Teams, Le Mans, 2017

Thin prototype field gives Toyota their best chance to finally win Le Mans

2017 Le Mans 24 Hours previewPosted on | Author Keith Collantine

Are Toyota finally going to score their first victory in the Le Mans 24 Hours this weekend?

They single-handedly account for half of the prototype class contingent for this year’s race so on strength of numbers alone you have to fancy their chances.

Toyota, Circuit de la Sarthe, Le Mans 24 Hours test, 2017
Toyota are the pre-race favourites
Saying Toyota are overdue a win in the French endurance classic is like saying Fernando Alonso is a bit fed up with Honda. Toyota’s defeat in the final minutes of last year’s race was an outcome so cruel it even provoked expressions of sympathy from their rivals.

This time around there aren’t as many rivals for Toyota to go up against. The LMP1 entry list numbers a pitiful six cars. That’s less than half of the 14 which entered the race just two years ago, when Toyota, Porsche, Audi and Nissan all fielded entries.

Three of those cars will be TS050s: The two regulars from the World Endurance Championship, plus a third Toyota is adding just for this race. However compromises have already been made to its driver line-up. Ryo Hirakawa was originally scheduled to drive, then dropped at short notice in favour of Nicolas Lapierre – a driver the team cut from its squad three years ago. Then Jose Maria Lopez was injured at Silverstone, had to miss Spa, and has traded places with Stephane Sarrazin to join Lapierre and Yuji Kunimoto in the team’s extra car.

Despite their superiority in numbers Toyota cannot afford to underestimate their only true remaining rival. Porsche profited from Toyota’s misfortune last year to claim their record-extending 18th win in the category.

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While Toyota won the opening two World Endurance Championship races there is no question Porsche will be prepared to the ultimate for another assault on the Circuit de la Sarthe. The set-up requirements are very different for this ultra-high-speed track even compared to a venue such as Spa-Francorchamps.

Sadly Robert Kubica abandoned his plans to take on the race in the only other LMP1 entry run by ex-F1 team boss Colin Kolles. The non-hybrid ENSO CLM-NISMO P1/01 enjoys massive straight line speeds, proving the engine Nissan produced for its woeful 2015 campaign was good for something. That should keep it ahead of the massive LMP2 field at La Sarthe, but a podium shot is only going to happen if the hybrid LMP1s hit trouble. But with so few of them and so far to go, that’s not unrealistic.

But one F1 race-winner who is making his debut this year is Rubens Barrichello. His Dutch entry in the LMP2 class is financed and co-driven by retailed Frits van Eerd, who also sponsors Max Verstappen.

F1 drivers in the 2017 Le Mans 24 Hours

Number Driver Team Car Notes
1 Andre Lotterer Porsche 919 Highly-rated one-time F1 race starter had three Le Mans victories with Audi.
7 Kamui Kobayashi Toyota TS050 There’s one Japanese driver in each of the Toyotas. Kobayashi has the most F1 experience.
7 Stephane Sarrazin Toyota TS050 Perennial Le Mans runner-up: he was second for the fourth time last year.
8 Anthony Davidson Toyota TS050 Like Toyota, Davidson is seriously overdue a Le Mans win. This will be his tenth race.
8 Sebastien Buemi Toyota TS050 Currently dominating the Formula E championship, Buemi also hasn’t won Le Mans yet.
8 Kazuki Nakajima Toyota TS050 Was minutes from victory last year when his TS050 failed.
13 Nelson Piquet Rebellion ORECA-Gibson 07 Formula E success has help put some distance between him and Crashgate.
24 Jean-Eric Vergne Manor ORECA-Gibson 07 Making his Le Mans debut with John Booth and Graeme Lowden’s ex-F1 squad.
25 Vitaly Petrov Manor ORECA-Gibson 07 Will have to go well to make up for sharing a car with ex-Champ Car racer Roberto Gonzalez.
29 Rubens Barrichello Nederland Dallara-Gibson 07 The 45-year-old GP winner for Ferrari became a Brazilian Stock Car champion after F1 exit.
29 Jan Lammers Nederland Dallara-Gibson 07 Lammers made his final F1 appearance in 1991 and has huge experience at this level.
31 Bruno Senna Rebellion ORECA-Gibson 07 Driving for the former LMP1 outfit who are expected to contend for class honours this year.
34 Karun Chandhok Tockwith Ligier-Gibson JSP217 ELMS squad has experienced Chandhok plus classic Gulf livery.
51 Lucas di Grassi AF Corse Ferrari 488 GTE Sadly left without an LMP1 seat following Audi’s withdrawal but has a shot at class victory.
63 Jan Magnussen Chevrolet Corvette C7.R Long-time Corvette racer will be hoping Chevrolet can rival Ford and Ferrari this time.
82 Giancarlo Fisichella Risi Competizione Ferrari 488 GTE Came close to class victory last year and should be in the mix again this time.
54 Olivier Beretta Spirit of Race Ferrari 488 GTE Nine-time F1 race starter drives for AF Corse’s offshoot team this year.
84 Will Stevens JMW Ferrari 488 GTE Has stepped down from LMP2 and will race one of the field’s many Ferrari 488s.
98 Pedro Lamy Aston Martin Vantage GTE It’s the usual Le Mans drill for ex-Lotus racer Lamy, who should be a class win contender.

