2024 WEC Qatar 1812km | 10 talking points

04th March 2024
Ben Miles

The World Endurance Championship is back, and on a weekend in which F1 proved that nothing has changed for 2024, WEC decided to show that everything is different. More manufactures, more races, brand new classes. The first round of the season kicked off the new “Golden Era” in sportscar racing in earnest with an excellent contest across 1,812km.


1. LMDh cars finally come good

The ACO has set itself the tricky task of running cars built to two distinct sets of regulations in direct competition in the World Endurance Championship. Through 2023 it looked like that might end up being a folly. The rear-wheel-drive only LMDh cars struggled to match the performance and tyre life of the more bespoke-built and often four-wheel-drive LMH machines.

Some have been keen to call for caution. Yes the ACO needed to get its BoP right, but these machines were brand new, the Dh teams also needed to get used to running them. On Saturday in Qatar, a year into the respective programmes, the top four placed cars were built to LMDh regulations.

Quite clearly better BoP is a part of this. But Porsche has shown in both IMSA and WEC already this season that it has got on top of the performance of the 963 – which has now won both of its races in 2024. Cadillac also showed extraordinary pace in the Daytona 24 Hours and continued to look strong, if at times anonymous, in Qatar. If anything this race showed that the underlying BoP has not been the problem for the LMDh teams so far.


The BoP is not perfect

But it’s also clear that the tricky Balance of Performance isn’t quite right yet. Runaway world champions Toyota suddenly found itself nowhere having been given a BoP hit and Le Mans-winners Ferrari struggled to match the pace of the leading cars beyond the first hour.

But perhaps the biggest example of this was Cadillac. The V-Series.R took pole for the Rolex 24 at Daytona a few weeks earlier, and came within a few seconds of winning IMSA’s big opener. But in WEC competition it couldn’t get on terms with the Penske-run factory Porsches or even the privateer Jota. That suggests the ACO still has some work on getting the right car-to-car balance as well as bringing the platforms together.


3. Toyota struggles

The vagaries of BoP were no more public than in the glum exterior of the World Champions. Toyota spent the whole week at Losail telling the world it was nowhere, and had no chance. These words were quite clearly exaggerated, perhaps to try and make a point to the rulemakers, especially as the latest all-black GR010 started the race on the front row.

But in the race, the Toyotas really were nowhere. The #7 car finished sixth, a lap down on the Porsches, while the World Champion #8 languished two laps adrift in ninth. While the team will publicly make coy mentions of BoP (the rules ban teams from openly complaining) they will also know that the easy days are over. No matter how BoP treated the teams, Toyota is no longer the only one with full race experience in the Hypercar class… The real battle has begun.


4. Agony for Peugeot

Is there a more fitting end to the wingless 9X8’s racing life than a 16th place finish and a disqualification? It’s incredibly unfair to Peugeot given the real performance shown in Qatar, but it’s undeniably apt.

We expect a new version of the 9X8 to appear in Imola. We also expect it to have a rear wing. But Qatar was at least a partial vindication of Peugeot’s approach to the 9X8. On a smooth surface, totally redone for F1’s return in 2023, the ground effect-reliant 9X8 looked the business. In fact it led for large parts, overtaking Toyota, Porsche and Ferrari on pace. That effort faded as the long run strength of the Porsche 963 came into effect, and only having one car for the fight didn’t help. But the 9X8 was easily the second fastest car in the field.

The sad bit is that the enduring image of the 9X8 will probably be Jean-Eric Vergne walking away from his dumped car next to the pits in Qatar. Just as the Frenchman started his final lap in second the #93 9X8 conked out. Peugeot suspects a problem with refuelling at the last stop but, despite managing to finish on electric power-only, the 9X8 was disqualified post-race. Thus waving goodbye to an interesting, if unsuccessful, machine.


5. Porsche’s clean sweep

No matter what drama unfolded around them, the #6 Porsche 963 run by Penske was the star of the show. It took the lead on lap 54 and wasn’t headed on pace for the following 281 laps.

But it wasn’t just the #6 that was impressive. Behind that came two more 963s. Jota’s #12 with its mighty impressive new lineup of Will Stevens, Norman Nato and Callum Ilott grabbed the first podium finish for a privateer entrant in the Hypercar class. Behind them came the #5 sister Penske of Matt Campbell, Michael Christensen and Fred Makowiecki. That had had what could best be described as an “interesting” race (Christensen put up with a vibration so strong early on that you could see the car moving) and made it onto the podium thanks to the Peugeot failure.

Porsche’s perfect weekend was completed by the #92 Manthey PureRxing car, which took victory in an intriguing first race for the new-to-WEC LMGT3 class. Manthey didn’t have the race its own way, battling with both Aston Martins and the #54 AF Corse Ferrari 296 for most of the race. By the end the gap was just four seconds, but in reality the 911 hadn’t really been challenged in the last hour.


6. Tyre warm-up is still an issue

It was relatively warm in Qatar. Air temperature didn’t dip that far below 20 degrees even when the sun had fully gone down. But on a slick, smooth, surface, the Hypercars struggled once more to get temperature into their tyres. It wasn’t the half-hilarious half-dangerous mess that was seen at Spa last year, but it very clearly took all the top class cars multiple laps to be able to push properly.

This wasn’t a big issue in those warmish conditions in Qatar. But the next round comes in April in Imola. Northern Italy will most likely not be anywhere near as cosy for the tyres as the Middle East, and this will be the acid test for the Michelins. Last year tyre warmers ended up being reintroduced for Le Mans after multiple cold tyre incidents at the second round at Spa. It will be interesting to see how the teams fare in the first two European rounds – both set to be cold.

