Le Mans 24 hours

  • "I know I want to race" - Anthony Davidson

    Anthony Davidson is a frustrated man at Le Mans this year. The Briton has been an integral part of Toyota's Le Mans campaign in recent years and is widely considered to be one of the finest sports car racers in the world. Nevertheless, this year he finds himself on the sidelines, having been forced to make way for Formula 1 superstar Fernando Alonso, who has taken his seat in the #8 TS050 HYBRID. Speed Chills caught up with Davidson at the circuit on Wednesday to hear how he feels about the situation.

    "I know that I want to race, and I know that when I drove the laps here in practice a couple of weeks ago, I clicked straight back into it. I was quick and sat top of the time sheets for 20 or 30 minutes. It all just felt natural.

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    "I’ve done a lot of miles in the car already this year. I took the new lap record at Aragon during winter testing, so I am still fast and still committed to the team, but I now find myself in this situation. It is a bit strange, however, it is not the first time in my career that I’ve been a reserve driver. It is however, strange finding myself here as a reserve driver, especially as I know this place so well. I’ve done 10 Le Mans. I should have won it at least once or twice, so it feels strange to not have the chance to win this time round. But, a lot can happen in sports cars. I might be back with the team, you never know. It’s a long way to go.

    "It was completely the team’s decision to move me in to the reserve driver role. It was not my decision not to race. I was told it was me that had to step aside for Fernando, so I have to respect the team. It is a shame, however – that’s the way motorsport is sometimes. It was a tough decision for the team, all six drivers were performing well so it was never going to be an easy decision to move one of their top driver’s asides. It’s a strange situation, I won five races last year in 2017. But basically, Fernando had to be here, and he had to take one of our drives. It’s as simple as that. Its unlucky that it was me but that’s just life. If you were going to step aside for anyone in the world, then Fernando is not a bad driver to step aside for so that makes it a bit easier. If it was Joe Bloggs, then I would be annoyed. It is like the world wants Fernando to win Le Mans this year. He’s on a quest for the triple crown and he finds himself here with the team. Fernando had limited options once Audi and Porsche both dropped out of the series so there was only one team to go for and it was this team. This is his best opportunity to win Le Mans.

    "I know I was performing at my best and I am proud of what I achieved last year. As I said, I won five races and in particular, the last two were very good for me. I couldn’t have given any more. My family are happy to see a bit more of me now and my wife is happy that I am not out on track risking my life. Obviously, Le Mans is not the safest race in the world. It is dangerous. I’ve ended up in hospital over the years. I broke my back in 2012. Le Mans is dangerous, and it can bite you. It’s probably the most challenging circuit we go to in terms of safety and the drivers respect that.

    "We have put a lot of work into testing and development over the winter. It is essentially the same car as last year but with a few small developments. Primarily, we have improved the usability for the drivers and the engineers. We have tested numerous scenarios and if anything goes wrong, we can get the car home. Winter testing has been hard work, it has been quite involved and it is the work that no one gets to see. That is the time when we, as drivers, really make our money. It’s bloody hard work. We do long tests, 36-hour sessions with five or six drivers and we don’t stop. That’s the stuff under the radar.

    "We’ve been testing at Portimao and Aragon primarily and the car has been performing really well, as it was last year. It’s the same package but it is nicer and easier to drive. We have been focusing on all the possibilities that could go wrong. We have been approaching it like Nasa would approach a space mission, looking at anything that could possibly go wrong, and we have developed a backup plan for each situation.

    "We have learnt a lot about the car, we know it inside out like never before. We have been given manuals on the steering system, the switches, the controls. We have learnt how to repair the car with the onboard kit we carry. We are completely ready to make sure that we are on top of any possible situation that could go wrong. Of course, there are things outside of our control, force majeure and all that and with this race, there is always a chance of that. But that said, we are in a much better place as a whole team than ever before.

    "Everything that you could think of that could possibly go wrong, we have tried our best to replicate in testing and simulation work to prepare for it. It has been quite good fun actually in many ways. Only a select few people within the team know what’s going to happen. The drivers and mechanics were not aware, and scenarios would be thrown in as a surprise to see how people would react and perform. You could never relax, you always had to have your wits about you and be focused. The issues were rarely announced and there were of course times when the team and drivers got it wrong and would have ended up in a situation where the car could not be recovered. We learnt the hard way and that’s the best way to learn. It has been absolutely fascinating as a driver to experience. I had some input into it all and fell down a few times!

    "What’s the saying team Sky use? Train hard, race easy. It takes time to learn and defeat only makes you stronger. By going through that defeat, we have realised how hard things are and how to recover from a situation. If you turned up and just won by luck and you don’t know how you win then that is sometimes more dangerous as you are unprepared for the event. In terms of development, we don’t necessarily need to make the car quicker. We know it has the pace to win, the main focus has been on reliability and understanding the trials and tribulations of Le Mans. All those defeats the team have suffered, they have been pretty cruel over the years, but it makes you stronger.

    "If we were to have the 2016 situation right now, in exactly the same way, we would have still won the race. Everyone would be able to recover it. And what happened to Nico last year, we would be able to recover that now. We would have got back to the pits. We are now set to make sure that we can get the car home. It’s that never give up attitude and you don’t see it in any other racing, certainly anything I’ve done and its incredible to see that if those two situations happen now then it is fully recoverable.

    "It’s a shame for me not to be out there, I feel readier than ever. Even if we had Porsche and Audi here now or any other quality brands, I feel that we are in the best position to win. I am here as a reserve driver, that’s it. I’m not going to polish it up, I am here as the back-up in case something goes wrong with one of the other drivers. I wouldn’t want any other roles or responsibilities. We’ve got Alex Wurz to be the team advisor/ambassador. I’m here to just hang around in case anything goes wrong. It may be my easiest Le Mans ever, you never know!

    "There was never an option to run a third car this year. I don’t know the exact reason, but you would say, if there was ever a year to run 3/4/5/6 cars, it would be this year, but it was never an option. You will have to ask some other people to get an answer for that question, it sure would have helped me if there was a third car.

    "All the other teams, with the exception of ByKolles are new. We are such a well-polished team now. We have learnt from our bad experiences and it has put us into this situation we are in today. I’m not saying that nothing will go wrong because you can never predict that. We are however in the best situation we could possibly be. We cannot prepare for a sudden downpour at one corner when you’re on slicks, or someone’s engine blowing and dropping oil all over the track and you go flying off into the barrier. You cannot foresee things like that, but we are trained as drivers in this team to report any oil or a slippery surface on track, we report that back to the team who will pass that on.

    "We have done some work on the clutch as well, we have burnt it to a crisp in testing and it is bullet proof. So, if some guy jumps out in front of us in the pitlane pretending to be a marshal, we can recover from that and it won’t be a problem.

    "I think the best and worst memories are from 2016, I drove my best Le Mans I ever have. Bringing the car back to the front and leading the race. You know when you have driven 100% and in terms of personal satisfaction, it was my best race. And I had that feeling of winning Le Mans, I could taste it. I was just waiting for Kazuki to pass the line before it was taken away. But that feeling, I would take physical pain over that any day."

  • "Le Mans is an incredible place" - Mike Conway Interview

    Earlier in the week ahead of the first practice session for the 2018 24 Hours of Le Mans we caught up with Mike Conway to find out about some of the preparation work that has gone into the race and hear his thoughts on how things will pan out for Toyota Gazoo Racing.

    ”For me personally, I am as prepared as I always am. I am not approaching it any differently apart from that every year, you feel a bit more prepared. You know what’s coming I suppose. You kind of prepare for the worst situation, knowing that anything could be thrown at you. It’s Le Mans.”

    ”The team has done a lot of perpetration with the drivers as well so that if something does go wrong, and the systems fail, then we know what to do to get the car home and back to the pits. With all that work in place and the work that has gone on through winter testing, we just need to go out and do it. We are now just counting down the days until Saturday now. It’s really fun though and I’m really looking forward to getting out on track later today to get some more laps done. I am hoping for some mixed conditions because you never know what could be thrown at you on Saturday and Sunday.”

    ”There was a 2-lap gap to the privateers at Spa but they were closer at test day and I think they will be pretty close to be honest. They run pretty quick through Sector 1 and Sector 2 as they are running a lot more downforce than us, so they will be quick through there. But of course, they are at a disadvantage as well. They have one lap less running per stint and have a longer fuel time and stuff to meet so we’ve just got to keep that in mind all the time. They may be quicker at the start, so be it. We just need to live with it and fight when we can fight. I think it will be a good race.”

    ”2018 is an important year for us. Obviously the last few years it just hasn’t happened, but we’ve always shown that we have the fight, the spirit and the speed to be there. We just now need to execute the win and the 1-2 finish. A winning result for the team is a 1-2, and that is a bloody hard thing to achieve, two cars over the line and on the same lap close together. That’s the objective and that’s what we will be trying to do, we will be pushing as hard as we possibly can for that.”

    ”We have tested loads of system failures and punctures, any scenario we could think of, over the winter break. All of the issues were sprung upon us unknowingly. Initially you think it could be a problem with the simulator and you find yourself crabbing down the road at speed, then you realise you’ve had a puncture or the suspension has collapsed or something. It’s good to get prepared because there is a high risk of getting a puncture at this place and you can destroy the car if you try and recover the car too quick. Hopefully its all enough and it will get us a good result.”

    ”We saw last year that the LMP2’s are quicker at the end of the straight, especially with a fuel lift so if we haven’t quite got a move done and have to lift to conserve fuel, then the LMP1 and LMP2 cars will get back by. They have more top speed and more power so it’s always a case of juggling where about we are in the corner, whether we fight them or let them by. Of course, we have the advantage of over boosting and things like that to make sure we get the move done so that’s definitely on our side. But they have great speed through a lot of the corners so if we don’t get by through Porsche Curves, chances are we won’t pass them through turn one, possibly all the way down to turn 7 before we can get the move done. You’ll see them go through traffic just as easy as us so it’s going to be a close fight in LMP1 and LMP2.”

    ”We have discussed team orders within the team, they are always in place to make sure we achieve the best result for the team. We don’t want to risk any un-necessary fights amongst ourselves that cost the result for one of the cars. So sometimes, it’s the right move to make the call to bring both cars home in one piece. We should be able to race properly for 95% of the race, however, things change during the race so much that it is incredibly hard to plan an effective team strategy from the get go. At one point, you may have a 40 second advantage but you could easily lose that with a safety car, and let’s face it, there have been a few at Le Mans over the years. We will focus on running our race and see where we are by the final hour. As drivers, we are smart enough to make the right move and think about the big picture. We’ll do whatever we need to do. We’ll see how it all pans out. Le Mans is an open book. Hopefully we’re all together close to the end.”

    ”The passion and excitement surrounding Le Mans is definitely still there for us as a team. The car has been developed around this race but as soon as it is done, our focus will shift to Silverstone. Le Mans is an incredible place, the excitement, the occasion and the track. It’s special. You don’t get to drive it whenever you want, it’s a special place and all the drivers love being here. There is an excitement within the team. It’s intense and intimidating but it is what we live for. You want to be the guy that is driving the car the wrong way down the pit lane a couple of minutes after three on Sunday afternoon on the way to the podium. You want to be on the top step, seeing all the fans down there. It is an incredible moment and for the team, they just want a 1-2 finish. It is entirely open between the two cars as to who takes the win, so we will wait and see who is in the best position come Sunday afternoon.”

  • #7 Toyota ends the first day of Le Mans running on top despite crash

    The #7 Toyota Gazoo Racing TS050 Hybrid of Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and Jose Maria Lopez finished the first full day of running at the Le Mans 24 Hours on the top of the times, but lost a chunk of time after crashing into an LMP2 Oreca.

