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WEC Portimao Preview: Are Toyota beatable?

WEC Portimao Preview: Are Toyota beatable?

Round 2 of the 2023 FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) takes place this weekend at Autodromo International do Algarve, in Portugal, with Toyota Gazoo Racing the team to beat amid an impressive field packed with legendary marques, including Ferrari.

The Japanese auto giant has dominated the top tier of WEC, since 2018, virtually unbeatable in the top tier of WEC, fresh from winning the Seabring season opener last month to boot, begging the headline question: Is Toyota beatable?

If ever, this season they could be dethroned, perhaps not as WEC Champions, but perhaps beaten in a race, and why not this weekend in Portimao where the Free Practice times indicate that Toyota have the pace and are top of the timing screens, but behind them there are several teams capable of challenging them.

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Make those Ferrari, Porsche, Cadillac, Peugeot and even Glickenhaus are all in the mix, the gap closer than before, and it’s still only days of this promising Hypercar era of endurance racing under the FIA WEC guise.

Here’s a preview of what to expect this weekend in the Algarve.

WEC 6 Hours of Portimao: Invading Europe!

The 6 Hours of Portimao, round two of the FIA WEC, marks the first time that the Cadillac, Ferrari, Porsche and Floyd Vanwall Hypercars have been seen competitively in Europe.

They join Toyota, Peugeot and Glickenhaus as the battle for the 2023 FIA Hypercar World Endurance Championship title heats up. There’s also 12 LMP2 entries, as well as 14 LMGTE Am cars making traffic management key at the Algarve International Circuit. The Portuguese fans will also have one home driver to support on-track – Antonio Felix da Costa – who is entered in LMP2 with Hertz Team JOTA.

Avis – WEC’s Official Vehicle Rental Services Premium Partner for the 2023 season – has put together a guide of everything you need to know ahead of Portimao.

  • Click HERE to view the full event programme from Portimao.
  • The latest entry list for WEC 6 Hours of Portimao can also be found HERE.

WEC Portimao Race Weekend Timetable

Friday 14 April

  • Free Practice 1: 10h30 – 12h00
  • Free Practice 2: 15h30 – 17h00

Saturday 15 April

  • Free Practice 3: 11h15 – 12h15
  • Qualifying: 15h30 – 16h35

Sunday 16 April

  • Race: 12h00 – 18h00

Portugal makes a welcome return to FIA WEC calendar

The FIA WEC moves to the Algarve International Circuit in Portugal for the 6 Hours of Portimão later this week and will be headlined by 11 Hypercars – many of which will be seen competitively in Europe for the very first time.

Having hosted an eight-hour race back in 2021, this year’s six-hour event will mark the welcome return of the Portuguese venue to the FIA ​​WEC calendar.

Cadillac Racing, Ferrari AF Corse, Porsche Penske Motorsport and Floyd Vanwall Racing Team will make their competitive Hypercar debut in Europe while Toyota Gazoo Racing and Glickenhaus Racing were both present in Portimao in 2021.

Indeed, the majority of WEC’s teams and drivers are familiar with the 4.653-km circuit, which has been a mainstay on the European Le Mans Series calendar for several years as well as being the venue of choice of some of the Hypercar manufacturers for their testing programs.

Elevation changes are a key feature of the layout built in 2008. A lap of the circuit sends drivers swooping up and down, before culminating in a plunge down to the final right-hander leading back onto the main straight. Along the way, Hypercar drivers travel with fully-opened throttle for 48.5% of a lap and shift gears 40 times during each tour of the circuit, reaching top speeds exceeding 310kph.

Toyota started its title-defending campaign on a high at Sebring last month, having scored a 1-2 victory, but Ferrari also emerged as a force to be reckoned with and managed to secure the first pole of the season. Both manufacturers have tested at the circuit, and so did Peugeot.

The latter of the three will be looking to bounce back following its difficult outing at Sebring and will hope to benefit from the knowledge of the circuit’s characteristics. Cadillac enjoyed a strong performance at Sebring but its V-Series.R hasn’t turned a wheel in anger on European soil yet.

The WEC Portimao grid is packed with ex-F1 drivers and a local hero

Antonio Felix da Costa, the local hero, will return to the WEC for his home race after sitting Sebring out. The fan favourite raced at Portimão in 2021 but on that occasion the race took place behind closed doors, hence this year’s edition will be the first occasion for the 31-year-old to race in the world’s premier endurance racing series in front of his home crowd.

The other faces joining the fray in Portimão include Ben Hanley who will replace Filipe Albuquerque in the No. 22 United Autosports entry, with Giedo Van der Garde stepping in for Tom Blomqvist in the sister No. 23 car. Prema Racing sees F2 driver Juan Manuel Correa take to the wheel of the No. 9 Oreca for Portimao in place of Andrea Caldarelli while Diego Alessi substitutes for fellow Italian Stefano Costantini in the No. 21 AF Corse LMGTE Am entry. Finally, the No. 56 Project 1 – AO has added two local names to drive alongside Matteo Cairoli as Portugal’s Miguel Pedro Ramos and Guilherme Moura de Oliveira are both listed to drive the Porsche 911 RSR – 19 in front of their home crowd.

Owing to a victory at Sebring, Toyota leads Ferrari 38 to 24 on points, with Cadillac rounding out the top three with 18 points to its name, just three ahead of Porsche. In LMP2 it’s United Autosports (38 points), from Prema Racing (27) and Inter Europol Competition (23). The LMGTE Am class is led by Corvette Racing, that enjoyed a triumph on home turf at Sebring and sits atop the standings with 38 points to its name, followed by Dempsey-Proton Racing (27) and Kessel Racing (23).

