After all of the machinations, doom, gloom and despondency of recent weeks, in the wake of the decision by Porsche to cease its all-conquering LMP1 programme, many might be surprised by the likely relative health of the potential entry list.
As revealed by our GTE Am prospects review yesterday there are plenty of potential takers for the 2018/19 WEC ‘product’. Caveats galore apply of course, but there are already some ‘known knowns’.
GTE looks stronger than ever, and the Championship organisers are clear that they intend, if at all possible, to maintain as even a balance as possible between the GT and LMP class numbers. They’ll achieve that, if proposals turn in to programmes across the board, via selection committee, whose top number for the season, enforced now by the availability of garage space at some of the WEC circuits, is 32-34 cars.
The organisers general level of expectation of numbers class by class is also known here. So what has 2018/19 got in store?
Toyota Gazoo Racing
Toyota Gazoo Racing looks set to continue with a (very) mild evolution of the current, and highly effective, TS050 HYBRID, two cars for the season look now near certain, but with less chance of ever before of a third car for Le Mans. The Japanese brand is set to be the sole current generation Hybrid team in the class.
SMP is set to step up as promised to LMP1 with a pair of AER-engined prototypes, the cars designed and built by Dallara in conjunction with BR Engineering, the effort run on SMP’s behalf by ART Grand Prix.
Expect the public ‘reveal’ of the car in days and weeks rather than months.
Manor & TRS have now announced their intentions to field a Ginetta LMP1, with an engine partner yet to be named. A second car in LMP1 is far from out of the question but the imperative here is going to be to get the team’s new package and programme buttoned down as much as possible before any wider commitment is considered.
The Austrian flagged last men standing in the previous iteration of LMP1 Privateer departed the scene promising to work on 2018 and indeed have ben doing so with multiple tests for a revised version of its NISMO-powered CLM P/01 already in the books.
Its intent to return seems clear, though there are few specific details (whether it’s a one or two car effort for instance).
American-flagged ELMS champion DragonSpeed was the real surprise package of the recent flurry of announcements, neither chassis nor engine selection for a planned single-car effort has been confirmed by the 2017 ELMS champion, but the team says it has a firm programme subject to getting the correct answers from the championship organisers and its chosen suppliers.
Yorkshire-based sportscar marque Ginetta’s initial customer has yet to reveal its hand. DSC has though been in contact with the outfit, revealed some weeks ago to have purchased three chassis for a two-car effort (plus a spare).
We’ll keep you posted as soon as the unnamed team is ready to talk publicly. If it does emerge with a programme, expect an OEM-badged engine deal for a manufacturer never before seen at Le Mans.
What else is out there?
The above accounts for 7-10 cars for the season but there are still other prospects out there from which programmes may emerge.
Of all of the current FIA WEC outfits Rebellion Racing is by far the the most likely to announce a move up to LMP1.
The choice for Rebellion Racing is perhaps not as clear as some seem to think. The team’s record, and success in LMP1 Privateer and some earlier statements by and via Rebellion have strongly indicated a switch back to LMP1`in the near future.
Its current progress in LMP2 though will have given them food for thought, as will the potential for the ‘junior’ class at Le Mans after this year’s results with the cars proving to be fast and reliable. The decision of the Anglo-Swiss outfit is amongst the most widely anticipated of the lot here!
Amongst the rumours circulating in the paddock, there’s some talk of ORECA taking over not only as chassis supplier, but perhaps as the operating team. ORECA has briefed some potential customers that should they return to the LMP1 fray they would seek to support only a single customer in the first season at least.
Could that be Rebellion, or might it be DragonSpeed?
In addition to that, paddock rumours of a potential Ligier LMP1 effort have been denied utterly, by the French manufacturer.
Jackie Chan DC Racing
Jackie Chan RC Racing took a good long hard look at LMP1 for 2018/19, but appear to have withdrawn from that particular market for now at least. The challenges of multiple competitive programmes and a growing team, continuing it seems with its strong partnership with Jota Sport, enough for now for the ambitious and forward looking equipe.
