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Analysis

Does Vanwall still have a place in WEC amid manufacturer influx?

The new era of the World Endurance Championship has been built around big-name manufacturers like Porsche, Toyota and Ferrari, but where does that leave privateer teams that have been an integral part of sportscar racing throughout its history?

#4 Floyd Vanwall Racing Team Vanwall Vandervell 680: Esteban Guerrieri, Tristan Vautier, João Paulo de Oliveira

The WEC has seen a huge spike in fan interest this year thanks to Porsche, Cadillac and Ferrari joining the burgeoning Hypercar class and expanding a field that already included factory entries from Toyota and Peugeot. With Alpine, Lamborghini and BMW all on their way in 2024, plus Aston Martin in '25, there will be no shortage of major car brands contesting the top tier of the world's premier sportscar racing championship.

While the current manufacturer boom is unprecedented and has helped kick-start a new golden era of sportscar racing, it also creates problems for the smaller, lesser-funded teams on the grid. With five manufacturers occupying nine spots between them this year, and Porsche's customers filling another two places, what is the best finish an independent outfit can hope for against such stiff competition?

Glickenhaus has already pulled out of WEC next year after failing to find sponsorship to upgrade the Pipo-engined 007 LMH that debuted in 2021. The American team has been absent from the grid since July's Monza round, leaving just one privateer in the Asian leg of the campaign, Vanwall.

Previously run under the ByKolles name, the plucky German squad has a long history at Le Mans dating back to its privateer Audi R10 effort in 2009, when it bagged a double top 10 finish. But the team developed a poor reputation in the 2010s with its self-designed CLM P1/01, a car that was not only well off the pace of its LMP1 competition but also woefully unreliable despite a number of upgrades over the years.

#4 Floyd Vanwall Racing Team - Vanwall Vandervell 680 - Tom Dillmann, Esteban Guerrieri, Jacques Villeneuve

Photo by: Paul Foster

#4 Floyd Vanwall Racing Team - Vanwall Vandervell 680 - Tom Dillmann, Esteban Guerrieri, Jacques Villeneuve

Taking on the name of Formula 1's first constructors' championship-winning team this year has allowed the Colin Kolles-led squad to shed at least some of its poor image, and after some respectable performances with its new Vandervell 680 LMH, it can now claim to have at least justified its place in the manufacturer-heavy Hypercar class.

Admittedly, it started the season at Sebring on the back foot due to limited development and testing, with a brake explosion in the following round at Portimao and an engine failure at Le Mans only adding to its woes. But Vanwall has appeared to be in much better shape since then, with an increased focus on reliability paying off for the squad.

One key figure in the team is Esteban Guerrieri, who has been part of the Vandervell 680 programme since its early stages as a development driver. Moving into a race role in 2023, Guerrieri remains the only driver to have competed in every race so far this season for Vanwall, amid a rotating cast of names in the team's second and third seats.

This makes him well placed to explain Vanwall's progress since the team returned to WEC at Sebring this year.

Speaking to Motorsport.com at Fuji, Guerrieri claimed that Vanwall's reliability is "much better" compared to the start of the year and that the team can now focus on extracting more performance out of the Vandervell 680.

But while he believes that the team has been making consistent progress in a number of areas, Guerrieri conceded that there are still some structural and operational issues that need to be sorted out for Vanwall to move closer to the front.

"As a team we are like a small group but very much working together," the Argentine told Motorsport.com. "We can be really constructive to point out the issues that we are having, and at the same time we are honest about what the actual situation is. 

"There are some things you cannot change from one day to another, it's more like a structural thing that we need to improve. But we can always improve on the operational side, with the procedures.

"I think there is a gap there for improvement and we are assessing this and we are working on the direction to try to maximise the potential that we are having right now and with the car that we are having."

