Weekend Preview: 16/17 June 2018 Le Mans

It’s the big one, the 24 Hours of Le Mans!

Times are approximate and in British Summer Time.

There are 60 cars with 180 drivers. 60 stories to follow. Three class races other than LMP1. Please do not belittle all of that just because the race for the win might be boring!


24 Heures du Mans / 24 Hours of Le Mans

Circuit des 24 Heures, Le Mans, La Sarthe, France

Race:  Saturday 2pm UK.

Coverage

Eurosport 1 HD for qualifying, warm-up, support races and the entirety of the race. Tom Kristensen is their expert analyst.
On Freeview, Quest TV will show the start, some Saturday evening and the finish.
In the USA it is on Velocity which will use Eurosport’s coverage.

Radio coverage is www.radiolemans.co and trackside 91.2FM – all live for every session with John Hindhaugh, Jonny Palmer and the data-mining Paul Truswell.
Be sure to listen to the preview podcasts if you can squeeze them in before Saturday.

If you have the Eurosport Player there is a commentary-free channel, you can use this while listening to RLM, as well as some onboard feeds.

Coverage is also on the Le Mans / WEC app with onboard feeds. Martin Haven is doing this feed this year.

Also check out Andy Blackmore’s Spotter Guide.

Intro

Two schools of thought:
1) This could be a boring runaway Toyota win, focus your attention on GTE.
2) If Toyota hit even one problem per car, the Privateer LMP1s will be right with them, this is about endurance rather than speed and anything can happen. And watch the GTE race anyway!

I am hoping for the second! But if it is a Toyota parade please do remember one thing:

There are 60 cars with 180 drivers. 60 stories to follow. Three class races other than LMP1. Please do not belittle all of that just because the race for the win might be boring!

LMP1

Will it go Toyota’s way? That very much depends on reliability. Despite all the talk of Toyotas running away, the fuel and other advantages are said to confer a lead of only 2 or 3 laps assuming everyone runs cleanly. We shall see (it may be more!). And of course, Toyotas don’t often run cleanly. If they run into a problems, unlike last year they won’t have a lead of 30 – 40 minutes over the LMP2s in which to effect repairs. They’ll have a lead of maybe 10 minutes or less over the Privateer LMP1s. Big difference. That’s how they can lose this race.

Aside from that, clearly the big story is Fernando Alonso. Part of me wants him to do it, but more of me thinks he needs to earn his stripes and win it in 2019. And I think that would be the better PR story – if he wins it this week the media circus will move on. If he fails, we have a year’s worth of build-up until next time!

The big unknown is the reliability and long-term speed of the Privateers. We won’t know this until Saturday evening at the earliest.

Rebellion’s Orecas look very fast. They’re a development of the LMP2 car, better aero and development of the excellent Gibson engine. They ought to be reliable and in testing they were very quick, scaring the Toyotas I think! This team will push Toyota all the way. The driver line-up is astonishingly good:  Lotterer, Jani, Senna in one car, with Laurent, Beche, Menezes in the ‘young hot shot’ car.

The SMP Racing BR1s with AER engines were quick too, including Jenson Button, Vitaly Petrov and Mikhael Aleshin, the other car with some lesser known Russian drivers anchored by Stephane Sarrazin. If they’ve fixed the problems encountered at Spa they will be in the mix.

Dragonspeed have their own BR1, with the Gibson engine this time, so a mix between the two teams above! They could be let down by their driver line-up. Renger van der Zande is one of the fastest, Hanley should be up there, but Hedman is Pro/Am and has been known to have the odd spin. And after their trouble at Spa, finishing the race will be a win.

The “CEFC TRS G60-LT-P1” – that’s a Manor Ginetta to you and me – was built by January but the team got screwed by a funding partner, so they are now very much behind. Mechachrome engines should run well. Hopefully they’ll pick up speed quickly through race week as they work through a belated test plan. If anyone can do it they can, with a solid team behind them along with talent such as Alex Brundle, Oliver Turvey and more.  The aim though should just be to finish the race, use it as a test for 2019.

