The 84th running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans gets underway this weekend, and in the run up to the race The Checkered Flag is previewing each class, this time the focus is on the top class – LMP1.
Just like every year, the story of LMP1 becomes the story of the 24 Hours of Le Mans. As a result all eyes will once again be on three manufacturers (and two Privateers) as they gear up for the biggest race of year.
With the Top three teams choosing to drop their third entry and Nissan deciding not to return, LMP1 will once again drop in numbers as only nine cars have a chance to take the LMP1 (and more than likely overall) title.
After winning the 6 Hours of Spa last time out, the #8 Audi Sport Team Joest will have the momentum in terms of results, a trait they continued going into the recent Le Mans Test Day in which they topped the class with a time of 3min 21.375 seconds, 0.9 seconds quicker than their nearest competitor.
Porsche 919 Hybrid
Porsche 919 Hybrid
#1 – Timo Bernhard/Mark Webber/Brendon Hartley
#2 – Romain Dumas/Neel Jani/Marc Lieb
As the defending teams champions, the Porsche Team will be going into the race determined to defend their crown as Manufactures and Le Mans Champions, though the latter may prove to be more difficult.
It was front page news when the third Porsche entry had won the LM24, but with neither Audi or themselves choosing to take up the option of an extra entry the team will look to defend their crown with another car, even if it was disappointing to many that neither Nick Tandy nor Earl Bamber were offered an LMP1 drive for the race.
After two years together, the #1 car of Mark Webber, and Kiwi Brendon Hartley will be determined to collect their first Le Mans victory. Team mate Timo Bernhard may have already won the event, but has only tasted success with the competition and will want to prove himself to his new bosses.
As for the second car, a win may just be the incentive they need to be considered the number one car for 2016. Romain Dumas partnered Bernhard for their 2010 Le Mans victory, but once again, the two will be on opposite sides of the garage as they look to justify their moves away from Audi.
Marc Leib and Neil Jani complete the #2 line up. While the Hybrid’s from all teams have had issues this season the trio still leads the drivers standing and will be a real threat in the latter stages if further issues befall their rivals.
Audi Sport Team Joest
#7 – Andre Lotterer/Benoit Treluyer/Marcel Fassler
#8 – Lucas Di Grassi/Oliver Jarvis/Loic Duval
Some teams choose to change their line up on a regular basis, but not Audi. Now in their seventh season together, the #7 crew of Andre Lotterer, Beniot Treluyer and Marcel Fassler will aim for their fourth Le Mans. As arguably one of the most formidable line ups, they could easily use their experience to manage the car in the potentially tricky conditions.
Being the only drivers in the current field to have won the French classic more than once, the trio will look to make the most of a new R18-etron, though it’ll be their team mates who will have the momentum.
The #8 won the Spa race and topped testing. While this may be enough to see them take pole, that isn’t the whole story. Amongst the British fans, Oliver Jarvis will look to become the second Brit in two years to win the event while Loic Duval aims for his second success around the circuit. They’ll be joined by Lucas di Grassi.
Now an established figure in the Audi team, the Brazilian will be hoping to prove himself as to protect his seat in the future and to prove themselves as real competition for the experience of the #7 car.
Toyota Gazoo Racing
Toyota TS050 – HYBRID
#5 – Anthony Davidson/Kazuki Nakajima/Sebastien Buemi
#6 – Mike Conway/Stephane Sarrazin/Kamui Kobayashi
Life at the pinnacle of Endurance racing hasn’t been easy for the Toyota LMP1 team since they won the FIA WEC driver’s title back in 2014. Whether Le Mans can be the turning point for the Japanese manufacturer remains to be seen, though the prospect could be beyond reach.
The last time either car won a race was at the back-end of 2014 in the hands of Mike Conway and Stephane Sarrazin. The pair have come a long way in the past two years and a strong second place in Silverstone this year has been a sign of changing times. Kamui Kobayashi will join them for the 24 Hour race as they all aim to get back to the top of LMP1.
It appears a Japanese, British and French-speaking driver is popular amongst the outfit as 2014 champions; Sebastien Buemi and Anthony Davidson are once again partnered by Kazuki Nakajima. The trio have not had a strong race so far this season and will need a strong result if they have any chance of challenging the Audis or Porsches.
Test day wasn’t much better for them as the #5 and #6 finished in their numbered positions. The 24 Hours of Le Mans is nothing but unpredictable though and a strong finish is not beyond the realms of impossibility.
#12 – Nicolas Prost/Nick Heidfeld/Nelson Piquet Jr.
#13 – Matheo Tuscher/Dominik Kraihamer/Alexadre Imperatori
The controversy over the unreliable Hybrid systems has plagued the manufacturers, but one team who has benefited massively is Rebellion Racing. The Anglo-Swiss outfit has picked up two third places this season and the #13 car sits second in the drivers standings.
Rebellion will have to hope for a miracle though. The test day saw the #13, driven by Matheo Tuscher, Dominik Kraihamer and Alexandre Imperatori, six seconds off the pace of the #7. Their fastest time of a 3m 27.062s on the test day was 6 seconds down on the lead Audi.
Over the course of the race, including pitstops, the team will lose about 12 laps (40 mins,) assuming there are no problems. While this could be an issue for the line up, it’s still reasonable to assume a podium could be salvaged in the event that they have a clean race.
The #13 remains one of the few cars to improved its time from qualifying last year. Unlike the manufacturers though, they don’t have two crews for the night and day meaning fatigue could be a real issue towards the end of the race.
As for the #12, a strong result is not unlikely as they’ve only been a few tenths behind their sister car in testing. Nicolas Prost comes into 2016 with the honour of being the defending LMP1 Privateers Drivers’ champion once again being joined by Nick Hiedfeld.
Completing the list of part-time Formula E drivers’ is the series defending champion; Nelson Piquet Jr. While this won’t be the Brazilian’s first experience of the 24 Hour race, his last race came in 2006. Back then he was racing an Aston Martin in GT1, as a result, it’ll be a new venture for the well-versed Global RallyCross Champion.
#4 – Simon Trummer/Oliver Webb/Pierre Kaffer
With the success of Rebellion this season, it would be easy to forget the other Privateer team that continues to make up the numbers. It might be harsh to disregard ByKolles though especially considering the changes they’ve made in order to sustain themselves in LMP1.
The test day won’t make happy reading, as the Australian line up were a mere 3 seconds faster than the top LMP2 and 12 seconds down on the #7 Audi.
Oliver Webb and Simon Trummer will hope to continue the consistent result they showed at Spa, but will have a new team-mate in the form of Pierre Kaffer as regular driver James Rossiter takes a break for the week.