Text: Rick Kiewiet
This weekend, Sunday 11.00 AM local time (03.00 GMT), the World Endurance Championship gives acte de présence at Shanghai, China. Last years’ edition saw a Toyota win the race, but Porsche claim the World Endurance Championship crown. Ford took the honors in the GT Pro category. What’s at stake for this year’s edition?
In LMP1 we obviously still have to deal with the dominance of the Toyota TS050 Hybrid. Last race in Fuji the winners started all the way from the back, but won the race with a 3 lap advantage. However, Fuji did mark the first win of the season for the #7 car, so perhaps they can bring the fight to the sister car again at Shanghai.
Behind the two Toyota’s, the battle between the non-hybrid LMP1’s is getting more and more interesting, as the field seems to level a bit. In Fuji, the first three cars after the Toyota’s were three different teams: a Rebellion (#1), an SMP BR1 (#11) and the ByKolles CLM (#4). Dragonspeed in the BR1 is still looking for some extra speed.
Big absentee, again, is the gorgeous Ginetta G60-LT-P1. The car was earlier withdrawn from the Silverstone and Fuji rounds and Manor already decided to pull its hands off the project. Ginetta has taken over the running of the car, and switched the engine from Mecachrome to AER, but unfortunately it is still not on the entry list of the 6 hours of Shanghai.
A lot more excitement is going on in the LMP2 category: the victory in Fuji brought the #37 Jackie Chan DC racing drivers Jaafar, Tan and Jeffri exactly level with their #38 teammates Tung, Aubry and Richelmi. The #38 squad is officially 2nd in the standings because of more 2nd place finishes (both have an even amount of victories), but all six drivers have 86 points in the standings. The #36 Signatech Alpine squad leads the standings with only 1 point more: André Negrão, Nico Lapierre and Pierre Thiriet have 87 points. The last two races in Silverstone and Fuji they had to settle for a position behind both Jackie Chan DC Racing Oreca’s.
The Dragonspeed LMP2 entry with the star-line up of drivers Pastor Maldonado, Roberto Gonzalez and Anthony Davidson suffered from some unlucky races, but should definitely have the speed to bring the fight to the leaders, witnessing their Pole Position at Fuji. This all promises for a close race in the LMP2 category where at least 4 entries should be able to fight for victory.
The other chassis builders Ligier (Larbre Competition) and Dallara (Racing Team Nederland) still seem to struggle a bit with their race pace. Interesting to see however is how McLaren F1 protégé Nyck de Vries developes his endurance racing skills in the #29 Racing Team Nederland Dallara.
Consistency is key in the GT Pro championship and consistent front-runners is what Kevin Estre and Michael Christensen are in their Porsche 911 RSR. Not scored a Pole Position yet this season, but two wins, a 2nd place and a 3rd place brought them to a total of 96 points. After a strong start of the season with a win at Spa, a 2nd place at Le Mans and Pole Position in Silverstone runners-up Olivier Pla and Stefan Mücke were hit by bad luck: 6th at Silverstone, only 8th at Fuji.
Behind Porsche and Ford, the challengers Ferrari, BMW and Aston Martin are coming more and more up to speed. Alessandro Pier Guidi and James Calado in the AF Corse Ferrari 488 took their first victory of the season in Silverstone and only missed the podium by some 20 seconds at Fuji, Tom Blomqvist and Antonio Felix Da Costa took BMW’s first podium at Fuji with a 2nd place, and Nicky Thiim and Marco Sørensen scored Aston Martin’s first Pole Position of the year at Fuji. It would make for a close race between 5 manufacturers if AF Corse, BMW and Prodrive can close the gap up front even further.
Or maybe even 6? In the context of the C7.R farewell tour, Chevrolet is fielding a Chevrolet Corvette in a special Redline livery at Shanghai. This marks the (one-time) return of the GM-brand to the WEC. Can drivers Tommy Milner and Olli Gavin match up against the other manufacturers?
GT Am is mostly a battle between the Porsche’s and the Aston’s. First and second in the championship are the 911’s of Dempsey Proton and Project 1, followed by the Aston’s of TF Sport and AMR. The Ferrari’s of the Clearwater Racing and Spirit of Race teams seem to slowly lose a bit of ground, after Le Mans not a single prancing horse has seen the podium.