After 5 long months of racing, the premier class of endurance racing, the World Endurance Championship is back with the ever exciting 6 Hours Of Silverstone. This year, the LMP1 field has been shortened to only 5 cars for the normal races and 6 for Le Mans after the departure of Audi Sport and Rebbelion Racing at the end of last season.
Although we will have a lot less cars this year, there is a better chance of a clear battle between the top teams, Porsche and Toyota. The third team to compete in the LMP1 field this year is privateer ByKolles Racing. Former F1 race winner Robert Kubica was scheduled to drive the ByKolles #4 car along with Oliver Webb and James Rossiter but the Pole pulled out recently due to undisclosed reasons. Replacing him will be Austrian Dominik Kraihamer who previously drove for Rebbelion Racing LMP1.
Speaking of driver line up changes, Porsche have major changes to their lineup. 2015 World Champion Mark Webber of the #2 car retired at the end of last season and the Aussie is replaced by 2015 Le Mans winner Earl Bamber. Bamber will be partnered by fellow countryman Brendon Hartley and Germany’s Timo Bernhard.
There were more major changes in the #1 car, with Romain Dumas and Marc Lieb departing after winning Le Mans being crowned World Champions last season. Their teammate and 2016 Le Mans winner Neel Jani will be partnered by two Le Mans winners as well in the form of Andre Lotterer; who has taken refuge at Porsche after his former team Audi pulled the plug on their LMP1 programme. The other driver is Britain’s Nick Tandy who won Le Mans along with Earl Bamber and Nico Hulkenberg in 2015. Porsche have got themselves 6 very experienced top drivers, all of whom have won Le Mans at some point or the other. This will pay Porsche dividends later in the season as experience is a major factor in order to win the Le Mans 24 Hours Race.
The 919 has been updated this year to be faster than ever. The car uses the same chassis but the rest is very different as said by Porsche themselves. The tip of the nose has been raised due to the increase in the splitter height. The car’s headlights have become much more observable as they are now gigantic as compared to last year’s 919. The new car is powered by a 2.0-litre V4 Petrol Engine linked with an 8MJ Hybrid System making the engine ‘the most efficient combustion engine in the history of Porsche’. The new 919 features a striking new white, grey, red and black livery with white as the primary colour. A stripe of red and light grey separates the white and black and makes the car soothing to look at. It is one of the best looking cars on the current WEC grid including the LMP2 and GTE cars if not the best.
Toyota have not made major changes to their driver lineup with the drivers in the #8 car remaining the same with Sebastian Buemi, Kazuki Nakajima and Anthony Davidson at the helm. The interesting thing is that all three drivers in the #8 car have F1 experience! In the #7 car Mike Conway and Kamui Kobayashi will be partnered by Jose Maria Lopez who replaces Stephane Sarrazin. Sarrazin will be driving the #9 car at Spa and Le Mans and his teammates will be Nicolas Lapierre and Yuji Kunimoto. I feel that Toyota are slightly lacking in terms of driver quality but if their car is faster, that would have a lesser significance than if their car was slower.
Not much has changed with the TS050 Hybrid as it still uses the 2.4 Litre V6 engine with an 8MJ hybrid system just like Porsche. The raw car design has also not changed much and so hasn’t the car’s livery, sporting the same combination of white, black and red with grey over the car’s roof.
From the looks of the tests and the practice sessions, Toyota seem to have the edge over Porsche for Silverstone to say the least as the Japanese took a fabulous 1-2 in Qualifying on Saturday. But, Porsche have always been strong at Silverstone and they might be sandbagging; whatever it is, we are in for a great race on Sunday!
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