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FIA World Endurance Championship 2024 - 1812 km of Qatar

29th February - 2nd March 2024

Event report by Štěpán Koutník, photos by Martin Kubanka and DPPI

Thank you to my friend Martin Kubanka for providing wonderful photos for this report. 

The new FIA WEC season started with the 1812 km race at Qatar. The race was planned to be run to 1812 km or 10 hours, whatever comes first. This is due to the date 18. 12. is a national day remembering the establishment of Qatar as a state. For all the information about the season follow this link to the season preview:

FIA World Endurance Championship 2024 - 1812 km of Qatar (event report by Štěpán Koutník, photos by Martin Kubanka and DPPI) - picture number 001FIA World Endurance Championship 2024 - 1812 km of Qatar (event report by Štěpán Koutník, photos by Martin Kubanka and DPPI) - picture number 002

Qualifying

The new qualifying format showed great potential. Both classes have 2 sessions - the first part is 12 minutes long and is for all of the cars, the second part called Hyperpole is only for the top 10 from the first qualifying and lasts 10 minutes. Both Hyperpoles provided nialbiting action as cars are getting faster with increasing tyre temperature.

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In LMGT3 there was a great variety between the manufacturers in the Hyperpole with only Ford and Lexus missing out with both cars. The qualifying results are below:

1. #81 TF Sport - Corvette Z06 GT3.R ...................................................... 1:54.372

2. #92 Manthey Purerxcing - Porsche 911 GT3 R ............................................. + 0.807 s

3. #54 Vista AF Corse - Ferrari 296 GT3 ................................................... + 0.810 s

4. #777 D'Station Racing - Aston Martin Vantage AMR GT3 EVO ............................... + 0.812 s

5. #27 Heart of Racing Team - Aston Martin Vantage AMR GT3 Evo ............................ + 0.948 s

6. #85 Iron Dames - Lamborghini Huracán GT3 Evo2 .......................................... + 0.968 s

7. #59 United Autosports - McLaren 720S GT3 Evo ........................................... + 1.152 s

8. #95 United Autosports - McLaren 720S GT3 Evo ........................................... + 1.464 s

9. #46 Team WRT - BMW M4 GT3 .............................................................. + 1.656 s

10. #55 Vista AF Corse - Ferrari 296 GT3 ................................................... + 2.224 S

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The LMH category had an exciting session where #5 Porsche of Matt Campbell battled #7 Toyota of Nyck de Vries. The pair exchanged positions with almost each passing on the finish straight with Campbell coming out on top. Four of the Porsche Hypercars managed to get into the Hyperpole while #8 Toyota was the biggest surprise being the first one to miss out. Unsurprisingly the newcomers did not make it into the top 10, but 17 out of the 19 cars managed to do times within 2 seconds of the best car.

1. #5 Porsche Penske Motorsport - Porsche 963 ............................................. 1:39.347 s

2. #7 Toyota Gazoo Racing - Toyota GR010 - Hybrid ......................................... + 0.164 s

3. #12 Hertz Team JOTA - Porsche 963 ...................................................... + 0.275 s

4. #50 Ferrari AF Corse - Ferrari 499P .................................................... + 0.629 s

5. #6 Porsche Penske Motorsport - Porsche 963 ............................................. + 0.634 s

6. #93 Peugeot TotalEnergies - Peugeot 9X8 ................................................ + 0.720 s

7. #2 Cadillac Racing - Cadillac V-Series.R ................................................ + 0.756 s

8. #51 Ferrari AF Corse - Ferrari 499P .................................................... + 0.877 s

9. #38 Hertz Team JOTA - Porsche 963 ...................................................... + 1.015 s

10. #94 Peugeot TotalEnergies - Peugeot 9X8 ................................................ + 1.157 S

Race

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The race started at 11am on a beautiful sunny day with 22 °C ambient temperature. The best reaction on the start was from the #50 Ferrari driven by Miguel Molina. He managed to get around the outside of pole sitting #5 Michael Christensen and #7 Mike Conway. While #5 slotted into 2nd, the #7 Toyota lost 5 places to slot into 7th by the start of lap 2. The running order after 5 laps settled into: #50 Ferrari of Miguel Molina, #5 Porsche of Michael Christensen, #93 Peugeot of Nico Müller, #12 and #38 JOTA Porsches driven by Will Stevens and Phil Hanson, #51 Ferrari of James Calado, #6 Porsche of Laurens Vanthoor and #7 Toyota of Mike Conway. The best of the new manufacturers was #20 BMW of René Rast. Michael Christensen was right at the back of Miguel Molina with no opportunities to pass. Due to traffic the gaps were increasing and coming down, and while #5 managed to get alongside the leading Ferrari, he instead lost places. Who benefited from these battles was Nico Müller in the #93. The Peugeot first overtook #5 Porsche and then got around the outside of #50 in the first corner.

