Leading LMP1 privateer drivers believe passing lapped LMP2 cars will be “very difficult" in the Le Mans 24 Hours and could hinder their hopes of staying within striking distance of Toyota.
SMP Racing is one of four privateers fighting for a place on the overall podium behind Toyota’s pair of dominant TS050 Hybrids.
Its two Dallara-built BR1s are poised for a close fight with the Swiss Rebellion outfit, which took unofficial LMP1 privateer pole with the #1 R-13 shared by Bruno Senna, Neel Jani and Andre Lotterer.
SMP’s Le Mans veteran Stephane Sarrazin said dealing with lapped traffic will present a huge challenge because the non-hybrid LMP1 cars are struggling for top speed against the LMP2 runners.
"For us it’s very difficult to overtake the LMP2. In a straight line it’s incredible how fast they are,” Sarrazin explained when asked on the topic by Motorsport.com.
"At the Porsche corner we can go around [the outside]. There are some areas where it’s okay [to pass them]. But they are quick, they did [3m]24.8s [in qualifying], it’s incredible."
Tom Dillmann, who shares the #4 ByKolles ENSO CLM P1/01 with Oliver Webb and Dominik Kraihamer, added: "We are slower at the end of the straight, so it’s very hard to overtake.
"We have to overtake them on the brakes. The LMP2 is fast in the corners as well, so we have to do a proper overtake on them.”
Jani believes the Toyotas have a huge advantage in traffic as they can use their hybrid power to carve their way through traffic on corner exit.
"I think in traffic they will have an advantage because they have so much more strategy tools,” Jani told Motorsport.com.
"They just boost to go by while we are stuck because we don’t have enough power on the straight. There we are going to lose a lot more laptime than then.”
Jani thinks the different speed curves of the leading Toyotas and the privateers will spice up the first laps of the race, adding: “The first couple of laps in clean air, we are going to lose on the straights but we’re going to catch up massively in the Porsche Curves.
"It’s an accordeon effect. The SMP is quicker than us on the straight line, that’s another challenge. I think the first two laps will be quite hard."
Jani hopes to be in a position to take a shock win in case Toyota slips up for the third year in a row.
“We should be close enough to benefit in case [Toyota] choke up front," said the ex-Porsche LMP1 driver. "That’s what we’re looking for.
"We don't wish them bad luck, but we know Le Mans writes its own stories.
"I have seen it in the last two years in different ways. Once I was on the lucky side, once I was on the unlucky side. We want to be there in case the Le Mans god is playing music for us."