    Having also led the four-hour free practice session held under mixed conditions on Wednesday afternoon, Lopez struck early in the night-time Qualifying One session to set the provisional pole-time of 3m17.161. The #7’s programme was curtailed though as it was caught out by Roberto Gonzalez in the LMP2 pace-setting DragonSpeed Oreca. Gonzalez was recovering from a spin at the Ford Chicane and pulled back on track in front of Conway, causing the Brit to smash into the nose of the LMP2. After rapid repair work, both cars managed to get back out on track – the DragonSpeed got out with 25 minutes still to run while the Toyota completed the final 16 minutes. Despite the incident, the #7 Toyota’s time beat the closest of the LMP1 privateers – the #17 SMP Racing BR1 – by half-a-second. That doesn’t tell the full story though, as the sister #11 had set the fastest time for the bulk of practice thanks to Stoffel Vandoorne, until Kobayashi’s penultimate lap put Toyota back on top by almost two seconds.

    The #11 couldn’t match the same pace in the darkness, finishing P7 – behind the two eye-catchingly liveried Rebellion R13s which have both been in the top five mix throughout the day – the fastest of the Swiss cars beating the #8 Toyota of Kazuki Nakajima, Fernando Alonso and Sebastien Buemi in both sessions. The car finished fourth in both sessions after a tricky day for that entry.

    Propping up the lead prototype class in both sessions was the ByKolles Enso CLM P1/01 of Paolo Ruberti, Tom Dillmann and Oli Webb.

    LMP2 went the way of DragonSpeed - Pastor Maldonado’s 3m26.804 early in the session enough to keep the Signatech Alpine A470 in second by 0.131s. United Autosports claimed third at the end of day one, four-tenths behind the Alpine but half-a-second ahead of practice pace-setters IDEC Sport in a category that is shaping up to be anyone’s game come race day, with G-Drive Racing’s Aurus 01 performing strongly in the earlier session.

    GTE Pro provisional pole is currently in the hands of Harry Tincknell in the #67 Ford Chip Ganassi Team UK Ford GT. The Brit set his lap in the dying moments of qualifying, finishing 0.028s ahead of Nick Tandy in the #93 Porsche GT Team Porsche 911 RSR ran by the CORE Autosport team.

    Third went to the #97 Aston Martin Racing Vantage of Alex Lynn, Jonny Adam and Maxime Martin, with the additional three Porsche GT Team entries in fourth, fifth and sixth.

    The #77 Dempsey Proton Porsche set the bar in Free Practice 1 with a time of 3:55.304 with the #54 Ferrari and #98 Aston Martin less than half a second behind. The #88 Dempsey Proton Porsche of Satoshi Hoshino caused a Fully Course Yellow after the car went off at Porsche Curves, through the gravel and into the wall. Around 45 minutes of the session was red flagged following an incident involving Tracy Krohn, the #99 Dempsey-Proton Porsche appeared to have bounced off the crash barrier several times on the approach to the second chicane. With a lack of cameras on that part of the track, it was not exactly clear what had happened but its believed that the Am driver was clipped by a faster LMP2 car. The crash damaged the chassis and whilst Porsche confirm there is a backup chassis available at Le Mans, it is unclear whether the team will use it at this stage.

    In the first of the night sessions, it was the #88 Porsche that took provisional pole position with Matteo Cairoli's best time of 3:52.454. The #56 Project 1 Porsche finished second three tenths down whilst the #77 Dempsey-Proton Porsche took third place.

  • 2016 24 Hours of Le Mans

    The race that will be forever remembered for the unfortunate technical issues to hit Toyota so close to the end of the race.

    Video Credits: FIA WEC

  • 2017 Le Mans Qualifying

    The Toyota #7 crew never lost provisional pole throughout the three qualifying sessions, with Kamui Kobayashi setting a fantastically quick lap in the middle of Qualifying Two to take pole position for the 85th running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans by a competitive 2.4 seconds. None of the other LMP1 teams could challenge the 3:14.791 lap time that broke the lap record Neel Jani set in 2015 by just over a second. Kobayashi himself was shocked that the lap time was in the 3m14s; he expected to set a 3m15s or 3m16s.

    After a long delay due to having to change the engine after suffering an oil supply issue, the #8 Toyota crew took second on the grid, 2.4 seconds behind the record-breaking lap time. Sebastien Buemi came out at the start of Qualifying Three, having lost most of Qualifying Two to the engine change, and set a 3:17.128, going just a few hundredths of a second faster than Neel Jani’s lap time in the Porsche #1 to take a Toyota one-two. The third Toyota struggled on pace throughout yesterday’s evening sessions. After trying a variety of front noses Nicolas Lapierre could go no faster than a time that put the #9 fifth on the grid.

    Porsche made improvements on their Wednesday qualifying times in the early evening session of running yesterday. Jani made an eight-tenth improvement on the sister car, qualified by Timo Bernhard, to move the #1 ahead of the #2 for third on the starting grid. Neither Porsche made improvements in the final qualifying session, but there was trouble for the #2 as the light faded last night. An overheating issue caused Brendon Hartley to pull the #2 Porsche off the track at Indianapolis and spend the remaining hour of the session trying to get the car running again so he could return to the pits. This would not be an issue Porsche would want to be faced with ahead of the 24-hour endurance race.

    The #4 ByKolles had been at risk of starting behind some of the LMP2 cars as after Qualifying Two Vitaly Petrov’s provisional LMP2 pole time was faster than the time recorded by the ByKolles. Oliver Webb came out in the final session and improved to a 3:24.170 to place it sixth on the grid.

    ORECA Dominates LMP2 Field

    After holding onto provisional pole in class at the end of Qualifying One, #28 TDS Racing were unable to stay fastest and the battle for class pole was primarily between CEFC Manor TDS Racing, Vaillante Rebellion and Jackie Chan DC Racing. The #8 Jackie Chan DC Racing finished Qualifying Two on top with a 3:26.776, but that time was to be significantly beaten in Qualifying Three.

    Since free practice, the #26 G-Drive Racing team had been lapping around with a low profile, not making too much of an impression in the second qualifying session. However, as the laps began getting faster in the night and Vitaly Petrov was leading the LMP2 field with a 3:25.549, G-Drive set Alex Lynn into the action. He did not disappoint, going two-tenths of a second faster and taking pole position with a 3:25.352.

    The non-ORECA running LMP2 cars seem to be at a disadvantage this weekend as the ORECA 07 chassis has been competitively superior to the other chassis all week. The top nine in qualifying were locked out by ORECA-running teams, with the #27 SMP Racing being the first of the non-ORECAs in tenths. The time set by the #27 was a 3:27.782, showing a deficit of 2.5 seconds to the fastest ORECA machine.

    There were many incidents with the LMP2 cars in yesterday evening’s running, with the #33 Eurasia Motorsports having a big shunt at the first chicane on the Mulsanne Straight – Forza Motorsport Chicane. The Armco barriers did their job at deflecting the energy and making sure Erik Maris was able to walk away from the incident unscathed, but this lead to a 50-minute delay in the session as extensive barrier repairs took place.

    The other place of incident seemed to be Tertre Rouge. A few of the LMP2s got a wheel wide on the grass on entry of the corner, meaning that they had to correct the mistake to not end up in the gravel run off. The #28 TDS Racing machine was the car with the least amount of luck when making a mistake through this corner. Spinning the car, the TDS clipped the Armco barrier and spun into the gravel trap, causing damage to the barrier and bringing a ten-minute early end to Qualifying Two.

    Aston Martin Pro Battle Closer than Expected

    Aston Martin dominated both Qualifying One and Two in the Pro class and the Am class, and looked like they could only challenge themselves. The #95 and #97 Aston Martin Racing cars swapped provisional pole times throughout the Qualifying Two session. But as the end of qualifying drew closer the AF Corse Ferrari team began to show more pace.

    James Calado and Sam Bird finished the session in the cars and were pushing hard to get some more ultimate pace out of the Ferrari 488 GTEs. The time set by Darren Turner was too much for the Ferrari to overcome and Calado had to settle for second in class. Richie Stanaway set the fast lap in the #95 Aston Martin, which, at the time, had looked like it, would be fast enough for pole position. He managed to fend off the second Ferrari of Bird and will take third on the grid.

    Ford had looked like they had found some more pace in Qualifying Two, with the #69 Team USA entry holding provisional pole for a duration of time. But as the evening cooled off and the night running began they once again fell down the pack. The highest placed Ford for the race will be the #69 with a 3:51.232. Ford have seemed to close the gap since having a higher BoP added to their cars, with the gap to the pole sitter in class just over four-tenths.

    It was in Qualifying Three that Aston Martin lost the advantage in the Am class. There was a big shuffle in the order at the beginning of the session that saw the Ferrari entrants look to be the favourites for pole. Will Stevens put the JMW Motorsport Ferrari 488 GTE on provisional pole and it looked like there was no extra time out there for the other Am cars to beat it.

    The Am class has been varied in class leaders throughout the beginning of the WEC season, and this was the case again for qualifying. Four different manufacturers filled the top four at the final chequered flag, with the returning #50 Larbre Competition Corvette taking the glory of pole with a 3:52.843. The Corvette was the only LM GTE Am car to break into the 3m52s, with Pedro Lamy four-tenths behind in the championship-leading Aston Martin #98.

  • 2019 Le Mans Test Weekend Session 1 Catch Up

    It was a record breaking 62 cars which took to the track for the 2019 official Le Mans test day at Circuit de la Sarthe at the weekend with 8 LMP1s, 20 LMP2, 17 GTE Pros and 17 GTE Ams entered into the race this year.

    Normally a 60 car grid, limited by the amount of garages at Le Mans, would run but the ACO and FIA announced they would be extending the entry list to 62 cars, allowing the second United Autosport entry and High Class racing into the LMP2 category.

    A proportion of GTE cars were running one off custom livery designs for the 24 Hours with both Ford and Porsche running in one of colours for the final round of the 2018/2019 World Endurance Championship. Ford opted for a retro livery on each car with the four liveries representing wins in 1966, 1967, 2016 along with the 2019 colours.

    In GTE Am, the Keating Motorsport Ford GT will be running in the stunning purple colour of Wynn’s racing whilst Project 1 features a specifically designed art car layout to showcase Porsche’s Second Skin technology.

    With 186 drivers set to take part in the 2019 race, the majority of them were on site already on Saturday morning with a number of reserve drivers also lined up to take part in the test. Aston Martin rising star Ross Gunn had some valuable seat time lined up for Sunday’s test in both GTE Pro Aston Martin’s. Of those 186 drivers however, there were 20 drivers taking part in the Paul Ricard 1000KM race as part of the 2019 Blancpain Endurance Cup. There were also 11 drivers taking part in the Detroit Grand Prix at Belle Isle as part of the 2019 IMSA championship in the United States. Project 1 driver Patrick Lindsey was on call as pilot for the chartered flight back to Europe.

    Scott Dixon and Sebastien Bourdais were given special dispensation not to run in the test weekend as they were both on Indy Car duty on Sunday in Detroit.

    With the first session of the day kicking off at 9AM Sunday morning, it wasn’t long before Toyota were topping the time sheets, Sebastien Buemi putting the #8 Toyota on top of the times in the first of the two four hour sessions with a time of 3:21.875, a second faster than the previous best set by Fernando Alonso. The #7 Toyota was second fastest with Jose Maria Lopez posting a time of 3:22.027. The #3 Rebellion led the way for the P1 privateer cars, Gustavo Menezes setting a marker of 3:23.978.

    Pastor Maldonado led the way in the #31 DragonSpeed Oreca in LMP2 for most of the session, posting a lap time of 3:32.244 early on however, Felipe Albuquerque pushed the Columbian off the top spot by just 2 thousandths of a second in the dying moments of the session.

    Ford were leading the way for most of the session in GTEPro, Billy Johnson’s best time in the #66 car was beaten on the final lap of the session by Antonio Garcia in the #63 Corvette by just 0.024 of a second, Garcia setting a time of 3:55.704 on his final run. Gimmi Bruni rounded out the top three, putting the #91 Porsche in front of the two AF Corse Ferrari’s. The top 7 in the 17 car class were split by just 1 second.

