So to Le Mans, it is that wonderful time of year where everyone with the slightest interest in Sports cars looks to La Sarthe for the pinnacle of our branch of motorsport. The Vingt-Quatre Heures, the ultimate test of man and machine. Of course these days there are many imposters to that crown, the Rolex 24 at Daytona, the Nurburgring 24, the 24 hours of Spa being the most notables but none touches the Legend that is Le Mans.
Of course in 2018 we have a much changed grid, with both Audi Sport and Porsche’s LMP1-Hybrid efforts being things of the past. It is ever the way with manufacturers, they build business cases packed with Aims, Objectives and Strategic Marketing goals and once those are delivered, economics or to be kind overly competitive thinking catches up with them and other (legal) matters become more imperative. So 2018 welcomes back the broad push of privateer teams in 3 of the 4 categories, and the organisers would do well to remember who is there now when the going has got a little choppy!
The top category, LMP1 continues to be frequented by Toyota and its beautiful TS050 utilising the latest hi-tech hybrid systems to deliver a useable but heavily regulated 1,000+ bhp. The trials and tribulations that Toyota have faced in recent years could not have passed many by, especially the crying heartache of 2016 when just the final lap separated them from overal victory. Yes, they have won the World Endurance Championship, Yes when Peugeot stepped aside, they stepped forward to fill that void, and Yes again they are the manufacturer that stands up and by when others have walked away. However, the greatest prize of all still eludes them, overall victory at Le Mans. Mazda pulled off the first Japanese victory in 1991 with its howling quad-rotor 787B, a car which owed some of its success to a favourable treatment of its Wankel engine in terms of consumption and equivalence…
Plus ca change?
With just one race complete in the 2018-19 Super Season of the FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) much idle one-sided comment has been passed on the Spa 6-hour result, the Equivalence of Technology (EoT) and regulatory changes seemingly made to afford Toyota (the one remaining volume manufacturer to participate at the top-level) advantage. Toyota have made much of their desire to continue research and development into the hybrid technologies and ancillary systems that will transition to our everyday road cars, whilst others pursue similar goals with algorithms in laboratories and the virtualised new world. Toyota stated earlier in the year that they intend to win at Le Mans and win big, exceeding the current distance record of 397-laps. These are bold and big statements for one that in 2017 failed to have one of three cars still running at daybreak on the Sunday morning.
So our advice is not to criticise but to enjoy the show, mathematics and computers are taking over, this type of developement through competition is a dying art, enjoy it, manufacturer desire and involvement in prototype competition as a means for vehicle development is coming to an end, the very purpose that this Great race was envisaged for is ending, we should marvel at it not decry it.
This year requires us to think of the TS050s as the ultimate Garage 56, exploitation of New Technology entry ever. They will hopefully win by a huge margin and set a difficult to beat distance record. This will free us of that burden for the remainder of the Super-Season and allow for the authorities to enact a better balance free of any sense of obligation to reimburse Toyota Corporation for its years of support and devotion in maintaining the WEC.
So chance of a Non-Manufacturer (Non-Hybrid) overall victory? Well never say never. Will it come from LMP1 probably, last year saw a total of six LMP1s this year ten entries (eight non-hybrids) go into battle, and that makes for a better struggle than in previous years. However all-bar the ENSO CLM p1/01 (ByKolles #4) are new builds with plenty of testing under their belts but little race experience, both on-track and in the pitlane in terms of serviceability. The longer the race the more important that second element becomes..
Taking last year as our template, remember it took the venerable might and efforts of a top-flight manufacturer, Porsche to bring a car back from a one-hour deficit to wrestle the overall victory from a “John-Come-Lately” (well actually Jackie) LMP2 runner… So when considering the anyone but Toyota race from day into night into day again we have a total of eight plus twenty contenders for pseudo-victory. That in our book is the widest most open Le Mans 24-hours race is living memory, if not ever!
Once we have seen some running, gathered and with the help of Matt @thebpillar analysed some data we will try to boil that down a bit, but again our advice is to enjoy the show, soak up the atmosphere and marvel at the spectacle, please leave your cynicism at the door!
Welcome to the Greatest Motor Show on Earth!