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FIA World Endurance Championship 2024 - Season Preview, Prologue

26th - 27th February 2024

Season preview by Štěpán Koutník, photos by Martin Kubanka and DPPI

The 2024 season has started and it's even bigger than last year. Combined grid having 37 entries, evenly split between LMH with 19 cars and LMGT3 with 18. Sadly there was no space for the LMP2 category, but it will return for the 24 Hours of Le Mans. The first on-track action of this season is the Prologue, this year hosted at Qatar. The Prologue had to be shifted from the weekend to Monday and Tuesday due to shipping delays, which caused some of the cars to get to the circuit only hours before the first practice. The first race is the 1812 km of Qatar, which follows immediately after the Prologue. For the first time it will be followed by 6 Hours of Imola in April and traditionally 6 Hour of Spa in May. The 24 Hours of Le Mans with its Test day will take place over two weekends in June. The return to Sao Paulo since 2014 will follow in July preceding another returning venue - Circuit of the Americas hosting the Lone Star Le Mans for the first time since 2020, when it was won by privateer Rebellion Racing. The season will end traditionally with a 6 hour race at Fuji and 8 hour race at Bahrain.

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LMH - NEW GOLDEN ERA IS HERE

In the LMH category, some of the fan favourite manufacturers like Glickenhaus or Vanwall are gone, but the Hypercar field has grown significantly. In addition to last year's brands Toyota, Peugeot, Cadillac, Porsche and Le Mans winner Ferrari, there are 4 newcomers in the manufacturers championship. Three of those have built their cars according to LMDh: BMW coming from IMSA after a year there, Alpine focusing on a 2-car effort in FIA WEC and Lamborghini splitting its forces with one car in FIA WEC and one in IMSA. The last of the newcomer is Issotta Fraschini, an Italian hypercar manufacturer making a comeback and building a car to the LMH regulations.

Starting with last year's championship, Toyota Gazoo Racing bring their proven GR010. There are only small updates on the car, but most visible is the change of livery. White base colour is replaced by black to correspond with their global colouring. After years Jose Maria Lopez is replaced by Nyck de Vries, after his unsuccessful campaign in Formula 1. While the two cars combined for the largest amount of laps by manufacturer during Prologue (571 laps), the car lacked speed and were left more than 1 second behind the pace-setter. Will we see them struggle this year pace-wise, will the other circuits suit their cars better or will we see a change of BOP to help them out? We'll see over the season, what the experienced team can do.

#7 Toyota Gazoo Racing - Toyota GR010 - Hybrid - Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi, Nyck de Vries

#8 Toyota Gazoo Racing - Toyota GR010 - Hybrid - Sébastien Buemi, Brendon Hartley, Ryo Hirakawa

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Following with the squad that took the victory in the centenary edition of 24 Hours of Le Mans in 2023, Ferrari. Operated by AF Corse, the team opted for continuity and retained all 6 of their drivers. There are no updates to the car, instead the team will go for refining their performances from last year. Number 51 did 292 laps during Prologue, most of any of the cars, and didn't lose too much time to the fastest car. There were podiums collected last year, but no win in the shorter races. Will it change this year?

#50 Ferrari AF Corse - Ferrari 499P - Antonio Fuoco, Miguel Molina, Nicklas Nielsen

#51 Ferrari AF Corse - Ferrari 499P - Alessandro Pier Guidi, James Calado, Antonio Giovinazzi

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Next up on the list is Porsche. Collaboration with Penske Motorsport goes into its second year and after struggling for most of the season in 2023, their form improved after their horrible Le Mans. Their year started perfectly with a victory in the Rolex 24 at Daytona. There is only one change in the line-up: Dane Cameron is replaced by Matt Campbell in the #5. For the 24 Hours of Le Mans we will see a return of a third car which will be driven by the IMSA drivers. Prologue pace showed the potential of the car seems to be unlocked and there is more to come from this team. Frédéric Makowiecki topped the time sheets in the Prologue, narrowly beating Cadillac and JOTA - are LMDh cars finally able to compete with Hypercars on the same level?

