Three-way fight as Le Mans goes from strength to strength

2014 Le Mans 24 Hours preview

Toyota TS040, Le Mans 2014Will this be the year Toyota finally takes its first victory at Le Mans?

The Japanese manufacturer, which scrapped its F1 team at the end of 2009, returned to endurance racing two years ago. Last year it claimed another second place at the Circuit de la Sarthe – equalling its best result from 1992, 1994 and 1999.

For its return Toyota has prepared one of the most exciting cars in motor racing today. The TS040 produces almost 1,000bhp when its naturally aspirated V8 engine and two energy recovery systems are running at their maximum, and deploy that fearsome grunt via four-wheel drive.

It won the two World Endurance Championship rounds so far in the hands of ex-F1 duo Anthony Davidson and Sebastien Buemi, plus Nicolas Lapierre. But to finally claim that coveted Le Mans victory they will have to see off the two most successful teams the great race has ever seen.

Audi have virtually owned this race for the last 14 years, in which time victory slipped through their fingers on just two occasions. That awesome record means they have won this race more than any other team – bar one.

That, of course, is Porsche. The 16-time winners, whose last triumph in 1998 was two years before Audi’s first win, are making their long-awaited return to the Circuit de la Sarthe.

Part of the appeal which has drawn a third manufacturer to Le Mans’ premier class is the flexibility in the rules which allows each of them to pursue their own power unit configuration. Toyota’s petrol V8 faces competition from Audi’s diesel V6 turbo and Porsche’s petrol V4 turbo.

Each has also approached the energy storage and recovery elements of the rules differently. Toyota and Porsche can deploy up to six megajoules of recovered energy per lap of La Sarthe, whereas Audi has opted for just two.

Audi’s record speaks for itself and the team is never to be underestimated. But it is going up against some of the stiffest competition it has ever faced at Le Mans following a troubled introduction for its heavily revised (though identically-named) R18 E-tron Quattro.

The most recent revisions to the Equivalence of Technology, intended to level the playing field between the manufacturers, has given its petrol-powered rivals the opportunity to consume more energy. And in the season-opening round at Silverstone two of its cars were badly damaged in crashes.

Porsche took the fight to Toyota in round two at Spa-Francorchamps before it ran into technical trouble with its 919 Hybrid.

Audi R18 E-tron Quattro, Le Mans 2014On the driver front, Audi has strength in numbers as the only team to field three cars. But it has lost one of its star names in Allan McNish, who stepped down following his victory in last year’s race. Lucas di Grassi has been promoted in his place alongside Loic Duval and the most successful Le Mans competitor of all time, Tom Kristensen.

The second of three Audis is piloted by the 2012 and 2013 race-winning trio of Marcel Fassler, Andre Lotterer and Benoit Treluyer.

And following his departure from Red Bull, Mark Webber returns to Le Mans following a 15-year absence. Last time, driving for Mercedes, he had the misfortune to flip his car twice during qualifying and the race warm-up due to instabilities in the car’s design.

Webber shares his car with former race winner, Timo Bernhard, and former Red Bull junior driver Brendon Hartley, who is making his first start in an LMP1 car. Porsche have another previous winner in their second car, Romain Dumas, along with Marc Lieb and Neel Jani.

Porsche’s return to the World Endurance Championship is a shot in the arm for the series and will be bolstered next year by another manufacturer entrant: Nissan. In the meantime the Japanese car maker is participating under the ‘Garage 56′ rules this year which allow for an experimental car that does not conform to any of the ordinary classes.

Cars, Le Mans 2014The ZEOD RC bears more than a passing resemblance to the DeltaWing run in the category two years ago and shares one of its drivers – Satoshi Motoyama, who memorably did all he could to repair his car after being taken out by Kazuki Nakajima’s Toyota. GT Academy graduates Lucas Ordonez and Wolfgang Reip will join him.

