24 Hours of Le MansFIA WEC

PREVIEW: 2018 24 hours of Le Mans – LMP1 class

7 Mins read
Credit: Craig Robertson

The LMP1 class is the one to watch for this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans, with Toyota Gazoo Racing holding the torch for the hybrid-powered cars and looking to secure the overall win that has been stolen from then at the last two attempts at the prestigious race. However, with the surge in non-hybrid powered LMP1 cars this year, it will be a race of reliability to see who will come out victorious.

Going into the race, Toyota are the clear favourites, but it has been reliability issues that have prevented the team from ever taking an overall victory and lifting the coveted trophy. The Japanese team has focused a lot on these issues in a desperate attempt to finally be first over the line and Fernando Alonso will be keen for Toyota to have finally sorted this as he strives to pick up his second leg of the Triple Crown of Motorsport.

Being down on pace, the non-hybrid teams will be hoping Toyota has a return of their 2016/17 form to have a shot and taking the top step. Rebellion Racing were best of the rest at the first FIA World Endurance Championship race, 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps, last month so are keen favourites to inherit the win, if not join Toyota on the overall and class podiums. However, the LMP1 field hosts a long list of highly prestigious racers and none of them should be written off as we get closer to the most anticipated endurance race of the year.

All ten cars in this class are also competing in the full 2018/19 WEC  Super Season, so any points scored this weekend will aid them it claiming the World Championship this time next year.

#1 Rebellion Racing – Rebellion R13 – Gibson

Credit: Craig Robertson

André Lotterer – Neel Jani – Bruno Senna

André Lotterer and Neel Jani both know what it feels like and what it takes to secure an overall victory at Le Mans, having stood on the top of the podium for Audi Sport and Porsche LMP1 Team respectively in the past. Bruno Senna has proven himself as a strong edition to this team, so the #1 car is definitely one to watch.

Rebellion have shown themselves as the best of the rest already this season, so are in a prime position to optimise if Toyota, who are the expected favourites, have any issues during the race. Senna raced with Rebellion in LMP2 for the 2017 race, and the team had been looking strong in class until the last few hours when technical issues hit the car and put any hopes of a podium out of reach. Hopefully they will have more luck this year.

#3 Rebellion Racing – Rebellion R13 – Gibson

Credit: Craig Robertson

Thomas Laurent – Mathias Beche – Gustavo Menezes

This car has a completely different line-up this season than it did last, with Matthias Beche being the only driver in the car to have raced with Rebellion last year. He too had an unlucky 2017 Le Mans, with his Rebellion being disqualified for a technical infringement post-race. With the disaster of the LMP1-hybrids last year, battling for the LMP2 podium meant cars were also fighting for the overall podium. Beche’s car did appear on the overall podium last year before they were disqualified.

Beche has a point to prove this year and will be hoping to help Rebellion, once again, put a car on the overall podium. Thomas Laurent was in the Jackie Chan DC Racing car that nearly took the overall victory last year, securing the LMP2 win, so will be hoping to repeat his performance this year. Gustavo Menezes will be a great edition to the car as the trio strive to finish in the best possible place.

#4 Bykolles Racing Team – Enso CLM P1/01 – Nismo

Credit: Craig Robertson

Oliver Webb – Dominik Kraihamer – Tom Dillmann

Endurance racing has not been the best for the Bykolles Racing Team, but after having sat out the second half of the 2017 WEC season they appear to have come back stronger in 2018. Although not topping the timing screens, the severe reliability issues that seemed to plague the #4 in years gone by look to be pretty much resolved.

The trio of Oliver Webb, Dominik Kraihamer and Tom Dillmann will look to have a great race this weekend with the #4, proving that the team are a fighting contender in this championship. Making it only 7 laps into the race last year, the guys will be fighting hard to make sure the Bykolles does not depart the race early and makes it to the chequered flag.

#5 CEFC TRSM Racing – Ginetta G60-LT-P1 – Mecachrome

Credit: Craig Robertson

Charlie Robertson – Michael Simpson – Léo Roussel

It wasn’t the strongest start to the season for the Manor team, with the two cars being forced to sit out of the first race at Spa due to financial reasons. We’re pleased to see the two cars return to the grid, with the investment situation claimed to be ‘stable’ by Sporting Director Graeme Lowdon.

Léo Roussel had mysteriously disappeared from the entry list for Spa, but looks to be back in the car and ready to race for Le Mans. He and his team mates Charlie Robertson and Michael Simpson will be hoping for a clean race for the car so they can finally show what their Ginetta is capable of and where it stands in the competitive order of the field.

#6 CEFC TRSM Racing – Ginetta G60-LT-P1 – Mecachrome

Credit: Craig Robertson

Oliver Rowland – Alex Brundle – Oliver Turvey

Alike the sister car, the trio of the #6 will be grateful they still have the chance to fight in Le Mans this season. As they too did not race in Spa, it is unclear where they will be in the competitive order, so will likely be seen as the dark horses of the class.

Alex Brundle is the most experienced driver around the Circuit de la Sarthe, spearheading the team of ‘Olivers’ for the #6 car. We suggest keeping an eye on the all-British line-up as they start to show where they stand in the competitive order from the practice session occurring mid week.

