Wednesday 18 September 2019

ELMS: G-Drive leads the championship as the ELMS arrives in Spa-Francorchamps

Round 5 for the European Le Mans Series this weekend on the iconic Spa-Francorchamps circuit in the Belgian Ardennes.  All is still to play for in the penultimate race of the championship, especially in LMP2 and LMP3 where both title contenders are just a few points apart.  Luzich Racing has a more comfortable lead in the LMGTE class and might be able to clinch the title already this weekend. 

Earlier this summer, LMEM - organiser of the FIA WEC and ELMS - has renewed its contract with Spa-Francorchamps for another 4 years, up to 2023. Entry is free all weekend, including paddock access, pit and grid walk for all the fans.  And with a dry weather forecast & temps up to 25 degrees over the weekend, there's no reason not to pass by Francorchamps if you're around!  Except maybe that "little" chance of rain during the race on Sunday ... 

G-Drive Racing leads the championship in the LMP2 class with their #26 Aurus 01, after two victories in Monza and Barcelona and a second place in Silverstone. With 81 points the Russian team has an advantage of 9 points of IDEC Sport who won their first-ever ELMS race at Silverstone.  Graff is third so far in the championship with 53 points with their #39 Oreca, followed by Le Castellet winners Dragonspeed (40 points) and Duqueine Engineering (35 points) in the #30 Oreca 07.  

Inter Europol Competition arrives with a new and very ambitious line-up for the race in Francorchamps this weekend. Belgian driver Sam Dejonghe who has been racing in LMP3 with the team so far, makes his debut in the LMP2 class in his home race next to regular driver Jakub Smiechowski.  They will be joined by the experienced Mathias Beche who makes his return to the ELMS after racing with High Class Racing at Le Mans. 

Sam Dejonghe said: “I’m thrilled to make the step up to LMP2! The car and way of doing things in the top class of ELMS is new to me, so it’s a big challenge with limited tracktime. But I know Spa very well, know how the championship works and I feel comfortable in our team. The focus is there, and I will do everything I can to adapt quickly and deliver a performance on Sunday. Can’t wait to get behind the wheel!”

United Autosports waived its second Ligier goodbye and now has 2 Oreca’s on the grid for the 4 hour race on Sunday.  Missing on the grid will be Carlin Racing after Jack Manchester’s fierce crash at Silverstone.  The team used Cetilar’s spare chassis to race in Silverstone with Harrison Newey taking Manchesters’ seat. Fractured ribs prevent Manchester from racing in Spa, so the team decided to sit out this race and will return at the final race of the season in Portimao next month. 

At Cool Racing, Alexandre Coigny hasn’t completely recovered yet from his crash during the race in Silverstone which caused him to miss the teams’ maiden race and victory in the FIA WEC on Sunday.  He won’t be replaced in the #37 Oreca, which will be driven by Nico Lapierre and Antonin Borga. The #35 BHK Motorsport is also back to a 2 man line-up with season regulars Francesco Dracone and Sergio Campana. In the #23 Panis-Barthez Oreca, Leonard Hoogenboom is absent for the race in Spa. 

In LMP3 the difference between both championship leaders is even tighter than in LMP2; just 7 points between the leaders in the #13 Inter Europol Competition (76 points for Martin Hippe and Nigel Moore) and the second-placed #11 Eurointernational of Mikkel Jensen and Jens Petersen with 69 points.  The #2 United Autosports of Garett Grist, Tommy Erdos and Wayne Boyd sits in third place with 53 points, followed by the #17 Ultimate Norma and the #7 Nielsen Racing Norma of Anthony Wells and Colin Noble. 

With Sam Dejonghe moving up to LMP2 at Inter Europol Competition, Constantin Schöll, a very promising 21 year old Austrian Driver will take his place.  He will join Paul Scheusner in the #14 Ligier JSP3.  Mike Guash is still recovering from his accident in Spa where he went hard into the wall, ending up with a fractured vertebra.  He will be replaced by Andrew Bentley in the second United Autosports Ligier. 

Nicholas Adcock takes Nobuya Yamanaka seat in the #8 Nielsen Racing Ligier while the #19 M Racing Norma will also have a two-man crew for this weekend, since Yann Ehrlacher and Yvan Muller are absent due to other racing commitments. Lucas Légeret and Laurent Millara will be up for double duty in the #19 over the weekend. 

