THE WORLD Endurance Championship held their ‘prologue’ – a fancy name for ‘pre-season test’ – at Monza on the weekend.
It was a chance for those tackling the championship to log their first serious testing miles of the year and an opportunity for teams and manufacturers to get some valuable pre-season media.
Thousands of fans attended and there seemed to be lots of positive vibe, which is obviously A Good Thing given Audi’s recent departure from the ranks.
Thus it was also the chance for the two remaining brands contesting the outright, LMP1 class to show off their 2017 contenders.
Much like in Formula 1, these economically challenging times have scaled-back the scope of major brands vehicle launches from gala affairs featuring the Sugababes (Seriously, Sauber, why?) to a slightly less-lavish unveil from under a sheet.
Toyota and Porsche both did this on the weekend and in doing so confirmed that they will both be running cars that look almost identical this year.
Yep. The four leading LMP1 cars that will contest the championship this year sport the same colours and very similar designs.
It’s only because I’m an anorack that I can separate them now. I can’t imagine, when they blast past at 250kph, what someone watching on the side of Copse corner is going to think when they head to Silverstone for the six-hour later this year.
Porsche and Toyota both have seriously incredible racing heritage and decades worth of inspiration on which to draw when it comes to creating a colour scheme that will thrill the hearts and minds of Sports Car fans everywhere.
Yet both have produced cars that feature a red nose, black front flanks and white pretty much everywhere else.
In a world where regulations mean the cars all generally look a similar shape anyway, livery design is critical in separating yourself from the pack.
Put it this way, no one will ever confuse Sebastien Vettel’s Ferrari from Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes – not that F1 has been a bastion of super livery design of late and yes, Force India, we’re looking at you.
The above photo, one that we’ve borrowed from our great mates at www.dailysportscar.com, shows the Porsche and Toyota side-by-side in a staged press-shot of the full WEC field.
And while there are obviously differences in a nice still photo taken at 1/1000th of a second, racing fans generally don’t get to see the cars like that when they’re watching on track.
Or when the light gets gloomy in the dusk of a particular 24-hour race in France.
Which is why it baffles me that when there are literally billions of shades in the spectrum, the only two brands left in the top class of global sports car racing have basically presented the same Red, Black and White colours.
How does this happen?
I can’t help but feel it’s a serious miscue from a series that a) prides themselves on being fan-friendly and b) desperately needs to keep Porsche and Toyota engaged while they find a third manufacturer to come and play. With privateer cars not competitive at an outright level, the WEC must desperately maintain the two-brand balance to keep any interest in the outright battle for LeMans alive.
Which is why having your only two outright-contending teams presenting cars that look highly similar is just silly.
If I was Gerard Neveu, the boss of the WEC, I’d be sitting down with the respective team bosses and suggesting they crack open MS Paint and get designing on something new before Round 1.
Toyota should go back to the bold Red of the incredible GT-ONE racer from the 1990s, while Porsche has a whole array of epic back catalogue on which to draw. I would suggest they first Google ‘Porsche Can Am’ as a launching off point.
Surely they understand that is has to be done so there’s some separation between the two leading teams in the championship, even if – especially if – they’re close together on track as expected.
I get there are corporate concerns – but imagine this: eight-year-old Johnny is at his first WEC race. He loves it. He’s a future Porsche owner and when the car flies past he’s agast.
“I love that Porsche!” Johnny tells his dad, all wide-eyed with boyish enthusiasm.
What his Dad didn’t have the heart to tell him was that it was actually the Toyota for which he was agog.
C’mon WEC. We can’t have eight-year-olds falling for Toyota’s. It’s just not right.
WORDS: Richard Craill