    Francesco Castellacci led the way in GTEAM for most of the session, posting a time of 3:58.478 in the #54 Spirit of Race Ferrari, not only did this put Castellacci at the front in GTEAM, it was also faster than the two factory Aston Martins and the #82 BMW Team MTEK M8 GTE.

    By the end of the first session, it was a Ferrari top 4 with the #61 Clearwater, #84 JMW and #57 Car Guy Ferraris finishing ahead of Pat Long in the #99 Krohn Racing Proton Competition 911 RSR.

  • 60 car Le Mans entry announced

    Announced today in the FIA/ACO press conference, 60 cars are set to line up on the grid for the Le Mans 24 Hour in June.

    LMP1 is down to just six cars for this years race, the lowest the class has seen in its 14 year history. Toyota have confirmed a third TS050 for Spa and Le Mans; they will be joined by two updated Porsche 919s and the ByKolles CLM P1/01. Porsche have a reshuffled driver line up for the season with Nick Tandy, Earl Bamber and Andre Lotterer joining the line up, alongside Neel Jani, Brendon Hartley and Timo Bernhard. Toyota have an as yet unannounced line up; however, Stephane Sarrazin will lead the third cars line up with Jose Maria Lopez stepping into the squad.

    The biggest class in the race will once again be LMP2 with a record 25 cars set to line up on the grid. The grid will feature 13 cars from the European Le Mans Series, 9 cars from the FIA WEC, alongside Eurasia Motorsport from the Asian Le Mans Series and two one off entries. Ben Keating will debut the Riley MK30 LMP2 at Le Mans. The brand new Oreca 07 chassis makes up the majority of the field, 15 cars if including the modified Alpines. They will be joined by six Ligiers, three Dallaras and the single entrant Riley. Formula One star Rubens Barrichello makes his debut with Racing Team Nederland in the Dallara P217.

    The GTE Pro field continues to grow, 2017 sees Porsche return to the full season FIA WEC campaigning the new mid-engined Porsche 911 RSR. The usual suspects also make an appearance at Le Mans, Aston Martin Racing, AF Corse Ferrari, Corvette, Ford and Risi Competitzione. Ford will field four GT’s at Le Mans, the two American IMSA GTLM entries accompanying the FIA WEC GTE-Pro entries.

    GTE Am sees 16 cars lining up on the grid with cars coming in from the FIA, ELMS, AsLMS and IMSA; four Porsche 911, seven Ferrari 488’s one Ferrari 458, three Aston Martins and the Larbre Competition Corvette. The full season Aston Martin entry will be joined by TF Sport and Beechdean from the European Le Mans Series. Clearwater Racing make their full season FIA WEC debut this year and will field an additional 488 Ferrari at Le Mans alongside two Spirit of Race entries, two Scuderia Corsa entries and one car from DH Racing. JMW Motorsport will once again field a single Ferrari 458. Gulf, Proton Competition and Dempsey Proton will once again field a Porsche 911 each.

    The 2017 edition sees just two confirmed reserve entries. RLR M Sport have listed a Ligier JSP217 with a GTE Porsche listed in reserve run by Mentos Racing.

    The entry list so far can be found on the official website of the Le Mans 24 hours. Click here

  • All Change in GTE Pro

    The GTE Pro class is set to be more competitive during the race after officials made sweeping changes to the regulations at the last minute.

    The decision was made to change the Balance of Performance (BoP) rules after qualifying showed massive differences in pace between some of the cars. The new rules are intended to equalise both power developed and stint length in order to make the senior GT class a fairer and more interesting affair.

    The brand new Ford GTs, which will occupy four of the top five class grid slots at race start today, have been penalised with an extra 5kg to their base weight and a lower allowable boost pressure.

    The Ferrari 488s of AF Corse, which were the only challengers to the Ford's dominance, have been handed a massive 25kg weight penalty but will be allowed to pump four more litres of fuel into the tanks at each stop. At the other end of the scale both Corvette and Aston Martin will be allowed to run slightly larger air restrictors which should allow more power to be developed. Both Corvette and Porsche will also be allowed to run larger fuel tanks.

    This is the headline article from Saturday's 'The Speed Chills View' published for Speed Chills Private Camping customers Tap here to read the full edition

  • Alonso on top at Le Mans Test

    Toyota has never faced a better chance to end its famous Le Mans curse than this year, and you can only say its campaign for glory at the 24 Hours is right on track following the traditional test day on Sunday, with Formula 1 superstar Fernando Alonso heading both the morning and afternoon sessions at the 8.4-mile Circuit de la Sarthe.

    As the only manufacturer team in the top LMP1 class following Porsche and Audi’s withdrawal, the Japanese factory team is the sole hybrid entry in the field, with its pair of powerful TS050 HYBRIDs expected to dominate for pace. But after 30 years of hurt at Le Mans, the big question is not whether Toyota can beat its privateer opposition – but whether it can overcome its own demons and banish the so-called curse once and for all. The near-misses, including the past two Le Mans, has made this race a psychological barrier that Toyota feels it simply must conquer.

    Toyota LMP1 Le Mans Test Day 2018

    Double Formula 1 world champion Alonso is not only considered by many as the best all-round racing driver in active competition, but also a genuine all-time great. As McLaren continues its struggles to hand him a competitive F1 car, the Spaniard has admirably realigned his sights on what else he wants to achieve from his career. A third F1 title is the dream, but looks increasingly likely to remain exactly that. Instead, he is now chasing motor racing’s unofficial Triple Crown: the Monaco Grand Prix, which he won twice in 2006 and ’07, the Indianapolis 500 and Le Mans.

    A stunning debut at Indy last year could have resulted in the second of the big three being ticked off, only for a Honda engine failure to rob him of his chance in the late stages. The 36-year-old will have to return to the American oval in the future to try again.

    But for now, a plum drive at Le Mans with the manufacturer that really should win this year could allow him to claim the endurance jewel in the triple crown at his first attempt. And that performance at the test day on Sunday suggests Alonso is more than ready to step up on his first appearance at the race.

    His #8 Toyota was fastest in the morning session, with a time of 3m21.468s, but in the afternoon Alonso went even quicker to lodge a mark of 3m19.066s. Given who we’re talking about, we shouldn’t be too surprised by his benchmark pace. Still, it was an impressive performance for his first time on the daunting circuit.

    Pleasingly, the #7 TS050 didn’t end up second to complete a Toyota one-two. Mathias Beche was only 0.7s down on Alonso’s best in the new Rebellion-Gibson R-13, tipped to be the strongest privateer threat to Toyota’s dominance. To be so close at the test day is encouraging and a testament to the great work put in by Rebellion and ORECA, the company that has built its new LMP1 non-hybrid racer. Living with the Toyotas on pace during the race is another matter, but Rebellion’s reputation for reliability means the team could be well placed to pick up the pieces if the TS050s hit trouble. At the test day, the team’s other car was fourth fastest, with ex-Audi race winner Andre Lotterer setting a quick lap late on Sunday afternoon to trail Kamui Kobayashi in the #7 Toyota.

    Along with Alonso, another famous name from F1 acclimatised to Le Mans on Sunday with his first laps of the track. Jenson Button, Alonso’s former McLaren team-mate and the 2009 world champion, managed 20 laps in SMP Racing’s new BR1. He was man enough to admit Le Mans took some getting used to and Button is desperate for more time in the car once practice begins on Wednesday June 13. But his best time was in the 3m24s – respectable at this stage – and the pair of BR1s finished fifth and sixth fastest behind the Toyotas and Rebellions.

    In the secondary prototype class, LMP2, competition was as tight as it ever is. Nathanael Berthon’s DragonSpeed ORECA-Gibson was fastest with a time of 3m27.228s, ahead of IDEC Sport’s ORECA and the G-Drive entry driven by ex-F1 racer Jean-Eric Vergne. The class is almost impossible to predict and will provide much entertainment over the course of the 24 hours, even if Toyota breaks its long established habit for drama and has a clean race at the front.

    LMP2 Le Mans Test Day 2018

    GTE was just as closely fought during the test. Porsche might have pulled out of LMP1, but the German giant is putting plenty of effort into the Grand Touring class and clearly is going all out to win a category bursting with manufacturer interest. Patrick Pilet ended up fastest in his CORE Autosport 911, the car you won’t be able to miss during the race. That’s because the American IMSA entry is painted pink, in a tribute livery to the wonderful ‘Pink Pig’ long-tail 917 that graced Le Mans way back in 1971. The Pink Pig remains a cult car in Le Mans history and it’s typical of Porsche that such heritage should not be forgotten in the modern era. It’s even painted another 911 in Rothmans colours, in deference to the 1980s Group C works 956s and 962s. Tobacco sponsorship has long been banned, but the colour inference from a bygone age is a nice touch.

    At the test, Porsche shaded the Ford GTs, while BMWs new M8 looked competitive too. With Ferrari, Aston Martin and Corvette all in the mix too, GTE honours will be wide open come June 16/17.

    Porsche GTE Pro Le Mans Test Day 2018

    Anticipation for what should be another great Le Mans 24 Hours is building a head of steam. For Toyota and Alonso, they will just be hoping it doesn’t boil over all too early.

  • Bumper Le Mans and WEC Grids announced

    This afternoon in Paris, the ACO/FIA unveiled the entrance list for the 2018/2019 FIA World Endurance Championship "Super Season" and the 2018 24 Hours of Le Mans.

    The "Super Season" consists of 36 entries across the four categories with teams representing 12 different countries. The grid consists of 10 LMP1 cars, 7 entries in LMP2, 10 entries in GTE Pro with the addition of BMW for this year and 9 entries in GTE Am.

    "It's very satisfying to have 36 competitors including six major manufacturers and a good balance between prototypes and GTEs. This is just the start!" WEC CEO Gerard Neveu said. "Now the show goes on and we are confident the figures will continue to increase as they have done for the last six years. Welcome to the Super Season!"

    After Porsche pulled out of the championship towards the end of 2016, everyone thought LMP1 was done but just six months later, there are 10 full season entries in the class, one of which has Fernando Alonso at the wheel. Toyota recently announced their updated TS050 for the 2018-2019 season and a commitment to the sport and the championship to help them develop further their hybrid technology.

    Toyota will be the only two hybrid cars on the grid this year which features eight privately entered cars. Rebellion make a return to LMP1 with the R13, Andre Lotterer and Neel Jani included in the line-up after making the switch from Porsche.

    ByKolles dropped out of the 2017 season after the European leg to focus on developing the 2018 car. They will make a return to the championship this season in the ENSO CLM P1/01. They will be joined by two CEFC TRSM Racing entries, the new Ginetta G60 LT-P1.

    BR1 LMP1 2018

    BR Engineering unveiled their new car in Bahrain at the end of 201, two of them will be run by SMP Racing who return to the series for the first time since 2016 with an AER engine and the third will be run by Dragon Speed who have established a new driver line up that includes Renger van der Zande and Ben Hanley. In LMP2, there will be seven entries across three different chassis manufacturers, Oreca, Dallara and Ligier. Signatech Alpine Matmut and TDS Racing make a return alongside Jackie Chan DC Racing. Along with their LMP1 entrant, DragonSpeed will also field an LMP2 entry and Racing Team Nederland join the championship with Giedo ven der Garde leading their line up. Making their return to the FIA WEC, Larbre Competition make the switch from the GTE Corvette in to LMP2 having sat out the 2017 season.

    GTE sees the addition of BMW to the grid this year with the M8 GTE, the two cars will line up alongside the all new Aston Martin Vantage AMR, (with two new drivers this year, Alex Lynn and Maxime Martin). AF Corse Ferrari of course return with the latest generation 488GTE whilst Ford return with the two Chip Ganassi Team UK GT's and Porsche return with the latest generation 911 RSR.

