This weekend, the FIA and ACO are teaming up to produce the single most important sports car race in the world. As the blue riband event of the 2014 World Endurance Championship season, Le Mans holds a lot of gravitas for the competitors, the fans, and the world of sports cars in general. Historically, Le Mans has been a proving ground, a test bed for new tech, and this year that remains as true as ever with the top tier LMP1 cars are practically Petri dishes for upcoming hybrid and battery technology. As the Tricolore flag drops in just a few day’s time, we will continue our series of articles covering the various road racing series and important races all over the world. Previously we have covered The TUDOR United Sports Car Championship, the 12 hours of Sebring, the Bathurst 12 hour, Formula 1, the Pirelli World Challenge, the World Endurance Championship, IndyCar, and Global RallyCross. This time, we’re here to discuss my personal single favorite event in the world the 24 Hours of Le Mans!
The Le Mans 24 began 81 years ago, and has been run annually since the first race in 1923. It is the oldest active running sports car race in the world, and certainly the most prestigious. With three manufacturers and one privateer in the LMP1 category this year, and rumors of as many as three more manufacturers joining in the coming years, Le Mans and sports car racing in general, are heading into a new renaissance period with levels of interest (from competitors and spectators alike) not seen since Group C’s heyday. The rules for Le Mans cars, set by the french governing body the ACO (Automobile Club de l’Oueste), specify four classes with both prototypes and GT cars welcome. The ruleset has been relatively standardized over the last few years, but for this year there was a specific set of rules written for the proliferation of hybrid drive technology. Built on a platform of technological advancement, “green initiatives”, and some pretty kick-ass racing, Le Mans has always been a fan favorite. In recent years, Audi has been the driving force, with a short competitive slide toward Peugeot, until they exited LMP1. Audi has simply dominated the series, having taken constructors championships in both 2012 and 2013, but if I’m honest, Toyota has started to give them a run for their money. This year, more than any other, should be a supremely exciting race, and we’re about to show you why.
The 2014 running of the 24 hours of Le Mans will see four classes contesting, each slightly faster than the last. This selection of classes adds another twist to each event with the faster cars having to pick their way through the slower cars, while the slower cars must watch their mirrors to avoid collision with a quicker car. Staying alert and being quick for 24 hours is a big ask for a lot of teams, and definitely has its own set of challenges. Add in the fact that all teams must run to a certain fuel economy number this year, and the challenges are stacked even higher. One of the most important factors in this race, though, is Porsche’s return to top-tier sports car racing. This year, Porsche is back after a 16 year hiatus. A factory effort from Porsche is a rarity, and we’re all lucky to be able to experience it. Taking on the combined might of Audi and Toyota will be a challenge, especially in their first year of the program, but if anyone can make it work, it’d be Porsche. There are four classes in the WEC currently; LMP1, LMP2, GTE Pro, and GTE Am. We went over the class specs in our WEC guide, but we’ll repost them here for the sake of ease. LMP1 (Le Mans Prototype 1) class is the fastest class in the world of sportscars, and the most technologically advanced as well. Last year, LMP1 cars were restricted on their engine size (Diesel: 3.7 liters, Turbo Petrol: 2.0 liters, Naturally Aspirated Petrol: 3.4 liters), their boost pressure (diesel: 2.8 bar, petrol: 2.5 bar), and via air restrictors. This year, however, the engine displacement limit has been removed, the restriction on boost has been bumped up to 4 bar, and there will be no restrictors. Using rules similar to Formula 1 (though at the same time quite different), each car has a set limit on the fuel they can burn in a race, as well as a limit on the quantity of fuel that can be burned at any given second throughout the race. There are three factory teams running hybrid-powered cars this year, as well as a pair of privateer