Wednesday, February 21, 2024

2024 FIA World Endurance Championship Season Preview

As February enters its final leg, we are approaching the start of a few championships. With so little time and so many series to preview, we come to the FIA World Endurance Championship just a little under two weeks until its opening round. 

The introduction of LMDh cars into the Hypercar class increased car count and manufacturer participation last season. This season will see more of the same, as WEC undergoes a class structure change. This year will only feature Hypercar and the new LMGT3 class, replacing the GTE Am class as GT3-spec vehicles are introduced into the series. The LMP2 class has been dropped from the championship but the class will still feature at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. 

Four manufacturers are joining Hypercar this year as 19 cars will compete in the top class. In LMGT3, nine manufacturers will each have two participants, bringing the overall grid size up to a capacity 37 entries.

This WEC season sees an introduction of a few new tracks, as well as a return to a few circuits, one for the first time in a decade, and another is back for its third stint on the calendar. 

We start with something new, and the Losail International Circuit in Qatar hosts the opening festivities of the season. Losail will host the prologue test over February 24-25 before hosting the Qatar 1812 km on March 2. The distance is derived from the 18th of December, Qatar National Day, and it is scheduled for 335 laps but will have a ten-hour time limit. 

The first two rounds are held on new circuits as the 6 Hours of Imola follows on April 21. Imola replaces Monza as the home of the Italian Grand Prix is undergoing track renovations. Spa-Francorchamps remains in early May and the six-hour race will still be on a Saturday, this year May 11th. 

The 24 Hours of Le Mans will take WEC to the halfway point of the season over June 15-16. After a month off, WEC will run the fifth round of the season on July 14, the 6 Hours of São Paulo from Interlagos. It is the first time Interlagos has been on the calendar since 2014.

After a six-week break, Circuit of the Americas revives Lone Star Le Mans, the six-hour race running on September 1. It is the first time Austin has been on the schedule since 2020, when Austin was a last-minute replacement for Interlagos when their were conflicts between the promoter and WEC. Austin's first run on the schedule was from 2013 to 2017. 

A fortnight after Austin, the penultimate round of the season will be the 6 Hours of Fuji. There will be a seven-week gap between Fuji and the season finale, the 8 Hours of Bahrain on November 2.


Cadillac Racing
#2 Cadillac V-Series.R
Drivers: Earl Bamber, Alex Lynn, Sébastien Bourdais, Renger van der Zande, Aléx Palou
What to expect: Bamber and Lynn will be full-time as Bourdais and van der Zande will rotate into the car for the races longer than six hours. Palou will drive the 24 Hours of Le Mans as Bourdais, van der Zande and Scott Dixon will be in the #3 Cadillac for the French classic. Cadillac has shown good pace, but reliability has been a question mark, as we saw in the 24 Hours of Daytona. A victory is within reach but has proven difficult to grasp.

Porsche Penske Motorsport
#5 Porsche 963
Drivers: Matt Campbell, Michael Christensen, Frédéric Makowiecki
What to expect: Campbell replaces Dane Cameron as a full-time driver in this car. Campbell is going to make this team better. Porsche did not win in WEC last year. The #5 Porsche didn't get on the podium. That should change, possibly in both categories. It is too early to say if Porsche can compete for the championship. We will have a better idea through the first few rounds.

#6 Porsche 963
Drivers: Kévin Estre, André Lotterer, Laurens Vanthoor
What to expect: It was a slightly better season for the #6 Porsche compared to its teammate in 2023, but still nothing to leap for joy about. This Porsche is in good hands. Both Porsches should do better than last year. Slight edge to this car for that first WEC victory for the 963.

Toyota Gazoo Racing
#7 Toyota GR010 Hybrid
Drivers: Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi, Nyck de Vries
What to expect: Until someone consistently beats Toyota, why should we expect Toyota to lose the championship? Everyone should be closer. Perhaps someone will breakthrough, but Toyota is the team to beat. The #7 Toyota has moved de Vries in as José María López moves to GT3 competition. De Vries drove well in LMP2 competition. The #7 Toyota did win the most races last year, and likely only lost the championship because it retired at Le Mans. The one change to the driver lineup could bring it back behind the #8 Toyota.

#8 Toyota GR010 Hybrid
Drivers: Sébastien Buemi, Brendon Hartley, Ryō Hirakawa
What to expect: The defending champions are not changing a thing. Same drivers as last year in a team that had two victories, four runner-up finishes and its worst finish was sixth. That is hard to beat. It is also hard to duplicate. The #8 Toyota will win races in 2024. Will it go first or second in over 85% of the races? That is unlikely. It should still be the championship favorite but it will likely require a little more work. 

