The Spa 1000kms has attracted the largest entry of the season, with nearly 40 cars applying to take part in the final event of the 2004 Le Mans Endurance Series and nearly half of them are prototype cars.
A mix of Ferraris, Porsches and TVRs will race against thoroughbred racing cars such as Audi's R8, Courage, Dallara and Zytek. A thrilling battle for team honours is in store, with three of the four classes still open and very close going into the final event.
New teams and new cars will feature at one of the finest European circuits this weekend. Courage Competition is battling with Pierre Bruneau's Pilbeam at the head of the LMP2 class but fresh competition comes from the Lucchini Engineering team, winners of the FIA Sports Car Championship SR2 category in 2002 and 2003. Filippo Francioni, Pierguiseppe Peroni and Mirko Savoldi will drive the Judd V8-powered Lucchini on its debut, bringing the total number of prototypes entered this weekend to an impressive 19.
The black Zytek, which sat on pole position at Silverstone in the hands of Robbie Kerr, will not race at Spa but the little British manufacturer will be represented once again by British teams Creation and Jota. Nicolas Minassian put the Creation car on pole position at the Nurburgring 1000kms in July, and the team will be aiming for a second overall podium in the series this weekend.
GT class numbers have been boosted by the Italian Autorlando team entering two cars, one for Piers Masarati and Liz Halliday, and a second for Mauro Casadei, Jim Michaelian and Francois Labhardt. British teams RSR Racing and IN2 Racing will make their debuts with TVRs and a Porsche GT3RSR, and Denis Cohignac will race a Porsche with Sylvain Noel and Daniel Desbrueres in a team bearing his own name for the first time this year.
Henri Pescarolo will run Jean-Marc Gounon alongside Soheil Ayari in the Judd-powered car for the first time. "I have been interested in running Gounon for a long time and it was possible for him to drive with me at Spa," said Pescarolo, who has run Emmanuel Collard and Eric Helary alongside Ayari this year. "I didn't go to Silverstone because we were doing some aerodynamic development work, and I think that we will be more competitive in Belgium." Gounon has won the LMP2 category twice this season with the Courage, shared with Sam Hancock and Alexander Frei, the driver combination currently fifth overall in the teams' classification.
French team Larbre Competition, which has featured the superbly successful Ferrari 550 Maranello, will also enter the LMP1 class with the closed-top Panoz for the first time since the inaugural round of the series at Le Mans in November 2003. Sebastien Dumez, Olivier Dupard and Jean-Luc Blanchimain will drive the only closed-top prototype in the field.
The battle for the inaugural LMP1 title includes the Audi Sport UK Team Veloqx, which lies first and second in the category. Allan McNish and Pierre Kaffer lead their team-mates Johnny Herbert and Jamie Davies, the two Audis sharing the class wins so far this year despite some fantastic opposition from the Zytek cars. The GTS-class Larbre Competition Ferrari 550 Maranello of Christophe Bouchut, Pedro Lamy and Steve Zacchia has already won its class, though the Barron Connor Ferrari 575 of Thomas Biagi, Danny Sullivan and John Bosch can match its total number of points should it win at Spa.
Pierre Bruneau and Marc Rostan lead the LMP2 class from Alexander Frei's Courage, which is just three points behind going into the final round. Russian Roman Rusinov and Frenchman Stephane Daoudi hold a slender one point lead in the GT category in their JMB Racing Ferrari 360 Modena over the Sebah Automotive Porsche.