Expect at least a repeat two-car effort here. ORECA will certainly be, again the chassis of choice.
In addition to its LMP1 effort, Manor looks certain to field an LMP2 car in the WEC, and it could be more than one, though an ELMS programme with LMP2 is also a possibility. Again the team will stick with its current ORECA machinery.
Here’s a team that might well see a turnaround in its initial intentions. Though much is still up in the air, the hot tip is that the 2017 WEC debutants might now remain in the 2018/19 entry, rather than the earlier predicted (by the team themselves!) return to the ELMS.
Francois Perrodo is still to decide between the European Series and a second stab at the WEC. The prevalence of ‘Super Silvers’ in winning the World Championship counts against the WEC option, and the budgets in the ELMS are far smaller. Current predictions though, are that far from all of the 2018 ELMS LMP2 field will be successful in their applications for a 2018, and perhaps 2019, Le Mans 24 Hours entry.
The ACO and WEC will be moving quickly to assist where they can, securing a sizeable LMP2 entry for the ‘Super Season’.
Whilst the TDS-operated G-Drive WEC effort has had a torrid and unsettled time, the current prediction is that it may very well return for a second year. Much, as usual, depends on the driver grading of GazProm/G-Drive budget gatekeeper Roman Rusinov.
French outfit Signatech Alpine are another team have long been rumoured to be set to return to the ELMS in 2018, though there were talks at Shanghai between team boss Philippe Sinault and top ACO officials on the options to stay in the WEC against the alternative of an ELMS campaign.
See above for the possibilities here but it seems certain that Rebellion would be LMP1, or LMP2 – but not both.
What else is out there?
There are some other possible takers in the class, with other chassis manufacturers keen to find a route into taking on ORECA in the WEC though none are yet close to anything like confirmation. For instance, there is no sign at present of SMP following Manor’s lead, fielding an LMP2 car along with its LMP1 effort. Its 2017 ELMS part-season featured the spare Dallara Gibson of High Class Racing, no 2017 LMP2 programme has been confirmed anywhere by the Russian team.
United Autosports, is possibly the team that many would think most likely to consider a step up to the WEC, but it has already confirmed an expanded two-car Ligier LMP2 effort in the 2018 ELMS.
All in all, and depending an some significant outstanding decisions the potential grid in LMP2 is c.4-9 cars with a likelihood of around 6-7. Add that to the potential and likely LMP1 numbers and the c.17-car combined LMP grid being sought by the FIA WEC is in sight.
Italian Ferrari outfit AF Corse will return with a pair of revised 488 GTEs, the car featuring significantly uprated aero “for efficiency, more downforce but less drag,” says Christiano Michelotto.
Aston Martin Racing
AMR will field a full season pair of its brand new Vantage GTEs, set for a London launch post Bahrain later this month. The AMG turbo V8-engined car is a stunner, and there are further surprises to come around the effort in more than one area too!
The other key change is that Michelin rubber looks set to be the norm for the coming season after two seasons with Dunlop as a technical partner, and championship wins in 2016. Outside of that, there may also be a couple of surprises in the driver roster too.
BMW’s MTEK-run GTE programme marks the brand’s first entry to the FIA WEC with a pair of brand new M8 GTEs, the new coupe BMW’s first ever ground-up purpose designed GTE class weapon.
Chip Ganassi Team UK return for what could be the final full season outing as a factory car with a pair of Ford GTs, the Chip Ganassi Racing outfit deciding not to field the mild upgrades tested earlier this year.
The 2018/19 Super Season gives the outfit the opportunity to fulfil its programme commitment to four outings at Le Mans. Will its current attraction to a new global programme to replace the GTE effort come to fruition thereafter? Ford’s Raj Nair made it clear to the DSC Ed at CoTA that the blue oval is attracted strongly to the potential 2020/21 proposals for global prototypes at LMP1 level.
