Wednesday 1 February 2017

FIA WEC 2017: What to expect in LMP1 and LMP2

Less than 24 hours before the presentation of the entry lists for FIA WEC, ELMS and the 24 Hours of Le Mans, so here's our final round up and prediction for the 2017 season ... LMP1 and LMP2.

Year 1 after Audi ... that's how the LMP1 class in the FIA World Endurance Championship feels right now. With the departure of the German brand, only Porsche and Toyota remain in the top class of the FIA WEC. 

The LMP1-H rules have now been freezed by the ACO and more cost cutting measures have been published to make the class more appealing to possible new manufacturers. One of those is Peugeot, which has been lurking to get back into endurance racing for some time now, but is still holding back with the high development cost in mind.  

Porsche defends its World title and Le Mans victory with two revised Porsche 919 Hybrids. At the end of last season, Porsche announced a major driver reshuffle in its LMP1 program. Mark Webber retired and is now ready to take up his new role as Porsche ambassador. 2 more drivers won't return to the Porsche 919: Romain Dumas and Marc Lieb. They will be replaced by André Lotterer and 2015 Le Mans champions Earl Bamber and Nick Tandy. 

Porsche's driver line ups for 2017 will look like this: Neel Jani will be joined by André Lotterer and Nick Tandy in the #1 car, Timo Bernhard will be in control of the #2 car with Brendon Hartley and Earl Bamber next to him. 

A third car at Le Mans seems very unlikely for Porsche. 

Toyota Gazoo Racing is the second manufacturer in LMP1 and will be out for that long hoped for win at Le Mans. After their heartbraking finish last year, blowing up their victory 5 minutes before the chequered flag, the Japanese team will do everything possible to claim the top step of the podium. 

A full season FIA WEC effort is expected with 2 highly developed TS050's (or renamed to TS060 ?). Toyota may reshuffle its driver line-ups as rumours about this have been going on for a long time.  And then there's the big question: will Toyota race 3 cars at Le Mans, and presumably at Spa and their home race in Fuji ?  The presentation of Toyota Gazoo Racing's plans and driver line-ups for 2017 is scheduled for tomorrow morning, ahead of the Le Mans press conference.

The new Toyota will be presented to the public on March 31st, just ahead of the FIA WEC prologue in Monza.  

ByKolles is the only team remaining in the LMP1-L class now since Rebellion decided to focus on the LMP2 class. The CLM/P01 will get a significant aero update and most importantly switch to Nismo powered engines. With the use of the former Nissan GT-R LM engine, ByKolles hopes to improve on reliability and speed. As from 2018, the chassis will also be available for customer teams, suited to adapt a customer power source.

The big news about the LMP1-L class came out last month, when Ginetta announced the development of a new customer LMP1 car. The all new prototype will be designed with the assistance of Adrian Reynard and Paolo Catone (Peugeot - SMP BR01). Mechachrome will develop the engine, a turbo charged V6 which could get around 800 hp. Manor already showed some big interest in the project, and the intention to run a two car effort next year. 

As announced at Bahrain, SMP Racing will also step up to the LMP1-L class in 2018, with a new BR1 in collaboration with Dallara. At a press conference in Moscow today, the team confirmed that the development of the car is in progress. No decision has been made yet about the engine supplier. 


A new era for the LMP2 class with new cars and more powerful engines this season. No more open top prototypes also, all new cars now with a closed chassis and a new Gibson engine. 

Out of the four selected manufacturers, it seems like Oreca will be the only feeding the class this season. Given the confirmed entries so far and the teams not returning to the FIA WEC, not a single Ligier JSP217 will be on the 2017 grid, unless Jacques Nicolet has something up his sleeve for tomorrow. There's a possibility of a Dallara for KCMG, and it's still unclear in which championship Ben Keating will enter his Riley-Multimatic LMP2 to retain his Le Mans invite. 

