Tuesday 31 October 2017

FIA WEC: Dragonspeed steps up to LMP1 in 2018/2019 "Super season"

Newly crowned European Le Mans Series LMP2 champions 10Star DragonSpeed are wasting no time in charting their next step up the endurance racing ladder, today announcing their intention to contest the LMP1 class of the 2018-2019 FIA World Endurance Championship.

Sweden’s Henrik Hedman, 10Star DragonSpeed team patron and driver since 2014 (as well as the last Bronze pilot to win an ELMS race), and 32-year-old British star Ben Hanley, back for his third season with the team, are confirmed as two of the three drivers for the programme. The team is evaluating a range of chassis, engine, and third driver options, and looks forward to getting in on the ground floor of the revised LMP1 category, whose future regulations are due to be unveiled in December.

10Star DragonSpeed team principal Elton Julian said: “The whole team is thrilled and up for the challenge. Having won sportscar titles in GT3 and LMP2, the natural progression for our highly talented and motivated crew is to move up to LMP1. We’re carefully studying potential partners who can help us put together a programme which will deliver the progress and success we want for DragonSpeed. Everyone is on the same page in terms of the package and approach we need, and we can’t wait to get started.”

“I look back to 2005, when I first drove at Le Mans,” continued Julian. “You had a single works team with Audi plus a great supporting cast of privateers running six different chassis and four different engines. In fact, the pole went to one of the privateers. If Toyota continues – and we all hope they will – I think over the next couple of years we can bring back that variety and tradition of privateers being genuinely competitive in the top class.”

Henrik Hedman said: “The chance to progress to the premier level of endurance racing with such a successful and close-knit group made this an easy decision. Step by step, we’ve grown together and achieved a lot. I applaud the ACO and FIA for the new schedule and the opportunity it has created. I'm committed to preparing myself and applying everything I’ve learned over the past few seasons to racing the new generation of LMP1 cars with Elton and the team.”

Ben Hanley added: “I’m really happy to continue with DragonSpeed on its journey. Moving up to the WEC and LMP1 is a great chance for us to fight for overall podium results, especially at Le Mans given the issues the hybrids have had there the last few years. Henrik never stops improving and his commitment is an inspiration to the entire team. Having enjoyed one-off drives with a few WEC LMP2 teams this season, I can say for certain that DragonSpeed are up to the job.”

Saturday 21 October 2017

ELMS 2017 - 4 Hours of Portimao: Panis Barthez Competition takes final pole of 2017

In a set of qualifying sessions that saw three red flags, Panis Barthez Competition took their first overall European Le Mans Series pole for Sunday's European Le Mans Series 4 Hours of Portimao. 

The LMP2 session was red flagged at 7m09s when Andrea Pizzitola in #25 Algarve Pro Racing Ligier started to porpoise as he ran over the kerbs through T15 then locked up and spun off at T16. The session was restarted at 16:35 local and Nathanaël Berthon went on to set a time of 1:33.575 in the team's #23LIGIER JSP217 on this penultimate lap. Despite pushing hard, neither of the Dragonspeed cars which had shown the pace throughout the practice sessions could snatch the time from the Frenchman and Lapierre had to settle for second with a 1:34.090. Ryo Hirakawa took the #22 G-Drive Oreca to third with a 1:34.235. 

The fastest Dallara was the #47 car of Cetilar Villorba Corse with Andrea Belicchi setting a 1:35.110. 

The LMP3 class qualifying session was red flagged twice; initially to allow the safe removal of the #18 YMR car from the gravel trap at T15 and the second one, a minute later to recover the Antonin Borga in the #7 Duqueine Engineering Ligier from T7's gravel trap.

The session restarted with 3m31s to run and Mikkel Jensen took class pole in the #9 AT Racing Ligier setting a time of 1:40.660 in the dying seconds of the session. United Autosports' Wayne Boyd also pulled out all of the stops on his final lap and finished just 0.164s behind Jensen. Simon Gachet took the #16 Panis Barthez Competition car to third with a 1:41.148.

The Championship leading #2 car could only manage 20th position on the grid with Sean Rayhall failing to set a complete lap time during the session. 

In the LM GTE Class it was a Ferrari lockout for the front of the class grid; Matt Griffin took the #55 Spirit of Race Ferrari to class pole setting an emphatic 1:42.657, 0.640 seconds ahead of Will Stevens in the yellow and black #66 JMW car. Matteo Cairoli took the #77 Proton Competition Porsche 911 RSR 991 to a 1:43.370 to grab third on the grid. 

Both of the Astons appeared to struggle for speed around the undulating Portuguese track with TF Sport and Beechdean AMR starting on the final two positions on the grid respectively. The pressure will be on for TF Sport tomorrow as they only have a point lead in the championship compared to JMW. 