teams running standard petrol engine prototypes. Additionally, chassis have been allowed a decrease in the minimum weights, wheel widths have been mandated narrower, and cockpits have been mandated to place the drivers in a more upright seating position for visibility and safety concerns. There are effectively two sub-classes of LMP1 this year, LMP1-H for the factory hybrid cars, and LMP1-L for the privateers. Within LMP1-H, the teams are allowed to choose whether they would like to recuperate 2, 4, 6, or 8 megajoules of hybrid energy per lap, and each has its own set of complications. For example, Audi has chosen only 2 megajoules, because it has allowed them to keep their hybrid system lighter, and require less cooling. Additionally, they say that 8 megajoules is really only feasible at the long track of Le Mans, and would handicap their car for the remainder of the WEC season. Porsche’s 919 hybrid was planned for the 8 megajoule allowance, but homologated for only 6 megajoules after some testing and deliberation. Toyota have also opted for the 6-megajoules, but are running their hybrid system through only a single super-capacitor. Toyota’s car provides electric energy to all four wheels (more motors), while both Porsche and Audi have elected to run an electrically driven pseudo all-wheel-drive system, with combustion engines powering the rear wheels, and electric motors powering the front wheels. Audi’s e-tron Quattro system is an update of the “flybrid” system they used last year. It’s all a bit confusing, but the cars are made to be faster and more efficient than ever before. Just know that it involves some form of ERS, and in the case of Porsche, that means crazy electric turbochargers. So far, the Porsche has proven to be quickest over one lap, topping the pre-season test times, as well as a pole position at Spa. How that will affect their ability to run quickly over a long run is yet to be seen. Road & Track sensationally called the Toyota TS040 a “1000 hp AWD Le Mans Kaiju”. If Toyota is bringing a pair of Kaiju, then they’ll have to contend with five German-built Jaegers, three from Audi and two from Porsche. Nobody knows the true figures except insiders, but it has been intimated that Porsche has even more than that on tap. This could be the resurgence of the CanAm and European Interseries races that we’ve been waiting for for 40 years. In the pre-Le Mans Test, Toyota was quickest by quite a good margin, though we’re not certain that any of the teams were really showing their full hands. It is quite possible that any of them could still be quickest, and we won’t really know until qualifying sessions begin on Wednesday. LMP1-H Entrants – Audi Sport Team Joest – Audi R18 e-tron Quattro LMP1 (4.0 liter turbo-diesel V6) Car #1 – Tom Kristensen, Loic Duval, and Lucas di Grassi Car #2 – Andre Lotterer, Benoit Treluyer, and Marcel Fassler Car #3 – Oliver Jarvis, Marco Bonanomi, and Filipe Albuquerque Toyota Racing – Toyota TS040 Hybrid LMP1 (3.7 liter naturally aspirated V8) Car #7 – Alexander Wurz, Stephane Sarrazin, and Kazuki Nakajima Car #8 – Anthony Davidson, Sebastien Buemi, and Nicolas Lapierre Porsche Team – Porsche 919 Hybrid LMP1 (2.0 liter turbo V4) Car #14 – Marc Lieb, Romain Dumas, and Neel Jani Car #20 – Timo Bernhard, Mark Webber, and Brendon Hartley LMP1-L Entrants – Lotus – Lotus was supposed to be attending with a new car, but it would not pass crash tests, and they opted to withdraw. Rebellion Racing – Rebellion R-One (Toyota built RV8KLM 3.4 liter naturally aspirated V8) Car #12 – Nicolas Prost, Nick Heidfeld, and Mathias Beche Car #13 – Fabio Leimer, Dominik Kraihamer, and Andrea Belicchi LMP2 (Le Mans Prototype 2) is a cost-capped prototype category that requires a production “stock block” engine with some modification. This class has never really gotten the attention that has been given to the higher category, (Exceptions being here in the US with the Acura vs. Porsche battles of 2008ish, and the current European Le Mans Series and TUSCC, where no LMP1 cars compete). This year, as in the past, the class is absolutely dominated by Nissan powerplants, mounted in a handful of different chassis manufacturers. The driving talent in this grid is pretty amazing, and they should be able to shuffle these cars around quite well, making for some excellent racing. Chassis manufacturers include Morgan, Ligier, Zytek, Oreca, and Alpine. Among