The FIA WEC teams and drivers are finally back in action, more than 60 days on from the Le Mans 24 Hours back in August. With the six-hour race at Fuji having been cancelled due to the pandemic, Bahrain has been named the venue for the final two races of the season. The paddock is now set up for the first-ever FIA WEC back-to-back meeting, and the 32 cars that made the trip have been installed into their pit boxes for the 14 hours of racing over the next two weeks.
First up is the six-hour race this Saturday (3:30 a.m., Motor Trend). The 32-car field assembled includes an array of changes up and down the entry list as the title battles in all four classes reach their crescendo.
In Le Mans Hypercar the field is thin, with just three cars listed. Scuderia Cameron Glickenhaus, following its sterling Le Mans debut, has elected to sit out the final two races, with both 007s currently in the team’s New York base. It is currently unclear how many, if any, races the team will show up for next season. RACER understands that a partial-season campaign is the most likely outcome, but the team seems almost certain to miss its home race at Sebring next March due to the team being at odds with IMSA, which will share the paddock with the FIA WEC for another double-header to kick off the 2022 season.
This leaves just Toyota’s two GR010s and the single Alpine to do battle for the two remaining races. The 2021 world champions will be crowned following the checkered flag on Saturday. In the Hypercar class, only nine points separate the No. 7 of Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and Jose Maria Lopez and the No. 8 of Sebastien Buemi, Kazuki Nakajima and Brendon Hartley. Alpine, meanwhile, is 51 points behind Toyota in the manufacturers’ standings. It’s hugely unlikely, though not mathematically impossible, for Alpine to win the 2021 title; a lot of luck will be needed for the French team to come away with a surprise championship crown.
In LMP2, the title race is likely to come to a thrilling conclusion, as just 23 points separate the top five crews. Up top, there is also just one point between JOTA and Team WRT. In terms of the entry list, the key change comes at High Class Racing, with ex-F1 race winner Robert Kubica joining the Danish team in place of Jan Magnussen. Kubica heads to Bahrain following a stunning Le Mans 24 Hours with Team WRT (in which his car retired on the final lap from the LMP2 lead) and a title-winning campaign in the ELMS.
“After the ELMS Championship and of course participation at Le Mans, I’m happy to join High Class Racing for the last two rounds of the WEC in Bahrain,” he said. “Of course I know the team and my teammates Anders (Fjordbach) and Dennis (Andersen). We’ll try to enjoy and achieve as strong a result as possible in those two rounds. I’m looking forward to rejoining the team again for the second time this year and let’s hope to achieve some good racing in the ProAm class.”
Slovakian LMP2 team ARC Bratislava has confirmed that India’s Kush Maini will join the team for the six hours before LMP2 regular Nelson Panciatici takes the seat for the eight-hour finale. Maini has recently been driving in British F3, and will make his FIA WEC debut as part of this deal.
Another notable change to the entry list is that Tatiana Calderon will no longer be in Bahrain to race with Richard Mille Racing, leaving driving duties solely to her teammates Sophia Floersch and Beitske Visser. The team has added Gabriel Aubry to its ORECA for this weekend, while Calderon will rejoin the team next weekend after her Super Formula commitment this weekend in Japan.
In the GTE Am ranks, there have been several changes ahead of the weekend too. Katherine Legge will replace Michelle Gatting in the No. 85 Iron Lynx Ferrari 488 GTE Evo, in what will be her first appearance since the season-opener at Spa.
Elsewhere, the No. 88 Dempsey Proton Racing car has named its trio of drivers which includes UAE driver Khaled Al Quibaisi, longtime FIA WEC regular Adrien De Lenner and Julien Andlauer.
In terms of the title race, AF Corse’s No. 83 Ferrari leads the way with a 36.5-point lead over TF Sport, though with 63 points on offer across the two weekends, it’s not quite a done deal yet. For No. 83 driver Francois Perrodo, this is set to be his final WEC appearance in GTE Am for the foreseeable future, as the French gentlemen driver – and former Am title winner – has announced this week that he will return to LMP2 competition next year in the ELMS with AF Corse.
The No. 46 Team Project 1 Porsche is withdrawn from the 6 Hours, but the team is still trying to source drivers for the 8 Hours next weekend.
There are no major changes to GTE Pro’s entry, which remains at four cars, though there is plenty to look forward to. Fifteen points separate Ferrari and Porsche in the standings, and all four cars are still in with a chance to win the driver’s and team’s honors. What is notable, though, is that Porsche will compete with three drivers in both its 911 RSRs for the eight-hour finale which will run into darkness, while AF Corse is set to stick with its two pairs for both races. Frederic Makowiecki will join Gianmaria Bruni and Richard Lietz in the No. 91, while Michael Christensen will compete with Kevin Estre and Neel Jani in the No. 92.
In addition to the two races in Bahrain to complete the 2021 WEC campaign, the Rookie Test will also take place the day after the finale on November 7. There, many teams will trial new drivers ahead of the 2022 season, which looks set to be healthy in terms of grid size. RACER understands that all four classes are set to see good numbers, with GTE Am interest remaining healthy and the other three classes set to increase.
In Hypercar, Peugeot will join for what RACER understands will be a part-season campaign to race against Toyota and Alpine and potential partial season entries from Glickenhaus and ByKolles. LMP2 is set to enjoy a boost from some new and returning teams, while GTE Pro looks likely to see a nice increase in numbers, as entries from Corvette and Aston Martin are believed to be under active consideration.