Dragonspeed dominated this mornings second free practice session as Ryo Hirakawa went fastest in the #22 G-Drive ahead of Nicolas Lapierre in the #21 Dragonspeed Oreca 07. Hirakawa set a time of 1.34.024, which was 0,324 seconds faster than the Frenchman. Third fastest was Richard Bradley in the #40 Graff Oreca in 1:34.459.  The Cetilar Villorba Corse Dallara of Andrea Bellichi was the quickest non-Oreca, getting into fourth place with a best time of 1.35.009. 

The crew of the #32 United Autosports Ligier still seemed to be looking for pace as Filipe Albuquerque didn't get higher than fifth place in the session but still 1.2 second slower than Hirakawa's best time. 

M.Racing-YMR set the pace in the LMP3 class, with a 1.41.124 by Alexandre Cougnaud in the #18 Ligier JSP3. Wayne Boyd in the #3 United Autosports Ligier was second fastest ahead of 2 Norma's; the #7 Duqueine Engineering and the #19 M.Racing-YMR.  Sean Rayhall was quickest in the #2 chamionship leading United Autosports Ligier in 7th place with a best time of 1:42.704. 

LMGTE was very close this morning, the top 3 finishing withing 0.228 seconds from eachother. Matteo Cairoli went fastest in the #77 Proton Competition Porsche in 1.42.966, just 0.072 seconds ahead of Nicki Thiim in the #90 TF Sport Aston Martin. Will Stevens in the JMW Ferrari was third fastest in 1.43.194.

Qualifying results
Results Free Practice 2

Kristof Vermeulen
John Stevens

Friday 20 October 2017

ELMS 2017 - 4 Hours of Portimao: Dragonspeed sets the pace in FP1

The final weekend of the 2017 European Le Mans season kicked off this afternoon with the Bronze driver test and the first 90 minute free practice session.  The day started with fog and an occasional spot of (light) rain, but by the time track action was set to go, temperatures started to rise up and the sun broke through the clouds.

Nicolas Lapierre set the pace this afternoon in his #21 DragonSpeed Oreca 07 with a laptime of 1.34.182.  Second fastest was Nathanaël Berthon in the #23 Panis Barthez Competition Ligier, 0.240 seconds behind Lapierre. The #27 SMP Racing Dallara of Matevos Isaakyan and Egor Orudhzev took third place, Isaakyan the fastest of the 2 Russian youngsters in 1.34.942. All three manufacturers were present in the top 3 this afternoon, within a margin of 0.760 seconds. 

Both title contenders were further down the order. Ryo Hirakawa drove the fifth fastest time in the #26 G-Drive Oreca: 1.35.897.  Challengers United Autosports didnt get higher than 12th position, Filipe Albuquerque going round in 1.36.810, just under a second slower than Hirakawa. 

Apart from a few spins and minor offs there were no noteable incidents in this afternoons sessions. There was one short full course yellow when the #49 High Class Racing Dallara stopped on track and had to be towed off to the pitlane. The session was shortly red flagged due to the #10 Oregon Norma which also stopped on track. 

In LMP3, Mikkel Jensen in the #9 AT Racing Ligier showed his speed again, setting the fastest time of the afternoon in 1.40.758. An excellent start of the weekend for the Austrian team who won their class in Spa last month. Second fastest was Anontin Borga in the #7 Duqueine Engineering Norma M30 in 1.41.555, 0.144 seconds faster than Dario Capitano in the Oregon Team Norma. 

United Autosports won the first battle with M.Racing-YMR for the title. Sean Rayhall set the fifth fastest time in his #2 Ligier in 1.42.093. Antoine Jung was quickest in the #18 M.Racing-YMR Ligier, but got no further than 1.42.897 in 13th place overall. Alexandre Cougnaud's times have all been cancelled though, due to a pitlane infringement by exceeding the maximum speed in the pitlane.

There's one last minute driver change to be noted in the LMP3 class: Davide Roda isn't able to drive this weekend due to an injury. He will be replaced by Toni Forne in the #10 Oregon Team Norma M30. 

Ferrari dominated in GTE, Matt Griffin putting the #55 Spirit of Race 488 GTE on top of the leaderboard in 1.43.760. Will Stevens was second fastest in the #66 JMW Ferrari, 0.616 seconds behind Griffin. Euan Hankey in the championship leading TF Sport Aston Martin completed the top 3 in 1.44.671, just under a second slower than the fastest Ferrari. 

Fabien Barthez was fastest this morning in the Bronze driver test in Portimao. His best time of 1.37.491 was 0.046 second faster than Hendrik Hedman in the #21 Dragonspeed Oreca. Third fastest was Roberto Lacorte in the #47 Cetilar Villorba Cose.  Martin Hippe set the fastest time in the LMP3 class with his #13 Inter Europol Competition Ligier in 1:42.877. Quickest GTE driver was Gianluca Roda in the #51 Spirit of Race Ferrari (1.45.358). 

The second free practice session for the 4 Hours of Portimao is scheduled for tomorrow morning at 9.50h.  Qqualifying will start at 14.40h in the afternoon.  The qualifs will be streamed live on the series website: www.europeanlemans.com. 

Kristof Vermeulen. 

