DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Circuit de la Sarthe. The name alone is synonymous with the history and tradition that makes the 24 Hours of Le Mans the world’s most renowned sports car race.
It’s a place where legends are made, and for many who will turn their first laps on the 8.469-mile circuit in France this weekend, a place where dreams are realized.
A total of 61 teams – including six teams and 33 drivers from the American Le Mans Series presented by Tequila Patrón and GRAND-AM Road Racing – will embark on the historic course Sunday for “Test Day”, the dress rehearsal for the 90th anniversary running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
The one-day test provides teams their only opportunities to practice at the circuit outside of the June 22-23 race weekend. It also is mandated for rookie Le Mans competitors.
“The reality is starting to set in that I’m going to get to do the race for the first time,” said SRT Viper driver Jonathan Bomarito. “As a race car driver, it’s one of those races that’s at the top of everybody’s list.”
Bomarito has years of experience in GRAND-AM and has already won another premier endurance race – the Rolex 24 At Daytona – but at Le Mans he is still considered a rookie.
Teams and drivers who have never raced in the 24 Hours of Le Mans must participate and complete a minimum of 10 laps at the test; so must those drivers not on the list of confirmed drivers automatically allowed to take part in official practice. New cars – Lotus and Viper – must participate in the test with at least one entry.
“The first priority is to satisfy that requirement,” said Tommy Kendall, who will share driving duties with Bomarito and rookie Kuno Wittmer and competes in select ALMS events.
“The first part of the test with our (No.) 93 car will focus on everybody getting their minimum 10 laps in. It’s kind of like Indianapolis 500 rookie orientation. We’ve got to get that out of the way first and then start working on tuning the car.”
For those of who have previously competed at Le Mans, Test Day is still a learning – or re-learning – experience.
Circuit de la Sarthe is one of the longest – and fastest – racing circuits in the world. Translation: it’s easy to get lost. To soften the learning curve, Kendall says drivers rely on simulators for re-acclimation to the course.
“Without the simulator you [actually] could [get lost],” he said. “It’s unlike any other place, it’s so fast. The medium-speed corners are faster than regular medium-speed corners and high-speed corners are faster than regular high-speed corners … the straights are longer than normal straights.”
In addition to the 56 entries for the 24 Hours of Le Mans, FIA World Endurance Championship teams that were not invited to compete in the race can also participate in the test. Prototypes belonging to the Formula Le Mans category, which does not compete at Le Mans, are also eligible.
The race will showcase a number of top drivers and teams that will compete in next year’s unified sports car series in North America. To kick off the event, the man heading the board of directors guiding United SportsCar Racing, GRAND-AM founder Jim France, will wave the French flag on the afternoon of June 22 to start the race.
“It all comes back to the history of motorsports and sports car racing; Le Mans is the pinnacle,” said Bomarito. “When you look at all the winners and manufacturer support over the years, it’s just incredible.
“Now, to be a part of that and having your name in those record books is very special.”
Live television coverage of the 90th Anniversary 24 Hours of Le Mans will air on SPEED beginning at 8:30 a.m. ET on Saturday, June 22.