Spring time means baby animals, pretty flowers, afternoon rains, and the screaming thunder of exotic racing cars. Like no other form of motorsport, endurance racing combines the very best of high-efficiency technology, fuel savings, aerodynamic wizardry, and outright speed. In the hard-fought battles of IMSA and the FIA's WEC series- most famous for its premier race, the 24 hours race at LeMans- it is often the tortoise, and not the hare.
In recent years, however, Audi's R18 diesel-hybrid hares have been unstoppable. Toyota has tried and tried, and they seem serious this year, if their radical new car is any indication. Porsche, too, has come out of LeMans retirement to take back the race that put them on the map. Further back in the field, Nissan has an advanced, ultra-lightweight racer piloted by a grid hottie and a PlayStation gamer ... and they just might take the whole thing, clever, race-winning tortoises that they are.
We'll have plenty of time before this summer's LeMans race to see what the real pecking order of the FIA's WEC class is. In the meantime, we can entertain ourselves with some pictures from WEC pre-season testing at Paul Ricard. Enjoy!
Porsche 919 Hybrid
Porsche's 2014 LeMans contender brings some fundamentally new hybrid turbo technology to the game, along with some serious driving talent in the form of Mark Webber and Co. We covered the 919's new tech a few weeks ago, and figured it would fade into the distance behind the heavy-hitting, 1000+ HP Toyotas and Audis. At Paul Ricard, however, it became clear that Porsche has other plans: they were the fastest cars there.
Toyota TS040 Hybrid
Toyota's newest LeMans contender debuted earlier this week with 1000 HP available from its V8+hybrid electric power train. Faster, more efficient, more powerful, and more aggressively styled than Toyota's 2013 LeMans contender, the TS040 seems ready to take the fight to Audi and Porsche on the Circuit de la Sarthe for the 2014 24 Hours of Le Mans if its performance at Paul Ricard was any indication.
Audi R18 E-Tron Quattro
Audi's diesel-electric hybrids have been crushing the LMP field for years now- despite (occasionally) stiff competition from the likes of Peugeot and Toyota. This year's challengers seems tougher than ever, but Audi is ready for them with a secret weapon: a new Quattro all-wheel drive system that Audi claims will extend its "Vorsprung durch Technik" (Truth in Technology) advantage.
It sounds like a bunch of PR-gibberish from Germany's premier builder of douche-mobiles to me, but you can't argue with Audi's results at Pike's Peak, IMSA, and- of course!- LeMans. Here's what their 2014 contender looked like in pre-season testing at Paul Ricard earlier this week.
LeMans' Big Three
Here's a final shot of LeMans' big three LMP contenders, followed by the hot GT cars that make up the bulk of the field and, arguably, provide more exciting racing- especially for fans of Porsche's Williams-developed GT3 flywheel hybrid technology.