Luzich Racing arrives in Spa as the points leader in the LMGTE class.  The #51 Ferrari 488 leads the class with a total of 77 points. Alessandro Pier Guidi, Fabien Lavergne and Mikkel Mac won the 4 Hours of Le Castellet and Monza, finished third in Barcelona and fourth in Silverstone a few weeks ago. 

The Swiss team has a lead of 21 points over three teams who share second place after 4 rounds. The #77 Dempsey-Proton Racing Porsche 911 RSR, #66 JMW Ferrari and #83 all-female Kessel Racing Ferrari all have scored 56 points so far in the championship. Further down is the #55 Spirit of Race Ferrari (41 points) and the #88 Proton Competition Porsche. 

There are a few changes in the driver line-ups to be noted compared to the 4 Hours of Silverstone. In the #60 Kessel Racing Ferrari, Nicola Cadei will be replaced by South African David Perel.  In the #88 Proton Competition Porsche, Thomas Preining will be joined by … 

The #56 Project 1 Porsche of Egidio Perfetti, won’t race at Spa due to the team’s participation with 2 cars in the FIA WEC and the logistics needed for the upcoming 6 Hours of Fuji. The team has a third car in order at Porsche, but apparently, it hasn’t been delivered yet.  As in Silverstone, the Ebimotors Porsche also didn’t make it Francorchamps this weekend. 

Kristof Vermeulen.
Pictures: Kristof Vermeulen & Jellybaby.Media

Thursday 12 September 2019

ELMS: First win for IDEC Sport in Silverstone

The 4 Hours of Silverstone saw changeable weather with sunshine and heavy showers which set the stage for an incident-packed and drama-filled race for the fans to enjoy. The UK round of the 2019 European Le Mans Series was won by the no28 IDEC Sport Oreca with Memo Rojas taking the chequered flag after the no26 G-Drive Racing Aurus pitted for fuel four minutes before the end of the race.  

© ELMS/David Lord Photography

The no13 Inter Europol Competition Ligier of Nigel Moore closed down a two-minute gap to catch the no11 Eurointernational Ligier of Jens Petersen in the final hour of the race.  Petersen took the flag first but was given a 30-second penalty for not coming into the pits for a Black and Orange flag earlier in the race.   The no13 Ligier was declared the winner but was then handed a 1m43s penalty for not respecting the minimum driving time.  So the no11 Ligier was handed the win back and the no13 Ligier was second.

The no88 Proton Competition Porsche 911 RSR was victorious in LMGTE, with Thomas Preining taking the flag 27.8 seconds ahead of the no83 Kessel Racing Ferrari of Rahel Frey.

The race started in dramatic fashion with the track being declared wet at the start as the rain clouds on the horizon got closer. The no21 DragonSpeed Oreca of James Allen kept the lead while behind the leaders there were a few cars that went off at the first corner, with all rejoining the battle. In LMP3 the no17 Ultimate of Jean-Baptiste Lahaye took the lead ahead of pole-sitter Yann Ehrlacher in the no19 M Racing Norma.

In LMGTE, it was the no60 Kessel Racing Ferrari out in front at the start with Sergio Pianezzola moving ahead of the no88 Porsche of Gianluca Giraudi, the Italian dropping back to 3rd as the no83 Kessel Ferrari of Michelle Gatting moved up to second place.

The rain that had been forecasted duly arrived and most of the grid dived into the pits for wet tyres after just 5 minutes of racing. The no21 DragonSpeed of James Allen didn’t pit and stayed out on slicks gambling that the rain would quickly clear. Mikkel Jensen made the same gamble in the no11 Eurointernational Ligier and the Dane found himself in the class lead.

The no43 RLR MSport Oreca of Matthieu Vaxiviere was revelling in the wet conditions, the French driver moving up the field to take the lead as the no21 DragonSpeed Oreca pitted for wets. Vaxiveire held an 18 second lead over the no23 Panis Barthez Competition Oreca of Will Stevens. The no66 JMW Motorsport Ferrari of Wei Lu ended in the gravel at T7, bringing out the first Full Course Yellow of the race.  The car was quickly recovered and the race went green after only four minutes. A second FCY period was declared ten minutes later when the no22 United Autosports Oreca of Phil Hanson went off at Brooklands: the car lost all power and the British driver was forced to retire.

