The FIA World Endurance Cham­pi­onship is arguably one of the fastest-grow­ing motor­sport series in the world, reach­ing more and more new fans all over the world. For new­com­ers to the series, the 30+ cars and long races may seem a lit­tle over­whelm­ing. Here at WEC-magazin.com, we hope to clar­i­fy some ques­tions you may have if you are new to the sport so that you are per­fect­ly equipped for your first WEC races.

The concept

As motor­sport fans, most of us grew up watch­ing sin­gle-seater rac­ing and, more specif­i­cal­ly, For­mu­la 1. Over the last 20 years, the likes of Sen­na, Schu­mach­er and now Vet­tel have had motor­sport fans glued to their seats. For­mu­la 1 is undoubt­ed­ly about out­right speed; the cars are the fastest in the world and dri­vers are expect­ed to race at the absolute lim­it for two hours.

The key to the WEC is in the name – endurance. Eight of the WEC’s nine rounds are run as timed races over six hours, except the 24 Hours of Le Mans in June. This allows gen­uine strat­e­gy to unfold and the teams to use all of their brain and com­put­er pow­er to out­fox their com­peti­tors. Cars on pole or quick in the ear­ly phase of the race may not be quick in lat­er phas­es of the race, not least because the six-hour time span gives more scope for chang­ing weath­er con­di­tions and tem­per­a­tures. Anoth­er fac­tor is that dri­vers must vacate the dri­ving seat and hand over to one of their team­mates. The key to vic­to­ry is flu­id race strategy.

Anoth­er major fea­ture of the WEC’s suc­cess is its rule­book. While For­mu­la 1 appears ham­pered by high tyre degra­da­tion to improve the show and extreme­ly tight tech­ni­cal reg­u­la­tions gov­ern­ing engines, aero­dy­nam­ics and the over­all con­cept, the sports­car rule­book is almost wide open. As a result, the two LMP1 man­u­fac­tur­ers offer com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent answers to the ques­tion of “How to dri­ve a car fast for a long time”. As the say­ing goes, vari­ety is the spice of life, and dif­fer­ent cars will have dif­fer­ent strengths and weak­ness­es from race to race, or even hour to hour dur­ing the races them­selves. For­mer F1 dri­vers now in LMP1 seats repeat­ed­ly state that they feel more con­fi­dent through the cor­ners in LMP1 pro­to­types than in an F1 car.

The classes

Endurance rac­ing has always fea­tured a “mul­ti-class” con­cept, which means that dif­fer­ent cat­e­gories of cars race on the same piece of tar­mac at the same time. The WEC is no dif­fer­ent, with a total of four class­es. Essen­tial­ly, these can be divid­ed into two main types, the pro­to­types (LMP class­es) and the GT cars (GTE class­es). The pro­to­type class is pri­mar­i­ly aimed at auto­mo­tive, engine and chas­sis man­u­fac­tur­ers in search of an are­na to test out their lat­est devel­op­ments and inno­va­tions. The char­ac­ter­is­tic form of these pro­to­type race­cars can be traced back to the 1970s, when greater focus was placed on tech­no­log­i­cal inno­va­tion rather than sim­i­lar­i­ty to road cars in terms of appearance.

The LMP cat­e­go­ry is divid­ed into two class­es: LMP1 (in which fac­to­ry teams are per­mit­ted) and LMP2 (strict­ly for pri­va­teers). LMP1 is the top pro­to­type class and fea­tures fac­to­ry entries from Porsche and Toy­ota as well as one pri­va­teer entry from ByKolles Rac­ing Team. Teams usu­al­ly run two cars through­out the sea­son, with a three-car entry at Le Mans now wide­spread. LMP2 is the sec­ond pro­to­type cat­e­go­ry, in which pri­vate­ly owned teams can com­pete with a mix­ture of pro­fes­sion­al and semi-pro­fes­sion­al dri­vers. Pri­va­teer teams can pur­chase one of four spec chas­sis from Ore­ca, Onroak Auto­mo­tive (Ligi­er), Dal­lara and Riley/Multimatic and com­bine them with the spec 4.2l V8 engine from Gibson.

