With the 2016 season just a few weeks in the books, silly season is in full swing in the FIA World Endurance Championship, as manufacturers and teams gear up for the 2017 season.
Sportscar365 takes a look at the confirmed, likely and possible teams for the LMP1 and LMP2 classes for 2017, which will see notable changes, including the absence of Audi for the first time in the history of the globe-trotting championship.
Porsche Team – The two-time World Champions will return with a pair of updated Porsche 919 Hybrids with a heavily revised driver lineup. Neel Jani is the only driver to defend his world title, joined by Nick Tandy and Audi refugee Andre Lotterer in the No. 1 car, with Earl Bamber replacing the newly retired Mark Webber in the No. 2 lineup alongside Brendon Hartley and Timo Bernhard. A return to a third entry for Le Mans is unlikely. (2 cars confirmed)
Toyota Gazoo Racing – Two updated Toyota TS050 Hybrids are confirmed for the season, with the likelihood of a third entry for Le Mans, and possibly the opening two races of the season, to potentially be announced this month. While driver lineups will be announced in January, look for a largely unchanged full-season lineup, except for WTCC ace Jose-Maria Lopez replacing Stephane Sarrazin, who will likely move to the third car.
While Giedo Van Der Garde, Mathias Beche and Ryo Hirakawa have all been mentioned as possible drivers to fill the third entry, look for at least one ex-Audi driver, potentially former ORECA pilot Loic Duval, to be in the frame for a seat, especially given the French constructor’s role in race operations. (2 cars confirmed)
ByKolles Racing – As the only remaining LMP1 Privateer entry, Austrian-licensed team will return with at least one CLM P1/01, with a likely move away from its troubled AER powerplant, which was attributed to majority of its issues this year. Look for a similar driver lineup to 2016, despite Robert Kubica’s test with the team in Bahrain, which was more or less a favor from team owner Colin Kolles. A second car is possible, although not yet confirmed. (1-2 cars)
Expected Entries: 5-6 cars
TDS Racing – The French squad will make the step to the WEC with an Oreca 07 Gibson for newly crowned GTE-Am champion Emmanuel Collard, Francois Perrodo and rising open-wheel star Matthieu Vaxiviere. A second car is possible, under the G-Drive banner for Roman Rusinov, although dependent on the Russian businessman being reclassified to Silver driver rating. (1 car confirmed, 1 additional possible)
Signatech Alpine – The defending LMP2 champions will return with a similar effort, although a revised driver lineup with Gustavo Menezes having been upgraded to Gold rating. The American is expected to remain with the team, alongside the already re-signed Nico Lapierre, with Silver-rated Pierre Thiriet linked to the third seat. Signatech is expected to again utilize ORECA machinery, although again rebadged to Alpine. (1 car confirmed)
Jackie Chan DC Racing – Alpine’s second entry is likely to continue, although it’s unclear if it will remain under the direction of the David Cheng and Jackie Chan-owned entity. Ho-Pin Tung has been linked to a move to Eurasia, which could step up to the WEC with an entry of its own. (1 car possible)
RGR Sport – The Mexican squad, led by Ricardo Gonzalez and Toni Calderon, has not yet officially confirmed a return, largely due to the current driver rating situation which has impacted the Pro-Am nature of the grid. A single-car effort with a new Ligier JS P17, however, is likely for Gonzalez and co-drivers Filipe Albuquerque and Bruno Senna. The team’s funding, however, has yet to be confirmed. (1 car likely)
Rebellion Racing – Making the move from LMP1 Privateer, look for the Anglo-Swiss squad to enter at least one Oreca 07 for the full season, with a second entry likely for the opening three rounds of the championship, alongside its single-car Tequila Patron North American Endurance Cup effort. A number of drivers have been in discussions for seats, including a former series champion. (1 car likely)
Manor – The Graeme Lowdown and John Booth-led operation is expected to continue for a second season in the WEC, likely again as a two-car operation with Oreca 07 machinery. After a game of musical chairs with its driver lineup this year, no definitive word has been given on potential drivers for 2017. (2 cars likely)
Jota Sport – While unlikely to continue with G-Drive and Roman Rusinov, the UK-based squad is understood to be finalizing a new 2017 program with an Oreca 07 for both the WEC and ELMS. Look for a two-car team at the 24 Hours of Le Mans and Six Hours of Spa, pending invites. (1 car likely)
ART Grand Prix – The French single-seater team is likely to field a Dallara LMP2, ahead of its operations of SMP Racing in the LMP1 Privateer class in 2018. It’s unclear the identity of the drivers at this time. (1 car likely)
Cosmos GP – An additional Dallara could be on the grid with the newly formed Cosmos GP team, led by Giorgio Mondini. The former A1GP and Formula Renault 3.5 driver is understood to be assembling a team, managed by Benoit Morand, featuring crew from Eurointernational. (1 car likely)
Eurasia – After two seasons in the ELMS, Mark Goddard’s team has been linked to a step up to the world’s stage with an Oreca 07 for Pu Jun Jin, Nick de Bruijn and potentially Ho-Pin Tung. The team has yet to confirm its 2017 plans. (1 car possible)
KCMG – The Hong Kong-based team could return to LMP2 competition next year, with a rumored Dallara LMP2 program. It’s understood a second year in the GTE-Am ranks, with a Proton-run Porsche 911 RSR, has already been ruled out. (1 car possible)
Expected Entries: 9-13 cars