***FIA World Endurance Championship drivers gathered for a group photo Friday morning, prior to the start of Free Practice. The 2016 season sees another strong grid of competitors, from around the world, ready to kick off the fifth season of the championship.
***One driver absent this weekend is David Markosov, leaving the No. 27 SMP Racing BR Engineering BR01 Nissan to only Nic Minassian and Maurizio Mediani. It’s the only two-driver lineup in the LMP2 class for the opening round.
***Raj Nair, Ford executive vice president, Global Product Development, confirmed to Sportscar365 that Ford has received special dispensation to race the Ford GT prior to it entering production later this year. Per ACO homologation rules, the car must be in production at the date of the race car’s homologation, which was made last month.
***Nair said he’s thankful to the ACO and fellow competitors for the support. “From the very beginning of the program when we talked with the ACO on where we’d be with the timing of the vehicle, we wanted to make sure they’d be OK with that,” he told Sportscar365. “Obviously with the approval of the other manufacturers as well… We’re very fortunate that not only the ACO has welcomed us into the series but also the other manufacturers.”
***ACO GTE homologation rules also stipulate that a minimum production of 300 cars must be made in a two-year period and 100 of those must be produced before the final race of the season it was homologated in.
***Ford announced this week that it has committed to build a total of 500 Ford GTs over the next two model years, having also revealed the base price for the EcoBoost-powered super car will be in the mid-$400,000 range.
***Audi completed a three-day test with its R18 on Thursday, which marked the first time its new car ran in low-downforce Le Mans aero. Loic Duval, Benoit Treluyer and Le Mans reserve driver Rene Rast handled testing duties, which according to Audi Sport Team Joest technical director Joerg Zander, went to plan.
***Zander told Sportscar365 that a decision on whether they’ll run the low-downforce package in next month’s Six Hours of Spa has yet to be made, even if simulations show a slight advantage for the Le Mans-spec car. “We’ll decide closer to the time because there may be an advantage with weather conditions like here to run the max downforce configuration,” he said.
***While being the only open-top prototype in the field, Strakka Racing’s Nick Leventis is optimistic about their chances this weekend on home soil. Jonny Kane put the team’s Gibson 015S Nissan atop the LMP2 time sheets on Friday. “I think on outright pace over one lap, perhaps we’re not the strongest car. But over a double stint, it seems to be quite easy on its tires and I think where the strength of the car is,” Leventis said.
***Aston Martin revealed the Vantage GT8 on Friday, a new limited-edition road car inspired by its V8 Vantage GTE machine. Only 150 cars will be produced, at a price tag of $233,000 each. Vantage GT8 graphics are adorned on the three Aston Martin Racing entries this weekend.
***The Astons are also sporting specially designed wing badges, with a different design to be used at each WEC race corresponding to the countries of each round. The Union Jack-inspired design are on the cars this weekend.
***While no longer driving full-time in the series, Patrick Dempsey will be at Silverstone on Sunday to follow the Dempsey Proton Racing squad. The actor/racer hasn’t ruled out a return to the cockpit later this year, although is currently focusing on his filming and family commitments.
***Representatives from the new Six Hours of Mexico event are on-site this weekend, getting a first-hand look at the FIA World Endurance Championship. The organization is planning to take delivery of a Ligier JS P3, equipped as a two-seater, in early summer for promotional purposes in the build up to the event.
***Porsche will be looking to continue its pole streak on Saturday, with the German manufacturer seeking its 12th consecutive top qualifying effort, a record that dates back to Circuit of The Americas in 2014. Of note, its LMP1 squad alone employees 260 people at its base in Weissach.
***The ACO and FIA WEC has inked a deal with Motul to become the official lubricant of the championship, as well as the 24 Hours of Le Mans.