If your only way of keeping in touch with motorsport is via the national press, you may have missed the steady rise of the FIA (Federation Internationale de l’Automobile) World Endurance Championship, which is taking on Formula 1 for the title of the ‘Pinnacle of Motorsport’. Now in its fourth season, the WEC has added Nissan to its already-impressive roster of manufacturers including Audi, Toyota and Porsche in the premier class, LMP1, and boasts a stellar driver line-up that many F1 fans will recognise. Joining nine-time Grand Prix winner Mark Webber are current world champions Anthony Davidson and Sebastien Buemi, Nissan’s new recruit Max Chilton and Greys Anatomy actor turned race-car driver Patrick Dempsey, who moves across from American endurance racing to the international stage with his own team. Force India F1 driver Nico Hulkenberg has also been bitten by the endurance bug and will join Porsche for the next round of the championship at Spa, in preparation for the jewel in the crown, the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
I’ve been following this championship since its inaugural season in 2012, and have watched in awe as it continues to expand and evolve. It’s a refreshing departure from the norm in that there’s no red-tape, no politics; it’s all about the racing. This year’s season started with a bang, with a six hour race at Silverstone in mid-April, a date that has become a firm favourite on the calendar. With a weekend ticket costing only £35, including paddock access and roving grandstand seats, it makes for excellent value for money too – not to mention a scintillating European Le Mans Series race only decided in the final five minutes on the Saturday.
For those hardened Formula 1 fans, the paddock can seem like a paradise available to only a select few. But those in attendance for the WEC were able to freely walk around, rubbing shoulders with the stars of our sport. A lucky few who bought their tickets early were even able to access the pitlane, giving an opportunity for us mere mortals to meet our idols, snap a few selfies, and feel just that little bit closer to the sport.
The on-track show isn’t bad either. With 30 cars on the track at once – which increases to 56 at Le Mans – there is never a dull moment to be had, with close racing throughout the four classes. The battle for the win at Silverstone between Marcel Fassler’s Audi and Neel Jani’s Porsche was truly one to savour, with multiple lead changes and only a few seconds separating them at the flag after six hours of racing, as different strategies took their course. Contrast that with Formula 1, where despite several gimmicks introduced with the aim of improving the spectacle, the final outcome is fairly cut and dried after the opening laps. Already, it appears as though Lewis Hamilton is set for a repeat World Championship, but it would take a brave man to predict the outcome in the WEC; anything can happen over the course of 24 hours, and at Le Mans, it usually does.
The best kept secret in motorsport is set to be a secret no longer.