them, most are powered by Nissan engines, though there are a few Judd-BMW V8s, and a single HPD Honda V6 Turbo. In the past, the LMP2 class has been “fast but fragile”, but lately these cars have proven to be a bit more robust and haven’t really slowed at all. LMP2 Entrants – Strakka Racing – Strakka was supposed to be prepared for Le Mans with a new DOME chassis, but withdrew about 3 weeks before the race. Millennium Racing – Millenium was a last minute withdrawal (yesterday), and even had the cars loaded and the trucks packed. The funding for the effort would not arrive until the middle of the week, so the plug was pulled. Sebastien Loeb Racing – Oreca 03R (Nissan 4.5 liter V8) #24 – Rene Rast, Jan Charouz, and Vincent Capillaire G-Drive Racing – Morgan LMP2 (Nissan 4.5 liter V8) #26 – Roman Rusinov, Olivier Pla, and Julien Canal SMP Racing – Oreca 03R (Nissan 4.5 liter V8) #27 – Sergey Zlobin, Mika Salo, and Anton Ladygin #37 – Kirill Ladygin, Nicolas Minassian, and Maurizio Mediani Pegasus Racing – Morgan LMP2 (Nissan 4.5 liter V8) #29 – Julien Schell, Nicolas Leutwiler, and Leo Roussel Oak Racing – Team Asia – Ligier JS P2 (Honda Performance Development 3.5 liter Turbo V6) #33 – David Cheng, Ho-Pin Tung, and Adderly Fong Race Performance – Morgan LMP2 (Judd-BMW 4.0 Liter V8) #34 – Michel Frey, Franck Mailleux, and Jon Lancaster G-Drive Racing By OAK Racing – Ligier JS P2 (Nissan 4.5 liter V8) #35 – Alex Brundle, Jann Mardenborough, and Mark Shulzhitzkiy Signatech Alpine – Alpine A450b (Nissan 4.5 liter V8) #36 – Paul-Loup Chatin, Nelson Panciatici, and Oliver Webb Jota Sport – Zytek Z11SN (Nissan 4.5 liter V8) #38 – Simon Dolan, Harry Tincknell, and Marc Gene Greaves Motorsport – Zytek Z11SN (Nissan 4.5 liter V8) #41 – Michael Munemann, Alessandro Latif, and James Winslow #42 – Tom Kimber-Smith, Matt McMurry, and Chris Dyson Newblood by Morand Racing – Morgan LMP2 (Judd-BMW 4.0 liter V8) #43 – Christian Klien, Gary Hirsch, and Romain Brandela Thiriet by TDS Racing – Ligier JS P2 (Nissan 4.5 liter V8) #46 – Roman Rusinov, Olivier Pla, and Julien Canal KCMG – Oreca 03R (Nissan 4.5 liter V8) #47 Matthew Howson, Richard Bradley, and Alexandre Imperatori. Murphy Prototypes – Oreca 03R (Nissan 4.5 liter V8) #48 – Nathanael Berthon, Rodolfo Gonzalez, and Karun Chandhok Larbre Competition – Morgan LMP2 (Judd-BMW 4.0 liter V8) #50 – Pierra Ragues, Ricky Taylor, and Keiko Ihara The GTE (Grand Touring Endurance) class is the category for street-based tin-toppers, in which recognizable sports cars compete, and is virtually unchanged from the 2013 specification. The class, as has been the case for a couple of years, has been split into GTE-Pro and GTE-Am, where the pros are usually factory-backed and given the most up-to-date machinery, and GTE-Am has a minimum number of hours to be covered by non-professional drivers (Silver or Bronze drivers if you understand the rating system). This year the class will be contested by Privateer Ferrari 458 Italias and Porsche 911s, as well as factory effort Porsche 911 RSRs, Chevrolet Corvette C7.Rs and Aston Martin Vantage GTEs. GTE-Pro Entrants – AF Corse – Ferrari 458 Italia GT2 Car #51 – Gianmaria Bruni, Toni Vilander, and Giancarlo Fisichella Car #71 – Davide Rigon, James Calado, and Olivier Beretta Ram Racing – Ferrari 458 Italia GT2 Car #52 – Matt Griffin, Alvaro Parente, and Federico Leo Corvette Racing – Chevrolet Corvette C7.R Car #73 – Jan Magnussen, Antonio Garcia, and Jordan Taylor Car #74 – Oliver Gavin, Tommy Milner, and Richard Westbrook Porsche Team Manthey – Porsche 911 RSR Car #91 – Patrick Pilet, Jorg Bergmeister, and Nick Tandy Car #92 – Marco Holzer, Frederic Makowiecki, and Richard Lietz Aston Martin Racing – Aston Martin Vantage V8 GTE Car #97 – Darren Turner, Stefan Mucke, and Bruno Senna Car #99 – Darryl O’Young, Alex MacDowall, and Fernando Rees GTE-Am Entrants – Ram Racing – Ferrari 458 Italia Car #53 – Johnny Mowlem, Archie Hamilton, and Mark Patterson Krohn Racing – Ferrari 458 Italia Car #57 – Tracy Krohn, Nic Jonsson, and Ben Collins Team Sofrev ASP – Ferrari 458 Italia Car #58 – Fabien Barthez, Anthony Pons, and Soheil Ayari AF Corse – Ferrari 458 Italia Car #60 – Peter Ashley Mann, Lorenzo Case, and Raffaele Giammaria Car #61 – Luis Perez Companc, Mauro Cioci, and Mirko Venturi Car #62 – Yannick Mallegol, Jean-Marc Bachelier, and Howard Blank Car #81 – Stephan Wyatt, Michele Rugolo, and