The quality of the LMP1 field in this year's FIA World Endurance Championship field has come as a "shock", says ByKolles driver Oliver Webb.
Webb was recently confirmed for a third WEC season with the ByKolles squad, which was the sole privateer entry in the LMP1 class last year until it abandoned its campaign mid-season.
However, the Austrian-licenced outfit has now been joined by two Ginettas operated by Manor, a trio of Dallara-built BR1s run by SMP Racing and DragonSpeed, and a brace of Rebellion-run Orecas on the entry list for the 2018/19 superseason.
It means a total of 10 cars will contest the LMP1 class, which has become the joint-largest in the WEC along with the burgeoning GTE Pro category.
Webb said the calibre of privateer entry in the top division to take on sole remaining manufacturer Toyota came as more of a surprise than the increased size of the entry.
"We had a guess it would be between 8 and 12 cars [in LMP1], but the quality of the drivers in the cars was a more of a shock than the actual amount," he told Motorsport.com. "It’s exciting.
"The competition is only a good thing, although it will make it harder to get on the podium with big brands like Dallara making very good cars."
Asked if he felt the current situation will make for a more interesting spectacle than if Porsche had stayed, he replied: "Yeah. because you’d expect what’s happened before with Toyota and Porsche just to happen again.
"Whereas now, people are unsure about what’s going to happen. It’s amazing to have that, and I think the positives of having strong competition will outweigh everything else."
ByKolles joined fellow LMP1 teams Manor and SMP Racing for a test at Aragon last week, with Webb being joined at the wheel of the Nismo-powered ENSO CLM P1/01 by Tom Dillmann, Pierre Kaffer and James Rossiter.
Webb stressed that the team's focus is not on raw pace but reliability, following its early retirement from last year's Le Mans 24 Hours due to an overheating engine.
"The upgrades are coming slow and steady, but compared to last year’s car there are a few differences," he said. "It’s still got the Nismo engine, so it’s just [about] working along with them to get that reliable rather than huge performance upgrades.
"We managed to break the privateer lap record last year at Le Mans, but it doesn’t mean anything if you have issues after one lap. We couldn’t continue last year in the end, so we need to make sure we’re reliable.
"I’d like to hope [we have an advantage over the newer cars] in terms of reliability. In terms of performance, it’s impossible to tell."