The rumours had been running for some time, before the confirmation came on 30 January – Fernando Alonso will participate in the FIA World Endurance Championship 2018/19 for Toyota Gazoo Racing.
The press release from Toyota stated that he would do the rounds that don’t clash with Formula 1, since that will still be his first priority. It means he could do every round but the Fuji round in Japan, which was clashing with Formula 1 at COTA in the USA.
Shortly thereafter, the talks of a date change for the FIA WEC started, so the Spanish superstar would be able to do the full FIA WEC 2018/19 Championship and therefore be able to fight for the World Championship title for drivers.
The confirmation regarding the date change came this Friday, so the race will be run on 14 October instead of 21 October.
That started a huge landslide of negative comments towards Alonso, Toyota and the ACO/FIA, since that makes the WeatherTech SportsCar Championship i USA and the Super GT round at Autopolis in Japan clash plus the DTM final at Hockenheim. The comments have been made by both fans and spectators – but should those negative comments be taken seriously?
Let’s take one step back, and have a look at the bigger picture.
When the FIA WEC announced the so-called Super Season 2018/19 on 2 September 2017, the Fuji race was put down on 14 October. IMSA and ACO then had a conversation, since that would make it clash with Petit Le Mans in USA. ACO managed to push the Fuji race back one week.
When Toyota signed with Fernando Alonso, it was perfectly clear for them that Fuji and COTA would clash – but since Toyota owns the Fuji track, they instantly started negotiating with the ACO, to get their original date back. That would mean a lot to them, being able to bring their big star to the home circuit in Japan.
The ACO and LMEM, the organizers behind the FIA WEC, have to look at it from a commercial point of view. The Fuji round has always had great support from the spectators, but if they could bring Alonso to the race, there would be even more spectators at the event.
ACO had been in contact with IMSA, already prior to the announcement of the new date, and explained to them, that there weren’t any other opportunities, and that they hoped that IMSA would be able to move the Petit Le Mans race instead. There is a number of clashes for several of the IMSA competitors and the FIA WEC racers.
-Harry Tincknell drives Ford i WEC, while he is driving for Mazda in IMSA.
-Oliver Jarvis too had a contract with Mazda, but he’s expected to be back in one of the Jackie Chan DC Racing car through the full FIA WEC season.
-Olivier Pla will be driving for Ford in the WEC, while he also drives for ESM in IMSA.
-Nicolas Lapierre is another ESM driver who will run for Alpine Signatech Matmut in the FIA WEC.
-Renger van der Zande is racing for Wayne Taylor Racing in IMSA, while he races DragonSpeed in the FIA WEC.
-Augusto Farfus drives for BMW in both the FIA WEC and the DTM.
-Kazuki Nakajima and Kamui Kobayashi drive FIA WEC for Toyota, as well as Super GT for Lexus. So they have issues too.
And there might be more that we are not yet aware of.
The FIA WEC looks like the bad guy in all this, since some suggest that they have moved the race just for one driver. That is one way to look at it, but actually they have done it for the sake of the sport and the product.
The FIA WEC experienced a dip in the number following the departure of Audi Sport post 2016, and that could very likely happen again after 2017, since Porsche departed. Now they have been thrown a lifeline in the shape of Alonso – a bit like when Nico Hülkenberg drove Le Mans for Porsche in 2015 and made a lot of Formula 1 fans tune in, to follow his progress. Or like when Mark Webber changed permanent from Formula 1 to Porsche in the FIA WEC.
So, of course they have to take advantage of a new big name coming to the series.
Don’t forget, the World Endurance Championship have three very important letters ahead of their name – FIA. That means the race series is the top of the list within sportscars.
Formula 1 has previously moved around with their dates too, but that doesn’t make national race series demanding Formula 1 to change their date again. And the FIA WEC doesn’t have enough power to make Formula 1 change their date. Formula 1 could in theory had moved their COTA round one week forward – but that would have resulted in back-to-back races from Japan to COTA for them and their teams, and then having a weekend off before going to Mexico. That isn’t an option for them either.
So yes, it is annoying for some with the date clashes, after the new date was announced. But there are so many racing series all over the world, that it’s basically impossible to avoid clashes – and then the FIA races will always have a higher value than a national series, no matter how highly ranked it is in its area or perhaps even globally.
And by the way, this isn’t the only date clash between IMSA in Mid-Ohio, IMSA at VIR, The DTM opening round at Hockenheim, FIA WEC at Spa Francorchamps plus FIA WEC (and ELMS) at Silverstone. So this isn’t the first problem that appears – the teams and drivers already had to make choices prior to the announcement last Friday.
At Racing24-7.net we are looking very much forward to the FIA World Endurance Championship 2018/19 season gets going – and lets all enjoy that there are 36 cars on the entry list, and that the series can attract big names like Fernando Alonso, and other former Formula 1 drivers like Bruno Senna, Giancarlo Fisichella, Kamui Kobayashi, Kazuki Nakajima, Vitaly Petrov and Pedro Lamy.