FIA World Endurance Championship manufacturers and drivers have given mixed views on the introduction of qualifying races for next year, stressing the importance of key details to make the proposed addition a success.
GTE-Pro team principals and drivers have cited elements such as the race’s format, the risk of accidents and amount of points being scored as defining factors that still need to be finalized.
However, the concept of a 60-minute race that would put production-based cars in the spotlight has gained support from manufacturers, which have been working with the FIA and ACO on the idea for the last year.
“Everything that makes the racing weekend more attractive, is a general positive. Anything that gives GT a better stage is also good,” Head of Porsche Motorsport Dr. Frank-Steffen Walliser told Sportscar365.
“If the [qualifying] races are the right thing, I cannot say as it’s an idea. We have to work through the details… tire management, parc ferme, will there be a guest entry? This is open.
“I really appreciate that we’re looking how to bring development to the series and new ideas.”
Ford Chip Ganassi Racing WEC team principal George Howard-Chappell agreed that it would be a positive addition to the class, as long as it can be “done well and correctly.”
“It’s something where the details would need to get agreed on,” he told Sportscar365. “We have an open mind about it and have privately submitted our views to the FIA on it.”
Some drivers, however, have shared concerns on the qualifying race compromising their main race on Sunday, particularly with the potential of crash damage.
“I think nobody will attack [in] the qualifying race, because we need a good car for the long-distance race,” AF Corse’s Davide Rigon said.
“If you tell a driver you have a 15-minute race, we crash everywhere! Even now we are too aggressive, some drivers are very aggressive.”
Porsche’s Kevin Estre, a veteran of GT3 sprint racing who has won in both Pirelli World Challenge and ADAC GT Masters competition, also has mixed views on the concept.
“At the end, these cars are made for endurance races,” Estre told Sportscar365. “Six hours is kind of a short race for these cars and how long of a qualifying race would you do and how much risk would you take for the next day?
“It’s a bit more like in the spirit of GT3, like GT Masters and Blancpain GT Sprint, which I love. But how much of an affect will it make on an endurance weekend to do a sprint race?”
Estre said the points structure could play a big factor the success of the qualifying race format.
Nearly all drivers and teams agreed that some level of points should be awarded in order to ensure full participation, which would impact the way a driver approaches the race, according to the Frenchman.
“In Blancpain GT Sprint, you know the race is short, but also the second race is short,” Estre said. “It means if you have a bad result in the first one, you can’t achieve a good one in the second.
“Where here, it would be different. Here you would have a shorter race but then a longer race. Qualifying as we know is not as important as Blancpain GT.”
Longtime Aston Martin Racing factory driver Darren Turner, however, largely supports the concept, adding that it would bring a new dynamic to the expanding class.
BMW is set to enter the GTE-Pro ranks in 2018, with additional manufacturers, including Lamborghini, reportedly in the pipeline in the years to come.
“It will be great,” Turner told Sportscar365. “We have more manufacturers coming along so there will be more cars on the grid anyway. It will be fun for the GT drivers to get a bit more track time.
“From a driver’s point of view, we just want to go racing. So if there’s an extra race, that’s fantastic.”
Questions remain on the proposed format, and whether the races would feature a mandated pit stop and driver change, similar to GT3 sprint races, and if GTE-Am class cars would be included alongside the factory entries in GTE-Pro.
With the potential of accidents in the qualifying race, Porsche’s Walliser has asked the question on whether manufacturers would need, or be allowed to bring spare cars with them on weekends, which would add significant costs.
“If I talk about a single race with no incidents, it’s two sets of tires and some fuel,” he said. “You’re there anyway, so there’s no additional costs for the team and mechanics. The run time of one hour, it’s not a lot.
“But if you have an incident, it depends. If you have to make a second car, for sure you need more spare parts just in case.”
AMR Managing Director John Gaw, who feels the addition of qualifying races would be “good for the sport,” agrees with Walliser in ensuring costs stay under control.
“Of course the challenge is that it’s more expensive and it adds cost to the championship,” Gaw told Sportscar365. “But I think you can do it where it’s controlled and sensible.”
Gaw, who has entries in both production-based classes, feels GTE-Am should “definitely be included” in the format.
“It would be good for the sport, good for the teams, good for the drivers and good for the fans,” he said. “We’d just need to fine-tune the details and the regulations, discuss it, and make sure everyone agrees.”
Luke Smith contributed to this report