Text: Rick Kiewiet
Images: Rick Kiewiet, Peugeot, FIA WEC, NorthWestAMR/DrewGibsonPhoto
The Prologue is behind us, the 1000 miles of Sebring is at hand this Friday. Track action starts today, so time to look forward to the 2022 season of the World Endurance Championship, the 10th in its current form. Will this season be one of waiting eagerly for the next, when more manufacturers enter the Hypercar class? Or can we actually look forward to some exciting races this season? We definitely think the last! Find out below why.
A major change for this season is the introduction of Total's Excellium Racing 100 fuel for all cars. This 100% renewable fuel is made from wine-residues of the French agricultural sector, doesn't contain any oil, and cuts a racing cars' CO2 emission by at least 65%. It has all the required qualities and standards from both the manufacturers and the FIA for racing fuel and no performance declines are to be expected.
Biggest news from the reigning World Champions Toyota was that there was not a lot of news. The Japanese manufacturer didn't have to use any of its allowed "evo jokers" to modify the car for 2022. It only changed the width of its front and rear tires to better fit its weight distribution. This season, there will again be two GR010 hybrids on the grid, with one change to last years' driver line-up: Kazuki Nakajima is replaced by Ryo Hirakawa in the #8 and becomes the new vice chairman of Toyota Gazoo Racing Europe.
Compared to the last two races of 2021 in Bahrain, Glickenhaus is back on the grid with one SCG007 LMH driven by Olivier Pla, Romain Dumas and Ryan Briscoe. During the off-season, the car has been fitted with a new brake-by-wire system that should greatly improved the car's handling under breaking and lower brake degradation.
The team also had some "serious talks" with ACO and FIA to negotiate a better BoP for its cars so they can compete with the hybrid and 4WD Toyota's. Big change compared to last year is that now the speed at which the hybrid power can be deployed is not fixed at 120 km/h, but is now subject to the BoP, and can change from race to race. For Sebring the limit is set at (a whopping) 190 km/h. If the Prologue last weekend was any indication for the upcoming races, the changes have had some effect. Toyota's fastest time was only 0.058 seconds faster than the fastest Glickenhaus: 1:49:101 against 1:49:159. Alpine set the fastest time over 4 sessions, with a 1:48:617.
If the changes to the BoP really level the playing field, there might actually be some fair racing in 2022.
Glickenhaus also tried to run a third car at Le Mans, following the reopening of entry process of the ACO after Russia invading Ukraine and its consequences for the racing world, but but couldn't pull it of within 48 hours despite several parties being interested.
Until late last year, hopes were that Peugeot would join the LMH ranks from the start of the season at Sebring. But as time progressed and it became clear that Sebring would come too early, this shifted to the 6h of Spa at the first weekend of May. ACO stated that if Peugeot would want to race at Le Mans, it would have to race in Spa as well to allow ACO to establish a Balance of Performance ahead of WEC's blue ribbon event.
Late Februari came confirmation from the brand that the car would not be homologated in time to race at Spa, and that it therefore most likely would miss Le Mans. Once the car is homologated, the car cannot be modified until 2025 without using a limited number of "evo-jokers", so Peugeot wants to make absolutely sure both performance and reliability are at a level at which it can win races in WEC and at Le Mans, before the design is frozen. In its press communique, Peugeot did confirm the cars (93 and 94) will make their race debut "this summer", which technically can only mean the debut is set for the 6h of Monza 11th of July.
The future for the class looks bright, with Ferrari reveiling more details about its 2023 LMH contender: the car will run with a hybrid powertrain and 4WD. The cars test debut is set for June this year.
Rumours are that Audi has cancelled its LMDh program which was set to launch in 2023 as well, which might be connected to increasing rumours its considering to enter F1. BMW, Cadillac and Acura are still set to make their debuts in 2023 IMSA, while Porsche has completed its first test runs with their LMDh car at Barcelona. Alpine aims to join the ranks a year later in 2024.
The highest tier of GT Racing is yet again a three-way fight after Aston Martins departure from the class late 2020. Chevrolet will enter a C8.R for the full season. The #64 will be driven by Tommy Milner and Nick Tandy at Sebring.
At Ferrari, Alessandro Pier Guidi and James Calado are back in the #51 to defend their 2021 World Championship title. In the #52, Ferrari youngster Antonio Fuoco replaces Daniel Serra alongside Miguel Molina.
As Neel Jani is transferred to Cadillac to replace Kevin Magnussen, his place in the #92 is given to Michael Christensen who accompanies Kevin Estre. Bruni and Lietz continue to pilot the #91.
If the cars are even close to as competitive as last year, this is definitely a class to look forward to. The world championship between Ferrari and Porsche was decided in the last race, and Chevrolet finished right in between the Italians and the Germans at Le Mans.
The largest category in the 2022 season is LMP2. The category welcomes a couple of new teams and some significant driver changes. LMP2 World Champion and Le Mans winner Charles Milesi transfers from WRT to the #1 Richard Mille car to join Seb Ogier and Lilou Wadoux, meaning last years' all female line-up is discontinued.
Robin Frijns is the actually the only driver that returns in the #31 WRT, as Ferdinand Habsburg is paired with Rui Andrade and Norman Nato in the #41 Realteam by WRT sister car. His new teammates are Sean Galeal, who comes over from Jota and Le Mans veteran René Rast.
A couple of new entries are from teams who are set to join the highest rank of endurance racing in 2023, and seem to look to gain experience in running prototypes. AF Corse, who'll run the Ferrari LMH in 2023 enter with drivers Nicklas Nielsen, Francois Perrodo and Alessio Rovera, while team Penske (involved in the Porsche LMDh project) enters a car with drivers Dane Cameron, Emmanuel Collard and Felipe Nasr.
Other exceptionally strong driver line-ups are brought together by Prema (Kubica, Deletraz and Colombo), Vector Sport (Nico Müller, Mike Rockenfeller and Ryan Cullen), United Autosports (Hanson, Albuquerque, Owen and Jarvis, DiResta and Pierson) and Jota (Gonzalez, Felix da Costa and Stevens). If you're looking for close racing, this is definitely the class to keep your eye on.
Many regulars return for another season in GT Am. The category contains a nice mix of Ferrari's (5), Porsche's (4) and Aston Martins (3). Familiar names are of course Project 1 Racing and Dempsey-Proton (Porsche), AF Corse, Iron Lynx and Spirit of Race (Ferrari) and TF Sport (Aston Martin). Several platinum drivers aim for top honours in the category: Nicki Thiim, Harry Tincknell, Giancarlo Fisichella, Ben Barnicoat and Marco Sorensen are amongst the competitors.
The (in our humble opinion) best livery award also goes to a car in this category: the #98 NorthWestAMR Aston.