The sec­ond major cat­e­go­ry is known as the GT cat­e­go­ry. It is home to rac­ing cars that look large­ly sim­i­lar to the kind of super­cars you could dri­ve on the road. In a sim­i­lar vein to the pro­to­type cat­e­go­ry, there are also two class­es for “pro­fes­sion­al” and “pri­va­teer” entries. The for­mer, GTE Pro, fea­tures the likes of Aston Mar­tin, Fer­rari, Ford and Porsche bat­tling it out for the cham­pi­onship. The cars are dri­ven by ful­ly pro­fes­sion­al dri­vers. This class is the true home of the “win of Sun­day, sell on Mon­day”, with the tech­ni­cal prowess and pres­tige of vic­to­ry the focal points for all the works teams.

The GTE Am class is the final of the four and is home to pri­va­teer teams and what are known as “gen­tle­man dri­vers”. Again, ama­teur dri­vers part­ner­ing with pro­fes­sion­al rac­ing dri­vers has a long tra­di­tion in endurance rac­ing, and in the GTE Am class any­one with the nec­es­sary fund­ing and rac­ing licences can the­o­ret­i­cal­ly take part. GTE Am teams are usu­al­ly only per­mit­ted to run GTE cars that are at least one year old, and so usu­al­ly run the works teams’ cars from the pre­vi­ous season.

With GT cars usu­al­ly between 15 and 30 sec­onds slow­er than the LMP1 cars at the front of the grid, the mul­ti-class con­cept means that the faster pro­to­types are forced to almost con­stant­ly over­take. The gen­er­al rule of thumb is that slow­er cars hold their line, while the faster cars are respon­si­ble for over­tak­ing safe­ly. How­ev­er, the con­stant degree of alert­ness and intu­ition required heaps the pres­sure on the dri­vers and adds an extra edge to the race.

The cars

The FIA World Endurance Cham­pi­onship is the true home of motor­sport inno­va­tion – as endurance rac­ing has been prac­ti­cal­ly since its infan­cy some 100 years ago. The sole aim in those ear­ly days was to test out brand-new tech­nolo­gies in the tough­est con­di­tions pos­si­ble – while rac­ing. Wind­screen wipers, disc brakes and head­lamps, com­po­nents we take for grant­ed nowa­days, were all test­ed at the 24 Hours of Le Mans and oth­er endurance races in the 20th century.

Mod­ern endurance rac­ing is no dif­fer­ent. Although the pro­to­types may not share many visu­al sim­i­lar­i­ties to our own cars, LMP1 class is home to the absolute cut­ting edge of road car tech­nol­o­gy. The likes of Toy­ota and Porsche see the WEC as an exten­sion of their research and devel­op­ment depart­ments, and each man­u­fac­tur­er has their own spe­cif­ic con­cept. Cur­rent Porsche road car tech­nol­o­gy, such as the hybrid sys­tem in its 918 Spy­der, was put through its paces in the 919 Hybrid LMP1 car, while Toy­ota suc­cess­ful­ly mar­kets its hybrid tech­nol­o­gy on both its rac­ing and road-going models.

Effi­cien­cy is one of the key fac­tors in our soci­ety at the moment, and this is also an area in which the World Endurance Cham­pi­onship excels. LMP1 cars are giv­en a fuel allowance for each race, which they are not per­mit­ted to exceed. This allowance has been suc­ces­sive­ly cut over the years, but the LMP1 cars have still matched – or even bet­tered – their per­for­mance of the pre­vi­ous year. The spot­light is on inno­va­tion and devel­op­ment, with no com­pro­mise on per­for­mance. And this fil­ters through to the cars that you and dri­ve on the road.