Once again the race went green very quickly after the car was placed behind the barriers at Luffield. The rain had stopped and the track had started to dry out. The no43 RLR M Sport Oreca was over 30 seconds ahead of the no24 Panis Barthez Ligier of Konstantin Tereschenko.  Mikkel Jensen also held a 30 second lead in LMP3 with Christian England in the no3 United Autosports Ligier in second. It was a Kessel Racing 1-2 as Sergio Pianezzola led in the no60 488 GTE, 15 seconds ahead of the no83 Ferrari of Michelle Gatting.

Matthieu Vaxiviere pitted from the lead to hand over to Canadian John Farano, rejoining the track with an 8-second lead. However, the more experienced drivers in the following cars soon caught and passed Farano, who was down to sixth a few laps later with James Allen back into the lead in the no21 DragonSpeed.

There were further woes for Farano when he was the innocent victim of a collision between the no30 Duqueine Engineering Oreca of Nicolas Jamin and the no14 Inter Europol  Competition Ligier of Sam Dejonghe. The no43 Oreca was clipped by the no14 Ligier and Farano had to return to the pits where a damaged wishbone needed replacing.  Nicolas Jamin was given a drive-through penalty for causing the accident.

A Safety Car was deployed when the no3 United Autosports Ligier of Mike Guasch and the no24 Panis Barthez Competition Ligier of Timothe Buret collided and the LMP3 car ended hitting the concrete wall hard. The American driver was conscious and taken to the circuit medical centre for checks. 

After twenty minutes the race resumed only for a second Safety Car to be deployed almost immediately as the no37 Cool Racing Oreca and the no19 M Racing Norma collided, the Oreca ending up in the middle of the track and was hit by the no30 Duqueine Engineering Oreca. With an hour to go the race resumed with the no39 Graff Racing Oreca of Jonathan Hirschi out in front of the field. The Swiss driver was judged to have acted dangerously during the Safety Car period and was given a drive-through penalty. The no26 G-Drive Racing Aurus of Jean-Eric Vergne took the lead with Memo Rojas in the no28 IDEC Sport Oreca following.

Jens Petersen in the no11 Eurointernational Ligier was nearly a lap ahead of the no13 Inter Europol Competition Ligier of Nigel Moore, the British driver lapping over five seconds faster than the leader.

In LMGTE the no83 Kessel Racing Ferrari of Rahel Frey was leading with the no88 Proton Competition Porsche of Thomas Preining closing rapidly.  The Austrian passed the Swiss driver on the run into Stowe Corner and started to open up a gap. The no51 Luzich Racing and no60 Kessel Racing Ferraris were battling hard for third place with the no60 488 getting the upper hand.

With 30 minutes to go Ben Hanley in the no21 DragonSpeed was out in front, passing the no26 G-Drive Aurus for the lead.  However, it was short-lived when Ben Hanley had to pit and Jean-Eric Vergne went back into the lead ahead of the no28 IDEC Sport Oreca and the no39 Graff Oreca 07.  It looked like Vergne was heading for the Russian team’s third win in a row, but the French driver had to pit for a ‘splash and dash’ fuel stop. This put Rojas into the lead and the victory.

The no11 Eurointernational Ligier was being caught by the no13 Inter Europol Ligier but it looked like Petersen was going to hold on.  But disaster struck when the team received a black and orange flag to bring the car in to repair a damaged splitter. The German driver stayed out and took the chequered flag but was issued with a drive-through penalty converted to a 30 second time penalty, dropping the no11 Eurointernational Ligier down the order. This promoted the no13 Ligier of Martin Hippe and Nigel Moore into the class winning position.

However, it all changed again when the no13 Ligier was handed a 1m43 second penalty for not respecting the driving time for the bronze driver.  This switched the two cars around again so Mikkel Jensen and Jens Petersen were declared the LMP3 winners of the 4 Hours of Silverstone.  The no2 United Autosports Ligier of Wayne Boyd, Garret Grist and Tommy Erdos took the final podium place.

In LMGTE the no88 Proton Competition Porsche crossed the line to take a debut ELMS win for Thomas Preining, Gianluca Giraudi and Ricardo Sanchez, with the no83 Kessel Racing Ferrari of Michelle Gatting, Manuela Gostner and Rahel Frey taking their second podium finish of the 2019 season.


