The 84th running of the world famous Le Mans 24 Hours takes place this weekend, with the eye’s of the motorsport world turning to it’s greatest motor race. The action in the last few years has been thrilling, and surely this year will not disappoint.
In the LMP1 class, the three factory teams are very evenly matched and any of their entries could win the race. In the background, the privateer LMP1 teams have closed the gap to the manufactures, and will hope to pick up the pieces of their mistakes or misfortune. Let’s take a look at the conteders for overall victory in the LMP1 class.
#1 Team Porsche 919 Hybrid: Brendon Hartley/Mark Webber/Timo Bernhard
The defending World Endurance Champions return to Le Mans this year looking to follow on from their team mates success a year ago. Both Mark Webber and Timo Bernhard are very quick professional drivers who can match anyone in the class in terms of consistent and quick lap times.
It’s likely with this car that young Kiwi Brendon Hartley is seen as the man for the ultimate one lap banzai qualifying attempt, and all three work very well together also. Trying to pick a winner between all six factory entries is impossible, it’s simply down to incredible team work and having lady luck on their side as to who will win this race.
#2 Team Porsche 919 Hybrid: Romain Dumas/Marc Lieb/Neel Jani
The #2 Porsche 919 has a very good chance to win at Le Mans this weekend. The crew lead the WEC after two rounds and Swiss driver Neel Jani holds the overall lap record after his qualifying heroics last year.
Whilst Porsche have not had a 100% smooth build up to the 24 hours, critically none of their rivals have also. Whilst it would not be wise to designate a favourites tag for the race as it’s so wide open, if you had to it would be hard to look past Porsche. This car has every chance to claim victory, they will need to have an almost perfect run and avoid mistakes to secure the win on Sunday afternoon.
#4 ByKolles Racing CLM P1/01-AER: Simon Trummer/Pierre Kaffer/Oliver Webb
The ByKolles team return to Le Mans hoping their 2016 upturn in form will continue to the famous Circuit de la Sarthe. The independent team will take on the more established Rebellion racing for the honours of the LMP1 privateers class. The team have brought updated bodywork to the 24 hours, but their race week did not start well with a fire at the rear halting their opening day running on Wednesday.
On the driving front the team have a good line up with the very quick and experienced Pierre Kaffer being joined by the ever improving Simon Trummer and 2014 European Le Mans Series champion Oli Webb, who is stepping up to LMP1 with the team this year. For this team a good result would be a clean run and a potential fight with the Rebellion team, if they can do this a top six finish is an attainable goal for the improving team.
#5 Toyota Gazoo Racing Toyota TS050 Hybrid: Sebastien Buemi/Anthony Davidson/Kazuki Nakajima
Toyota have produced a remarkable resurgence this year after a very difficult 2015 season for the team. With a wealth of upgrades, including a new engine and hybrid system, they have returned right to the front of the LMP1 overall battle.
The team were unlucky with reliability issues when looking set for victory last time out at Spa, and the team will need to eliminate their reliability issues if they want to claim a first ever victory in the race come Sunday afternoon. The team have a very quick and experienced driver line up, which is largely the same line up that won the 2014 WEC title.
Toyota have once again looked like strong contenders alongside Audi and Porsche, and if lady luck is shining on them they could claim a historic first victory for the manufacture after a very long time. Either car has a great chance to win and trying to choose a favoured car between the two is virtually impossible.
#6 Toyota Gazoo Racing Toyota TS050 Hybrid: Mike Conway/Stephane Sarrazin/Kamui Kobayashi
This #6 entry has shown tremendous promise so far in 2016, with a second in the opening WEC showing it’s return to the front after 2015. The team appear to have discovered and fixed what caused their double retirement at Spa, and with their pace they need to team it with a reliable run if they want the overall victory they crave.
Behind the wheel they have a very good line up with Stephane Sarrazin providing plenty of experience and pace, joining Mike Conway and former F1 racer Kamui Kobayashi. The Japanese driver has plenty of experience in this car and is the perfect replacement for the recently retired Alex Wurz. For the team of course winning Le Mans is the ultimate goal, if they cannot achieve this a good haul of WEC points would still be a good return for the team.