Vari­ety isn’t sim­ply restrict­ed to the top pro­to­type class, either, it per­me­ates the entire WEC grid. From the eerie screech of hybrid-pow­ered LMP1 cars har­vest­ing pow­er in the brak­ing zone to the bone-shak­ing rum­ble of the Corvette C7.R, there’s some­thing for every­one. Unlike most oth­er rac­ing series, it’s actu­al­ly pos­si­ble to close your eyes in the grand­stands and pick out each indi­vid­ual car that races past you by engine tone alone.

GTE is also home to a num­ber of dif­fer­ent OEMs (orig­i­nal equip­ment man­u­fac­tur­ers). Although the cars have prac­ti­cal­ly no chance of win­ning races out­right, over­all class vic­to­ries do bring a cer­tain amount of pres­tige to a brand, which OEMs inte­grate into their mar­ket­ing. Aston Mar­tin, Fer­rari and Porsche all run spe­cial­ly designed ver­sions of their most pop­u­lar road cars, deliv­er­ing in excess of 600 horsepower.

The drivers

Endurance rac­ing, and the World Endurance Cham­pi­onship in par­tic­u­lar, is a unique form of motor­sport, in which a group of dri­vers form a team to race a sin­gle car. In the WEC’s six-hour races, cars are usu­al­ly split between three dri­vers, or some­times two dri­vers, who pro­ceed to com­plete so-called “stints”. A stint is the time the car spends on the race­track between pit stops, and in most cas­es lasts for as long as it takes for the car to use a full tank of fuel. Stint lengths vary from class to class, but are usu­al­ly between 45 min­utes and 1 hour.

Stint lengths and dri­ver changes add yet anoth­er strate­gic ele­ment to WEC races, as teams do not nec­es­sar­i­ly have to change dri­vers and tyres at each pit stop. Indeed, at the 24 Hours of Le Mans it is cus­tom­ary for the top dri­vers to com­plete four or even five stints in suc­ces­sion, which equates to some 3 hours in the car.

All dri­vers are grad­ed from Plat­inum to Bronze depend­ing on a vari­ety of fac­tors such as expe­ri­ence, age and achieve­ments. In the LMP2 and GTE Am class­es, in which gen­tle­man dri­vers are com­bined with pro­fes­sion­al dri­vers on the same team, this ensures that a lev­el play­ing field is cre­at­ed across the board and teams can­not sim­ply put togeth­er an all-pro­fes­sion­al dri­ver Team.

In their quest to win the world titles on offer in each of the class­es, teams look to take on the world’s top dri­ving tal­ent. Fac­to­ry LMP1 teams employ a whole series of for­mer F1 dri­vers, includ­ing Antho­ny David­son and Sébastien Bue­mi, while oth­er house­hold names in the motor­sport world such as Bruno Sen­na and Pedro Lamy can be found fur­ther down the grid in the LMP2 and GTE classes.

Sports­car and endurance rac­ing has always been some­what of a fall-back for For­mu­la 1 dri­vers, who were per­haps not giv­en the oppor­tu­ni­ties they deserved. 2013 WEC World Cham­pi­ons and mul­ti­ple Le Mans win­ners Tom Kris­tensen and Allan McNish are tes­ta­ment to that. How­ev­er, the lack of oppor­tu­ni­ties in the cur­rent For­mu­la 1 pad­dock, or rather the fund­ing required to race at the pin­na­cle of motor­sport, means that a great deal of young, tal­ent­ed dri­vers are mak­ing the step over to endurance rac­ing. There is a gen­uine stair­case of tal­ent in place: Start­ing in LMP2, dri­vers can gath­er expe­ri­ence in pro­to­types before mov­ing on to LMP1 rac­ing if they are good enough. Cur­rent fac­to­ry LMP1 dri­vers Bren­don Hart­ley and Mike Con­way all attract­ed the atten­tion of the works teams through their per­for­mances in LMP2, while the likes of Alex Lynn, Will Stevens and Anto­nio Giov­inazzi are attempt­ing to the fol­low suit at the moment.

