WEC: Le Mans and Your Driveway

The World Endurance Championship cannot be ignored. If there is one racing series that the rest of them look to, it's WEC. It's hard to argue that a series with less than 10 regular-season events can be the most important in the world of motorsport, yet here we are. Not only does WEC encompass the most important race of the season, Le Mans, it's also a hotbed of innovation created explicitly for the benefit of road cars. The beauty of racing lies not only in the cars and gorgeous vistas of race tracks around the world, but also in the technology and innovation it breeds. I want to thank James Gibson, who braved four days of weather that brought sunshine, rain, sleet, and even snow at 2016's opening WEC round at Silverstone. Without his contribution, I wouldn't get to nerd out about what it all means now.

Sure, it's less fun than the FIA Group C days, but the top manufacturer class of the WEC now has one mission, and one mission only: to push the limits of hybrid power and fuel efficiency. While we await the fruits of Formula 1's recent attempts to push relevant technology again, Audi, Peugeot, Toyota, and now Porsche, have already benefitted on the showroom floor from pushing diesel and hybrid technology for performance purposes in the manufacturer LMP1 class. And of late, the breakthroughs in body aerodynamics lend even further relevance of the class to the design department of road car manufacturers where giant wings and jutting front spoilers don't have much of a place.

In the LMP2 class, major manufacturers like Nissan and Honda can test the performance of motors that are slightly more down-to-earth in lightweight prototype chassis. While still not road car engines, they feature technology that's even closer to being ready for mass production. The class also allows race-engine only manufacturers like Judd to show off more consumer-friendly versions of the tech they've developed for high-end applications like Formula 1 and privateer LMP1 teams. Chassis manufacturers like Oreca continue to push mechanical packaging engineering, chassis rigidity with production-based engines, and body aerodynamics. The class is often over-looked for its contributions to the trickle-down effect of motorsport technology, but programs like Mazda's P2 program here in the States are blurring the line between race and road engines even further.

That brings us to LM GTE. Based on real cars and required to have engines that are used in a production car, this is the closest WEC comes to racing road cars while still allowing innovation. While these cars don't roll off the assembly line--and aren't required to even keep the same body panels--they are closer to a car you can get off the lot than they seem at first glance. Heavy regulations and deliberate attempts at mass-production relevancy keep the class grounded while continuing to push performance boundaries. This is why major sports car brands like Ford, Chevy, Porsche, and Ferrari amongst others double down on GTE cars and their local equivalents in championships worldwide.

Because the bits allowed on the race car are so tied in with what's allowed on the road car, manufacturers often build the road car alongside the race car, as Chevrolet did with the latest Corvette Z06 and Ford has done with the brand new GT. Now if that's not technology trickling down, I don't know what is.

This is why when the WEC races, the automobile world stands still. From its compelling 6-hour race format, to its globetrotting schedule, and top tier talent, the championship sets the stage for more than just motorsport. The season opener at Silverstone was the first competition test of new regulations, a handful of new cars, and a look at what may be coming into your driveway in the next 5-10 years.


Photos by James Gibson for Benzin Garage.

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