FIA WEC: Porsche opens Nurburgring weekend with practice sweep

Photo: Porsche
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Porsche Team premieres its new high downforce aero package this weekend at the resumption of the FIA World Endurance Championship season, with the 6 Hours of Nürburgring Round 4 of the 2017 season. And it’s also premiered at the top of the timesheets in the pair of practice sessions.

The No. 2 Porsche 919 Hybrid led both the morning and afternoon sessions, improving from a best time of 1:41.612 in the first session down to 1:38.663 in the second, for the car driven by the 24 Hours of Le Mans-winning trio of Timo Bernhard, Earl Bamber and Brendon Hartley.

All three have been bullish heading into the weekend, the Kiwi pair of Bamber and Hartley thankful to have Bernhard’s lifetime of success at the Nürburgring alongside them.

“I am very excited about racing the new high downforce package for the first time,” Bamber said heading into the weekend. “We come off Le Mans with good momentum and our priority is to push for the manufacturers’ championship. If we can secure that, we want the drivers’ title as well. I have some experience on the Nordschleife but not so much on the Grand Prix circuit. But I like it and can’t wait to take the 919 Hybrid round there for the first time.”

Hartley added, “It’s been a crazy but good couple of weeks after Le Mans and the result has just about sunk in. We have since tested our high downforce kit and the focus now moves on to the remaining World Championship races. We have won the Nürburgring race for the last two years and Earl and I are lucky to have ‘Mr. Nürburgring’ himself as a teammate. Everyone at Porsche has been working hard to get the new aero kit ready for the Nürburgring race. A victory on home soil would be the icing on the cake after Le Mans. I’m looking forward to another big fight!”

Bernhard won here in 2015 and 2016 with Hartley and Mark Webber, and in both years the Nürburgring win launched them into a several-race win streak. It was four consecutive races in 2015 and three last year.

The No. 8 Toyota TS050 Hybrid, featuring Sebastien Buemi on WEC duty instead of Formula E at New York City with Anthony Davidson and Kazuki Nakajima, could only get within 1.11 seconds in second practice.

The TDS-run No. 26 G-Drive Racing Oreca 07 Gibson (practice one) ended fastest of the day in LMP2 with another of the New York City Formula E substitutes, Ben Hanley in for Alex Lynn, joining Roman Rusinov and Pierre Thiriet to top the charts in this class. The best time here was a 1:47.188. Vaillante Rebellion’s No. 31 Oreca, Filipe Albuquerque deputizing for Nico Prost alongside Bruno Senna and Julien Canal, led the second session at a slower 1:47.717.

Portuguese driver Albuquerque adds the Oreca to the Ligier JS P217 he races with United Autosports in ELMS and the Dallara P217 baseline chassis to the Cadillac DPi-V.R as now having driven three of the four 2017 homologated LMP2 spec chassis this season.

Porsche topped GTE-Pro for the day with the No. 91 Porsche 911 RSR of Richard Lietz and Fred Makowiecki at a 1:56.244 in second practice. But with the fastest of all four manufacturers within 0.721 of a second, the debut of the new automated Balance of Performance system has at its first day delivered a decently close result.

In GTE-Am it was Spirit of Race on top with its No. 54 Ferrari 488 GTE, Miguel Molina back here after a one-off AF Corse run at Le Mans. The best time here was a 1:57.592.

Qualifying runs tomorrow with the race Sunday.

RESULTS: FP1, FP2

Cadillac confirms WEC driver lineup with Chip Ganassi Racing that will race Le Mans in 2023

Cadillac Ganassi Le Mans
Cadillac Racing
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Cadillac and Chip Ganassi Racing announced their driver lineup for a 2023 entry in the FIA World Endurance Championship, the sports car series that includes the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

The Cadillac V-LMDh entry will be driven by Earl Bamber and Alex Lynn, who were teamed on the No. 02 Cadillac that competed in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship DPi class this season and won the Twelve Hours of Sebring. The third driver will be Richard Westbrook, who will return to Ganassi after helping the team to a GT class win at Le Mans in 2018.