Isotta Fraschini
#11 Isotta Fraschini Tipo 6-C
Drivers: Carl Bennett, Antonio Serravalle, Jean-Karl Vernay
What to expect: It is a manufacturer with no modern racing experience with a driver who is coming out of Formula 4 and a driver who spent most of last year on the sidelines with Indy Lights and LMP3 as his greatest experience. Vernay is the only driver in this car ready for a Hypercar role. Expectations should be zilch.

Hertz Team Jota
#12 Porsche 963
Drivers: Callum Ilott, Norman Nato, Will Stevens
What to expect: Jota has a year under its belt with this car. Stevens ran this car last year, but his teammates are completely new. Ilott has taken well to everything he has driven. Nato should get up to speed quickly. On paper, this feels like the better of the two Jota cars.

#38 Porsche 963
Drivers: Jenson Button, Philip Hanson, Oliver Rasmussen
What to expect: Button has not been full-time in any series since 2019. Hanson has had plenty of LMP2 success with United Autosports. Rasmussen has spent the previous two seasons with Jota in LMP2. There does feel like a greater learning curve for this entry compared to its sister car. Do not be surprised if the #38 Porsche with the past World Drivers' Champion is second of the two Jota cars.

#15 BMW M Hybrid V8
Drivers: Raffaele Marciello, Dries Vanthoor, Marco Wittmann
What to expect: BMW is bringing a number of inexperienced prototype drivers into Hypercar. Wittmann ran a few races in this car last year in IMSA. Vanthoor and Marciello are coming from nearly exclusive GT competition. All three have been successful everywhere they have gone, but this is going to be an uphill battle for the #15 BMW.

#20 BMW M Hybrid V8
Drivers: Robin Frijns, René Rast, Sheldon van der Linde
What to expect: BMW's experience is in this car. Frijns has an LMP2 championship in WEC and six class victories in 19 starts. Frijns and Rast were co-drivers together in 2022. Van der Linde has never raced a prototype before. BMW has made big gains in IMSA. If any BMW is getting good results in WEC this year, it will be this BMW. 

Alpine Endurance Team
#35 Alpine A424
Drivers: Paul-Loup Chatin, Ferdinand Habsburg, Charles Milesi
What to expect: This is a strong LMP2 lineup moving up to the Hypercar class. Chatin has won multiple European Le Mans Series championship and he won the LMP2 championship in IMSA last year. This is a big jump up for Habsburg and Milesi. It should be an eye-opener at times for this lineup.

#36 Alpine A424
Drivers: Nicolas Lapierre, Mick Schumacher, Matthieu Vaxivière
What to expect: Lapierre has a stellar record in LMP2 competition and is a good lead driver while he and Vaxivière were co-drivers for a few seasons in the Alpine A480, a grandfathered LMP1 car running in the early seasons of Hypercar. Schumacher is making a big change to sports cars after a season out of Formula One. Schumacher improves with time. There could be some teething issues early on. This Alpine is the leader on paper out of the two-car outfit.

Ferrari AF Corse
#50 Ferrari 499P
Drivers: Antonio Fuoco, Miguel Molina, Nicklas Nielsen
What to expect: Though the #50 Ferrari did not win a race last season, it was the best Ferrari in the championship and was knocking on the door. The #50 Ferrari should breakthrough this season at some point. There will be plenty of opportunities as Ferrari looks to take a greater fight to Toyota this year.

#51 Ferrari 499P
Drivers: Alessandro Pier Guidi, James Calado, Antonio Giovinazzi
What to expect: The 2023 Le Mans will be looking for more in year two. The #51 Ferrari only had two podium finishes last season. This was the lineup less prototype experience of the two cars last year. This team should increase its competitiveness, but it has a mighty task of being the best within its own factory lineup let alone the entire championship.

#83 Ferrari 499P
Drivers: Robert Kubica, Robert Shwartzman, Yifei Ye
What to expect: This will be a customer Ferrari entry. Shwartzman was a rising Formula Two driver a few seasons ago as he moves to sports cars. Kubica and Ye have been successful in LMP2 racing. It will be difficult to defeat the factory Ferraris let alone be the outright top Hypercar entry. 
Lamborghini Iron Lynx
#63 Lamborghini SC63
Drivers: Mirko Bortolotti, Daniil Kyvat, Edoardo Mortara
What to expect: If there is any reason for optimism, it is the speed the Lamborghini showed in the Daytona homologation test for IMSA during the offseason. Bortolotti and Kyvat were co-drivers last year for Prema in the LMP2 class. Both have limited prototype experience. Mortara has no prototype experience. There could be days where the speed is there but lack of race knowledge could be a setback. There could be days where the speed will be enough.

