The FIA World Endurance Championship moves to the Algarve International Circuit in Portugal for the 6 Hours of Portimão later this week (14 – 16 April) 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 programmes.
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.
Local ace, Antonio Felix da Costa, 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 12h00 local time to unleash the 37 entered cars for the first six-hour race of the season.