Race organisers the Automobile Club de l'Ouest (ACO) have announced the 56 entries invited to the 80th running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans this June 16-17.
The list includes some surprises, with a total of four Audi R18s at the top of the list, including two powered by hybrid technology leading the field as no.1 and 2 with lead drivers Andre Lotterer and Allan McNish. The complete driver line-ups are yet to be confirmed as the ACO only require a single driver to be named at this stage of the process.
The two Audi hybrids will be joined by the two Toyota TS030 Hybrids that will also contest much of the FIA World Endurance Championship, though they miss the opening round of the new series at Sebring at the start of March, only joining for the 6 hour event at Spa-Francorchamps.
Despite the well publicised departure of the Peugeot Sport squad the LMP1 class maintains a strong line-up, featuring several experienced teams.
Rebellion Racing return with two Lola-Toyota coupes and the French OAK Racing squad have three cars on the entry list – one in LMP2 and two Morgan-Judd labelled machines in the LMP2 ranks. Henri Pescarolo's team have a two car team using two different cars, the first the Pescarolo 03 – derived from the disastrous AMR-One chassis – the second the Dome S102. Both will be powered by Judd engines.
The premier class is completed by three teams making their LMP1 debuts at Le Mans.
After several season of running in the LMP2 category in the American Le Mans Series Dyson Racing are granted two entries for their Mazda powered Lola coupes. Two HPD ARX-03a from UK teams Strakka racing and JRM complete the class, Strakka moving into LMP1 afte two season in the lower prototype class with HPD machinery.
LMP2, often the poor relation on the Le Mans entry list in past years, has been transformed into the largest and, perhaps, most competitive looking class due to content the race.
After the success of the ORECA 03 chassis and Nissan engine in 2011 the components dominate the 18 car field with six teams using the both to create the same package that took Signatech Nissan to the class title in the 2011 Intercontinental Le Mans Cup.
As you would expect the team return, this time with a two car entry, as do Greaves Motorsport, defending class champions at La Sarthe, with Alex and Martin Brundle and Lucas Ordonez already confirmed in one car, Ordonez joining Greaves after racing with Signatech in 2011.
Amid those returning with the ORECA chassis Alan Docking Racing – under the guise of ADR-Delta – enter a sole car with Australian John Martin as lead driver. Martin drove in Superleague Formula in a car prepared by ADR. As well as outings in the series Martin has driven in British F3 and for his home nation in A1GP. He also showed his 24 hour credentials by comfortably setting the pace in last October's Britcar 24 Hours.
The class also includes two more American teams. Level 5 Motorsports return for another year at Le Mans, this time with an HPD powered ARX-03b chassis, while Starworks Motorsport – less than a week after finishing as runners-up in the Rolex 24 are to make their Le Mans bow as part of an ambitious full season in the World Endurance Championship, also with the latest iteration of the ARX chassis.
One of the less eye-catching, but more headline-grabbing entries is the Colin Kolles run Lotus entry, actually using a Lola chassis with Lotus badged BMW-based Judd engine.
The German manufacturer's withdrawal from endurance racing – in favour of their DTM program – is one of the major changes in the GTE Pro ranks, along with the decline in Lotus' works GT assault, reduced to just a single entry on the reserve list for 2012.
In recent years the GTE Pro class (nee GT2) has been the location of some of the closest racing in ACO regulation racing, yet the entry list for Le Mans shows the class as a shadow of that that arrived for the 2011 event.
2011 winners Corvette Racing enter their normal two cars, boasting an altered driving line-up after the departure of Olivier Beretta from the GM fold and the arrival of young American Jordan Taylor in the team's endurance set-up.
As well as BMW and Lotus Risi Competizione are Le Mans absentees for another year, though the Ferrari 458 contingent is strong enough to make it the best represented marque in class.
AF Corse bring two cars, with Giancarlo Fisichella and Andrea Bertolini – long a Maserati driver in GT1 series – as nominated first drivers.
Small British team JMW Motorsport and Luxury Racing return for a second year with the newest GT racer from Maranello. Luxury Racing have one car in each of the GTE classes, one of many to take advantage of the 2012 eligibility of the Ferrari 458 for the lower of the two GT classes.
After the failure – and cancellation – of the AMR-One last season Aston Martin Racing drop back to their GT racing roots. Stefan Mucke will lead one car in the GTE Pro ranks with Fischer Racing/Young Driver graduate Christoffer Nygaard helming the team's GTE Am entry while familiar Aston Martin man Darren Turner waiting on the reserve list in a third car.
The Nygaard led Aston is part of a bumper GTE Am category – numerically boosted in some part by the eligabilty of the newer generation of cars as five teams bring the Ferrari 458 to the class.
Luxury Racing enter a sole car, led by Pierre Ehret after he moved from CRS Racing following the British team's decision to concentrate on the role in developing the new McLaren MP4-12C. Long time endurance racer Tracy Krohn's eponymous team returns as do Monegasque outfit JMB Racing. Perhaps the most eye catching of the Ferrari teams are the two AF Corse entries – taking the team's total commitment at Le Mans – one led by American Robert Kauffman, a man unfortunately best remembered for his role in Mike Rockenfeller's high speed accident during the night of the 2011 event.
Also bringing a two car team – after their triumphant 1-2 finish in the Am category's Le Mans debut are Larbre Competition, though after splitting their allegiance between Corvette and Porsche machinery in 2011 switches fully to the US marque. The Porsche representation on the 2012 grid is lower than in past years. Only Flying Lizard Motorsports and Team Felbermayr–Proton run the latest Porsche in the Pro class, but both bring a second car for the Amateur class alongside three other 997.
After contesting the Pro class in 2011 both IMSA Performance Matmut and Prospeed Competition drop into the amateur ranks with one car each – a Patrick Pilet led GTE Pro class car, however, is first reserve for the former.
The final Porsche in the GTE Am comes from the James Watt Automotive led JWA–Avila squad and driver Paul Daniels – both long term, if low key visitors to Le Mans in the GT classes.
The field is completed by the radical looking Delta Wing project, taking the 56th pit created for experimental cars at Le Mans.
After the opening two rounds of the new FIA World Endurance Championship at Sebring, then Spa the field for the 2012 24 Hours of Le Mans will form up for the official test day on June 3 before the race itself on June 16-17.