WEC – A beginner's guide: Part II

In part II of our “WEC – A beginner’s guide”, we’ll be taking a closer look at the kind of cars you may find on the WEC grid, as well as the technical innovations and developments under the bonnet. What’s more, we’ll run the rule over the 60+ drivers that are set to race for the title of World Endurance Champion.

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 Audi, Toyota, Nissan and Porsche see the WEC as an extension of their research and development departments, and each manufacturer has their own specific concept. Current Audi road car technology, such as the TDI diesel engine and the e-tron hybrid system, first appeared on the Audi R8 and Audi R18 prototypes respectively, while Nissan’s front-engined GTR-LM NISMO makes clear references to its road-going cousin.

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 had been cut by 30% between the 2013 and 2014, but the LMP1 cars 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 eerily silent swoosh of an Audi R18 e-tron quattro 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 Mark Webber, Anthony Davidson and Sébastien Buemi, while other household names in the motorsport world such as Jan Magnussen and David Brabham can be found further down the grid in the LMP2 and GTE classes. The 2015 season will be the first in which a current Formula 1 driver, Nico Hülkenberg, will race in the World Endurance Championship alongside his F1 commitments. Hülkenberg will race at rounds two and three in Spa and Le Mans for the Porsche LMP1 team.

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, Harry Tincknell and Mike Conway all attracted the attention of the works teams through their performances in LMP2.

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.

Image Source: Walter Schruff (WEC-Magazin)