The team also will compete in the Rolex 24 at Daytona in the rebranded Grand Touring Prototype premier category, which is designed for crossover between the top prototypes in IMSA and WEC. Ganassi will field a second entry at Daytona with its No. 01 Cadillac that will compete full time in IMSA with Sebastien Bourdais and Renger van der Zande.

A Ganassi spokesman said the team hopes to run its second entry in the 2023 24 Hours of Le Mans but only its WEC team is confirmed (an AOC invitation would be required for the IMSA team). The team also is exploring options but currently plans to have the WEC’s team base of operations in Indianapolis.

Ganassi is the first American-based prototype team to confirm its entry in the 2023 24 Hours of Le Mans. It’s expected that Team Penske, which raced this year’s Le Mans with a full-time WEC entry in LMP2, also will race Le Mans with Porsche’s new LMDh car that is set for IMSA, but the manufacturer has yet to confirm its driver and team lineup.

Next year will mark the return of Cadillac to Le Mans for the first time since 2002.

Before joining Ganassi last year, Lynn made 28 WEC starts since 2016, winning the LMGTE Pro class at Le Mans in 2020.

“I’m absolutely thrilled to continue with Cadillac and Chip Ganassi Racing,” Lynn said in a release. “It’s a huge honor to drive for Chip in any capacity but certainly on a full factory sports car program, it’s seriously cool. Cadillac has so much heritage as a luxury North American sports car brand, so to be able to represent them is a huge privilege. I’ve had a lot of fun in my first year doing it and to continue that onto the World Endurance Championship stage is fantastic.

“For me, returning to WEC is sort of what I’ve always known and it’s a bit like going into my wheelhouse. This year in IMSA was a bit different with getting to know all-new circuits and a new style of racing so 2023 will be filled with a bit more of what I’m used to with more of a European focus. I think what’s significant about WEC is without a doubt Le Mans. As a sports car race, Le Mans is the crown jewel and everything that we want to win. To be able to take Chip Ganassi Racing and Cadillac back to Le Mans to fight for overall honors is a huge honor and that’s something that I’m going to work tirelessly to make sure we achieve.”

Bamber won the Le Mans overall in 2015 and ’17 with Porsche teams and also was a 2019 GTLM champion in IMSA.

“I am really happy to continue at Chip Ganassi Racing and Cadillac,” Bamber said in a release. “I’ve loved my first season in DPi and now to continue over into the LMDh era and WEC is super exciting. Looking forward to fighting for a world championship and another Le Mans victory.

“The World Endurance Championships gives us the opportunity to race at the world’s biggest race, which is Le Mans, the crown jewel of sports car racing. I’ve been lucky enough to win it before and it’s obviously a huge goal for Cadillac and everyone at Chip Ganassi Racing. To have that goal in sight is really exciting. It’s been great to have Alex as a teammate in 2022. We’ve been able to learn and grow together in the DPi, and we have a really good partnership going into WEC. We know each other really well and believe adding Richard will be a seamless transition.”

Said Westbrook: “After four really good years at Chip Ganassi Racing, I’ve got so many friends there and I’ve always dreamt to come back one day. It just worked so well between 2016 and 2019, and I’m delighted we found a route to come together again. I can’t wait, it’s an exciting era in sports car racing right now.

“I feel like I know Alex and Earl really well. I did Le Mans with Alex in 2020 and I’ve known him for years. It feels like I’m going back with an ex-teammate and exactly the same with Earl. Although I’ve never shared a car with Earl, we’ve always done the same sort of racing be it in WEC or in IMSA. We’ve had lots of battles, including this year in our dueling Cadillacs. We’ve always gotten along quite well, and I can say we’re going to have a great year together.”

The seven-race WEC season, which also includes a stop at Spa, will begin March 17 with the 1,000 Miles of Sebring at Sebring International Raceway in Florida.