LMP1

2014 Le Mans 24 Hours LMP2 Preview Part 1

After previously previewing the LMP1 class for this years Le Mans 24 Hours, now it’s time to look at the burgeoning LMP2 class, which is in very rude health this year with 18 entries battling for class victory. Any one of these entries is capable of winning and the sheer size of the class appears to show the ACO’s decision to make this class strictly a pro-am format seems the correct one at this point. This class will provide plenty of action over the 24 hours that’s for sure.

Millennium Racing:

#22 Oreca 03R-Nissan: Fabien Giroix/John Martin/Oliver Turvey
In the pre-season this entry from Millennium racing would have been a favourite for victory in both the World Endurance Championship and the 24 Hours. So far however 2014 has not been kind to the team as budget problems mean this is their first running of the year having missed last week’s Test Day, the team are up against it to find the sweet spot for their Oreca entry. This team should not be discounted though as the team is highly professional and experienced in sports car racing, as are their stellar driver line-up which is a match for any in the LMP2 field.

Sebastien Loeb Racing:

#24 Oreca 03R-Nissan: Rene Rast/Jan Charouz/Vincent Capillaire
The Sebastien Loeb name returns to Le Mans for the first time in years, although sadly for spectators he is not returning behind the wheel. This year it’s the turn of his Sports car team as they make their LMP2 debut in the 24 Hours. The team is coming into the race in good form having claimed 2nd in the most recent European Le Mans Series race at Imola. The only question mark around this team is how they will handle the P2 class in the 24 Hours as the team has little experience with this car. Something that cannot be questioned however is the driver line-up with on-loan Audi factory GT driver making his debut in the LMP2 class, previous factory LMP1 and Le Mans Series champion Jan Charouz and gentleman driver Vincent Capillaire. Capillaire is one of the better Am drivers and if Rast shows anything like the kind of pace he has in GT cars he will be one to watch out for.

G-Drive Racing:

#26 Morgan LMP2-Nissan:Roman Rusinov/Olivier Pla/Julien Canal
This G-Drive racing team has proved itself to be a major contender so far in 2014 as it has dominated in the WEC taking victory in both rounds so far, also topping the times at the Test Day last weekend. This Oak racing affiliated team looks strong this year with their Oak badged Morgan which was designed specifically for this race. This came through last year as the team claimed a dominant 1-2 finish, something they’ll be aiming to repeat this year. On the driving front this team is particularly strong as Rusinov has improved dramatically in 2014, Pla is one of the benchmark LMP2 drivers in the world right now with Am driver Canal bringing plenty of experience and is no slouch himself. Watch out for this team as a podium is easily within their reach this year.

SMP Racing:

#27 Oreca 03R-Nissan: Sergey Zlobin/Mika Salo/Anton Ladygin
Another team relatively new to LMP2 racing is the SMP racing team which makes it’s debut in the P2 class at the 24 Hours this year. The team is formidable,especially thanks to AF Corse support in running the organization. Although luck has so far deserted them in the opening WEC races they have been challenging for wins, before various dramas have delayed them. Anyone in the class who gets a relatively problem free run in the 24 Hours will be fighting for the podium come next Sunday afternoon,with the SMP racing team hoping their bad luck is up for the year now. The driver line-up of Russians Zlobin and Ladygin is solid with Mika Salo bringing both pace and experience to the team. This team in overall terms is a solid entry yet will probably need a reliable run and misfortune for others to challenge for a podium.

Pegasus Racing:

#29 Morgan LMP2-Nissan: Julian Schell/Nicolas Leutwiler/Leo Roussel
Pegasus racing is once again a team new to top level prototype racing, however the team doesn’t have the support of a major team like SMP has with AF Corse, or the stellar line-up enjoyed by Sebastien Loeb racing. Therefore whilst this team has shown admirably sop far in the ELMS it has yet to consistently challenge for podiums, something that appears almost impossible for this young team. Whilst it can claim to have one of the best liveries in the field if it has struggled in the ELMS so far the step up at the 24 Hours will be awfully daunting for this team. The driving talent of Schell, Leutwiler and Roussel have little previous prototype experience and can be described as a majority Am line-up. This is something the team will struggle with against the immense driving talent in this class. Realistically the team should be aiming for a finish with anything more simply a bonus for a team which needs more experience at this level to be competitive in this class.