Peugeot TotalEnergies
#93 Peugeot 9X8
Drivers: Nico Müller, Mikkel Jensen, Jean-Éric Vergne
What to expect: Peugeot has underwhelmed in its first season and a half in Hypercar. The team is developing a rear wing that is expected to debut early this season. It cannot make things worse for Peugeot, but it is not expected to shoot the French manufacturer to the top. The Balance of Performance is favorable for Peugeot at the Qatar opener. Hopefully, Peugoet can at least compete for podium finishes on a more regular basis. This lineup is capable.

#94 Peugeot 9X8
Drivers: Loïc Duval, Paul di Resta, Stoffel Vandoorne
What to expect: Vandoorne joins this team, as Peugeot shuffles some drivers around. It is a good lineup. There are no weak links in this car. Results cannot be much worse. The #94 9X8 has only two top five finishes in ten races. At best, this team is competing for the top five in the championship.  

Proton Competition
#99 Porsche 963
Drivers: Julien Andlauer, Neel Jani, Harry Tincknell
What to expect: Jani and Tincknell ran a few races together last year. Last year, running an LMP2 car in ELMS, was the first time Jani had been full-time in a prototype since 2019. Tincknell had a good stint in the Mazda DPi program, his most recent prototype program. Andlauer is new to prototype racing. Porsche has a good car, and a few great results should to be a surprise for this team, but they are not guaranteed.


Heart of Racing Team
#27 Aston Vantage Vantage AMR GT3 Evo
Drivers: Ian James, Daniel Mancinelli, Alex Riberas
What to expect: Heart of Racing Team has plenty of experience with this car and with one another. This is a championship team from IMSA taking on the world championship. Heart of Racing Team should factor into a few races. This group surprise the WEC grid.

Team WRT
#31 BMW M4 GT3
Drivers: Augusto Farfus, Sean Gelael, Darren Leung
What to expect: Team WRT has long been a dominated team in GT3 competition. It is a different grouping for BMW with Farfus leading the way while Gelael is transitioning to GT racing after a number of years and success in LMP2. Leung won the British GT Championship last year. This is a leap for Leung and these will be new circuits. It should still be a competitive entry.

#46 BMW M4 GT3
Drivers: Maxime Martin, Valentino Rossi, Ahmad Al Harthy
What to expect: Martin and Rossi drove together last year in GT World Challenge Europe Sprint Cup and results were respectable. Al Harthy drove in WEC last year in GTE Am and he is coming off a good year in Asian Le Mans Series' LMP2 class. This will be a competitive class, but don't be surprised if the #46 BMW is in the top third of the class.

Vista AF Corse
#54 Ferrari 488 GTE
Drivers: Francesco Castellacci, Thomas Flohr, Davide Rigon
What to expect: This lineup is unchanged from WEC last year. Castellacci and Flohr has spent the better part of a decade together. They struggled for great results in WEC over the last few years. Experience could be their greatest aid, but the switch to GT3 does not necessarily make the #54 Ferrari a favorite. 

#55 Ferrari 488 GTE
Drivers: Simon Mann, François Heriau, Alessio Rovera
What to expect: Rovera won the GTE Am championship there years ago. He has been strong in LMP2 competition. Heriau developed in ELMS from LMP3 to LMP2. Mann has been in WEC the last few years. Rovera is a strong driver, but will be carrying this entry. The continuity in the sister car gives the #54 Ferrari an edge. 

United Autosports
#59 McLaren 720S GT3 Evo
Drivers: Nicolas Costa, James Cottingham, Grégoire Saucy
What to expect: Costa is coming off the Porsche Carrera Cup Brasil championship while Cottingham was second in the British GT Championship. Saucy is moving from Formula Three. These are three drivers all moving into a new car in a new championship for all. Don't expect the world. It might take a few rounds for these drivers to get comfortable.

#95 McLaren 720S GT3 Evo
Drivers: Josh Caygill, Nico Pino, Marino Sato, Hiroshi Hamaguchi
What to expect: Pino has spent the last few years in LMP2 and LMP3. Sato did well in LMP2 last year in ELMS. Caygill was in LMP3 the last two years in ELMS and Le Mans Cup, and he hasn't raced a GT car since 2021. Hamaguchi will replace Caygill at Le Mans. Pino and Sato could prove to be a strong combination.

Iron Lynx/Iron Dames
#60 Lamborghini Huracán GT3 Evo 2
Drivers: Matteo Cressoni, Franck Perera, Claudio Schiavoni
What to expect: Cressoni and Schiavoni were third in the ELMS GT championship last year and they raced together in GTE Am. Perera is experienced in the Lamborghini, and has won in a number of series. The Iron Lynx entry should be competing for a race victory and could string together the results to be in the title discussion. 

#85 Lamborghini Huracán GT3 Evo 2
Drivers: Sarah Bovy, Michelle Gatting, Doriane Pin
What to expect: Bovy and Gatting were second in the GTE Am championship last year, and Pin had a podium finish in LMP2. This trio have plenty experience together. They have won together in ELMS. Iron Dames will be competitive. Race victories are more than possible. It will be a fun battle just within the Iron Lynx/Iron Dames stable. 