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In LMGT3 the battle for the lead was on. #81 of Tom van Rompuy started from the lead but was closely followed by #92 of Alex Malykhin and both Aston Martins. While Malykhin managed to get by, it was much harder for the rest of the followers to find opportunities, only #777 Aston Martin managing to overtake the Corvette before the first round of pit stops. The order changed in behind where #54 Ferrari battled with #27 Aston Martin, #85 Lamborghini and #46 BMW.

The first regular Hypercar pit stop started after 27 laps - the first to pit from the lead battle was the #50 from second place. Pit stops for GT3s started a lap later with #92 and #777 led half of the field into the pit lane. #777 D'Station Aston Martin lost a lot of time when the car stalled when driving from its pit stall. Some of the hypercars followed in a lap after #50, but most of the hypercar pit stops happened on lap 32. JOTA #12 led seven hypercars into the pit lane. The race leader #93 pitted a lap later leaving only #6, #8, #35 and #2 out. After the pit stops the order settled into #93 Peugeot of Nico Müller leading #6 Porsche of Laurens Vanthoor by 5 seconds followed by #5, #12 and #38 Porsches and #50, #51 and #83 Ferraris. The top ten was completed by #7 Toyota and #94 Peugeot. As the race crossed the first hour mark, #50 Ferrari received a drive through penalty for crossing the pit entry line, losing multiple positions while serving it. In LMGT3 Manthey continued to lead the class with #27 Aston Martin and #46 BMW completing the top 3.

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With the race settling into the second stint, Vanthoor started to catch Müller and by lap 45 the fight was on. The Porsche came alongside the Peugeot and tried to run around the outside in the first corner, but ran wide and settled back into second place, replay showing slight contact between the two cars. Traffic ensured the fight remained close in the next laps as well. On lap 54 a mistake in traffic for Nico Müller allowed Laurens Vanthoor to pass the Peugeot in turn 1, bringing Porsche into the lead. Vanthoor immediately started to run away from the Peugeot, building a 2 second advantage. During the second stint Michael Christensen in the #5 reported a lot of vibration and had to come to the pits earlier than planned to change tires and switch drivers. At the same time #51 had a contact with one of the McLarens and lost the whole rear section of the car including the rear wing. As this part remained on the race track, FCY was called to retrieve it. Because the pit stops under FCY are prohibited, nobody benefitted from this situation. After the FCY battle of the new Manufacturers emerged. Alpine was in 8th place, but the biggest battle was from 10th to 14th place - Alpine leading Lamborghini, followed by the two BMWs and recovering Cadillac, which had to fix damage after a contact on the first lap. As the Cadillac had one year of experience in the WEC, it was cutting through the newcomers, but they didn't make it easy for him.

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After a second round of pit stops for LMGT3s, some bronze drivers were replaced by silvers. The order was following: #92 and #91 Manthey Porsches driven by Joel Sturm and Morris Schurring, #27 of Ian James, #46 of Ahmad Al Harthy, #85 of Michelle Gatting, #54 of Francesco Castellacci and the pole setter #81 of Rui Andrade.

The Hypercar pit stops followed soon with most of the front runners completing their first driver changes. After the pit stops #6 emerged as the race leader with a comfortable margin of around 10 seconds over #12 JOTA of Callum Ilott. The biggest loser of the pit stops was the #93 Peugeot, which lost almost 20 seconds to the leading Porsche. It was followed by #5 and #38 Porsches, #94 Peugeot and #7 Toyota with the first Ferrari being the #83 customer AF Corse entry. The #8 Toyota and #15 BMW completed the top 10. The recovering #2 Cadillac in the hands of Sebastien Bourdais was slowly making progress through the field of newcomers, first overtaking Alpine of Mick Schumacher and then hunting down and passing BMW of Robin Frijns. The battle with the second BMW was interrupted by the race leader who was lapping them, but after a tough battle in the first corner Bourdais passed Marciello to get into the top 10. Following the Cadillac was the #50 Ferrari driven by Nicklas Nielsen, recovering from a drive through penalty. Bourdais continued his charge through the field, having a nice battle with #8 of Brendon Hartley. Over the course of the stint Kévin Estre managed to create a gap of over 20 seconds over the cars that were following him.