ByKolles I hope have a good run, they’ve worked hard for years and keep hitting trouble, despite the reputation of the boss it seems the crew guys are good guys, so it would be pretty good to see this car actually get to the finish and ahead of the LMP2 cars. That’s the goal. I expect them to beat Dragonspeed, probably beat Manor and possibly one or two others.

My pick:  Toyota no.7 – Conway/Kobayashi/Lopez
I’d love Toyota to win but the Fernando Alonso hype and cynicism is too much. Let him wait a year and let’s have a year of PR out of it! Yet Toyota are owed a win.
Rebellion are also owed something, the lone supporters of privateer LMP1 for so long, so I hope they get a double podium.

LMP2

A huge 20 car field makes this a place to look for some race competition.

Last year the Orecas had a significant advantage, that’s been diminished this year and Ligiers are now in the hunt. They’re slightly slower but a well-run team with good drivers can offset that – and that’s what BoP should do. Dallara are still not quite there, but they don’t have the depth in entries of the other chassis (their benchmark will be the SMP car, a top line entry). I fully expect a Ligier or two on the podium.

The Oreca perhaps most likely to win is in fact badged an Alpine! The Signatech team running Nico Lapierre, Andre Negrao and Pierre Thiriet. Debates about driver ratings aside, this is a strong team which you can expect to be at the front.

Pastor Maldonado is entered in the 31 Dragonspeed Oreca and was fastest at the Test Day. The 26 G-Drive entry which has Jean-Eric Vergne will be a front-runner. The 28 TDS Racing car should be well up there.

Juan Montoya is the most notable name in one United Autosports Ligier, add Paul di Resta and Felipe Albuquerque to the other car with a smattering of new talent across both and this is a strong line-up. The team looked good at Daytona, this team should score a good result. The 23 Panis Barthez car should also be competitive, another strong line-up with Buret, Canal and Stevens.

Jackie Chan DC Racing (with JOTA Sport) are running both cars! Two Orecas, their WEC entries, along with two extra Ligiers. The Radio Le Mans previews reveal the Ligiers are in fact run by Onroak who built the cars… Their 34 Ligier with Ricky Taylor should be very competitive, the sister car perhaps not. As for the Oreca crews I’m not particularly sure I rate either group, at least in comparison to some other line-ups in this year’s admittedly high quality field, but it may just be that I’m unfamiliar with them.

20 cars. Probably 5 with an edge if not an advantage, another 7 or 8 with a chance at a podium. Hard to call this one but I’m thinking one of the United Autosports cars will win.

My pick:  United Autosports, I can’t pick a car though!
A big chunk of the field are just going for a finish. But there are quality teams and drivers in here, this could be a good race.

GTE PRO

No matter what else happens watch GTE PRO. I can’t stress this enough. There are 17 cars and all have top quality drivers. There isn’t a wasted seat here. IndyCar stars, LMP1 drivers, GTE experts, GT3 hotshoes, Formula E and DTM talent too.

The elephant in the room is Balance of Performance. A notoriously tricky process, let’s hope the ACO & FIA get it right and don’t allow the teams to game the system. In theory it gets the cars into the same ballmark then lets them fight it out.

BMW and Aston Martin bring new cars, a very eye-catching lime green in AMR’s case! BMW raced already at the 24 Hours of Daytona and the 12 Hours of Sebring. This is the first 24 Hour race for the new Aston Martin, but they have done a lot of testing. AMR are on the back foot after a car crashed at Le Mans Test Day, where they were also slow.

On the face of it it seems to be a fight between Ford, Porsche, Corvette.

Porsche probably with the edge. Ferrari bring an ‘Evo’ upgrade, which got neutered a bit, so they’re a touch behind the front runners. Ford and Porsche each have their two WEC cars and their two IMSA cars.

Porsche’s Manthey WEC team and CORE IMSA team include overall race winners as well as class winners, they sound great and run fast. The WEC cars even sport tribute liveries!

Ford brought in Scott Dixon (3rd all time in IndyCar’s win list), Tony Kanaan and Sebastien Bourdais alongside their existing top talent. The Priaulx/Tincknell car recorded a DNF at Spa so they’ll be determined to make up for it.