#5 Porsche Penske Motorsport - Porsche 963 - Matt Campbell, Michael Christensen, Frédéric Makowiecki

#6 Porsche Penske Motorsport - Porsche 963 - Kévin Estre, André Lotterer, Laurens Vanthoor

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Cadillac is coming here with the best sounding car of them all. There were a lot of successes in IMSA, notably winning the GTP championship and 12 Hours of Sebring, but there was limited success in the FIA WEC - highlight being the 3rd place on the podium in the 24 Hours of Le Mans. After the departure of Richard Westbrook, the 3rd seat in the Cadillac will see a different driver for each race. Only one car is entered though, but it will be joined by #3 and #311 Cadillacs for the 24 Hours of Le Mans similarly to last year. In the Prologue there was less than 0.1 s separating Cadillac from Porsche, maybe they found a recipe on the car in the WEC.

#2 Cadillac Racing - Cadillac V-Series.R - Earl Bamber, Alex Lynn, Sébastien Bourdais

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Radical design without a rear wing is back, but not for long. Peugeot has developed a new version of their 9X8 for this season with a rear wing and enlarged rear tyres to counter the shortcomings of their design. This new car is set to make its debut in the second round of the season in Imola so Qatar will be final race for the aggressive concept. The current car has lot of race mileage under its belt, but in the Prologue it was behind in lap time and number of laps as well.

#93 Peugeot TotalEnergies - Peugeot 9X8 - Mikkel Jensen, Nico Müller, Jean-Eric Vergne

#94 Peugeot TotalEnergies - Peugeot 9X8 - Paul di Resta, Loïc Duval, Stoffel Vandoorne

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Very successful Team WRT returns to FIA WEC as a BMW factory team. After an ending of the Audi LMDh program, the team instead switched to BMW with a plan to enter FIA WEC in 2024. Their LMDh car does not have a great reputation in terms of reliability, but there is experience from running the car for one year in IMSA. This is the first top class prototype program for BMWs since 2000 and after a challenging Rolex 24 at Daytona gradual progress is to be expected over the FIA WEC season. The car is based on the same Dallara platform as Cadillac, but uses a twin turbocharged version of the V8 previously campaigned in DTM. Prologue times suggest this could be the best of the newcomers, but still the best time was 1.2 s off the best effort of Porsche

#15 BMW M Team WRT - BMW M Hybrid V8 - Dries Vanthoor, Raffaele Marciello, Marco Wittmann

#20 BMW M Team WRT - BMW M Hybrid V8 - Sheldon van der Linde, Robin Frijns, René Rast

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Alpine comes back to the Hypercar class after racing the grandfathered Rebellion R13 from the LMP1 class in 2021 and 2022. The squad has multiple Le Mans class wins under its belt and successful years in LMP2 underline this. The car will make its debut in Qatar after having no racing experience, but having done a lot of mileage during testing. The base chassis is from Oreca (same as Acura in IMSA) and it utilises a V6 Mecachrome engine with single turbocharger. They struggled during Prologue to extract time from the car and ended 2 seconds behind the best car. As this is their first race, trying to finish the race in one piece is a more realistic target.

#35 Alpine Endurance Team - Alpine A424 - Paul-Loup Chatin, Ferdinand Habsburg-Lothringen, Charles Milesi

#36 Alpine Endurance Team - Alpine A424 - Nicolas Lapierre, Mick Schumacher, Matthieu Vaxiviere

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Another manufacturer with no race experience is Lamborghini. The car is the first to be based on Ligier chassis with a twin-turbo V8 and it is run by experienced outfit Iron Lynx. There is only a single car entered by this outfit, but the second one is coming for the 24h Le Mans from the US. There is no experience with Ligier chassis to date, but the Prologue showed the car can run at the same speed as Alpine. Gradual increase in performance is expected over the course of the season.

#63 Lamborghini Iron Lynx - Lamborghini SC63 - Mirko Bortolotti, Edoardo Mortara, Daniil Kvyat

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Last of the cars entered in the manufacturers championship is Isotta Fraschini. The boutique manufacturer is making a comeback this year after being successful in the 1930s. It is coming back to top level racing and road going cars will be produced as well. Jean-Karl Vernay is a very experienced driver who lost the opportunity to show his skills when Peugeot cancelled their LMP1 project in late 2011, but the other two drivers have limited experience in top prototype racing. The car struggled during Prologue to finish almost 4 seconds off the pace.

