The organisers of the Le Mans 24 Hours, the Auto Club de l'Ouest (ACO), have announced the 55 car provisional entry list for the 78th running of the endurance race on June 12/13.
These 55 teams are a mix of teams invited for their performances in the various sportscar series around the world, and entrants picked from a list of applicants that has run to 80 cars in recent years.
That means there a mix of the famous names in endurance racing, and some names you might not expect. He we go through the entry list, picking up on talking points of those included and, occasionally, those not.
The premier class, LMP1, starts predictably enough. There are four diesel powered Peugeot 908s, the car that won the race last year.
Three of these are works entered examples. Don't let the slight differences between “Peugeot Sport Total” and “Team Peugeot Total” fool you, such changes only exist to get round an ACO rule that a single team can only enter two cars.
The fourth, like last year, has been handed over to a French privateer team. Last year it was Henri Pescarolo's eponymous squad, but with the Le Man legend's team understood to be struggling financially Peugeot have gone to Hughes de Chaunac's ORECA team, who have entered the car in the full European Le Mans Series season as well as being granted a place at Le Mans.
Again, predictably enough the main challenge to Peugeot's title will come from Audi. Like last year there will be three R15 prototypes entered, with Tom Kristensen and Andre Lotterer (presumably leading the trio of he, Marcel Fassler and Benoit Treluyer revealed last week) the nominated drivers for the cars officially entered by the German Joest outfit and Mike Rockenfeller leading the “North America” car.
The R15s will again be joined by a pair of the older R10 cars entered by Colin Kolles. But that is where much of the similarity ends in the prototype classes.
There are two works Lola-Aston Martin coupes entered, and a third entered by the French Signature Plus team. Curiously, despite the change of ownership the car keeps its 008 Aston Martin race number, suggesting there may still be some works interest in the entry.
Rebellion Racing, who were entered as Speedy Sebah last year, bring two cars to the top class after splitting their effort between P1 and P2 last year.
Then there are the interesting single car entries. Drayson Racing return to Le Mans with their Lola-Judd coupe in the hands of Paul Drayson and Jonny Cocker (all teams will have three drivers, but at this early stage many have only officially nominated one or two). The Mansell family, 1992 F1 champion Nigel and sons Greg and Leo, will enter a Ginetta-Zytek while Japanese manufacturer Dome will return to La Sarthe with an S102 coupe. American fans will also recognise ALMS stalwarts Autocon.
LMP2 sees more American interest. The Porsche RS Spyders that have won the class on the previous two occasions are gone and in have come a pair for HPD (nee Acura) ARX-01c chassis. The first is entered by British team Strakka Racing, who drop down from LMP1, where they raced a Ginetta last season.
The second is interesting, and must be an early favourite for the class, as it sees Highcroft Racing come to Europe for the first time. The Conneticut based team, who also drop down to P2 for 2010 after winning the ALMS title with the Acura ARX-02. Already confirmed in the cockpit will be 2009 overall Le Mans winner David Brabham and Marino Franchitti.
Simon Pagenaud, already confirmed for the team's ALMS campaign is, however, left off the entry list. Is this simply a product of the fact it's still four months until the race or a sign that Pagenaud may have a works drive for Peugeot, having been one of the drivers of the Pescarolo run diesel last year.
Their main rivals could come from many places. A pair of Pescarolo-Judds entered by Oak Racing, a team that have appeared on the class podium the last two years, a Lola coupe entered by the experienced RML team, now paired with an HPD engine after a fraught relationship with the Mazda powerplant.
Or the pair of Zyteks. The first entered P2 regulars Quifel-ASM and the second under the familiar name of Team Bruichladdich, the Scottish Whisky backed team having abandoned the venerable Radical.
The first of the GT classes, logically enough GT1, is still in a sorry state. Despite many of the 2009 GT1 cars being grandfathered in to the new regulations for the FIA GT World Championship the class at Le Mans, which uses the same rules has not benefitted greatly.
There are none of the Maserati MC12s, allowed under ACO rules for the first time. There are none of the Nissan GTR, one of the cars built to the new specification. There is a Lamborghini, but in the hands of the largely inept JLOC team I doubt that's a new car.
The only new cars in the field are a pair of Ford GTs. The example entered by Matech Competition, the team largely responsible for bringing the GT to European racing, is bound to garner some attention, thanks to the two drivers names at this stage.
They are both female, with Swiss single-seater refugee joining Formula 2 driver, and Sebastien Buemi's cousin, Natacha Hachnang. While in an era of Danica-mania female drivers are no longer quite the exotic rarities they once were the possibility of an all female line-up for Le Mans is PR and publicity dream.
The old style cars are led by the Luc Alpand Corvettes, who finished second behind the surviving works car last year, though the Young Driver Aston Martin car is possibly an early favourite.
Once more GT2 looks the most competitive class featuring a far more varied field that has been seen in past years.
There are the expected names in the Porsche and Ferrari ranks. Flying Lizard, IMSA performance, Felbermayr-Proton in Porsches. Hancook-Farnbacher, AF Corse and defending champions Risi Competitzione in Ferraris, the latter with two car, Tracy Krohn already installed in one – you can almost smell the green and blue livery.
But they are joined by the duo of works Corvettes, a pair of German entered BMW M3s, with Jorg Muller and Andy Priaulx as team leaders. Both manufacturers could feature in the race for the lead.
There are lone examples of the Spyker C8 and Aston Martin Vantage, the latter run by JMW Motorsport after they moved from Ferrari and with Rob Bell as the first driver, a driver who, if matched in talent by drivers two and three, could be battling for the class lead.
The final car is another curious entry – the Rocketsports Jaguar. A car that manage to contest a single ALMS race last yeat (Laguna Seca) and didn't even finish that, a car that has had questions raised about its legality in GT2 outside of the ALMS (where rules are often bent to increase car counts).
It could easily be argued that the main reason for its inclusion is a hope to entice a works Jaguar effort back to Le Mans, but the car must become an early favourite.
Should that happen the car to benefit would be the second Felbermayr-Proton Porsche of Mark Lieb in a new arrangement that sees the prototype and GT classes have separate reserve lists of five cars each.
The fact that the Porsche, and Lieb – one of the most experienced and successful Porsche drivers – are on the reserve list is something of a surprise, as if the AF Corse entry of Giancarlo Fisichella being mired at third GT reserve, regardless of the fact the Italian is entered for the full Le Mans Series, and his presence would doubtless bring more attention to the class.
On a similar tangent it should be noted that there is no return for actor Patrick Dempsey and his team, having completed the race last year racing for charity.