FIA World Endurance Championship drivers have hit out at the WEC’s new “Super Season” calendar, which sees a date clash with the Motul Petit Le Mans for next year and questions over the double Sebring 12-hour format for 2019.
The recently released 2018-19 WEC calendar, featuring eight rounds spread over an 18-month period, sees two direct conflicts with the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship schedule, most notably the Fuji Speedway round on Oct. 12-14, the same weekend as the Road Atlanta enduro.
Ford Chip Ganassi Racing’s Olivier Pla, who won Petit Le Mans overall last year with Michael Shank Racing, said it’s a “big problem” for drivers like himself that supplement a full-season WEC program with IMSA’s four-round Tequila Patron North American Endurance Cup.
The Frenchman admitted his nearly confirmed Patron Endurance Cup program for 2018 could now be entirely in jeopardy as a result of the single clash with WEC’s Japanese round.
“For me the clash with Petit Le Mans next year is a big problem,” Pla told Sportscar365.
“For many years I’ve been doing the four long races [in IMSA]. I wish I could do it again. I don’t know, it doesn’t look like I can.
“I think it’s the case for a lot of drivers.”
David Heinemeier Hansson, who also regularly contests IMSA’s four major endurance races alongside a full-time WEC program, said drivers would be looking to undertake a Patron Endurance Cup program next year to supplement the WEC’s reduced calendar, which sees only four races in 2018.
“Doing NAEC is such an obvious thing to do,” Heinemeier Hansson told Sportscar365.
“Fuji is my least favorite race in the WEC schedule. So for that to clash with one of my favorite races in the world, especially on such a needless round, as what it seems…
“You only have four races in WEC [in 2018]. You can’t spread them out and move them so they don’t clash with the major classics of endurance racing?
“I hope that’s just oversight. I realize they’re probably really stressed and all the stuff they need to figure out.”
WEC CEO Gerard Neveu said the clash is something they couldn’t prevent for the time being due to limited date options for the Japanese round.
“We try to do the best we can do,” Neveu told Sportscar365. “We have commitments with the FIA regarding the F1 calendar, and F1 is racing the week before in Suzuka and I don’t see how we can move.
“That’s on the paper now. This is October, [the race is] one year from now. If I see any other option to arrange it, I will do it. But it’s difficult.
“We guarantee we protect Daytona and Sebring. To do the rest of the season is impossible.”
However, Pla admitted even contesting Sebring in 2019, which will feature a double 12-hour format with separate WeatherTech Championship and WEC races, could be a challenge for drivers, given the weekend schedule.
The two races will be separated by only two hours, leaving little recovery time and questions whether teams would allow drivers to contest both enduros.
Even with races on separate days, Pla has been unable to compete in the European Le Mans Series rounds at Silverstone in the last two years due to his Ford WEC commitments, which takes priority over his other programs.
“When you are racing for a manufacturer, and if something happens in the race, like if you get sick or crash and not be available to do your job,” Pla said. “If I was a team boss, I’d probably say, ‘No, you don’t drive the Sebring 12 Hours in IMSA.’
“If they told me that, I would not be surprised and I’d accept that.
“It’s really a shame. You could at least put the race the day after or something.”