We love our Sportscars here, not surprisingly given we are SportsCarGlobal (SCG) and we have an undying passion for Endurance Motorsport in particular the undisputed Greatest Race in the World, the 24 Heures du Mans #LeMans24
Now as everyone knows, the circuit is a mixture of closed circuit (partially used to form the Bugatti Circuit) and public road. The organising board Automobile Club de L’Ouest (ACO) go to great lengths to ensure the circuit meets modern standards, but there is a heightened risk which coupled with the sheer joy and ambience of the local region, La Sarthe, generates a unique atmosphere that when most have tasted is like a drug to be administered annually as a minimum.
Therefore it seems rude when the local people and ACO close the circuit for a test day to stay away, hence we find ourselves in transit once more for an all too brief weekend at the track. We are greatly looking forward to the different crowd the test brings. If you have a General Admission for Race Week, entry is included, and it’s only a hop skip away from the UK and much of Europe. However, we enjoy the local nature of the test crowd who almost seem to gather on the Sunday as if it is a family walk in the park either before or after a nice Sunday dejeuner. From the children to great-grandma they wander the public enclosures taking in the sights and smells of the Circuit de la Sarthe; Grandma recalling the time she met that lovely Mr Moss, or the venerable Duncan Hamilton and Mr Rolt who went on the town having been thrown out of the event for irregularities on their Jaguar, to only be allowed to race and WIN (in 1953 – have a read of Touch Wood, fantastic tales of a bygone era) !
So to 2017. There will be a tinge of regret at the loss of Audi from the show, but look at the way in which they departed especially at Le Mans and just perhaps it was time. Last year was all about the drama of the final lap (or non-lap for Toyota). That ember has already been re-ignited in social media, Porsche announcing their preparedness for a hat-trick and Toyota entering into the banter. We would not expect to see to much from these gladiators at the Test, they will be well drilled, have been testing endlessly across Europe and will be verifying performance rather than giving anything away this weekend.
Toyota have put in place a number of driver adjustments, the seemingly unlucky Jose Maria Lopez now in the #9 having injured himself at Silverstone, missed Spa, and due to a set-up issue also having been off at a recent Spa Toyota test. You have a feeling this man’s luck will change, and partnering the flying Nico Lapierre will provide suitable encouragment.
Porsche have brought the 2015 winning pairing of Nick Tandy and Earl Bamber back to La Sarthe but in separate cars so if Porsche gets a win, someone will have two wins to the other’s single effort. Porsche appear a little off their game in the FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC), and the door for the beautifully crafted and honed 2017 edition of the Toyota TS050 certainly appears open following such a strong run last year.
Nissan are also back at Le Mans in the top category! Albeit solely as an engine supplier (the same unit developed for their ill-conceived front engine’d LMP1) and it is proving both fast and reliable in the ageing ByKolles ENSO CLM. This car will be pedalled by the youngest stalwart we know, Oliver Webb, Rebellion Refugee Dominic Kraihamer and it seems a one race deal for former Audi man Marco Bonanomi. We had expected James Rossiter but Toyota Super GT have pulled rank, and no doubt James is screaming and kicking his way back to Japan!
LMP2 in 2017 brings the new super-fast ‘stock’ prototypes with the beautifully powerful GibsonTech engine. The regulators have taken quite a pounding from some quarters for introducing a ‘stock’ (restricted spec) series and refering to it as prototype. The very notion is a bit of an anathema but we applaud the vision that brings a 25-car category to this race in a year when LMP1 is somewhat depleted. With that number of cars of very similar capability we look forward to seeing some top racing, and no doubt speed exceeding ability! If ever a category was to be won by slick pit-work and keeping a car circulating, this is it.
We cannot call it between some of these teams, hence will resort to just quoting a few drivers names to reveal the quality and competitive of the category – Senna, Brundle, Prost, Barrichello, Piquet, Vergne, Petrov, Lammers, Albuquerque, Chandhok, Dumas and Jarvis to list just a few. We strongly suggest picking your favourite and if other categories fall quiet something is bound to be kicking off in LMP2.
Not that there looks to be much chance of peace breaking out in the BoP’d GTE-Pro category anytime soon! Ford have been hit with early restrictions to bring their performance back to the field. After the faulty door moment at Silverstone the Tincknell/Priaulx/Derani car came from the back to take the win. That kind of blew any cover being sought in the run up to the big race. Our other American cousins come a knocking for Le Mans, Chevrolet Corvette, setting up the Ford/GM rivalry of the 50s and 60s, but conjoined with more recent head to heads with Aston Martin. Throw Ferrari’s celebration of its 70th Racing Anniversary, and once again we have a hotly contested category that BoP permitting could deliver a Classic result. Lets see who brought the most sand to this party! Oh how could we almost forget the 911 you cannot buy, the delightful ‘mid-engined’ mash-up Porsche optimised for GTE regulations that since the FordGT bus arrived have a tenuous grasp on GT reality.
And so to the Lottery winner’s category of GTE-Am the guys & teams that have done well at life, and have always wanted to compete in June at Le Mans. With the exclusion of Ford these are all 2016 contenders from the -Pro category and it replicates the competitiveness of last year. Especially look out for the top class entry from Clearwater Racing who have earned their entry in the Far-East originating from Singapore, but with some excellent heritage in the two-car Ferrari 488 entries including the irrepressible Matt Griffin!
Safe testing, get it done, and see you all in mid-June for the Greatest Race on Earth.