Competitors have voiced mixed feelings on the expansion of the FIA World Endurance Championship schedule to nine rounds, with the addition of an event in Mexico City for 2016.
Next year’s globe-trotting championship sees return visits to all existing venues, and for the first time since 2012, includes an additional round, causing budget concerns, surprisingly, largely for LMP1 manufacturers.
“For sure the announcement came as a surprise,” Head of Audi LMP1 Chris Reinke told Sportscar365. “We expected a stable amount of races, also for next year.
“To further develop the championship is on our own interest. At this time of the year, to come with notification of such a dimension… is not optimum timing.”
Toyota’s Pascal Vasselon said a meeting with the WEC at the Nürburgring in August indicated the championship would remain at eight rounds, with the Japanese manufacturer’s budget having been finalized accordingly.
“This is our main issue,” Vasselon told Sportscar365. “It comes at a moment where our budget for next year is basically fixed.
“In principle, there’s no issue; it’s good to expand the championship. In principle, we’re happy about that but we imagined it would happen in ’17.
“We were not imagining it would happen in ’16 simply because we had been told the opposite. Now it’s a new situation which we have to review.”
While the three leading LMP1 manufacturers, which currently combine for an estimated annual budget in excess of $400 million, have voiced concerns, not all privateers share the same feelings.
“People gotta realize that racing is expensive,” Tequila Patron ESM’s Ed Brown told Sportscar365. “All the different series around the world, they say they’re going to cut costs by doing this or that.
“There’s no cutting costs in racing. It’s expensive. It’s just something we have to deal with.
“It’s worth the extra exposure to spend a little bit more money to go race in Mexico.”
Brown, the President and CEO of the Patron Spirits Company, which has roots in Mexico, has been a proponent of the WEC’s return to the Latin America market, after not continuing in Brazil.
Other privateer teams, such as Morand Racing, also see the benefits of racing in a new market.
“WEC will support the freight for Mexico, so it doesn’t change a lot for us,” Benoit Morand told Sportscar365. “Of course we have [some] more costs, as one [additional] race is more engine, more tires.
“But I think there’s a lot of support in South America, so we needed a race. It would be good to go there because we can contract some sponsors.
“At the end it’s a World Championship so we really have to be on the page with the other championships, on the same level. So I understand the decision.”
According to FIA WEC CEO Gerard Neveu, the schedule expansion has to be treated as a compromise for some teams, due to the diverse nature of the grid, which features a mix of factory and privateer teams based around the world.
“We understand this is an effort; it’s always an effort if you want to do something new or additional,” Neveu told Sportscar365.
“When you take this sort of decision, you never find 100 percent of the people happy. At the end, the event has to happen because this is part of life, this is a compromise.”
Neveu said the additional round will have no impact on transport costs to teams, with the series using the event’s sanctioning fee to cover air-freight costs from Europe.
“We are aware about the cost control, we’re working on a lot for that and are doing regulations for that. We are not on the opposite way,” he said.
“Sometimes we’re going to a place like Shanghai that’s perfect for the manufacturers but not necessarily for the private teams and nobody complains. This is a compromise.
“We go to Nurburgring and it’s fantastic for the German manufacturers. But what about the American and the Japanese?
“We have to stay humble. We can’t make everybody happy at the same time. The idea is to keep the paddock generally happy at the end of the season. That’s what we’re looking for.”
With their 2016 budget already locked in, Audi’s Reinke said they’ll likely have to subsidize the increased costs within their existing budget, while Vasselon admitted the money would have to come from somewhere else.
“Considering we have to develop a totally new car, the resources we have in place needs to go towards our new car development. This we can’t compromise,” Vasselon said.
“The additional race, if we are to go there, we need to have additional budget, which is still to be negotiated with Toyota.”
And for others, such as G-Drive Racing team principal Philippe Dumas, the addition of one race doesn’t impact things as much as the big picture of escalating budgets.
“It’s not [a case of] eight or nine [races],” he told Sportscar365. “At the moment in the WEC in LMP2, we struggle with the budgets overall. There’s no business model with drivers.
“At G-Drive, we are the only team to have more or less three-quarter of the budgets from the drivers. The other cars are fully financed by sponsors or people.
“I think [expansion] is good for the championship. It shows that it’s growing in a good way.”