A new era of Audi-less endurance racing begins on the 18th April when Silverstone is set to host the opening round of the 2017 FIA World Endurance Championship.
It will now be essentially a two-team affair in the top division of LMP1 with Porsche and Toyota set to battle it out for nine championship rounds throughout 2017, kicking off at the historic Silverstone Circuit.
Mark Webber’s retirement and Audi’s withdrawal at the end of the 2016 campaign has resulted in a lot of changes in the Porsche lineup. Only Neel Jani, Timo Bernhard and Brendon Hartley retain their seats behind the wheel of the Porsche 919 Hybrid. 2015 Le Mans 24 Hours winner Nick Tandy has been promoted from his Porsche North America GT seat where competed in the WeatherTech Sportscar Championship in the United States last season. He will pilot car number 1 alongside Neel Jani and ex-Audi veteran and three time Le Mans winner Andre Lotterer. Car #3 sees Hartley and Bernhard joined by 2015 Le Mans winner Earl Bamber, also promoted from the Porsche North America squad.
Toyota meanwhile have changed little to their driver line-up. The trio of Sebastien Buemi, Kazuki Nakajima and Anthony Davidson retain their partnership behind the #8 Toyota TS050 Hybrid. Car #7 sees Kamui Kobayashi and Mike Conway also retain their position but veteran Stephane Sarrazin has been replaced by reigning World Touring Car champion Jose Maria Lopez. The Argentine brings single seater and touring car experience but aside from one round of the GT1 World Championship in 2010, is essentially a sports car novice. With three WTCC championships however, it shouldn’t take Lopez too long to figure it out.
ByKolles are now the only LMP1 privateer competing in this years WEC as long time privateers Rebellion Racing have opted to join the super-competitive LMP2 ranks. Colin Kolles’ team have struggled in the past but have Nissan powerplants in this years CLM P1/01 as well as the addition of Formula One veteran Robert Kubica among their drivers. The Polish driver will be partnered by 2014 European Le Mans Series winner Oli Webb for the season.
The once diverse LMP2 has seen a major regulation change resulting in a single engine make and only two different chassis on the WEC grid. That does not for one second mean it’s any less competitive. Ten LMP2 cars will line up for the WEC this season with 25 expected at Le Mans. Rebellion Racing are newcomers having formerly been in no mans land as the sole competitive LMP1 privateers. They will be the ones to watch and will field two cars for the 2017 campaign. Nelson Piquet Jr. and Mathias Beche remain in Rebellion, driving car #13 along with David Heinemeier Hansson while car 31 retains Nicolas Prost from 2016 while drafting in Julien Canal from Greaves Motorsport and Bruno Senna from Morand. Reigning LMP2 champions Signatech Alpine will field a two-car entry for 2017. Gustavo Menezes and Nicolas Lapierre have stayed with the team while Matt Rao will compete alongside them for Silverstone. Former Porsche and Audi veteran Romain Dumas is set to pilot car #36 in future rounds.
Porsche have returned to GTE Pro with a two-car entry in place of Dempsey-Proton Racing, who will now compete in GTE Am. Richard Lietz and Fred Makowiecki will compete in car 91 while car 92 will be driven by Michael Christensen and Kevin Estre. The Danish duo of Nicki Thiim and Marco Sorensen will defend their 2016 crown behind the wheel of the Aston Martin Vantage with Richie Stanaway assisting them for the season.
Reigning GTE Am champions AF Corse have elected to focus on their Pro entrants this season. They will however provide assistance for the Swiss-backed Spirit of Race which has former DTM driver Miguel Molina as the teams pro driver.