The FIA WEC 2013 at Silverstone is underway. Practice Sessions have started, the teams seem to be comfortable with their cars and we are looking forward to an exciting race on the weekend.
I arrived at the track on Thursday 14h30 just (!) in time for the Photographers’ briefing and sign-on, but everything got done in time and so it’s down to meeting old faces and catching up. Weather was a bit ‘iffy’ with heavy cloud and rather cool, but this is April and anything is possible so took the opportunity to zoom outside and try to catch a few impromptu shots. The teams and personnel are all a bit cagey and garages are closed while they were setting up their gear for the weekend. It’s understandable that folk are a bit on edge, this is after all the first race of the WEC season, and although there have been two big races in the US, namely Daytona and Sebring, they are not part of the Championship.
Although all eyes will be on the top Audi and Toyota teams as they battle it out for overall honours, one should not forget the other P1 players in the form of Rebellion Racing and Strakka Racing. Should the top teams falter, and at the risk of appearing to favour one car over another (which I am not), the no.12 Rebellion car piloted by Nicolas Prost/Neel Jani/Nick Heidfeld in the Lola B12/60 Coupé Toyota must be in with a real chance especially with two of these drivers boasting F1 experience. The no.21 crew in the HPD ARX 03c Honda, Nick Leventis/Danny Watts/Jonny Kane don’t need to be shown the way around Silverstone either and are all vastly experienced drivers. Watts and Kane will do the qualifying as the 2013 rules require that the two fastest drivers are nominated to do this. The two fastest laps from each of the two drivers are added together (four best lap times) and averaged out to arrive at that team’s grid position, which should mix up the grid a bit and make things more interesting.
The P2 class, with 14 cars entered for the full WEC season, will be one of the most keenly fought in this year’s series and with nine of these being Nissan-powered, winning will be down to the skill of the drivers. The next biggest group is the GTE Am with eight cars, followed closely behind by P1 with seven and GTE Pro with six. Of course it is the GTE Pro class that will be particularly fiercely contested with the two new factory Porsches on the grid. Much is expected of the cars from Weissach, so these will be keenly watched.
Chatting to the team personnel often reveals some interesting snippets. For instance, the Strakka drivers, Leventis/Kane/Watts have been together now for four years as a trio, and this is immeasurably valuable from an experience point of view, and for building team trust. Although Strakka didnt get the time they would have liked in the car while at the Le Castellet tests, they used the dry sessions in the afternoons to do most of their testing as it rained in the mornings, and the night sessions were bugged by mist, but despite this they are still happy with the car which has not given any mechanical trouble. They would however have liked to get more time in the car as they have a new front end and bigger tyres, and this requires set-up time and development.
The Toyota engineer, John Litjens revealed that the Toyotas are in good shape and they have made some improvements to the car for 2013. The Silverstone race will see the two 2012 cars on the track, while the Spa race will see one 2012 car and one 2013 car, and at Le Mans both 2013 cars will be racing. Toyota have made some mods to the aero package but the hybrid system will be 99% the same as the 2012 car. They are quietly confident for 2013 having put a whole season behind them, and importantly, having won the last three races of the 2012 season plus recording a second place here at Silverstone last year.
The 19h00 season launch and cocktail party on Thursday evening was a good opportunity to meet and greet everyone who is anyone in the sports car racing world including drivers, team personnel and fellow journalists. The assembled group, several hundred strong, were addressed by MoC Bruno van der Stick, Pierre Fillon (President of ACO), Jean Todt (President of FIA – via video), Richard Phillips (Silverstone Circuits MD) and Sir Lindsay Owen Jones (President FIA Endurance Commission). Changes to the regulations for 2013 will see points from all eight races counting towards the Drivers’ Championship and the Manufacturers’ Championship, the drivers being eligible for champion status in each of the four classes.
Practice started at 12h25 for the WEC cars, and right away most cars were out of their pits and onto the track. This gave the world its first glimpse of the Porsche 911 RSR (seen here) driven in its works livery, and although it was about a second off the Ferrari’s pace in practice, this could be down to setup and a conservative approach on its debut outing.
Although it is early days, the no.2 Audi of Tom Kristensen (1:55.130) just nudged out the no.1 Audi of Andre Lotterer (1:55.156), with the no.7 Toyota (1:56.549) in third place, the Dane announcing that there is a lot more of that to follow. While not a lot should be read into these times because the cars and the drivers are still finding their feet and concentrating on getting in some time behind the wheel, it does show the top cars are firing on all cylinders. The no.8 Toyota and the no.12 Rebellion were fourth and fifth fastest respectively, while the top GTE Am car was the no.50 Larbre Competition Corvette.
So the early salvos have been fired in the season opening World Endurance Championship race at Silverstone, and as the weekend unfolds, the drama will be played out and we will bring you the latest news and results as it happens, so check back with us for more updates.