Anticipation building for Le Mans 24H

Anticipation building for Le Mans 24H

With the first day of qualifying for the 24 Hours of Le Mans only one week away, a lot of off-track action has occurred since the end of last Sunday's official test day at Circuit de La Sarthe. Whether it be finalizing driver lineups or recovering...

With the first day of qualifying for the 24 Hours of Le Mans only one week away, a lot of off-track action has occurred since the end of last Sunday's official test day at Circuit de La Sarthe. Whether it be finalizing driver lineups or recovering from setbacks faced at the test day, all 55 teams are now busy preparing for the twice-around-the-clock French classic.

#26 Team Bruichladdich Radical Radical SR9 AER: Ben Devlin, Marc Rostan.
Photo by Eric Gilbert.

Gunnar Jeannette has been named the third driver for Team Bruichladdich's Radical SR9 AER in the LM P2 class. The quick American has previously taken part in six Le Mans, including a very memorable drive in 2003. Jeannette, then in a LM P900 Panoz, held off a hard-charging Jean-Marc Gounon late in the race to claim fifth overall. Jeannette joins fellow American Le Mans Series competitor Ben Devlin and Le Mans Series regular Marc Rostan in the Radical for this year's race.

There were some other notable additions to the roster that happened prior to the test day. This included the signing of Johnny Mowlem and Marc Goosssens to Creation AIM, joining team regular Stuart Hall. Stuart Moseley, meanwhile, has inked a deal to drive for Barazi-Epsilon, teaming with Juan Barazi and Michael Vergers. Chinese A1GP racer Cong Fu Cheng has been a late addition to Saulnier Racing's LM P2 Pescarolo, while Brazilian Alexandre Negrao is Vitaphone Racing's new third driver.

In LM GT2, three Ferrari teams now boast strong lineups, headed by the AF Corse entry for Toni Vilander, Thomas Biagi and Christian Montanari. Defending Le Mans Series champions Virgo Motorport also has a speedy trio, with Rob Bell, Tim Sugden and Tim Mullen joining the fray. Finally, BMS Scuderia Italia shouldn't be overlooked either, as the all-Italian arsenal of Paolo Ruberti, Matteo Malucelli and Fabio Babini should be strong contenders as well.

Many teams are busy rebuilding cars after suffering setbacks in the test day. The No. 7 Team Peugeot Total 908 HDi-FAP is the most significant of those entries. The diesel-powered LM P1 coupe was totaled in 270-kph+ high-speed crash, sending driver Marc Gene to a local hospital. Gene suffered only minor injuries and will be fit for the race, but the French team is now working on building up a new chassis. They will have to get special dispensation from race organizers to do so, but it's unlikely there will be any problems.

Epsilon Euskadi team members at work.
Photo by Eric Gilbert.

Despite only getting one race entry, Epsilon Euskadi came to Le Mans with both of its new Judd-powered P1 coupes. The No. 20 car of Angel Burgueno, Miguel Angel de Castro and Adrian Valles ran at the test day, but Frenchman Jean-Marc Gounon was also seen at the wheel of the car. Gounon, as well as fellow veteran pilots Stefan Johansson and Shinji Nakano are now in a waiting game to see if they will get a drive this year. The Spanish team hopes the Automobile Club de l'Ouest (ACO) will allow its second car an entry, if one of the 55 cars withdraws before the race. However, the organizers have already stipulated that the deadline for letting reserve cars in has passed. Epsilon Euskadi's second car was the first entry on the reserve list.

A small amount of bio fuel will be used for the first time to power the Audi R10 TDIs. Biomass to Liquid (BTL) technology is being mixed into the proven Gas to Liquid (GTL) formula that Shell, which supplies fuel to the three Audi R10 TDIs. When used in pure form, BTL reduces the amount of CO2 emissions by almost 90 percent compared to traditional diesel fuel.

"Audi voiced its support early for the use of next generation Biofuels at Le Mans," explains Michael Dick, Member of the Board of Management of AUDI AG with responsibility for Technical Development. "It underlines our philosophy that we view Le Mans as a tough test field for new technologies which will be available at a later date in production cars for our customers. The ACO provides the opportunity to use alternative drive concepts and fuels, which we exploit to the full."

Last week, the ACO announced the cancellation of the Shanghai 1000km, a standalone Le Mans-sanctioned race originally slated for November. The current world economic state and this summer's Olympic games in Beijing were contributing factors to the cancellation. Despite the setback, the ACO is still moving ahead with plans of launching the Asian Le Mans Series in 2009.

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Series Le Mans
Drivers Stefan Johansson , Marc Gene , Shinji Nakano , Michael Vergers , Ben Devlin , Rob Bell , Gunnar Jeannette , Johnny Mowlem , Christian Montanari , Tim Sugden , Fabio Babini , Jean-Marc Gounon , Eric Gilbert , Marc Rostan , Tim Mullen , Thomas Biagi , Adrian Valles , Stuart Hall , Matteo Malucelli , Paolo Ruberti , Stuart Moseley , Angel Burgueño , Toni Vilander , Cong Fu Cheng