In con­trast to oth­er forms of motor­sport, the WEC is a series in which con­sis­tent and focussed dri­vers are rich­ly reward­ed. The spot­light isn’t always on out­right speed – although it cer­tain­ly can be at times – rather on main­tain­ing an opti­mum aver­age over the course of sev­er­al hours. Dri­vers who can find a bal­ance between tyre wear, fuel con­sump­tion and speed will real­ly excel.

The season

The 2017 sea­son kicks off in Sil­ver­stone in April, before the teams make the short hop over to Bel­gium to the for­mi­da­ble Spa-Fran­cor­champs cir­cuit. Spa is tra­di­tion­al­ly seen as a warm-up for the Le Mans 24 Hours, with fac­to­ry teams Toy­ota and Porsche choos­ing to run addi­tion­al cars.

Fol­low­ing the six-hour blast through the Ardennes, teams will make their way to the Pays de la Loire region in West­ern France in prepa­ra­tion for the Le Mans 24 Hours, round three, on 17th June. To enable teams to gath­er pre­cious data on the tem­po­rary Le Mans track, a spe­cial Test Day is set to be held on 4th June, con­sist­ing of two four-hour ses­sions. This test ses­sion also gives rook­ie dri­vers a chance to com­plete the manda­to­ry ten laps around the Cir­cuit de la Sarthe before they are able to race.

At 3:00pm on Sat­ur­day 13th June, the French tri­col­ore will drop on a 56-car field for the gru­elling race of speed and endurance. Round three of the WEC will also mark the com­pet­i­tive debuts of a num­ber of 2015 teams, includ­ing the Rebel­lion R-One LMP1s and the works Nis­san GT-R LM NISMO team.

The WEC then takes some­thing of a sum­mer break, before the teams and dri­vers descend on the famous Nür­bur­gring cir­cuit in Ger­many for a six-hour race around the GP cir­cuit. The Six Hours of the Nür­bur­gring marks the season’s final Euro­pean race, before the cars are jet­ted around the world to the Auto­dro­mo Her­manos Rodriguez in Mex­i­co City, the Cir­cuit of the Amer­i­c­as in Austin, Texas, Fuji in Japan, Shang­hai and final­ly Bahrain.

The racing

Last sea­son treat­ed fans to race after race of breath­tak­ing wheel-to-wheel bat­tles both at the front of the field and fur­ther down the order. Expect this to con­tin­ue through­out this sea­son, too. Many teams’ focus in the run-up to Le Mans is firm­ly on the big 24-hour race, which may see teams deploy nefar­i­ous tac­tics to con­ceal the true pace of their machin­ery. Teams, espe­cial­ly in LMP1, are known to exper­i­ment with low-drag Le Mans set-ups at Sil­ver­stone and Spa, despite the tracks not being entire­ly suit­ed to such components.

It’s the dawn of a new era in LMP2, with the pre­vi­ous­ly open for­mu­la now lim­it­ed to just four chas­sis man­u­fac­tur­ers (Dal­lara, Onroak (Ligi­er), Ore­ca and Riley/Multimatic) and one engine sup­pli­er (Gib­son). It remains to be seen who will make the best of our the formula’s poten­tial, but with a major step-up in speed promised by the 4.2l V8 Gib­son engine, we could be see­ing some of the fastest LMP2 cars to grace the FIA WEC stage.

Else­where down the field the GTE bat­tle will con­tin­ue in earnest in 2017, with Fer­rari and Ford set to reprise their now-infa­mous 2016 bat­tle at Le Mans with Aston Mar­tin Rac­ing wait­ing in the wings. Porsche are also back with a works team, too, after their sab­bat­i­cal last year. 2018 sees the arrival of BMW to the already mouth­wa­ter­ing bat­tle in GTE Pro, so things will only get better!