For anyone that’s been living under a rock recently, this is Le Mans week and today is Mad Friday. If you don’t know what that is, try clicking here, here and, if you’re desperate to see two Allegros and a VW T4 attempt burnouts, here.
Mad Friday is also the day with no track action – instead, the whole of Le Mans leaves the campsites and beer towers to watch the town centre Drivers’ Parade and wander through the pitlane. The cars have already qualified, racing starts tomorrow afternoon and with plenty of time to kill and hardcore Danish fans about to argue with, it’s traditionally when people make their die-hard race predictions. We got together minus beer, stickered up cars and massive sound systems to try and get an idea of who might do well. Here goes.
Laura Donaghy, Lead WEC Correspondent:
(image: Rebellion Racing)
LMP1: Let’s face it. Everyone is going to say Fernando Alonso in the #8 Toyota. It’ll make the headlines, bring in readers and make the Spanish fans go crazy – not to mention we all want the Japanese firm to finally take the win. But I’m going to go out on a limb and say that the #1 Rebellion will take the top step. Lotterer, Jani and Senna are a formidable driving force and should there be any issues for the two Toyotas, I think they’ll be there snapping at their heels. Plus, that would be a far more interesting story to write, despite my love for Toyota!
LMP2: I’m torn between two teams here, interestingly, both from ELMS. Both the #26 G-Drive Racing team and the #48 IDEC Sport entry have looked solid so far. But given Jean-Eric Vergne’s current driving form, the tenacity of Roman Rusinov and the skill of Andrea Pizzitola, I’m inclined to say that the Russian outfit might just have the edge.
GTE Pro: It would be naïve of me to not suggest a Porsche here, given their recent run of performance, so I’ll suggest that either the #91 or #92 Porsche will come out on top in this class. That said, Ford have proven to be their closest rivals, so I’m expecting a podium from at least one of the four Fords, providing they can keep the car on the track – I’m looking at you guys in the #67!
GTE Am: Much the same as GTE Pro, I think Porsche are the cars to beat here. The Dempsey Proton cars have looked terrific with both the #77 and #88 setting the pace across the week. The Gulf Racing Porsche has also looked very strong, until a meeting with a gravel trap. I believe it will be a Porsche lockout on the podium, let’s say the #77 Dempsey-Proton, followed by the #86 Gulf Racing and the #88 Dempsey-Proton.
(image: Porsche AG)
David Whitehouse, GP3 Correspondent:
LMP1: It’s hard to look past the #8 Toyota for the overall win. In my mind, they have a stronger line-up compared to the #7 (with or without Alonso) but without the Toyota Le Mans curse striking again, it should be a comfortable 1-2 for the Japanese squad. Best of the rest has to be on the #1 Rebellion of Lotterer, Jani and Senna. One of the only cars to take the battle to Toyota throughout the year and with one of the strongest line-ups on the grid, they should be there to pick up any pieces. I also hope the Brundle/Rowland/Turvey Ginetta runs well as the drivers have some pace but they haven’t had any luck so far this year. Could they could spring a surprise?
LMP2: G-Drive are always strong so I would expect the Rusinov/Pizzitola/Vergne Oreca-Gibson to challenge for the victory as well as the DragonSpeed entry of Gonzalez/Maldonado/Berthon. With a solid run, I would see the United Autosports Ligier-Gibson of Hanson/Albuquerque/Di Resta challenging the podium positions: that’s a very strong driver line-up.
GTE Pro: Hard to call with the BoP subject to change before the race. At the moment, a Porsche will win the class and most likely one with Bruni at the wheel. His lap in Qualifying 1 left the #91 1.6 seconds clear and broke the GT lap record – beating GT1 era times by 5 seconds! Obviously, Le Mans isn’t won by one lap but with Makowiecki and Lietz alongside him, that’s my pick for the win. Ganassi have got to grips with the Ford and Stefan Mucke put in a great lap to put the #66 third in class. Le Mans overall winners Nick Tandy and Earl Bamber team up again and could challenge for Porsche, Aston Martin and Chevrolet have to hope they have solid race pace… Never rule anything out at Le Mans.