The petrol-electric hybrid uses a 1.5-litre three-cylinder turbo and an electric engine. Nissan intend for it to complete one lap per stint in fully electric mode. The car may be a pointer to what Nissan plan for their GT-R LM Nismo which will compete in the LMP1 category next year.

These ten cars account for just a fraction of the 56-car field which, at the time of writing, includes 18 LMP2 racers and 28 GT cars, nine of which in the professional class.

The colours of Lotus are gone from the Rebellion LMP1 cars, where Nick Heidfeld remains for another year. The Lotus-branded LMP1 entry, using a new T129 chassis, has also failed to materialise.

Strakka have also withdrawn their LMP2 car, developed with Dome, following a crash during testing at Spa while Danny Watts was driving. And Caterham, who competed last year, were only given a reserve spot for their LMP2 car this year, and so pulled out of the race. But another F1 name has been revived in the LMP2 category: Ligier, whose JSP2 chassis is being raced by the OAK and Thiriet teams.

Safety changes and slow zones

The shock accident which claimed the life of GT driver Allen Simonsen three laps into last year’s race has put a renewed focus on safety ahead of the latest running of the Le Mans 24 Hours.

While some drivers have urged against making drastic changes to the circuit, judicious alterations have been made in several places with the aim of improving safety.

In the area where Simonsen crashed, barriers have been moved away from trees and more tyre walls added. Elsewhere, run-off areas have been extended and the kerbs at the final chicane have been re-profiled.

Another safety change for this year is intended to reduce the number of long Safety Car periods which have been a feature of recent races. As an alternative to deploying the Safety Car, race control will be able to enforce a ‘slow zone’ through which drivers must run at reduced speed.

LMP2 driver Jon Lancaster explains how it will work in this video:

Formula One drivers in the 2014 Le Mans 24 Hours

The former F1 contingent in the Le Mans field diminishes with every passing year. There are 17 ex-F1 racers in the field this year, ten fewer than there was six years ago.

Driver Team # Car Class Notes
Lucas di Grassi Audi 1 R18 E-tron Quattro LMP1 Third Le Mans start for Audi, finished third last year, raced for Virgin in F1 in 2010.
Alexander Wurz Toyota 7 TS040-Hybrid LMP1 Two-times winner in 1996 and 2009, fourth with Toyota last year.
Stephane Sarrazin Toyota 7 TS040-Hybrid LMP1 Single start for Minardi in 1999, runner-up for third time last year.
Kazuki Nakajima Toyota 7 TS040-Hybrid LMP1 Still a Toyota man, won Super Formula with them in 2012 after losing F1 seat.
Anthony Davidson Toyota 8 TS040-Hybrid LMP1 Ex-Minardi, BAR and Super Aguri driver has won both WEC races this year…
Sebastien Buemi Toyota 8 TS040-Hybrid LMP1 …sharing a car with Red Bull tester Buemi and Nicolas Lapierre.
Nick Heidfeld Rebellion 12 R-One LMP1 His 1999 Le Mans debut ended when Mercedes team mate Dumbreck had his famous flip.
Mark Webber Porsche 20 919-Hybrid LMP1 Also flipped a Mercedes that year, he’s back for the first time since.
Mika Salo SMP 27 ORECA 03R LMP2 Ex-Ferrari driver returns to Le Mans after four-year break.
Marc Gene Jota 38 Zytek Z11SN LMP2 The 2009 winner is not in an LMP1 car for the first time.
Christian Klien Newblood 43 Morgan LMP2 First Le Mans start in three years for the former Red Bull driver.
Karun Chandhok Murphy 48 Oreca 03 LMP2 Ex-HRT and Lotus driver’s second year with Murphy, sixth in class last year.
Gianmaria Bruni AF Corse 51 Ferrari 458 Italia LMGTE Pro Plenty of success in GT cars since his Minardi days, including two Le Mans wins.
Giancarlo Fisichella AF Corse 51 Ferrari 458 Italia LMGTE Pro Ended long F1 career at Ferrari and still drives for them. Class win in 2012.
Olivier Beretta AF Corse 71 Ferrari 458 Italia LMGTE Pro Has raced every Le Mans since his sole F1 campaign in 1994, taking six class wins.
Jan Magnussen Corvette 73 Corvette C7 LMGTE Pro His son may have an F1 podium but Magnussen senior has four Le Mans class wins.
Bruno Senna Aston Martin 97 Vantage V8 LMGTE Pro Third Le Mans start, will reunite with Chandhok at Formula E team Mahindra after it.
Pedro Lamy Aston Martin 98 Vantage V8 LMGTE Am Survived massive F1 test crash in 1994, later part of Peugeot’s LMP1 line-up.

