Countdown to Le Mans 2019: The LMP1 Class

by Alice Holloway
Meet the LMP1 grid for the 2019 24 Hours of Le Mans

LMP1 is the only class that single-race entries are not allowed to compete in, meaning that the eight cars that make up the class are all full season FIA World Endurance Championship entries.

Having taken the World Endurance LMP1 Manufacturers’ Championship at the last race, 2019 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps, Toyota Gazoo Racing have already made it impossible for anyone to overtake their drivers for the drivers’ title, meaning the Japanese team will finish the Super Season with both titles secured. The only question that remains to be answered is which driver trio will take the WEC crown.

Fernando Alonso, Sebastien Buemi and Kazuki Nakajima – the winners of the 2018 24 Hours of Le Mans – look to be in the strongest position to do this. With a 31-point lead over the sister car after the #7 suffered a technical fault at the Belgian race last month, the championship is pretty much in the #8 team’s hands. If Toyota get the one-two that they are predicted to achieve, it would not matter whether the #7 took victory, it would still be enough for the Alonso/Buemi/Nakajima car to take the drivers’ title.

It is a sure fact that Mike Conway, Jose Maria Lopez and Kamui Kobayashi will be pushing the sister car hard to claim victory at Le Mans, knowing that they missed out on putting their name in the history books as the drivers to take Toyota’s first 24 Hours of Le Mans victory last year. Toyota have stated that there will be no team orders given at Le Mans, freeing the two cars to race against each other (as long as no contact or damage is caused between the cars), so the Toyota battle could be something to keep you on the edge of your seat for the 24-hour race.

Toyota Gazoo Racing LMP1 entry Le Mans 2019
Credit: Rce Photography

The Privateers have not had the easiest time against the hybrid Toyotas, with their pace being off the Japanese team consistently throughout the Super Season. They may not be able to take a straight fight to car #7 and #8 for the overall Le Mans victory, but they will be waiting in the wings to pounce if something were to go wrong with the championship leaders.

As throughout most of the season, the battle for ‘best of the rest’ looks like it will be between Rebellion Racing and SMP Racing. The two teams have fought with their four cars for the final spot on the podium for most races, only capitalising on a higher position than third when issues or disqualifications fell upon Toyota.

Rebellion have maintain their driver line-ups for the majority of the super season, with only Mathias Beche not participating in all of the WEC races. Beche moved from the #3 to the #1 for the 1,000 Miles of Sebring as Andre Lotterer was forced to miss the round due to Formula-E commitments. Aside form this race, the #1 Rebellion Racing Gibson GL458 4.5 L V8 has been piloted by Lotterer, Neal Jani and Bruno Senna throughout the Super Season.

Beche was replaced by Nathanael Berthon for the Sebring race and has stayed on board the #3 with Thomas Laurent and Gustavo Menezes for the remainder of the Super Season.

rebellion Racing #3 24 Hours of Le Mans 2019
Credit: Race Photography

SMP have seen a few driver changes this year, most notably when Jenson Button left them at the beginning of 2019. Claiming that juggling Super GT and WEC was “impossible”, the Brit was replaced for one race by Brendon Hartley, before Stoffel Vandoorne came onboard the team for his home race in Belgium last month. Vandoorne will stay with Vitaly Petrov and Mikhail Aleshin in the #11 for Le Mans.

Sergey Sirotkin was the late entry to the #17 car, taking over from Matevos Isaakyan after the Russian driver lost his Williams Racing Formula One seat at the end of last season. Sirotkin has been in the car with Egor Orudzhev and Stephane Sarrazin since the American race in March.

SMP Racing crew for the 2019 24 Hours of Le Mans
Credit: Race Photography

Bykolles Racing Team and DragonSpeed complete the LMP1 grid with a single entry each. This race marks the final WEC race that DragonSpeed will compete in the LMP1 class as the team turn their attention and focus onto their IndyCar campaign. Drivers Ben HanleyHenrik Hedman and Renger van der Zande will be looking for a strong final race for the team that has had a fairly forgettable maiden LMP1 season.

The #10 DragonSpeed LMP1 entry
Credit: Race Photography

Having shuffled through a varied combination of six drivers during the Super Season, Bykolles will be looking to have a strong finish to the Super Season. The Nissan ‘Nismo’ engine has constantly been an issue for them, with pace always something the team has struggled for, but the trio of Tom DillmannPaolo Ruberti and Oliver Webb will hope to end the season well for the team.

The Bykolles Racing Team #4 LMP1 entry Le Mans 2019
Credit: Race Photography

The competition between the hybrid-Toyota cars and the non-hybrid Privateers has not been close this season, and early indicators from the Le Mans Test Day have shown that this isn’t likely to change ahead of the 24-hour endurance event next weekend.

Two battles are highlighted as ones to watch in their own right: the Toyota vs Toyota battle for Le Mans glory, and the SMP vs Rebellion fight for “best of the rest”.

Car NumberTeamDriver 1Driver 2Driver 3
1Rebellion RacingAndre LottererNeal JaniBruno Senna
3Rebellion RacingNathanael BerthonThomas LaurentGustavo Menezes
4Bykolles Racing TeamTom DillmannPaolo Ruberti Oliver Webb
7Toyota Gazoo RacingMike ConwayJose Maria LopezKamui Kobayashi
8Toyota Gazoo RacingFernando AlonsoSebastien BuemiKazuki Nakajima
10DragonSpeedBen HanleyHenrik HedmanRenger van der Zande
11SMP RacingVitaly PetrovMikhail AleshinStoffel Vandoorne
17SMP RacingSergey SirotkinEgor OrudzhevStephane Sarrazin

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