    The LM GTE class is the largest it has been this year featuring nine full season entries across three different manufacturers. 2017 champions Paul Dalla Lana, Pedro Lamy and Mathias Lauda return for Aston Martin and will be joined by a second Aston entered by TF Sport. Clearwater Racing return to the championship alongside Spirit of Race along with new entry MR Racing. The Aston Martins and Ferrari's will be joined by four Porsche 911 RSRs from Depsey Proton Racing, Gulf Racing and Project 1.

    Start of the Le Mans 24 Hours

    The entry list for the 24 Hours of Le Mans was released shortly after the WEC announcement with a capacity grid of 60 cars announced for the event due to take place on June 16th-17th.

    All 10 LMP1 cars will challenge for the overall win, eight non-hybrid LMP1 cars alongside the two Toyota TS050 Hybrids.

    In LMP2, there will be three chassis manufacturers represented this year with entries from Ligier, Oreca and Dallara. The 7 full season entries will be joined by 13 other LMP2 entries totalling 20 LMP2 prototypes alongside the 10 LMP1.

    17 cars have been entered in the GTE Pro class at Le Mans with Ford also entering the two IMSA GT's along with Porsche who will also field the two American 911's. Corvette return for the French endurance classic whilst Ferrari will also field an additional 488 GTE under the AF Corse team.

    In GTE Am, the 9 full season entrants will be joined by an additional four cars from Ebimotors, JMW Motorsport, Proton Competition and Keating Motorsports. There are nine reserve entries this year including Scuderia Corsa, Krohn Racing and BAR1.

    Alongside the FIA WEC and Le Mans entry release this afternoon, Ginetta confirmed their first two drivers for the G60-LT-P1 which will both be run by CEFC TRSM Racing (Manor Endurance). Formula 2 race winner Oliver Rowland and 2015 European Le Mans Series LMP3 Champion Charlie Robertson will each pilot one of the cars.

    Ginetta LMP1 2018 - Manor Endurance

    Ginetta Chairman Lawrence Tomlinson said; "I'm delighted to confirm that CEFC TRSM Racing will be running a two car effort in the FIA WEC and LE Mans 24 Hours. Our LMP1 project has brought together some of the brightest stars in motorsport design and engineering, and the next chapter will see CEFC TRSM Racing announcing driving talent of equally high measure. Personally, I am delighted to see Charlie Robertson's name on the entry list. We have taken him from a 14 year old experiencing his very first race car in the Ginette Junior Championship, all the way to the pinnacle of international motorsport and that's something we strive to do for every one of our drivers."

    Graeme Lowdon, President and Sporting Director: "We are very happy to welcome Oliver to the team, we have followed him closely over the years and have been very impressed with his performances. Although this will be his first season in sports cars we have every confidence that he will adapt to LMP1 very quickly. It is great to be returning to FIA WEC and we are looking forward to starting the season at the Prologue in April."

    Oliver Rowland, Driver: "I am very excited to be joining TRSM for the LMP1 World Endurance Championship. Endurance racing is a new experience for me and it will create a fresh challenge, but I am really looking forward to working with the team and driving such an amazing car.

    Competing in the 24 Hours of Le Mans is extremely exciting and it's something that I've always wanted to race in. I can't wait to get started with the team to ensure we get the best out of the package and moving forward seeing if we can challenge for some fantastic results in the championship."

  • Button: can he win Le Mans?

    Well, what a great surprise. Jenson Button racing a Jaguar XJR-9 at Le Mans Classic in July is exciting. But now the 2009 Formula 1 World Champion has chosen to bring his La Sarthe debut forward by a month: he’s going all-out for an attack on the 24 Hours itself. Fantastic news.

    I must say, I was surprised. In his press statement, Jenson said “it’s always been a dream of mine to race at Le Mans”, but that didn’t seem to be the case during his Grand Prix career. Button enjoyed 17 eventful years in the F1 bubble and for most of that time showed little interest in anything else going on in the wider motor sport world. I recall times when he was asked specifically about Le Mans, especially in his later years at McLaren, and he tended to be a little dismissive.

    But like many of his ilk, now that F1 bubble has burst he’s gained some perspective. Always a good chap and a pure racer at heart, he’s embracing what else motor racing has to offer away from the cauldron of intensity that is life in F1.

    Jenson’s affinity for Japan led him to commit to the fantastic Super GT national series, in which he scored a second place in the first round of 2018 at Okayama a few weeks back, partnering Naoki Yamamoto in Team Kunimitsu’s Honda NSX-GT – and his taste buds for endurance racing have clearly been tantalised.

    Now along with his Japanese commitment, the 38-year-old has signed up for the Le Mans 24 Hours and a subsequent World Endurance Championship campaign with SMP Racing. Button will drive the new Dallara-built BR1 LMP1 alongside rapid Russian duo Vitaly Petrov and Mikhail Aleshin. He knows the former from Petrov’s time in F1 with Renault, while Aleshin has history as a talented Indycar racer. All in all, a potent line-up.

    SMP Racing at the Prologue 2018

    The big questions are how competitive the BR1 will be at Le Mans – and will it really have any chance of going the distance?

    We’ll know more about the genuine speed of the new non-hybrid LMP1 after this weekend’s WEC ‘Super Season’ kick-off, the Spa 6 Hours (which Button is missing). At the WEC Prologue test at Paul Ricard it was the best of the new breed of privateer prototypes and only slower than the hybrid Toyotas.

    Reliability is entirely another matter for SMP, as it will be for all the teams running new cars. Lasting six hours untroubled would be an achievement in Belgium, never mind over 24 in France.

    So why has Button committed to this unproven programme? He has spoken bullishly of going to Le Mans to win, but can that really be a goal this year?

    His old McLaren team-mate Fernando Alonso is in an entirely different situation, of course. As a member of the only factory to compete in the top class, the Spaniard has a great chance of making a winning debut at the big race. That’s pressure.

    Button? The pressure cannot be so great when he’s racing a brand new car. Expectations for Jenson will be nowhere near as high as they will be for Fernando – and that could play to the Briton’s advantage.

    But again, can he really win? Well, Toyota has to be the hot favourite – but with its cursed record at Le Mans, nothing can be taken for granted. If the two hybrids falter, one of the privateers could pick up the pieces – and if that’s the case, it’s likely to be the one that has the least amount of trouble. In that case, why not SMP?

    Then again, and rather bizarrely, Button’s best chance of a debut win might have actually been with a well-run LMP2 in the prototype second division. They might not have the pace of the top class, but they’re proven over this distance. Who can forget last year when the Jackie Chan DC Racing ORECA led overall and was only eventually beaten by a hybrid Porsche?

    Whatever their fortunes, the addition of a pair of F1 world champions is a huge boost for the race, especially in the year following Porsche’s withdrawal. How they get on will be fascinating. All eyes will be on Button and Alonso on June 16/17.

  • For the night is dark and full of Safety Cars

    At the half way mark, Toyota hold a commanding lead. With sunrise not far away, it will be a great relief to those still running to have made it through the night.

    The #7 Toyota TS050 continued its domination at the top of the standings as teams battled through the night and into the morning at the 87th edition of the Le Mans 24 Hours. Despite Fernando Alonso’s attempts in the sister #8 to close the gap in the darkness, the combination of Jose Maria Lopez, Mike Conway and Kamui Kobayashi rarely looked under threat as the trio ran like clockwork through the darkness, through the dawn and into the morning. The two Toyotas are four laps ahead of the best of the privateer LMP1s, which is currently held by the #11 SMP Racing BR1. The Russian crew has ended up in third thanks to their clean run through the night, as their rivals faltered. The first was the sister #17 as Egor Orudzhev crashed at the Porsche Curves just after 1am, and then – after a night of great action between it and the #11, Thomas Laurent beached the #3 Rebellion Racing R13 in the gravel at that hub of activity the Porsche Curves. Laurent was recovered to the track, but lost nine minutes in the gravel and then another chunk of time as the car was inspected by Rebellion mechanics. It came back out in fourth, three laps down on the #11 but a lap ahead of the #1 Rebellion which had issues yesterday afternoon. Both the ByKolles and DragonSpeed entries have retired, after races filled with mechanical issues for the pair.

    The titanic struggle between the G-Drive Racing Aurus 01 and the Signatech Alpine A470 continued through the night as the pair proved to be in a class of their own at the head of the LMP2 class. Swapping positions on a regular basis as the two teams ever so slightly alternated their pit schedules, Roman Rusinov ended hour 18 with a small advantage. Third proved to be the biggest battle in the class. Long-time podium sitters DragonSpeed retired in the 17th hour as Pastor Maldonado crashed the Oreca at Tertra Rouge. His off promoted the #38 Jackie Chan DC Racing car onto the podium, but Gabriel Aubry had a minor scare as the car dramatically slowed on the Mulsanne Straight. He managed to get back to the pits and the problem was quickly resolved as Ho-Pin Tung got into the car and proceeded to extend its hold on third to over 90 seconds to the fourth-placed TDS Racing entry.

    Corvette Racing led the way in GTE Pro, but was yet to make its latest pitstop as the class found itself dominated by the #51 AF Corse Ferrari 488 GTE Evo for the majority of the night running. That car, most recently raced by Alessandro Pier Guidi, having stopped before the #63 C7.R. Despite the diverging pit strategies, the pair have been closely battling for a number of hours with advantage slightly heading towards the Italian team after a great stint early in the morning by Daniel Serra.

    Third and fourth are two of the four Porsche GT Team 911 RSRs, with the #93 CORE Autosport-run entry heading the #91 Manthey car which is on course to secure the GTE Pro WEC title for Richard Lietz and Gianmaria Bruni. Their title hopes were assisted by exhaust problems for the #92 Porsche of Michael Christensen, Kevin Estre and Laurens Vanthoor. Christensen and Estre are currently 12th in class but need to finish eighth if they are to snatch the title away for themselves.

    Keating Motorsports enjoys a one-lap lead at the head of GTE Am in its eye-catchingly liveried Ford GT. The majority of running has so far be done by Felipe Fraga and Jeroen Bleekemolen with team owner Ben Keating telling TV that he still has to do a lot of his mandatory running as the bronze driver in that entry. Second proved to be a slightly closer battle as Patrick Lindsey held a 40 second advantage over the JMW Motorsport Ferrari 488 in the Team Project 1 Porsche. One of the biggest losers in the class overnight was the TF Sport Aston Martin Vantage. Running in the podium places as Saturday ticked over to Sunday, Euan Hankey beached the #90 in the gravel at Mulsanne Corner while running in second. The car did get recovered, but is currently 13th in class – eight laps down on the leader.

  • Late drama as #8 Toyota secures back-to-back Le Mans victories

    The #8 Toyota Gazoo Racing TS050 Hybrid of Fernando Alonso, Sebastien Buemi and Kazuki Nakajima took both Le Mans 24 Hour wins in the World Endurance Championship’s Superseason after final hour drama for the sister #7.

    Heading into hour 24, the #7 of Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and Jose Maria Lopez were seemingly comfortable with a two-minute lead over the #8. However, a sensor inside the cockpit suggested Lopez had picked up a front-right puncture. The Argentinian pitted to replace the wheel without much delay, but before he reached the first chicane on the Mulsanne Straight he complained of a second puncture. Limping back to the pits, it was discovered a faulty sensor had given an incorrect reading and it was the rear tyre on the righthand-side which actually had a puncture. Those two trips to the pits allowed Nakajima to sweep into the lead with just 55 minutes remaining. The Japanese driver made no mistakes during his final stint – and final pitstop – to seal a second victory for himself, Alonso and Buemi, as well as securing the WEC LMP1 drivers’ title in what is set to be Alonso’s final race – for now – for Toyota.

    Third went to the SMP Racing BR1 of Mikhail Aleshin, Stoffel Vandoorne and Vitaly Petrov after they kept their heads down and enjoyed a trouble-free run to the flag – capitalising on crashes, punctures and mechanical issues for its privateer rivals Rebellion Racing. The fastest of those Rebellions was the #1 of Bruno Senna, Neel Jani and Andre Lotterer which leaped ahead of the #3 as the race clock counted down to less than six hours to go as Nathaniel Berthon had to limp the car back suffering from a mechanical issue. Failing to finish was the #17 SMP Racing entry, after a crash at the Porsche Curves overnight while at the hands of Egor Orudzhev. Also failing to make the chequered flag after a gearbox issues was the ByKolles CLM P1/01 and the DragonSpeed BR1.