Sam Bird JMW Motorsport – Ferrari 458 Italia Car #66 – Abdulaziz Turki AlFaisal, Seth Neiman, and Spencer Pumpelly IMSA Performance Matmut – Porsche 911 GT3 RSR Car #67 – Erik Maris, Jean-Marc Merlin, and Eric Hellary Car #76 – Raymond Marac, Nicolas Armindo, David Hallyday Team Taisan – Ferrari 458 Italia Car #70 – Shinji Nakano, Pierra Ehret, and Martin Rich SMP Racing – Ferrari 458 Italia Car #72 – Andrea Bertolini, Viktor Shaitar, and Alexsey Basov Prospeed Competition – Porsche 911 GT3 RSR Car #75 – Francois Perrodo, Markus Palttala, and Emmanuel Collard Car #79 – Cooper MacNeil, Bred Curtis, and Jeroen Bleekemolen Dempsey Racing With Proton Competition – Porsche 911 RSR (Type 991) Car #77 – Patrick Dempsey, Joe Foster, and Patrick Long Proton Competition – Porsche 911 RSR (Type 991) Car #88 – Christian Reid, Klaus Bachler, and Khaled Al Qubaisi 8 Star Motorsports – Ferrari 458 Italia Car #90 – Frankie Montecalvo, Gianluca Roda, and Paolo Ruberti Aston Martin Racing – Aston Martin Vantage V8 GTE Car #95 – David Heinemeier Hansson, Kristian Poulsen, and Nicki Thiim Car #98 – Paul Dalla Lana, Pedro Lamy, and Christoffer Nygaard ‘Garage 56’ is a specialty class providing one additional spot on the grid for a vehicle that showcase new and innovative technology. This year, that position has been allotted to Nissan’s ZEOD RC (Zero Emissions On Demand Racing Car). The car was designed by Ben Bowlby, moving on from lessons learned in the Nissan DeltaWing program (granted a Garage 56 entry in 2012). The car makes use of a quite small 1.5 liter direct injected turbocharged 3 cylinder engine (quoted at around 400 horsepower) combined with a hybrid-electric drivetrain. The car, however, eschews traditional hybrid drive for the ability to drive one complete racing lap at racing speed on pure electric drive per stint. Basically, once every hour or so, the ZEOD will be able to run a fully electric 8.469 miles. As it stands, the ZEOD is faster than all of the GTE cars, but slightly slower than the slowest of the LMP2 cars. The technology of the small lightweight engine, and the range extending hybrid system could certainly be developed for many other applications, including in racing. Nissan Motorsports Global – Nissan ZEOD RC Car #0 – Lucas Ordoñez, Wolfgang Reip, and Satashi Motoyama
How to watch:
There are a number of ways to follow the race this year, and it’s getting so easy to follow with the proliferation of mobile devices, tablets, and satellite radio, that there is no excuse not to. Le Mans, this year, has a number of live-stream feeds, including the live broadcast on FIAWEC.com and their own LiveStream.com channel. A subscription to the live stream service is only about 10 dollars through the Le Mans 24 app (Google Play or iTunes Store availability). Additionally, in-car video, track-side video, and other streams are offered through a number of outlets, most notably Audi’s own broadcast at Audi.tv. After the races are over, the event will be parceled into smaller hunks and uploaded to YouTube. For great English-language coverage of the race, tune in to RadioLeMans.com for live streaming radio. Each of their broadcasts are then loaded to iTunes for free download in podcast form, often uploaded while the race is still in progress. If you are lucky enough to be at the circuit (I will be going for the first time!), you can tune in to RLM’s coverage on terrestrial broadcast channel 91.2 FM. Crucially, Fox Sports networks will be providing 25 hours of coverage, including half an hour of lead in, half an hour of post-race, and 24 hours of flag-to-flag coverage. While Fox Sports 2 isn’t carried in as many homes as Fox Sports 1 is, there is still a televised presence in the united states for 23.5 hours, and 1.5 hours is limited to streaming in the midnight hours. Saturday, June 14 – 8:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. (FOX Sports 1, LIVE) Saturday, June 14 – 4:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. (FOX Sports 2, LIVE) Saturday, June 14 – 5:00 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. (FOX Sports GO, LIVE) Saturday, June 14 – 6:30 p.m. to 1:00 a.m. (FOX Sports 2, LIVE) Saturday, June 14 – 1:00 a.m. to 7:30 a.m. (FOX Sports 1, LIVE) Sunday, June 15 – 7:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. (FOX Sports 2, LIVE) All times are listed in EST. All photos provided by FIAWEC.com, Adrenal Media, and Nissan.