Electric-hydrogen LMPH2G debuts at Michelin Le Mans Cup in Francorchamps next week

A year ago, at the 4 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps round of the 2018 European Le Mans Series, the Automobile Club de l’Ouest and GreenGT launched the MissionH24 project to promote hydrogen in motor racing. At the time the electric-hydrogen LMPH2G test car completed a solo demonstration lap to illustrate its development potential and the safety of the technology before a knowledgeable audience.

On 20th September 2019, MissionH24 will reveal the progress made in the last 12 months during which a household name – Total – have joined the project. The LMPH2G prototype, now in the hands of the H24Racing team for its development into a racing machine, will take part in the two practice sessions for the fifth round of the Michelin Le Mans Cup, part of the ELMS Spa-Francorchamps support bill. The LMPH2G will therefore make its track debut in a race environment, amid other competitors.

During the two free practice sessions, the LMPH2G will refuel at the first mobile hydrogen filling station, designed by Total, especially for racing. A world premiere!  Earlier this year the LMPH2G was the first hydrogen car to complete a lap of the full circuit of the Le Mans 24 Hours on Saturday just before the race. 

To see H24Racing drivers Norman Nato and Olivier Lombard in action and witness the world’s first mobile hydrogen station of its type refueling the LMPH2G prototype, be sure to come to Spa-Francorchamps on Friday 20 September, 10:15–11:15 and 17:00–18:00.

Friday 30 August 2019

FIA WEC 2019/2020: LMP1 season preview

Season 8 of the FIA World Endurance Championship kicks off this weekend with the 4 Hours of Silverstone.  This will be the final season for the (non) Hybrid LMP1 cars as we know them, before the arrival of the Hypercars in the 2020/2021 season.  

One of the major changes this season is the variation in length of the races.  Silverstone and Shanghai are now down to 4 hour races, while returnees Bahrain and Interlagos will be an 8 hour race into the dark and a classic 6 hour race. Bahrain wasn’t featured on teh Super season schedule, while Interlagos makes its return for the first time since 2016 after renovation works to the track.  This year’s Silverstone race is the first of the WEC’s modern era to be held over four hours, during which the leading cars can expect to complete close to 800km on the 5.901km circuit. They will be fighting to earn the Royal Automobile Club International Tourist Trophy, first awarded in 1905 and won by motorsport legends such as Tazio Nuvolaro, Stirling Moss and Graham Hill. 

LMP1 preview

Toyota arrives as favourite again, being the only Hybrid powered cars in the championship. They might face a bigger challenge though from the non-hybrid rivals Rebellion and Ginetta (Team LNT), boosted by revised regulations which enhance their performance. At Silverstone, the Toyota’s will be 94 kg heavier than the non-turbo Rebellion and 85 kg heavier than the turbo-charged Ginetta. Meanwhile, the Rebellion is permitted 61% more fuel per stint than the TS050 HYBRID, with the Ginetta’s turbo engine allowed 50% more.   

Rebellion returns with two strong driver line-ups despite losing Neel Jani and Andre Lotterer who both will focus on their Formula E season with Porsche.  Whether both cars will race in all 8 races is still to be seen though with just the #1 car really confirmed for a full season effort and the #3 likely to be entered on a race by race basis. 

Ginetta completes the grid with both of their AER powered G60-LT-P1’s which seemed to make a good impression at Barcelona after a difficult start in the first sessions of the prologue. 

The question that no one seems to ask (or is willing to ask) is whether Team LNT/Ginetta should be recognised as a factory team, and as such would have to run a hybrid system in their cars.  Given that both Ginetta and LNT are from the same stable you might say there’s an obvious link between them.  When the entries for the WEC were filed, the assumption was to find a team/client that would run the car under their own name, apparently that search turned out to nothing. Mike Simpson and Charlie Robertson are consistently being announced as factory drivers too, which might get you thinking again.  The ACO doesn’t really seem to bother however.  Not that they have much choice at the moment or the LMP1 class would have been down to 3 or 4 cars. 

Losing out SMP Racing just weeks ahead of the prologue in Barcelona, was and still remains a big hit for the championship and the LMP1 class in particular. If one team was ready to challenge Toyota this season - if the new regulations and EOT do favour the non-hybrid cars as the organisers want us to believe - it would have certainly been the Russians.  Their AER powered BR1 had seen some very impressive development over the past season and with 2 strong driver line-ups, they seemed ready to take on the challenge in LMP1.

