Who will take all the glory at Le Mans? Audi, Porsche, or Toyota?
The 2014 24 Hours of Le Mans is shaping up to be one of the most riveting in years. Seven factory LMP1 teams will due battle around the 8.5 mile sacred racing grounds of Le Mans. After 24 hours, only one team, three drivers, will be able to call themselves victors.
The Tyrant - Audi
2009 was the last time a team other than Audi claimed emerged victorious at Le Mans and you have to go all the way back to 1999 for the last time they went winless for more than a single year. To make that stat even less comforting to their adversaries, Audi wasn't even there to try in 1998.
They have been unstoppable but there seems to be a chink in their armor this year. Porsche and Toyota have been able to match their pace, even running faster at times. All three Audis qualified behind both Porsches and Toyotas in fifth, sixth, and seventh. They failed to win either of the first two WEC races this year too. Add onto all those tidbits the fact that their original No. 1 Audi was torn to shreds in a terrifying airborne accident on Wednesday.
Could they lose their crown in 2014? Well, it wouldn't be all that surprising because the Toyotas have been blistering fast all year and, oh, did I mention that 'The King' is back?
The King - Porsche
Yes, 'The King' of Le Mans has returned to reclaim their crown from Audi. They earned 16 overall victories (a record) in a period of 29 years between 1970 and 1998. 1998 also happens to be the most recent year an Audi wasn't entered and the last time Porsche had a factory effort in the field. In laymen's terms, this is the first time we will get to see these two titans go head-to-head at Circuit de la Sarthe.
Tom Kristensen is the crown jewel for Audi, serving as one of their drivers in seven of their 12 triumphs. An interesting fact that you should know is that Tom first won Le Mans back in 1997 .... for Porsche. Now, he will battle the manufacturer that carried him to sports car immortality so many years ago as he tries to deny them a return to the top.
Porsche is fast, but not as fast as these guys...
The Wildcard - Toyota
In 2012, we saw Toyota's first works entry at Le Mans since 1999, a race they won pole for before finishing second. Their return was nothing short of a disaster. Partway through the race, the Toyota of Anthony Davidson went flying through the air before crashing heavily into a tire barrier. He was severely injured but survived to race another day. The second Toyota went out with a whimper, retiring with engine issues a few hours later.
In 2013, they came back stronger and wiser. They brought home finishes of second and fourth, with the leading Toyota just one lap adrift of the winning Audi. In 2014, they've struck fear into the minds and hearts of all their competitors by winning the first two WEC races of the year; going 1-2 at Silverstone and 1-3 at Spa. Just last night, they earned pole position for this year's race and are, in the minds of many, the team to beat.
The Dreamers - Rebellion
Rebellion Racing goes into Le Mans as the only privateer team daring to go up against the factory giants. They've been trying for a few years to be the Le Mans miracle and steal an overall victory, but to no avail. They've finished as high as fourth in 2012, but crossed the line 12 laps down to the race-winning Audi.
In reality, there is no way they can win unless some serious dramas slow the charge of all seven factory teams, while Rebellion has an impeccable showing. The chances of that are slim to none, but this LMP1-L entry comes back every year regardless.
Toyota looks to be the favorite for this race and will lead the field to the green flag on Saturday. Audi has had a forgettable week with their flagship car, the No. 1 Audi, crashing twice. The first was ripped to shreds and the ACO/doctors are forcing driver Loic Duval to sit out the race.
Porsche is the most successful manufacturer in Le Mans history and return to the sacred racing grounds of Le Mans for the first time since 1998, a race they won by the way. They have been quietly consistent and that's a good thing, especially in an endurance race like this. Rebellion, as always, will only be able to snag an overall victory if catastrophic issues plague all seven of their LMP1 rivals and bring their races to a screeching halt.
This is also an entertaining factoid to ponder...we are all anxiously awaiting the first head-to-head matchup between the two most successful names in the history of this event (Audi and Porsche). Audi released this 'Welcome Back' video, toying with Porsche as that No. 1 car did burnouts in front of the Porsche HQ.
Now I want you to think about where the flagship No. 1 Audi was virtually eviscerated this past week. The Porsche Curves. Funny how fate would have it that way...
No matter who prevails over Le Mans this weekend, one thing is for certain; it's going to be one spectacular race.