This Easter sees the start of the new 2014 season of the FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC). The new season sees many rule changes, to try to make the sport more eco friendly by, for example, by dramatically reducing the amount of fuel allowed – 30% less than the 2013 season. Hybrids have taken over too. Several drivers have stated that you cannot win Le Mans (the most famous track of all and part of the overall WEC series) without a hybrid drivetrain.
There are three contenders in the LMP (Le Mans Prototype) category this year. First of all, there’s the bookies favourite Audi who clinched the overall win last year much to the annoyance of the Toyota team. Next up, there’s Toyota who’ve been hot on the heels of Audi for the last couple of years and have won several races within the WEC season but have not yet been able to win outright at either Le Mans or the overall WEC. Lastly, there’s the newcomer, Porsche. We all know that Porsche are part of VAG (Volkswagen Audi Group) but don’t go thinking that will mean Audi will give them any breathing space.
An Audi has won at Le Mans 12 times in the last 14 years, either as part of the official Audi Sport team or a private team. However, Porsche will be quick to [rightfully] remind everyone that they were dominant at Le Mans in the 80’s, with a Porsche finishing 1st in seven consecutive years. The new rule changes for this season mean the playing field has been levelled somewhat, with each team having to develop their car more or less from scratch, though there’s no denying the headstart the Audi and Toyota team have over others since they’ve been running hybrid drivetrains for a couple of years.
The Toyota team, on paper, have been relatively unlucky. It’s not that they’ve had a bad car in the last two WEC seasons, quite the contrary – they’ve had an excellent car. Unfortunately, they’ve not quite been able to bring home those illusive winning trophies from Le Mans and the WEC.
This year could see all that change. Audi have a new set of drivers, as yet unproven as a team and unproven in the new car, the R18 e-tron quattro. Likewise, Toyota with two second place overall finishes in a row will be wanting to turn that failure into success so expect them to have added incentive this year. Porsche on the other hand, are something of an unknown. There’s no doubt they’ve built a capable racing car, the 919 Hybrid, and hired some excellent drivers such as ex-Forumla One Mark Webber. How they’ll do is anyone’s guess but the opening round this weekend will be the first glimpse of what’s to come and whether all the teams are on even terms or if there’s a standout amongst them.
The six-hour race at Silverstone starts on Sunday, 20 April, at midday local time (13.00 hrs CET) and is broadcast live on the internet under www.fiawec.com. Eurosport airs the final hour of the race live from 18.00 hrs CET. Practice begins today, Friday 18th, and gates opened at 8am. You can view the full schedule by clicking here.