There is a real expectation that this weekend we will see a dogfight between the three privateer LMP1 cars and the two Toyotas.
Toyota believes that with the latest ‘Success Handicap’ penalties, that a Privateer LMP1 will be on pole and will lead during the race, the lengthy straights on the Shanghai International Circuit providing the LMP1 privateers a real advantage. On Friday, Rebellion and Team LNT respectively, topped the two practice sessions, with the Toyotas around 13 km/h (8 mph) down in top speed through the speed trap.
However, the TS050 HYBRIDs’ advantage will continue to come in their punch through traffic thanks to the hybrid system, so the Japanese team is confident that it can still win here in Shanghai.
In LMP2, meanwhile, Goodyear is itching to rebound from the decision earlier this week to award Michelin the ‘Hypercar Prototype’ tire deal with its first FIA WEC class win. The series’ decision was undoubtedly a blow to Goodyear but the company is still planning to go forward in the other WEC classes.
As it stands there is no official confirmation of which tire suppliers will produce rubber for LMP2, GTE Pro or GTE Am, although RACER understands that the Pro class may see a change in direction going forward. Initially, it was expected that all four classes from next season would become a single-tire formula, but it now looks like there may be a shift to keep GTE Pro open, like GTLM in IMSA. This would allow Michelin, Goodyear and any other aspirant brands to go toe-to-toe in the future.
As for this weekend, Goodyear is hoping that the temperature stays within its desired range during the race — unlike the last round at Fuji, where the track temperature dropped significantly during the race.
Thus far this season, Goodyear has only made two of its three tire specifications available, while Michelin has already shown off its three. Goodyear’s third spec is set to be introduced later in the season.
In GTE there are some notable additions to the entry list this weekend. The first is the return of the No. 78 Dempsey Proton Porsche, last seen at the Le Mans 24 Hours as a guest entry in the 2018/19 ‘Super Season’ finale.
The all-Monegasque trio of Vincent Abril and Phillipe and Louis Prette are aboard again, being coached on site by another Monaco native, former LMP1 driver man Stephane Ortelli. This means that two of the three 1998 Le Mans 24 Hours-winning drivers are on site, Allan McNish — Ortelli’s teammate at Porsche that year — is part of the WEC’s commentary team.
Elsewhere, the No. 88 Proton Porsche has seen the late addition of Will Bamber and Angelo Negro alongside Thomas Preining. Both of the team newcomers are making their WEC debuts as part of this deal.
Bamber’s brother Earl is also on site, too overseeing his team’s five-car Porsche Carrera Cup Asia operation that is racing on the support bill this weekend, which Will Bamber is part of as a driver and manager.
“It’s going to be fun watching Will,” newly-crowned IMSA GTLM champion Earl told RACER. “Though I am a harsh critic so he probably doesn’t want me in the garage! He’s already raving about the car, how much power and grip it has.” Prior to this weekend, Will Bamber hadn’t sampled a 911 RSR GTE.
From here, Earl will fly to Macau for the GT World Cup next weekend, then onto Kyalami for the Intercontinental GT Challenge season finale. A busy travel schedule late in the year for the two-time Le Mans winner…