FIA WEC 2013 mid-season review

As the motorsport calendar reaches its mid-point, takes a look at the championships in a mid-season review. Today it’s the turn of the World Endurance Championship.

With only three rounds completed thus far in 2013, and five still to come, the FIA World Endurance Championship’s summer break falls short of the half-way point. But there is no denying that Audi continue to be on dominant form, winning the first three events of the season, and finishing each round with at least two cars on the podium.

At the Silverstone 6 Hours season-opening race, Audi Sport Team Joest fielded a two-car team and secured a one-two finish, with the R18 e-tron quattro driven by Alan McNish, Tom Kristensen, and Loic Duval claiming the first WEC win of 2013. It was a thrilling battle to the finish between the two Audis, with McNish passing his stablemate for the lead in the closing minutes of the six-hour race.

Toyota started the season on the back foot, bringing to Silverstone a pair of 2012-spec TS030 HYBRIDs with which to challenge the current – and all-conquering – Audis in the LMP1 class. Despite the disadvantage, it was the Toyota of Alex Wurz and Nicolas Lapierre that lined up on pole, joined on the front row by the sister car of Anthony Davidson, Stefane Sarrazin, and Sebastien Buemi.

The new qualifying format introduced for 2013 proved itself to be initially unpopular with the drivers, who were vocal in their complaints during the Silverstone weekend. By the second round in Spa, however, criticism was muted. The aggregate system was not used in Le Mans.

By the second round of the season, the Spa 6 Hours, Toyota were running on of their 2013-spec machines, and the TS030 delivered a strong performance, with impressive qualifying pace. The car, driven by Wurz, Lapierre, and Kazuki Nakajima, led the race before retiring with power train issues. In the end it was an all-Audi podium led by Andre Lotterer, Marcel Fassler and Benoit Treluyer, but Toyota took heart from the promise shown by their 2013 challenger.

The 2013 24 Hours of Le Mans will be remembered for the tragic death of Danish racer Allan Simonsen, who was driving the No.95 Aston Martin Vantage GTE in the LMGTE Am class when he hit the barriers at Tertre Rouge and succumbed to his injuries. The race continued, and at the behest of the Simonsen family Aston Martin elected to withdraw, but it was a subdued event. The LMP1 class was won by the No.2 Audi R18 e-tron Quattro driven by McNish, Kristensen, and Duval, with Kristensen recording a record-breaking ninth Le Mans victory.

In the LMP2 class, 2013 has been a season of variety, with a different class winner at every outing. But while the name on the top step has changed from race to race, with Delta-ADR taking top honours at Silverstone, Pecom Racing claiming the class victory in Spa, and OAK Racing securing the first one-two finish of the LMP2 season at Le Mans, OAK have had a Morgan on the LMP2 podium at every race thus far, and currently occupy first- and second-place in the class standings.

It was a strong start for Aston Martin in 2013, with the British team taking the LMGTE Pro class win at their home race thanks to the assured performances of Darren Turner, Stefan Mucke, and Bruno Senna, while Frédéric Makowiecki, Paul Dalla Lana, and Pedro Lamy finished in third. In Spa it was the turn of AF Corse to claim a one-three finish, with Gianmaria Bruni and Giancarlo Fisichella claiming the top spot over Kamui Kobayashi and Toni Vilander. In Le Mans the tables were turned yet again, with Porsche AG Team Manthey securing a one-two victory; both cars had one more lap under their belts than the third-placed Aston Martin of Turner, Peter Dumbreck, and Mucke.

The first two rounds of the season gave the indication that the LMGTE Am class would be a three-horse race, with Aston Martin Racing, 8 Star Motorsports, and Larbre Competition securing podium finishes in both Silverstone and Spa. The Aston Martin all-Danish team of Allan Simonsen, Christoffer Nygaard, and Kristian Poulsen took the class victory in Silverstone, and finished second in Spa, but the Le Mans event saw Simonsen lose his life in a tragic accident in the opening minutes of the 24-hour race.  Aston Martin have confirmed that they will run five cars for the rest of the season, with Denmark’s Nicki Thiim replacing Simonsen in the No.95 car.

The FIA World Endurance Championship promises to go from strength to strength in future, thanks in part to an extension of the Eurosport broadcasting contract that will see the series broadcast to homes in 71 countries across Europe and the Asia-Pacific region. The contract runs until the end of 2016, and will see Eurosport air every round of the championship, and covers both TV and digital rights.

In the shorter term, the next race in Brazil promises to excite, with 28 cars entered for the Six Hours of Sao Paulo taking place on 1 September at Interlagos. The event has seen significant interest from South American entrants, and the grid will see drivers from Argentina, Mexico, Venezuela, and Brazil.