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The third round of pit stops started while the race settled into a rhythm. The race for the #81 Corvette started to fall apart when Rui Andrade stopped at the beginning of the pit lane with an issue, needing a push from their mechanics. The car was pushed into the garage and lost 10 laps before returning to the race track. After the pit stops the order was #92, #91, #27, #54, #46, #55, #777, #31, #95 and #82. Some of the teams opted to get the bronze drive time out of the way right at the start of the race and silver drivers made the difference in these stints.

After the hypercar pit stops, the Porsche #6 kept the lead of over 30 seconds ahead of #93 Peugeot, #5 Penske Porsche, #12 JOTA Porsche, #83 AF Corse Ferrari and #7 Toyota. Only the top 6 cars were still on the lead lap and the top 10 was completed by #38, #94, #2 and #50.

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The second Full Course Yellow was called on lap 154 to remove a large piece of debris from the track. It interrupted a great battle for the first place in LMGT3. #27 Aston Martin of Daniel Mancinelli was attacking #92 Porsche when the FCY light came on. The FCY was removed after a lap and the battle resumed with Mancinelli getting by Malykhin while braking into the final corner. In the Hypercar class the #6 Porsche remained in the lead this time with André Lotterer behind the wheel. He was followed by #93 Peugeot driven by Jean-Eric Vergne 26 seconds behind and #12 JOTA Porsche of Norman Nato losing another 20 seconds right before the next round of pit stops.

The fifth pit stop cycle did not bring any big differences to the running order in LMH, while in LMGT3 the #91 Porsche of Yasser Shahin has been taken into the garage. As the midpoint of the race approached, the #6 Porsche was in the lead 32 seconds ahead of #93 Peugeot, which was closely followed by the off-strategy #5 Porsche. This battling duo was quickly caught by #12 JOTA Porsche joining the battle for the podium. During the pit cycle Toyota #8 lost some time due to the left rear wheel being stuck on the car during tyre changes. Right in the middle of the race the #11 Issotta Fraschini driven by Antonio Seravalle was brought into the pits with broken right front suspension. A lap later the Peugeot #94 went into its garage as well with mechanics working at the rear of the car - the car needing battery change. The top ten in each class was in the following order:

LMH

1. #6 Porsche Penske Motorsport - Porsche 963 ............................................ 169 laps

2. #93 Peugeot TotalEnergies - Peugeot 9X8 ............................................... +29.041 s

3. #5 Porsche Penske Motorsport - Porsche 963 ............................................ +31.176 s

4. #12 Hertz Team JOTA - Porsche 963 ..................................................... +34.281 s

5. #83 AF Corse - Ferrari 499P ........................................................... + 1 lap

6. #38 Hertz Team JOTA - Porsche 963 ..................................................... + 1 lap

7. #7 Toyota Gazoo Racing - Toyota GR010 - Hybrid ........................................ + 1 lap

8. #2 Cadillac Racing - Cadillac V-Series.R .............................................. + 1 lap

9. #50 Ferrari AF Corse - Ferrari 499P ................................................... + 1 lap

10. #36 Alpine Endurance Team - Alpine A424 ............................................... + 1 lap

LMGT3

1. #54 Vista AF Corse - Ferrari 296 GT3 .................................................. 150 laps

2. #55 Vista AF Corse - Ferrari 296 GT3 .................................................. + 17.499 s

3. #92 Manthey Purerxcing - Porsche 911 GT3 R ............................................ + 1 lap

4. #46 Team WRT - BMW M4 GT3 ............................................................. + 1 lap

5. #27 Heart of Racing Team - Aston Martin Vantage AMR GT3 Evo ........................... + 1 lap

6. #85 Iron Dames - Lamborghini Huracán GT3 Evo2 ......................................... + 1 lap

7. #82 TF Sport - Corvette Z06 GT3.R ..................................................... + 1 lap

8. #31 Team WRT - BMW M4 GT3 ............................................................. + 2 laps

9. #777 D'Station Racing - Aston Martin Vantage AMR GT3 EVO .............................. + 2 laps

10. #87 Akkodis ASP Team - Lexus RC-F GT3 ................................................. + 2 laps

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After having the #59 McLaren delayed right at the start due to suspension damage from contact, the #95 went into the garage with 4 hours and 20 minutes to go. The car was quickly back out but lost a few laps due to the issue. Another car going into the garage was #87 Lexus, the car seemed to have problems with the adjustable pedal box. A few laps later LMGT3 leading #54 of Thomas Flohr was caught by #27 Aston Martin of Alex Riberas who didn't hesitate for long and overtook the Ferrari in the final corner.