“For us it was a difficult season,” Boris Rotenberg, founder and leader of SMP Racing, said. “We worked a lot on our BR1 prototype. As a result, we were able to show and prove to everyone that the Russian team, Russian drivers and the Russian car are capable of achieving the highest results in the most difficult world championships and in such a prestigious race as the 24 Hours of Le Mans. This is a well-deserved success of everyone who participated in this ambitious project - drivers, SMP Racing and ART GP, BR Engineering and Dallara. Our goal has always been only a victory, and we believe that we achieved this victory with the highest possible result in the given circumstances. After the final race at Le Mans we decided that SMP Racing will leave the FIA WEC. Our team will not race in 2019-2020 season”.

As expected, ByKolles is taking a sabattical from LP1 this season, switching their focus on a possible Hypercar program next season.  It might still be possible however to see them on a race by race basis, Spa and Le Mans being the most obvious. 

Rebellion Racing

Initially announced as a 2 car effort, then down to a single car, but after long negotiations, Rebellion is back with two cars in Silverstone. 

#1 Rebellion R13/Gibson

The #1 car is the only full season confirmed R13 and will see the return of Bruno Senna and Gustavo Menezes to the R13.  They will be joined by Frenchman Norman Nato.  Nato will make his debut in the LMP1 class after a succesful test at the Prologue and some impressive outings in LMP2 in the past 2 seasons.  He impressed in his debut year with Racing Engineering in the ELMS, successfully subbed for Vergne with G-drive and drove Le Mans with RLR Msport in June.  

On paper this should be the “best of the rest” in the LMP1 class, possibly the one car who might be able to get close to the Toyota’s (EOT permitting that is). 

#3 Rebellion R13/Gibson

The #3 is some kind of a last-minute addition to the LMP1 grid as it had been retracted first and then reappeared “at the end of many negotiations”.  Despite being a last-minute addition, Rebellion managed to build another strong line-up for their second car with Nathanaël Berthon, Pipo Derani and Loïc Duval. 

Derani has been fast in almost anything he’s been driving in endurance racing, as well in GTE as in LMP.  He won Sebring three times in the past 4 years and Daytona in 2016.  Loïc Duval doesn’t need much introduction either.  The Audi factory driver won Le Mans and the FIA WEC championship in 2013. Duval did a few races with TDS last season including Le Mans and currently races in DTM.  Nathanaël Berthon is no stranger to Rebellion Racing, having raced with them a few times in the WEC and at Le Mans. 

At this point it’s still unclear if we’ll see this car for the whole season or at select rounds.  The team keeps on working to have two cars on the grid of every round in the WEC although priority will be given to Spa-Francorchamps and Le Mans.  

Team LNT/Ginetta

Ginetta makes its “return” to the LMP1 class after the Manor debacle at the start of the superseason last year which ended at Le Mans 2018.  Since then, the British team broke its contract with Mecachrome and now uses the AER engines which have also been used by SMP Racing last season.  A change for the better as it seems, given the laptimes and top speeds both Ginetta’s set at last months prologue in Barcelona.  We’ll have to see how viable Ginetta’s two car entry will be over the season. Apart from Charlie Robertson and Mike Simpson, all other drivers have only been confirmed for the race in Silverstone.  

Team LNT has set up a unique partnership with some of the biggest online fan communities, featuring their logo’s on the back of the cars. The team will offer the chance for a number of race-going fans to win ‘Orange Ticket’ access, entirely free of charge at every one of the races for the season.  They’ll be welcomed by Team LNT for a guided tour of the garage and car, with goody bags, and even the chance of a mug of Yorkshire tea whilst they watch the team going through their paces.  The WEC subreddit (r/WEC), Sportscarworldwide group and the FIA World Endurance Championship fans page on facebook are Ginetta’s “partners” this season.  

#5 Ginetta G60-LT-P1/AER

The #5 crew is being lead by Charlie Robertson, who won the inaugural LMP3 championship with LNT/Ginetta in 2015, at the side of Sir Chris Hoy.  Robertson has a long history with Ginetta, from his days as a junior driver, and was heavily involved in the development of the G60.  In Silverstone he will be joined by Russian driver Egor Orudhzev and Ben Hanley. 

