It started with the prospect of an Audi whitewash and ended with newcomer Toyota in the ascendancy.
The new FIA World Endurance Championship came alive with the Japanese manufacturer's arrival at the Le Mans 24 Hours. It came too late to have an effect on the outcome of the championship, but it was responsible for creating an intense and intriguing battle befitting a series that was the true successor to the World Sportscar Championship of old.
Audi was always going to win once arch-rival Peugeot made its fateful decision to pull out of sportscar racing in January, but Toyota emerged as much more than a worthy opponent. It eventually slotted right into the role Peugeot took in the Intercontinental Le Mans Cup: it didn't win Le Mans, but by the end of the season its TS030 Hybrid had the upper hand over Audi's R18 e-tron quattro.
Toyota wasn't thinking about championship success when it saved the WEC by signing up to contest a minimum of six races rather than the three or so it was going to do in what was always billed as a development year. Any chance it did have of the manufacturers' title disappeared when it not surprisingly failed to get either of its cars to the end of its debut race at Le Mans.
The French classic, quite rightly, offers double points in the WEC and that meant that Audi was crowned champion after the halfway race at Silverstone.
The 50 points that came with victory in the 24 Hours also proved pivotal in Audi drivers Andre Lotterer, Benoit Treluyer and Marcel Fassler becoming the first world champions of endurance sportscar racing since 1992.
The #1 Audi crew's Le Mans win made them hard to overcome © XPB
HOW IT WAS WON
Lotterer and co effectively won the drivers' crown at Le Mans. Had their rivals in the Audi camp, Allan McNish and Tom Kristensen (who shared with Rinaldo Capello for the first three races), overcome the leading #1 e-tron, the destination of the title would have been different.
Yet Le Mans also gave Lotterer, Treluyer and Fassler a momentum that McNish and Kristensen could do nothing about over the remainder of the season. The Audi old guard had won at Sebring and finished a place ahead of their team-mates at Spa, but after Le Mans the younger line-up had a clear edge.
Much has been made of McNish's shunt in the Porsche Curves at Le Mans in his chase of the winning Audi. What shouldn't be forgotten is that Fassler spun there too, and miraculously got away with it.
There was a consistency to the performance of the title-winning trio's Audi over the second half of the season that was missing from McNish and Kristensen. But then, there was no consistency to their programme.
Lotterer, Treluyer and Fassler ran the e-tron quattro from its debut at Spa, whereas McNish and Kristensen swapped from the hybrid to the conventional turbodiesel ultra and then back again. That chopping and changing of cars was mirrored in their engineering line-up.
Alex Wurz celebrates Toyota's breakthrough win in Brazil © LAT
Look no further than the Toyota Motorsport GmbH squad and its TS030. What they achieved in their R&D season took even the principals at this ex-Formula 1 race team by surprise.
Podiums and a solo pole position were Toyota's targets ahead of the season. Yet Alex Wurz and Nicolas Lapierre (who shared their Fuji win with Kazuki Nakajima) ended up with three victories from their six starts.
The Toyota was a lithe racing machine that looked after its tyres better than its rival and clearly had an advantage from its hybrid systems. The '120 Rule', which prevented the Audi from deploying retrieved energy through its front wheels below 120km/h (75mph), had something to do with it, but by the end of the season even Audi was admitting that its rival had the more powerful system.
SOMETHING TO REMEMBER
Lapierre taking the lead on the debut of the Toyota TS030 Hybrid — on the grass! The Frenchman's manoeuvre out of Mulsanne Corner signalled the start of what could become one of the great sportscar rivalries.
Davidson's frightening Le Mans shunt was a reminder that keeping LMP1 cars on the ground is a battle not yet won © XPB
SOMETHING (not) TO FORGET
Another aerial accident served as a reminder that there can be no complacency in the drive to stop flat-bottomed LMP cars flying. Anthony Davidson's flip in the second Toyota came, lest we forget, after a series of rule changes devised to prevent such occurrences.
Audi has to pull its finger out, that's what.
The R18 e-tron quattro was no match for the TS030 Hybrid come the end of the season, but exactly how it will react remains unclear. There will be no all-new car nor change in hybrid concept for 2013.
That must make Toyota favourite for next year's WEC - and perhaps even the Le Mans 24 Hours.
Rebellion Racing was the class act among the small group of privateers that chose to compete at the highest level of sportscar racing. It claimed the privateers' title with its pair of Toyota-engined Lolas and its lead line-up of Neel Jani and Nicolas Prost came within seven minutes of finishing third overall in the championship.
Jani and Prost, who were joined by Nick Heidfeld for the first three races, were the first privateers home four times and were denied the top spot in the 'unofficial' class by poor luck on a further three occasions. The last of those, at Shanghai when gearbox failure intervened at the death, cost the duo that overall top-three.
Rebellion was the class of the LMP1 privateers © LAT
Rebellion's lead Lola-Toyota B12/60 had the edge on the HPD ARX-03a P1s run by the Strakka and JRM teams, its only full-season rivals. There wasn't much to choose between the 2012-spec Lola-Toyota and the new HPD in qualifying, but the Lola was the better race car thanks in part to the almost de rigueur wide front tyre it used in contrast to the HPD.
Rebellion - or rather the British Sebah squad that ran the cars - made a step forward in 2012. There was a change in the engineering set-up, with John Gentry coming in to run the second car, shared by Andrea Belicchi and Harold Primat, but team boss Bart Hayden put the improvement down to the team's familiarity with its package: this was the first time since Rebellion joined the P1 ranks in 2009 that it had retained the same engine for a second season.