2014 Le Mans 24 Hours on F1 Fanatic Live

We’ll be following the Le Mans 24 Hours on F1 Fanatic Live so be sure to join us on Saturday and Sunday.

The race begins at 3pm UK time and Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso will be the ceremonial starter.

Over to you

Are you going to watch Le Mans this year? Who’s your tip for overall victory?

Have your say in the comments.

Images © Toyota, Kraling, Audi

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55 comments on Three-way fight as Le Mans goes from strength to strength

  1. AmbroseRPM (@ambroserpm) said on 11th June 2014, 13:01

    I’ll be watching! Toyota #8 is my prediction but am hoping for Porsche #20! Go Mark ‘

  2. JackySteeg (@jackysteeg) said on 11th June 2014, 13:50

    Toyota are no doubt the team with the form right now but it seems to me that Audi haven’t shown their hand yet. They had just passed Toyota for the lead in Silverstone before the first rain shower. A brave decision to weather the storm on slick tyres proved costly in the end. In Spa, Toyota and Porsche used the race as an opportunity to trial a Le Mans-style low-downforce setup, whereas Audi went for an unusual high-downforce setup. Audi’s results for the first two races are not really representative of the performance they’ll have at Le Mans, and I still have a feeling they will win the big race again. But Toyota are going to put in their biggest challenge yet. It’s going to be very interesting.

    As for Porsche, it’s tough to say how it will go for them. The new car has been as quick as the others, but they haven’t really shown the reliability in the 6 hour races. It’ll be an educational year for them. I am sure they’ll be right up there, but I feel that technical niggles will prevent them from winning this year.

    Another point of interest is the weather. A glance at a couple of forecasts indicates that it’s going to be sunny for much of the race, but there is an outside chance of a storm on Saturday evening, which has potential to turn the race on its head.

    Elsewhere there’s also Matt McMurry making his Le Mans debut at the age of 16 – set to be the youngest driver ever to take part in the race.

  3. timi (@timi) said on 11th June 2014, 14:33

    Le Mans 24H is pretty much the only Le Mans race I watch each season – it’s great tuning in during the day, following it on my phone for a few hours and then tuning back in once darkness has descended.

    While I can’t really comment on the quality of LMP1 racing, it is the degree of Power Unit flexibility that is truly great. As the article mentions, there’s a 3cyl Turbo from Nissan (although not conforming to the rules in entirety), Diesel 4cyl Turbo from Porsche, Diesel V6 Turbo from Audi and a Petrol V8 from Toyota. It’s beautiful to see so many different configurations yielding similar peak power.

    Additionally, Porsche SE must be absolutely laughing all the way to the bank. They have two of their subsidiaries – Audi and Porsche (AG) making two vastly different engines with some of the highest stress tolerances and efficiency ratings out there! They’ll have some absolute dynamite hybrid every day road cars in the next few years, which should in theory decimate their competition.
    It’s for this reason I am slightly confused as to why Toyota chose a V8 engine. Their road-car lineup stays well away from anything larger than 6 cylinders, and even that’s a push! Maybe they think they have the whole road car hybrid thing down with the Prius. Or maybe they’re in LMP1 primarily to win, instead of furthering their road car exploits.

    Either way, it’s clear Porsche SE and Nissan are in LMP1 to further their road car programs, and hopefully the industry as a whole! Exciting times ahead.

