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 Brendon Hartley stepped in for Sebring but has now been replaced by Stoffel Vandoorne who came on board before Spa and remains for Le Mans.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.