The day after Christmas is one of the saddest days in the motorsport calendar. It’s not just because everyone is feeling a bit down after spending so long cooped up inside, having cheery news stories and gorgeous baubles spoiling the fun. It’s the fact that a whole month of adrenaline-fuelled excitement has come to an end, and the racing season is drawing to its close.
This year has seen some incredible racing, with many stars gracing the screen with us in a way that only they can. From David Coulthard, Scott Speed, and Mika Häkkinen to Gordon Ramsey, Paul Di Resta, and Jamie Whincup, the World Touring Car Championship has been a treat to watch.
But now that the season is drawing to its conclusion, we’re left wondering what 2020 holds for us. Will the WEC be back next year with a new set of regulations and stars? Or will the sport just take a year out, until someone grabs hold of the idea again?
Is there an end in sight to the dream of being a professional racer?
The WEC’s Tomorrow Land
For those of us who grew up watching the World Touring Car Championship, the name ‘Tomorrow Land’ will be instantly recognizable. The land of shiny new cars, exotic locations, and hyper-stylized drivers.
The World Endurance Championship was first held in 1969, with the first race coming from Le Mans in France. With five events held across the pond, it was initially limited to cars manufactured in Europe.
From the off, the championship was a resounding success, and over the coming years it grew, expanding its reach beyond Europe and adding locations in Germany, Sweden, and Switzerland. It started taking place every year, rain or shine, and became such a well-known fixture in the motorsport calendar that even those of us who weren’t old enough to know what a World Championship was simply knew it as ‘the Touring Car season’.
In 1977, the World Endurance Championship became an ‘independently organized series’ and finally grew a bit longer than the name would have you believe. The 1980s were a time of extremes for the sport, with safety innovations like the HANS device leading to decreased crash rates but also increased TV viewer interest. Between 1983 and 1985, the TV audience for World Endurance Championship races tripled, rising from around 100 million viewers to 300 million. Naturally, this led to more manufacturers entering the fray, with the number of teams ballooning from four in 1979 to 12 in 1985. That’s a whole lot of racing!
By the early 2000s, World Endurance Racing had basically run out of roads. The series had become such a massive success that the organizers decided to hold a ‘grand finale’ to conclude the season. Entitled the 24 Heures de Lausanne, the end of season race was not just a finale but also a commemoration of the championship’s 50th anniversary. The races were split into two groups, with the faster cars of the first group doing a timed lap before the slower cars of the other group came through. It was a format that is still used to this day.
This was the final race of the 2004 season. The final standings were Aston Martin/Van Halen 1-2-3, with the former teaming up with American singer and musician Van Halen to celebrate his 70th birthday. Unfortunately, the following year was a bit of a non-starter, with multiple teams pulling out due to the economic downturn and the death of FIA president Prince Chichibu. After that, it was a four year hiatus before the franchise was picked up by the FIA again in 2009. This time, the series was rebranded as the ‘World Endurance Championship’ to put it more firmly in line with the other major motorsport categories. But is it too little too late for the world of motorsport?
The Biggest Names In Motorsport History
With so much history behind it, it’s only fair to say that the World Endurance Championship is not for the faint-hearted. We’re used to seeing the biggest names in motorsport appear on the big screen, whether it’s Michael Schumacher, Ayrton Senna, or a certain Donald Trump. But did you know that a record 22 IndyCar drivers have raced in the World Endurance Championship? Or that it has spawned a whole range of spin-offs and imitators, from the Superstars Of Endurance Racing to the Tudor United SportsCar Championship?
The list of all-time greats who have graced the World Endurance Championship is as impressive as it is prestigious. The likes of Alain Prost, Niki Lauda, Nelson Piquet, and even Donald Trump have all taken part. It’s fair to say that if you have a love for motorsport, then the World Endurance Championship is certainly a place to be. Especially as next year will mark the 70th anniversary of the championship, so let’s hope for some classic cars and even some classic races.