OAK Racing-Team Asia:

#33 Ligier JS P2-Honda: David Cheng/Ho-Pin Tung/Adderly Fong
Whilst the OAK racing team has been competing in the Le Mans 24 Hours for years, this is a debut for the team in this new affiliation with the Asian market, sparked by the recently launched Asian Le Mans series. Carrying on the new image of this team is the car their using, the Ligier JS P2 Coupe, making it’s debut at the 24 Hours. So far this is all adding up to a classic retirement with a new car devoid of race running and a newly affiliated team. Before you write this team off on the flip side the team has plenty to justify it’s contenders tag. Firstly the driving talent includes quick ex-single seater drivers Ho-Pin Tung and Adderly Fong, joined by the experienced David Cheng. Also the OAK racing team are always dynamite at the 24 Hours. Therefore if the new coupe can run reliably first time out do not at all be surprised to see this team competing for high placings next Sunday.

Race Performance:

#34 Oreca 03R-Judd: Michel Frey/Frank Mailleux/Jon Lancaster
After a 2013 campaign in which they struggled the Race Performance team have shown definite signs of improvement so far in 2014. The team has stuck to a reliable Oreca-Judd package and with regular drivers Michel Frey and single seater convert Frank Mailleux, have shown tremendous promise so far in the ELMS. Mailleux has proved a revelation so far, with their driving talent strengthened immensely with another single seater convert in Jon Lancaster joining the team for his Le Mans 24 Hours debut. If Lancaster can quickly adapt to the Circuit de la Sarthe expect this team to rapid from the flag. A class podium is a definite aim for this team.

OAK Racing:

#35 Ligier JS P2-Nissan: Alex Brundle/Jann Mardenborough/Mark Shulzhitskiy
The second OAK racing entry is most definitely an intriguing entry in the LMP2 class, as it shows off their newly developed Ligier JS P2 coupe for the first time at the 24 Hours. Whilst the car is very new the team appear confident it can last the full 24 Hours. If this car can run trouble free throughout the race expect it to be challenging for the class win as this entry is very closely linked to Nissan this year. This is shown on the driving front as the team boasts 3 very fast Nissan backed drivers in benchmark man Alex Brundle, GP3 racer Jann Mardenborough and GT academy winner Mark Shulzhitskiy. All of these are quick drivers and this will only benefit the team, the only question mark remains on their new Ligier coupe.

Signatech Alpine:

#36 Alpine A450B-Nissan: Paul Loup-Chatin/Nelson Panciatici/Oliver Webb
Yet more diversity is brought to the LMP2 field as the Signatech team again field it’s Alpine badged Oreca for the race. This team is gaining experience in the category and came into 2014 on the back of winning the ELMS LMP2 drivers and constructers championships. Things have been slightly rougher in 2014 so far yet this team has showed tremendous promise and is deserving of it’s title as class victory contenders. The line-up of the experienced Panciatici with rapid young drivers in Chatin and ex single seater hot shoe Oliver Webb could prove inspired come next Sunday.

That’s the first half of this diverse LMP2 field previewed,please stay tuned for Part 2 coming soon!
In the meantime please visit the home of the great photographs I’ve used in the preview, they can be seen at http://www.dailysportscar.com/?p=32030 and http://www.motorsport.com/lemans/photos/main-gallery/?r=8087

2014 Le Mans 24 Hours LMP1 Preview

With the test day in the books and the 2014 Le Mans 24 Hours just over a week away now seems the perfect time to preview this year’s stellar entry at the world’s greatest sportscar race. Let’s start off with the contenders for overall victory in the top LMP1 class. With a almost certain victory predicted for the three factory teams competing choosing a winner from Audi, Toyota and the returning Porsche is impossible. Whoever crosses the line 1st on Sunday June 15th is anyone’s guess, but what is guaranteed is an epic 24 Hours of racing.

Audi Sport Team Joest:

#1 Audi R18 e-tron Quattro: Lucas Di Grassi/Loic Duval/Tom Kristensen

The 2013 winners of the 24 Hours are looking for a 2nd consecutive victory this year. Whilst they have lost experience hard charger Allan McNish to retirement, Lucas Di Grassi has so far proved a like for like replacement for this team. Furthermore any car with “Mr Le Mans” 9 time winner Tom Kristensen at the wheel can never be discounted for victory. 2014 has so far proved difficult for Audi however and for the first time in years they don’t go into the race as consensus favourites. Their battle with Toyota and Porsche for the win this year will go down in history.

#2 Audi R18 e-tron Quattro: Marcel Fassler/Andre Lotterer/Benoit Treluyer
2014 has also been tough so far for the #2 Audi crew as the team has struggled to match the pace of Toyota across the opening two World Endurance Championship events. Audi can never be underestimated however as Peugeot found out to their cost in 2008. Of the 3 works Audi entries the #2 has the slight edge over the rest in my opinion on the driving front. This combination won back to back 24 Hours in 2011-2012 and were it not for a problem last year may well have made it a hat-trick. Therefore expect this entry to lead the Audi challenge this year.

