Soaring viewership, a global calendar, and blue-chip manufacturers: WEC’s CEO on the ‘golden era of endurance racing’

Ahead of the 2024 World Endurance Championship, chief executive Frédéric Lequien discusses the series’ recent success, the secret to attracting entries from the likes of Alpine, BMW and Lamborghini, and plans to continue growing in the future.
Getty Images

The World Endurance Championship (WEC) is riding the crest of a wave at the moment.

Few motorsport series can boast the momentum currently being generated in endurance racing. Arguably, global interest has never been higher.

Historically the motorsport discipline for the motorsport enthusiast, WEC is gradually shifting into the mainstream, aided by an influx of iconic manufacturers and drivers.

The Hypercar category will see entries from the likes of Alpine, BMW, and Lamborghini this year, with Aston Martin set to join them in 2025. Last season, Ferrari’s return to endurance racing produced a spectacular 24 Hours of Le Mans triumph.

The centenary edition of the historic race generated a global audience of 113 million viewers, a 150 per cent year-over-year (YoY) increase. Considerable interest was generated by Nascar’s Garage 56 entry, which saw the US contribute the second-biggest audience around the world.

While the calendar has grown with the addition of four new venues, 2024 will see the LMP2 class dropped for the majority of the season, outside of the 24 Hours of Le Mans. With the number of manufacturers increasing, space on the grid had to be created, but it remains to be seen whether this will be a beneficial decision.

One thing this move will do is simplify the series for fans. WEC’s new-found audience only needs to understand two categories now, and attention will only continue to grow with the likes of Jenson Button, Mick Schumacher and Valentino Rossi signing up for full-time drives this season.

Ahead of the 2024 campaign, BlackBook Motorsport asked WEC chief executive Frédéric Lequien about the series’ recent successes, how it’s looking to retain its new-found audience, and its plans to continue growing in the future.

The 2024 calendar not only sees four additional races, but it also gives WEC a more global feel with more events around the world. In this context, how would you assess the overall health of the series?

WEC has never been healthier than it is right now. In 2023, we had 13 full-time Hypercar entries; in 2024, that number has increased to 19, a 46 per cent increase in just one season. Adding to that, we have our debut LMGT3 season, which – similar to the Hypercar class – was over-subscribed. This year, we have 18 entries.

Across both categories, we have 14 manufacturers competing in WEC – I’m not sure there is another world championship with that much diversity. Finally, we have new races in Doha, São Paulo, Imola, and Texas this year, so we are taking the spirit of Le Mans to new territories. We are experiencing a truly golden era of endurance racing at the moment.

Ferrari returned last season, Lamborghini, BMW, and Alpine are incoming, and Aston Martin are set to join in 2025. Has the WEC field ever been stronger?

It has never looked stronger than it does right now. Of course, we must remain humble as the situation in motorsport can change very quickly.

However, Aston Martin intend to join the Hypercar category from 2025 and, this year, we have new entries from Alpine, BMW, Isotta Fraschini and Lamborghini. Our regulations offer a degree of flexibility showcasing hybrid technology and biofuel – this is clearly attractive to manufacturers.

Technology needs to reflect the strategy of manufacturers and I think that is one of the reasons why our WEC grid is so healthy. We continue to have regular conversations with many other manufacturers who have also shown interest in joining our championship, but right now we are concentrating on the 2024 season and delivering exceptional racing out on track.

With this influx of new manufacturers, you’ve had to drop the LMP2 class. How difficult was this decision and do you think it will affect WEC in the long term?

It was certainly a difficult situation but, like every form of sport, our championship must evolve with the times. It’s also not the end for LMP2 as they will still remain in the European Le Mans Series (ELMS) – our feeder series to WEC. Of course, the LMP2 class will still be there at Le Mans, too.

It’s also important to point out that we have had several drivers progress from LMP2 to Hypercar this season – Robert Kubica, Phil Hanson, and Ferdinand Habsburg to name a few. I have no doubt that the LMP2 class in ELMS will continue to allow us to discover emerging talent and the stars of the future.

Sportall overhauled your direct-to-consumer (DTC) offering at the start of last season. There were understandable teething issues, but how did this progress throughout the year? Are there any future plans for the app?

We have made several steps forward with the app over the last 12 months, and it will continue to be worked on in 2024, too. In 2023, we had more than 370,000 accounts created and we have some updates planned for this season that will be revealed soon.

We want to make the WEC app as accessible and affordable to fans as possible. You can subscribe for full-season access or on a race-by-race basis – this covers all produced sessions including the race, full commentary, live onboards, replays, live timing, and data information.