#11 Isotta Fraschini - Isotta Fraschini Tipo6-C - Antonio Serravalle, Carl Wattana Bennett, Jean-Karl Vernay

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The rest of the Hypercar field is made up of privately entered cars. The first of them is an increased 2-car effort from Hertz Team JOTA. The successful squad became the first non-factory team to enter a Hypercar last year and they already showed a lot of speed during the last race of the previous year in Bahrain. The #12 JOTA car managed to sweep the first two sessions of Prologue. Another Porsche customer is Proton Competition. The team was last to receive their 963s but is gathering experience from IMSA as well. The last privateer effort is from AF Corse. The same team that is running the factory cars is fielding this yellow colored Ferrari for a promising trio of drivers. Yifei Ye impressed during last year's Le Mans where he managed to lead the race overall for a couple of laps. These entries will not compete in the manufacturers championship, instead they will battle for the FIA World Cup for Hypercar Teams.

#12 Hertz Team JOTA - Porsche 963 - Will Stevens, Callum Ilott, Norman Nato

#38 Hertz Team JOTA - Porsche 963 - Jenson Button, Phil Hanson, Oliver Rasmussen

#99 Proton Competition - Porsche 963 - Harry Tincknell, Neel Jani, Julien Andlauer

#83 AF Corse - Ferrari 499P - Robert Kubica, Robert Schwartzmann, Yifei Ye

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LMGT3 - FAMILIARITY MIXING WITH NEW FACES

The great category of LMGTE is gone and LMGT3 is here. Variety is what comes with this new category - 9 manufacturers with 2 cars each entered for the full season. The cars are more based on road cars with ABS being one of the biggest differences. There wasn't enough space on the entry list for all leaving Audi and Mercedes without any entries. For Le Mans and ELMS only cars from already entered manufacturers will be allowed, giving the two manufacturers the possibility to enter only IMSA and Le Mans cup in the ACO pyramid of racing. There are some returning faces within the entry list, but many newcomers. As this category is focused on amateur drivers, it will be on them to do most of the driving and decide the race for their entries.

Aston Martin is here with their EVO version of the Vantage GT3. The car looks more aggressive than the original version and it already has one 24 hour race under its belt. They are operated by Prodrive, but entered as two separate teams. According to the Prologue times Ian James with Clément Mateu look to be one of the strongest bronze drivers in the field and they are supported by an experienced set of silver and pro drivers.

#27 Heart of Racing Team - Aston Martin Vantage AMR GT3 EVO - Ian James, Daniel Mancinelli, Alex Riberas

#777 D'Station Racing - Aston Martin Vantage AMR GT3 EVO - Clément Mateu, Erwan Bastard, Marco Sorensen

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BMW is a newcomer to the FIA WEC and in the same way as in LMH, the cars are operated by Team WRT. BMW M4 GT3 is a proven package with multiple endurance wins and championships all over the world and WRT will certainly operate the car efficiently. Both of the cars include highly talented line-ups headlined by BMW factory drivers and no other than Valentino Rossi. During the prologue the cars managed to complete the second largest amount of laps.

#31 Team WRT - BMW M4 GT3 - Darren Leung, Sean Gelael, Augusto Farfus

#46 Team WRT - BMW M4 GT3 - Ahmad Al Harthy, Valentino Rossi, Maxime Martin

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After a successful championship winning season with Ben Keating and Corvette Racing, the new GT3 version of C8 evolution of Chevrolet Corvette enters the season. Both cars are entered by TF Sport, which has switched manufacturers during the off season. The car endured a difficult debut during the Rolex 24 at Daytona, but the drivers proved the car is fast during the Prologue. In the hands of Tom van Rompuy the car seemed to be quick as he ended up as the third quickest bronze driver of Prologue.

