It’s time to draw the FIA World Endurance Championship’s Super Season to a close. The season’s second running of the Le Mans 24 Hours is well underway at the Circuit de la Sarthe, and there’s been plenty of action already.
It’s been a fairly standard 24 Hours of Le Mans so far. The Toyotas are running so far unchallenged at the front, GTE Pro has been absolutely bonkers from the word go, and the ByKolles is running somewhere amongst the LMP2 pack. There have been a couple of full-course yellow sessions for debris on track as well as a few moments for a few drivers, but things have mainly run pretty smoothly. It has been a race of records so far too. A 61 car grid is the largest the Le Mans 24 Hours has seen, and Mike Conway set the fastest average speed ever on the circuit, 248.6km/h. The accompanying lap time from Conway was a hugely quick 3:17.297 – the fastest ever race lap at Le Mans.
As it stands, the #7 Toyota leads the sister car by almost a minute, with a single Rebellion behind them. The two SMP Racing BR1s are fourth and fifth ahead of a couple of LMP2s. Dragonspeed got caught out for exceeding the amount of fuel allowed during a stint in the #10. This just added salt to the wounds of the American team, as the same car was also suffering a strange ailment in which the floor plank was disintegrating.
A whopping twenty cars started in the LMP2 class, but it’s been a commanding first four hours for Signatech Alpine, the #36 having led for the majority of the running. Though just as the fourth hour drew to a close, Job van Uitert in the #26 G-Drive Racing stole the lead from Pierre Thiriet in the #36. Van Uitert and his teammates Jean-Eric Vergne and Roman Rusinov have spent a large amount of their time in second and have seldom been out of the top three. Jackie Chan DC Racing have had a good race so far, and find themselves running in third and fourth, about half a minute apart. The #31 Dragonspeed finishes off the top five, but there have been times when they’ve found themselves in the top three. While it’s all Orecas (or Oreca derivatives) in the top five, the highest placed Ligier currently sits in sixth position. Felipe Albuquerque started the #22 United Autosports, and his teammates Paul di Resta and Phil Hanson have done their parts to make sure the #22 stayed top. The Racing Team Nederland Dallara fought its way up the order for a while, but a nasty puncture brought out a full course yellow order and sent the #29 back to the pits, and down to 15th in class. Duqueine Engineering also struggled with a puncture early on in the race, dropping them down to 18th in class.
As soon as the flag dropped, it’s been hard to look away from the GTE Pro class. On the first lap we already had drag races between pole-sitter Nicki Thiim in his #95 Aston Martin and Harry Tincknell in the red and white #67 Ford GT. Someone clearly forgot to mention to these guys that the race is 24 hours, not 24 minutes! As of the fourth hour, however, it’s the #63 Corvette Racing entry leading the class. Mike Rockenfeller, Jan Magnussen and Antonio Garcia have each had their turn leading this class, and the bright yellow muscle car is proving hard to topple. Having set the pole position time during the qualifying sessions, Aston Martin Racing currently find themselves 15th and 16th in class. A small BoP tweak was made post-qualifying and all of AMR’s competitors saw their weight reduced by 5 kilograms. Given how close this class is, this small change seems to have hampered the British team. But we are only four hours in. Behind the #63 Corvette, are the #51 AF Corse Ferrari, the #93 and #92 Porsches and the #68 red, white and blue Ford GT. Though there’s been that much shuffling in the GTE Pro order so far, that by the time our next report comes out, it could all have changed!
In GTE Am it’s beginning to look like it’s the #77’s race to lose. The championship-leading Dempsey-Proton Porsche has been pretty much unchallenged since the start of this race. Julien Andlauer, Matt Campbell and Christian Ried have done a fantastic job so far and will be keen to continue as the time ticks by. Behind them, something has changed in the top five every hour. JMW Motorsports, Keating Motorsports, WeatherTech Racing, Team Project 1, TF Sport, Spirit of Race, Proton Competition and Gulf Racing have all featured in the top five during these first four hours. At the time of writing, behind the #77 sits the #85 Keating Motorsports, #84 JMW Motorsport, #62 WeatherTech Racing and the #90 TF Sport. Despite leading during the first hour, there have been issues for the #88 Dempsey car. Satoshi Hoshino ended up sideways during one FCY session, and the same car managed to lose a headlamp leading in a separate incident. The car went into the garage during the second hour but managed to rejoin. It’s currently running second to last, ahead of the #98 Aston Martin which had been suffering from power steering issues earlier on.
Off the circuit, the ACO has released some details of the upcoming ‘Hypercar’ regulations, though we’re still waiting on an official name. The new top-spec class will feature both prototype entries and production-based hypercar entries. The current non-hybrid LMP1 cars will also be grandfathered into the 2020-21 season. So we won’t be saying goodbye to Rebellion’s R13, BR Engineering’s BR1 or Ginetta’s incredibly long named car quite yet. The prototype entries will have to use either bespoke or modded hypercar engines, while the hypercar entries must use engines based on production models. Hybrid powertrains are also now an optional addition rather than a requirement. Balance of Performance or BoP will also come into play for this new class and will be continually adjusted throughout the season. A minimum weight of 1100kg has been set and an average power of 750hp, somewhat less than the current LMP1 iterations. The target lap time for Le Mans in ‘average race conditions’ is about 3.30. For comparison, the two Toyotas have been lapping so far generally in the 3.20s.
So far, Aston Martin, with a modified Valkyrie and Toyota with an entry based on the currently unreleased ‘GR Super Sport’ road car, have committed to the new regulations. They’ll join Glickenhaus who announced their intention to join back in November last year. We heard a mention on Radiolemans of a possible intention from ByKolles to run in the new class. The team will also continue to run their ENSO CLM P1/01 in certain rounds of the 2019-20 WEC season.