Our Head of Motorsport, Simon Hinchliffe, takes a look at why automotive brands are flocking back to endurance racing and makes the case for brands to follow.
Following the release of the highly competitive entry list for 2024 World Endurance Championship, higher fan attendance figures and a greater number of eyeballs watching the sport, we appear to be entering a new golden era of endurance sports car racing, but why?
Could it be the price point for entrants that makes the World Endurance Championship (WEC) so attractive? Or is it the heritage of winning arguably the most iconic race in the world? Perhaps it’s the appeal of the ultimate proving ground for ground-breaking technology?
Arguably it’s a combination of all three.
Whatever the reason, by 2025, Ferrari, BMW, Toyota, Lamborghini, Cadillac, Porsche, Alpine (Renault), Aston Martin, McLaren and Peugeot will be on track at the legendary 24 Hours of Le Mans. No other motorsport can claim to field this number of global automotive manufacturers.
It’s the renaissance of a sport whose future wasn’t always certain.
After Audi, Porsche and Nissan all withdrew from Le Mans (coinciding with rise of Formula E), the FIA and Automobile Club l’Ouest (ACO), faced a battle to keep WEC and Le Mans alive. The result of their work to reshape the WEC’s competitive appeal has been phenomenal.
The driving force behind this promising new era was the unification of two sets of regulations for 2022: Le Mans Hypercar and the new top category of the International Motor Sports Association (IMSA), known as Le Mans Daytona hybrid (LMDh). Importantly these two regulations allow the two series to unite and compete side by side. For the first time, North America’s premier sport cars and Europe’s endurance outfit came together and offered a viable route forward.
The 2023 Le Mans 24 Hours – the ‘race of the century’ in its 100th edition drew a historic attendance to the circuit. A 325,000-strong crowd witnessed Ferrari’s emotional first overall victory since 1964, with organisers claiming 196 countries offered TV coverage of the event and 113 million viewers tuned in. That’s two-and-a-half times more than last year. The 2023 edition fielded 62 cars, including 16 in the top class, representing the most entrants fighting for overall honours in over a decade.
Interestingly, the number of competitors operating in both F1 and WEC is on the rise. Ferrari, Aston Martin, Alpine and McLaren will each compete in both series, which not too long ago would never have seemed possible. Whether or not intended, the F1 budget cap has enabled manufacturers to afford to grow their profile from other series to F1. They can now chase the crown of speed, prove their technology endures, and further highlight their sustainability credentials.
It’s become an increasingly appealing platform for fans.
Increases in viewership and fan attendance, combined with the number of teams competing, is also creating new opportunities for brand partnerships. As Prism S + E have seen through our work with Hertz and Gulf Oil, there is a dedicated, passionate, and engaged fanbase which brands can tap into. Furthermore, as anyone who participated in the annual pilgrimage to Le Mans by car would have seen, these fans are motoring enthusiasts with deep affection for the teams and brands operating within WEC.
The 2024 and 2025 seasons of the World Endurance Championship look to be building on this positive trajectory. For further brands to enter and sponsorship to flow, more eyes – at circuits and on screens – are needed to drive increased value. Furthermore, it is no secret that grabbing attention is harder than ever and delivering a 24, 12, 8 or 6-hour race in media formats that appeal to a wide audience needs to be considered. WEC is on an upward curve and the thrill of Le Mans is thriving.
Simon Hinchliffe is the Head of Motorsport at Prism Sport + Entertainment and Wunderman Thompson UK and works with a range of the world’s biggest brands to build strategies, partnerships and activations in motorsport.