Can Toyota or Porsche break Audi's stranglehold upon Circuit de la Sarthe this year? As this year's 83rd running of le 24 Heurs du Mans sees an up swell in the top flight LMP1 Prototypes entered, comprising one-fourth of the 56-car field...
PROTOTYPES - P1 Class
Once again, Audi seeks another victory vs. rivals Toyota and Porsche, along with the return of Nissan with its radical front wheel drive chassis. As Audi, Porsche and Nissan will enter three cars apiece, while Toyota brings just two entries to France, as these four teams will comprise the bulk of the top flight LMP1 category, all being Hybrids.
Chassis: R18 e-tron Quattro
Engine: 4.0-liter V-6 TDi (turbo diesel)
7) Benoit Treluyer, Marcel Fasller and Andre Lotterer
8) Oliver Jarvis, Loic Duval and Lucas di Grassi
9) , Marco Bonanomi, Felipe Albuquerque and René Rast
Obviously, the biggest news is the retirement of "Mr. Le Mans," aka Tom Kristensen, when the record winning nine times 'Dane decided to hang up is helmet at the end of season last year. As Oliver Jarvis has been promoted to Kristensen's full-time drive, while Rene Rast takes over Jarvis's vacated seat in the third Le Mans entry.
Yet the defending 24-hours champion Audi squad remains intact and the Audi's and their R18 E-tron Quattro's seem pretty invincible at Le Mans with this year's chassis being a refinement of previous year's winners.
Having won the 2015 season opener at Silverstone this April, followed by another victory at Spa in May with both races being won by the No. 7 crew who've won le 24 Heurs du Mans three-times under the guidance of female engineer Leena Gade at the helm.
Alas, will Audi score its 14th overall victory or is this the year that somebody, nee Toyota or Egads, Porsche finally beats them?
Chassis: 919 Hybrid
Engine: 2.0-liter V-4 turbo
17) Timo Bernard, Mark Webber and Brendon Hartley
18) Romain Dumas, Neil Jani and Marc Lieb
19) Nico Hulkenberg, Earl Bamber and Nick Tandy
Porsche won its first WEC race at last year's season finale in Sao Paulo, Brazil and is expecting more wins this year, having given strong chase to Audi in the opening two rounds where the No. 18 has finished runner-up at both Silverstone and Spa by a combined total of 17-plus seconds after twelve hours of racing.
Its core full season driver line-ups remain the same with the addition of Formula 1's Nico Hulkenberg spearheading the third entry alongside two GT drivers, as the Kiwi Earl Bamber, not to be confused with Brendon Hartley, has won championships in Porsche Supercup and Nick Tandy is a well established 911Panzerwagon name...
Chassis: GTR-LM NISMO
Engine: 3.0-liter V-6 twin turbo
21) Tsugio Matsuda, Lucas Ordóñez and Alex Buncombe
22) Harry Tincknell, Olivier Pla and Michael Krum
23) Max Chilton, Marc Gene and Jann Mardenborough
This is the chassis that most intrigues Mwah, as it immediately made me think of that 'Ol Panoz "Batmobile" front engine Le Mans Prototype racer 'O Yesteryear, which I always thought was a very kOOL car, even having gone so far to acquiring one in 1:18 Diecast scale way back when...
The car's been designed by Ben Bolby of IndyCar Delta Wing fame, or was it fury? Having read that the main design brief was make it something different than a Audi copy, for which Bolby's done wonders with!
The team and car are in their infancy, with an eclectic mix of nine drivers including past Formula 1 Aces, GT1 Champion and Nissan Playstation Academy winners, who are not expected to win their debutant Le Mans outing, but hopefully the revolutionary chassis will put in a good initial showing this year.
Chassis: TS040 Hybrid
Engine: 3.7-liter Normally Aspirated V-8
1) Anthony Davidson, Sebastien Buemi and Kazuki Nakajima*
2) Alexander Wurz, Mike Conway and Stephane Sarrazin
(Test/Reserve Driver: Kamui Kobayashi)
The defending FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) series champions remain largely unchanged, with the only major driver change being the addition of IndyCar winner Mike Conway with Kazuki Nakajima switching to the No. 1 entry as Nicolas Lapierre's replacement.
The reigning WEC championship team looks somewhat off the pace this year so far, having struggled to keep up with the increased speed of the Audi's and Porsche's. Not to mention Nakajima suffered a broken vertebra at Spa and realistically won't be healed in time, which probably will see Test/Reserve Driver "K-Squared," aka Kamui Kobayashi, a former Toyota, Sauber and Caterham Formula 1 driver filling in for his injured countryman...