ELMS 2017 - 3 titles up for grabs in Portimao this weekend

The European Le Mans Series set up camp in the Algarve region in Portugal this weekend, for the final and title deciding race of 2017.  Two teams are still in the running for the title in LMP2 and LMP3, where as in LMGTE 3 to 4 cars still have a shot on the 2017 title and the auto entry for the 24 Hours of Le Mans next year.  

After finishing the past 4 seasons in Estoril, the ELMS now returns to Portimao for the first time since 2010 when the Algarve 1000 kms was organised in the Le Mans Series. The Autodromo Internacional do Algarve opened its doors in November 2008 after just seven months of construction. The circuit is 4.648 km long and features 16 corners.  With a lot of elevation changes, a long start/finish straight and some challenging corners, this track always delivers some exciting races. Although being designed as a grade 1 Formula 1 circuit, there's never been an F1 race here in Portimao. Thanks to the climate in the south of Portugal and the warm winters, it's a track well used by many teams in winter testing. 

The title fight in LMP2 is down to two cars: the #22 G-Drive Racing  and the #32 United Autosports Ligier.  The G-Drive Oreca of Memo Rojas, Léo Roussel and Ryo Hirakawa leads the championship with a total of 98 points, including 1 win in Monza.  The United Autosports crew with local driver Filipe Albuquerque, Hugo de Saedeleer and Will Owen has scored 80 points so far but have wone two races: Silverstone and the Reb Bull Ring. The pressure will be on for the crew of the #32 as they have to win on Sunday to have a shot for the title. 

In third position is the #40 Graff Oreca of James Allen, Ricard Bradley and Gustavo Yacaman who won the last race in Spa-Francorchamps but with a total of 61 points they are too far away to take on the challenge for the championship.  With 26 points to score in Portugal this weekend, mathematically Graff could still finish second in the championship. The fight for third will alse be one to watch this weekend: the second Graff Oreca (#39) follows within four points (57), trailed by the #27 SMP Racing Dallara who won in its second race of the season at Paul Ricard. 

Memo Rojas and Léo Roussel are leading the drivers championship with 98 points, 18 points ahead of Filipe Albuquerque, Hugo de Saedeleer and Will Owen with 80 points. Ryo Hirakawa is in third position with 61 points so far after missing the 4 hours of the Red Bull Ring and Le Castellet due to his commitments in the Japanese Super GT championship. He is joined by James Allen and Richard Bradley who also have scored 61 points so far.
Not much driver changes in the class for the final race of 2017.  Paul Loup Chatin returns to the #28 IDEC Sport Racing Ligier for the second race in a row, joining Paul and Patrice Lafargue again. In the #39 Graff Oreca, Mexican driver Ricardo Sanchez replaces Eric Trouillet and will race together with Paul Petit and Enzo Guibbert. 

Next to their title challenge in LMP2, United leads the LMP3 class with the #2 Ligier of American drivers John Falb and Sean Rayhall. Having scored 85 points so far with wins at Silverstone and Spa-Francorchamps they are leading the #18 M.Racing-YMR Ligier with 19 points. Alexandre Cougnaud, Antoine Jung & Romano Ricci haven't won a race this season but consistently scored podium or top 5 finishes in all races so far. 

French team Ultimate is third so far after a strong start of the season, but faded away a bit with 2 less good results in the past 2 races, now with a total of 57 points.  They are being chased by Inter Europol Competition (56 points) in their #13 green & yellow Ligier which are just one point behind. The Polish team scored their first podium finish after a strong comeback race at Paul Ricard and will be eager to repeate that in Portimao this weekend. Fifth place so far is for the #11 Eurointernational (47 points) who won at the Red Bull Ring.

5 different teams have been on pole position so far with 4 different teams on the top spot of the podium after 4 hours of intense racing. This shows how close the LMP3 class has been this year. Basically the race at Portimao could be anyone's race again.  Both title contenders will be the teams to watch, but the likes of Ultimate, Inter Europol, AT Racing and Eurointernational will also be fighting for a good result on Sunday afternoon and might have their say in the fight for this years title.  The drivers championship reflects the teams' standings perfectly. John Falb & Sean Rayhall are leading with 85 points, followed by Alexandre Cougnaud, Antoine Jung and Romani Ricci with 66 points. Francois Heriau, Jean-Baptiste Lahaye and Matthieu Lahaye are third with 57 points. 

Although there's only 6 cars on the grid of this years LMGTE class, the title fight couldn't be more exciting than here with mathematically 5 out 6 teams still in the race for the championship.  Newcomers TF Sport who were crownded champions on the Michelin Le Mans Cup last season are on top of the leaderboad, winning the first race in Silverstone and scoring some hard fought podium finishes in three other races. Salih Yoluc, Euan Hankey and Nicky Thiim arrived in Portugal with 87 points and just one goal: winning another championship before likely stepping up to the FIA WEC next season.