    In LMP2, Signatech Alpine took its third win in four years after a mega stint from Andre Negaro, Pierre Thiriet and Nicolas Lapierre. Fighting throughout with the G-Drive Racing Aurus 01, the tooth-and-nail battle for victory was decided in Signatech’s favour after G-Drive had to be pushed into the garage in the 19th hour with a wiring problem in its car. That relegated it down the order, but had enough time to recover to sixth but it was scant reward after a faultless drive for Roman Rusinov, Job Van Uitert and Jean-Eric Vergne. Benefitting from G-Drive’s retirement was the #38 Jackie Chan DC Racing Oreca. After fighting for the podium places for much of Sunday, the retirement elevated them to second, but missed the chance to secure the WEC LMP2 world title, as the drivers’ and teams’ titles both went to Signatech. Rounding out the podium, a lap down on the DC Racing entry, was the TDS Racing car of Loic Duval, Francois Perrodo and Matthieu Vaxiviere. That car had slipped to 13th in class, but double-stints through the night from Duval and Vaxiviere hauled it back up through the order and when Pastor Maldonado crashed the DragonSpeed Oreca in hour 17, the TDS car was well in the fight for a podium place. Fourth went to the United Autosports Ligier – the best of the non-Orecas – with Phil Hanson, Filipe Albuquerque and Paul Di Resta guiding that home with only one real incident of note on Sunday as the engine cover blew off on the way down to Indianapolis. The required trip to the garage to fit a replacement dropped it off the back of the TDS machine.

    Ferrari secured its first GTE Pro triumph in five years as the #51 AF Corse Ferrari 488 GTE Evo of Alessandro Pier Guidi, James Calado and Daniel Serra took victory by almost 50 seconds over the GTE title winning #91 Porsche GT Team 911 RSR of Richard Lietz, Gianmaria Bruni and Fred Makowiecki. The Ferrari squad was battling closely with the #63 Corvette Racing C7.R in the second half of the race but the race was eventually decided in the Italian manufacturer’s favour after a risky pit strategy didn’t pay off for the American squad. After a safety car was called for to recover the Nyck De Vries-driven Racing Team Nederland Dallara LMP2 – who crashed into the barrier after running straight on at the kink heading into Indianapolis – the Corvette crew called in Antonio Garcia for a stop in the hopes of jumping the safety car train. Despite rapid pit work from the team, Jan Magnussen got the car to the end of pitlane only to be presented with a red light. The three-minute stop meant the #63 lost a lap, before losing more time after a spin and impact into the wall at the Porsche Curves for Magnussen. An extended stint in the pits to repair the front-end dropped the car down to 10th. Back up at the sharp end and the #93 Porsche GT Team entry of Patrick Pilet, Earl Bamber and Nick Tandy made it a double-podium for the German manufacturer as they finished a minute ahead of the #68 Ford GT of Joey Hand, Dirk Muller and Sebastien Bourdais. The #68 led a train of four Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GTs – in their final Le Mans as a factory-backed team – with the leading Ford in qualifying, the #67 of Andy Priaulx, Harry Tincknell and Jonathan Bomarito finishing fifth.

    Ford also came up trumps in GTE Am – but only just – as the Keating Motorsports car of Ben Keating, Jeroen Bleekemolen and Felipe Fraga managed an extend stop for a nose change, and a stop/go penalty for wheel spinning out of the pitbox, to take class victory by 44 seconds. Having led by more than a lap earlier in the race, the team’s strategy of having bronze-rated Keating completing most of his mandatory time on Sunday afternoon almost looked like it hadn’t paid off as the Team Project 1 Porsche closed in on the Ford. But a late stop to hand back over to Bleekemolen allowed the Dutchman to slowly build back up an advantage over Jorg Bergmeister in the Porsche. Rounding out the podium was the JMW Motorsport Ferrari of Jeff Segal, Rodrigo Baptista and Wei Lu which had closed to within 40 seconds of the Team Project 1 entry after a rapid final stint from Baptista.

  • Le Mans 2016 - The News So Far: LMP

    After the exhilarating end to the 2015 World Endurance Championship most of us already have our attention set forward to the start of the new season and the star event of the calendar: the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

    The 2015 season gave us race after race of unstoppable action where the point was proved that nothing is set in stone until the chequered flag drops. But even before the season has started there is a lot happening in the WEC paddock as everyone builds up to the main event in June. Speed Chills' new recruit Alice Holloway fills us in on the latest news in the LMP categories

    One of the biggest pieces of news is that both Porsche and Audi are only running two cars in the legendary 24-hour race. The decision to downscale the programmes comes from the Volkswagen group; Audi has stated that it is glad the motorsport programme could continue running but it was made clear to them that they could save money.

    This appears to have been done in a reduction of LMP1 cars for both Audi and Porsche. This could also be reflected in Porsche’s choice to step back from the GTE programme, opting not to run in the full championship this year.

    This means that overall Le Mans winners Nick Tandy, Earl Bamber and Nico Hulkenberg have been stripped of their chance to defend their title, though the chance had already been taken away from Hulkenberg (and any other Formula One driver who wished to follow in his footsteps) when Formula 1 placed the inaugural European Grand Prix - being held in Baku, Azerbaijan - on the same weekend as the 24.

    Nothing has been said officially from Formula One supremoes but WEC boss Gerard Neveu has claimed that the calendar clash is an attack from Formula One on his series’ ever-growing popularity.

    The news does mean that drivers who completed the rookie test back in November for Porsche, including Kevin Magnussen and Juan Pablo Montoya, and who were hoping to score the seat that had been involuntarily vacated by Hulkenberg, have no hope of getting a Porsche LMP1 drive for this year as all six current LMP1 drivers have been confirmed for the 2016 season.

    Audi has also retained their six works drivers from 2015, stating that the three who would have taken the wheel of the third Le Mans car are also still part of the Audi team and their services will be enlisted elsewhere in the programme.

    Meanwhile Toyota, who dominated the 2014 season before being left in the wake of their German competitors last year, are poised to unveil their brand new endurance challenger - the TS050. The Japanese marque have kept details close to their chest, but expect a smaller petrol engine and a lot more hybrid power to hit the track at the Prologue testing session in March.

    One team who won’t be at Paul Ricard, however, is Nissan Motorsports. Despite all the hype, media attention and masses of money thrown at the project, the self-proclaimed ‘bad boys’ went out with a whimper by announcing their withdrawal late last year.

    It’s a real shame that the bonkers GT-R LM Nismo was never really given a chance to compete - it only went to Le Mans, and even then didn’t even have its much vaunted hybrid system - but perhaps the front engined, aero-focussed monster was a little too much for even Nissan to handle.

    In more recent news last year’s LMP2 runners up and Le Mans winners in class KCMG have stepped back from the WEC. After two and a half seasons the program’s owners have pulled the team, dropping down to the GTE ranks instead - though also saying that the LMP2 programme has not been finished with and there is still a chance that they could return up the field in 2017.

    The Hong Kong based outfit are dropping back into the GTE Am class where it’s speculated that they will run a Porsche 911. The owners gave no specific reason as to why they were changing disciplines, stating that they just felt like a change.

    Whether or not the decision to leave the LMP2 class has anything to do with the contentious incident involving the #28 G-Drive car during the Fuji race last October is unknown, even if owner Paul Ip claims it not to be the case.

    Meanwhile, last year’s Le Mans LMP2 runners up Jota Sport have taken the progressive steps of becoming a full time entrant to the World Endurance Championship, running the full season with a new ORECA Nissan 05 coupe. The British based outfit have confirmed ex-Formula One driver Giedo van de Garde and rising star Jake Dennis for Le Mans.

    The rest of the LMP2 field is still shaping up, with a predicted high turnover of entrants from the 2015 WEC - with new chassis and engine regulations coming into effect the Pro-Am prototype class will be one to watch in the coming months.

    It’s looking to be yet another thrilling year of racing with Audi and Porsche’s programmes seeming to have taken a bit of a hit in the aftermath of Volkswagen’s torrid few years.

    But that won’t be affecting reigning World Champions Mark Webber, Timo Bernard and Brendon Hartley as they’ll have their full attention on retaining their world champion status and be hoping to add ‘Le Mans winner’ to their already glowing resumes.

    The battle tightened with Audi at the end of last season, so can Porsche hold the advantage over them and take another clean sweep of pole positions? Or will Toyota return back to the form they had in 2014 and take the crown back from the German outfit? All will become clear as we move closer to the 2016 24 Hours of Le Mans.

  • Le Mans preview: the race Toyota must not lose

    This time, surely. That’s the overriding sentiment of the 2018 Le Mans 24 Hours at the start of the biggest week of the motor sporting year. Toyota will finally banish the 30-year curse and win the big one – won’t it?

    Well, it really should. The Japanese giant is the last manufacturer standing in the top-class LMP1 hybrid category, following the withdrawal of both Porsche and Audi over the course of the past two years. For pace alone, the band of plucky privateers and their non-hybrid LMP1s really shouldn’t be able to live with the pair of TS050 HYBRIDS.

    Then consider Fernando Alonso, the McLaren F1 driver considered by many to be the greatest active racing driver in the world. At 37, the Spaniard’s hopes of a third F1 world title have probably slipped away with McLaren’s failures to deliver him a competitive car. Therefore, his focus has switched to motor sport’s unofficial Triple Crown: the Monaco Grand Prix, which he has won twice, the Indianapolis 500 and the Le Mans 24 Hours. All-round racing greatness awaits if he can equal the feat of winning all three that only Graham Hill has previously managed.

    Alonso has a great shot at ticking off Le Mans this week. Fastest at the recent test day, the great man knows only misfortune (and a rapid team of drivers in the sister TS050, of course) stands in his way of glory on his debut at the greatest race in the world.

    But that’s where the intrigue is: Toyota’s misfortune at Le Mans is the stuff of legend. Agonisingly close to the tune of just three minutes in 2016, it missed out last year too, following four previous occasions in the past three decades when the manufacturer looked set to win this race. Nothing can be taken for granted at La Sarthe. The team must conquer the 8.4-mile track first, but also its own psychological barriers to finally deliver what should be a victory of sheer relief on Sunday afternoon.

    Privateers on parade

    If Toyota does falter – and history shows quite plainly it might – the privateer entries could pick up the pieces for an incredible Le Mans story.

    Rebellion is established as the best of the privateer teams in long-distance endurance racing at this level and has three top-six Le Mans finishes to its name already. Its pair of ORECA-built Gibson-powered prototypes mixed it with the Toyotas at the test day and with drivers such as former Audi race winner Andre Lotterer among the line-up, the experience to achieve greatness is in its grasp. The rules favour Toyota and its hybrid, in terms of stint length as well as out-right pace – but if Rebellion can run a clean race for at least one of its cars, you never know.

    Of the other privateers in the top LMP1 category for the fastest prototypes, Bykolles Racing’s singleton entry and the three BR Engineering cars will all hope to be contenders. Ex-F1 world champion Jenson is among those hoping to spring a surprise, driving for the Russian SMP Racing team. In Mikhael Aleshin and fellow F1 old boy Vitaly Petrov, he has quick team-mates, but as is the case for all the privateers, avoiding new-car reliability problems is a tough task at Le Mans. New racers have won first time out at the 24 Hours in the past – but not often. Top six finishes and podium aspirations are more realistic than a victory. But again, with this race, you never know.

    Can LMP2 pull off the shock of the century?

    If Toyota does implode once again, it might be just as likely that an overall winner comes from the slower LMP2 prototype class. Once upon a time, such a suggestion would have been scoffed at. But last year, it almost happened – and with doubt always nagging away at Toyota and the LMP1 privateers coming to the race so unproven, the reliable LMP2 brigade of seasoned campaigners could be in with a shout of an unforgettable result.

