After a month since the Season 8 finale in Bahrain, we look at the defining moments of the 2019/20 FIA World Endurance Championship.
441 days. An outstanding figure that represented the longest season of the FIA World Endurance Championship with the opening round back at Silverstone in September, 2019.
The season was set in motion to conclude 2019 with a races at Fuji, Shanghai, and Bahrain.
The WEC circus was set to go to Brazil for the 6 Hours of São Paulo, a planned return to the calendar since it last appeared in 2014.
An agreement to host the race was never achieved so the alternative was to host the 6 Hours of COTA (or the Lone Star Le Mans) in February; other potential venues included Kyalami and the Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez.
After a six month break, and the 1000 Miles of Sebring cancelled, the WEC returned to Spa-Francorchamps.
That was followed by the 24 Hours of Le Mans, and then another 8 Hours of Bahrain to round off the season.
Throughout this enduring narrative were a number of talking points.
LMP1 and its success handicap
Ahead of the eighth and final season featuring the LMP1 cars, the FIA implemented the ‘success handicap’ in order to give just as equal chance to the non-hybrid cars at a victory – there were only Rebellion Racing and two Ginetta LNTs at the beginning.
In simpler terms, the success handicap utilised the typical parameters to adjust the performance of the entries, most notably on the two Toyota GAZOO Racing prototypes.
The hybrids would be hindered on the allocated amount of KERS (on the Toyotas) and fuel on a per lap basis, as well as controlling the maximum amount of fuel inserted (at the pit-stops) per stint.
The severity of these parameters were based on where the cars were in the championship, so the championship leader faced the harshest handicap.
After the 8 Hours of Bahrain (2019), Ginetta would no longer participate in that season, although the handicap operated clumsily.
Kamui Kobayashi, who drove in the #7 TGR which lead most of the championship, suggested that the handicap label was misleading since it ended up deciding the overall victor.
A first-ever overall victory for a privateer
Despite the controversial nature of the handicap, it did close the front-runners and Rebellion Racing made history to become the first-ever privateer team to win overall in the WEC.
At the cost of the Toyotas, the Rebellion and Ginetta entries were on par with each other’s performance at the 4 Hours of Shanghai.
The Toyotas would use their KERS for a brief boost out of the turns as well as being able to carry more speed into them, with their more sophisticated suspension components.
The three n/a LMP1s would have a 30-40 kph advantage down Shanghai International’s 1.2 km straight, and a slightly lesser advantage onto the brief start-finish stretch; the Toyotas lost 4-5 seconds per lap relative to their capable outright pace.
The first 20 minutes were fulfilled with a close battle for the lead, and the Ginettas held a 1-2.
A drive-through penalty was awarded for a jump start for the #6 and the #7 following a difficult getaway for the Rebellion.
Only couple of hours into the race did it emerge that Rebellion would surely take the win having fought past the #8 Toyota.
For Bruno Senna, Gustavo Menezes and Norman Nato, it was an emotional and record-breaking achievement for the team.
Rebellion has always been victorious above other privateers throughout their 13 years of endurance racing, but an overall WEC victory was fitting to their concluding efforts.
The 24 Hours of Le Mans Virtual
With the COVID pandemic taking its full swing earlier in the year, the Season 8 calendar was disrupted following the cancellation of the 1000 Miles of Sebring.
Formula 1 held its Virtual GP season featuring Codemasters’ F1 2020 video game, as Formula E also hosted a virtual ‘Race at Home Challenge’ season using the rFactor 2 platform; the electric single-seater championship raced in the intent of raising funds for UNICEF.
Other championships went virtual too, but approaching what would have been the date of the real-life Le Mans 24 Hours, it was the WEC’s turn to go virtual.
A collaboration between Motorsport Games, the FIA WEC, and the ACO (Automobile Club l’Ouest) organised the 24 Hours of Le Mans Virtual on the rFactor 2 platform.
It featured 200 of the world’s most known sim-racers and professional racing drivers, from 37 countries, with a 50 car grid (20 LMPs – LMP2s – and 30 GTEs) to battle for the victory over 24 hours.
The WEC fully embraced the virtual platform with a mix of the WEC regulars and esports racing commentators and pitlane reporters.
There was an established stewarding system and sporting/technical regulations, featuring the Race Director for the WEC and Le Mans 24 Hours, Eduardo Freitas.
The race also featured a range of guests from musicians to the famous names of Jacky Ickx, Derrick Bell, Tom Christensen, and more.
The award-winning virtual event was also covered here on Last Lap, including all the breaking news leading up to the race, live-text coverage during the 24 hours, and also the output of regular race reports.
The event was highly praised and was recently awarded the Pioneering and Innovation Award at the 2020 Autosport Awards, and also the Leaders Sports Award for Live Experience.
Unsurprisingly, viewership statistics were at a record, as well as overall social media hits at 60 million across all platforms – double that what Formula 1 achieved across their whole season.
The global TV distribution included EuroSport, Sky Sports, ESPN, REV, J Sport and Supersport; TV and OTT reached over 14.2 million views, whilst online streaming was at over 8.6 million.