Orudhzev raced with SMP Racing in the LMP1 class last season with the AER powered BR1 chassis.  He has the most experience with the engine of all drivers and played a key role in the development last season.  SMP and AER made impressive progress over the season, being the quickest non hybrid team around by Spa and Le Mans.  Ben Hanley arrives with the back-up of Dragonspeed, also having raced in a BR1 prototype last season with the Gibson engine. Their season didn’t go as well as planned though, with the big crash of Fittipaldi at the Raidillon and technical gremlins over the rest of the season.  Both Orudhzev and Hanley are fast though, it will be interesting to see how they match up to the experienced Rebellion crews. 

#6 Ginetta G60-LT-P1/AER

Ginetta’s second factory driver Michael Simpson leads the line-up of the second G60-LT-P1.  He will be joined by Chris Dyson and Guy Smith.  Dyson is linked to the Ginetta effort through their engine supplier and is one of the most experienced racers on the grid. The two time ALMS champion makes his comeback to prototype racing for the first time since 2014.  He is currently also racing in the American Trans Am Championship.

Dyson won’t be able to race in the season opener in Silverstone this weekend, due to a wrist injury he suffered at the Trans Am race at Road America last weekend.  With Jarvis as a replacement driver, the team gets a lot of LMP1 experience from the former Audi factory driver who now races with Team Joest in the IMSA championship. 

Guy Smith “retired” from racing last season after the first two races with Bentley in the Blancpain GT Endurance series.  He tested the Ginetta in Barcelona last month, the first time he drove a P1 again since 2013 in the American Le Mans Series. Smith won Le Mans in 2003 and the ALMS championship together with Dyson back in 2011. Being given the opportunity to race with Dyson again in the final season of the current LMP1 machinery was an opportunity too good to be missed for the 44 year old. 

Toyota Gazoo Racing

It’s year 1 after the Alonso era for the Japanese manufacturer who remains the only team with a Hybrid car in the FIA WEC. They won all races bar Silverstone last season, where failing the post-race technical checks due to floor damage after hitting the kerbs saw both cars excluded, handing over victory to Rebellion Racing.  Will it be a different story this year ? Probably not.  Despite all EOT adjustment and promises 

The final version of the TS050 Hybrid has seen some serious development over the short summer break, especially at the front of the car with a completely redesigned nose section and mirrors that are now fully incorporated in the chassis.  The 2019-2020 car has changed little mechanically and uses the same monocoque design introduced in 2016. The new high downforce configuration was shown for the first time at the prologue. 

#7 Toyota TS050 Hybrid

Home favourite Mike Conway leads the #7 TS050 HYBRID line-up alongside Kamui Kobayashi and José María López. Silverstone was the only race which TOYOTA GAZOO Racing did not win last season; following a one-two victory both cars were excluded after failing post-race technical checks due to floor damage after hitting kerbs. That disappointment means the team is even more determined to earn another victory at the historic English circuit, where it won six-hour races in 2014 and 2017.

“Silverstone is a special place for me, not only as my home race but because the track itself is really cool, with fast and flowing corners. When you put together a fast lap there, it is very rewarding because it is so quick. It’s a really fun track, although traffic can be difficult there and you have to get your timing right. There’s always a big crowd and I have family and friends supporting me, so I would love to finally win my home race; I’ve been close a few times but I hope this is the year.” Said Mike Conway.

#8 Toyota TS050 Hybrid

World Champions Sébastien Buemi and Kazuki Nakajima are joined by Brendon Hartley, who will make his Toyota Gazoo Racing debut at Silverstone this weekend.  Hartley made himself familiar with the car in Barcelona, stating that it’s a surprisingly different car from his previous cars in the WEC. “There’s always a lot to learn with a new car but I’m happy with the progress and I feel up to speed. It was helpful to adjust to driving with traffic again and it also felt good to work together with my new team; the engineers, the mechanics and the other drivers have all been very welcoming.

FIA WEC 2019/2020: LMP2 season preview

The LMP2 class will have 8 cars on the grid this season:  7 Oreca’s and one single Dallara for newcomers Cetilar Racing.  The late change to Oreca by United Autosports makes it almost a single make cup for season 8.   2 teams don’t return to the championship, Dragonspeed and Larbre Competition while Jackie Chan DC Racing will only race one car this time.   TDS Racing now runs the Racing Team Nederland Oreca while the Dragonspeed run Oreca now races under the Jota flag.  4 teams move up from the European Le Mans Series to the World Championship: United Autosports, High Class Racing, Cool Racing and Cetilar Racing.   