How to watch the 2017 Le Mans 24 Hours

We will be following the Le Mans 24 Hours on F1 Fanatic Live. In The UK you can watch the race live on Eurosport 1 from 1:45pm, race starts at 2pm.

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32 comments on “Thin prototype field gives Toyota their best chance to finally win Le Mans”

  1. After last year #PrayforToyota

    1. @alec-glen Now you see just how effective praying is…

      1. @psynrg turns out that praying is a total waste of time after all!

        What a race though, had a bit of everything.

  2. Di Grassi was withdrawn earlier in the week with a football related ankle injury. He raced Formula E with the injury, but didn’t think he could get through Le Mans due to higher demands.

    Kamui Kobayashi took pole with a lap record on the post chicane La Sarthe, less than half a second from the ultimate pre-chicane record.

    1. @eurobrun what do you mean by “post chicane La Sarthe”? The chicanes are still there, aren’t they?

      1. I think he means “post-insertion-of-chicanes” La Sarthe, as opposed to before the chicanes were inserted.

        1. Aah! Understand. Ta!

        2. Yeah, that’s what I meant :)
          Post the creation of the chicanes. Sorry for the ambiguity.
          Just imagine the lap-time that today’s cars could achieve on the 1985 configuration (without chicanes)!

    2. But highest average speed of any configuration! Beating the 1985 record

    3. Kobayashi’s 3:14.791 lap record is over 2 seconds quicker than the previous record set by Neel Jani in 2015, and those were supposed to be the fast cars.

      After the devastating way Toyota lost Le Mans last year, I’m rooting for the #8 car of Sebastian Buemi, Anthony Davidson and Kaz Nakajima to win it. I know “deserve’s got nothing to do with it”, but for me these 3 guys REALLY do deserve to win this race.

  3. Seeing “Vaillantes” on the starting grid just gives me chills. I was a massive fan of the comic books growing up.

  4. IIf im correct, kobayashis average lap speed was faster than current generation f1 cars around fastest f1 track monza

    1. But that’s comparing Le Mans with Monza. I’m not sure that average lap speed means an awful lot, to be honest. Comparing the WEC and F1 cars on the same circuit is more revealing. If you look at the lap times around the same circuit – Monza, they show Mercedes Benz WO7 at 1.21.13 and Toyota TS050 at 1.30.55, which is still quite a difference.
      Source: http://fastestlaps.com/tracks/monza
      And at Spa, Mercedes Benz WO7 at 1.46.74 and Toyota TS050 at 1.53.66.
      Personally, I’d love to see what an F1 car could do around a lap of Le Mans – if it could deal with the road surface.

      1. obviously f1 cars are faster… I am just just stating an interesting stat — f1 cars wont beat this lap time average because they don’t race on suitable tracks …and then indycars at indianapolias are another 70-80mph faster over 1 lap than either of these series cars. I was just trying to point out how fast the current breed of lmp1 cars are at their historical track, by anyone’s reckoning, it is fast! f1 cars will never race at le mans, but ofcourse they would be faster.

      2. @nickwyatt, the problem is that the ACO has sworn that no other race series other than their sanctioned race series will be allowed to use the Circuit de la Sarthe (which effectively limits it to the WEC and the European Le Mans Series, which has started holding a warm up event for the 24 Hours race).

        Any time that any other series has gone to Le Mans, they have only been allowed to use the Bugatti short circuit – the ACO does not want anything that could potentially overshadow the 24 Hours of Le Mans given that it is effectively the centrepiece of their entire series.

