P1/01 a competitive car for the new season. The #4 entry will be driven by Simon Trummer and Pierre Kaffer.

#1 Porsche Team - Porsche 919 Hybrid - Bernhard/Webber/Hartley
#2 Porsche Team - Porsche 919 Hybrid - Dumas/Jani/Lieb
#4 ByKolles Racing Team - CLMP 1/01 AER - Trummer/Kaffer
#5 Toyota Gazoo Racing - Toyota TS050 Hybrid - Davidson/Buemi/Nakajima
#6 Toyota Gazoo Racing - Toyota TS050 Hybrid - Stéphane Sarrazin/Conway/Kobayashi
#7 Audi Sport Team Joest - Audi R18 - Marcel Fässler/Lotterer/Tréluyer
#8 Audi Sport Team Joest - Audi R18 - Lucas Di Grassi/Duval/Jarvis
#12 Rebellion Racing - Rebellion R-One - AER - Prost/Beche/Heidfeld
#13 Rebellion Racing - Rebellion R-One - AER - Tuscher/Kraihamer/Imperatori

The second prototype class, LMP2 has 10 entries for the full WEC season.
Defending champions G-Drive Racing return with an Oreca 05, driven by Roman Rusinov, Nathanaël Berthon and a third to be announced driver (Harry Tincknell ?).  The car will be managed by Jota Sport, which will also run their Gibson 015S in ELMS under G-Drive Racing.  Le Mans winners KCMG will not return to LMP2 in the WEC this season, except for Le Mans. 

After racing in Bahrein in the last race of 2015, SMP Racing returns to the WEC and will field two of their gorgeous BR01/Nissan's, one of them with Nicolas Minassian & Kirill Ladygin in the #27 and former F1 driver Vitaly Petrov with Viktor Shaytar in the #37.  The other two drivers still remain to be announced.

Extreme Speeds Motorsports head into their second season with a Ligier JSP2 in the WEC. After their win at Daytona last month, they might well be big contenders this year.  The ESM headquarters in Europe moved to the OAK facilities at Le Mans this season. 2 new faces in the ESM line-up : Filipe "Pipo" Derani who made an impressive debut at G-Drive Racing last year (and won the Rolex24 this year), and American Christopher Cumming. 

WEC regulars Strakka Racing return with their Gibson 015S, probably with the same driver line-up as last season.  At a certain point it seemed like they might step up to LMP1 in a revised Dome chassis, but it's LMP2 again this season. 

The final team returning to the WEC for its second season in Signatech Alpine, switching their rebadged Oreca 03 chassis for a new Oreca 05 Nissan, rebadged to Alpine A460.  Signatech will also run the Baxi DC Racing entry with a similar car.  2 drivers confirmed so far : Nicolas Lapierre & newcomer Gustavo Menezes who succesfully raced in Formula 3. 

Three new LMP2 teams will enter the WEC this season.  Mexican Ricardo Gonzalez's new founded RGR Sport by Morand will field a Ligier JS/P2 with a stellar driver line-up : Ricardo Gonzalez himself, Bruno Senna and Filipe Albuquerque.  A very ambitious new entry who immediatly wants to fight for the championship and victory at Le Mans.  After John Boot and Graeme Lowdon left the Manor F1 team, their interest went on to the WEC in which they will field an Oreca 05. Their full line-up will be announced ahead of the prologue next month, with right now only Tor Graves confirmed.  The third newcomer in the WEC is Asian Le Mans Series champion DC Racing who will team up with Signatech Alpine and enter an Oreca 05, rebadged to Alpine A460. 2 drivers are already confirmed :  David Cheng and Ho Pin-Tung; the third driver still to be announced.

#26 G-Drive Racing - Oreca 05/Nissan - Rusinov/Berthon
#27 SMP Racing - BR01/Nissan - Nicolas Minassian/Ladygin
#30 Extreme Speed Motorsports - Ligier JSP2/Nissan - Sharp/Brown/Van Overbeek
#31 Extreme Speed Motorsports - Ligier JSP2/Nissan - Dalziel/Derani/Cumming
#35 Baxi DC Racing Alpine - Alpine A460/Nissan - Cheng/Pin-Tung
#36 Signatech Alpine - Alpine A460/Nissan - Menezes/Lapierre
#37 SMP Racing - BR01/Nissan - Petrov/Shaytar
#42 Strakka Racing - Gibson 015S/Nissan - Leventis/Kane/Watts
#43 RGR Sport by Morand - Ligier JSP2/Nissan - Gonzalez/Senna/Albuquerque
#44 Manor - Oreca 05/Nissan - Tor Graves

No sign of Greaves Motorsport unfortunately, who had plans (and were highly expected) to step up to the WEC again with a new Oreca 05, but will stay in the ELMS championship this season with both the Oreca and their Gibson 015S.

Kristof Vermeulen