In the final motorsport preview of 2017 Stelvio Automotive delves into the World Endurance Championship to give the rundown on the LMP1, LMP2 and GTE classes to give the lowdown on the changes and what to expect for the new season.

By Sean Smith

2017 marks a new era of the WEC. Audi are gone, LMP2 has been completely flipped on its head, Porsche are back in GTE, there’s plenty anew for this season. Today’s article will give all the information needed to prepare everyone for what still is the #1 racing series in the world with the most advanced machines on the planet.

Starting from the top! The LMP1 class will feature the 'Box Office' fight between Toyota and Porsche with their 1000bhp TS050 and 919 Hybrid monsters. F1 may be smirking to themselves about their “Power Units” which this year are around the 950bhp mark, but it still remains a fact that the LMP1 cars laugh at their poor cousins in the single seater world. LMP1 produces at least twice the power the electrical systems (known as the ERS or Energy Recovery Systems) F1 uses. LMP1 also race for 4x longer (16x longer at Le Mans) with much higher demands on the car just to survive the flat out races the WEC produces. 

Looking at the cars specifically, Toyota and Porsche have both given heavy updates to their 2016 machines. The Champions in Porsche have brought in aerodynamic changes through the whole car, especially visible at the front with the new nose and light assembly. The red stripes baring a sad reminder of their sister company Audi who had to pull out as a greater part of the VW diesel scandal.

Toyota and the new version of the TS050 have made slightly more aesthetical changes to the car over last season. The nose is obviously higher and the front aerodynamics have been revised in the search for the couple of tenths the team tended to be missing last year. Both cars are certainly taking notes from the aggressive bodywork Audi had last year.

Both teams also seem to be ducting a lot more air under the car than was noticeable in the previous generation of cars before Nissan came along with the venturied GT-R LM Nismo in 2015. This shows that the development in the WEC is still in full swing; even while the current truce between Porsche and Toyota not to release a "brand new" chassis in the next few year is in operation.

In the pre-season test at Monza both Toyota and Porsche spent time trading the fastest lap times, showing at least their low downforce bodywork has a degree of equality. We’ll see at the season opener at Silverstone next week how the teams really compare on track.

Before moving on to LMP2 I’m going to mention my favourite car in the world which is the ByKolles CLM, now with the Nissan LMP1’s power plant in the back replacing the fast but unreliable AER. The team had a hard Monza test having to pull out very early meaning that if they can’t get a private test in this week they’ll be learning a lot about their new car while racing at Silverstone. ByKolles are the only privately entered team this year in LMP1 and will be developing the car ready for the new LMP1-L rules that they will benefit from next year. The CLM is still beautiful and last year it had solid pace when it was running smoothly so I hope very much that they can do well this season.

Now on to the biggest change of the WEC this year, the new look LMP2. This change has been universally hated by the fans since it was announced sometime in 2015. The changes are as follows: LMP2 will have ONLY 1 engine supplier, Gibson (formally Zytek). Sure, LMP2 had essentially only 1 supplier in Nissan as Honda were inconsistent in their participation and Mazda only operated in the USA. But this change in forcing everyone to use 1 engine and forcing Nissan out altogether is unnecessary.

What’s worse though is the second major change; the chassis. For 2017 LMP2 teams can only pick from 4 chassis providers in Oreca, Onroak (Ligier), Dallara and Riley/Multimatic. This is bad for 2 reasons; 1. OBVIOUSLY, it stops manufacturers coming in to the series and removes some cars which were already racing such as the SMP BR-01, Dome S103 and Honda ARX-04b which makes the class less exciting. And 2. What’s even worse is the fact that it’s meant that the class has straight away become a stock series. All the teams have bought the Oreca 07, so for the WEC, there is no constructor competition.

For a series like the WEC, which is all about the differences in technology and the pleasure of witnessing development battles between manufacturers, this LMP2 formula is awful. It’s wrong. Sure these new cars will be faster due to new rules which is good and they will probably cheaper with these stock parts in the long run but they’re not a hit with me and I doubt many of the other upset fans will have changed their minds either.

The most interesting part of LMP2 this year is the fact Rebellion Racing (above) are switching down from LMP1-L as they wished for more competition. They’ll certainly have that as LMP2 will feature at least 9 cars but realistically they'll still blow the field away with their resources and driver talent so I would expect them to be stepping back up to LMP1-L when the new regulations come into force.

Lastly we move onto the GTE class. This year sees the return of Porsche to the field after they sat out last year as they developed the new 911 RSR with a mid-mounted engine. This car in particular will be the key point of the year as we already got an idea of the current field of Aston Martin, Ferrari and Ford during 2016. Finding out where the 911 sits in the pecking order will decide the championship one way or the other and if the 24hrs of Daytona was anything to go by, Porsche could be in the hunt for wins right from the off.

GTE in 2016 saw the manufacturers add huge aerodynamic appendages to the cars in the form of huge diffusers and larger wings/splitters. It saw Ferrari debut the 488 GTE and Ford join the series with the GT. Last year Ford cheated by hiding their performance so they could win Le Mans but this year the FIA and ACO will be watching this practice closely as they have added new rules for the balance of performance regulations. At Le Mans and thereafter they will be closely monitoring data and performance to find out teams that are sandbagging and hiding their pace and they will be able to make fairer changes hopefully before disputes break out. This should mean that the races will be a fair fight all through the event, rather than a fight until Ford decided they wanted to win.

The AM class of GTE will be gaining last year’s cars so the 488 will make its debut there, once again making it a GTE class where the AM cars can fight with the PRO teams. All in all the GTE field is looking strong again after Porsche were missed last year; although we obviously hope that more entrants such as BMW, Honda, McLaren and Nissan finally pull the pin and join the class in the near future.

The FIA WEC begins next weekend at Silverstone and will be supported by the European Le Mans series as always, the FIA European F3 Championship will be back as well as the Formula V8 3.5 Series (formally the World Series by Renault 3.5) which will be making the event a spectacle for all race fans. I cannot wait!! (And remember, I am biased) GO TOYOTA!!!