  5. Oh god, Kamui Kobayashi!
    That pair on Sauber, PER-KOB, was soooo fun to watch. Alongside with Mansell-Piquet on Williams-Honda, the most exciting pairs of drivers I’ve ever seen.

    1. Perez and Kobayashi were indeed a fun duo to watch. I was lucky to meet them both briefly at COTA in 2012. Kobayashi’s 3rd place at Suzuka is still one of my favorite F1 moments. “Ka-mu-i, Ka-mu-i, Ka-mu-i!!”

      Here’s Kobayashi’s record setting lap from Thursday evening qualifying as called by Sam Hancock.
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cjfE-Doaauk

      At the 4:10 mark, 9-time Le Mans winner Tom Kristensen interviews Kobayashi after he secured pole position for Toyota.
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hdAmbG_BNhM

      1. Thanks for the links!

  6. 6 car race for 24 hours… wow that sounds incredibly dull! Hopefully there’s good racing down the field so there’s something worth watching for you WEC fans.

    And a win out of 6 cars when you have 3 of them… it’s hardly anything to brag about even if Toyota do win it.

    1. you don’t understand WEC at all. it is not 6 cars… 6 cars is just one of the classes in WEC – the LMP1 class – but so many fans of “sportscars” follow all the classes. . also you don’t understand that you “have to be in it to win it” – and please understand the technology of LMP1 in WEC is quite ahead of F1 in so many ways.. you say only 6 cars… well how many F1 cars are in for a chance of a win every f1 race???? FAR LESS THAN 6.

    2. @robinsonf1 I see you have no experience with endurance racing whatsoever. One doesn’t just finish a 24H race to being with, let alone beat Porsche in the process of it.

      1. @xtwl, even so, he does have a point that the LMP1 field is at the weakest it has ever been in decades, as it is effectively five entrants in that class (the ByKolles entry is a modified last generation LMP2 car and is barely faster than an LMP2 car these days, not to mention struggling badly with reliability – they’ve been hit with problems in the warm up session for the race).

        They are competing against Porsche, but it is a Porsche team that is under heavy pressure from the VW Group to cut costs and thus not operating at their maximum capacity (I might be mistaken, but the 2017 version of the 919 is a fairly minor update on their 2016 car).

        As @manjuboy notes, in some ways the greater interest lies outside of the LMP1 class and in some of the lower classes. Mind you, the constant bickering over the Balance of Performance in the GTE classes is getting pretty obnoxious now, particularly with Ford’s repeated efforts to try and trick the ACO into handing them an advantage by setting deliberately slow times in the practise and first qualifying session.

    3. @robinsonf1 – So Jolyon Palmer has a 1 in 20 chance of winning a Grand Prix? Same logic.

    4. For my money, the GTE racing is where it’s at in Le Mans.

      A couple years ago, Bruno Senna in his Aston Martin and Toni Vilander in his Ferrari fought for and traded the lead back and forth for 45 minutes straight. Then all of a sudden Tommy Milner snuck up on them in his Corvette. Awesome stuff!

      This year, the LMP2 field is gigantic. I think close to 25 cars are competing. And because of the new spec this year, some of them have higher top speeds than the marque LMP1 Hybrids. Anthony Davidson said he could see LMP2s closing in on his Toyota approaching the braking zones.

  7. Anybody going for the tripple crown should participate this year with a 1/6 chance ;)

    1. that is a better odd than winning an f1 race in the last 5 decades.

  8. TexanHombre
    16th June 2017, 14:24

    Both of the Taylor brothers are racing. They’re dominating IMSA this year, winning every race thus far. Prankster Jordan in the GTE-Pro Corvette squad (seeking another class win) and Ricky in LMP2.

  9. It’s an absolute crime that Kobayashi isn’t still in F1. Maybe a Le Mans victory will give him some vindication.

  10. Robert McKay
    16th June 2017, 21:22

    If that non-manufacturer Kolles LMP1 somehow won instead of either Porsche/Toyota I don’t think I would stop laughing until next year’s race.

  11. GTLM (sorry for my Americanized class name) is where the real race is. Ford v Chevy v Ferrari v Astin Martin v Porsche.

  12. C’mon… Lammers, Barrichello and van Eerd!

  13. From the text describing this article: “Half of the prototype cars in this year’s Le Mans 24 Hours are Toyotas. Will they finally take their first win and avenge their 2017 defeat.”
    Keith must have a crystal ball or have special powers. I urge him not to reveal the results of the next F1 races in the same manner:-)

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