24 Hours of Le Mans preview

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The 24 hours of Le Mans has been called the greatest race in the world and this year is no exception—three LMP1 manufacturers, front GTE Pro manufacturer programmes and 55 cars on the grid for 24 hours of racing, what more could you want?

Lets start with LMP1—so the excitement going into this year’s race for most F1 fans is the return of Mark Webber with Porsche. For me—besides having Mark back racing at Le Mans—the excitement of having three full manufacturer programmes with three very technically different solutions to reach one goal is very compelling.

Audi

The first rule might be—never hit your teammate, but history has taught us that the first rule at Le Mans is—never rule out Audi Sport Team Joest. Despite a difficult opening to the 2014 World Endurance Championship season, Audi is never to be underestimated.

Three Prototypes come from the Ingolstadt squad this year. Car Number One is Le Mans legend Tom Kristensen, joined by Loic Duval and Lucas Di Grassi. Duval took Capello’s spot when he retired. Loic went on to win the race with Allan and Tom last year. Di Grassi is the latest driver to join the crew of the #1 car, having previously raced at Le Mans to 3rd position last year in car #3.

Car #2 retains its usual line up of Treluyer, Fassler and Lotterer, which probably makes this the favourite of the three Audi’s entered. Whilst car #3 is the young guns—Felipe Albuquerque, Marco Bononomi and Oliver Jarvis—this entry is certainly not light on talent. Perhaps a little lighter on race experience at Le Mans, you can’t rule them out surprising people however; this is the future team of Audi Sport at Le Mans.

Toyota

Toyota’s now in year-three of its LMP1 programme since leaving Formula One and the first year with its TS040 prototype under the new 2014 LMP1 regulations. So far the TS040 has been the strongest of the season, so logically it’s the favourite going into Le Mans. Reliability, however, like Audi and Porsche, has not been fool proof although Toyota has, ultimately, had the best.

Drivers for the two cars are Alex Wurz, Stephane Sarrazin and Kazuki Nakajima in car #7 and Anthony Davidson, Nicolas Lappiere and Sebastien Buemi in Car #8.

I think if Toyota are going to win Le Mans, this year is the teams best chance an dif they fail, it won’t be due to a lack of talent or commitment from Toyota or it’s drivers. It’s been three years and it’s time to win. Nissan are joining next year, Porsche will be stronger next year, and more manufacturers are rumoured to come. The car currently is strong, the team’s driving talent is outstanding and ultimately Toyota has to cement that early season pace.

Porsche

I want to say that Porsche will go out and win Le Mans on year one—for the history of the marque at the French endurance classic—however, I have to be realistic. The 919 Hybrid has the speed to compete, as seen in Spa, but it lacks the reliability and as a result it would be unrealistic to think that Porsche could return and win Le Mans on year one. Porsche have stated that finishing the race this year is the target, but I do expect some challenge from them in the first six hours of the race, after which it is somewhat into the unknown.

Mark Webbers return to the race has created some extra excitement for the race but lets not forget his teammates—in car #14 we have Romain Dumas who is an extremely experienced prototype Sportscar pilot and all-round great driver. Neel Jani, who has moved from Rebellion Racing into Porsche’s prototype entry this year, with Marc Lieb joining the pair. All three of which have masses of experience between them at Le Mans in prototypes and GT entries.

In Car #20, Timo Bernhard who, like Dumas, has spent the last few years at Le mans with Audi, Mark Webber and with then Brendon Hartley. Personally I’m really happy that Brendon has landed a strong, long-term seat in the sport after a few years of working between numerous teams. He really impressed me at Silverstone.

Rebellion Racing

Sadly the only privateer-entered LMP1 cars under the 2014 regulations in this year’s race although full credit to Rebellion for getting the R-ONE to Spa and to Le Mans, with limited running and a very limited budget compared to what the Manufacturers have. The Rebellion squad are running LMP1-L regulations and given the early development of the car, finishing the 24 hours would be a strong success.

LMP2

Whilst LMP2 involvement has been down somewhat in numbers due to various circumstances and the LMP2 class cars struggling with the performance balancing in the USA, It hasn’t been all bad news for the class. The ELMS has had a huge resurgence this year with several LMP2 entries racing in the championship full season and with a number of those teams gaining invites to Le Mans. It is going to be hotly contested with 17 LMP2 entries.

That’s not all the good news either, Ligier’s JS P2 makes it’s LMP2 debut at Le man run by Thiriet by TDS Racing and Oak Racing – Team Asia. Drivers in the class include Marc Gene, Karun Chandhok, Mika Salo and Rene Rast among the field.

GTE PRO

The Manufacturers are in town, with Ferrari (represented by AF Corse and RAM Racing), Porsche AG Team Manthey, Corvette Racing and Aston Martin in the race. The GTE Pro class reads as a who’s who of international racing. Giancarlo Fisichella, Jan Magnussen, Jorg Bergmeister, Richard Westbrook, Bruno Senna and James Calado, just to name a few, are racing in this small but incredibly competitive class.

The class should be incredible, although I expect the battle to be between AF Corse and Porsche Team Manthey personally, unless Aston Martin’s performance breaks and Chevrolet’s C7 surprise me come qualifying. Either way, it’s great to see Corvette bring the whole factory team over once again with the new C7. Rival TUSC squad and Detroit manufacturer, Chrysler’s SRT division with the Viper was due to come to Le Mans again this year, however, due to Viper car sales, the race entries from SRT where pulled earlier this year.

GTE AM

The Pro-Am class in this years race uses the same 1245 KG cars as the GTE Pro class. The car regulations themselves are effectively the same however they require one bronze rated driver and a silver rated driver, or two bronze drivers, as set out by the commission. The aim is to allow for gentleman drivers to be entered within Le Mans in line with the races heritage. The way in which drivers are graded are based upon the success of a driver, however it has caused some controversy with how a driver is rated at times.

Anyway, that aside, the class is the largest contingent of cars in this year’s race, with 19 cars, between entries from Porsche, Ferrari and Aston Martin. It’s a class that doesn’t always gain as much TV coverage as it deserves, the racing is good and the term “Gentleman driver” in some cases is misconceived within this class.

Garage 56

Nissan are entering the ZEOD RC, with the aim to complete a lap of the circuit on electric power. The project is entirely out of classification within the context of the race.

How to watch

In the UK and most of Europe, Eurosport have full coverage of all 24 hours + practice and qualifying, available through the Eurosport player and Eurosport 1 & 2. In the USA, the race will be broadcast in full between the Fox Sports family of channels. See your local listings for details.

Radiolemans.com will provide trackside and online/ satellite radio coverage of the whole event.

I hope you enjoy this years Le Mans 24 hours in part or in full this year, Thanks.

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