    Among the entries, the throng of teams running ORECAs could all contend for the class victory (and maybe more), but the good news is the Ligiers should be more competitive than last year following an aerodynamics rules break. Driver talent in this class is becoming richer by the season and boasts this year such stars as Le Mans debutant and former F1 grand prix winner Juan Pablo Montoya, a veteran of the Daytona 24 Hours in the US. As ever, the form guide suggests the class is wide open.

    To spot the difference between LMP1 and LMP2, look out for the blue number squares instead of red for the secondary prototypes, and the ‘P2’ stickers on their flanks.

    GTE: supercar heaven for the big manufacturers

    While LMP1 has struggled to retain interest for car manufacturers frightened off by multi-million dollar budgets to build sophisticated hybrids, the ‘grand touring’ GTE category for familiar-looking supercars continues to attract massive attention from some of the world’s most famous makes.

    This year, the race within a race presents Porsche vs Ford vs Ferrari vs Corvette vs BMW vs Aston Martin… what a stunning prospect.

    One of four Porsche 911s entered topped the test day times, but Ford’s GT was mixing it for pace too. Aston Martin won the race last year with its ageing Vantage, but returns with a stunning new version of the car this time and with an impressive testing programme under its belt, the British team has high expectations. Can Aston win again in its new bright green livery?

    Ferrari’s factory-blessed AF Corse team is full of ambition to take the Prancing Horse back to the top at Le Mans, while BMW’s stunning new M8 promises to offer more than just good looks. And you can never rule out the Corvettes, which are almost becoming ubiquitous at a race the American Pratt & Miller will take on for a 19th consecutive time. That’s simply remarkable.

    Honours in both the Pro and Am GTE classes are wide open. Look out for the green square backgrounds for the numbers on the Pro-class cars, while the Am entries feature orange number squares. These stunning looking cars are more than just traffic for the prototypes to negotiate. The will contribute plenty to what looks certain to be another unforgettable Le Mans 24 Hours.

    Enjoy the biggest race of the year!

  • Porsche on Pole for 24

    Porsche yesterday claimed their second consecutive pole position at Le Mans after rain washed out the second and third qualifying sessions.

    The #2 919 Hybrid of Neel Jani, Romain Dumas and Marc Lieb had set a Q1 benchmark of 3:19.733, a time that was impossible to beat on a track that at times last night seemed to feature more puddles than tarmac.

    But the wet conditions couldn't dampen the enthusiasm for a race which is showing signs of being a gruelling fight to the finish. The second placed Porsche #1 was less than half a second behind the pole sitter, while Toyota made a return to the sharp end by taking third and fourth on the grid; the #6 only a further half second off the front row.

    The #7 and #8 Audis, which took fifth and sixth positions respectively, appeared to be 3s off the pace but are understood to have been more focussed on tyre testing in the first qualifying session.

    The 23 car strong LMP2 field will be led off the line by the #26 G-Drive Racing Oreca followed by the local favourite #35 and #36 Alpines. The Manor Racing Oreca of Tor Graves, Matt Rao and Roberto Merhi will start fourth in what is already shaping up to be an impressive debut performance from the British team.

    Last year's P2 winners KCMG have had a quiet start to their title defence, taking ninth on the class grid and almost three seconds behind the leaders.

    Meanwhile the #25 Algarve Pro Racing Ligier, which will be driven tomorrow by Olympic legend S ir Chris Hoy, will start 25th overall and 17th in class.

    GTE Pro looks set to revive an age old rivalry with Ford and Ferrari both bringing new cars to the race which are so far streets ahead of their competitors.

    The two US Ford GTs took first and second slots ahead of the always-strong #51 AF Corse, with the two UK Fords following closely behind. The fastest non-Ford or Ferrari entry was the #92 Porsche 911 way down in eighth place and four seconds off pole, while the Aston Martins and Corvettes were similarly far off the pace. Le Mans bosses have indicated that even at this late stage there may be an opportunity to make changes to rules governing each car's performance in order to make race day more interesting.

    Their Am cousins however are much closer, with the top eight within three seconds of one another. The gentleman driver class is led by the dragon-liveried #61 Clearwater Racing Ferrari, followed by the #98 Aston Martin and #55 AF Corse.

    But as everybody knows qualifying at Le Mans is only a reflection of single lap ultimate pace - the race will be won by whichever car can best deal with the unique challenge that the 24 Hours provides.

    Who do you think will be spraying the champagne at the end of a day's racing? Have your say on our Facebook page or by tweeting @SpeedChillsView!

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  • Seven magnificent reasons why we’re excited about 2018

    On the face of it, the consecutive losses in the past year of both Audi and then Porsche from the LMP1 ranks have dealt hefty blows to the world of sports car racing, worthy of an Anthony Joshua right hook.

    But have the Le Mans 24 Hours and the FIA World Endurance Championship crumpled to the canvas, out for the count in their wake? Of course not.

    In fact, the jewel of long-distance sports car racing and its associated series have weathered the double blow remarkably well, and as we power on towards the brightening horizon of 2018 both appear decidedly spritely. Motor racing’s ability to sniff the smelling salts, rejuvenate and punch back stronger than ever never ceases to amaze.

    Le Mans in particular has always proven bigger than any single manufacturer, throughout its illustrious 95-year history. So as we settle into the brief seasonal hibernation induced by the heady mix of minced pies and mulled wine, let’s ponder exactly what will get our juices running again in 2018 as a new era dawns for the greatest motor race in the world.

    1. LMP1 takes a leaf from Mark Twain’s book

    Sure, as the last manufacturer standing with a hybrid thoroughbred, Toyota will never have a greater chance to end its infamous Le Mans jinx – with or without Fernando Alonso – running an updated version of its TS050 HYBRID.

    Toyota TS050 Hybrid 2017

    But with only two entries expected from the Japanese giant, even now nothing can be taken for granted. As Toyota knows only too well from recent (bitter) experience, the first competitor any manufacturer at Le Mans has to conquer is the race itself. Even with an apparent open goal, the capacity to balloon it over the bar once again, either through technical failures or driver mistakes, will be all too real for this team come June 16/17.

    2. There’s Rebellion in the ranks…

    Fresh from WEC title success in the super-competitive LMP2 arena, top prototype privateer Rebellion Racing has confirmed its return to the top category for 2018 with a two-car entry bristling with promise.

    And with the new rules designed to equalise performance between factory hybrid and privateer non-hybrid power, the Anglo-Swiss squad will carry genuine hope into the new year that its new contender will have the capacity to carry the fight to Toyota. Whether that’s realistic or not remains to be seen.

    The new car, said to be another creation from seasoned partner ORECA, will be revealed at the Geneva Motor Show in March. Meanwhile, a superstar line-up of drivers has already been confirmed.

    Porsche LMP1 refugees Andre Lotter and Neel Jani have been named among the six, which also includes Bruno Senna – nephew of Ayrton – and talented youngster Thomas Laurent, who has controversially switched from the rival DC Racing LMP2 squad that came so close to sensationally winning the race overall last June.

    Rebellion is a seriously good racing team. Toyota will not underestimate its challenge.

    3. Privateers on parade: the new arrivals

    Along with Rebellion, the promise of greater LMP1 competition between manufacturer might and privateer pluck has enticed optimistic new projects into the top class, and one in particular looks certain to give the hordes of British Le Mans disciples a new focus come June.

    Successful LMP2 chassis builder Ginetta has accepted the challenge with an exciting all-new design set to be revealed at the Autosport International show at Birmingham’s NEC in January. The company has linked up with former F1 entrant Manor Racing for what promises to be a potent challenge.

    Then there’s SMP Racing’s new Dallara-built LMP1, dubbed the BR1, which was unveiled at the Bahrain WEC season finale in November. Run by top GP2/F2 team ART Grand Prix, with former Renault F1 ace Vitaly Petrov among the drivers, this is another serious effort with long-term potential.

    Fingers will be firmly crossed among sports car racing’s rule-makers that this revived interest in LMP1, fueled by ‘realistic’ budgets, will reap rewards for the privately funded entrants who have made the commitment. The silver lining of Audi and Porsche’s withdrawal glistens with genuine hope.

    4. GTE: who needs prototypes?

    Even if LMP1 does fall flat at Le Mans in June, the intensity of what will be happening behind them in the GTE ‘supercar’ class will more than compensate. Manufacturer interest has shot through the roof, and in a certain respect, it’s just a pity the influx of contenders aren’t competing for the overall win…

    That’s a debate for another day. For now, what matters is that the ‘race within a race’ at Le Mans promises serious bragging rights for some of the biggest and most famous motoring brands in the world.

    5. The Porsche factor: Mark Twain still relevant!

    Yes, I’m borrowing that cliché once more: the number one Le Mans manufacturer’s demise at the 24 Hours has been greatly exaggerated, despite that headline LMP1 withdrawal. That’s because Porsche has now doubled its efforts to conquer the GTE class, following its hat trick of overall wins between 2015-17.

    Regular GT aces Richard Lietz, Frederic Makowiecki and Gianmaria Bruni, who will make his first start for Porsche at Le Mans following his defection from Ferrari, are all confirmed. But also expect to see former LMP1 stars Nick Tandy, Earl Bamber, Timo Bernhard and Romain Dumas in action. That’s quite a squad to keep the winning run going, albeit in the lower class.

    6. German flavour remains potent

    As Porsche shows a renewed commitment to GT racing, so too do two other German automotive giants. For the first time since 2011, BMW is returning to Le Mans with an all-new GTE contender, while Mercedes will also be represented – even if it’s in disguise.

    Aston Martin will keep the British end up once again, with its fantastic-looking new Vantage set to defend the hard-fought victory of 2017. But the German link is under the hood: an AMG Mercedes twin turbo now powers Aston’s front-engined GTE contender, following the engineering tie-up between two brands.

    Aston Martin Vantage LM-GTE 2018

    Add in an unchanged Ford line-up, Ferrari coming off the back of WEC title success and a continued challenge from Corvette, and GTE offers potentially one of the strongest manufacturer entries in Le Mans history. The battle between Ferrari vs Porsche vs Aston Martin vs Corvette vs Ford vs BMW… take a breath… will be simply immense.

    Who needs LMP1?

    7. Super-sized season with a double helping of Le Mans

    All this is then set in the context of the WEC’s new-era ‘Super Season’ calendar. For the first time in the series’ history, the WEC will carry over into a second calendar year – allowing two consecutive Le Mans 24 Hours to count towards one world title campaign. Intriguing.

    The marathon season kicks off in May with the Spa 6 Hours, before the teams take in the 2018 Le Mans 24 Hours in June. The next six-hour round follows at Silverstone, now running in spectator-friendly August (we hope!) rather than at wet and windy Easter, before the calendar year concludes with races at Fuji and Shanghai.

    FIA WEC 2018-19 Super Season Calendar

    Then in 2019 the ‘super season’ picks up once more in March, with an exciting new 1500-mile round at Sebring in Florida, taking place the day after IMSA’s blue-riband 12 Hours. The weekend of action creates a fantastic double-header that looks certain to become a new and hugely popular sports car racing tradition.

    Following Sebring, the teams return to Spa for another 6 Hours, before the series hits its climax at the 2019 Le Mans 24 Hours. That establishment of a new rhythm to the sports car racing season, with the series ending at its most famous race, should hopefully boost the profile of the WEC – and in the future will offer a season shape that mimics that of football. It makes sense.

    So there you have it. Far from hand-wringing at a weakened LMP1 entry, sports car racing fans can look forward to fresh beginnings in 2018 – and Le Mans will be as unmissable as ever.

    Care to join us?

    In the meantime, have a very merry Christmas and here’s to a flat-out new year.

    Damien Smith, former Editor of Motor Sport Magazine

  • The Breakfast Bulletin

    Toyota and Porsche continue to fight for the lead as we approach the final quarter of the 2016 Le Mans 24 Hours

    After issues for the two Audis and the #1 Porsche we now have a three way fight between both Toyota TS050s and the #2 919 Hybrids.