#3 Audi R18 e-tron Quattro: Filipe Albuquerque/ Marco Bonanomi/Oliver Jarvis
This #3 entry is a Le Mans only entry from Audi, therefore leaving this car at a slight disadvantage compared to the other two full season WEC entries. Whilst they have less preparation than the others their driving talent is right up there with Jarvis and Albuquerque being highly rated by Audi. Bonanomi is the team’s test driver and is no slouch in these cars . For this team a podium would be a good result and who knows, if reliability comes into play this team could have an outside chance of victory.
http://www.dailysportscar.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/Spa_01.jpg?055a37

Toyota Racing:

#7 Toyota TS040 Hybrid: Alex Wurz/Stephane Sarrazin/Kazuki Nakajima
The two Toyota cars have so far proved to be the class of the field in the opening two WEC races leading up to Le Mans, however the 24 Hours is so unpredictable making prediction based on form rarely come true. This will be a blessing for the #7 entry as so far it’s been shown the way by the sister entry. This is something they will look to turn around at Le Mans, and this line-up blends speed with experience. Expect them to be challenging for victory right until the chequered flag.

#8 Toyota TS040 Hybrid: Anthony Davidson/Nicolas Lapierre/Sebastien Buemi
Based on form alone, this entry would surely be the pre-race favourite. Two wins in the WEC have shown this car has a definite edge over Audi and Porsche over 6 hours of racing. On the other hand, like I’ve mentioned earlier form going into this race is usually proven race by the unique nature of the 24 Hours. The driver line-up of the #8 entry lacks the experience of the #7 team yet they more than make up for it in speed. The only slight question mark surrounding the Toyota line-up is how the swapping of Lapierre and Sarrazin for 2014 affects both entries. Expect a strong challenge from Toyota this year.

Porsche Team:

#14 Porsche 919 Hybrid: Romain Dumas/Neel Jani/Marc Lieb
Porsche finally returns to it’s spiritual home in 2014, fighting for Le Mans 24 Hours victories, for the first time since 1998. So far the 919 Hybrid has proved competitive although inevitable reliability issues have hampered the team in the WEC so far.

If either Porsche can run more or less fault free expect to see them on the podium come next Sunday afternoon. On the driving front the team has promoted several long standing Porsche drivers like Dumas and Lieb in this entry. Dumas is a former winner whilst on loan to Audi and Lieb has impressed so far in his first taste of LMP1 machinery. Completing the trio is the rapid Neel Jani who have consistently impressed in LMP1 with the Rebellion team over the last few years.

#20 Porsche 919 Hybrid: Timo Bernhard/Mark Webber/Brendon Hartley
Since Porsche’s comeback, most of the attention has been focused on this #20 entry, not surprisingly because of ex-Red Bull F1 refugee Mark Webber who quit the sport to join Porsche this year. He has so far quickly adapted to LMP1 machinery and will be a long-term LMP1 driver for Porsche. Backing him up is previous winner and long time Porsche factory driver Timo Bernhard and the impressive Brendon Hartley who won the drive after impressing with his speed for the Murphy Prototypes LMP2 team in last year’s European Le Mans Series. Porsche are more than capable of throwing a surprise this year and their two driver line-up’s are a match for any other LMP1 entry.

Rebellion Racing :

#12 Rebellion R-One-Toyota: Nicolas Prost/Nick Heidfeld/Mathias Beche
The only privateer entries in LMP1 this year are two cars from the Rebellion team. After wheeling out their trusty Lola’s for the final time in the opening WEC race the team will have two new Rebellion R-One Toyota’s ready for the 24 Hours.

In conjunction with Oreca the car showed initial promise in terms of reliability at Spa the car lacked a little pace compared to the manufacture entries, something widely expected considering the gulf in budgets and knowledge of hybrid technology, something the Rebellion team doesn’t have. This lead entry has a comptetitive line-up of experienced Nicolas Prost and the rapid Nick Heidfeld and Mathias Beche. A reliable run for the team would be a dream with anything more a dream for this lowly team.

#13 Rebellion R-One Toyota: Dominik Kraihamer/Andrea Belicchi/Fabio Leimer
The second of the Rebellion entries, very much like the lead car, will be hoping for a reliable run in this so far unproven car. Although this appears to be at a slight disadvantage to the lead car in terms of driver line-up, this is simply relating to experience , as Kraihamer and 2013 GP2 champion Leimer are both rapid drivers with Belicchi providing the steady hand needed for a clean run at the 24 Hours. If reliable, both Rebellion cars will prove a thorn in the side of the works entries and expect them to challenge for at the very least a top 5 finish .

LMP1 will see a highly competitive race to the flag with all cars running flat out for 24 Hours straight. For the full entry list please visit the official Le Mans website here http://www.24h-lemans.com/en/race/entry-list_2_2_1980.html