The new year brings some changes to the FIA WEC. The Super Season continues, with the WEC running through the winter for the first time in its history. The season will come to a conclusion in Le Mans in June 2019, and just a matter of months later the teams and drivers will descend on Silverstone for the first round of the 2019/20 season.
New finale at Le Mans
Over the first few years of the FIA WEC Bahrain has tended to be the destination of choice for the final race of the season. Apart from 2012, when the season ended in China, and 2014, when Interlagos in Brazil played host to an exciting finale, the final race of the WEC season has always been the race into the sunset in Bahrain.
The switch to a winter calendar means that this year the series will finish at the famous 24 Hours of Le Mans for the first time. Title battles will remain on a knife-edge up and down the grid, with 1.5 times championship points on offer at the Circuit de la Sarthe as in 2018. The 1000 Mile race at Sebring in March also offers additional points, at 1.25 times the standard system, and so a great deal could change in the championship standings between now and June.
New circuits and new race formats
Teams will take a well-earned summer break after the end of the 24 Hours of Le Mans. On 1 September, Silverstone in the UK will play host to the first race of the 2019/20 season– with a twist. With a couple of notable exceptions, including the 24 Hours of Le Mans, FIA WEC races have traditionally been run over a period of six hours. In 2018/19, the organisers have decided to mix up the race distances to create some added intrigue.
Silverstone will be held over four hours, as will the November race in Shanghai. October’s Fuji race remains at six hours, while the final race of 2019 in Bahrain has been extended to eight. On 1 February 2020 the FIA WEC will return to South America for the first time since 2014, with Interlagos playing host to the fifth round of the 2019/20 season.
The 1000 Miles of Sebring will be reprised for the 2019/20 season on March, followed by the Six Hours of Spa in May and the season finale at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in June.
Simple rule change brings added excitement
Last season a minor change in the regulations eliminated an exciting part of the action and intrigue of the FIA WEC. With teams allowed to change tyres and refuel at the same time, an important strategic element was removed from the racing. However, the series organisers have decided to reinstate the former regulations for the 2019/20, which will allow greater scope in strategy when it comes to tyre choice, stint lengths and refuelling.
Swansong for LMP1 and potential for growth in GTE Pro
The Fat Lady may not quite have sung for the LMP1 category, but she is certainly warming up her voice. The top class in the FIA WEC has been in place for a decade and has given us some legendary cars, incredible on-track battles and a whole dynasty of motor racing to look back on. However, with the new and as-yet-unnamed “hypercar” regulations set to enter into force from the 2020/21 season, 2019/20 will offer a final opportunity to enjoy the LMP1 experience.
Toyota is likely to compete its TS050 for the final time in the FIA WEC, most probably as the sole manufacturer in the LMP1. It may be a somewhat unedifying end to a category that has provided so much action and excitement over the past decade. But as manufacturers have come and gone, Toyota have the honour of bringing the LMP1 hybrid era to a conclusion. Given its commitment to the series and Le Mans over the past 6 years, one would be hard-pressed to find a team less worthy of the honour.
That’s not to say this is the end for Toyota Gazoo Racing… On the contrary, if rumours are to be believed, the Cologne-based squad are set to be one of the standard-bearers of the new hypercar class.
GTE Pro, meanwhile, may go from strength to strength next year: In November, the Corvette Racing works team joined the fray for the first time outside of Le Mans. Could there be an interest in a full-season GTE Pro programme competing against the likes of Aston Martin, BMW, Ferrari, Ford and Porsche? Watch this space.
Images © WEC-Magazin (Walter Schruff / Ton Kerdijk)