    At time of writing it's the #6 Toyota of Davidson, Buemi and Nakajima in the lead, with the sister TS050 of Sarrazin, Conway and Kobayashi behind and the Porsche of Jani/Dumas/Lieb following closely in third.

    The #8 Audi is running two laps behind the leaders, while a turbo issue early in the race has left the #7 8 laps further back. The #1 Porsche, which was plagued by issues and had repeated visits to the garage, is 37th overall and and 38 laps off the lead.

    LMP1-L has been a battle of attrition, with all three cars spending as much time in the garage as on the track. The #13 Rebellion was first to retire before the #4 ByKolles CLM came to a fiery end at the Porsche Curves. The #12 Rebellion is still running but is 38th overall.

    In P2 the #36 Signatech Alpine leads the #26 G-Drive Oreca and the #37 SMP Racing BR01. The #44 Manor car led in the early stages but spent much of last night in the garage fixing a number of mechanical issues.

    GTE Pro is an all-IMSA affair with the Risi Competizione Ferrari leading the two Chip Ganassi USA Ford GTs. A good performance from the #95 Aston Martin sees it waiting in fourth to pick up the scraps if there are issues ahead. The #88 Porsche led GTE-Am for most of the race until an inspired drive by Townsend Bell moved his #62 Ferrari into the top position. The #88 is second and #83 AF Corse is third.

    There were big crashes overnight for the #64 Corvette, #35 Alpine and #46 Thiriet. No drivers were hurt.

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  • The Countdown to Le Mans 2019

    LMP1

    Having taken the LMP1 Manufacturers Championship last time out at Spa, Toyota Gazzoo Racing will finish the Le Mans weekend at the top of the championship with the drivers championship also wrapped up by the end of the 24 Hour endurance classic. The only question is, which trio will win it? The #8 trio of Alonso, Buemi and Nakajima currently have a 31 point lead following the #7’s technical difficulties at Spa last month and are undoubtedly favourites. It would have to go catastrophically wrong for the #7 to win the drivers championship however, this is Le Mans, and as we all know, anything can happen…

    Toyota have already stated there will be no team orders for the race so both cars will be giving it absolutely everything.

    Don’t write off any of the privateer teams yet either. Toyota maybe out right faster, but it’s a long race. Flashback to 2017 and we had an LMP2 car leading the race with the 919 Hybrid hunting it down to the finish. The battle for best of the rest and the first of the non-hybrid contenders is to come down to the wire between Rebellion Racing and SMP Racing. The two teams have been at the front consistently throughout the season even with some minor changes to driver line ups throughout. Mathias Beche stepped into the #1 for the 1000 Miles of Sebring filling in for Andre Lotterer but has now been replaced in the #3 car by Nathanael Berthon who will partner up with Thomas Laurent and Gustavo Menezes.

    ByKolles Racing and DragonSpeed round up the LMP1 field, each fielding a single car. Le Mans is the final race for DragonSpeed who will be leaving the WEC to focus on IndyCar commitments. It’s been a difficult season for DragonSpeed who have never really proved their potential. ByKolles will be looking for a better performance to wrap up a disappointing season. Oliver Webb is back in the car this weekend alongside Tom Dillmann and Paolo Ruberti.

    The #10 DragonSpeed car will be sporting a tribute Gulf livery for its final outing in the WEC. The livery is a tribute to Gulfs three outright wins at Le Mans, each marked on the tail fin with names of 10 circuits plastered across the rear wing where Gulf took previous wins.

    SMP Racing are now without Jenson Button who left the team at the beginning of 2019 to focus on his Super GT commitments. Brendon Hartley stepped in for Sebring but has now been replaced by Stoffel Vandoorne who came on board before Spa and remains for Le Mans. Vandoorne will partner up with Vitaly Petrov and Mikhail Aleshin in the #11 SMP entry. Sergey Sirotkin steps into the #17 car, taking the wheel from Matevos Issakyan and will partner up with Egor Orudzhev and Stephane Sarrazin.

    LMP2

    Following the extension of the Le Mans grid to a record breaking 62 entries, High Class Racing and a second United Autosport entry were added to the line up which features seven entries from the FIA WEC, eight from the European Le Mans Series and two fro the Asian Le Mans Series. The WEC Championship battle has come down to the final race and is a close fought competition between the Signatech Alpine #36 entry and the #38 Jackie Chan DC Racing. Consistency from Lapierre, Negrao and Thiriet in the #36 plus a win at the 2018 Le Mans race sees them top of the championship with a four point advantage.

    Algarve Pro were forced into a late driver change prior to Le Mans with Mark Patterson suffering an injury in an event at Monza. Zollinger was drafted in to replace him and has previous Le Mans and VdeV experience under his belt. John Falb is a former LMP3 champion and is making his LMP2 debut this year. The pair are joined by ELMS Drivers Champion Andrea Pizzitola and is a fantastic addition to the team.

    Alpine have to be favourites going in to the race, with a win in 2016 and 2018 and a pair of overall podiums in 2017 and 2018, the team have the win and the championship in site. They took the win in 2018 following the exclusion of G-Drive and currently lead the championship. Nico Lapierre takes on his twelfth Le Mans 24 this year and his third in LMP2. Its an incredibly strong team with Andre Negrao and Pierre Thiriet in the line up and some of the fastest LMP2 drivers around.

    After failing to make the entry list for Le Mans last year for ARC Bratislava, Miro Konopka expanded the teams efforts in Asia to take the LMP2 Am title. The Slovakian driver is joined by Henning Enqvist and Konstantin Tereschenko.

    The #31 DragonSpeed entry is in with an outside chance of taking the LMP2 title this weekend in the final outing before the crew switch to Jota Sport for next season. DragonSpeed are in with a genuine chance of winning this weekend. With Le Mans legend Anthony Davidson behind the wheel, Roberto Gonzalez and Pastor Maldonado, the team stand a great chance.

    Duqueine Engineering are joined by FIA WEC and double Le Mans winner Romain Dumas who joins Nico Jamin and Pierre Ragues for the 24 Hour. The team are strong but lack Le Mans experience which will be critical this weekend.

    Graff only have one car entered in the 2019 race with local driver Vincent Capillaire partnering up with ELMS regulars Tristan Gommendy and Jonathan Hirschi. The team are fast and have performed well in the European Le Mans series so far this season.

    ELMS champions G-Drive Racing return again with Romain Rusinov joined this time by Jean Eric Vergne and Job van Uitert. After taking the win in 2018 but being stripped of victory in post race scrutineering, the team will be fighting hard to take the win this year. They return with an ELMS title to their names and a new colour scheme adopted from the Aurus brand. Rusinov and Vergne have campaigned Le Mans before together, Job van Uitert joins the team following a championship win in the ELMS LMP3 category last year. High Class Racing make their Le Mans debut this year, the Danish team have been racing in the ELMS with a Dallara chassis but have now made a switch to Oreca. The pace has been strong and the team have a lot of promise. Make sure to keep an eye on them as they are an outside contender this weekend. IDEC Sport have been performing well in the ELMS so far in 2019 with Paul Loup Chatin one of the fastest drivers on the grid. Memo Rojas has had a solid year with the team and Paul Lafargue, having missed the race last year through injury and surgery is back on form. Inter Europol Competition make their Le Mans debut following a successful campaign in the Asian Le Mans Series LMP3 category and made the step up this year into LMP2. It’s run by ex Zakspeed man Sascha Fassbender. They have James Winslow in to the team last minute to cover for an injured Leo Roussel, Nigel Moore and Le Mans debutant Jakub Smiechowski. Certainly one to look out for given the previous experience within the team.

    Two incredibly strong driver line ups, both cars still in contention for the title make Jackie Chan DC Racing the team to watch this weekend. The #37 car almost took the overall victory in 2017 with both cars on the podium behind the the Porsche 919 Hybrid which eventually took the win following a 45 minute chase. The team are set to drop back to a single car entry next year with a second car entered under the Jota Sport brand. The two cars are split by a single point and just 4 and 5 points respectively off the lead. Ricky Taylor steps into the #37 to replace Will Stevens who is on duty with Panis Barthez.

    Larbre regulars Ricci and Creed will once again be joined by Nic Boulle, the first driver all season to remain with the team for more than one race.

    Panis-Barthez are making their fourth appearance at Le Mans this year. The team were founded in 2016 by Olivier Panis and former Manchester United goal keeper, Fabien Barthez. This year the team will have Julien Canal, Will Stevens and Le Mans rookie Rene Binder behind the wheel. The team are campaigning just one of their ELMS Ligier’s on new Dunlop rubber. 2019 will be Canal’s 10th consecutive Le Mans 24 Hours, the first three he took wins in GT cars before making the switch to LMP2.

    Racing Team Nederland are supporting a Minardi tribute livery this year, in what will be Frits van Eerd’s last outing with the team before a switch to TDS. Giedo van der Garde led the teams best performance last time out at Spa but the team have not really delivered all season.

    RLR MSPort are a new name in LMP2 and sees LMP3 customer John Farano who is looking to take the next steps forward. Arjun Maini, the ex Formula 2 driver joins the team for Le Mans only with Norman Nato taking the place of ELMS regular Bruno Senna. Nato has winning pace from last seasons ELMS and Le Mans experience with SMP in 2018. The #28 TDS car has not achieved this season in the FIA WEC, former GTE Am driver Francois Perrodo made the switch up to LMP2 and had a strong outing at Le Mans last year, finishing fourth in the race before post race scrutineering excluded them from the results. Perrodo is joined by Loic Duval and Matthieu Vaxiviere who certainly have the outright pace to take the car to the front of the race.

    United Autosport will once again field a two car line up, the Asian Le Mans Series championship winning car will see Filipe Albuquerque, Philip Hanson and Paul di Resta behind the wheel whilst the ELMS car will be driven by Alex Brundle, Ryan Cullen and Will Owen. Podium finishers in last years race, United Autosports will be hoping for a strong performance this year. The two cars have high calibre driver line ups with impressive raw speed with Felipe Albuquerque and Paul Di Resta. The #32 has an equally impressive line up with Alex Brundle, Ryan Cullen and Will Owen partnering up. Brundle is undoubtedly fast, Ryan Cullen is quickly rising up the Prototype ranks and Will Owen knows the team well. Its the final outing for Villorba Corse and Team Manager Christian Pescatori before the team moves on to the FIA WEC and AF Corse Ferrari. The Dallara chassis has shown brief moments of promise and speed this year. Andrea Belicchi returns after injury alongside Giorgio Sernagiotto and Roberto Lacorte.

    GTE Pro

    The LM GTE Pro category consists of the usual suspects for 2019. All 10 FIA WEC entries are joined by their North American counter parts with the addition of a single entry Risi Competizione Ferrari 488 GTE, and the two car IMSA entries from Corvette, Ford and Porsche joining once again.

    Jonny Adam and Darren Turner make a welcome return to Aston Martin, joining the #97 and #95 respectively for the final race of the Super Season. The new Vantage GTE has shown promise the past season, winning in Shanghai and Spa but it been by no means a faultless season for the team with mechanical issues, challenging conditions and tyre choices all playing a part in the teams under performance this year. The team will be looking to relive their 2017 success, after all, who can forget Jonny Adam chasing down the Corvette and over taking in the dying moments of the race.

    With recent news that BMW will be bowing out of the FIA WEC, this is the teams final chance to pick up their season and get a good result. It’s been a challenging season for the German team who came into the championship with so much promise. MTEK ran the car in conjunction with the IMSA entered RLL cars so had the experience but at the end of the day, they have not delivered and will drop out of the championship after a relatively poor season. The team have worked hard all season long and although they claimed a couple of podiums along the way, they never managed a race win.

