THE WORLD OF ENDURANCE DESCENDS ON SILVERSTONE
Porsche head into this weekend determined to kickstart their title defence – Photo: Jakob Ebrey
After playing host to the Hankook 24 Hours a couple of weeks ago, Silverstone is once again the place to go for endurance racing fans around the world this weekend, as the first round of a new season in the World Endurance Championship kicks off in earnest with the usual influx of big name manufacturers in both the LMP and GT classes.
Reigning champions Porsche will be the targets going into the opening round with drivers Timo Bernhard, Mark Webber and Brendon Hartley carrying the #1 for the Stuttgart outfit. They'll have back up in the form of their sister car with Romain Dumas, Neel Jani and Marc Lieb its pilots. Of course, their biggest threats are undoubtedly Toyota and Audi. The former has an all new TS050 offering for the likes of former champions Anthony Davidson, Sebastien Buemi and Kazuki Nakajima, while Audi produce an ever strong line-up with drivers such as Andre Lotterer, Lucas di Grassi and Oliver Jarvis.
There's also competition from the non-hybrid LMP1 machines with Rebellion Racing the undoubted favourites there. One of their cars field an all ex-F1 driver line-up featuring Nicolas Prost, Nelson Piquet Jr and Nick Heidfeld, all 3 of which are now Formula E stars.
LMP2 is always a crowded and competitive affair and 2016 is looking likely to be no exception. There's a whole host of big name teams and drivers featured with an outstanding favourite too close to call. F1 outfit Manor enter endurance racing for the first time with a predominantly British roster of drivers including James Jakes, Matt Rao and Will Stevens, with Roberto Merhi also along for the ride. The latter two drivers head to WEC following a spell each in the team's F1 effort last year. Another team with major expertise is Extreme Speed Motorsports, who boast several years of experience competing in ALMS and what is now the Weathertech Sports Car Championship. Scott Sharp, Ryan Dalziel, Pipo Derani and Johannes van Overbeek will be their star drivers. Expect further challenges to come from the likes of Signatech Alpine, Strakka Racing, G-Drive Racing and SMP Racing, all of which boast race winning pedigree at this level.
If you thought the Prototype classes were competitive, that's nothing compared to the GT category this season. In the Pro class, Silverstone marks a very special occasion as for the first time in European competition, fans will get to witness the all new Ford GT from Chip Ganassi Racing in action, having already debuted at the Daytona 24 Hours at the beginning of the year. One car will be of particular interest to the British fans with Marino Franchitti, Andy Priaulx and Harry Tincknell all sharing the #67 Ford. Their biggest competition? Undoubtedly the established marques of Aston Martin and Ferrari. Both boast brand new cars, with Aston Martin's latest incarnation of the V8 Vantage squaring up against the majestic new offering from Maranello in the form of the striking 488 GTE run by AF Corse. There's British interest in all four cars between the two teams, with James Calado and Sam Bird in a Ferrari each, while Darren Turner and reigning British GT champion Jonny Adam plumping for an Aston Marting apiece.
GTE Am will be equally as tense. Half the field is populated by Porsches with entries from KCMG, Gulf Racing and Abu Dhabi-Proton Racing. The rest is made up of further entries from AF Corse and Aston Martin with a car each, while long time GT stalwarts Larbre Competition continue their run with Corvette as they field a C7 GTE.
While the weather may not look pleasant with rain expected on all days bar Sunday, the racing should hopefully make up for that. WEC races tend to be flat out from start to finish, with the cars producing ridiculous amounts of grip which allow them to corner at mind-bending speeds. Audi head into this weekend the reigning Silverstone champions, however Toyota will want to reclaim the victory they took here in 2014. Porsche will just want to start their title defence in the best possible way, meaning there is no outstanding favourite for overall victory.
For more information on this weekend's racing, you find the entry lists for WEC and the supporting races from the European Le Mans Series and Porsche Carrera Cup GB as well the final instructions and timetable for the weekend here – SILVERSTONE WEC.