I don’t think I’m the only one with writers’ block. Having witnessed an all too predictable Season 7 (‘Toyota vs Toyota’), I’d somehow hoped that the short summer break might somehow see an injection of pizzazz into what is not only the pinnacle of global sportscar racing, but amongst aficionados might easily be considered the finest of all. And whilst change is undoubtedly in the air (Season 9 promising to be the great new era of the Hypercar), for now, not only must we lament the loss of some notable manufacturers and teams from the grid, but the departure of its two leading stars (Fernando Alonso & Jenson Button) has left a void that others simply cannot fill.

Star quality is a must these days; fans crave it, sponsors demand it. Those who were happy to pay to see the shortened four-hour race were certainly not deprived of spectacle, both on and off the track, but the empty grandstands were the surest sign that magnificent cars alone will not create the return on investment needed to build a sustainable format for the future. This, of course, was merely the opening episode of a season that will culminate at Le Mans next June, and there will be no shortage of talent or fans for that particular event. However, if WEC is to truly take its brand forward, then it doesn’t just need a spattering of big names, it needs heroes.

Here are twenty of our favourite shots from WEC’s Silverstone opener that help to tell the weekend’s story.

    It was business as usual at the front-end of the grid. The pole-sitting #7 Toyota of Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi & José María López trading places with the #8 car of Sébastien Buemi, Kazuki Nakajima and Brendon Hartley under Toyota’s orchestrated place-swapping regime. All six drivers found individual moments of pace which saw the TS050s pull a mighty lead until a prolonged downpour and questionable decisions from the pit wall kept both out on slicks and both briefly passed by not only the Rebellions but also a number of the slower LMP2 cars.

    By the end of the race, normal business had been resumed and for Conway, a man whose pace is probably the quickest of all right now in prototype racing, a first coveted WEC win on home soil.
    For this season and last, the Rebellions have led the race for the best of the rest. Season 7 saw the #3 car take the win at Silverstone after the Toyotas were excluded for a technical infringement. This year they pushed and pushed, even briefly taking the lead and trying hard to stay on the lead lap but moments of badness and madness saw both cars plummet down the order; a failed fuel pressure sensor on the #3 car causing more than the permitted fuel flow and consequently a raft of penalties, whilst in the #1 car, an errant pit stop by Norman Nato resulted in three mechanics being hit (fortunately none seriously) and a 90-second delay to attend to the crew and deal with the melee.

    If at first you don’t succeed, then do as Ginetta and do it better.

    Ginetta made its first attempt as an LMP1 constructor last year but the inputs of key technical partners resulted in no-shows and frustration. Now Team LNT is back with a car that looks capable and hungry. A wheel failure for the #6 car of Mike Simpson, Olly Jarvis and Guy Smith prevented its podium challenge but a strong run by the #5 car of Charlie Robertson, Ben Hanley and Egor Orudzhev rewarded the hard-working/spending Lawrence Tomlinson and all in Leeds with a brilliant result that sees this best of British brand take its car to Fuji in P3 in the standings.

    In LMP2, it was a debut win for the Cool Racing Oreca of reigning champion Nicolas Lapiere & ELMS graduate Antonin Borga, driving as a pair after the withdrawal of Alex Coigny.

    There was colour, craft and pace right through the class, and none so bright as the Racing Team Nederlands Oreca of Frits Van Eerd, Giedo Van Der Garde and Job Van Uitert.

    When pitched into LMP battles, it’s sometimes easy to forget that the cars in GTE Pro and GTE Am are amongst the finest in the world, as are its drivers. The ‘Dane Train’ pairing of Nicki Thiim and Marco Sørensen have already ensured their status after winning the WEC GTE Drivers’ title in 2016 with Aston Martin. This year, there’s renewed pace from both Porsche and Ferrari, each pushing ahead of the Vantages, yet whenever the #95 car comes into view, the crowd know that they’re in the company of greatness.

    Darren Turner is a three-time winner at Le Mans, and is now regularly paired with Thiim and Sørensen in three-driver events. Here he is in the car shared with Paul Dalla Lana & Ross Gunn, racing to the podium in GTE Am.

    Ferrari’s 488 GTE Evo is now in its second season of competition. The #51 AF Corse car of James Calado & Ale Pier Guidi won here last year and won again at Le Mans in June. It should have been challenging for a podium this time round after a stunning pole lap from the young Brit, but first a puncture and then a spurious penalty call by the stewards destroyed any chance of glory.

    Teammates Davide Rignon & Miguel Molina also showed outstanding pace but had their podium chances wiped-out by an errant Ginetta in the hands of Olly Jarvis who pitched both into the barrier whilst attempting to lap off-line on a damp track as both entered Becketts.

    Leading the charge in GTE is the brilliant new Porsche 911 RSR GTE. There’s been some contention in recent years over the FIA’s classification of which catagory of car will lead the class types. Originally, it had been thought that GTE would lead the way but with the new Hypercar rules (for Season 9, next year), a number of leading manufacturers (including McLaren) halted investment into GTE programmes. Not so Porsche. Porsche knows that GTE is not only at the heart of its racing, it’s the essence of its customer ambitions. So here we have a very new car that will ultimately feature less in factory colours but much, much more in the hands of independent teams.

    Here’s the #92 car of reigning GTE champions Michael Christensen & Kevin Estre, bringing their car home in P2 in a majestic 1-2 by the factory squad; and the customer Gulf Racing car of the Brit-pack trio of Michael Wainwright, Andrew Watson & Ben Barker, scoring valuable points in their home race.
    Sometimes things go very right, sometimes they go very, very wrong. The United Autosports squad were fielding cars in both LMP2 and the 4-hour ELMS support race. Paul di Resta had looked nothing short of grumpy all weekend and his WEC race lasted only a matter of minutes before an electrical fault forced him into an early bath. It didn’t go much better for the ELMS LMP2 car of Ryan Cullen, Alex Brundle & Will Owen..

    The ELMS (European Le Mans Series) plays a vital support role to the Le Mans racing programme with front-running teams gaining prized entry to the following year’s 24-hour race. Contested over six 4-hour races, cars from LMP2, LMP3 and GTE are all eligible and grids are both full and highly competitive.

    Here’s the LMP2 car of Paul Lafargue, Paul Loup Chatin and Memo Rojas, racing to their first victory of a season that seems them pressing harder for the coveted title, and the colourful Inter Europol Competition entry of Jakob Smiechowski and Adrien Tambay, powering through Maggots.

    Porsche Carrera Cup GB continues to offer its competitors life beyond TOCA and the BTCC paddock with a series of high-profile support features.

    Team Parker Racing’s Josh Webster continued to close the championship gap on second-placed Lewis Plato with a P2 and a win, whilst rookie Tom Roche showed yet more strength and pace as he builds on an impressive start to his debut Porsche season.

* * *

Images: Steve Hindle (The Black Stuff) and Howard Fielding (PhotoWodUK).