Much depends on the decisions of the new Ford Management team, and the quality of response that comes from the ACO team pulling together those draft regulations!
Stuttgart brand Porsche, post-LMP1 exit, will continue in GTE Pro, with a pair of the sonorous 911 RSRs, albeit most likely with a revised driver line-up in the World Championship.
The only caveat, is whether or not Porsche attempt to add in an additional car for Le Mans, which let’s not forget, features twice on the calendar. Dr Frank Walliser told DSC that Porsche would only field two cars for the whole season, but left the prospect of an increased presence at Le Mans “down to the ACO”.
What else is out there?
Corvette is almost certainly set to continue to focus on IMSA, the C7.R – which isn’t a global car – coming into its final year at the helm.
Efforts from Lamborghini and McLaren meanwhile, are on the horizon, but not for next season.
Even so, GTE Pro is far the most secure class grid on the likely entry, a 10 car full-season roster is certain.
As revealed recently by DSC the potential is for numbers to boom in GTE Am, but the full-season entry cap looks likely to bear down quite considerably on those potential numbers. The ACO/LMEM seems set to try to persuade some to look to the ELMS, potentially with some incentivising reassurances about Le Mans entries, and potentially at the expense of some 2018 ELMS LMP2 efforts.
In addition to its GTE Pro effort, Porsche’s customer GTE arm could have up to five possible WEC takers for the 2017 911 RSR, more realistically four, and securely probably a trio, all with the new Porsche 911 RSR which is freed up for GTE Am competition in 2018.
Proton Competition is working on a prospect for a pair of cars, one of which is understood to be all but confirmed, the other in negotiation. Gulf Racing UK has a firm plan for a single car and an outline plan for a second, though that would be reliant on Porsche adding a seventh customer car to the production schedule. And Supercup and Carrera Cup Germany powerhouse Tolimit have a plan, and access to one of the first six cars DSC believes, to join the WEC
The ‘Prancing Horse’s’ numbers sit at a potential four, again dependent on plans coming together. Clearwater Racing have had a great first season in the FIA WEC, leading the championship until last week in Shanghai and still in with a chance of honours. The Singaporean team is currently evaluating a return with its 488 GTE, again supported by AF Corse
AF Corse’s Spirit of Race sub-brand could be represented by a pair of cars for the full-season too, Thomas Flohr set to return for a second crack at the crown and GT3 graduate Ishikawa Motoaki, teamed with veteran Pro Olivier Beretta could well be the core of the second squad. They’ll test together in the post-race sessions following the 6 Hours of Bahrain next weekend.
Despite the decision not to permit the soon to be unveiled 2018 Vantage GTE into GTE Am for the ‘Super Season’, AMR looks set to have up to three takers for the WEC class next season.
Paul Dalla Lana tried out the new car this week at Sebring but the less taxing calendar in 2018 looks set to tempt him back for more even in his 2016-spec car, now sitting on the cusp of a title-winning year at last.
Both TF Sport and Beechdean AMR are also known to be working up potential WEC efforts too.
What else is out there?
Any hopes for a WEC effort for Corvette again lie with Jack Leconte and his Larbre Competition squad. It’s been all quiet of late but trusted WEC paddock sources have revealed that a return for the C7.R could well be in prospect.
The potential for a Ford GTE Am programme meanwhile, is less clear. Ford Performance is known to have had at least two approaches for a car aimed at the WEC, though one was for a customer interested solely in Le Mans. Whether or not this comes to pass we’ll have to wait and see.
Add that little lot together, and anticipate a surprise or two still to come and it becomes clear that the WEC Selection Committee will likely have a lot of work to do in advance of next season.
The key if that happens is keeping those who have invested in new machinery happy; deal making rather than an email with a polite but firm ‘Non’ might be the sensible order of the day!
All in all though, it looks like ‘game on’ for the ‘Super Season’!