GTE Am: This looks like a Ferrari-Porsche battle. The Proton Porsche of Cairoli/Al Qubaisi/Roda has to be in the mix after their strong qualifying performance but Spirit of Race have a strong 24hr line-up with Fisichella and Castellacci joining Flohr in the Ferrari. I think they will make the podium. The Gulf Racing Porsche has looked strong all week and could round out the podium but don’t count out the Aston Martin of Dalla Lana/Lamy/Lauda. Although the car isn’t the youngest in the field, the crew have massive experience and the AMR crew know what it takes to win.
(image: IDEC Sport Racing)
Joe Morel, IMSA Correspondent:
LMP1: Toyota don’t deserve the hate they’ve been getting for this year. They’re stalwart supporters of the WEC and it’s not their fault that there’s no other hybrid competition. Blame the ACO for poor regulations, allowing a Bronze into P1 and moving dates to suit a Spanish rookie. However, blatant team orders at Spa favouring the #8 will presumably be repeated again for maximum Alonso headlines here – expect a win. If Toyota find another innovative and surprising way to lose, the #1 Rebellion is a shoe-in. It’s an LMP1 dream lineup with a proven team in what looks to be the best non-hybrid LMP1. The Sarrazin/Oruzhev/Isaakyan SMP will fly too – hopefully less so than at Spa where it went full Mercedes GTP. Both Russians have won in P2 before and there’s no better teacher than Sarrazin.
LMP2: There might have been a few changes made to the Ligier and Dallara, but so far LMP2 still looks like an ORECA benefit. There are enough quality teams running that chassis to make a podium lockout likely – the TDS G-Drive of Rusinov/Pizzitola/Vergne, Signatech Alpine, IDEC Sport or DragonSpeed with Gonzales/Maldonado/Berthon could all believably take podiums. That said, DragonSpeed’s two loose cannons make it a long shot for me, Signatech look to be missing speed and the Ligiers of Panis-Barthez and the #22 United with Albuquerque/Hanson/di Resta will play the long game, as will the Capillaire/Hirschi/Gommendy Graff-SO24! Oreca. Something tells me the Rusinov G-Drive car will do a Toyota though – what looks a bit like a foregone conclusion now will become an IDEC Sport Racing win.
GTE Pro: Porsche. Porsche all the way. Their first year since pulling the 919 and the 70th anniversary of the company? They’re pulling out all the stops. The Dumas/Bernhard/Muller car is for Sven to learn from two masters – it’d be fairytale if they won but I doubt it. The rest are closer than qualifying suggests, but I’m going with the Rothmans car. Porsche poached Bruni – acrimoniously – from Ferrari and beating the Italians with their former star is the plan. Aston and BMW could face teething troubles – especially for BMW with lineups that haven’t raced before and Team MTEK who have very limited endurance experience. Corvette are in a holding pattern for the C8 – I can’t see their legendary pit magic beat sheer speed now. Porsche to win, but Ford will put a car on the podium.
GTE Am: My pick changed. Before the season, it would’ve been the Dalla Lana/Lamy/Lauda Aston because frankly they’re overdue a win here and finally came of age with last year’s championship. However, Andlauer and Campbell have claims to stake and Christian Ried is solid – they should win. It’s tight after that; the #97 AMR should be on the podium; Clearwater Racing like Le Mans; Gulf Racing are well drilled; Keating/Stolz/Bleekemolen in a Risi car should fly. I can’t see the polesitting Proton Porsche being able to keep pace with the leaders despite Cairoli’s efforts. Thomas Flohr is improving but still a bit of an unknown quantity at Le Mans, as is Tim Pappas’ drop-dead gorgeous Black Swan-liveried Porsche. BoP makes GTE Am about driver quality, and I can’t see past Proton to win and AMR for a podium. Expect Clearwater and the Keating Risi car to finish above where they qualified.