It is that time of year once again when the prestigious 24 Hours of Le Mans has come around. Taking to the track for the 90th time, cars will race around the Circuit de la Sarthe for 24 hours with this year’s race starting an hour later than usual, at 16:00 CEST (15:00 BST). 62 cars take to the grid as they did last year, with two temporary gazebo garages set up at the end of the permanent pit building to allow for the additional two cars. However this year we have seen none of the reserve cars entered onto the entry list, meaning the 62 that will line up on Sunday will be the 62 cars that were originally granted entry to the race.
Although the race is the third round of the 2022 FIA World Endurance Championship, it is also open to competitors of the European and Asian Le Mans Series, IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar runners and stand alone Le Mans entries, doubling the usual WEC grid size. Only competitors of the WEC will be eligible to score points, and with double points on offer this is an important one for the championship, but all cars are in contention for the overall and class wins.
Balance of Performance May Favour Glickenhaus
Five cars make up the Hypercar class for the blue-ribboned event as Glickenhaus Racing bring a second entry to the race. After their impressive run at the 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps, taking the team’s first class and overall pole position, the privateer will be looking ahead to repeating successes at Le Mans and fighting for overall victory. We have seen Toyota Gazoo Racing struggle in qualifying against both Glickenhaus and Alpine Elf Team, and even though track position certainly isn’t that important in the grand scheme of the race, if they can convert better pace to race day and stay on top of reliability they could be a headache for the reigning Le Mans’ winners.
It’ll be an important race for the #8 crew of Brendon Hartley, Sebastien Buemi and Ryo Hirakawa who find themselves very much on the back foot in the championship after a hybrid failure at Spa. With double points up for grabs this weekend and a close battle with the other teams for the rest of the season still on the cards, if they lose to the sister car at Le Mans they could find themselves on the back end of team orders for the rest of the season. Le Mans is certainly a race where we have seen teams with multiple cars start to favour one over the other, and with 50 points up for grabs for the winner it’s not surprising that this is usually the swing point of the WEC championship.
WRT Looking to Repeat Last Year’s Success
WRT have, this year, been showing as strong of a performance as they did in 2021, currently leading the LMP2 standings. They go into the 24 Hours of Le Mans as a favourite in class, but don’t underestimate the power of the United Autosports duo, who have been hot on the tail of the WRT throughout the opening two rounds. WRT bring a third car to Le Mans, hoping to take a clean sweep of the class podium. Last time out in Spa, Sean Gelal, Rene Rast and Robin Frijns made an appearance on the third step of the overall podium, a feat they would like to repeat if not better this weekend.
With 12 additional cars, LMP2 sees the biggest class growth with an almost doubling of the usual grid. TDS Racing, Duquwine Team, Graff Racing and Panis Racing are among some of the familiar Le Mans runners to be returning for the 90th rendition of the race, with the likes of Job Van Utiert, Ben Hanley and Pietro Fitipaldi back in LMP2 cars for the special event. It does promise to be an action packed class with a potential of seeing a rouge overall podium finisher if any issues befall the Hypercars.
Sebastien Ogier will also make his Le Mans debut this year in the #1 Richard Mille Racing team.
Porsche Hoping to Banish Le Mans Woes
The last few years of racing at the 24 Hours of Le Mans for Porsche have not been the best, and ahead of their return to the top class the Porsche GT Team will be looking to rectify that. You have to go back to 2018 to find the last time a Porsche was on the top step of the GTE Pro podium when the German manufacturer took a one-two during their historic celebrations of the event. With it being quite likely that the four GTE Pro Porsche drivers will be promoted up to Hypercars this year, it could be the team’s last appearance in Pro, so they’ll be looking to make it count.
There is talk of the GTE Pro class potentially not being a feature in the 2023 WEC season due to Ferrari and Porsche moving up to Hypercars, but what ramifications that may have on Le Mans remains to be seen. At a worst case scenario, the centurion celebration of Le Mans will only feature one GTE class.
With the race being 24 hours, each WEC team picks up a third driver for the event. Daniel Serra joins championship leaders James Calado and Alessandro Pier Guidi in the #51, whilst Davide Rigon takes the extra seat in the sister car. For Porsche, Laurens Vanthoor will be on board the #92 with Kevin Estre and Michael Christensen, with Frederic Makowieki in the #91. Corvette Racing complete their WEC line up with Alexander Sims with Antonio Gardia, Jordan Taylor and Nicky Castburg taking on the second Corvette entry. Felipe Fraga, Sam Bird and Shane Van Gisbergen complete the Pro entries with the Riley Motorsport Ferrari.
Aston Martin Aim of Le Mans Glory
It has been a great start to the season for the Aston Martin-running teams, with the Northwest Aston Martin Racing entry leading the way ahead of TF Sport who sit with two second places on the board. Both teams will be looking to continue this momentum and take glory at Le Mans as Ben Keating, Michael Sorensen and Henrique Chaves in the TF Sport look for their first win of the season. Coming off their maiden win this season, however, the Dempsey-Proton Racing entry of Christian Ried, Harry Tincknell and Sebastian Priaulx will be racing for a Porsche resurgence. If the Balance of Performance (BoP) is assigned well, we should have a close race between the manufacturers in both classes, leading to a climactic end of the race.
Another car in this class to keep an eye on is the #93 Proton Racing. This is the car that actor Michael Fassbender will be driving for his Le Mans debut. He will share the Porsche with Matt Campbell and Zacharie Robinson. Campbell has a lot of Le Mans experience, including class wins, so will be a great asset to Fassbender’s campaign.
The 24 Hours of Le Mans action gets underway 13:00 BST on Wednesday with the first four hour practice session.