Do not rule out another temporary return for the old tyre warming cupboards for Le Mans.


7. New car struggles for Lamborghini

The 2023 season showed that these new cars need more time to adjust to than just a race or two. It wasn’t until Le Mans that a car other than Toyota really looked like a challenger, and not until Fuji that anyone other than Ferrari joined in.

This isn’t Formula 1. Teams don’t spend the same money on simulating data and every team doesn’t start the season with a new car. If you arrive with a new machine you’ll need time to get used to it, but around you the established teams will not be suffering the same issues.

That was the situation in which Lamborghini and Iron Lynx found themselves. The new Lamborghini SC63 looks great, but it was clearly in its first ever race and with only one car competing in WEC (a second will race in IMSA) drivers Mirko Bortolotti, Daniil Kvyat and Eduardo Mortara were the only guinea pigs through prologue test, practice and race. The fact that the SC63 finished will be seen as a win for the team, with the added bonus of not being last in class. But it is a sign of perhaps a difficult first season ahead.


8. Positive signs for Alpine

The other total LMDh newcomer for 2024 was Alpine (BMW’s M Hybrid V8 might be new to WEC but has raced in IMSA for a year). Finishes of eighth and 12th are a real positive for a brand new team and in the most part it was that high up the order on merit, not just due to rivals’ issues.

However the A424 did show that it’s not a finished article and its drivers showed that some of them are quite green to this sportscar racing lark. Mick Schumacher admitted beforehand that until he lost his Haas F1 seat he hadn’t even thought about racing in sportscars, and the sudden thrust of multi-class racing did catch the young German by surprise at least once. In the other car Ferdinand Habsburg and Charles Milesi have much more experience in this kind of racing, but both also struggled to keep the A424 on track at times.

But to get to the end, mechanical trouble-free and in striking distance of the established pack is a really positive start for the French team. It’s certainly a far more encouraging weekend for them than the F1 team suffered less than 100 miles away in Bahrain. In fact the #35 car of Milesi, Habsburg and Paul-Loup Chatin was just 37 seconds behind the #50 Ferrari and ahead of one Toyota.


9. Aston Martin’s podium filler

Aston Martin’s future in sportscar racing looked a bit sketchy when Lawrence Stroll bought the company and its LMH Valkyrie programme disappeared. With it quickly went the factory LMGTE effort while the number of Vantage GTEs taking part in ACO-rules racing began to dwindle.

But with the arrival to the WEC of GT3 comes a renewed effort from Gaydon. Not only are we expecting the Valkyrie to exist after all (albeit with a lot of external funding), there is a brand-new GT3 car. It’s called an Evo but in reality it’s pretty much a ground-up makeover. And in Qatar the Vantage was back at the sharp end of the grid. In the hands of Heart of Racing and D’Station, Vantages filled the final two podium places and challenged for the lead. Heart of Racing’s #27 of Ian James, Daniel Mancinelli and Alex Riberas was just five seconds behind the winning Manthey Porsche by the time the flag flew.


10. Rossi will be a star… again

When Valentino Rossi was reaching the end of his ridiculous motorcycle career, he was already making it very clear that finishing on two wheels would not be the end of his motorsport life. The F1 chance had disappeared some time in the 2000s and Rossi had done some rallying, but both he and some teams were eyeing an appearance at Le Mans.

Having spent the last couple of years working his way up the various steps of GT3 racing with WRT, Rossi has stuck with the team for his transition to the top level of GT racing. Now in a BMW M4 Rossi is one of the pro drivers in the #46 (of course) along with long-time GT ace Maxime Martin and bronze driver Ahmed Al-Harthy.

They didn’t win in Qatar, but all three impressed with a sensible and rapid drive to fourth in class. After Al-Harthy had cleared his full drive time with an Iron Man stint at the start of the race, Rossi looked fast and safe as the team’s silver driver. It shouldn’t really surprise us that such a legend of racing can adapt, but it is a real positive for his future on four wheels.


11. Lotterer’s first win since 2015

A final Goodwood-related note from the weekend. Over the last few years Andre Lotterer has become a familiar sight in a Goodwood paddock. He’s won a couple of races too, including the RAC TT. But it’s a bit of a shock to realise that he hasn’t won a race in the World Endurance Championship for nearly a decade. The German’s last WEC win was in 2015 with Audi. And in fact his last overall victory in any modern motorsport was in Super GT in 2017.

Since then he’s raced in Formula E, where he walked away with a lot of podiums, but never quite got that elusive victory. In that time Lotterer’s WEC outings have largely been with privateer entries, lacking much chance of victory. But when Porsche returned to the top level with the 963, there was no one else they were going to turn to first.

Victory at Losail is the first win he takes alongside Kevin Estra and Laurens Vanthoor, but that is one hell of a sportscar driving line-up, so we very much doubt it is the last.

The next round of the World Endurance Championship is the 6 Hours of Imola, and takes place on 21st April. The next major sportscar race will be the Sebring 12 Hours on 16th March.

Images courtesy of Motorsport Images.

  • WEC

  • WEC 2024

  • Qatar 1812km

  • Talking points

  • 2024-wec-calendar-main.jpg


    2024 WEC calendar

  • wec_imola_goodwood_22042024_list.jpg


    2024 WEC 6 Hours of Imola | 8 talking points

  • 2024-world-endurance-championship-how-to-watch-wec-main.jpg


    2024 World Endurance Championship | How to watch WEC