Le Mans 24 Preview

The Sportscar world has amazing races—Sebring , Daytona, Petit Le Mans, The 24 Hours of the Nurburgring—all incredible races both historically and in the present day. It still doesn’t put them in the same realm as the 24 Hours of Le Mans. It’s a race that brings the motorsport community together. A race where people don’t have to be Sportscar fans to enjoy Le Mans and that is what it so very special.

The race is in the midst of one of its golden eras. While it’s not the first and certainly not the last it will experience, the golden era only lasts so long. You’ll want to make sure you get a front row seat, either in front of the television, or if you are lucky enough, at circuit de la Sarthe because things are about to get really interesting. It’s the 24 Heures Du Mans 2015, and it’s coming this weekend.

This is the year that Audi and Porsche properly go head to head. Last year’s race was a warning shot by Porsche—it was first year the legends of Le Mans had returned to reclaim the throne and a lot of expectations were met but it was still that first year.

This year Porsche is strong, incredibly fast but fragile, and on the other side of the equation, Audi is in a far stronger position than they were heading into Le Mans last year. The first two races of the season have seen victories go Audi’s way with a car that is good in handling and while the Le Mans package, that debuted at Spa, helped Audi’s top speed, it still lacks to rival Porsche.

I can’t decide between the two in predicting a winner this weekend, it all comes down to race factors, neither are clearly ahead in my opinion so we’ll have to wait and see.

I’m not entirely sure where Toyota will sit within the order. In theory it is behind Audi and Porsche yet far ahead of Nissan. However, last year I assumed that Toyota would win and Audi would struggle and that couldn’t have been more wrong. So it is one of the large mysteries of LMP1, just what is Toyota capable of and how the race could progress if all things align.

This year’s TS040 is faster than last year but their rivals have passed Toyota so maybe some redemption will come at Le Mans.

What I do believe is that Toyota has to win Le Mans to fully validate its success. Winning WEC events and a World championship is very different to a victory at Le Mans.

Nissan debut the GT-R Le Mans this weekend with a three-car entry. The concept of this car has excited me from the launch and it’s an amazing project. I know not everyone is a fan of the looks; personally I think it looks incredible.

The process for the team up until Le Mans has ultimately become quite a tough one, compromises have had to be made and questions of how competitive the team will be still remain. The test day showed slow lap times, yet lots of potential in straight-line speed. Test day however was almost entirely unrepresentative for every LMP1 team and certainly for Nissan, who where clearly running a very different program to the rivals so it is really a case of wait and see once again. My hopes for the team are the same I have for any new LMP1 team, which is to last the first six hours, after which anything extra is a bonus.

Swiss team, Rebellion Racing, returns to LMP1 competition at Le Mans. The team’s 2015 campaign being delayed due to the engine change now running AER engines in the R-ONE’s with a two-car effort. Rebellion Racing’s primary rival Is ByKolles, a rival privateer LMP1 team also running with AER power, with a solo entered CLM P1/01.

As this is a preview for FBC, I probably should mention the F1 stars entered in this race across the class. Mark Webber, Nico Hulkenberg, Sebastien Buemi, Anthony Davidson, Kazuki Nakajima, Stephane Sarrazin, Alex Wurz, Lucas Di Grassi, Max Chilton, Tiago Monteiro, Karun Chandhok, Gianmaria Bruni and Giancarlo Fisichella make up the former & current F1 driver contingent at this years race. Add in Sam Bird, James Calado and Mitch Evans as Junior drivers exploring future opportunities and it all starts to make far more sense as to why Le Mans is in a golden era. Finally for those of you who are fans of “the elderly F1 fan” his Son is racing for Aston Martin Racing.

LMP2 comprises of nineteen entrants from sixteen teams, ten chassis builders and three engine manufacturers. It’s a very competitive field and, sadly, most likely one of the last great fields with that variety of chassis designs inclusive at Le Mans, with the regulation changes coming ahead in 2017.

I understand that behind the giant OEM manufacturers of LMP1, P2 probably seems less interesting, yet having that level of variety added in with teams from across the globe including France, Great Britain, The United States of America, Russia, Germany and Hong Kong, among other nations, it shows what Le Mans means and just how important LMP2 is to the Le Mans 24 Hours.

A few chassis debut at Le Mans this year in LMP2. Strakka Racing’s Strakka-DOME among them, the car has completed races at Silverstone and Spa as rounds of the WEC, so it isn’t brand new on the road, unlike SMP Racing’s BR 01, which will see it’s competition debut this week, unless you count test day.

The idea of reducing this class to four manufacturers and one engine supplier just seems such a loss to Sportscar racing from 2017. I understand the cost and the attempts to harmonize the relationship with other Sportscar racing series, away from Le Mans and the FIA WEC, but is it really in the best interests of the sport?

In the GT classes, Corvette racing continues its annual trip across from the Tudor United Sportscar Championship for Le Mans with a two car entry alongside Porsche AG Team Manthey, Aston Martin Racing while Ferrari’s Clienti team, AF Corse, bring major representation of the Prancing Horse to Le Mans in both GT Pro and AM. The Viper makes its return to Le Mans, despite the factory team having been mothballed ahead of this season in the USA run by Riley technologies. The team will run in the GTE Am category while Dempsey Racing also makes it’s return to Le Mans, this time running full season in WEC.

If the future of P2 looks a little unsure the GT classes going forwards there will be a major announcement on Friday from Ford. In addition to commitments from most of the existing GTE manufacturers, to stay for the next few years, it’s an exciting time for GT racing at La Sarthe.

The race TV partners are Eurosport and Fox Sports, for most regions in addition to the FIA WEC’s live streaming online and on mobile devices. The FIA WEC’s streaming is available through a one race subscription, check Le Mans official website or the FIA WEC’s website for details. Additionally Radiolemans.com will also have full free audio coverage Enjoy!

Just one more thing, apologies from me for the delay on this preview and I understand this isn’t possible for everyone, however if it is, try and watch as much of the 24 hours as you can. It’s amazing how much the narrative and evolution of the race is otherwise lost.

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Erdem Varlı
Erdem Varlı

Thanks Tom, a great preview article. You guys are so lucky to get WEC coverage of any sort, let alone Le Mans, as you say it certainly seems to be a golden age of sports car racing. Enjoy the Le Mans weekend

Tom Firth

No, thank you for reading, I really appreciate it. I must say productivity is rather low this afternoon with practice underway for the next 4 hours ;-)

I don’t know which country you are in, but here is a list of distribution partners for the 24H Le Mans – http://www.24h-lemans.com/wpphpFichiers/1/1/ressources/Pdf/2015/24-heures-du-mans/distribution-tv-24h-2015.pdf

Tom Firth

By the way, I forgot The BR 01 had it’s competitive debut at the ELMS 4 Hours of Imola, so it has taken part in a race, prior to Le Mans. My bad.