Across Facebook, Twitch and Youtube, where the race was streamed on, the 24 Hours of Le Mans Virtual generated the most number of hours watched in comparison to any other sim racing event at just over 1.4 million hours.
In fact, over 63 million people were treated to this unique sim-racing event on June 13-14.
A jubilant return to racing after six months of silence
Despite a six month gap since the 6 Hours of COTA, the WEC was eager to get back to racing but with a cautious mindset.
Some of the LMP2 and GTE-Am drivers and teams had already returned to racing in the prior weeks, in the form of the European Le Mans Series’ rounds at Circuit Paul Ricard and Spa-Francorchamps.
It would still be an event to have the WEC return to racing, and it turned out to be an action-packed one.
Apart from the LMP1 category, all cars were battling hard for positions, even in the pitlane.
They all fought once again amongst their competitive classes and avoided the mistakes that others made around them during a rain-soaked 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps.
Drama, massive crash happened to #36 @SignatechAlpine's @ThomasLaurent85 but fortunately he has walked away from it. He will be taken to the medical centre for check. #6hSpa #WEC #WECRacesForYou pic.twitter.com/lshZkZVwOr
— WEC (@FIAWEC) August 15, 2020
A crash and a roll for Thomas Laurent’s #36 was the only DNF and safety-car-inducing moment throughout the eventful six hour race.
At the time, WEC fans were eager to see some racing again and Season 8 kicked back into life in what was only the second round in 2020.
Championships were fully-sealed at Le Mans and Bahrain
The Le Mans 24 Hours was unlike any other as it respectively took place behind closed doors and with 15 lesser entries than expected, with Corvette Racing, Kessel Racing, and Ginetta LNT amongst them.
Nevertheless, the race was left with a 59-car overall grid to fight for such a prestigious victory, including a number of debuting drivers and teams.
Following the action from the condensed schedule prior to the race, the main event itself continued the action in the form of wheel-to-wheel racing, rivalries, crashes, and drama.
Unless the two Toyotas were to completely DNF out of that race, it was certain that they would take a third overall win.
However, the #7 fell victim once again to unlucky circumstances even though it was apparent that they would seek redemption after missing out on a win in “19.
After 12 hours and into the depths of the everlasting darkness, the #7 faced a 30-minute stop to replace the turbocharger. Afterwards, the fight was on to secure a podium finish, after the #3 Rebellion faced drama towards the end.
Nevertheless, Rebellion claimed a Le Mans personal best of second on the LMP1 podium in what would be the team’s final sportscar race.
Down in LMP2, battles heated right through the 24 hours and until the end, as United Autosports claimed what was their sixth consecutive victory in their LMP2 commitments; they also secured the LMP2 championship title for drivers’ and constructors’.
In the GTE-Pro and Am categories, Aston Martin came out on top to claim both class victories (#97 works team and #90 TF Sport), thus securing the GTE manufacturers’ title.
Moving onto the finale of the season at Bahrain, the objectives stood strong in GTE-Pro and especially in Am to seal the FIA GT World Championship for Drivers’ and the FIA Endurance Trophy for Am (teams’ and drivers’).
In LMP2, the title was already sealed but the fight for the final win of the season was far from it.
The fight lasted right to the end of the eight hours and it was between the #37 Jackie Chan DC Racing, #38 JOTA and the #29 Racing Team Nederland.
The #37 emerged victorious to claim their first win of the season, and pole-sitter #22 finished fourth in-class.
In 2020, the championship-winning United Autosports team scored ten wins, 16 podiums and 13 pole positions in 16 races.
Phil Hanson, who partnered Filipe Albuquerque in both the #22’s WEC and ELMS commitments, reflected on the season:
“It’s amazing to think how far we have come from a DNF at Silverstone and winning Le Mans and the championship.
“I’m so happy to be part of a great team with great people.
“The relationship has been longer than just this year though, it’s been three seasons.
“Lots of changes throughout the time with United but I’m just really happy to be part of such a great team.”
Fabio Scherer looks to join Hanson and Albuquerque for the 2021 season as they look to defend the LMP2 title and the Le Mans crown.
|FIA WEC Season 9, 2021 – Calendar|
|March 13-14||Pre-Season Tests at Sebring (USA)|
|March 19||1000 Miles of Sebring (USA)|
|May 1||6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps (BEL)|
|June 12-13||24 Hours of Le Mans (FRA)|
|July 18||6 Hours of Monza (ITA)|
|September 26||6 Hours of Fuji (JPN)|
|November 20||6 Hours of Bahrain (BAH)|
This unusual season signified the relationship motorsport fans have to their most loved races, and the empty feeling when such connections are no longer fulfilled.
Despite the first absence of Silverstone on a WEC calendar, Season 9 and onwards looks to be exciting with the most recent LMDh and LMH news predicting what will be a highly competitive leading sportscar prototype category.
The passion still prevails after a challenging year for all but endurance fanatics will rejoice in what promises to be a warm future for the top class of endurance racing.
Toyota’s former WEC rivals Audi and Porsche look to return to Le Mans, ByKolles look to continue, and Scuderia Cameron Glickenhaus are set to make their WEC debut in Season 9, as are Peugeot in 2022.