At its annual press conference during the 24 Hours of Le Mans weekend, the ACO (Automobile Club de l'Ouest) expanded the scope of its racing programs with a pair of new trophies, and unveiled a new Pescarolo-designed-and-built endurance racing car for its racing driver training program.
The significant announcement was the creation of an "intercontinental trophy," to be awarded on the basis of the LM P1 (effectively overall) results in a combination of six to eight races in the Le Mans Series in Europe and Asia, and the American Le Mans series.
The set of qualifying races will not include ACO's crown jewel, the 24 Hours, but we can expect to see at least two events on each continent: this might include such premier races as Spa-Francorchamps and Silverstone on the European circuit, and Sebring and Petit Le Mans in the ALMS. Clearly the ACO wants to encourage cross-pollination and participation in the other two series, making Le Mans-style racing even more global than it is today.
The second trophy is designed to increase the level of co-operation between the Le Mans 24 Hours and the Nurburgring 24 Hours, as organized by ADAC (Allgemeiner Deutscher Automobil Club). Adding to the combination Le Mans-Nurburgring tickets sold to the fans -- at an attractive price of 99 euros -- this year, the two are now awarding an honorary trophy before each of the two races.
Romain Dumas was awarded the first trophy -- granted to a deserving Frenchman -- before the Nurburgring 24H. Dumas followed up the honour by taking his third consecutive win for Manthey Porsche, partnering with Marcel Tiemann, Marc Lieb and Timo Bernhard (who, like Dumas, is driving an Audi R15 TDI this weekend).
ACO, which in turn awards its version of the trophy to a German sportsman, responded today by granting it to Jurgen Barth, the winner of the 1977 Le Mans 24H in a Porsche 936 with Jacky Ickx and Hurley Haywood, and three years later won the Nurburgring 1000 km with Rolf Stommelen in the remarkable Porsche 908/3. In total, he participated in the Sarthe classic 13 times between 1971 and 1993.
ACO is introducing a new track into its driver education program, which currently sees some 2500 students pass its courses each year. Until now, the school has offered open-wheel and rally driving tracks, but it will now offer a full-fledged endurance racing program aimed at training young racers in the skills needed for the Le Mans Series and other endurance races.
The four school graduates on Saturday's starting grid -- Sebastien Bourdais, Romain Dumas, Simon Pagenaud and Stephane Sarrazin -- all completed the single-seater program, and ended up at the June endurance classic only after a detour from their single-seater career path.
The new car bears an uncanny resemblance to the Pescarolo 01 LM P1 car, but is designed for training use. With either a Corvette V8 or a Nissan V6 engine in the back, the car will have approximately 360 hp on tap. A carbon-fibre monocoque, a sequential gearbox and the Le Mans looks should make the car a perfect stepping stone for young pilots aspiring to participate in the 24 Hours.