4) Kolles: Simon Trummer, Vitantonio Liuzzi and Pierre Kaffer
12) Rebellion: Nicholas Prost, Nick Heidfeld and Mathias Beche
13) Rebellion: Alexandre Imperatori, Dominik Kraihamer and Daniel Abt
There are three Privateer entries in the LMP1L category, spearheaded by the mystery by Kolles CLM1 racecar, as in Dr. Colin Kolles of Hispania, Force India and Spyker F1 fame along with Rebellion Racing's usual two car entry, with all three chassis utilizing the AER V-6 biturbo lump.
Cannot find anything substantive on Kolles racecar which is denoted as a CLM1 which speculation suggests it stood for Caterham Le Mans?
Although I liken the C could stand for Dr. Colin Kolles instead, eh?
As it seemingly bears strong resemblance to the Lotus T-129 or CLM P1/01 chassis, which were designed specifically for the new LMP1L class, while apparently having some legal wrangling surrounding its production. As these three racecars will have their own intra-class scrum for non-Hybrid powered Privateer entries whilst the Factory Hybrid LMP1's are definitely faster...
28) Gustavo Yacaman, Ricardo Gonzalez and Pipo Derani
30) Scott Sharp, Ryan Dalziel and David HeinemeierHanssen
31) Ed Brown, Johannes van Overbeek and John Fogarty
37) Mikhail Aleshin
40) Tracy Krohn, Niclas Jonsson
Several names jumped out at Mwah in the LMP2 category; with its 19 entrants being the largest class at this year's Le Mans race. As Gustavo Yacaman is an ex-Indy Lights competitor with 'Rooskie Mikhail Aleshin racing for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports IndyCar team last season.
Also from the states are Scotty Sharp & Ed Brown's Extreme Speed Motorsports squad, which I previously noted their switchover from the disappointing Honda ARX-04b chassis to Ligier JSP2's motivated by Honda instead, whilst Tracy Krohn's Ligier Sports Car is Judd powered.
Interestingly, this class features two Russian Flagged racing teams: G-Drive Racing (#26, 28) and SPM Racing (#27, 37) with two cars apiece entered. As G-Drive Racing appears to be run by France's LMP2 Constructor Oak Racing, with its #26 entry fielding a stout lineup of Russian Roman Rusinov, France's Julien Canal and Great Brittan's Sam Bird, a past Russiantime GP2 series championship runner-up.
Current GP2 'Kiwi standout Mitch Evans will co-drive Jota Sport's No. 38 and ex-F1 Indian driver Karun "Cowboy" Chandhok will pilot the #48, whilst I've overlooked another past name; Sweden's Bjorn Wirdheim, co-driving the #41...
63) Jan Magnussen, Antonio Garcia and Ryan Briscoe
64) Oliver Gavin, Tommy Milner and Jordan Taylor
Should be another epic Tintops Scrum between la Scuderia, nee Ferrari and Corvette with the usual smattering of Porsche 911's and Aston Martins.
Another noted Open Wheel Racing standout in the class with numerous European Feeder Series drivers is GP3 New Zealander Richie Stanaway chauffeuring the No. 99 Aston Martin...
53) Jeroen Bleekemolen, Ben Keating and Marc Miller
62) William Sweedler, Townsend Bell
77) Patrick Dempsey, Patrick Long and Marco Seefried
Presuming that William is some gussied up European idea for who we Stateside call Bill; Hya! As one entry list I'd scanned had his name listed that way. Whilst "Peacock-lite" IndyCar TV Booth Boy and Indy 500 competitor Townsend Bell will be his normal co-driver with a third partner listed as TBA, as the Scuderia Corsa makes up part of Ferrari's potent lineup.
"Dr. McDreamy," aka Patrick Dempsey will race a Porsche 911 alongside Factory Hotschue Patrick Long, while my sentimental favourite for class winners without doubt is the No. 53 Riley Motorsports TI Automotive Dodge Viper, having been elevated from its first reserve spot, as how can Yuhs root against the iconic Dodge Viper at le Sarthe!
Driver lineup's are not complete and subject to change - as I've just gleamed what I could Pre-race via that A-L-L Knowing & Always correct Zed Internetz...
Surprisingly stumbled into the truncated 1.5hr FS1 (Fox Sports) airing of the Spa 6hrs race on May 2nd and watched a Humdinger, or as Jonathan Green calls I-T; "A KuRR-RACKING RACE! Hooah! As the #7 Audi held off the #18 Porsche by the slender margin of some 13-seconds after a hard fought six hours enduro, in which Messer Green noted that the next round, the Mack Daddy 'O Endurance Racing, i.e.; Le Mans would be available on all of Fox's TV platforms...
AS ALWAYS! Check your local listings...