At the 6 hour mark the Isotta Fraschini was confirmed as a first retirement of the race, after coming into the pits earlier with broken front suspension. The team opted to retire the car instead of rushing repairs to get back on track. 15 minutes later the sole Lamborghini SC63 #63 pitted with mechanics checking the engine bay. The rear wing and engine cover were removed, looked at and the car returned to track. Couple of laps later the #81 Corvette came back to its garage and 10 minutes before the 7 hour mark it was confirmed as the first LMGT3 retirement.

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Around the 7 hour mark Michael Christensen was again struggling with vibration of his car and after he pitted, the #5 dropped behind #38 JOTA. Matt Campbell took over the car and set out to catch the #38 with Jenson Button at the wheel. He managed to get alongside him, but was pushed off by Button. A few laps later the situation repeated but with Campbell coming out on top. After another round of pit stops the order was #6 ahead of #93 by 50 seconds, #5, #12 and #2 Cadillac running on alternative strategy with one less pit stop.

 

With the final hour getting close, #78 Lexus was brought in with an issue and was pushed into the garage - the car did not come back out and was retired. This was around the same time when the sister car made contact with race leading #6 Porsche and ran through a gravel trap - the Lexus was blamed for the incident. Minutes after this contact Dries Vanthoor brought the #15 BMW into the pit lane and was pushed into the garage with mechanics working on rear brakes - the car returned to the track losing 5 laps. During the penultimate pit stop cycle the #6 managed to put a lap on the whole field and was running comfortably in the lead.

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As the final hour of the race started, the #6 Porsche did its final pit stop with Kevin Estre behind the wheel. It was only then when it was discovered the left number plate was missing on the car, presumably from contact with the Lexus. Next up on the list of pit lane visitors was #12 JOTA, which was battling with #93 for the second place for the past 15 minutes. During its final pit stop the #38 JOTA experienced issues with starting the car - the car switched into a "dangerous" mode signalled by a red light in the car. Due to safety protocols the car had to be retired in the pit lane with Button jumping out of the car. The last of the podium contesting cars, #93 Peugeot pitted on lap 319. As it returned to the track, it had a 6 second advantage over the #12 Porsche. The #5 Porsche tried to optimize their compromised strategy from previous issues and had to pit with 11 laps to go. Matt Campbel slotted 5 seconds behind #12 with additional 6 seconds to the second placed #93. #2 Cadillac on alternative strategy followed them with a gap of over a minute and #83 with another 8 seconds back. 

Surprisingly the team of #6 Porsche decided to come into the pits to repair the missing number plate - mechanics quickly put a sticker with a number on the side of the car. The lead gap was enough to do this quick repair with the car getting back on track with 38 seconds to spare. In the meantime the #5 was catching the #12 and both of them were closing in on the #93. After a great battle in traffic between the three cars, the Peugeot suddenly slowed down in the first corner of the penultimate lap with Jean-Eric Vergne reporting loss of power. After losing around 30 seconds the car was running again, but slowly and only on electric power. The podium was lost in the final race for the wingless design.

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In the end Kevin Estre brought home the victory in the #6 Porsche 963 after 335 laps, 1815 km and 9 hours and 56 minutes. The battle for the second place went in favour of Callum Ilott in the #12 JOTA Porsche with a gap of 1 second in front of Matt Campbell in the #5 Porsche. It was the first time since 2013, when the same manufacturer swept all three podium positions. At that time Audi was running 3 cars for Spa and Le Mans rounds of FIA WEC and dominated Toyota with the first iteration of Audi R18 e-tron quattro. Interestingly André Lotterer was part of the winning line-up as well.