    • timi (@timi) said on 11th June 2014, 14:37

      Side note: I see absolutely no reason why theses sorts of engine regulations weren’t introduced into F1 instead of the turbo V6. I personally love F1’s new engines for a plethora of reasons, but why make everyone have the same thing? I would have loved to see Merc run a turbo V4 against ferrari’s V8 and Renaults V6 or something. Give them a peak power limit, and it’s all good really. This “everyone must have x” is a bit old-fashioned, especially when LMP1 shows just how cool it can be having different routes to the same goal!

      • Dizzy said on 11th June 2014, 19:06

        Remember though that to get LMP1 to work they have to implement the balance of performance to equalize the different engine types.
        The Audi diesels for instance are heavily restricted with smaller air restrictions, fuel cells & stuff to give the petrol powered cars a chance to compete with them.

        I don’t ever want to see that sort of thing brought into F1.

        If you just say there will be no equalization, You will just get everyone going with the same formula as happened when F1 had 3.5Ltr engines when everyone ended up with V10s because that was the best engine format to use at that time.

        The people who think that you would get everyone doing different things are kidding themselfs.

        • London (@london) said on 29th June 2014, 2:28

          I don’t know that they’re BOP’ing the cars like that anymore. I believe the only way they balance the cars now is w/the fuel flow limits, not air restrictors, etc. I may be wrong but I’m almost certain the WEC was trying to simplify the whole equalization process, so they just do it by fuel flow now.

    • BJ (@beejis60) said on 11th June 2014, 15:37

      @timi perhaps you may have misread or just were thinking of something else while typing, but the Porsche is a petrol V4, not diesel v4.
      And Volkswagen group owns Audi and Porsche, not the other way around of Porsche owning Audi, unless I misunderstood what you were saying…

      • timi (@timi) said on 11th June 2014, 16:07

        @beejis60 Volkswagen AG owns Audi and Porsche SE. However Porsche AG owns Volkswagen AG lol, so Porsche SE owns Volkswagen AG -> and in-turn Audi + Porsche. It’s massively confusing, so you can say one owns the other, and vice versa – hence why I mentioned both Porsche SE and AG in my first comment.

        And okay, Porsche’s is a petrol not a diesel. Thanks for clearing that up.

        • timi (@timi) said on 11th June 2014, 16:11

          @beejis60 Oh god the whole SE/AG thing is getting to me now!
          The second line should read “Porsche AG owns Volkswage AG -> and in-turn Audi + Porsche SE

          • BasCB (@bascb) said on 11th June 2014, 17:25

            This is not quite true @timi. Porsche AG did own (part of) VW AG, and was preparing to take it over but after a bit of towing and changes in the world with the economic downturn they agreed on something more resembling a merger, that ended up not quit happening because of too big a financial burden on Porsche ES, which owns a bit over 50% of VW AG now (while owning 100% of Porsch AG)

          • timi (@timi) said on 11th June 2014, 19:26

            Boy oh boy it just gets more complicated @bascb! So does Porsche ES technically own VW AG, and therefore Audi now?
            If so, then my original point is pretty much the same in so much that Parent company X owns/controls both Audi and Porsche so is doubly well-off in LMP1

          • BasCB (@bascb) said on 12th June 2014, 10:33

            I guess so @timi, although the state of Niedersachen still has a preferential say in things as well, If I am not mistaken (why can’t it be simple!)

  4. craig-o (@craig-o) said on 11th June 2014, 14:41

    Isn’t Shinji Nakano also in this race?

    A few former F1 test drivers (Gonzalez, Bird, Calado, Jani, Prost to name some) are also in this race.

    Anyway, I’m really looking forward to this, there’s a huge amount of sport on over that weekend so I will definitely have square eyes come Sunday night! I tried to watch all 24 hours last year but failed. Don’t think I will try again this year but I’ll try my best to watch at least two thirds of it.

