While this year's Le Mans 24-Hour race had no British entered cars on the grid, perhaps for the first time in the event's history, there should be a strong revival next June with two-car teams from Bentley and MG among the 48 accepted. A source at Longbridge reveals that three teams are under consideration to run the MGs, and in all probabililty the decision will go to Michael Cane's GTC Motorsport in Cranleigh, Surrey.
The names of six drivers should be known in January. GTC has a particularly good record at Le Mans, including second overall with the Gulf McLaren (1st in GT) in 1997, and fifth overall with Thomas Bscher's BMW LMP in 1999. The first MG Le Mans car should be ready for testing in March, and of course two MGs will be at Le Mans for the test day on 6 May. The cars will be powered by 2-litre, four-cylinder turbocharged engines developed by an Essex company, Advanced Engine Research.
Frank Dernie has designed the MG Le Mans car, while aerodynamic styling is the work of Peter Stevens, Rover's design director, who styled the McLaren F1 GTR that won the 24-Hour race in 1995, and the BMW F1 LMR that won in 1999. "It is looking very good in the wind tunnel" says Stevens. David Bowes, managing director of Lola Cars International, says that this is his company's fourth sports car design in two years, and it is "the most technically advanced sports car Lola has ever designed and built."
MG's bid for success at Le Mans will be pitched against the ROC-Volkswagen team which ran into mechanical problems early in this year's event -- and financial problems afterwards.
In Wolfsburg Andre van der Watt, VW's competitions manager, says that he will almost certainly make an exclusive deal with Fred Stalder's Annemasse based Racing Organisation Course (ROC) assuming it secures sponsorship and returns to the 24-Hours. VW does not have everything in place, says van der Watt, to service and supply parts to customer teams, although that should change in time for the 2002 season.
Hugues Lardy, ROC's technical director, says that negotiations with potential sponsors are going well, and the Le Mans programme should get going after Christmas. He is busy reducing the weight of the two Reynards to around 700 kg, although it would be difficult to breach this figure and get anywhere near the 675 kg minimum. ROC has an agreement in place with Heinz Lehmann, the VW engine tuner, continuing an association that goes back to the 1980s with Paris-Dakar ventures, Super Touring and ice racing.
Although this year's Le Mans effort was backed by Telefonica, the Spanish tele-communications company, ROC was left with a mountain of debt which curtailed the Le Mans Series programme. Volkswagen has enforced a judgement against ROC, and Reynard is owed £300,000 for parts and services since the two 2KQs were delivered. "We want to be paid, and we expect to be" says Mark Smithson, managing director of Reynard Motorsports. "But we want their Le Mans programme to go ahead because obviously it is good for us too, so we will not put any obstacles in their way."