There has been much chatter on the Internet and on various social media platforms recently as to what would happen to the WEC in 2018. Well, to some extent, the wait is over as the FIA/ACO issued a press release last Friday at the Mexican round of the championship in which they revealed some of what the new look WEC for 2018 will consist of:
The President of the Automobile Club de l’Ouest (ACO), Pierre Fillon, and CEO of the FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC), Gérard Neveu, outlined the pathway to an exciting new-look, strengthened WEC.
So, let’s look at what they are proposing:
For starters, next year’s championship will see most of the current rounds of the championship falling away as the WEC will now be spread over 2018/2019 in what the FIA/ACO are calling the ‘Transitional years’. The WEC Prologue will start in April and offer 36 hours of endurance testing, with the 24 Hours of Le Mans becoming the final race of an extensively revised calendar. The opening race on the calendar in 2018 will be the Spa 6 Hours followed by the Le Mans 24 Hours, Fuji, Shanghai, a yet-to-be announced race in February, 12 Hours of Sebring, Spa (again) and finishing with Le Mans in June 2019. This makes up an 18-month ‘super season’ comprising eight races, one less than we currently have, for the same budget as in 2017 which makes it more expensive per race, not cheaper.
Dropping off the calendar will be Silverstone, Nürburgring, Mexico, COTA and Bahrain. So, each championship season will straddle two years in this way going forward. Apparently, this idea was tabled a few years back and these plans were presented to, and received the full support of, the President of the Federation Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA), Jean Todt, and the FIA Endurance Commission led by its President, Sir Lindsay Owen-Jones.
The 12 Hours of Sebring will be a combined event together with the IMSA WeatherTech Championship, thus featuring two separate races on the same weekend. The IMSA WeatherTech race will run from 10.00am to 10.00pm on Saturday, and from 12 midnight on Saturday until 12 noon Sunday it will be the FIA WEC 12 hours of Sebring. Quite how this is going to work is anyone’s guess, because on site there will be double the number of transporters, double the number of teams, double the number of cars all requiring pit garages, an increased number of journalists, photographers all seeking out drivers and team personnel for interviews and photographs, and that for the whole week. Both the IMSA cars and WEC cars will require practice and qualifying rounds and there will have to be relief marshals around the track as no-one can stay alert for 26 hours. Between the finish of the IMSA race and the start of the WEC race will be a 2-hour window during which time the track must be cleaned and prepared for the WEC race, and various other logistical functions will need to take place. How two major international race meetings can take place back-to-back on the same track is a mystery still to be revealed.
It is also unlikely that there will be many spectators around for the start of the WEC race at midnight, and it certainly will be a challenge for the photographers to get decent shots of the start in the dark. The Sebring idea seems to raise more problems than solutions. We are yet to see how our American cousins will react when they see the FIA/WEC gate-crashing their favourite 12-hour race and the enormity of the practical considerations hit home. And what of the points scoring system, 25 for a win in a 6-hour race and 50 for Le Mans, will Sebring be 37.5 points?
Over time, the intention is to reduce the number of races on the WEC calendar from nine races, first to eight races and then down to seven races. It is difficult to understand why the authorities would want to do this when in other series around the world, GT racing is on the increase, and especially endurance GT racing, but the number of races in the World Championship is on the decline.
Changes to the LMP1 technical regulations will result in only one category as from 2018/2019. The level of performance of the current non-hybrid LMP1 regulations (private) managed via Equivalence of Technologies will be aligned with the current LMP1 hybrid regulations (manufacturers). Each competitor entered in LMP1 will therefore have the same potential of performance independent of the type of engine power used. There will be no changes made to the current chassis regulations. But to facilitate access to LMP1, more choice and engine power options will be offered.
Other regulatory decisions, which are still being finalized, will be announced later on covering areas such as a reduction in the number of private tests and collective tests proposed. The 2020 LMP1 regulations will be substantially altered as compared to the model presented during the last 24 Hours of Le Mans. The ACO and the FIA remain wholeheartedly convinced that technology including hybrid systems must keep its place of honour in endurance racing, but not at any price. Surely this will send shockwaves around the world with only the most committed environmentalists being prepared to spend their hard-earned money on an expensive hybrid daily driver. The budgets invested over these last years in LMP1 Hybrid are no longer sustainable and a return to reasonable budgets should allow all manufacturers to compete in this discipline. More details on the Technical Regulations will be presented over the coming weeks.
President of the ACO, Pierre Fillon, commented, “We would like to sincerely thank Jean Todt, President of the FIA, and Sir Lindsay Owen Jones, President of the Endurance Commission, and all the commission members for their support. Many decisions, essential for the future of the WEC, have been made in record time.”
“With the support of the WEC’s friends and partners at IMSA, agreement has been reached to return to Sebring with the 12 Hours of Sebring in the WEC calendar and we are really delighted about this.”
“With all these decisions, we are confident of seeing a full and very competitive grid next season. We are already discussing with several manufacturers and privateer teams who are investigating very seriously their entry in LMP1 from the 2018/2019 season, taking into consideration that the LMP2 and GTE grids are already strong with a high level of commitment for the future.”
President of the FIA, Jean Todt, “I am delighted with the new schedule and the changes to the WEC championship that will allow this great discipline within motorsport to make a fresh start.”
Audi walked away from the WEC at the end of the 2016 season, and at the end of 2017 Porsche will depart the scene too, leaving just Toyota to compete on its own. With no hybrid competition, would they be better diverting the budget into R&D and/or developing a more traditional, competitive LMP1 car.
We are unlikely to see either Audi or Porsche back in the WEC again, the two manufacturers who have won the championship and the Le Mans 24 Hours more often than any other manufacturer. It could be argued that the likes of Porsche have helped to keep the wheels of the motorsport world turning over the last (almost) seven decades, and we would do well to remember their contribution – they will be sorely missed. But then they might cite the fact that they have ‘been there, done that’ and have nothing left to prove. At the end of the day, manufacturers go racing in order to be seen by the public. Remember that old adage – win on Sunday sell on Monday – well, it still applies. It is more likely that these two manufacturers have left the stage because the investment needed to satisfy the regulations is just not justifiable any longer. How does the race team manager explain to his board of directors that their circa £250-million prototype race car was almost beaten by a £400,000 challenger?
So…, it seems both the FIA and the ACO are delighted with the prospects for the new-look, strengthened WEC in 2018/2019. But why is it that the rest of the motorsport world, including most importantly the paying spectator, is left feeling aghast with their collective hands in the air, in disbelief?
We would welcome comments of our readers, and perhaps there might be a solution to be found yet…
Written by: Glen Smale (with extracts from the FIA/ACO press release)
Images by: Virtual Motorpix/Glen Smale & John Mountney