WEC’s growth in quality and quantity in plain sight at Spa

On the eve of the third round of the 2024 FIA WEC season, the increase in the championship’s competitiveness, popularity and relevance is on full display,

At Imola last month the crowd was enormous, with more than 70,000 fans in attendance over the three days, and the racing on track was fierce in both classes. This week, the crowd is already building, with a strong turnout of fans for the practice sessions ahead of Saturday’s race, which is expected to be held in front of another record crowd.

Comparing the atmosphere at these early races to previous seasons, when the top class was smaller and fewer factories were activating the championship, in some areas it’s night and day. WEC meetings now feel like major sporting events on a regular basis.


In the past, the opening rounds of the season often felt purely like a table-setter for Le Mans rather than important in their own right, with few drivers or teams worried about the standings. Now, with a 19-car top class, the drivers appear more focused than ever before on scoring points consistently, keeping an eye on the championship fight to come later in the season. And the WEC is all the better for this shift in mentality.

Clearly, teams always want to win every weekend and to maximize their points haul. But the WEC has matured, growing from a series that was previously described to this writer by a former LMP1 program head as “a tax on competing at Le Mans,” to a world championship that is now seen as highly valuable to OEMs and worth fighting tooth and nail for.

Crowd-pleasing cars like Ferrari’s 499P Hypercar are making the FIA WEC a season-long draw. JEP/Motorsport Images

Evidence of this came in the pre-event press conference. When asked about his thoughts ahead of this weekend’s six-hour race, reigning drivers’ world champion Sebastien Buemi reflected on the challenges Toyota faced in the opening round at Qatar, making it clear how important it was to come away with an eighth-place finish.

“We didn’t have such a good start to the season — we were slow but we still managed to take a decent amount of points,” he said. “You still wait until Le Mans because it’s 50 points for a win (with a maximum of 90 points handed out through the first three races), but as a team, if one car is clearly ahead you end up supporting the sister car.

“We didn’t have such a good start in the No. 8, but we’ve scored OK.”

In simple terms, back in the LMP1 Hybrid days, a bad day might see you finish fourth or fifth. Now, an issue, crash, or error on strategy can see you finish outside the top 10 and come away with nothing.

The downside of the deeper class this year is being felt by teams like Cadillac Racing. The U.S.-flagged outfit, with a year of data to work with, headed into the 2024 season with high expectations after a strong run early in 2023 which saw the team finish regularly in the top five and on the podium at Le Mans. The V-Series.R has also become a race and title winning car in IMSA GTP, adding to the team’s level of confidence heading into year two of the global program.

Despite having the pace at Qatar to challenge towards the front of the field, it was disqualified post-race for a technical infringement. Then in Imola, the team struggled to find a strong base setup and finished 10th. This left it with just a single point on the board ahead of the trip to Belgium.

“We come here dreaming of securing a good result. Imola didn’t go our way so being competitive and scoring lots of points has to be the aim,” Cadillac driver Alex Lynn said. “It’s extremely difficult to make up the difference later in the season these days. The category is so strong, so if you have a bad start it’s difficult to catch up. You may need a great Le Mans to haul yourself into a championship fight if you struggle.”

Porsche Penske’s 963 Hypercar of Kevin Estre, Andre Lotterer and Laurens Vanthoor has set the pace thus far at Spa-Francorchamps but the team is thinking more long term. JEP/Motorsport Images

Currently, Porsche Penske Motorsport’s No. 6 crew of Kevin Estre, Laurens Vanthoor and Andre Lotterer hold a 16-point advantage in the drivers’ standings after a win in Qatar and second-place finish in Imola. This uptick in form has exceeded the team’s expectations and prompted its drivers to think longer term this weekend.

“We want to fight for the championship, so the mindset is consistency,” Vanthoor told RACER. “Last year we were never in the fight so we were targeting single races. This year I would say we have exceeded our expectations so far, but it’s a reward for the work over the winter. It’s paying off now.

“Porsche and Penske are two names that fight for wins and championships, but taking time to get it right is normal. It’s a long year but so far we’ve shown that we are there and we hope to continue the fight in Le Mans too.

“This weekend is difficult to predict. But looking back at Qatar we expected that circuit to be one of the best for the 963, Imola (a very different circuit) was one we were scared of but we were OK. That gives me confidence we will be there all year. I don’t expect dominance like Qatar, but if you can score a podium that’s great.

“Today, I’m not thinking about Le Mans being the next race.”

More evidence that while the 24 Hours is still the Big One, the other WEC races are building a rising cadence of their own.

Story originally appeared on Racer