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. Bleeps_and_Tweaks (@bleeps_and_tweaks) said on 11th June 2014, 22:46

    Oh and there is another huge reason to watch Le Mans, and the WEC in general at the moment: The drivers are driving flat out. Every. Single. Lap.
    There are several drivers that have recently been quoted as such, including Anthony Davidson. These guys are pushing every lap of their stint, which is so far removed from what we have in F1 at the moment. Even after 24 hours I bet the top 3-5 will be separated by less than a minute come Sunday.

    • PeterG said on 12th June 2014, 15:40

      ” The drivers are driving flat out. Every. Single. Lap.”

      Not strictly true as like F1 they do have fuel flow limits both in qualifying & the race (Using the same fuel flow meters as F1). They also have heavy restrictions on how much power from the Hybrid systems there allowed to use (In Megajoules rather than seconds per-lap) & where on the track there allowed to charge/discharge those systems.

      And as they said on the eurosport commentary yesterday they also have these restrictions for qualifying so can no longer turn the engines/turbo boost or hybrid systems up to get more power for qualifying as they could in previous years.

      The 2014 WEC regulations mean there far more fuel restricted than they have been in recent years as in LMP1 at least the ACO want a big focus on hybrid systems.
      The ACO also want to use Fuel flow & Hybrid power as a way to equalize performance. Audi have been frustrated this year that they have had there fuel cell size & amount of hybrid power reduced in order to remove any advantage they may have over Toyota/Porsche.

      • Bleeps_and_Tweaks (@bleeps_and_tweaks) said on 12th June 2014, 17:35

        @PeterG Those restrictions are in place yes, but the drivers will know of those in advance and will still push the car to its limits with all the power they have available to them if you see what I mean. The fuel flow and hybrid restrictions will be pre-set surely in steering wheel settings, once the correct setting is selected off they go. This is totally different to F1 because the driver is actively backing off, lift and coasting, saving tyres etc, I don’t think those compromises will need to be made at LeMans.

        • PeterG said on 12th June 2014, 18:36

          Drivers in WEC will still have to manage fuel, tyres etc….

          Like in F1 some of the fuel saving will be done via engine settings, But drivers will still have do some fuel management manually.

          What you tend to get is that the team will send 1 of its cars out to run flat out early on, But the others will be held back & be running to a pre-determined strategy as the car that wins Le Mans tends to be the car which had to make less pit stops.

          • PeterG said on 12th June 2014, 19:19

            I’d also point out that during the practice/qualifying coverage the in-car shots have shown lots of lift & coasting going on.

  2. juan fanger (@juan-fanger) said on 11th June 2014, 22:59

    The speed-limiter rules in sections, rather than the safety car, seems like a good idea. You’d still need the odd safety car, but mostly the cars can continue to race while the mess is cleaned up. Anyone see any problems implementing this in F1?

  3. Michel S. (@hircus) said on 12th June 2014, 5:23

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

    That should be 2011 and 2012, since the McNish-Kristensen team won in 2013 as stated.

  4. Arnold Triyudho Wardono (@ernietheracefan) said on 12th June 2014, 5:45

    Update: Marc Gene replacing Loic Duval

  5. The Caterham entry is running this year, contrary to what’s stated in the article. It was on the reserve list, then Caterham pulled the entry from the reserve list because they were miffed at being on the reserve list.

    They’re now in again as Greaves Motorsport (who run the car) were miffed with Caterham for pulling the car when it’s them who is running it. They re-instated it and it’s now competing as others have dropped out.

  6. Estesark (@estesark) said on 12th June 2014, 20:43

    The slow zone seems like a good idea to me because of the long lap length. I wonder how it might work in F1? I’ve become a bit tired of seeing the safety car out on the track for half a dozen laps, or more, at a time.

  7. matt90 (@matt90) said on 14th June 2014, 8:07

    @keithcollantine I think you might have the UK start time wrong.

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