#81 TF Sport - Corvette Z06 GT3.R - Tom van Rompuy, Rui Andrade, Charlie Eastwood

#82 TF Sport - Corvette Z06 GT3.R - Hiroshi Koizumi, Sébastien Baud, Daniel Juncadella

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Ferrari is back with their trusted team AF Corse and the Ferrari 296 GT3. The car competed all over the world last year and wrote itself into history by being the first non-German manufacturer to win the 24h Nürburgring since Chrysler Viper won in 2002, setting the distance record in the process. Another success came in the form of victory in Rolex 24 at Daytona this year, when Risi Competizione brought the car home in the 1st place in GTD PRO category. Switching from LMGTE, Thomas Flohr will continue to drive in the WEC with Ferrari and already showed some speed in Prologue, finishing fourth and less than a second behind the leading Aston Martin

#54 Vista AF Corse - Ferrari 296 GT3 - Thomas Flohr, Francesco Castellacci, Davide Rigon

#55 Vista AF Corse - Ferrari 296 GT3 - François Heriau, Simon Mann, Alessio Rovera

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Proton Competition is back but after 12 years in the GTE category operating Porsches, they switched to Ford for this year. Similarly to the Corvette, the new Mustang had its debut in Rolex 24 at Daytona and while it showed potential, the cars experienced various issues. Prologue wasn't their strongest showing and a lot of learning must be expected from this squad.

#77 Proton Competition - Ford Mustang GT3 - Ryan Hardwick, Zacharie Robichon, Ben Barker

#88 Proton Competition - Ford Mustang GT3 - Giorgio Roda, Mikkel Pedersen, Dennis Olsen

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Lamborghini is represented here by the Iron Lynx outfit, the same team operating the Hypercar from the same marque. One of the cars is the Iron Dames entry, fully female line-up returning to WEC after winning the last GTE race in FIA WEC. They have one year of experience with the car from GT World Challenge, but there it was the top class. Both cars struggled to reach top 10 in the Prologue.

#60 Iron Lynx - Lamborghini Huracán GT3 Evo2 - Claudio Schiavoni, Matteo Cressoni, Franck Perera

#85 Iron Dames - Lamborghini Huracán GT3 Evo2 - Sarah Bovy, Doriane Pin, Michelle Gatting

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The oldest car model in the field is the Lexus RC-F GT3. The car has a lot of experience in IMSA and Japanese Super GT, but it hasn't participated in European races since 2021. The cars will be operated by AKKODIS ASP, which switches from successfully running Mercedes-AMG cars for many years. In the coming years this car is expected to be replaced by the newly developed Toyota/Lexus GT3, but until then it will be interesting to see where these entries slot in. The cars seemed to struggle on overall lap time, but produced the highest GT top speeds in Prologue.

#78 AKKODIS ASP Team - Lexus RC-F GT3 - Arnold Robin, Timur Boguslavskiy, Kelvin van der Linde 

#87 AKKODIS ASP Team - Lexus RC-F GT3 - Takeshi Kimura, Esteban Masson, Jose Maria Lopez

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Familiar faces return in the form of United Autosports. The experienced squad from LMP2 Class in WEC, ELMS and IMSA, will operate the Evo version of McLaren's GT3 challenger. The team for this GT3 operation was built only after the entry was confirmed, though the drivers showed promising speed during the Prologue.

#59 United Autosports - McLaren 720S GT3 Evo - James Cottingham, Nicolas Costa, Grégoire Saucy

#95 United Autosports - McLaren 720S GT3 Evo - Josh Caygill, Nico Pino, Marino Sato

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Last but not least, the successful and ever present manufacturer, Porsche, is operated by Manthey Racing, the same team that was behind the GTE-PRO effort in previous years of FIA WEC. Same as Ferrari, the Porsche debuted in 2023 and into its successes counts DTM title and 12h Sebring GTD-PRO victory.

#91 Manthey Ema - Porsche 911 GT3 R - Yassir Shahin, Morris Schuring, Richard Lietz

#92 Manthey Purerxcing - Porsche 911 GT3 R - Aliaksandr Malykhin, Joel Sturm, Klaus Bachler

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