    • JackySteeg (@jackysteeg) said on 11th June 2014, 16:02

      You’re right about Nakano – I believe he was due to race for Millennium Racing in LMP2 until they withdrew, but he’s now driving a Ferrari for Team Taisan in the LMGTE Am class.

  5. infernojim (@infernojim) said on 11th June 2014, 14:59

    I’m really excited to be going to this event this weekend, my first ever time.

    Having been to 7 GPs since 2006, I’m excited to see how this compares and enjoy something completely different.

    I’ll be torn between the Toyota / Ant Davidson crew and the Porsche / Mark Webber crew and quite delighted if either of their teams end up winning. Hoping to not see an Audi victory!

    We’re hiring a camper van that sleeps 6 and driving over on Friday, so it’s going to be such a great weekend!

  6. BJ (@beejis60) said on 11th June 2014, 15:40

    Been waiting for this, somewhat impatiently, since Spa. Like @jackysteeg said, I don’t think Audi has shown their speed yet, but IDK if they’ve been birdogging on purpose just to solely catch Porsche and Yota off-guard, or if they’ve truly had some misjudgements. We know that the third Audi was running low-drag aero at Spa and still couldn’t keep the pace with the two Yotas, so it will be interesting indeed.

  7. Flying Lobster 27 said on 11th June 2014, 16:10

    @keithcollantine, it is the 82nd running of the race, not the 91st (just after mentioning Allan Simonsen). Last year marked the race’s 90th anniversary though. Also, in the second paragraph, the first occurrence of 1994 should read 1992.

    After going to the race last year, I will be missing it altogether this year: a couple of friends are getting married near Le Havre. Pity, it certainly looks like it could be a cracker.
    It’s Toyota’s best chance at winning since 1999, Audi may look on the back foot but don’t count them out, and it’s going to be exciting to see how the Porsches progress.
    Despite the absence of the SRT Vipers, GTE Pro is another awesome-looking category. The Manthey Porsches and AF Corse Ferraris look a notch above Aston Martin so far, but hopefully the Imbalance of Performance that Corvette suffered with last year has been redressed.

  8. mantresx (@mantresx) said on 11th June 2014, 16:18

    Is there a place where I can see the list of broadcasters? last year I saw a live stream on the web but the quality was awful and was stuttering like crazy.

  9. JackySteeg (@jackysteeg) said on 11th June 2014, 16:29

    Practice has been halted by a very worrying accident for Loic Duval. Hope he’s okay…

  10. kpcart said on 11th June 2014, 16:38

    this lemans series is doing what f1 should not be doing, and are doing a better job at it. this v6 turbo/ERS fomula is not needed in f1, yes we can still have great racing now and then, but the atmosphere in the sport has suffered.

    • Dizzy said on 11th June 2014, 16:42

      “this v6 turbo/ERS fomula is not needed in f1″

      tell that to the engine manufacturers who asked for that formula to be introduced in f1. thats the only reason the fia went with the v6 turbo/ers formula, its what the manufacturers asked for.

      The indycar series also consulted engine manufacturers regarding what formula they wanted & guess what, They also ended up with a V6 Turbo formula.

      • Corrado (@corrado-dub) said on 11th June 2014, 18:07

        Don’t know exactly, but I think ONLY Mercedes asked for the 6-cylinder config. Ferrari and McLaren could have done w/o it for sure, Renault never did very well in the medium/big/luxury classes, so I don’t think they really cared that much about a 6-cylinder config engine as Mercedes in order to retire from F1. The other teams… just buy Ferrari, Mercedes and Renault engines.

        • George (@george) said on 11th June 2014, 18:37

          I think originally Mercedes and Renault wanted a 4cyl but Ferrari kicked up a fuss so we got V6 as a compromise.

        • Dizzy said on 11th June 2014, 18:57

          Honda, Toyota & Cosworth were also involved in the engine discussions as were VW Group.

          The general consensus amongst manufacturer’s was small capacity turbo’s with energy recovery.
          Inline 4 cylinder turbos was the initial proposal, As its said above Ferrari were against that & when VW group withdrew from discussions to focus on there new WRC program the remaining manufacturer’s agreed to go with V6 Turbos.

