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Lequien: Qatar “Important for Us” in WEC Expansion

WEC management explains reasons for addition of Qatar to calendar beginning in 2024…

Photo: John Dagys

Management from the FIA World Endurance Championship have outlined their reasoning for introducing a six-hour race in Qatar that will open the 2024 season.

As announced on Monday, the WEC will visit Lusail International Circuit near Qatar’s capital Doha as part of a six-year deal with the Formula 1 and MotoGP venue.

WEC CEO Frederic Lequien confirmed that financial factors contributed to Qatar being added to the 2024 calendar, which is expected to include eight rounds.

Qatar is the second Middle East country to join the world championship schedule, bookending the season with Bahrain which hosts a race at the end of the year per its contract.

“Qatar is important for us because they are totally renovating the track,” Lequien told reporters at the Qatar race announcement in Doha.

“The track we are going to use in 2024 is going to be one of the most modern in the world. That’s quite interesting.

“Then to start the season a little bit sooner is good also. The weather will be good.

“On top of that, we need to be totally transparent and explain how we make a calendar. The calendar is a perfect balance for the promoter.

“It’s also a question of support. Qatar is supporting us, clearly.

“For the world championship, that’s important, to have the support in certain countries, [in order to] continue to go on very traditional old circuits in Europe where we do not have any support.”

Talks between the WEC and Qatar’s motorsport federation are understood to have started around three years ago. During the press event, Lequien referred to his affinity with Qatar’s delegation during his previous role as deputy director of the Dakar Rally.

“The layout of the track is really good,” Lequien added. “The track today has a motorbike image but it’s wrong.

“The first time I went on the track I was very surprised. It’s a super layout for drivers.

“Then they will renovate it and it will be very modern with a very nice grandstand and hospitality. It will be fantastic.

“We can feel that they want us. It’s also a case of friendship sometimes. That’s the truth. I really love the way we have worked together from the beginning.

“They’re very smart people and have a lot of passion for motorsport.”

FIA Endurance Commission President Richard Mille suggested that it was important for the WEC to hold a second overseas race in the Middle East to cater for the region’s growing motorsport sector.

“Today, like Formula 1, it is difficult to imagine races without including the Middle East,” he told Sportscar365.

“It’s important when you speak with passionate people. We need, as organizers, as promoters, to have people that really love motor racing. Not only to make money.

“It’s also important to enhance this [motorsport] culture in Middle East. There are more and more collectors in the Gulf area. The knowledge is more and more sophisticated about cars.

“I can see people with every good classic collections of cars. The car culture is growing in the area. And also for many manufacturers, it’s an important area.”

Pierre Fillon, President of the ACO which co-runs the WEC with the FIA, highlighted that the championship considers the demands of manufacturers in the burgeoning Hypercar class when drafting its calendars.

When asked why the WEC has added a second overseas race in the Gulf region, at a track situated just 250 miles away from Bahrain by road and when other key continents remain off the schedule, Fillon responded: “It depends on which manufacturers.

“Peugeot wanted to go back to South America, but Porsche wanted to come back [to Qatar].

“It’s also very important for Toyota. You need to make all the manufacturers happy.

“If we can come back to South America, we will do it. It’s a long discussion. We went to South America in the past. You need to find a good promoter and so on.

“We have a six-year contract with Qatar, but we will think about [adding] another venue in the future without adding too many races. Because we want to control the cost.”

Sportscar365 understands that the 6 Hours of Qatar will be the additional eighth race on the 2024 schedule and that it will not replace one of the tracks that the series will visit next year.

The 2024 calendar is still to be confirmed, with Sebring’s inclusion currently “in the plan” considering Qatar is becoming the new season-opener venue.

The WEC is aiming to add a ninth round to the 2025 schedule, although further expansion beyond that would approach becoming unsustainable in terms of costs and track time.

“We don’t have many races, compared to Formula 1,” Mille said. “There is the potential to grow it step by step. But for sure, we will have to consider all continents. It’s compulsory.

“At the moment, we are mostly European [circuits]. But we are extending step by step.

“We also have to consider Southeast Asia and some more tracks. But we don’t want to expand the number of races too quickly.”

John Dagys contributed to this report

Daniel Lloyd is a UK-based reporter for Sportscar365, covering the FIA World Endurance Championship, Fanatec GT World Challenge Europe powered by AWS and the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, among other series.

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