Our races take anywhere from six to 24 hours; therefore, allowing fans to watch ‘on the go’ is of paramount importance to us and we are confident that the app provides excellent value for money. We are also pushing for our races to be more accessible on free-to-air (FTA) TV too.

For example, in France, we have just renewed with FTA broadcaster L’Equipe for a minimum two-year contract.

Go deeper

What does that recent extension with L’Equipe say about your broadcast strategy? Is FTA TV your best route to market?

We are always looking to expand our FTA deals around the world, and that recent two-year extension is testament to this. I’d say that we have a three-tiered approach to our broadcast strategy.

Firstly, there is FTA, which is about trying to broadcast WEC to as broad an audience as possible. Then, there is our app, which is giving fans the best opportunity to watch the race in full from their own devices. This is especially important with the length of the races as it allows for greater flexibility.

Finally, we have some broadcast deals behind paywalls, and this depends on the availability of broadcast options in that particular market.

It’s fair to say that the 24 Hours of Le Mans transcends WEC, and the global viewership figures from last year have shown just how prominent the event is. Is it difficult to balance the branding of WEC against Le Mans? Is there any work you can do through Le Mans to lift WEC’s overall profile?

We don’t see ourselves competing with Le Mans and I firmly believe we can co-exist alongside one another. The 24 Hours of Le Mans celebrated its centenary last year and WEC is just over ten years old, it’s like comparing apples and pears.

Of course, 24 Hours of Le Mans is our biggest event, but what is also crucial to understand is that Le Mans is a round of the world championship.

I think we benefit from having Le Mans as our fourth round, it’s one of the world’s most famous sporting events and we have seen the effect of Le Mans on our other WEC races with increased ticket sales. Last season, for example, we had new record audiences at several events, including Spa-Francorchamps and Fuji.

On the topic of Le Mans, the Garage 56 entry proved a massive success. How did you find the increased interest? Do you see WEC doing any wider work with Nascar? Would that sort of entry suit a full WEC season?

There is no doubt that the interest around the Garage 56 entry last year was beneficial for us all, and it was a great privilege to see the Nascar entry at one of our races.

Nascar is hugely popular in the US and the Garage 56 entry was able to tap into an already well-established and loyal fanbase by entering last year’s Le Mans. Similarly, the Le Mans entry benefitted Nascar too, as it helped to introduce a different motorsport audience to those not familiar with the stock car racing series.

In addition to this, the Garage 56 line-up with Jenson Button, Mike Rockenfeller, and Jimmie Johnson was extremely strong, with each driver having a loyal fanbase, further helping the popularity around the entry.

The US is a very important market for WEC. Sebring formed our inaugural WEC race back in 2012, and this year we will have the Circuit of The Americas (COTA) in Austin returning to the calendar. We also have some iconic American marques such as Cadillac and Corvette competing with us this year.

Finally, and very importantly, we continue to work closely with IMSA, where we share regulations as part of convergence.

Jenson Button will be competing full-time this season. How do you see his profile impacting WEC’s marketability?

As a Formula One world champion, the whole motorsport community knows Jenson Button. In the UK, he is a household name. We saw this first-hand following the announcement in December – the media reach and reaction online was huge.

We also have several other big names in WEC this year that will also impact the marketability of the championship. MotoGP legend Valentino Rossi will drive in LMGT3, so this will help bring the two-wheeled fanbase to endurance racing, as well as new fans from Italy. Mick Schumacher’s fanbase will also introduce new fans from Germany, too.

What’s the best way for WEC to maximise the increased attention it is receiving? Have you seen an increase in commercial conversations in line with this?

In 2023, we signed a three-year agreement with Bosch as one of our premium partners, and we recently renewed with Avis who will remain another of our premium partners for 2024. Last year, we renewed with Rolex, which has been a long supporter of both WEC and the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

The technological and sustainable aspects of WEC, including hybrid technology and biofuel, is very attractive to our existing partners. Then, there is the development of a new hydrogen category, Mission H24, which will help to open up even more opportunities from a commercial point of view.

How important is sustainability for the future direction of WEC?

It’s very important. Since 2022, WEC has been using TotalEnergies’ 100 per cent renewable fuel, produced from wine residues from the French agricultural industry. This fuel reduces 65 per cent of the cars’ CO2 emissions.

WEC also introduced a sustainability award in 2023 with DHL, which makes it mandatory for WEC teams to take part in the initiative in line with WEC and the Automobile Club of the West’s (ACO) work on climate issues by involving stakeholders and teams.

There’s also Mission H24 and all the hard work from ACO and the International Automobile Federation (FIA) to bring the new hydrogen class to 24 Hours of Le Mans and WEC in the very near future.


Related content