Compared to last season the numbers in LMP2 might well be down to 8 or 9 cars. Several teams seem to be holding back to invest in a new car until it's clear which one of the new LMP2's will have the best package.

Signatech Alpine defends its 2016 title in LMP2 and returns with the rebranded Oreca07. Just one driver is confirmed so far, Nicolas Lapierre returning to the French team. Gustavo Menezes has been rated as a Gold driver after last season, so retaining their current line up with Lapierre, Menezes and Richelmi isn't possible anymore. The entry of a second, customer car as with Baxi DC Racing last year is still unclear.

© Dunlop

Rebellion Racing is entering a new era in 2017, stepping into the LMP2 class. After a long period in LMP1-L, the Swiss team now shifts its focus to the LMP2 class with 2 new Oreca07's. With a very strong driver line-up, and their lengthy experience, this will be one of the 2017 title contenders. The first car will be driven by Nicolas Prost, Bruno Senna and Julien Canal. The second will be in the hands of Mathias Beche, Nelson Piquet Jr and David Heinemeier Hansson. 

The team will also race in the IMSA North American Endurance Cup with one car. For the first race at Daytona in 2 weeks, they have a stellar driver line up with Neel Jani, Sebastian Buemi, Nick Heidfeld and Stéphane Sarrazin.

A new face on the 2017 grid will be French team TDS Racing. After 6 years in the European Le Mans Series, the team led by Xavier Combet and Jacques Morello will move on to FIA WEC for the first time. The team will stay faithfull to Oreca and race the new Gibson powered Oreca07. Last year's LMGTE-Am champions François Perrodo and Emmanuel Collard will be behind the the wheel together with Matthieu Vaxivière.  Vaxivière has been racing in the Formula Renault 3.5 and its successor Formula V8 in the past years.

The future of G-Drive Racing in the FIA World Championship has long been in doubt since Roman Rusinov was promoted to a Gold driver instead of Silver. The Russian driver and businessman not happy about that decision and threatening to leave the endurance racing scene. On Monday G-Drive Racing then confirmed their 2017 entry for the FIA WEC in cooperation with TDS Racing. Rusinov will drive a brand new Oreca 07 together with Pierre Thiriet. The third driver is still to be announced, the team claiming to be in negotiation with drivers who have F1 experience (Will Stevens, Giedo van der Garde ?)

Manor first entered the 2016 season with one car, but soon added a second one to their line-up. A return to the WEC with one or two Oreca07's seems very likely. No drivers have been known or confirmed so far.  The team also already showed his interest in the new Ginetta LMP1 for next season, and is planning to step up to the LMP1-L class as from 2018.

Will KCMG return to the LMP2 class after a "sabbatical" last year, when they only raced their Oreca LMP2 in the 24 Hours of Le Mans ? It's been very quiet round the team in the past months, but it wouldn't be a surprise if their name pops up tomorrow.

Another possible entry is SMP Racing.  The BR01 isn't eligible in the LMP2 class anymore, and the team is focussing in their new entry in LMP1-L next season. There still might be a chance that we see SMP Racing in either the WEC or ELMS, probably with a Dallara as they are also developing the new BR1 for next season. At their press conference in Moscow yesterday, no plans were layed out (yet), so this one is very uncertain. 

Sadly, a few teams won't return to the FIA WEC this season ...

Despite a very strong first season in the championship, wrapping up 2 wins and coming home second in the championship, RGR Sport won't be on the grid in Silverstone for the first race. A lack of funding has slashed their LMP2 program for 2017. The team might be back in 2018, and doesn't rule out one or more single entries in the WEC. 

Strakka Racing moves to the Blancpain GT Series with a factory supported 4 car assault. The team not ruling out a return to prototype racing in the future. American team Extreme Speeds Motorsports returns to the IMSA WeatherTech Sportscar Championship where they race a Nissan powered Onroak DPi.

Kristof Vermeulen