Automobile Club de l'Ouest (ACO) has announced the invites for the prestigious running of the 72nd 24 Hours of Le Mans. Audi tops the list with four teams: Audi UK Sport Team Veloqx, Team Goh and Champion Racing. Audi UK will have two team cars -- ...
Automobile Club de l'Ouest (ACO) has announced the invites for the prestigious running of the 72nd 24 Hours of Le Mans. Audi tops the list with four teams: Audi UK Sport Team Veloqx, Team Goh and Champion Racing.
Audi UK will have two team cars -- the recent winners of the historic 12 Hours of Sebring with drivers Allan McNish, Pierre Kaffer and Frank Biela. The second team car finished third at Sebring piloted by Johnny Herbert, Guy Smith and Jamie Davies. The team will be competing in the new Le Mans Endurance Series this year.
McNish won the 24 Hours of Le Mans back in 1998 in a factory team Porsche, his first thought when the race was finished was "Relief. It is a long build-up to Le Mans and the pressure of the event itself is demanding."
Biela won the event in 2000, 2001 and 2002; Smith took victory last year and Herbert back in 1991.
Champion Racing brings to the table their second-place finish at Sebring, JJ Lehto, Emanuele Pirro and Marco Werner will share the driving duties for Le Mans. Triple Le Mans winner Pirro (2000, 2001 and 2002) is not the sole team winner at Le Mans, Lehto won in 1995.
Team Goh will have onboard Japanese driver Seiji Ara, last year's co-winner Rinaldo Capello and Tom Kristensen who won the world class endurance race five times (1997, 2000, 2001, 2002 and 2003).
It would appear that Audi teams have the edge. "It speaks volumes for the Audi R8 that our customer teams can start with such high-calibre driver squads," explained Audi motorsport chief Dr Wolfgang Ullrich. "Whether it is Formula 1 stars, legends such as Paul Frère or newcomers like Pierre Kaffer and Jamie Davies: Up till now everybody who has driven an Audi R8 was impressed."
The 2003 winners, Team Bentley have retired from competition after an impressive one-two finish -- their first victory in 73 years. The Panoz Elans are also gone from the picture; however, that is not to say Audi will not have competition.
The competition in P1 will include the Nasamax Judd powered by bio-ethanol, a first in endurance race. Taurus Racing will use diesel fuel in the Lola-Caterpillar, not the first time diesel has been used at Le Mans but it has been more than 50 years. The Courages, now called Pescarolos, have been entered by Henri Pescarolo and accepted in the field of 19 P1s.
Seven P2s will see the likes of five Courages bidding for the victory: Courage Competition, Epsilo Sports Team and Belmondo Racing. With the post-2003 Le Mans listing of the top categories, this class win will be up for grabs.
Corvette and Ferrari will battle it out again in the GTS class of 10 entries. The American Corvette Racing team recently won the American Le Mans Series Sebring 12 Hours.
Care Racing Veloqx Prodrive Ferrari took home the laurels at Le Mans last year in a very tight race long battle with Corvette Racing, the first Le Mans class victory for Ferrari since 1974.
Care Racing has been busy preparing for Le Mans, the Ferrari team is currently testing former World Rally Champion Colin McRae in the Ferrari 550 Maranello as a possible driver on the 24 hour team.
"Le Mans is one of the great races of the world and would be a big motorsport challenge for me," said the Scotsman. "I wanted to do a few of these different things this year and this would be an ideal opportunity for me to experience Le Mans. It's one race every driver would love to have a go at."
At this time, the team has not announced their driver lineup. "To be able to do Le Mans with a Ferrari is just that bit extra, it being probably the most famous name in racing," continued McRae. "It would be very special. I've known Frederic a long time through rallying and, when I found out what he had done with the 550s, we just moved it on from there."
GT will see the strong Porsche teams be the class of the field of fourteen entries. However nothing is written in stone as past 24 hours endurance as proven.
Alex Job Racing, winners of the 12 Hours of Sebring, will return to Le Mans to defend the top podium step. Porsche looks for another top-five in class.
One of the surprises was the acceptance by the ACO of the entry filed by the Morgan Works Race Team, the team has had its share of setbacks on the road to Le Mans.
The Morgan Aero 8 was persistent at the ALMS 12 Hours of Sebring just a few weeks ago as they pushed on to finish 10th in the GT class. "This is a great day for everyone who has believed in us through the hard times," commented Team Manager David Dowse.
"It proves that it really is possible to take on the wealthy Porsche and Ferrari teams and make our presence felt," added Dowse. "There's no doubt that the eyes of the world are watching us - and not just motorsport fans. The Morgan Works story has captured the imaginations of people everywhere who want to believe that David can take on Goliath."
The 50 cars will carry on the tradition of the worlds top endurance race.
Preliminary practices will be held on Sunday, April 25th. Six reserves have been invited to attend. If any team withdraws by May 28th, one of the reserve teams will be asked to replace the team that pulled out.
The annual 24 hour race will start on June 12 with the finish on June 13.
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