#7 Audi Sport Team Joest Audi R18 E-Tron Quattro: Andre Lotterer/Benoit Treluyer/Marcel Fassler
The #7 Audi have suffered from a difficult start to the 2016 WEC season. After winning the opening round on the road, they were subsequently disqualified for wearing away the underfloor wooden plank too much. They also suffered problems last time out at Spa, and these issues for Audi are something we’re not used to seeing well into the season.
The team have made massive strides over the winter with a new car wearing the R18 badge, with a jump into the 6MJ class bringing them much closer to rivals Toyota and Porsche with their hybrid systems. The #7 has a very good line up and the multiple Le Mans winners will be looking to secure another one this weekend. A clean and consistent run will be needed to win, something Audi know all about after dominating the race since the turn of the century. Can they reclaim their crown this year?
#8 Audi Sport Team Joest Audi R18 E-Tron Quattro: Oliver Jarvis/Lucas Di Grassi/Loic Duval
The #8 Audi crew can at least claim a legitimate victory in the WEC this season, after emerging relatively unscathed to claim victory in the last round at Spa. Their Le Mans week didn’t start well with Lucas Di Grassi running over a kerb and breaking the drive train, severely limiting their running on the first day.
Audi have plenty of experience in sportscar racing, and this will prove invaluable as they get to grips with the new R18 car here at Le Mans. Both cars complained of balance issues during the first day of running, and this is something they will need to rectify if they want to be truly competitive with Porsche and Toyota. Audi know all about winning at Le Mans, but this year they face competition from not just Porsche but Toyota also. With their top notch driver line up and team everything is in their hands to claim the win.
#12 Rebellion Racing Rebellion R-One-AER: Nicolas Prost/Nick Heidfeld/Nelson Piquet Jr
Rebellion racing have made a huge step forward this year, with their own R-One car now fully sorted and running reliably. A new partnership with tyre supplier Dunlop has taken the team a step forward, and despite not having a hybrid system on the car, they have proved a thorn in the side of the manufacturers so far in the WEC.
This #12 car has the more famous driver line up with the experienced Nicolas Prost and Nick Heidfeld being joined by another famous name, Nelson Piquet Jr. The Brazilian is very experienced in all forms of motorsport, but has only driven this race once before, ten years ago in the GT1 class. If Piquet can get up to speed quickly and this car can have a clean run, they may have an outside chance of an overall podium if misfortune hits the factory entries ahead of them.
#13 Rebellion Racing Rebellion R-One-AER: Dominik Kraihamer/Alex Imperatori/Matheo Tuscher
For the #13 Rebellion entry, 2016 has been very kind to them so far. After two podium places in the WEC they currently sit second in the overall drivers points, an incredible achievement for a independent and non-hybrid team, especially considering the vast resources the manufacturers they are ahead of have.
Their driver line up is largely the same from last year, with the very quick Dominik Kraihamer and former LMP2 front runner Alex Imperatori being joined by the young Matheo Tuscher. He is the only teenager competing in the race, however he has shown since emerging in the Formula Two championship in 2012 at age 15 that he has tremendous talent.
This car led the sister #12 entry after the first qualifying session, and for this team they will hope their great form continues and they can achieve a good result in the blue riband Le Mans 24 Hours. Although it will be tough to beat the factory hybrid entries, should they suffer misfortune the Rebellion entries will be there to pick up the pieces.
That wraps up my LMP1 preview for this year’s Le Mans 24 Hours, which promises to be enthralling for the entire 24 hours. I would like to say a huge thank you to Motorsport.com for their high quality photos which grace this preview, I urge everyone to visit their site for the latest news and photos from across the motorsport world. Finally, I would like to say thank you for reading and any comments will be greatly appreciated. My preview of the LMP2 class with be coming in the next 24 hours hopefully. Find me on Twitter @brfcjordan95.