Free practice will kick off the action on Friday (14 April) before qualifying taking place on Saturday afternoon. The green flag will drop at 12:00 local time to unleash the 37 entered cars for the first six-hour race of the season.

The Algarve International Circuit has only hosted the WEC once before (in 2021), and we spoke to our favorite WEC statistician Alex Harrison ( @WECData ) who was on hand to provide us with plenty more facts and figures going into this week’s race.

WEC Portimao: Stats & Info

1. Portimao 2021 remains the only 8-hour race where the overall winner did not lead the most laps, with Toyota 8 leading for just 61 of the 300 laps it completed or 20%.

2. United Autosports fielded an all-British trio in #22 at #6hPortimao, the first in LMP2 since Le Mans 2021. United also fielded a trio of Britons at Portimao 2021, in their full-season #22, with di Resta, Hanson and Boyd finishing 3rd in LMP2.

3. Portimao 2023 is the 80th WEC race. 80 is the total number of drivers which have won in GTE Am, with Nicky Catsburg and Nico Varrone taking the series to that number last time out in Sebring.

4. JOTA finished 1-2 at Portimao 2021, a first for the team under their own name, and also the most recent 1-2 by a single team name in LMP2.

5. Portimao 2021, the second race in the Hypercar era, saw Toyota #8 cross the line ahead of sister #7 by just 1,800 seconds, for the sixth-closest overall finish in WEC, or the third-closest Toyota 1-2.

6. Three drivers achieved their maiden WEC win at Portimao 2021: Cetilar Racing’s all-Italian trio of Antonio Fuoco, Roberto Lacorte and Giorgio Sernagiotto. Fuoco returns to the race in 2023, as part of Ferrari’s #50 crew in the 499P Hypercar, having achieved pole position at Sebring.

7. Glickenhaus’ 007 made its racing debut at Portimao in 2021, whilst its competitors the Cadillac V-Series.R, Vanwall Vandervell 680, Porsche 963 and Ferrari 499P make their European debuts at #6hPortimao 2023.

8. #6hPortimao 2023 features the third largest top-class at a European WEC race, with 11 Hypercars slotting in behind only Le Mans 2015’s 14 LMP1 cars, and 2012’s 13 LMP1 cars.

How and where to watch the 6 Hours of Portimao

Action from Free Practice 3 on Friday (14 April) will be live across YouTube for all fans to watch for free. Watch in English HERE or in French HERE.

EUROPE

Eurosport will broadcast the WEC action across Europe including Portugal, UK, France, Germany, Italy and Spain where the majority of the six-hour race will be shown on Eurosport 2.

  • The live coverage in Europe will commence at 12.30pm [CEST] 11.30am [BST].
  • Free-to-air La Chaine L’Equipe will show parts of the race live (race start and 15.30pm onwards) to fans who are residents in France. The full race will also be shown on L’Equipe.FR
  • For those living in Italy and fans of Ferrari, residents can watch the full race live on Sky Sport F1. Meanwhile, Germany – the home of Porsche – will show some of the race live via free-to-air channel RTL Nitro.
  • Robert Kubica fans can watch in Poland on Polsat Sport News while RTL7 will show highlights in the Netherlands and Luxembourg. Elsewhere, Belgium – which forms the next round of the WEC later this month – will show highlights on Sport 10.
  • The race action will also be available live online on several platforms including a deal with Discovery+ in the UK, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Finland and the Netherlands as well as on Eurosport Player.
  • Finally, for a small price of 6.99 Euros, all WEC action is also available via the official FIA WEC app which includes commentary from experts Anthony Davidson, Martin Haven, Graham Goodwin and Louise Beckett.

USA + CANADA + THE AMERICAS

  • For American fans, automotive platform MotorTrend will show most of the race live across the USA.
  • In Canada, pay TV channel Discovery Velocity will have the rights to the coverage.
  • For South America, Direct TV Sports will broadcast the WEC on Channel 616 and 1616 while Fox Sports will televise most of the race live in Mexico on Fox Sports 3 MX.
  • New for Portimao, fans of endurance racing in Brazil will be able to tune in to the full WEC race live on YouTube and with Portuguese commentary. Click HERE for the link.

ASIA + AUSTRALIA

  • A pan-Asian TV deal with Eurosport for the continent of Asia sees the race from Portimao broadcast on Eurosport Asia.
  • Japan – the home of reigning World Champions Toyota Gazoo Racing – will see broadcaster JJ Sports show the full race live on JSports3 while free-to-air channel Go! will televise the WEC in Australia. In New Zealand, Sky Sport 5 will broadcast at 23.30 local time. Online platform WeChat will cover the race in China.

AFRICA

  • Long-term WEC broadcast partner SuperSport will televise the race to residents living in Sub-Saharan Africa with the full race live on VR2/VR2A.

MIDDLE EAST

  • Broadcaster SSC is the official broadcast for the Middle East region and will show the full race live from Portimao.

OFFICIAL FIA WEC APP & STREAMING

  • FIAWEC.TV will broadcast all race action from the 2023 season live on its online platform. This is available worldwide. Individual race packages are available to buy for 6.99 Euros (WEC races and 12.99 Euros for the 24 Hours of Le Mans) or fans can purchase a full season pass for 39.99 Euros Available on the app will be qualifying, race replays and full English commentary from experts Anthony Davidson, Martin Haven, Graham Goodwin as well as pitlane reporter, Louise Beckett. For more information about the app, click HERE.
  • For a full breakdown of the broadcast coverage for the 6 Hours of Portimao and more information on how to watch from your own home, please click HERE.