Dawn breaks (at 0742) somewhat later than we are used to for the 88e of the 24-Hours of Le Mans. It is necessarily September and equally the sun will set at 2002 in La Sarthe, just two of the changes for this year’s running of this fine race. So an extra 4 hours total of darkness looking, if current weather forecasts are to be believed with a degree of water as thunder, lightening and showers are all predicted after two glorious almost autumnal summer days of practice and qualification… 2020 as a year just keeps on giving! So if you thought this race was going to be dull, hold on to your hat, we could be in for a barnstormer…
As we saw at the last round of the FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) mixed conditions are the friend of the 4-driven wheels of the Toyota Hybrid TS050 (#7 & #8) in its swansong Le Mans should the heavens open, and to some extent the death knell to the Rebellion Racing R13 (#1 & #3) which delivers all of its formidable dry weather power through just its two rear wheels. Yet Le Mans still composed of 59-entrants will play its part. Traffic and its management in poor visibility, notoriously difficult on tree-lined roads in late summer, could prove any competitors undoing and the surprise of a ByKolles or LMP2 overall victory at Le Mans could be more real than ever this year.
As can be seen above the Toyota advantage appears to be between 1 and 2 seconds a lap, and hence with eleven lap stints it will be not too long before they have a stop’s advantage even against the competition and will likely (all being equal) build that out by nightfall. Again though noting at Spa in wet conditions the Toyota did seem to have a chink in its reliability with the #8 car having to perform resets when seemingly slipping into an electronic limp mode or pit limiter state… Watch for that.
As already highlighted in previous articles this is the category were the race could really happen, whatever the conditions. The number (22) of runners if not the variety of car/engine combination will lead to some titantic inter-team competition in terms of preparations, tyre choices and pit strategy as the number of Safety Car periods, Full Course Yellows, Slow Zones etc.. are likely to be higher in mixed conditions.
That is all before we assess the driver traits, where some of rain reputations to uphold, and others will just find a better groove around the 13.6km circuit. Again half of the field is slower than this category and the ability to sythe through traffic will both be critical and dangerous as to where that pass is made.
The other aspect of driver performance is the rankings. All drivers must complete 6-hours in the car, and no one driver can complete more than 4-hours in any 6, with an absolute limit of 14-hours in the 24-hour race. Hence in the above graphic looking at where drivers have a longer/slower average lap (the blue line sticks out to the right) we start to visualise those that will be costing their crew time.. throw in the previously mentioned factors, weather, darkness, being passed and passing others and its possible to envisage the challenge that the event holds for participants, especially those that are shall we say fulfilling a bucket list rather than doing their day-to-day job.
Keep an eye on G-Drive Racing both #26 and the late entered G-Drive Racing by Algarve #16 some great consistency across driver line-ups there, but also some who quite enjoy the challenge of slippery conditions! We have waxed lyrical about the current form of the United Autosports squad in the #22 and #23 Oreca 07s and perhaps for them mixed conditions may prove a leveller with the rest of the field, that is they are least likely to relish the changeable forecast. We have also mentioned the traditionally dominant force that is the #36 Signatech Alpine Elf winners of 3 of 5 of the last Le Mans, and of course the much beloved JOTA run cars #38 and Jackie Chan DC Racing entered #37 all are highly professional but nobody but lady luck is best friends with the Weather Gods…
This could all be quite a race, and if the forecasters are right, as fans we could all be grateful that rather than soggy tent flaps we are likely to be able to follow it from our armchairs, on social media and with cold brews just a few steps away, it may just prove to be unmissable!
Feel free to take a quick look at the LM GTE Preview Here