There’s a lot of familiar names and faces in the class, which should give us some good racing over the season. Signatech Alpine is here to defend its title, but won’t face an easy task.  United Autosports and JOTA are expected to be their main contenders for the championship, but race by race it will be an open battle for all three podium spots.  The only real question mark is how far the Cetilar Dallara will be able to keep up with the pace of the Oreca’s. 

#22 United Autosports - Oreca 07/Gibson

A bit of a surprise at the time, United Autosports decided to bin the Ligier LMP2 and make a last-minute switch to the Oreca 07 chassis for their maiden season in the World Endurance Championship. The team acquired three chassis’ from USA based PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports.  After an almost faultless Le Mans 24 Hours, the team didn’t manage to do better than fourth position in the LMP2 class. Moving over to the Oreca chassis should enable them to fight for the win in the upcoming WEC season. 

A switch with consequences, as Ligier promptly announced the end of their collaboration with United Autosports as distributors for the English market. The team remains with their Ligiers in the ELMS this season and has already committed to run several Ligier LMP3’s in next year’s ELMS and Michelin Le Mans Cup. 

The #22 will have a strong driver line-up with Filipe Albuquerque, Phil Hanson and Paul Di Resta. Oliver Jarvis will replace Paul Di Resta for the second race in Japan, who has a date clash with the DTM championship. 

# 29 Racing Team Nederland - Oreca 07/Gibson

The Dutch are back for their second season in the FIA WEC and have a clear ambition to fight for the podium.  Despite a perfect run with Dallara I which they finished every race in their ELMS and WEC campaigns, the decision was made to end the collaboration with the Italian manufacturer and Davytech who ran the car since 2017.  Frits Van Eerd & co decided to switch to a brand new Oreca 07 chassis which now will be run by TDS Racing. The team also changes to Michelin tyres, after testing both the Michelin and new Goodyear compounds during the Prologue in Barcelona last month.

Frits Van Eerd will once again be joined by Giedo Van der Garde and Nyck De Vries.  Due to 2 date clashes with the F2 championship, De Vries won’t be able to race in Silverstone and Shanghai.  He will be replaced by silver rated Job Van Uitert who is making a blitz career in protoype racing since his debut in 2018.  

During the Prologue, Nick De Vries was the fastest driver in the LMP2 class.  With 2 fast & experienced pro drivers and Van Eerd who seems to be well at home in the Oreca 07, Racing Team Nederland might will be one of the teams to watch in the upcoming season. 

# 33 High Class Racing - Oreca 07/Gibson

Danish team High Class Racing has been racing in the European Le Mans Series since 2017 and made its debut in this years’ 24 Hours of Le Mans, finishing 11th in the LMP2 class.  The team owned by Anders Fjordbach also went from a Dallara P217 to an Oreca 07 at the start of the 2019 ELMS.   

Anders Fjordbach will be joined by 67 year old Mark Patterson who has recovered from his crash at Monza earlier this year at the ELMS test day.  The third driver for the Danish squad is Kenta Yamashita. This 24 year-old Japanese driver is part of Toyota’s Young Driver Programme and will make his debut in prototype racing at Silverstone. Yamashita has won the Japanese Formula 3 title in 2016 and is currently leading the Super GT championship.  Toyota will follow his progress from close by, so expect this youngster to be one of the candidates for a seat in the upcoming Hypercar next season. 

#36 Signatech Alpine Elf - Alpine A470/Gibson

Last seasons’ champions Signatech Alpine return to the WEC, with the rebadged Alpine A470 but a slightly different driver line-up.  There will be 2 new faces in the team’s garage since Nicolas Lapierre moved over to Cool Racing and Pierre Thiriet decided to focus on his professional commitments.  This leaves Andre Negrao as the only driver at the team that won last seasons title and the Le Mans 24 Hours in 2018 and 2019. 

