Photo: Paola Depalmas/Adrenal Media
The 2014 FIA World Endurance Championship begins in the UK this weekend with the 6 Hours of Silverstone, the first of eight events including the 24 Hours of LeMans, June 14-15, and the debut of night racing at Circuit of the Americas with the inaugural Lone Star LeMans, a 6-hour race starting at 5 pm, Saturday, Sept. 20. Other stops in the series’ third season include 6-hour races at Spa-Francorchamps, Fuji, Shanghai, Bahrain, and the Nov. 30 season finale in Sao Paulo.
Porsche returns to prototype endurance racing as part of the 2014 championship, its 919 Hybrid joining returning LMP1 factory teams from Audi (R18 e-tron quattro) and Toyota (TS040 Hybrid). Audi’s two entries will have 2012 Champions Marcel Fassler, Benoit Treluyer, and Andre Lotterer in the #2 car, and fellow returning drivers and defending champions Tom Kristensen and Loic Duval joined by Lucas di Grassi, replacing the retired Allan McNish, in the #1.
“The new season shows that this World Championship with three manufacturers in the LMP1 class and the large number of other teams in the field is heading in the right direction,” said Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich, head of Audi Motorsport. “Getting this series off the ground was a challenge. Now we’re feeling real momentum. I’ll be very happy when the season starts at Silverstone. It’s been a very intensive winter due to the new regulations. The current adjustments to the regulations make the situation particularly difficult for us.”
Di Grassi described Silverstone as “a very special race for the whole WEC, for Audi, and for me. I’m at the beginning of my first full WEC season. Now, the most efficient car and the most efficient drivers will have an advantage. New rules and new challengers mean that things will be even more difficult. I regard myself as a rookie in this squad and want to learn as much as possible from Loïc Duval and Tom Kristensen.”
The Porsche campaign is highlighted by former Red Bull Formula 1 driver Mark Webber’s presence behind the wheel, sharing the ride with Brendon Hartley and Timo Bernhard. Neel Jani, Romain Dumas, and Marc Lieb will drive the other 919. All six of Toyota’s drivers for 2013 return this year: Alex Wurz, Stephane Sarrazin, Kaz Nakajima, Anthony Davidson, Nicolas Lapierre, and Sebastian Buemi.
OAK Racing, which took the first two spots in the LMP2 championship last year, will this year run a Morgan-Nissan for G-Drive Racing. G-Drive finished third last year. The #26 G-Drive entry will be piloted by 2-year returning driver Roman Rusinov, with new teammates Olivier Pla and with Julien Canal.
The GT classes should also be more competitive than ever. 2012 LMP2 title winner Enzo Potolicchio will drive his 8Star Motorsports’ AF Corse-prepared LMGTE Am #90 Ferrari 458 Italia with Gianluca Roda and Paolo Ruberti for the 2014 campaign. “We are definitely feeling positive heading into this weekend,” Potolicchio said. “It’s an exciting time for 8Star and we’ve been very happy with this latest partnership with AF Corse for the FIA World Endurance Championship. The engineers are highly-skilled and I think we can only target the win.”
“For me, I’m now used to racing in GTE-Am, although it still takes a great deal of concentration to look out for the LMP1 and LMP2 cars in your rear-view mirrors. Fortunately, I’m very familiar with all of the tracks from the previous two seasons and the Ferrari 458 Italia is a car I enjoy racing. If we have clean races, there’s no reason why we can’t win. Once again, it’s an exciting road to the Le Mans 24 Hours, which is our main focus.”
Aston Martin Racing, meanwhile, will celebrate its 10th anniversary at Silverstone, entering two Vantages each in GTE Pro and GTE Am. In the #97 Gulf-liveried Vantage LMGTE Pro, long-standing Aston Martin Racing duo Darren Turner – who has been with Aston Martin Racing since its inception in 2004 – and Stefan Mücke will join forces once again, having finished second in the 2013 championship behind AF Corse Ferrari drivers Gianmaria Bruni and Giancarlo Fisichella. “I’m excited to be back for another year in the World Endurance Championship,” comments Turner. “I think we’re set for another incredibly competitive season, especially in GTE Pro. It’s good to team up with Stefan again too. We can’t wait to get stuck into the championship and we haven’t got long to wait now.”
The second Pro car, the #99 Craft-Bamboo Vantage GTE, which will run in its Valero livery for this race, will be driven by three newcomers to the team; Darryl O’Young, Fernando Rees, and Alex MacDowall. In the LMGTE Am class, with Aston Martin won last year by one point over 8Star, the #95 Young Driver Vantage GTE returns for a second year, once again with an all-Danish line-up. Kristian Poulsen, who raced the whole of last season with the team, will return alongside Nicki Thiim, who raced in the second half of the year, and David Heinemeier-Hansson who is the latest addition to the team. Christoffer Nygaard, who competed in the Young Driver car last year, will return to Aston Martin Racing, this time behind the wheel of the #98 NorthWest Vantage GTE with 2013 returnees Paul Dalla Lana and Pedro Lamy.