Strakka ended up second in the privateers' classification, or the FIA Endurance Trophy for Private LMP1 Teams as it is correctly known, and also had the honour of being the only non-factory LMP1 team to make it onto the overall podium. Danny Watts, Jonny Kane and Nick Leventis ended up third in Bahrain when Nico Lapierre crashed the Toyota, coincidentally trying a rash lapping manoeuvre on the HPD.
The JRM car, shared by David Brabham, Karun Chandhok and Peter Dumbreck, wasn't a match for the Strakka entry on pace until right at the end of the season. The team that had won the FIA GT1 World Championship with Nissan only finished its HPD in the paddock at the Sebring opener and took time to get on top of the car, though its most impressive result of the season, sixth place overall at Le Mans, owed more to consistency than outright speed.
The LMP2 class was arguably the most competitive in the first new-look WEC and definitely the best supported. Yet the victories were largely shared out by two teams.
Starworks emerged on top of the thriving LMP2 class © LAT
The US Starworks Motorsports squad and British ADR-Delta team took WEC P2 honours in seven of the eight races, their respective HPD ARX-03b and ORECA-Nissan 03 challengers being the only cars that were perpetual frontrunners. Starworks ultimately prevailed thanks to double points at Le Mans and consistent finishing that resulted in the team failing only once to make it home in the top three WEC points-paying positions.
It was an impressive performance from a team new to European-style sportscars. The team pulled off a coup by signing out-of-work Peugeot driver Stephane Sarrazin to join Ryan Dalziel and amateur racer Enzo Potolicchio, and it probably made the difference over the course of the season.
ADR-Delta, a joint venture between Alan Docking Racing and the Delta Motorsport engineering consultancy, proved at least a match for Starworks on speed with a line-up based around John Martin and Tor Graves. It ultimately lost any chance of the title with a detached wheel at Interlagos and a wishbone failure in Bahrain. But it took more P2 wins than any other team - four, though one came behind the non-registered Jota Zytek at Spa.
The AF Corse-run Pecom team claimed third with its ORECA-Nissan 03, while OAK Racing's Morgan-Nissan 2012 LMP2 was more often than not the fastest car in class when Olivier Pla was behind the wheel.
Small but perfectly formed: that just about sums up the GTE Pro class in the 2012 FIA World Endurance Championship. Just five cars started the season and only four completed the year, but they were the right cars. And, after some tinkering with the regulations, they were more or less evenly matched.
Ferrari held the season-long GTE Pro advantage, but Aston got a win in at the end © XPB
Ferrari, Porsche and Aston Martin each fielded a factory or factory-backed team. Each had a car capable of winning and did just that.
The AF Corse Ferrari squad had the edge over the season, taking maximum WEC points in half the races on the way to securing the teams' title and winning the Italian manufacturer the GTE Manufacturers' World Cup. The lead AF Ferrari 458 Italia was the superior package, at least in the hands of the regular line-up of Gianmaria Bruni and Giancarlo Fisichella, not least because of a fuel-consumption advantage.
Its direct-injection V8 allowed the Ferrari to complete a six-hour race on four stops, which made the lead AF car virtually impossible to beat. That advantage was removed with a five-litre reduction in fuel capacity for the final three races, which gave Porsche and Aston their chance.
The Felbermayr-Proton team's Pro-class 911 GT3-RSR, shared by Marc Lieb and Richard Lietz, had won at Spa in May courtesy of an inspired tyre choice on a drying track, but the final version of the 997-shape GTE Porsche was no match for the Italian car in a straight fight. A series of performance breaks ahead of the Silverstone round eventually turned the Porsche into a competitive proposition, at least when the conditions were cool, culminating in a class victory at Fuji.
Aston Martin made the winner's circle at the final time of asking at Shanghai after knocking on the door for most of the season. The 2012-spec Vantage GTE driven by Darren Turner, Stefan Mucke and, initially, Adrian Fernandez was in the mix straight away courtesy of a raft of developments and the retention of the performance breaks its predecessor had received in 2010.
The Aston was on pole for three of the final four races and, after a near miss in Bahrain, dominated at Shanghai. That was enough to secure Aston second place in the FIA Endurance Trophy for GTE Teams behind AF.
The French Larbre Competition team has made a habit of winning major GT titles over the years and it continued that form in the WEC with victory in the GTE Am teams' championship.
And rightly so. It was the only squad in the class to run two cars - a pair of Chevrolet Corvette C6.Rs - and had the best driver line-up whether or not it was Pedro Lamy or Fernando Rees sharing with Julien Canel and Patrick Bornhauser (they did four races each).
Yet Larbre only sealed the title with a third victory of the season at the Shanghai finale from the Felbermayr-Proton Porsche squad. That followed back-to-back disqualifications from second place at Silverstone and victory at Interlagos.
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Gary Watkins has, for reasons best known to himself, devoted all his working life to covering sportscar racing. This season is his 25th as a motorsport journalist, during which time he has reported on major long-distance events on four continents and approaching 60 24-hour races. He reckons a degree in political philosophy makes him well qualified for covering the sometimes Machiavellian world of international sportscars.
Gary, who also writes for RACER, Autoweek, Motor Sport, Autocourse and others, lives in Surbiton but spends more time on the road than at home for most of the year.