        • BJ (@beejis60) said on 11th June 2014, 18:58

          @corrado-dub No, it was also Renault asking for it, though they wanted an inline 4cyl, but was convinced by everyone else that the ICE could not be part of the body structure as a stressed body component, therefore requiring a “tub” type of cradle to be built for it… But to be honest, I’m not so sure how the 4cyl BMW, Hart, Megatron, and Zakspeed ICE units in the 80s were mounted.

      • Michel S. (@hircus) said on 12th June 2014, 6:03

        I wonder if, given the tighter packaging constraint of open-wheel racing designs, part of the concern is allowing teams to switch engines without having to do a complete chassis redesign (remember Brawn switching to Mercedes engine at the last minute)

  11. BasCB (@bascb) said on 11th June 2014, 17:11

    Such exciting and great technology in here. Just saw the extent of the safety cells durability proven again by that huge Duval shunt. Glad to see accidents end like that more often than not nowadays.

  12. WilliamB (@william-brierty) said on 11th June 2014, 17:18

    There’s much not to like about the FIA in recent years. A consistently deaf ear to the plights and pleas of fans, as most graphically illustrated with regards to double points this year in F1, and a complete lack of conviction in the essential crusade to create a clear ladder of series under F1 are among the more valid critiques leveled at the FIA, but since the formation of the World Endurance Championship in 2012 it can at least be accredited with the rejuvenation of sportscar racing. With the return of Porsche, and the future promise of Nissan and even Ferrari, the WEC has successfully reversed the worrying trend seen several years ago with numerous manufacturers pulling out, resultantly more amateur outfits and subsequently shaky viewing and attendance figures seen in case the ACO’s former Intercontinental Le Mans Cup. And in 2014, for the first time since 2009, I am typing this in France, with the promise of Audi vs Porsche vs Toyota in LMP1, and Aston Martin vs Porsche vs Ferrari in GTE simply to good to resist, especially greats drivers such as Lotterer, Duval (I do hope that crash wasn’t too bad), Dumas, Webber, Wurz, Heidfeld, Lappiere and Frédéric Makowiecki: of whom I am something of a fan. Do we have a spectacle in store to rival the Bahrain and Canadian Grands Prix? Perhaps for the first time since Group-B rallying F1 has a rival for viewership from within motorsport…

  13. Thomas said on 11th June 2014, 20:21

    I was under the impression that the third AF Corse driver is Toni Vilander, not Olivier Beretta. @keithcollantine

  14. Neel Jani (@neelv27) said on 11th June 2014, 20:46

    It’s 24 hours of endurance where man and machine are pushed to the limits but I think overall it’s Toyota’s race to loose.

  15. Bleeps_and_Tweaks (@bleeps_and_tweaks) said on 11th June 2014, 22:43

    I’ve got to go for Toyota this year, particularly with the big crash for Audi #1 today, but it would be great to see Porsche do well on their return.
    On another note, isn’t it fantastic to see Le Mans doing so well, with freedom in the regulations and innovation up and down the grid. I still haven’t had the pleasure to visit the race, but with 4 proper LMP1 contenders, next year may well be the year.
    It also offers more interest with people like Chris Harris and Patrick Dempsey racing in the Porsche Super Cup field; I will definitely be looking out for Harris after he finished 2nd in class during practice today.

    • bpacman (@bpacman) said on 12th June 2014, 10:10

      @bleeps_and_tweaks I agree that it’s fantastic to see Le Mans with such an excellent field – I’m really looking forward to a three-way fight for victory in LMP1.
      I think Harris and Dempsey are racing in different events. Harris is racing in the Porsche Carrera Cup – the support race which takes place at 11am on the Saturday morning – whereas Dempsey is entering the full 24 hour race with his team.
      As well as Dempsey, as a Manchester United fan, I’ll be intrigued to see how Fabien Barthez does in the #58 Ferrari!

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