In addition to the increasing number of positive stories surrounding the GTE field for the 2018/19 FIA World Endurance Championship ‘Super Season,’ it has to be said that in both LMP classes, there’s also plenty to get excited about following the past few weeks of news.
Porsche’s LMP1 exit earlier this year sent shockwaves across sports cars, the sole remaining VAG brand in the factory hybrid ranks choosing to conserve budget and head to Formula E in an effort to improve its brand image to combat the on-going emissions scandal. However, it has not marked the end of the LMP1 class as many predicted, with the numbers steadily growing to what could well be the biggest and most diverse full-season field in WEC history for next season.
First things first, there will still be factory entries next year in the LMP1 class. At the Bahrain end of season awards gala, Toyota Gazoo Racing confirmed its commitment, the Japanese brand looking set to continue its WEC program into the 2020 regulations cycle, should it head in a direction which attracts other marques. The 2019/20 FIA WEC season, though, is an anomaly, especially if TGR wins Le Mans during the ‘Super Season.’ A gap year may be the plan while it develops a 2020 challenger; nevertheless, the present is important, and it’s here to stay, for a seventh season of competition.
Next year Toyota is likely to come back with a two-car effort, utilizing the 2017 TS050 HYBRID with minor upgrades. The big headlines, though, could come from the driver ranks, if two-time F1 world champion Fernando Alonso commits for the season or at the very least, Le Mans, following his test with the team in the Middle East.
Then there’s the privateer competition, which is set to rise in numbers significantly from a single entry in 2017, to a number believed to be close to double figures.
In the Ginetta camp, TRS Racing/Manor is the only confirmed outfit, the Yorkshire-based, Chinese-backed effort confirming a single LMP1 entry with Ginetta last month. The team has yet to confirm which engine or tire supplier it will use, or whether it will run two cars or not. Whatever happens, though, this will be a serious effort, with the potential of a parallel LMP2 program to compliment it.
Then we have DragonSpeed, set to be the first American-flagged LMP1 effort in WEC history. The ELMS-winning team, run by Elton Julian, choosing Dallara BR1 LMP1 chassis with a Gibson engine. The choice to go with BR Engineering’s Dallara-built chassis comes after extended talks with ORECA, though the French constructer was unable to commit to supplying the team within the required time frame.
In addition to that, SMP Racing’s program, believed to be with two cars, is also set to be run with BR1 LMP1s (above) powered bythe updated AER P60B twin-turbo V6 engine. The Russian team has already tested the car at length, with a variety of drivers including IndyCar veteran Mikhail Aleshin and ex-F1 driver Vitaly Petrov.
That leaves ByKolles of the confirmed LMP1 programs thus far, the Austrian team confirming its participation following a three-day test at Motorland Aragon this week, in which it ran its Enso CLM P1/01, powered by the NISMO engine which the Japanese brand’s ill-fated GT-R LM NISMO LMP1 car used. In Spain, ByKolles tested regular drivers James Rossiter and Oliver Webb, in addition to Tom Dillman, Edoardo Liberati and Mikael Grenier.
The confirmation from the team brings the total number of confirmed entries to seven for next season, although there are other programs believed to be in the works.
A second Manor Ginetta aside, RACER understands that talks are still on-going at Ginetta with its unnamed customer (which announced its intention to purchase three cars earlier this year) and an additional player.
ORECA is also rumored to still be working on supplying an LMP1 chassis for the ‘Super Season.’ The French constructor is known to have fielded interest from several team, and is believed to favor working with just one for the upcoming season, although any requests for comment have been politely rebutted with the stock response that its sole priority at the moment is the Rolex 24 At Daytona, where the ORECA 07-based Acura Penske effort (above) will debut.
Beyond this, there are other teams within the FIA WEC and beyond that are evaluating, or have already evaluated programs, perhaps least surprisingly previous LMP1 Privateer champion Rebellion Racing, the newly-crowned LMP2 championship winner in the WEC.
With both Dallara and ORECA understood to be engaged in LMP1 programs to some degree at least, the question has arisen as to the status of the other two current LMP2 chassis suppliers. Multimatic is fully focused on the re-engineering of the Mazda RT24-P DPi with Team Joest, and Ligier has point-blank denied any involvement after some WEC paddock sources suggested a program may be underway there.
Either way, there’s set to be a good number of teams, and a wide variety in chassis, engine and perhaps even tire suppliers; Dunlop is understood to be pursuing LMP1 Privateer efforts since losing Aston Martin Racing’s GTE Pro contract.
LMP2, meanwhile, should still see healthy numbers on the grid next year, despite some teams known to be looking at moving to the ELMS for 2018, and some have or may move up into LMP1 (Manor and Rebellion).
As it stands, Jackie Chan DC Racing is expected to return with a multi-car effort, as is TDS Racing (though an ELMS entry is still under consideration for ‘gentleman racer’ Francois Perrodo), which would likely retain its G-Drive Racing relationship for one of its two cars.
TRS Racing/Manor, as mentioned above is certain to field a single LMP2 car alongside its LMP1 effort, whilst Signatech Alpine, having looked closely at LMP1, and a return to the ELMS, now look most likely to retain the status quo with a single car effort for next year.