Imola 6 Hours and ILMC Becoming FIA Championship

When I heard that the Intercontinental Le Mans Cup was to become an official FIA sanctioned championship next year I was really pleased. Endurance racing deserves to be on par with the likes of F1 and WRC in my opinion, and from next season it will be. It’s a fantastic decision.

The official name of the new series will be the FIA World Endurance Championship, which sounds great to me. In terms of the races and the way it works though, not much will change from the current ILMC which is probably the best thing, though I wouldn’t say no to a few more races being added to the schedule.

Still, before that begins, there’s a small matter of this year’s ILMC to be decided. The first race since the headline 24 hour race happened this past weekend, the 6 hours of Imola. I didn’t manage to catch the whole thing, but from what I did see, Peugeot’s 908 seemed to have the raw pace at this race that they lacked at Le Mans. Anthony Davidson was driving extremely well and despite a late scare with a puncture while Seb Bourdais was in the car, the 7 Peugeot held on to win from the 8. The Audi’s struggled to keep up in traffic and finished third and fourth a lap down.

Despite the fact that a Peugeot 908 has won each of the 3 other races but Le Mans itself this year (1 for Team Oreca and 2 for the factory team), I’m sure they would trade them for that elusive 24 hour win, which hopefully they’ll get again in 2012. In the meantime, winning every other race in the ILMC will help ease the pain until next June I’m sure. This starts with the 1000km of Silverstone in August, which Peugeot also won last year.


Sebring 12 Hours, ILMC Look-Ahead

Team Oreca Matmut - Peugeot 908 HDi FAP Driven...
The winning Team Oreca Matmut 908. Image by Dave Hamster via Flickr

I was a bit surprised when I sat down to watch the highlights of the Sebring 12 Hours to find that Audi were still using their old R15 car while Peugeot had the brand new 908, complete with engine cover fin. If I were Peugeot, I may be slightly worried about the fact that Audi’s old car was so competitive with their new one.

It is true that the new LMP1 rules for this year mean that the cars are less powerful compared to last year. The problem is that even though the R15 was restricted in power at this race, it is known that the R18 will be a step up in aerodynamic performance over the older car used in this race. Because of this, I think this year’s ILMC will be fiercely competitive, especially at the namesake race of the series, the famous Le Mans 24 Hours itself.

Interestingly, it wasn’t a car from either the Peugeot or Audi factory teams that won this though, bumpy race in Florida. That honour went to Team Oreca Matmut, who are still using last year’s 908 HDI FAP. They probably didn’t have the pace or drivers to win the race in normal conditions, but there are never normal conditions in endurance racing. The Peugeot and Audi cars took each other out and hit trouble, while Team Oreca managed to stay consistent and avoid any catastrophes in order to take the win.

Equally exciting was the fact that the Highcroft racing team, entering a petrol powered Acura LMP2 car were able to hold off the Peugeot factory team for second place. This was a great result for the team especially considering their budget. Nick Wirth, who is the technical director of the Virgin Racing team and his company Wirth Research designed the car using CFD, the same computer simulation replacement for a wind tunnel that they deploy in F1 now. This has proved to be much more successful results wise, and you can definitely see the future potential of the technique as well as the demise of costly wind tunnels.

In the GT classes, it was great to see the BMW team take a 1-2 of their category with teams including WTCC refugees Andy Priaulx and Augusto Farfus. I’m sure they would have prefered to have been in Brazil this weekend for the start of the WTCC season with the brand new cars, but this is definitely a very nice consolation result for them both. It was also great to see Giancarlo Fisichella in GT cars as I was hoping he was still racing after losing his race seat in F1 and becoming one of Ferrari’s test and reserve drivers last season.

I think it was a really exciting race with an interesting outcome that really took people by surprise. As far as the rest of the ILMC season, I think it’s too close to call. There were suggestions made at the start of the season by drivers such as Anthony Davidson that the Peugeot and Audi factories were concerned that the petrol cars behind them may be able to compete with them much more closely than was possible before. Close racing is a great thing that we all want, but we don’t want team spending far less money to have an unfair advantage, and I hope that doesn’t happen. If lower budget teams do win, I want it to be like what happened with Highcroft this weekend and not another way.