Their main rival, just one point behind, is the #66 JMW Motorsport Ferrari F488 GTE. The team started the season with their “old” F458 Italia before switching to the 488 at Le Mans, scoring am impressive win in the 24 hour race.  In the ELMS they won the race in Monza and were on the podium of every other race except for Silverstone. JMW lost the championship last season after a dramatic race in Estoril where technical gremlins smashed their title hopes. Robert Smith, Jody Fannin and Will Stevens – who races for the third time with JMW after Le Mans and Spa – this season will put up a hard fight for that 2017 title.

The Spirit of Race Ferrari's  occupy third and fourth place so far. The #55 of Duncan Cameron, Matt Griffin and Aaron Scott in third with 76 points, 6 points more than the #51 of Gianluca Roda, Giorgio Roda and Andrea Bertolini.  Both cars were very strong in the past 3 races, winning them all; the #55 in Austria and France, the #51 in Belgium last month. Cameron & co have closed the gap to the leading Aston Martin down to 11 points. Reminding what happened last season in the final race, they might still have a chance for the title if they win again on Sunday.

Last years champions Beechdean AMR season was less successful, with a provisional fifth place scoring 63 points so far in the #99 Aston Martin Vantage V8.  Andrew Howard & co will be out to end their season with a top result, on a track that might suit the Aston well over the weekend. Ross Gunn won't be racing with Beechdean this weekend, he will be replaced by Emmanuel Vinke who's in contention for a full season drive with the team next season. Closing the standings in GTE Am is the #77 Proton Competition Porsche 911 RSR of Christian Ried ,  Joël Camathias and Matteo Cairoli (ITA) with 55 points. 

On track action starts this afternoon at 14.15h with the Bronze driver test. The first 90 minute practice session is scheduled for 17.00h.  A second practice session and qualifying will be run on Saturday, the race will get underway on Sunday at 13.00h.

Useful links:
Entry List
Spotter Guide

Kristof Vermeulen.

Thursday 19 October 2017

ELMS 2017 - 4 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps review

4 days before the title deciding race in Portimao this weekend, let's take a look back at the European Le Mans Series 4 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps last month.

French team GRAFF took their first European Le Mans Series victory at Spa-Francorchamps in spectacular style when Richard Bradley survived a last-lap drive-through penalty to cross the line in first at today’s Four Hours of Spa-Francorchamps.

The Briton crossed the line just 0.581 seconds ahead of G-Drive’s Ryo Hirakawa after having his 20 second lead virtually wiped out when he served a drive-through penalty for track limits abuse during an overtake on the #27 SMP Racing Dallara earlier in the race.

The team dodged a second bullet when a post race stewards enquiry found them guilty of using multiple tyre guns during an earlier pitstop, however, it was deemed no advantage was gained and the team merely received a 300 Euro fine. The win gave GRAFF not only their first win in the 2017 season, but their first overall win in the Series to date. Hirakawa also fell foul of the stewards when his #22 car was handed a drive through penalty for a safety car infringement whilst Leo Roussel was driving – the penalty effectively ending their hopes of victory today. G-Drive continue to lead the series, however their lead has been cut to just one point.

Despite all the Dallaras having a tough time in qualifying their race pace appeared improved and the #27 SMP Dallara of Matevos Isaakyan and Egor Orudzhev that won last time out at Circuit Paul Ricard finished third, 15.488 seconds behind Hirakawa to complete the overall podium. United Autosports’ Filipe Albuquerque finished fourth in the highest-placed Ligier JS P217 some 17 seconds shy of the winning time.

In the LMP3 class, Austrian team AT Racing led the majority of the race in the distinctive black and orange ‘World of Tanks’ Ligier JS P3 of Alexander Talkanitsa Sr.and Jr. and Mikkel Jensen and, like GRAFF, survived the steward’s wrath and a Stop/Go (with engine off) penalty to take the class victory. David Droux brought Duqueine Engineering’s #7 Norma M30 over the line a lap adrift for second, four seconds ahead of the #2 United Autosports Ligier of Sean Rayhall and John Falb.

Moving on to GTE, Spirit of Race took the win in a Ferrari 488 GTE 1-2 with the #51 car of Gianluca Roda, Rino Mastronardi and Andrea Bertolini taking it’s first win of the season. Will Stevens brought home the #66 JMW Ferrari in second a lap down with the ageing #99 Beechdean Aston Martin Vantage coming home in third, just under 33 seconds behind the yellow Ferrari.

It was an incident packed race in which we saw six full course yellow/safety car periods to recover cars, debris and in one of the most noteworthy incidents, repair barriers following a high speed crash into the tyre barriers by Andrea Roda in the #25 Algarve Pro Racing Ligier which resulted in the car coming to rest upside down. Roda was taken to the circuit medical facility and later released, unhurt by the incident.

This article was originally published on Sportscarglobal.com

Tuesday 17 October 2017

FIA WEC - 6 Hours of Fuji: Toyota takes 1-2 in wet & foggy home race

What a difference a year makes ... last years race at the foot of Mount Fuji was flawless with 6 hours of uninterrupted racing, this years race saw 6 safety cars and 2 red flags. It's not the first time the 6 Hours of Fuji are hit by bad weather conditions, remember the 2013 monsoon edition. 