Negrao is in for his third season with the team and will be joined by Thomas Laurent and Pierre Ragues.  Thomas Laurent, who is also reserve driver for Toyota, went from LMP3 to LMP1 in 3 years time and race with the Rebellion R13 last season. It’s a bit of a return for the young Frenchman who did his first rookie test with Signatech in 2016.  Pierre Ragues is no stranger to the team as he was one of their drivers who won the 2013 ELMS title in LMP2. Since then he raced with the Alpine for a part of the 2017 season, finishing on the podium at Le Mans. Ragues is currently also active in the ELMS with Duqueine engineering and is one of the drivers on double duty in Silverstone. 

Replacing Lapierre, who has been widely recognised as one of the best LMP2 drivers around, won’t be easy for Signatech Alpine.  But the experience of Ragues and the speed of Laurent should make them once again one of the top runners for the championship. 

#37 Jackie Chan DC Racing - Oreca 07/Gibson

Jackie Chan DC Racing’s effort is down to one car this season, which was expected after the Malaysian backing of the second car fell short at the start of this year.  With a win at Sebring (#38) and second place at Le Mans (#37), the team did end the super season on a high. 

Ho Pin Tung and Gabriel Aubry return at the wheel of the #37 Oreca and will be joined by Will Stevens this season.  Stevens is no stranger to the team as he raced with them at the 1000 miles of Sebring.  The former F1 driver made a successful switch to endurance racing with 2 Le Mans podiums (including a win in GTE Am), full season drives with Panis-Barthez Competition in the ELMS and winning Sebring in LMP2. 

#38 JOTA - Oreca 07/Gibson

For the first time since 2015, JOTA will racing again under its own banner in an endurance championship.  With the Jackie Chan effort down to one car and Dragonspeed suspending its WEC efforts, Roberto Gonzalez turned to JOTA to run his Oreca 07 in the 2019/2020 season. The car will run on Goodyear rubber and feature a new blue/yellow inspired Goodyear livery.

Initially last season’s driver line-up would have been retained, and was on the initial entry list for season 8.  Until Pastor Maldonado announced last week that he won’t participate in the season due to “not reaching a balance agreement between the parties”.  Exit Maldonado, enter Antonio Felix Da Costa.  Da Costa is no stranger to the team as he raced with JOTA at the 24 Hours of Daytona in 2018.  The BMW factory driver who raced with Team MTek last season is also active in the Formula E championship, so it’s still to be seen whether he will be able to do a full season campaign with JOTA.   

The other two drivers remain the same a last season in the Dragonspeed run car. Roberto Gonzalez, one of the most consistent and fastest silver rated gentleman drivers and Anthony Davidson who joined the team last year after Le Mans after 6 years as a factory driver at Toyota. They won the 6 Hour race at Spa “Winter Wonderland” earlier this year, and with the addition of Felix Da Costa, this trio should be able to fight for podiums again. 

#42 Cool Racing - Oreca 07/Gibson

Swiss team Cool Racing is growing quickly, from several seasons in the LMP3 class of the European Le Mans Series to their debut in LMP2 at Paul Ricard in April and now straight into the FIA WEC. After scoring their first podium in Barcelona, the team now looks forward to their debut in the World Championship. 

Probably the biggest news about the team was adding Nicolas Lapierre to their driver line-up.  Lapierre, an ex Toyota factory driver, has been regarded as one of the - if not the - fastest drivers in the LMP2 class.  His experience with the Oreca and in the championship will be a serious asset for the team.  Joining Lapierre are team owner Antonin Borga and Alexandre Coigny who have been racing together since LMP3 in the ELMS.  The team will have a busy weekend in Silverstone, racing in both the ELMS as the WEC.  

#47 Cetilar Racing - Dallara P217/Gibson

The single non-Oreca chassis this season will be entered by Italian team Cetilar Racing.  Another team that has its roots in the LMP3 class of the European Le Mans Series. After two seasons in the top class of the ELMS and 2 consecutive Le Mans appearances, Roberto Lacorte & co now leap into the WEC. 

Cetilar stays loyal to the Dallara chassis in an all Italian entry, but has now joined forces with AF Corse to run their car instead of Villorba Corse who had been running their ELMS entries for the 4 past seasons.  Roberto Lacorte will be joined again by Giorgio Sernagiotto and Andrea Belicchi.  Belicchi is the most experienced driver of the team with 8 Le Mans starts under his belt. It will be interesting to see how they will cope with the sole Dallara agains the Oreca armada.