The FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) is starting its fifth season with numerous innovations. 2016 is subject to more intensive engine output and cost control. At the same time, the competitive pressure on the manufacturers involved is increasing.
72 hours of racing – in 2016, the FIA WEC will be more present than ever before. At nine instead of the previous eight events, the automobile manufacturers have to prove two things: their technology should not only be relevant to production, but demonstrate maximum reliability as well. In the Le Mans 24 Hours alone, the teams cover some 5,000 kilometers. This is a distance that corresponds nearly to a full Formula One season. At the same time, efficiency regulations have been in effect since 2014. They have made efficient fuel consumption a prerequisite for success. As a result, endurance racing is a perfect driver of the technologies that are elementary to regular production as well: from lightweight design, to the internal combustion engine, through to the hybrid system, aerodynamics and detailed solutions in other areas.
The lap times show how remarkable this progress has been. Although the regulations have hardly changed, André Lotterer at Le Mans in 2015 needed 2.5 percent less time than just a year before – as a result of pure efficiency increases.
In 2016, the manufacturers involved in the leading LMP1 class are challenged to an even greater extent. The increase in speed is to be reduced again by a lower amount of energy, according to the intentions of the FIA, the Le Mans organizer ACO and the WEC officials. That is why 10 megajoules less energy are available per lap, amounting to about 7.5 percent less than before – a significant cut. In addition, at Le Mans, the hybrid system is not permitted to deliver output exceeding 300 kW. Aerodynamics development is subject to stricter control as well. In 2016, a maximum of three body versions are allowed per season, and a year later only two evolutions. Furthermore, to save costs, limitations are imposed on tests and wind tunnel testing.
The high safety level of the LMP1 race cars has improved once more as well. Larger cut-outs in the front wheel arches reduce the risk of lift. Such effects result from lateral airflow. Another aspect relates to the cockpit where the bolsters protecting the driver’s head have been enlarged.
In terms of technology, Audi is not the only manufacturer to pursue new avenues in the 2016 season. The competition has upped the ante as well. Audi is expecting a three-way battle with Porsche and Toyota to become fiercer than ever before. Each of the three manufacturers was FIA WEC World Champion in the drivers’ and manufacturers’ classifications at least once in the last four years.
This year, the automobile manufacturers are pitted against each other at nine events in Asia, Europe, North and Middle America. On April 17, the season will again start at Silverstone (United Kingdom). On May 7, the race weekend at Spa (Belgium) will follow. As the season’s pinnacle event, the Le Mans 24 Hours (France) are on the calendar on June 18/19. Following the German round at the Nürburgring on July 24, the WEC will be held in Mexico for the first time on September 3. The round at Austin (USA) on September 17 will be followed by three races in Asia. At Fuji (Japan), the FIA WEC will be racing on October 16, at Shanghai (China) on November 6, and in the finale in Bahrain on November 19.