2024 WEC 6 Hours of Imola | 8 talking points

22nd April 2024
Ben Miles

The second round of the 2024 World Endurance Championship went from mediocre procession to absolute classic in a matter of minutes somewhere in the middle of the race. Rain falling turned the whole race on its head and swept away all the overtaking issues that come with racing at Imola. Here’s everything you really need to know.


1. Toyota's issues nowhere near as bad as it feared

Before the first round of the World Endurance Championship Toyota big wigs were out in force ready to tell absolutely anyone who would listen that they were done for. The BoP was going to kill them this season and there was no way they would be able to get anything out of 2024. It was clear that this wasn’t perhaps a true reflection of the state of play the moment that the #7 Toyota qualified on the front row at Qatar.

The illusion that Toyota would really struggle when the rest of the teams arrived on the scene was shattered about two-thirds of the way through the 6 Hours of Imola. Yes, it might have involved some serious mistakes from Ferrari, but the #7 Toyota was not just in contention for victory, but pretty much set for it for at least the last hour. Some issues involving a need for fuel saving might have led to a tighter finish than Kamui Kobayashi would have hoped for, but in the end the victory wasn’t too taxing.


2. Reshuffled order, but only slightly

One thing WEC fans are going to have to get used to this season is the order being gently shuffled around from time-to-time by tweaks in the balance of performance. However, the efforts of the ACO and the FIA to make the BoP as painless a process as possible seem to be working. Yes, the new cars are lagging behind those more established teams, but that’s to be expected.

The changes in BoP for Imola brought the field closer together without destroying the stability of the pack. Porsche had a real advantage in Qatar, and while the 963s were definitely slower for Imola, the factory cars were all still right on the pace. Peugeot went backwards, but it brought a new car. Ferrari started the race in dominant force, with three cars running together up front. But at no point were they able to establish a lead that left them out of reach from the rest. There’s still work to do, but this felt like a positive step.


3. Nightmare for Alpine

Positive that is, unless you are Alpine. One of its A424s was involved in a multi-car shunt at the beginning that brought out the safety car after less than a lap, the other struggled with issues and showed very little in the way of pace. They respectively finished six and 15 laps off the pace – one of the cars even finding itself behind the Isotta Fraschini, which itself had at least five visits to the gravel.

It is very early days for Alpine. Just as Porsche and Cadillac found last year, the cars built to LMDh regulations take some time to get used to. The reality is that there won’t have been a better learning experience for the team than its nightmare in Italy. But with its home race at Le Mans just two rounds away, the team from Dieppe will hope that it’s going to find some solutions soon.


4. Nyck De Vries is back

What a day for Nyck De Vries. Totally shafted by the Formula 1 paddock last year, the 2021 Formula E World Champion has found welcoming arms back in both the sportscar and FE paddocks this year. And at Imola he showed exactly what a De Vries that feels wanted can do.

The #7 Toyota started in the mid pack, but clearly had good long-run pace. Team-mate Mike Conway was able to move from eighth to third during his stint before handing over to De Vries. The Dutchman then put in what might have been the stint of the race, helping to take the Toyota GR010 into the lead (aided by Ferrari’s shenanigans, which we’ll come to). But it will all be overshadowed by a moment of brilliance that sent his Toyota up into second. Awaiting the countdown to green following a full course yellow, De Vries showed lightning reactions, flying past Miguel Molina’s Ferrari and into the lead on the run to Rivazza. A move so good that some initially wondered about its legitimacy. Nyck De Vries is back.


5. Ferrari Ferraris itself out of contention

Three Ferraris running in the top three, a home crowd waiting for a Ferrari victory, a BoP that favoured the red and yellow machines. And fourth was all the Tifosi had to celebrate. This was a pure Ferrari performance, managing to out-tactic itself and completely end any chances of what should have been a sure fire victory.

The crunch point was when the rain fell. Initially it didn’t seem severe enough for wets, a point made strongly by Ant Davidson in the WEC commentary box. But, most Hypercars dived for the pits following another race neutralisation. The Ferraris chose to stay out. This brought an initial dividend. While the cars on wets were undoubtedly faster, they weren’t faster enough to be properly catching Ferrari. Even James Calado got on the radio to tell his team he wanted to stay on the dry tyres, given that half the circuit was dry and his rubber was warm.

But, the opposite happened. All three Ferraris jumped into the pits, sacrificing any advantage they had and dooming them all to a completely anonymous end. It was the kind of wishy washy half thinking that Toyota would avoid after a decade of experience. Yes, Ferrari will learn, but they probably need to do it soon, before the F1 memes are transferred to AF Corse.


6. BMW comes alive in the wet

There were positives for the WRT-run BMW M Hybrid V8s. The hypercars from Bavaria have not had an enjoyable start to their lives. While the cars are new to WRT, they have been run in IMSA for a year, so you would expect progress in a more Porsche or Cadillac manner. But in both series the BMWs have been running around in an anonymous fashion.

But, there were brighter signs during the race at Imola. Yes, one was the first car to retire and one of just two hypercars not to finish the race. But the #20 of Shelden van der Linde, Robin Frijns and Rene Rast came alive in the low grip conditions, even causing the second Toyota GR010 some problems during the penultimate hour of the race. Sixth isn’t the most impressive finish, but it was the best of the new teams and better than 10th in Qatar.


7. Advantage Porsche

A win at Qatar, second at Imola, the #6 Porsche from Penske has given itself quite the advantage after two rounds of the championship. Sixteen points can easily be overcome given the double points nature of the Le Mans 24 Hours, but the consistency that Porsche’s factory team is promising for the rest of the year. In the final hour it was the Porsche 963 that looked likely to snatch victory, only stifled by the difficulties that Imola presents in overtaking. One of the keys to that was exceptional tyre warm up. At the start of each stint the Penske-run cars seemed the least likely to be making trips to the gravel, and the good thing was that didn't end with the 963s chewing through their rear tyres.

The vagaries of BoP pushed Porsche backward considering its advantage in Qatar, but they were still strong and, more importantly, consistent, with two podiums in the main Hypercar category and two more in the independents championships shows how strong the 963 is.


8. Attention will be on tyres this year

The ban on tyre warmers went down with teams about as well as a rainy bank holiday. Last year things got so bad at Spa that the tyre warming cupboards WEC teams used were reintroduced for Le Mans to avoid cold-tyre catastrophes. The ban has been reintroduced for 2024, and the wet and chilly conditions at Imola showed just how big a challenge this is going to be for teams and drivers.

But, perhaps they had all started to get their heads around this new factor. It’s true that many cars spent time exploring the outer reaches of Imola’s gravel traps, but none of the Hypercars aggressively smeared itself down a wall, even in the wet. Spa will be another test, with early May often bringing chilly conditions to the Ardennes, but currently the outlook feels more positive than a year ago. However, it will only take one cold tyre crash in Belgium for the tyre debate to ignite again.

Images courtesy of Motorsport Images

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