The WEC has enjoyed the spot-light during the last few months: they announced a “super season” – ending with Le Mans in 2019. Then an ever-growing GTE line-up was presented, and the following season runs the biggest LMP1 line-up since its inaugural season. Last but hardly least is Fernando Alonso’s commitment to not only Le Mans but the full season as well. This left many people curious about what this lucrative “WEC” even is.
In short, the FIA World Endurance Championship is an endurance race series based around the “spirit of Le Mans”. The races last at least six hours with four classes fighting for titles. The idea is to bring the impression of Le Mans across the French boarder. Races have been held regularly in Spa, Silverstone, and Fuji. There are 6 - 9 race per season.
The WEC originated form the now debunked Le Mans Endurance Series and its first race was the “12h of Sebring” in 2012 – it was held alongside the American Le Mans Series (now IMSA). The LMP1 Audi took the overall victory.
How is the WEC set up?
Unlike Formula 1 the WEC is not limited to only one type of car. Each race stages four races at once, with two prototype classes racing alongside two GTE classes. The class system that rules the WEC is one of the most fundamental parts of the series.
Let's start with GTE! GTE is short for Grand Tour Endurance, and if you are familiar with IMSA or watched the 24h of Daytona, you might know this class under the name of GTLM.
These cars are based on production cars but are highly developed. This means that on Saturday and Sunday you watched them belt around a track and on Monday you could buy one yourself.
GTE is split into two groups: GTE Pro and GTE Am.
While GTE Pro consists of professional drivers, the GTE Am class is fielded by enthusiasts – who typically drive last year’s GTE specs. The speed difference between these classes is around two seconds.
In order to make it easier to differentiate between GTE Am & GTE Pro, GTE Pro has a green "number plate" while GTE Am has an orange one.
Meanwhile, the Le Mans Prototypes are pure racers that abide to the rules and regulations of the ACO. There are three LMP classes but only LMP1 and LMP2 are part of the WEC.
LMP2's specifications are less open than those of LMP1. This class is the major attraction for privateer teams because the costs remain manageable. There are four licensed chassis constructors to choose from - three of them are to appear in the 2018/19 season. Development is generally forbidden for LMP2 cars. In addition, there is only one engine supplier (Gibson) for all cars in this class. This ensures close racing in LMP2.
The speed difference between LMP2 and LMP1 is 10 seconds. This comes as little of a surprise since LMP1 use the most advanced tech available. The regulations are not as closed off as in LMP2, and development is encouraged. Manufacturers that want to compete in LMP1 have to use a hybrid system. Porsche and Audi proved that they can master this technology while Nissan failed.
With the exit of Porsche, private teams were given further incentive in taking part in this class. Thus, leading to the biggest LMP1 field to date with six teams going for the win: 1 manufacturer alongside 5 private teams. A clever EoT sets out to ensure competition despite running different technologies.
While LMP1 is coded red, LMP2 uses the colour blue.
Due to this “class-system” there are various championships within the WEC:
The championships within the WEC:
The FIA World Endurance Championship Drivers title – commonly only refereed to as Drivers’ Title. A team title for LMP1 replaces the prior manufacture’s title – as to avoid any disadvantage for teams that enter with fewer cars than their rivals. Only the highest scoring car’s points are going to count for the team title.
This follows the footsteps of LMP2 - which offers a teams trophy and an additional trophy for drivers.
Meanwhile, GTE offers a Drivers’ and Manufacture title, along with a trophy for best GTE Pro team, GTE Am team, and GTE Am driver(s).
Each car is driven by a team of three drivers. The exception is GTE Pro in 6h races where often only two drivers take part.
During a race every driver has to spend a minimum time in the car. At the same time, there is also a maximum time a driver is allowed to be in the car per stint. This is reduced if the outside temperature is above 30°C. Last year's 6h of COTA had an almost identical number for both times.
How the race weekend works:
The race weekend consists of Free Practice, Qualifying, and the race itself. If the race is held on a Sunday, qualifying takes place the day prior, while FP is on the days before this.
In Le Mans, qualifying is held on Thursday, and Friday is a day off but Le Mans qualifying varies from the usual system. Typically the grid is split into two groups: the first group are the GTE cars and after a short break the LMP cars go out.
A qualifying session lasts only 25 minutes. In this time two drivers need to post their fastest lap. Then the average of their fastest laps is taken to conclude who has taken pole.
The races last between 6 and 24 hours. This season is also going to stage a 1000 miles or 8h race - depending which comes first. The majority of races last only 6 hours.
The points system follows the standard FIA allocation per class, and there is a point for pole as well. Furthermore, any team that finishes below 10th in the overall classification of a race gets 0,5 points.
There are three allocations of points depending on the length of the race: 6h races count for full points. Sebring, which is going to last around 8h or 1000 miles, is going to count 1,25x the points. Le Mans is going to count for 1,5x the points.
What about Le Mans?
The biggest and most important race of the WEC is the 24h of Le Mans. It is a race in which you are not only set against the other competitors but against the race itself.
In order to win Le Mans you need a reliable car. At the same time, you can’t sacrifice speed for reliability because being 66 laps behind the lead car that is DNF-ing won’t give you the win either.
The most successful driver pairing in Le Mans are Marcel Fässler, André Lotterer & Benoît Tréluyer with Audi.
In recent Le Mans history it seems more likely to “adopt” a win due to another’s DNF.
In 2016, the #2 Porsche took the win because Toyota stopped 5 minutes before the race finished. While in 2017 the #1 Porsche was set for the win until the oil pressure failed and they were forced to DNF. At first this handed to win to an LMP2 car, which was later reeled in by the #2 Porsche, who took the overall victory.
Even though, the spirit of the Le Mans is to try to continue against all hard-ship, more than 1/4th of the field does not finish this race. This is down to poor reliability, collision damage, or driver errors that often occur during the night. In 6h races the DNF rate is lower.
Why should I watch the WEC?
The WEC offers a lot of excitement on the track: At the moment the LMP1 class is bigger than it has ever been. But not only the LMP class is packed with competition, the GTE class has more manufactures than before because BMW joined the playing field.
This lead to an almost equal number of entries in LMP & GTE. With both classes filled with competition, there is always something happening. So should one class become boring, there is another here to catch you.
Furthermore, Fernando Alonso is not the only familiar talent in the series. There are familiar names from all over, such as Buemi, Di Grassi, Lotterer, and Senna.
The racing series is easily accessible with the prices for the 6h races starting at 5,99€ and even watching races live remain affordable compared to other race series.
The WEC does not only offer a live stream but also a recording is available after the race. If you are very patient they will upload the full races of the season – excluding Le Mans – on YouTube after the season has finished.
Last but hardly least is “the biggie” itself: Le Mans - of which we are going to have two this season. If you think that its spirit and racing does not translate into the 6h format, you are nothing but a fool.
I am not a fool ... how do I watch?
As already mentioned the WEC offers its own live streaming service in English through its own website. The pass for the whole 2018/19 season is 47€. 6h races are 5,99€, and Le Mans itself was 10€ last year - which I doubt will have changed. The streaming works worldwide and is available on your nearest laptop or mobile phone, and television with an app.
The American market is exclusively covered by Velocity and Motor Trend. Streaming from the WEC directly is not available.
In Europe, Eurosport covers all of Le Mans but only part of the 6h races. Meanwhile, some local channels – such as ORF Sport + - cover all of the 6h races but not Le Mans. It does take a bit of digging through your available channel list to sort it out.
In the end, the WEC is an easily accessible sport which offers a friendly atmosphere and top racing in each class.
See you at the 6h of Spa on the 5th of May!