This year not only the rain affected the race on Sunday but most of all mist and clouds taking away visibility. Conditions changed by the minute, resulting in multiple safety cars, slow zones and eventually in 2 red flags. An eventful race with the Toyota's taking a 1-2 finish in front of the Porsches, closing down the gap a bit in the manufacturers championship and keeping their title hopes alive. 

© FIA WEC/Adrenal Media

The race got underway behind the safety car for the first five laps, mainly due to restricted visibility on the start/finish straight. When the green flag was waived after 5 laps, there still was a slow zone introduced at the main straight.  Earl Bamber held on to first place in the #2 Porsche, André Lotterer behind him in the #1 Porsche was quickly attacked by both Toyota's. Buemi in the #8 Toyota got past Lotterer in the first lap, but was lucky not to score any damage when both cars touched.  Lotterer lost a dive plane in that incident, and fell back to fourth when Kobayashi got past him.  The German didn't give in to the Toyota, and after some fierce battles in tricky conditions he got back into third. 

 The safety car rolled out again just before the 1 hour mark, as visibility got worse again. This allowed most cars to go for their first pitstop of the race and several driver changes.  Conditions didn't improve, bringing out the first red flag of the afternoon. The #2 Porsche was still in the lead but didn't have a pitstop yet, ahead of both Toyota's. 

The restart was given at 12h50, again with a slow zone between turn 15 and turn 1 as visibility remained a problem on the main straight.  Bamber got straight into the pits for his first stop, handing over the lead to both Toyota's but losing over a minute to the race leaders. Timo Bernhard took over the #2 Porsche but struggled to get heat into his tyres and had almost no grip, causing him to lap 3 seconds slower than the Toyota's who seemed to be in excellent shape.  Minutes before the next safety car he got lapped by Nakajima in the leading #8 Toyota. 

As rain intensified another safety car was rolled out for about 25 minutes, changing the order again in the LMP1 class.  When the safety car got back in & safety zones were removed, Nakajima was leading in the #8 Toyota by 19 seconds from Nick Tandy. All three leading cars kept on racing close to eachother, each leading the race at a certain point during the pitstop cycles.  Meanwhile 2 more safety cars were sent out, the first when Andy Priaulx in the #67 Porsche drove into the leading GTE Pro Porsche and wandered into the barriers afterwards, the second when poor visibility created another yellow zone in the first sector of the track. 

© Toyota Motorsport Gmbh

The poor visibility brought out the second red flag after 4 hours and 24 minutes, freezing all positions. With 30 minutes left visibility was slightly improvoing but still poor. Yannick Dalmas went out in the safety car, taking Gérard Neveu as a passenger to check on the track conditions. A restart behind the safety car was announced, assuming we'd get a 10 minute sprint race to the flag. The conditions got worse again though, and the whole field was led into parc ferme, ending the race about 15 minutes early. 

Toyota scored a well needed 1-2 victory in their home race, with the #8 TS050 Hybrid of Sébastien Buemi, Kazuki Nakajima and Anthony Davidson on the top spot of the podium. They also closed the gap in the manufacturers championship down to 39 points with 12 hours of racing to in China and Bahrain. 

In LMP2 the #31 Vaillante Rebellion took its second victory of the season and closes up the gap with the championship leading #38 Jackie Chan DC Racing down to 10 points. The #13 Rebellion sister car had a less succesful Sunday afternoon, spinning in the first corner at the start of the race and going hard into the barriers in the fourth hour of the race after contact with Eric Vergne in the #24 Manor.

Bruno Senna had the best start in the #31, quickly building up a comfortable lead. Behind the Brazilian, the battles for the top 5 were fierce with Nico Lapierre in the #36 Signatech Alpine Matmut charging through the field up to second place. When the first safety car came out, Alex Brundle held on to third in the #37 Jackie Chan DC Racing with the #38 sister car close behind him. As the race was red flagged after 1h20' and after the first sequence of pitstops, the #31 was leading the #38, with the #36 now in third place. 

After the restart the #28 TDS Racing got up to second place due to a different strategy, but still behind the leading Rebellion. The #37 Jackie Chan Oreca would fall down the order complety when electrical gremlins forced them into the garage for repairs. Lots of battles were fought out before the second red flag, with André Negrao fighting back to second in the #36 Alpine.

When the second red flag came out, the #38 DC Racing Oreca was in third place. An order that wouldn't change anymore.  Completing the top 5 were the #28 TDS Racing which was still on route for a strong finish of the race and the #24 CEFC Manor TRS Racing. 

In the GTE Pro class, James Calado & Alessandro Pier Guido took their third won of the season and the lead in the championship after an eventful race. Richard Lietz had the best start leading ahead of Harry Tincknell in the #67 Ford and Pier Guidi in the #51 Ferrari who jumped from fifth to third.  In the second hour of the race, the second Ford GT got into the top 3 when they leapfrogged the #51 Ferrari who pitted just before the red flag. 

