A new prototype championship will launch in 2009, hoping to provide up and coming talent as well as gentlemen drivers a fast track to Le Mans. The Automobile Club de l'Ouest announced Thursday the formation of Formula Le Mans, a spec series run in conjunction with Hugues de Chaunac and Oreca.

"I'm very enthusiastic about this joint initiative with the ACO," de Chaunac said. "Endurance is attracting more and more drivers and Formula Le Mans will enable them to find out what it's like to drive a prototype on the mythic endurance circuits. It's also the start of a feeder formula that help all those who want to succeed in this very demanding branch of the sport, in which experience is more than ever a determining factor."

Oreca will build twenty identically prepared LM P2-derived cars. The 420 bhp, open-top prototype will be similar in build to the successful Courage LC75s seen in P2. There will be fourteen races spread over seven race weekends in 2009, run alongside the Le Mans Series for five, and two race meetings at yet-to-be-determined venues.

"Outside the Le Mans Series and the American Le Mans Series, there was no feeder formula to enable drivers to race the prototypes that create the magic of the Le Mans 24 Hours," said ACO President Jean-Claude Plassart. "With Formula Le Mans, we've fulfilled this need. The very famous ACO Driving School will offer a prototype 'Volant' from 2009 onwards, the winner of which will move up to Formula Le Mans."

Each race weekend will comprise of two-one hour races, providing excitement to compliment the big boys in P1 and P2. Each Formula Le Mans car must have two drivers, with a mandatory pit stop required for a driver change.

"I think that more and more young drivers or gentleman drivers are attracted by the endurance and they wanted to know how to approach such races," de Chaunac said. "This is the best step for them before going into LM P2, or a GT car before doing a 1000km race."

While mainly based in Europe, there's a possibility of Formula Le Mans expanding to different countries, such as the United States. But de Chaunac said the focus right now is on developing the first series and as well as the first batch of cars.

"It's a spec car and we're going to be in the first series with 20 cars,"de Chaunac added. "After that, we will develop this series in different countries. It could be the U.S., it could be in Asia; it could somewhere else. But the first step will be to build 20 cars for next year."