ACO selects strong field of 55 starters for Le Mans

ACO selects strong field of 55 starters for Le Mans

The gloomy global economic forecast hasn't stopped competitors from turning up to the 24 Hours of Le Mans this year. In fact, 82 entries were received by the Automobile Club de l'Ouest, with the race organizers narrowing it down to 55 starters...

The gloomy global economic forecast hasn't stopped competitors from turning up to the 24 Hours of Le Mans this year. In fact, 82 entries were received by the Automobile Club de l'Ouest, with the race organizers narrowing it down to 55 starters plus 10 reserves for the twice-around-the-clock June endurance classic.

#8 Team Peugeot Total Peugeot 908: Pedro Lamy, St?phane Sarrazin, Alexander Wurz.
Photo by Eric Gilbert.

As part of a press conference Thursday, the ACO unveiled its selections, with a three-way factory showdown in LMP1 stealing the headlines. After scoring back-to-back class victories in the GT1 ranks, Aston Martin Racing has moved up to the premier prototype category, in search of claiming overall honors on the 50th anniversary of it's last.

The famed British marquee has entered three Aston Martin-powered Lola coupes, one under the AMR Eastern Europe banner. The works effort, run in support by Czech outfit Charouz Racing System, tested the waters last year with a singleton Lola Aston Martin entry, which finished ninth overall.

Aston Martin will have a steep hill to climb this year as the V12 gasoline-powered Lola Coupes will face fierce competition from a gaggle of diesel juggernauts, led by factory squads Audi Sport Team Joest and Team Peugeot Total. After scoring a thrilling win last year, the German automaker heads back to Circuit de La Sarthe with three new Audi R15 TDIs, aiming to continue its near decade-long stranglehold of Le Mans.

Peugeot also returns with three of its 908 HDi-FAPs, now in its third year of development. The French Lions have been fired up to break Audi's dominance, thus entrusting countryman Henri Pescarolo to field an additional privateer 908 under the Pescarolo Sport banner. For years, Pescarolo has voiced his displeasure of the diesel advantage, but will now have one in his own stables, alongside a gasoline-powered Pescarolo Judd.

#2 Audi Sport North America Audi R10: Allan McNish, Tom Kristensen, Rinaldo Capello.
Photo by Tom Haapanen.

Audi's Le Mans-winning R10 TDIs will also be represented this year, but in the hands of privateer Dr. Colin Kolles. Kolles, who will also race the generation-old machines in the European-based Le Mans Series, brings the total of diesel-powered entries at Le Mans up to nine.

Twenty-one P1 machines in all have been selected, and despite this year's strong factory presence, a number of privateer outfits will be gunning for outright glory as well. Team Oreca Matmut leads the charge with two of its Courage-Oreca LC70E AIM entries, while Speedy Racing Team Sebah has entered Charouz's year-old Aston Martin-powered Lola B08/60.

Former GT2-class winning outfit Team LNT and prototype debutants Strakka Racing each enter a Ginetta Zytek 09S, while Signature Plus, a new team to sportscar racing, will field a Courage-Oreca LC70E Judd. Epsilon Euskadi returns with one of its Judd-powered closed-top prototypes, and Creation Autosportif rounds out the list in P1 with its Creation Judd.

While it's unlikely a Porsche RS Spyder will appear in the American Le Mans Series this year, the German prototype will once again have a strong presence at Le Mans. Three RS Spyders have been entered, but by two teams new to the LMP2 contender.

Team Goh, the 2004 overall winners at Le Mans, returns to La Sarthe in quest of claiming P2 glory. The Japanese team will have the services of Porsche works drivers Sascha Maassen, who joins Seiji Ara and Keisuke Kunimoto behind the wheel of the class-winning ex-Van Merksteijn Motorsport machine.

#31 Team Essex Porsche RS Spyder: Casper Elgaard, John Nielsen, Sascha Maassen.
Photo by Eric Gilbert.

Danish squad Team Essex has risen from the ashes to take one more stab at Le Mans after finishing runner-up in 2008. The team, which had closed its doors at the end of last year, will also run its RS Spyder at the Le Mans Series round at Spa-Francorchamps in May in preparation for the 24 Hours. Porsche works star Emmanuel Collard joins Danes Casper Elgaard and Kristian Poulsen behind the wheel.

Michael Bartels' Vitaphone Racing Team steps up to the prototype ranks and also enters a Porsche RS Spyder after previously campaigning Maserati MC12s in the FIA GT Championship. The rather surprising move by the German team may have even caught Porsche off-guard, as the manufacturer's press release stated only two RS Spyders will race at Le Mans this year.

Mazda returns to Le Mans with an even stronger presence, with four Mazda MZR-R-powered prototypes in P2. Two-time Le Mans class winners RML align with the Japanese brand for 2009 and are joined by Kruse-Schiller Motorsport as teams also utilizing the Lola B08/86 chassis. French outfit OAK Racing (formally Saulnier Racing) has two Mazda MZR-R-powered Pescarolos on the list, receiving support from Mazda France.