When the green flag was waived again, Pier Guidi kept on chasing Makowiecki in the #91 Porsche, and managed to pass the Frenchman with a ballsy move in the chicane, sliding his Ferrari into the lead right before another yellow flag in sector 1 and the second red flag due to a lack of visibility.  As the race wouldn't be green flagged anymore, the #51 took victory, with both Porsches behind; #91 in second and #92 in third.

The Ford #67 had a disastrous race in Japan. It all started with a one minute stop & go penalty for exiting the pit lane under red light. Later on Priaulx tried to unlap himself from Kevin Estre in the leading #92 Porsche but completely missed his braking point, driving into the Porsche. Both cars could drive on, but a puncture and a spin into the barriers ended their race and lost them the lead in the championship.  The Aston Martins struggled for grip and pace on their Dunlops and never even had a chance to get to a podium finish. 

© FIA WEC/Adrenal Media

The #54 Spirit of Race Ferrari of Thomas Flohr, Francesco Castellacci and Miguel Molina took their first ever victory in the FIA WEC yesterday. Keita Sawa in the #61 Clearwater Ferrari led the GTE Am field when the safety car came out for the first time.  When the race was red flagged for the first time they fell back to second behind the #98 Aston Martin which hadn't made a pitstop by then. After the restart the order was shuffled again, the #61 now back up front with the #54 Spirit of Race Ferrari in second and the #77 Dempsey-Proton Porsche in third. 

The #54 ran a faultless race in challenging conditions, getting into first place after the third round of pitstops, leaving the Clearwater Ferrari behind them. The Dempsey-Proton Porsche held on to third place, although an a reasonable distance from both Ferrari's. When the second red flag came out, the first win for the #54 was in the bag. The championship leading #98 Aston Martin had the same problem as the Pro cars all weekend, and finished 2 laps down from the winning Ferrari. 

The fight for the championship is really too close to call now, with all three title contenders within 3 points from eachother. Clearwater has taken the lead again with 149 points, two more than Dempsey-Proton, who are trailed by Dalla Lana & co in the #98 Aston by one point.

The next race for the World Endurance Championship will be held in Shanghai, China on November 3rd.

Kristof Vermeulen.
Pictures: Lennart Sorth/Club Arnage & Adrenal Media

Saturday 14 October 2017

FIA WEC - 6 hours of Fuji: Porsche claims pole in LMP1 & GTE

Trying to avoid the expected heavy rain, qualifying got underway a bit earlier than planned this afternoon. The GTE cars kicked off todays qualifying session in mixed conditions, but managed to get out with intermediate tyres. By the time the qualifying session for the LMP's got underway conditions got worse again, pulling out the full wets again.

© FIA WEC/Adrenal Media

Frederic Makowiecki and Richard Lietz scored their first pole position of the season in the GTE Pro class with their #91 Porsche 911 RSR. With an average laptime of 1.47.577 they kept both Ford GT's behind them. Andy Priaulx & Harry Tincknell were second fastest, 0.441 seconds behind the Porsche. Stefan Mücke & Olivier Pla parked their #66 Ford on third place, just over half a second behind the #67. The #71 AF Corse Ferrari and #92 Porsche completed the top 5.

© FIA WEC/Adrenal Media

Clearwater racing took their first pole position in the World Endurance Championship, maximising their advantage of track knowledge as the sole Asian team in the class. Weng Sun Mok and Matt Griffin set a time of 1.49.408, holding off Matteo Cairoli & Christian Ried in the #77 Dempsey-Proton Porsche and Pedro Lamy & Paul Dalla Lana in the #98 Aston Martin. The 3 teams battling for the championship on the top 3 spots of the class, GTE Am will be one to watch tomorrow !

Conditions got worse when the LMP cars went on track for their 20 minute qualifying session. Some teams still managed to start on intermediate tyres, but had to switch to full wets early in the session.

The battle for pole position again went on between both Porsche 919 Hybrids, who scored their fourth front row lockout of the season. Brendon Hartley and Earl Bamber took pole position with an average time of 1.35.068, only 28 thousands of a second faster than Nick Tandy (who set the fastest time overall) and André Lotterer.

© FIA WEC/Adrenal Media

The extra point for pole position extends the #2 crews lead in the championship to 52 points. If they finish ahead of the #8 Toyota tomorrow, Timo Bernhard, Earl Bamber and Brendon Hartley will be crowned as the 2017 drivers champions. More good news for Brendon Hartley came out yesterday evening, when STR Toro Rosso announced Hartley as their second driver in next weeks F1 race in Austin. That's 3 different cars in 3 different championships in 3 consecutive weekend for the Kiwi.

Toyota had a frustrating run in qualifying. The #8 TS050 of Sébastian Buemi and Kazuki Nakajima seemed to have the pace to challenge Porsche for pole position, but was delayed in traffic twice, losing out the best performance of their tyres. With an average time of 1.35.355 they qualified third, ahead of the #7 Toyota which struggled for pace and grip on the wet track.

