The FIA World Endurance Championship sets off on its own this weekend at Spa-Francorchamps for the second round of the season, following the joint WEC/American Le Mans Series race at Sebring.
Spa will feature the race length cut in half (six hours versus 12), a longer track (4.352 miles versus 3.6) and a reduced field size (42 cars versus 64) compared to Sebring. But, it's still fully subscribed with prototypes, even despite Toyota withdrawing its new hybrid following a crash during testing that wrote off a chassis. Two-thirds of the 42 cars entered make up the LMP1 and LMP2 classes, with 10 LMP1 and 18 LMP2 cars set to compete.
As in Sebring, the race is Audi's to lose for overall bragging rights, with the only question whether it will be able to sweep the podium. The manufacturer has four R18s entered as opposed to three at Sebring, with the four split two-by-two into the new R18 e-tron quattro hybrid and the updated R18 Ultra.
Driver lineups stay the same as in Sebring with the exception of the No. 3 car – Marc Gene deputizing for the injured Timo Bernhard – and Oliver Jarvis and Marco Bonanomi making their Audi race debuts in the No. 4 car. The Audi veterans and defending 24 Hours of Le Mans winners take to the hybrid.
Of the remaining six LMP1 cars, Henri Pescarolo's squad debuts the heavily revised Dome S102.5 with ex-Peugeot stars Sebastien Bourdais – available with IndyCar off this weekend – and Nicolas Minassian. Pescarolo's new Pesca 03 has been delayed until Le Mans. The pecking order in the gasoline ranks will begin to be sorted among the Rebellion Lola Toyotas, Strakka and JRM HPDs, and OAK Pescarolo-Judd, the latter of which is the only LMP1 car running Dunlops instead of Michelins.
In LMP2, which features all 18 cars on Dunlops, American squad Starworks Motorsport seeks a repeat of its Sebring win with its HPD ARX-03b, even if another overall podium may be hard to match. Any of the ORECA 03 Nissans from Signatech (two cars), ADR-Delta or Pecom could make a dent in the class leaderboard, as could the OAK Racing Morgan Judds or Greaves Motorsport Zytek Nissan.
GT is less stacked in terms of entries, and although AF Corse won the GTE Pro class at Sebring with the No. 71 Ferrari F458 Italia, Olivier Beretta hardly looked like a winner after a late-race battle and being accused of contact by Joey Hand. Still, Beretta and Andrea Bertolini or the sister No. 51 – the car that actually did hit Hand's – are the early favorites in class ahead of the Luxury Ferrari, Felbermayr-Proton Porsche and factory Aston Martin Vantage.
Nine GTE Am cars round out the field, with focus on AF Waltrip's Brian Vickers in his sports car debut and on a sister Ferrari 458 that features ex-ALMS co-drivers Gunnar Jeannette and Frankie Montecalvo. The No. 88 Felbermayr-Proton GTE Am car won the class at Sebring with Christian Ried, Gianluca Roda and Paolo Ruberti driving.