After not being allowed to compete at Le Mans last year because of a non-homologated chassis, Racing Box has stepped up its efforts for 2009 and has a new Lola B08/80 Judd on the entry list, as does Speedy Racing Team Sebah, which is the only team to have entries in both prototype categories this year.

Quifel-ASM Team and GAC Racing Team have both been invited to compete with its Zyteks, while Bruichladdich Bruneau will field its Radical SR9 AER, also in the P2 category.

Corvette Racing Corvette C6.R and Luc Alphand Aventures Corvette C6.R at scrutineering.
Photo by Eric Gilbert.

After receiving 22 applications, the ACO has selected only eight GT1 entrants for the 2009 running. Corvette Racing is atop the list with two of its Corvette C6.Rs entered, in what the American factory hopes to be a fairytale ending to the ultra-successful GT1 machine. French squad Luc Alphand Aventures, which announced this week its return to the Le Mans Series, will back up the factory squad with two C6.Rs of its own.

With Aston Martin Racing moving up to P1, two privately entered DBR9s will likely be the only challengers to the fleet of Corvette C6.Rs. Gigawave Motorsport and Jetalliance will be in charge of handling that task. Finally, two Lamborghini Murcielagos have been selected, one for Japanese squad JLOC Isao Noritake and another for Russian-based IPB Spartak Racing.

Without a doubt, Ferrari has a number advantage in GT2, with nine F430 GTs going up against three Porsche 997 GT3 RSRs as well as an Aston Martin V8 Vantage and Spyker C8 Laviolette. However, five of the Prancing Horses were automatic invites, thanks to the brand's worldwide racing success last year.

Defending Le Mans class winners Risi Competizione returns with two Ferraris, one likely again entered in conjunction with Krohn Racing. Other notable F430 GT entrants include defending FIA GT2 Champions AF Corse, GT2 newcomers Team Modena and 2008 Le Mans runner-ups BMS Scuderia Italia.

Flying Lizard Motorsports, which picked up the ALMS GT2 crown in 2008, returns to Le Mans for another go. As does IMSA Performance Matmut and Team Felbermayr-Proton, which round out the somewhat-depleted Porsche contingent.

#007 Drayson - Barwell Aston Martin Vantage: Paul Drayson, Jonny Cocker, Darren Turner.
Photo by Eric Gilbert.

Aston Martin will be represented in three of the four categories this year as Drayson Racing's Aston Martin Vantage GT2 has been selected, fulfilling Lord Paul Drayson's lifetime dream to race at Le Mans.

Finally in GT2, Snoras Spyker Squadron will once again have an entry for one of its Spyker C8 Laviolettes.

The ACO has increased the amount of reserve entrants from eight to 10 following last year's rash of unexpected withdrawals. However, reserves will not be allowed in after May 22.

Leading the reserve list is the Team Seattle Ferrari F430 GT run by Italian squad Advanced Engineering. Television/movie star, and accomplished racer, Patrick Dempsey is listed to be at the wheel of the team's car, which will be raising money for a Seattle-based children's hospital if given an entry.

Team Seattle holds a good chance of making it in, as a handful of teams in years past usually withdraw prior to the deadline. But others that are further down on the reserve list may not be so lucky.

Teams like Larbre Competition, which has competed at Le Mans for the last 16 years, has its lone Saleen S7-R entry ninth on the reserve list, standing an unlikely chance of taking the start.

Notable absences from the ACO's list include the Team ECOSpeed Dome S102 Judd, which this week announced ambitious plans to enter the Le Mans Series, Asian Le Mans Series and select ALMS races this season, as well as Full Speed Racing's Saleen S7-R which had the backing of movie star Olivia Newton-John.

American road racing stalwart Lou Gigliotti also had submitted an entry for his Riley Technologies Corvette C6, but didn't get the nod. It was the same case for fellow ALMS team Autocon Motorsports, which had the backing of sportscar veteran Hugh Chamberlain to engineer its Lola B06/10 AER.

With the traditional test day canceled due to the economic downturn, teams will get their first chance to take to the legendary 8.5-mile Circuit de La Sarthe on Wednesday, June 10, for five hours of practice before qualifying the following day. The tri-colour drops for the 77th running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans on Saturday, June 13 at 3:00 p.m. local time.

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About this article
Series Le Mans
Drivers Henri Pescarolo , Rinaldo Capello , Tom Kristensen , Allan McNish , Seiji Ara , Alexander Wurz , Darren Turner , Emmanuel Collard , Pedro Lamy , Sascha Maassen , Michael Bartels , Lou Gigliotti , Luc Alphand , John Nielsen , Eric Gilbert , Casper Elgaard , Patrick Dempsey , Colin Kolles , Paul Drayson , Jonny Cocker , Keisuke Kunimoto , Kristian Poulsen
Teams Audi Sport Team Joest , Aston Martin Racing , AF Corse , OAK Racing , Krohn Racing , Corvette Racing , Larbre Competition , IMSA Performance Matmut , Risi Competizione , Flying Lizard Motorsports , Team LNT