(image credit: Jared DePouw)
The WEC made the decision to move their event at Fuji up a week to allow Fernando Alonso to join Toyota’s LMP1 program in the team’s home race. At the time there was a clash with Formula 1’s event at COTA, so Alonso would not be able to make the WEC round. This move now allows him to make the WEC weekend and opens the door for a full season ride if he so chooses. What this date change also does is fall on the same weekend as IMSA’s season finale Petit Le Mans round, a round that many full-time WEC drivers were contracted to race in.
The finger was pointed immediately at Fernando Alonso and him “getting his way” and how his presence may not be the best for sportscar racing as a whole. There’s a few things about that though. 1) Fernando wants to try to win the Triple Crown of Motorsports – winning Monaco, Le Mans and the Indy 500 and that’s awesome. 2) The attention he brings to a series or event, even if it’s for a short time, is good. 3) Alonso’s not to blame for the WEC date clash/change in any way, shape or form.
Had it been Sebastian Vettel, Lewis Hamilton or any other top tier Formula 1 driver, the WEC heads would have made the same decision to change the date. Why? To please Toyota, their sole remaining manufacturer in their feature class. We’ve known two things about sportscar racing since the beginning of time – 1) privateers and gentleman drivers are the lifeblood of the sport and 2) manufacturers use racing as a marketing program first and that causes them to come and go as they please. These two things are something that the WEC forgot completely and essentially put all their eggs in the factory basket and that, not surprisingly, has backfired greatly. By making the focus on programs that dump hundreds of millions of dollars into said programs for only a few seasons and essentially pushing aside the little guys, WEC has now back themselves into a wall where they need to do anything they can to keep Toyota happy. With giant manufacturers all it takes is one scandal, one change of direction in a marketing program or one board member to quickly and swiftly end a program. We’ve seen it with Peugeot, Nissan, Audi, Porsche and will see it with Toyota. At the same time, Rebellion, ByKolles, SMP, Dragonspeed and others like them will usually remain in the series through thick and thin.
If anyone is to blame for this current situation that WEC has found themselves, it’s WEC and only WEC. Had they had the foresight and longer-term planning to look past short-term gains from those big-time manufacturers, this wouldn’t be an issue. Moral of the story, this isn’t an Alonso thing, this is a WEC thing. Situations like this are also why IMSA’s view on controlled manufacturer involvement, Blancpain GT and Pirelli World Challenge’s push for more Pro-Am and privateer teams is better for the long run and grids will continue to boon for seasons to come. If the WEC wants to truly be the “World’s elite endurance racing series”, they need to put their energy in the right places and completely re-map their agenda and goals, not try to please one body that can leave in an instant.