The FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) opened their season at the Lusail International Circuit in Qatar, with the Qatar 1812 KM. It was also the first race in WEC for BMW M Team WRT with their pair of M Hybrid V8 prototypes that were entered in the Hypercar class after a year of preparation.

BMW M Team WRT had two M Hybrid V8s on the entry, with the #15 car for René Rast, Robin Frijns, and Sheldon van der Linde, along with the #20 car for Dries Vanthoor, Raffaele Marciello, and Marco Wittmann. The Qatar race was the first time that Frijns and Marciello have raced the M Hybrid V8 in competition, and the competition was intense, with 19 cars in the Hypercar class from Porsche, Peugeot, Toyota, Lamborghini, Cadillac, Alpine, and Isotta Fraschini in addition to BMW.

The preparation for the Qatar race was hampered by a delay in the start of the “Prologue,” which consisted of two days of testing on the Qatar circuit before the race weekend. Delays in shipping due to the continued tense situation in Middle East shipping lanes caused the Prologue to be postponed by two days, which gave the teams less time between the end of Prologue testing and the race.

The FIA WEC has two stages of qualifying, with an initial session for everyone and a second Hyperpole session for the top ten fastest cars in each class that determine the pole and the starting grid for the top ten cars. Porsche Penske Motorsport driver Matt Campbell (one of the winning drivers for Porsche in the Rolex 24 at Daytona) put the #5 Porsche 963 on the pole, but neither of the M Hybrid V8 cars made it into Hyperpole qualifying. They qualified 15th (#15) and 16th (#20), and both were around 1.5 seconds off the qualifying pace of the #5 Porsche.

Unfortunately, the BMWs didn’t find their pace in the race. Neither of them was a contender to the front-running group and finished in 11th (#20) and 15th (#15), as Porsche swept the podium with the win going to the #6 Porsche of Kévin Estre, Andre Lotterer and Laurens Vanthoor. The fastest lap time during the race for an M Hybrid V8 was a 1:41.898, which was over two seconds off the fastest lap of the race put in by the #5 Porsche. However, the BMWs were setting lap times on par with several other Hypercar entries, so there is certainly the potential to get better.

On a positive note, the BMWs ran very trouble-free as other cars experienced reliability issues and it was a good learning experience in the first race with the car for BMW M Team WRT. “It was a tough weekend,” said WRT Team Principal Vincent Vosse. “In the Hypercar class, finishing P11 and P15 is not really what we were looking for, but we got a lot of data and now we have plenty of work to do. It seems like Porsche has done a brilliant job during the winter and they achieved an incredible outcome this weekend.”

BMW M Team WRT team had a better race in the LMGT3 class, which has been revamped for 2024, most notably requiring drivers of various driver rankings to be in all the cars rather than a Pro class that featured only works drivers. WRT had two M4 GT3s entered at Qatar, with the #31 for Augusto Farfus, Darren Leung and Sean Gelael, and the #46 for Maxime Martin, Valentino Rossi, and Ahmad Al Harthy.

In LMGT3 qualifying, the #46 made it into the ten-car Hyperpole shootout, where Ahmad Al Harthy put it in ninth with a 1:56.028, which was around 1.6 seconds off the pole of the #81 TF Sport Corvette. The #31 M4 GT3 qualified in 13th with a 1:56.770.

The M4 GT3s performed well in the race, with the #46 fighting for a podium finish until the closing moments, ultimately finishing in 4th while the #31 was two spots behind in sixth. The LMGT3 race was won by the #92 Manthey Purerxcing Porsche. “It’s a good start to the season as finishing P4 is quite good but it’s a shame to be so close to the podium and to not step onto it,” said Valentino Rossi. “It was a perfect race for us with no mistakes, no track limits. The guys did an amazing job in the pits as well and we just missed a little bit of speed to make it to the podium.”

The next FIA WEC race is the 6 Hours of Imola in Italy on April 21st. —David Haueter

[Photos courtesy BMW]



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