The World Endurance Championship, arguably the most eagerly awaited racing series in 2014. Why?
Well for those of you who may have been living under a rock…the world’s premier endurance racing series welcomes back one of the true legends of the sport.
Now for people of a certain age (old like me) Porsche and endurance racing will throw up images of Steve McQueen in the Gulf 917, Ickx in the Martini 936 or Derek Bell in the “Racing” 956 or 962.
For the rest of you there was the brief (mainly American) hiatus into the LMP2 class and of course the many GT class entries both works and private.
Stuttgart aside there will be the two other LMP1 H (hybrid) teams vying for overall victory from Toyota and the mighty Audi.
A second LMP1 class has been created this year for the P1 cars running conventional engines and that is LMP1 L (lightweight) and at the time of writing consisted of just 2 (confirmed) Rebellion Toyota entries, with word of a Lotus AER engined challenger as well moving up from LMP2.
LMP2 is more the privateer prototype category with most of the chassis being supplied by French manufacturer Oreca, however the 2013 championship winning Oak Morgan (this year running out of Russia) is back along with the UK based Strakka racing, working with Japanese chassis builder Dome as they drop down to the P2 class.
Behind the prototypes but by no means any less exciting are the GT classes featuring the sort of metal (or should that be carbon fibre) we lust after on a semi regular basis. Porsche’s 911 RSR, the Ferrari 458 Italia and the Aston Martin Vantage GTE all contest what will probably be the tightest of the classes.
The GT category is split into two, GT Pro and GT Am for professional and private teams.
The Pro category caters for the full works squads and works supported teams while the Am category sees the privateer squads who have less of a budget or are not works supported battle for honours.
So 6 hours of endurance goodness, I know who the teams are but which drivers should I watch?
Well where do we start, the WEC across all classes boasts some of the best drivers in the world competing in some of the most technologically advanced racing machinery ever produced.
In the P1 classes 9 time Le Mans winner and reigning WEC champion Tom Kristensen and his Audi team will be hard to beat.
Toyota aren’t going to be a pushover however with drivers the calibre of 2 time Le Mans winner and former F1 driver Alex Wurz along with other ex F1 drivers turned sports car aces Kazuki Nakajima, Anthony Davidson and Sebastian Buemi.
Porsche of course signed Mark Webber to drive their new prototype, along with an experienced line up of former GT and prototype racers.
Further back in LMP2 the Strakka Dome and the Millenium Racing Oreca’s both boast a strong driver line up, at this level with more ex F1 drivers including former Ferrari star Stefan Johanssen.
The number 27 SMP racing Oreca will be worth a watch with former Peugeot LMP1 driver and oh so nearly a Le Mans winner in 2008 Nicolas Minnasian.
In the GT category the works Aston Martin of Stefan Mucke and Darren Turner will have its work cut out against the AF Course Ferraris and the Porsche squad – this should be one of the closest contested classes in the race – anyone remember the end of last seasons LM24?
While GT Am sees a few driver team combinations that are more than capable of fighting with the Pro teams, the Ram Racing Ferrari sees former prototype racer Johnny Mowlem team up with a certain Ben Collins (yes that one) while Aston Martin have a talented Danish offering in the number 95 car and former single seater ace Richie Stanaway heading up the number 96 car.
Ok but how am I going to keep track of what is essentially 4 different races?
It’s not as hard as it seems, each car has three lights on its side. The colour of the lights determines the class in which it’s competing in, if the car has one light on its leading class, 2 lights it’s in second place and 3 show it in 3rd. No lights on and it’ll be in forth or lower.
Plus if you’re watching at home there is usually a great almost constant “ticker” running across the top of your screen.
To me, this is going to be the series to follow this year, plenty of different car and driver packages, close racing action, proper pit lane action – none of this sub 3 second blur here!
Beautiful cars and top drivers from a multitude of different backgrounds.
At quick count I found 14 drivers (confirmed) who had previous F1 race experience on the grid for the WEC, I guess that makes Formula 1 the WECs feeder category!
The WEC is broadcast live on Motors TV, the series kicks off at Silverstone on the weekend of the 19/20th April and if you can get there then you should!