Thursday 17 March 2016

WEC news round up

Lots of news ahead of the WEC Prologue at Paul Ricard next week. Here's a quick round-up of the most important facts & figures.

The entry list for the WEC Prologue at Paul Ricard features 29 of the 32 cars competing in the WEC this year. All teams will enter their cars, except for Audi and Toyota who will run only of their 2 LMP1 prototypes. Also Manor will only field one car at the prologue. The entry list can be downloaded at this link.

Toyota will unveil their all new for 2016 TS050 Hybrid at the prologue next week. Ahead of the reveal of the car, Pascal Vasselon, technical director of Toyota gave already a first insight into the new LMP1 challenger. In an interview with the Le Mans official website, he confirmed that he 2016 car will be powered by a V6 turbo engine instead of the naturally aspirated V8. The V6 offers the best compromise and with the addition of a turbo, the performance window of the new engine will be broader than the naturally aspirated V8. On the hybrid part of the engine, Toyota will change the current supercapacitors for batteries, but the dual-axle brake energy recovery systems will stay on the new car. There's a few radical changes in the new Toyota, will it be enough for them to claim victory after 24 hours of racing at Le Mans ?

Nelson Piquet Jr will return to the Le Mans 24 Hours as he will join forces with Nicolas Prost and Nick Heidfeld at the wheel of the #12 Rebellion R-One/AER.  Piquet Jr. will race at the season opener in Silverstone and the 6 hour race in Spa to get the most racing experience and mileage aboard the Rebellion. Piquet Jr. is the reigning FIA Formula E world champion. He raced twice in endurance earlier in his career in an Aston Martin DBR9, and was 4th at Le Mans in 2006 in the GT1 class. Piquet Jr. will make his debut in the Rebellion at the prologue in Paul Ricard. 

ByKolles Racing completes their driver line-up for 2016 with the signing of British driver Oliver Webb who will share the CLM P1/01 with Simon Trummer and Piere Kaffer. Webb won the ELMS in 2014, raced in the WEC in LMP2 in 2015 and won the Dubai 24 Hours. Earlier this year, he secured Race Performance's teams title in the Asian Le Mans Series.

The driver line-up for the "Garage 56" entry of Frederic Sausset is now complete with the addition of Jean Bernard Bouvet as third driver. He will join Sausset and Christophe Tinseau in the SRT41 Morgan/Nissan.

G-Drive Racing/Jota Sport has completed their driver line-up for WEC and ELMS. Audi factory driver René Rast completes G-Drive Racing's WEC driver line-up. He joins Roman Rusinov and Nathanaël Berthon in the orange Oreca05/Nissan. The 30 year old German is considered as one of the best upcoming racers in endurance and already has an impressive cv. Rast raced two times with Audi at Le Mans, finishing 4th in 2014 and 7th in 2015. In ELMS, the Gibson 015S/Nissan will be driven by Simon Dolan, Giedo Van Der Garde, Jake Dennis and Harry Tincknell. 

Signatech Alpine announced its final driver line-ups yesterday for both Alpines in the WEC championship. The #35 Signatech Alpine A460 (a rebadged Oreca 05) will be driven by Gustavo Menezes, Nicolas Lapierre and Stéphane Richelmi. Lapierre will compete both in the WEC (Alpine) and ELMS (Dragonspeed) championship.  The #36 DC Racing Alpine A460 will be driven by team owner David Cheng, Ho-Pin Tung and Nelson Panciatici.

Over the past weeks, Manor has confirmed five drivers and the addition of a second Oreca05/Nissan in the World Endurance Championship. With the signing of Richard Bradley, Manor has one of the 2015 LMP2 Le Mans winners in its ranks. Bradley has an extensive experience in both single seater and sports car racing and an in-depth knowledge of the Oreca 05 which he raced last year.

All other confirmed drivers have ties with the Manor team, either in F1, F3 or GP3. Tor Graves was the first confirmed driver for the new team in the WEC paddock. Graves re-joins the team after raicing for Manor in 1998, 2003 and 1999 in British Formula 3. Graves has more than 20 years experience in several race disciplines and has raced twice in the Le Mans 24 Hours. Next up is Will Stevens, who drove for Manor in F1 last year but lost his seat to Pascal Wehrlein and Rio Haryanto. Stevens will make his debut in endurance racing. James Jakes, who also already raced for Manor in Formula 3 and GP3 returns to the team in the WEC. For the past 4 seasons, Jakes was active in the Indycar series. Matt Rao is the fourth confirmed driver for Manor. The 21 year old British driver tested the Alpine A450b at the WEC rookie test in Bahrein last november.  More announcements about the driver line-up are expected in the days ahead of the Prologue at Paul Ricard.

The Murphy Prototypes Oreca 03/Nissan will be driven at Le Mans by Ben Keating, Jeroen Bleekemolen and Marc Goossens. Keating competes in the WeatherTech Sportscar Challenge with a Dodge Viper and made his debut last year at Le Mans. He was hoping for a new invite at Le Mans, but they were placed 7th on the reserve list, so chances to run the Riley Viper at Le Mans became pretty tight. The collaboration between Murphy and Riley in LMP3 (Murphy racing the  Riley-Ave2 with factory support) opened the door for Keating to compete again at Le Mans. He will be joined by Jeroen Bleekemolen and Marc Goossens, both adding lots of experience to the team. Keating will make his debut in a prototype, and has some extensive testing planned ahead of the Le Mans race. Goossens will be at the ELMS prologue next week to get accomodated to the Oreca prototype.

Ford announced their complete line-up to tackle the challenge of Le Mans this year. Sebastien Bourdais, Scott Dixon, Billy Johnson and Harry Tincknell will join the driver squads in the four Ford GT's entered at Le Mans. The #66 GT will be driven by Stefan Mücke, Olivier Pla and American Billy Johnson. Harry Tincknell will join Marino Franchitti and Andy Priaulx in the #67. Ticnknell doesn't need much introduction, as he has been one of the rising stars in endurance racing over the last 2 seasons, putting in some very strong performances for Jota Sport in the ELMS and at Le Mans. Johnson has an impressive record in the IMSA Continental Tyre Sportscar Challenge in the USA. Bourdais and Dixon were already announced as the third and fourth drivers to complete Ford's driver line-ups at Sebring this weekend. Bourdais will join Joey Hand and Dirk Müller in the #68, Scott Dixon teams up with Richard Westbrook and Ryan Briscoe in the #69. A very strond line-up for Ford in their 4-car assault at Le Mans, with some very experienced drivers in GT and prototype racing.

Last week, Patrick Dempsey announced on the Dempsey Racing website that he won't return to the racetrack in 2016.
Dempsey says: "My motorsports journey has been a rewarding one and allowed me to meet so many interesting people. While the focus so often is the performance of the car, in reality it is all the various personalities, from team mates to competitors to officials to fans that I remember the most. I have loved being part of part of different teams and sharing the experience with so many great friends. I want to thank everyone who made this possible and helped me along the way. I also wanted to especially thank the fans for their support and friendship ...

At this point in my life, after an amazing season thanks to my friends at Porsche and TAG Heuer, I need to take a step back and focus on both my family and my acting career". Dempsey Proton Racing will continue on racing a Porsche 911 RSR in the WEC this season, driven by Christian Ried and Michael Christensen. Wolf Henzler will join the team at Le Mans.  Dempsey hopes his schedule will permit him to enjoy some race weekends at least as a team owner.

Kristof Vermeulen