The first car off the lead lap was #2 Cadillac. Quitely running under the radar and pitting off-sequence, they managed to take advantage of their alternative strategy to save one pit stop and come home in fourth place after a recovery drive from a contact on the first lap. The first Ferrari was surprisingly the privately entered #83 in fifth also being the first car built to Hypercar regulations compared to the four LMDh built cars. It was followed by the first Toyota #7 in sixth, which struggled with tyre graining for most of the race, and the unlucky Peugeot #93 in seventh. The first factory Ferrari #50 came in eight followed by the debuting Alpine #35, which employed similar strategy to Cadillac - fuel saving from the first stint - and managed to complete the race with 1 less pit stop than the competition around them. The top 10 was completed by the second Toyota #8. The order from 11th position was as follows: #99, #20, #36, #51, #63, #15, #94, unclassified #38 and retired #11. The standings didn't remain like this for long though as #93 Peugeot was disqualified after not being able to return to parc fermé under its own power - the car ran out of fuel and reached the finish line under electric power only, but wasn't able to return back to the pit lane and crucially parc fermé.

LMH

1. #6 Porsche Penske Motorsport - Porsche 963 ............................................ 335 laps

2. #12 Hertz Team JOTA - Porsche 963 ..................................................... +33.297 s

3. #5 Porsche Penske Motorsport - Porsche 963 ............................................ +34.396 s

4. #2 Cadillac Racing - Cadillac V-Series.R .............................................. + 1 lap

5. #83 AF Corse - Ferrari 499P ........................................................... + 1 lap

6. #7 Toyota Gazoo Racing - Toyota GR010 - Hybrid ........................................ + 1 lap

7. #50 Ferrari AF Corse - Ferrari 499P ................................................... + 2 laps

8. #35 Alpine Endurance Team - Alpine A424 ............................................... + 2 laps

9. #8 Toyota Gazoo Racing - Toyota GR010 - Hybrid ........................................ + 2 laps

10. #99 Proton Competition - Porsche 963 .................................................. + 2 laps

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In LMGT3 the race stabilized when the bronze and silver rated drivers completed their mandatory drive times. At the front of the field the lead was changing between #92 Porsche, #27 Aston Martin and #54 Ferrari, but from lap 193 it settled with the Porsche at the front. In the end #92 finished the race after crossing the line 299 times with Klaus Bachler at the wheel. He had a gap of almost 5 seconds to Alex Riberas in the #27 and a lap behind Marco Sorensen in the #777. The first BMW #46 finished in fourth, followed by #54 Ferrari and #31 BMW. The top 10 was completed by #55 Ferrari, #85 Lamborghini, #88 Ford and #82 Corvette. The rest of the field was as follows: #77, #60, #95, #59, #91, #87 and retired cars #78 and #81.

LMGT3

1. #92 Manthey Purerxcing - Porsche 911 GT3 R ............................................. 299 laps

2. #27 Heart of Racing Team - Aston Martin Vantage AMR GT3 Evo ............................ +4.866 s

3. #777 D'Station Racing - Aston Martin Vantage AMR GT3 EVO ............................... + 1 lap

4. #46 Team WRT - BMW M4 GT3 .............................................................. + 1 lap

5. #54 Vista AF Corse - Ferrari 296 GT3 ................................................... + 2 laps

6. #31 Team WRT - BMW M4 GT3 .............................................................. + 2 laps

7. #55 Vista AF Corse - Ferrari 296 GT3 ................................................... + 2 laps

8. #85 Iron Dames - Lamborghini Huracán GT3 Evo2 .......................................... + 4 laps

9. #88 Proton Competition - Ford Mustang GT3 .............................................. + 5 laps

10. #82 TF Sport - Corvette Z06 GT3.R ...................................................... + 5 laps

FIA World Endurance Championship 2024 - 1812 km of Qatar (event report by Štěpán Koutník, photos by Martin Kubanka and DPPI) - picture number 059FIA World Endurance Championship 2024 - 1812 km of Qatar (event report by Štěpán Koutník, photos by Martin Kubanka and DPPI) - picture number 060FIA World Endurance Championship 2024 - 1812 km of Qatar (event report by Štěpán Koutník, photos by Martin Kubanka and DPPI) - picture number 061FIA World Endurance Championship 2024 - 1812 km of Qatar (event report by Štěpán Koutník, photos by Martin Kubanka and DPPI) - picture number 062

The next round will be held in Imola on 19th to 21st April. This iconic Italian circuit has never been on the WEC calendar but the manufacturers already tested there. The historic circuit has different characteristics compared to the first round with flowing sections replaced by chicanes. If the field remains as close as it was in Qatar, the season will be great. Only Porsche seemed to be dominant in Qatar with the rest of the field closely matched. Cars will be air-freighted to Europe after the Prologue had to be delayed due to shipping delays. Our editor will be there, so you can expect report from this event as well.

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7 - Opel Ascona - Martin Wieler
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