The sense of grief at the loss of Audi Sport Team Joest and decision from Rebellion Racing to settle back into LMP2 rather than persist in LMP1 left a malaise over the end of 2016. Early 2017 found an odd way to lift this with hope ladened announcements from Ginetta and more recently SMP Racing all pertaining to 2018. This has left an air of 2017 being a bit of a waiting game, much of which will hopefully be lifted later today with the now traditional web conference as to the Le Mans, WEC and ELMS entries.
As a community we have been treated to a few very special years of World Endurance Championship(WEC) racing, and as Tuckman’s stages of Group Development would have it we’ve been through the elation of Forming, the pleasure of Storming and now we are looking at Norming into Performing perhaps.. We should not forget that the WEC all got off to a rather chequered start with Peugeot’s demise and Toyota stepping into that breach, since it has gone from strength to strength and seemingly is now burdened with much talk of extortionate budgets and escalating costs in most every category. Hence a year of stabilisation should not be considered a bad thing.
The LMP1 news hot off the press, and it feels like a response to public pressure plus the heartache of last year, Toyota Gazoo Racing are bringing a third car to Le Mans and select WEC rounds (like Spa and potentially Fuji). As is the way at this stage of the season only one driver need be appointed (to secure the entry) and that is Stephane Sarrazin who’s seat in the full WEC entry has been filled by xGP2 and triple WTCC Champion Jose Marie Lopez. The question raised to be addressed later is will Porsche match with a third 919 Hybrid?
ByKolles enter a heavily revised but hopefully less flammable CLM with Nissan power from the GTR-LM project car. This appears to be a huge roll of the dice from the team that struggled for reliability in 2016. Hopefully a change in engine delivers better reliability and substantially more power, the CLM previously being a good WEC car but suffering with less optimised aero at Le Mans. The re-plumbing of the Nissan V6 twin turbo from the front to the rear of the car sounds a challenge and a task in need of much time and testing. It does feel like the correct move though as this team has a year to find itself before the aforementioned challengers from Ginetta and SMP Racing break cover.
LMP2 news has been breaking fast and furious recently. Confirmation that G-Drive Racing moves partner once again this time to a two car effort for WEC and Le Mans with TDS Racing. This must have presented some challenges for their former partner JOTA Sport who with a fight response have upped their game to partner with Jackie Chan DC Racing, who in recent years have been an equal for JOTA’s passion and efforts. It was noted that the Oreca 07s #37 will have David Cheng onboard and the renewed ever mighty #38 with Ho Pin Tung
In addition to the above of course we saw the successful first 24-hours for the Gibson Tech power unit at Daytona which is mandated for FIA-ACO spec LMP2 use going forward. Performance was perhaps contained in the interests of a finish but the #90 VisitFlorida Gibson Tech engined car managed a podium finish in 3rd whilst the Rebellion Racing sole entry had a troubled run coming home some 50laps adrift.
We expect to also see entries from Manor, SignaTech (Nico Lapierre already confirmed), DragonSpeed (who also ran at Daytona) and invitees stepping up from LMP3 United Autosport.
GTE-Pro appears to be all the usual folk of last year, Aston Martin, Chevrolet, Ferrari, Ford and Porsche with the much enhanced 991 with its engine bumped 12-inches forward to accommodate the now de rigeur huge diffuser. There is much speculation with regards to the number of Fords that will be accepted this year, as well as the possiblility of a -Pro Larbre Corvette. From a competition perspective perhaps a cap of 2 per manufacturer would add rather than detract from the spectacle…
GTE-Am has been open to much discussion over the winter, and that was not helped by the success of GTD (think GT3) in the US at Daytona which attracted 8 different manufacturers! Perhaps there is a place for some acceptance that this could be a way to go in the future. As it is a Ferrari 488 was expected to be the required tool in this category but diversity thanks to tight BoP(!) does seem to be attracting some variety to the category. Its expected that Aston Martin, Porsche and Ferrari will all have customers competing with the possibility of a lone Larbre Corvette perhaps
In summary, concerns of demise should be dismissed, this is stabilisation and solidification of the Championship before we crack on into the new world of 2018 and beyond. Intentionally here we have not considered the different championships but the state of Endurance Motorsport for 2017 and the word is Good, a full grid for Le Mans with close racing expected in all categories with fabulous technology to marvel at and sounds being made. We cannot wait for the next couple of months to race by!