Ferraris will be not far behind, all three capable of winning.

And the Corvettes are getting a little old now but they’ll keep on trucking. Remember last year, the race came down to Corvette vs the old Aston. Longevity in car development can be an advantage.

My pick:  94 Porsche GT – Dumas/Bernhard/Muller
Can I pick a winner? Not really! It can genuinely come from 10 or 13 cars! But I think it’ll be a Porsche and I’ll go for the 94. This is one of the IMSA entries and wouldn’t it be great to see one of the CORE cars win? But with so many Porsches and Fords and competitive Ferraris and Corvettes honestly this can go any way.

GTE AM

This class is not an afterthought! Top drivers, good teams. I can name at least 7 quality entries capably of winning the class and even upsetting the PRO cars. This is going to be a good class to follow.

JMW Motorsport, last year’s winners, return with some of the drivers who finished 3rd last year, the IMSA drivers Cooper MacNeil and Jeff Segal with white Weathertech branding. Another (red) Weathertech entry is the Keating Motorsports car of Ben Keating, this car crewed by Risi Competizione so that means it’ll be very well engineered.

The 98 Aston Martin should also run up front, the last hurrah for the older V8 car. The similar TF Sport car will probably be fast as well.

Among the Porsches the 56 Project 1 car looks fast with Bergmeister, Lindsey and Perfetti. As does the 99 Proton car with Long, Pappas and Pumpelly. Not sure the BoP favours the Porsche in the AM class but these should be the frontrunners among the 911s.

I like the Chrome livery on the Clearwater Ferrari. It may not be the ultimate fastest but it won’t be far off, especially with the fast Matt Griffin aboard, so may claim a good result.

My pick – 54 Spirit of Race – Fisichella/Castellacci/Flohr
Difficult. 13 entries and probably 6 or 7 capable of winning on merit, plus some good ‘slower’ crews who may just keep running and pick up any pieces. This’ll come down to the faster ‘Am’ drivers. For me it is between the 54, the 99 Proton and the 98 Aston Martin for the win.

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One thought on “Weekend Preview: 16/17 June 2018 Le Mans”

  1. Cheers Pat. A really useful rundown. I love endurance cars but life’s pressures (i.e. the wife) won’t let me devote much time to it so I lose track of who’s who and what’s what.

    I’m not sure I agree with you about Alonso and the media circus though. F1 fans have been dribbling for him to demonstrate his speed and are disappointed week in and week out with the cars McLaren are giving him. Even a decent finish might drag some of the more knowledgeable supporters into endurance.

    The problem is that most people associate endurance with 24 hour races and forget the shorter ones that provide a days entertainment but allow TV audiences to visit B&Q to keep the wife happy as well. If Alonso does well he might just pack F1 fans in (as he should, no decent F1 team will have him after stabbing Ron Denis in the back) but I’m afraid failure, be it mechanical or otherwise, will consign him to a spiral of obscurity. F1 drivers ending their careers with a last ditch attempt at endurance racing, in particular Le Mans, are all to common.

    The real successes are the committed endurance racers like Kristensen, Ickx (although ex F1 regular) and Bell who weren’t interested in the triple crown, they just devoted their time to endurance.

    The triple crown is a media construct after a few drivers lucked into it when the ‘crown’ wasn’t even considered. Alonso won’t achieve it because he has too high an opinion of himself and believes that every race is dependent on him alone. I don’t believe either Senna or Schumacher even considered it, as they knew where their talents lay.

    The 2018 win will, of course, come from the endurance stalwarts. Unless more horrendous disaster strikes again, Toyota should win it by a country mile, but then bad luck seems to dog their Le Mans campaigns.

    But a win will prove a bitter pill as they failed against Audi in the past and are the only works team on the grid this year. What’s worse is that if they don’t win, there will be some noble Japanese executives falling on their swords.

    Will Fernando do it? I doubt it. As proven by Damon Hill at Hungaroring, in his humble Arrows, it only take a 50p washer to fail, to derail the entire campaign.

    Like

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