#7 Toyota Gazoo Racing – Toyota TS050 – Hybrid

Credit: Craig Robertson

Mike Conway – Kamui Kobayashi – Jose Maria Lopez

Toyota have clearly been the most competitive team at the last two renditions of Le Mans, but lady luck has not been on their side. Now as the only hybrid-powered car on the track, they have little competition but themselves as they go into this race. It will certainly be a question of reliability for the two cars, as it is pretty much guaranteed that if both cars can make it through the full 24-hours of racing they will bring home a one-two for the team.

Mike Conway and Kamui Kobayashi are very experienced with the Toyota and Le Mans, and after racing for the first time at the 24-hour event last year Jose Maria Lopez has shown himself as a worthy talent. The team took pole position last year, which helped them retain the lead through the opening stints of the race. They will be looking to repeat this performance and trying to stay ahead of the sister car to chase down the overall win they were deprived of in the middle of the night last year.

#8 Toyota Gazoo Racing – Toyota TS050 – Hybrid

Credit: Craig Robertson

Sébastien Buemi – Kazuki Nakajima – Fernando Alonso

The #8 team also have a win owed to them, with the memorable end to the 2016 rendition of the race when Kazuki Nakajima stopped on the start/finish line with one lap of the race to go, watching helplessly as the leading Toyota tumbled down the order to end up not classified. They had led most of that race, so Sébastien Buemi and Nakajima most definitely feel that Le Mans owes them something.

Alonso would be extremely happy to have that comeuppance repaid this year as he chases the second victory on his mission to be the second driver to ever achieve the triple crown. Competing in the full season of WEC for the 2018/19 championship, he has given himself two attempts to win the race whilst also competing in Formula 1.

#10 Dragonspeed – BR Engineering BR1 – Gibson

Credit: Craig Robertson

Henrik Hedman – Ben Hanley – Renger Van Der Zande

There was some dispute as to whether or not the #10 DragonSpeed car would compete at Le Mans after Pietro Fittipaldi‘s accident at the 6-Hours of Spa. After many test by BR1 Engineering, the car was deemed safe to race, so none of the reserve entries have had a chance to join the grid for the 86th edition of the blue-ribboned event.

With Fittipaldi still unable to race whist he recovered from his two fractured legs, Renger Van Der Zande has stepped up into the vacant seat to complete the line up. Henrik Hedman and Ben Hanley with gain Van Der Zande’s endurance racing experience to the team as they strive for a great result in this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans.

#11 SMP Racing – BR Engineering BR1 – AER

Credit: Craig Robertson

Vitaly Petrov – Mikhail Aleshin – Jenson Button

Jenson Button makes his WEC and Le Mans debut this weekend, following his ex-McLaren team mate into endurance racing. The Brit will remain in the car for the rest of the WEC rounds in the Super Season, aiding to help them win the championship. Although Button’s hopes of taking the overall victory are not as certain as Alonso’s, he is still pumped to be staring his WEC career at Le Mans.

Vitaly Petrov and Mikhail Aleshin come into their fourth Le Mans appearances this year, so have a lot of experience that they can pass onto Button in the build up to the race. The trio are looking to be a success story on their first outing as a team at Le Mans and secure some good points to take forwards into the season.

#17 SMP Racing – BR Engineering BR1 – AER

Credit: Craig Robertson

Stéphane Sarrazin – Egor Orudzhev – Matevos Isaakyan

After being released from Toyota this year, Stéphane Sarrazin joins the Russian pair in the sister SMP Racing car. Know for his consistency, Sarrazin has made a lot of appearances in Le Mans, usually in a third entry car for the Japanese team.

Egor Orudzhev and Matevos Isaakyan are both rookies at Le Mans, so will be looking to Sarrazin for his wisdom and advice with racing for 24-hours and around the semi permanent race track. The Russian duo have made great progress and showed brilliant promise racing for SMP in European Le Mans Series and are looking to continue that this weekend.

The Checkered Flag will be reporting all week from Le Mans including around the clock coverage of the race, we hope you join us on our journey through what looks set to be another highly competitive edition of the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Avatar photo
574 posts

About author
The Checkered Flag’s correspondent for the FIA World Endurance Championship. Working in motorsport as a hobby and as a professional, Alice is a freelance digital communications manager, video editor and graphic designer at OrbitSphere. She also runs and manages her own YouTube channel - Circuit The World - with videos on gaming, travel, motorsports and reviews.
Related posts

Sébastian Buemi: "I’m so happy to finally have a weekend without any issues."

3 Mins read
The triumphant Toyota Gazoo Racing team have been reflecting on their weekend at the 6 Hours of São Paulo.

Toyota Triumph In Gripping 6 Hours Of São Paulo

5 Mins read
The #8 Toyota Gazoo Racing car becomes the fifth different winner from five races in the 2024 FIA World Endurance Championship.

Toyota Lock Out Front Row At 6 Hours Of São Paolo

3 Mins read
Toyota Gazoo Racing set the pace as the FIA World Endurance Championship heads back to Brazil for the first time since 2014.