***Friday’s Free Practice 1 saw drama for half of the LMP1 hybrid field. The No. 2 Porsche 919 Hybrid lost the majority of the 90-minute session due to a precautionary battery change, while the No. 7 Audi R18 encountered gearbox issues and the No. 8 Audi also stopped on track, but to prevent further bodywork damage after a puncture.
***All three cars were back up to speed in FP2 without any reported issues, although all teams have been complaining about lack of grip. LMP1 cars are not expected to double stint tires in the race, with eight sets allowed to be used over the course of the Six Hours of Shanghai.
***Antonio Giovanazzi is not expected to be present for the season finale in Bahrain, after having relinquished his seat in an Audi R18 for the WEC Rookie Test. The GP2 championship leader is rumored to be replaced by Tom Dillmann in the No. 30 Extreme Speed Motorsports Ligier JS P2 Nissan for the Bahrain race alongside Sean Gelael and the returning Guido Van Der Garde.
***Tom Blomqvist, who has taken Van Der Garde’s seat this weekend, is not likely to be available for Bahrain as well. Blomqvist told Sportscar365 that it was the goal to for him to be in the Jagonya Ayam-backed entry for all three races but had a conflict with his BMW commitments during the Fuji weekend.
***The GTE drivers market is heating up, with at least two drivers rumored to be changing manufacturers for next year. Italian media have reported that longtime Ferrari factory driver Gianmaria Bruni could end up at Porsche, with Audi GT factory star Laurens Vanthoor linked to Porsche’s returning WEC GTE-Pro program as well. Newly crowned Porsche Supercup champion Sven Mueller, meanwhile, has also been tipped for a factory drive.
***Porsche may need up to three new factory GT drivers for 2017, depending on the status of Nick Tandy, who is expected to fill Mark Webber’s seat in the manufacturer’s LMP1 program. A two-car factory GTE-Pro effort is planned with its new mid-rear-engined 911 GTE car, which will be revealed at the LA Auto Show later this month.
***One of the first high-profile staff moves from the soon-to-be-defunct Audi LMP1 program appears to have already been made, with Audi Sport technical director Joerg Zander reportedly departing to Sauber F1. Zander joined the German manufacturer in 2015, following an extensive career in F1.
***Development of the Ligier JS P217 has continued, with a handful of new drivers trying out the all-new Gibson-engined LMP2 contender. Both Filipe Albuquerque and Maxime Martin have turned laps in the car, which was recently testing at Estoril. Olivier Pla, Julien Canal and Pipo Derani handled the first shakedown, with Pla and Derani continuing in its development program.
***Romain Brandela, who makes his WEC GTE-Am debut this weekend in the No. 50 Larbre Competition Corvette C7.R, is currently confirmed for Shanghai-only. The French squad could bring in another Bronze-rated driver for Bahrain.
***WEC teams are not only battling on the track this weekend, but also on the court, with an informal ping pong tournament. Check out RGR Sport drivers Albuquerque and Bruno Senna go up against Signatech-Alpine’s Nico Lapierre, Stephane Richelimi and Gustavo Menezes.
***AF Corse is the latest team to expand operations into LMP3, with the Amato Ferrari-owned team offering support to customer Claudio Sdanewitsch’s new Ligier JS P3. Ferrari told Sportscar365 that Sdanewitsch’s 2017 race program has not yet been determined.
***The Italian squad does not yet have a confirmed customer for GTE-Am next year, although Ferrari said he remains optimistic. Champions-elect Francois Perrodo and Emmanuel Collard are likely to step up to LMP2 with a to-be-determined effort.