Proton Competition
#77 Ford Mustang GT3
Drivers: Ryan Hardwick, Zachary Robichon, Ben Barker 
What to expect: The Ford is a new car, but Hardwick and Robichon have spent a few seasons together. Barker is WEC-experienced, though the results were not outstanding driving for GR Racing. There are still a few unknowns about the Ford. There should be a few praiseworthy finishes, but Proton Competition will have some tough days.

#88 Ford Mustang GT3
Drivers: Dennis Olsen, Giorgio Roda, Mikkel O. Pedersen
What to expect: It is a good combination. Olsen was strong with Porsche, and Roda won an ELMS championship with Proton. This should be the stronger of the two Proton Competition entries. We don't know enough about the Ford to say where it should finish. Podium finishes would be good in the first year of this program. 

Akkodis ASP Team
#78 Lexus RC F GT3 
Drivers: Timur Boguslavskiy, Arnold Robin, Kelvin van der Linde
What to expect: Akkodis ASP is making the switching from GT World Challenge Europe to WEC. It is switching from Mercedes-AMG to Lexus. Boguslavskiy was a front-runner in GTWCE. This will be a new car but Lexus has been strong in IMSA. Van der Linde is making a leap but should get be up to speed quickly. Robin has been mostly focused on LMP2 and LMP3 classes. It would not be a surprise if this team is competing for victories.

#87 Lexus RC F GT3 
Drivers: Takeshi Kimura, José María López, Esteban Masson
What to expect: López moves from Hypercar to GT3. He was spectacular in touring car competition, his last experience outside a prototype. Masson was the French F4 champion three years ago, and the 19-year-old spent last year in Formula Regional Europe. Kimura had a few good races last year. This team has a greater learning curve than its teammate. 

TF Sport
#81 Corvette Z06 GT3.R
Drivers: Rui Andrade, Charlie Eastwood, Tom van Rompuy
What to expect: This car brings together one of the LMP2 co-champions from last season in Andrade, and a driver that won the 2023 ALMS LMP2 championship while having years of WEC experience in Eastwood. Van Rompuy has spent recent seasons in LMP2 and LMP3 machines. Andrade and Eastwood should carry the #81 Corvette up the grid. If they are able to light a spark, this team could be in the conversation in most races. 

#82 Corvette Z06 GT3.R
Drivers: Sébastien Baud, Daniel Juncadella, Hiroshi Koizumi
What to expect: Juncadella is the Corvette factory driver filling this ride, and he was second in IMSA's GTD Pro class last year. Baud was second in the GT World Challenge Europe Endurance Cup bronze class last year. Koizumi was second in Le Mans Cup's GT3 class last year. WEC is a big leap for Baud and Koizumi. Top five finishes would be great results for this team. 

Manthey EMA/Pure Rxcing
#91 Porsche 911 GT3 R (992)
Drivers: Richard Lietz, Morris Schuring, Yasser Shahin
What to expect: Lietz has spent years in WEC and has won all the big events. Shahin is coming from Australia's GT scene. Schuring won twice in Porsche Supercup last year and is 18 years old. Lietz is the only driver with deep knowledge of the WEC circuits. Depth is a weakness in this lineup.

#92 Porsche 911 GT3 R (992)
Drivers: Klaus Bachler, Alex Malykhin, Joel Sturm
What to expect: This #92 Pure Rxcing Porsche is coming off the Asian Le Mans Series championship over the winter. Bachler is a capable lead driver. Malykhin and Sturm will be stepping up to a higher level than ALMS. They might not repeat their ALMS success, but they can be a frequent contender in WEC.

D'station Racing
#777 Aston Vantage Vantage AMR GT3 Evo
Drivers: Erwan Bastard, Clément Mateu, Marco Sørensen, Satoshi Hoshino
What to expect: Sørensen is a past champion while Bastard has won GT4 championships in Europe. Mateu was in the GT World Challenge Europe Endurance Cup last year in the bronze class. Hoshino will be one of the drivers at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Some experience is lacking. The hope should be to improve as the year goes along.

WEC's Prologue test session will start on Saturday February 24 with the first three-hour session starting at 4:00 a.m. ET. The second session on Saturday will begin at 9:00 a.m. ET and last four hours. On Sunday February 25, WEC will be on track for three hours starting at 3:00 a.m. ET, and four hours starting at 8:00 a.m. ET.

The first official practice sessions for the season will be on Leap Day, Friday February 29. On Friday March 1, WEC will have a one-hour practice at 3:00 a.m. before qualifying at 8:00 a.m. The Qatar 1812 km will begin at 3:00 a.m. on Saturday March 2.