    Corvette are back for their 20th anniversary at Le Mans and what is potentially the final outing for the C7.R which looks set to be replaced by a mid engined model currently under going testing. The #63 and #64 cars will be driven by a trio of drivers, Jan Magnussen, Antonio Garcia and Mike Rockenfeller in the #63 with Oliver Gavin, Tom Milner and Marcel Fassler piloting the #64.

    Ford once again return to Le Mans with four cars, each in different liveries and each paying tribute to historic moments in Fords long racing history. It’s the teams final race with Ford backing out of the series after three seasons of racing. Team UK have been strong all season with the #66 taking the win at Spa back in 2018. Billy Johnson will be stepping into the #66 car having joined the team at Spa whilst Bomarito steps in to the #67 for his Ford Debut. Bomarito last raced at Le Mans back in 2013 but has previous experience in the GT having stepped in with Priaulx and Tincknell for the 1000 miles of Sebring.

    Ford Team USA will fight on until the end of 2019 through the remaining IMSA races before Fords official departure from GTE and a win would be a great way for Team USA to round off Fords time at Le Mans following the #68s win back in 2016. Joey Hand, Richard Westbrook and Dirk Muller return alongside Sebastien Bourdais, Ryan Briscoe and Scott Dixon.

    Ferrari return with the same line up as last year, Daniel Serra joining the #51 car whilst Miguel Molina steps back into the #71 line up. Its been a difficult season for Ferrari in some respects. Porsche have a substantial lead in the championship meaning the best the Italian marque can hope for this year is third in the championship for the #51. The #51 car has been consistently on the podium with the exception of the first round of the Silverstone back at Silverstone in 2018, taking a win, a second place and three fourth places. The #71 car on the other hand have a single third place finish to their name, their best result of the season which came at Silverstone right back at the beginning of the super season. Since then, it has been a string of poor results with a best finish of sixth in the subsequent races. Miguel Molina joins the team for one final push at Le Mans.

    Porsche return to Le Mans knowing that come Sunday afternoon, one of the cars will claim the GT Drivers Endurance Championship. It’s not always been the fastest but time after time, they have finished on the podium and won races. They took the manufacturers title at Spa with a 93 point lead over Ferrari. Estre and Christensen currently lead Bruni and Lietz by 36 points. Laurens Vanthoor will step into the #91 this week with Fred Makowiecki jumping into the #92. Patrick Pilet will join Nick Tandy and Earl Bamber in the #93 whilst the #94 will have Mathieu Jaminet, Sven Muller and Dennis Olsen behind the wheel.

    GTE AM

    As per GTE Pro, the GTE AM category features 17 cars this year and for the first time, will contain a Ford GT in its ranks, entered by American team Keating Motorsport. Weathertech Racing join the grid from the IMSA WeatherTech series with Cooper MacNeil, Robert Smith and Toni Vilander in the cockpit in a Ferrari 488 GTE, one of six in the class.

    Having won the class in the Asian Le Mans Series, Car Guy Racing join the grid for the first time with the highlighter yellow #57 488 GTE with Kei Cozzolino, Takeshi Kimura and Come Ledogar sharing the driving.

    Its been a long time since the #98’s last win, the 2018 6 Hours of Spa. The 2017 champions have had a difficult time this season and a win at La Sarthe has always eluded the long standing trio of Dalla Lana, Lauda and Lamy. A win for the team would be a great result for the crew.

    This year, Clearwater Racing return to Le Mans with a different driver line up following the departure of Weng Sun Mok and Keita Sawa, leaving just Matt Griffin in the car. Luis Perez Companc and Matteo Cressoni stepped into replace them and so far have had a difficult season. The car was terminally damaged before the race at Sebring following a big crash in night practice but they fought back to third at Spa.

    Dempsey Proton have had a turbulent season thus far, having taken race wins early on before having all of their points docked at Fuji for data tampering. The #77 has had further wins at Shanghai, Sebring and Spa and could still claim the championship with a good result and the odds in their favour here at Le Mans. Proton are fielding four cars this time out with the #77 joined by the the WEC #88 and the two ELMS cars, the #78 which features Bentley Boy Vincent Abril and Louis and Phillippe Prette. None of the crew have raced at Le Mans before and this is their first race together in the 911 RSR. And finally, there is the Krohn backed #99 featuring Tracy Krohn and Nic Jonsson who return for the 14th consecutive time. They will be joined by Porsche factory driver Patrick Long.

    It’s been a challenging season for Gulf Racing, the team unable to find the podium so far. Their performance will hinge on Mike Wainright having a good weekend as the tother two drivers certainly have the pace to run at the front. Preining has had a good strong year in his debutant season in the WEC and has a strong future ahead. Ben Barker is arguably one of the fastest Porsche drivers on the planet and more than capable of putting the car at the front.

    Kessel Racing make their official Le Mans debut this weekend however, they have previous experience at Le Mans running under the Scuderia Corsa banner. The #60 Ferrari earns its place having won the 2018 Michelin Le Mans Cup whilst the all female #83 car arrives via a partnership between the ACO and the FIA Women in Motorsport Commission. Both cars do however race full time in the 2019 ELMS with Kessel looking at a one car entry to the 2019/20 FIA WEC.

    Keating Motorsports make a return to Le Mans but this time in a Wynn’s liveried Ford GT, the first customer Ford GT to be entered and the teams first time with the car. Its the race winning 2016 chassis so it has history and potential to run well this weekend. The team have limited time with the car however, but there is plenty of time for practice before the big race on Saturday. Bleekemolen, Keating and Fraga are one of the stronger line ups in the class.

    JMW won the GTE Am class back in 2017 and all three drivers certainly have plenty of GT experience with them having been competing in the World Challenge America series but only one of them Segal, has a Le Mans start to his name.

    MR Racing entered the WEC at the start of the 2018 but have failed to make a mark on the championship. Ishikawa has struggled with pace and although the team has the backing of AF Corsa, and two quick drivers in the form of Cheever and Beretta, a good result here may be a struggle. This will be Beretta’s 23rd consecutive appearance at Le Mans, a record that also has six class wins and five podium finishes included.

    Project 1, on their debut season currently top the championship by 23 points. Its been an impressive season for the team with five straight podium finishes, including a win at Fuji. Patrick Lindsey, Egidio Perfetti and Jorg Bergmeister are certainly in a strong position but as we all know, anything could happen at Le Mans.

    Spirit of Race have had a good year in the WEC and present a genuine risk to Project 1 claiming the championship. They’ve not won any races but have had two second places finishes and two fourth places. They’re 23 points off the lead but are still mathematically in with a shot.

    TF Sport may be running the oldest car in the class, but they have a genuine shot at taking the GTE Am win and class title albeit, they have a 26 point deficit to over come first. A win and some poor luck for the other entrants however, could swing things their way.

    Cooper MacNeil returns for a fifth time to Le Mans in the company of 2017 class winner Rob Smith and double GTE Pro Le Mans winner Toni Vilander. The trio will race the Weather Tech Racing Ferrari 488 GTE topped the class times in test day following an over night flight from Detroit (for Macneil and Vilander) and Paul Ricard (for Rob Smith). The car certainly has potential and is being managed by Scuderia Corsa who took the AM win back in 2016.

  • Toyota Lead The Way At Quarter Distance

    The #7 Toyota TS050 has led the way in the opening six hours of the Le Mans 24 Hours, with Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and Jose Maria Lopez not relinquishing their lead throughout the opening stages.

    Making a quick getaway from pole position, the sister #8 couldn’t challenge from second as Sebastien Buemi found himself briefly relegated to third by a hard-charging Gustavo Menezes in the #3 Rebellion Racing R13. Menezes had a straight-line speed advantage over the Toyota, but Buemi’s acceleration out of the corners allowed him to quickly nip back up into second. By that point, though, Conway had powered off into the distance and was adding chunks of time to his advantage every lap as the #8 struggled for pace around the Circuit De La Sarthe. Throughout the opening quarter of the race, the front of the field continued much in that fashion with the #7’s lead ever so slightly decreasing as Fernando Alonso – in the #8 as the first six hours reached its conclusion – started to eat into the deficit.

    As 9pm local time came up on the clocks, the #7’s lead is down to 22 seconds as the field bunches up under a safety car following a crash for Marcel Fassler in the #64 Corvette Racing C7.R at the Porsche Curves. The American car went off after receiving contact from the #88 Dempsey-Proton Porsche which has been having a race to forget after an early spin from the lead of GTE Am while Satoshi Hoshino was behind the wheel. With the Toyotas comprehensively in the lead, albeit with the #7 extending its advantage over the #8, the focus of the LMP1 class fell to the captivating battle for third between the #3 Rebellion and the #11 SMP Racing BR1.

    For the majority of the opening quarter, third belonged to the Swiss team but throughout his stint Stoffel Vandoorne in the Russian car was gradually looming ever larger in Nathaniel Berthon’s mirrors. The eventual move didn’t come on track. A slow stop for the #3 as Berthon handed the car over to Thomas Laurent allowed Vandoorne to power past before making his own handover to Mikhail Aleshin. A slick stop from SMP allowed the #11 to swoop out ahead.

    However, just as the six-hour mark was reached Laurent had a better restart after the safety car – to recover the stricken Corvette – came back in. Tucking himself underneath the rear-wing of the BR1 coming out of a slow zone at the second chicane on the Mulsanne Straight, Laurent was all over the back of Aleshin, eventually making his move at the Porsche Curves. Fifth is currently safely in the hands of the second SMP car, which has a two-lap advantage over the #1 Rebellion which lost time in the opening hour with a puncture.

    A frenetic LMP2 battle currently has Signatech Alpine leading the way after a mega back-and-forth battle between the French team and G-Drive Racing in the last couple of hours which has seen the crews swapping the top spot on a number of occasions. With strategies roughly similar, the action has been taking place out on track with Job Van Uitert fending off the advances of fellow Silver – but less experienced – Pierre Thiriet during the pair’s respective stints. The Dutchman’s hard work was undone though, as the team was slapped with a ten-second penalty for speeding under a Full Course Yellow. The additional delay handed Signatech the lead, but that seemingly fired up Roman Rusinov – who took over from Van Uitert – as he bridged the gap and retook the top spot in class. However, that changed again just before the end of the sixth hour as Andre Negrao stuck his elbows out and muscled his way past Rusinov at the second Mulsanne chicane.

    Third was held by the DragonSpeed entry with Pastor Maldonado finding his way past the #38 Jackie Chan DC Racing Oreca – which had pitted just before a full course yellow was called to recover the stricken Spirit of Race Ferrari as Francesco Castellacci had a wild spin at the Porsche Curves and beached the 488 in the gravel. With its rivals able to pit under the caution, the #38 dropped from third to fourth.

    The GTE Pro battle has been a merry-go-round for most of the opening quarter as a number of teams have taken stints at the head of the field. The pole-sitting #95 Aston Martin Racing Vantage started by Nicki Thiim found itself quickly relegated to second as Antonio Garcia powered the #63 Corvette up the field in the opening hour and into a lead he retained for a significant chunk of the running as the American muscle car proved it had the speed at Le Mans. However, as the race went into the evening, the Porsche GT Team showed its hand with the #92 and #93 Porsche 911 RSRs moving to the fore as Laurens Vanthoor and Nick Tandy – normally team-mates in IMSA competition – squabbled between themselves for the lead. Despite Daniel Serra briefly taking the lead in the #51 AF Corse Ferrari just before the safety car was called to recover Fassler’s C7.R, he ended the sixth hour in second as Kevin Estre – who took over from Tandy – reclaimed the lead as the pitstops started to cycle through. The sole Corvette – taken over again by Garcia – currently runs in third, with the #67 Ford Chip Ganassi Team UK Ford GT of Harry Tincknell in fourth.

    GTE Am continued to be dominated by the Keating Motorsport Ford GT as Felipe Fraga and Jeroen Bleekemolen did a great job to power the Blue Oval up through the class and into a commanding lead. Thanks to a clean run, they have a three-minute lead over the #84 JMW Motorsports Ferrari. Third is the #56 Team Project 1 Porsche with the WeatherTech Racing 488 further back in fourth.

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