#4 Floyd Vanwall Racing Team Vanwall Vandervell 680: Esteban Guerrieri

Photo by: JEP / Motorsport Images

#4 Floyd Vanwall Racing Team Vanwall Vandervell 680: Esteban Guerrieri

The top manufacturers in WEC are spending a fraction of the sums spent during the peak of the LMP1 era in the mid-2010s, with rulemakers having put extra emphasis on keeping costs under control while formulating the regulations for both LMH and LMDh cars.

However, teams like Vanwall operate on even smaller budgets, which makes it harder for them to put up an even fight against factory outfits.

"Resources, basically, this is the biggest thing," said Guerrieri. "The more resources you have, the more people, the more analysis, the more preparation before designing or before going to the track, like a lot of things are done in the workshop...

"With big manufacturers you have bigger budgets and in the workshop they design things ahead. There are a lot of things.

"But nevertheless in every [form of] motorsport which is not one-make, like in F1 you have big teams and small teams, here as well [you have big teams and small teams]. 

"I know the goal is to be competitive and to try to fight at the top. Obviously, nowadays it's not achievable, we know.

"But if the spirit is there and the ambition is there, you have to keep working, you have to keep trying. It's obviously a sport which is money-dependent, so you need resources to make it happen."

Unlike LMP1, the Hypercar class is dictated by a system of Balance of Performance, which means all cars in the field - whether LMH or LMDh - must operate in the same performance window.

However, privateers like Vanwall and Glickenhaus have often been seen trundling at the back of the field in WEC this year, with a noticeable gulf in performance between them and manufacturer-backed entries.

But Guerrieri doesn't feel the rulemakers should claw back the performance of the front-running teams just to give the backmarkers a leg up, believing instead the onus is on Vanwall to step up a gear and take the fight to its bigger rivals.

While Guerrieri feels a podium finish is out of reach for now, Vanwall's current results are not a true reflection of the team's potential.

#4 Floyd Vanwall Racing Team Vanwall Vandervell 680: Tom Dillmann, Esteban Guerrieri, Jacques Villeneuve

Photo by: Paul Foster

#4 Floyd Vanwall Racing Team Vanwall Vandervell 680: Tom Dillmann, Esteban Guerrieri, Jacques Villeneuve

"I don't think it would be fair to all the cars to be 'BoP-ed' so low to go to the same potential as a slow car," he said.

"I don't think there is much to be done from the outside. It's a lot to be done from within and take responsibility for trying to work hard, and trust from the category that they are doing the best they can in terms of equalising car potentials.

"For me, motorsport is not about excuses or about trying to find things outside. You need to work hard and for me success is not only winning a race but maximising potential.

"We understand that our potential is not for winning, it's not for a podium, but it's much better than what we are having until now and that's what we are targeting."

Vanwall's future in WEC remains unclear beyond this year's season-closing Bahrain 8 Hours finale, where it will again be the only Hypercar privateer team on the grid in the absence of Glickenhaus.

With more manufacturers on the way in 2024, and the new LMGT3 class also attracting significant interest, the WEC has to pick and choose which teams will be allowed an entry on next year's grid.

Guerrieri hopes he and Vanwall can continue their chapter in WEC in 2024, when another small manufacturer, Isotta Fraschini, is planning to join the class with a pair of hybrid LMH cars. 

"I would like to stay with Vanwall to work towards our targets," he said. "It would definitely be possible here, because my ambition is also to work hard as a driver, as a team, even being the underdog, to make nice things happen. 

"I think this is very rewarding, so I think it's something in my target, to keep working with them and try to improve."

With Glickenhaus' exit now confirmed, it would be a great shame if another small team is forced out of the door. There is no doubt that manufacturers have played a huge role in reinvigorating WEC after a period of lull, but it would be unwise for the series to lose the charm of privateers and become too dependent on bigger names to attract fans through the gates.

#4 Floyd Vanwall Racing Team Vanwall Vandervell 680 of Tom Dillmann, Esteban Guerrieri, Tristan Vautier

Photo by: JEP / Motorsport Images

#4 Floyd Vanwall Racing Team Vanwall Vandervell 680 of Tom Dillmann, Esteban Guerrieri, Tristan Vautier

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