© FIA WEC/Adrenal Media

Vaillante Rebellion also scored a front row lockout in the LMP2 class. Nelson Piquet Jr and David Henemeier Hansson claimed their first pole position of the season in the #13 Oreca 07. With an average laptime of 1.44.196, they were over 0.7 seconds faster than the second Vaillante of Bruno Senna and Julien Canal. Championship leaders Ho-Pin Tung and Thomas Laurent in the #38 Jackie Chan DC Racing took third place in 1.45.078. Austin winners Signatech Alpine put the #36 also on the second row of the grid, the #37 Jackie Chan DC Racing completed the top 5.

This morning, on track action started with a "Circuit Safari" ... The concept: put race fans & media in a bus on the track and release the race cars.  It's kind of a Japanese tradition and has been organised for the first time today during a WEC race. Every team had to send out 1 car on track during the session, but evetually all cars went out for an unprecedented show on the Fuji Speedway.  It certainly made for some unique footage as can be seen below: 

In the third and final practice session, Toyota set the pace again after being quickest in yesterday's afternoon session too. Sébastien Buemi put the #8 TS050 Hybrid on top with a lap of 1.35.414, 0.850 seconds faster than Earl Bamber in the #2 Porsche 919 Hybrid. André Lotterer was fastest again in the #1 Porsche in third, Mike Conway set the best time in the #7 Toyota.

© Toyota Motorsport Gmbh

Jackie Chan DC Racing continued to dominate in the LMP2 class, now with the #37 Oreca 07 of Alex Brundle in 1.43.745. Nelson Piquet Jr came 0.002 seconds short in his #13 Vaillante Rebellion to snatch away the top spot. The second Vaillante Rebellion of Bruno Senna was third fastest, 0.316 seconds behind its sister car.

© FIA WEC/Adrenal Media

Porsche looked strong again in the GTE Pro class, both Richard Lietz (1:47.724) and Fred Makowiecki (1:48.125 ) in the #91 Porsche 911 RSR outpacing the rest of the field. Michael Christensen was third fastest in the #92 Porsche (1:48.358), ahead of Harry Tincknell in the #67 Ford GT. Matteo Cairoli was oustanding in the #77 Dempsey-Proton Porsche in GTE Am, his time of 1.49.387 putting him right in the mix with the Pro cars. Matt Griffin in the #61 Clearwater Ferrari and Francesco Castellacci in the #54 Spirit of Race completed the final top 3 of the morning session.

Fuji post-qualifying press conference

The race is due to start at 11.00h local time tomorrow, unless the weather decides differently.

Qualifying results
LM GTE Pro & Am

Kristof Vermeulen.

Friday 13 October 2017

FIA WEC - AIM/JUDD offer LMP1 engine for privateer teams in LMP1 as from 2018

British race engine manufacturer Engine Developments Ltd and AIM Co Ltd of Japan today announced a program to offer a new LMP1 engine for privateer teams. The engine will be available to private teams on a lease-only basis for the start of the 2018/2019 Super season. 

Since the introduction of fuel flow limiting regulations in the FIA WEC LMP1 class in 2013 AIM/Judd has tested and developed a number of different engine configurations including naturally aspirated and turbocharged platforms. Performance levels have increased significantly as the regulations have evolved, the result being that what may have been the optimum engine configuration in 2013 is no longer the best package to deliver the performance and reliability required.

At the current performance level of over 700PS and with a minimum car weight of less than 850kg, the new normally aspirated 5.5 litre V10 is designed to deliver extremely competitive lap times. The new V10 engine does not have the problems of throttle response, complexity and reliability associated with turbocharged engines or the weight and size issues associated with similar capacity normally aspirated V8 and V12 engines.

The AIM-JUDD V10 engine will incorporate a number of new developments aimed at maximising performance potential under the fuel flow limiting regulations whilst retaining the excellent reliability record that the previous JUDD and AIM V10 engines achieved in endurance racing. These include a new 72 degree cylinder block which is significantly lighter than any of our previous designs, a new combustion chamber, cooling system and piston design as well as an updated engine management system with electronic throttle and fuel flow management software. The expected technical regulations in LMP1 will guarantee parity of performance between the various engine types being used through a rigorous FIA homologation procedure. We therefore believe the V10 platform should be the natural choice for any LMP1 team that is serious about having a trouble-free run in the 2018 Le Mans 24hrs race. JUDD is delighted to again take on the Le Mans challenge with long-standing partners AIM in this new and exciting program. The new engine will be available to private teams on a lease-only basis for the beginning of the 2018/19 Super Season.

AIM-JUDD is the fourth engine manufacturer who has an engine available for the LMP1 privateer class in the FIA World Endurance Championship next season. They have been active in LMP2 until 2016 after which Gibson was selected as the sole engine supplier for the new LMP2 cars. The 2016 Asian Le Mans Series champions Race Performance raced with a Judd engine in the Oreca 03.  In the privateer LMP1 class, Ginetta is working together with Mechachrome for its LMP1 customer car, but is offering the option to team up with a different manufacturer. BR Engineering/Dallara is believed to have a deal with AER for its engine, and ByKolles will keep on racing with Nismo engines next season. 

