A few hours from the start of the 83rd edition of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, which will be given tomorrow at 3:00 p.m., everything is coming together to put on the show.
In view of the qualifying sessions, the battle on the track will be fierce, but the celebration will also be around the circuit to the delight of spectators.
The Hybrid Battle heats up again
Optimal conditions indicate a very fast start to the race. Among the four manufacturers entered in the LM P1 class, Porsche, Audi and Toyota seem the best-prepared to succeed. Nissan, whose official return to the top class is primarily looking to finish with its three cars, the No. 21, 22 and 23. At a circuit whose safety features were once again reinforced over the winter, the 165 qualified drivers are getting ready for high-level competition.
Though history is not decided in advance, the results of the qualifying sessions do provide some indications. In a lap, Porsche is undeniably the fastest. The Audi R18 e-tron quattros aren’t far behind and will certainly know how to take advantage of the experience garnered these last 16 years to make up for the slight time deficit recorded Wednesday and Thursday. Toyota, world champion, is definitely in the underdog position, but will count on unflinching reliability to try and upstage its adversaries.
The day before the start, barring an unlikely upset, it looks like the highest step on the podium will go to one of the eight driver line-ups representing Porsche, Audi and Toyota.
After the first two rounds (Silverstone, Spa-Francorchamps) of the FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC), Test Day and the two practice evenings, Audi looks solid and Porsche full of drive. Toyota knows it is slower but is not throwing in the towel. Porsche, whose three cars achieved exceptional performances, is already reaping the rewards of the intense work begun in 2011 for the German marque’s return to the highest level of world endurance racing. The No. 18 and No. 17 cars are already in the record books for having beaten the previous lap record dating back to 2008 at qualifying. The prize went to Neel Jani in the No. 18 in 3:16:887. Porsche could win but knows to remain humble in the face of Audi’s experience all while not underestimating Toyota’s capabilities.
Corvette strikes again in LM GTE Pro
Among the surprises during qualifying was namely the withdrawal of American Corvette Racing’s No. 63 Chevrolet Corvette C7.R. Corvette is still in the game though with two of these impressive GTs. The No. 64 the team officially entered in LM GTE Pro and the No. 50 entered in LM GTE Am by the French team Larbre Compétition.
The question of longevity goes to Nissan, the fourth big manufacturer entered in the top class. Having been delayed in their schedule, the new No. 21, 22 and 23 Nissan GTR-LM NISMOs taking part in their first race of the season did not have the pace needed to hope to figure well at the qualifying sessions without compromising their presence on the track. Another underwhelming performance to set aside belongs to one of the private cars, Team ByKOLLES’ No. 4 CLM P1/01, just like Pierre Perret’s in the No. 45 Oreca 03R in LM P2. The drivers of these five cars having been unable to reach the minimum required to qualify, will start the race behind all the other cars in their classes, as specified in Article 68 B 2.8.2 of the regulations.
Great competition in the LM P2 class
With 19 cars representing six marques of chassis (Oreca, Morgan, Ligier, Gibson, BR and Dome) and three engine providers (Nissan, Judd, Honda), the LM P2 class is looking quite competitive. We will observe closely the exploits of Belgian driver Laurens Vanthor who would like to add another level to his career in prototypes, and also the return of great motorsports hopefuls such as Turvey, Estre, Evans, Lancaster, Chatin, Webb, Derani and Roussel along with established drivers like Bird, Minassian, Aleshin, Watts, Kane and Sharp, to bring the race to breakneck speeds…It remains to be seen which driver line-up will be able to roll fast at length.
The dream cars...
In Grand Touring Pro, the race is up for grabs between the title-holder Ferrari, Aston Martin, Porsche and Corvette. After the free practice sessions, the Brits and the Italians were the fastest, in GTE Pro as well as in GTE Am, but the differences are minimal. As was the case last year, the win in the two classes could play out like a magnificent ballet.
Note that like the drivers of the No. 4, 21, 22, 23 and 45 cars, Olivier Beretta in the No. 71 Ferrari and Han Chen Chen in the No. 68 Porsche, have been approved to take part in the warm-up and the race. These cars will start from the back of the starting grid with the fastest driver of the line-up in question.
The public will be able to relish in an exceptionally exciting 83rd edition with 55 high-quality cars that Bill Ford will have the great honour of setting free by lowering the checkered flag on Saturday at 3:00 p.m.