IMAGES: Porsche – Words: James Turner
Two years ago, I was asked by some of my friends who were trying to get into motorsport, what was the best series in the world? They might have thought that I was going to say Formula One, or more locally, Supercars. But no. Instead I said the World Endurance Championship.
My reasoning at the time was a bit complex, but it included the close battles between the giants of Audi, Porsche & Toyota. The fact that quite a bit of the new technology trialed in the series filters its way onto the cars that you and I will drive one day making them a little more relevant to the car nerds in us, and the fact that it was a well-run championship.
Now, in 2017, I would argue that the latter two points still apply, however I’m not so sure about the racing part. Don’t get me wrong, throughout the WEC field there’s still some ripper battles (look no further than the GTE-PRO duel in the closing stages of Le Mans this year) but at the front, it’s starting to get a bit thin on the ground.
Audi are gone. Everyone’s favourite privateers Rebellion have scaled back to LMP2. You could argue that if they stuck with LMP1 for just one more year they might have even won Le Mans had they had a reasonably clean run. Isn’t hindsight a wonderful thing?
Rebellion, to their credit have made a pretty good fist out of LMP2 so far, but that’s two less cars at the front. Now it looks like the last privateer LMP1 team, the Nissan powered Bykolles Racing Team have run their last race as well. And this gets me pondering…
We now have 4 cars in LMP1, 2 Toyotas and 2 Porsches. Now the optimist in me says that you only need 2 cars put on a good race, but…
Porsche have just pulled the pin on their LMP1 program as well. Now what does Toyota do? The good thing for them is that Le Mans would be a heck of a lot easier but it would be a fairly hollow win if they were just racing themselves (and with the luck they’ve had at Le Sarthe over the last couple of years would they still be able to bag a win even without any other LMP1 cars to run against?).
Ginetta have customer cars on the way, but will that be enough? Will customers be interested in a class that sadly, appears to be dying? Especially when you consider that both LMP2 and GT (whether that’s GTE or GT3) racing is much cheaper and really booming at the moment.
So this leads me to the question that I asked in the headline; Where to from here? What does the WEC need to do to keep the LMP1 class from dying?
My suggestion? Open up the rules and regulations and go back to the future (so to speak). How good would it be to see some Group C styling back on the grid? (Sauber Mercedes and Mazda 787B anyone?) It doesn’t have to be older styled cars either. Let’s create some new designs too. (That’s what Le Mans and this type of racing is all about after all.) With a more open rulebook, this could be a reality. It doesn’t have to be just the car design either. Open up the engine rules and regulations too. If you wanted to run a fire breathing, fuel-injected V12 engine instead of a complex hybrid, why not? (It would certainly sound better!) It could tempt some more manufacturers to join the WEC. This could only be a good thing.
Manufacturer support is key here. With open regulations we could see the likes of Ferrari return to prototype racing and maybe Mercedes could join them. (They’re fighting it out in F1, so why not WEC too?)
If one or two manufacturers join up, others will follow. Look at Formula E. Personally I’m not a fan of the series but both Audi and now Porsche have joined at the expense of their WEC programs, BMW are also getting in on the action and just recently it was announced that Mercedes are ditching their DTM program to join the likes of Renault and Jaguar who are already well entrenched in the series.
If something similar happened in the WEC then things would be brilliant. Just imagine prototype cars from Ferrari, Mercedes, BMW, Lamborghini along with Toyota and Porsche all flying down the Mulsane straight…
That one sight alone would make the World Endurance Championship incredibly worthy of its status as the world’s premier sports car championship.
James Turner is a life-long motorsport fan and blogger. You can checkout his blog The Motor Sport Nerd at: http://motorsportnerd.wixsite.com/the-motorsport-nerd