Whether we'll see a Judd/AIM engine on the grid in the 2018/2019 season, and if a V10 naturally aspirated engine will be the best available option is unclear. An earlier attempt in 2016 to commercialise a similar engine didn't get them any customers, as privateer teams Rebellion and ByKolles held on to their AER engines. The addition of an extra engine manufacturer might open up the privateer market though, and who doesn't want to hear a screaming V10 going round at Le Mans ? 

Kristof Vermeulen. 

FIA WEC 2017 - 6 Hours of Fuji: Wet practice on Friday

Wet weather and (very) tricky conditions today for the first free practice sessions ahead of the 6 Hours of Fuji on Sunday. After a rather uneventful first session, the second practice was shortened due to a 50 minute red flag when Vitaly Petrov had a rather big off in his Manor Oreca, requiring repair works to the barriers.

© Porsche

Porsche had the best start of the day with both 919 Hybrids on top of the timetable after the fiirst 90 minute practice session. André Lotterer went fastest in the #1 Porsche in a 1.35.527, beating Earl Bamber in the #2 sister car with 0.133 seconds. Jose Maria Lopez was the fastest Toyota driver, putting the #7 TS050 on third place, just under half a second behind Lotterer. Sébastian Buemi was fourth fastest in the #8 Toyota.

© FIA WEC/Adrenal Media

In LMP2 Alex Brundle got around fastest in his #37 Jackie Chan DC Racing Oreca 05 in a 1.42.735. Matthieu Vaxiviere in the #28 TDS Racing was a stong second fastest, 0.490 seconds behind Brundle. The #38 Jackie Chan DC Racing was third fastest in the hands of Ho-Pin Tung, with Ben Hanley in the #24 CEFC Manor TRS Racing behind him. Gustavo Menezes in the #36 Signatech Alpine completed the top 5, 0.992 seconds behind Brundle. 

© Porsche

Porsche not only dominated in LMP1, the GTE Pro class was also the German's territory with both 911's quickest in the morning session. Michael Christensen clocked a 1.47.365 in the #92, giving him an advantage of 0.252 seconds ahead of Richard Lietz in the #91 sister car. Both AF Corse Ferrari's followed the Porsches, Davide Rigon third fastest in the #71 (1.47.627), Alessandro Pier Guidi fourth in the #51 488 GTE. Ford took fifth and sixth place, the Aston Martins struggled for pace in the bad conditions, giving in over 5 seconds compared to the top runners.

© FIA WEC/Adrenal Media

Ferrari was on top of the GTE-Am class, Miguel Molina fastest in 1.47.655 in the #54 Spirit of Race, 0.591 seconds ahead of Matt Griffin in the #61 Clearwater Ferrari. The pink #77 Dempsey-Proton Porsche came in third fastest with Matteo Cairoli behind the wheel. 

Take a lap around the Fuji Speedway with Sébastian Buemi and Allan McNish

The second session was even wetter than the first session with heavy rain falling down on the track.  15 minutes into the session, Vitaly Petrov went hard into the barriers at the 100R corner, causing the session to be red flagged for about 50 minutes due to repairs to the barries. FP2 turned into a shortened session  in which the fastest times were set early on before the red flag and only 30 drivers set a time. 

© FIA WEC/Adrenal Media

José Maria Lopez was fastest in his #7 Toyota TS050 Hybrid in 1.39.202, over 1.3 seconds ahead of Neel Jani in the #1 Porsche. Kazuki Nakajima went third fastest in the #8 Toyota, with Timo Bernhard behind him in the #2 Porsche. 

© JOTA Sport

Jackie Chan DC Racing was quikest again, but now it was Thomas Laurent in the #38 who set the fastest time. His 1.47.437 was 0.084 seconds faster than Bruno Senna in the #31 Vaillante Rebellion.  Despite his crash, Vitaly Petrov still clocked the third fastest time in the session with 1.48.004. Rounding out the top 5 were Roman Rusinov in the #26 G-Drive and Mathias Beche in the second Vaillante Rebellion (#13).

© FIA WEC/Adrenal Media

Olivier Pla took the top spot in GTE Pro in his #66 Ford GT with a laptime of 1.52.658, holding off both Porsches. Fréd Makowiecki followed close in the #91 Porsche, just 0.052 seconds behind his fellow Frenchman. Kevin Estre was right on the heels of his teammate, 0.009 seconds slower in third place. The first Ferrari was the #51 AF Corse of James Calado in fifth place, both Aston Martins closed the GTE Pro classification this afternoon. 

© FIA WEC/Adrenal Media

In GTE-Am the Clearwater Ferrari of Keita Sawa now was fastest in 1.53.381, even quicker than both AF Corse Pro Ferrari's. Francesco Castellacci in the #54 Spirit of Race Ferrari came in second fastest with Ben Barker behind him in the #86 Gulf Racing UK Porsche. 

Fuji pre-event press conference:

Kristof Vermeulen.