Audi

End Of An Era With Audi Departing Departing Sportscar Racing

Nobody would have predicted when Audi first went to Le Mans in June 1999 with their two experimental R8R and R8C cars, that they would leave a legacy that would arguably be the most dominant in the sports history. This era has begrudgingly now come to an end with today’s announcement that Audi are to end their sports car effort  at the end of the season. But just how did the Audi brand become synonymous with Le Mans victory?

Expectations were low despite a huge four car entry comprising both the Audi R8R open cockpit car and the R8C coupe. Third and fourth overall in their first running showed their potential, yet very few people would have predicted what came in store next.

A new millennium came and with it was an era of complete Audi dominance in the sport. Returning with their revised R8 model,  a car that would go down in sports car racing as one of those revolutionary cars that change the sport, such as the Ford GT40 and the Porsche 956/962.

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The Porsche 962 taking its customary place at the front of the field, circa Le Mans 1987. Photo copyright Porsche.

Despite manufactures such as BMW, Mercedes and Nissan all pulling out of the end of 1999, nobody questioned the dominance of their victory. They cruised to a 1-2-3 podium lock out, with a winning margin of 24 four laps over their closest competitors.

The 2001 edition would be a lot tougher victory, with extreme weather conditions and the loss of driver Michele Alboreto only months before the race made it an emotional one for the team. From here it was on wards and upwards, with another victory for the #1 driver line up of Frank Biela, Emmanuele Pirro and Tom Kristensen cementing their place in history as the first driver line up to win the race three years in a row.

The factory team pulled out after 2002, paving the way for sister marque Bentley to win comfortably in 2003. After this small hiccup the R8 returned to the winners circle in 2004 and 2005 in the hands of the privateer Japanese Team Goh and America’s Champion Racing.

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Tom Kristensen celebrating his seventh win and the final victory for the iconic Audi R8, 2005, the end of an era. Photo copyright AudiWorld.

The R8 will not go down in history as simply a fast car, it was designed to make mechanical issues a lot quicker to fix. It was the first sports car to have this design philosophy and therefore it always had a huge advantage over the rest, because of how little time they would spend in the pit lane.

2006 would herald a new chapter in the Audi story, with the factory returning to Le Mans with an brand new diesel powered R10 TDI. It was the first of its type and would become the first ever diesel powered car to win Le Mans. This was a feat they managed to repeat in both 2007 and 2008, despite opposition from a strong Peugeot manufacture presence.

2009 woulds prove that Audi were human when their new R15 TDI proved uncompetitive at Le Mans thanks to issues with it’s radiators. 2010 and 2011 would provide epic battles with Peugeot as Audi introduced first the R15 Plus and then the R18 TDI, their first closed cockpit car since the initial R8C in 1999.

WEC - 24h Le Mans test day 2012

Audi achieving yet another mile stone, becoming the first overall winner with hybrid power. Photo copyright F1fanatic.co.uk

2012-2014 would bring a further string of victories as they introduced hybrid power into their prototypes. The return of sports car legend Porsche in 2014 provided a mouth watering prospect for everyone involved, but unfortunately it would not be able to live up to high expectations.

Both Audi and Porsche would never both be truly competitive over the three years, with Porsche winning the mini-battle 2-1 in terms of Le Mans wins. Audi this season have proved to be fast but fragile, not a usual characteristic of theirs. Rumours have persisted for most of the season questioning whether they would return in 2017, and today we had the answer.

Whilst I’ve looked back at the success of Audi between 1999 and this year, just looking at their 13 Le Mans 24 Hours victories doesn’t accurately judge their dominance. They had an unbroken podium streak every year they competed at Le Mans, but it wasn’t just in La Sarthe where they ruled the roost. Both the Audi factory programme in the American Le Mans Series and with privateers in the European series, they were to prove dominant for over a decade.

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Audi’s final Le Mans challenger went out with a whimper. A fortuitous third place doesn’t represent their era in sports car racing, but for now this is the last we will see a factory Audi at the worlds greatest motor race. Photo copyright Motorsport.com 

They have won every significant prototype race on the planet multiple times, and with success as far as the notorious Sebring 12 Hours in Florida right up to their victory in the ALMS Race of Two Worlds at Adelaide in 2000. To try and put into words the level of dominance Audi have had on sports car racing since 1999 is impossible to put into words.

Looking at simply their results doesn’t do them justice. To speak to everyone past and present in the paddock during their period in the sport, would help to tell you one thing. They would all likely say, quite simply, Audi completely changed sports car racing as we know it. Their level of dominance is one that will live in history and will likely prove unmatched for a very long time.

Thank you Audi for an incredible 17 years in the sport, sports car racing owes a lot to their commitment to the category. Quite simply, Le Mans 2017 will be plain weird without them there.

Any thoughts on Audi’s dominance of sportscar racing? Feel free to share your comments below, I would hugely appreciate it. Thank you for reading.

 

Spa 24 Hours Set To Be A Classic

This weekend the sportscar world will once again focus on the annual Spa 24 Hours, which in recent years has become the home of GT3 racing as the category has breathed new life into this classic sportscar endurance race. The entry list excels in both quantity and quality, with 58 cars on the current entry list, all filled with the finest GT works supported drivers in the world.

GT3 racing has provided brilliantly competitive racing since it’s inception in 2006, and this years Spa 24 Hours will likely be a highly competitive sprint race for 24 hours. Last years winners Laurens Vanthoor, Rene Rast and Markus Winkelhock return this year with their new 2015 spec Audi R8 LMS run by the works supported Team WRT. Team WRT and fellow Audi R8 LMS works supported Team Phoenix will provide stern opposition to the rest of the field, although GT3 racing in 2015 boasts a bevy of manufacters and works drivers aiming to topple Audi this year.

Not that Audi have not fully prepared to defend their Spa victory from last year, with a further four works supported Pro cup class entries, with the likes of Robin Frijns, Stephane Ortelli, Andre Lotterer and Mike Rockenfeller joining high quality driver line up’s across all six works supported entries.

Bentley and Lamborghini are the new kids on the GT3 block, although both have shown tremendous pace and have scored some good results, as both will look for a upset victory in this years race. Both have the manufacters full support behind them, along with a bevy of very fast and consistent drivers. The only knock on both manufacters might be their sheer number of entries, as Bentley have three Pro cup cars across M-Sport and Bentley Team HTP, whilst the Grasser Lamborghini team field only two of the new Huracan GT3 cars, compared to the five Audi’s in the Pro cup.

The BMW effort will once again this year be led by the Belgian Marc VDS team, who will field their usual two car effort filled with a line up of factory BMW drivers such as Maxime Martin. BMW have also taken some of the pre-race headlines thanks to the sole Pro cup ROAL Italian BMW entry which will be driven by factory drivers Timo Glock, Bruno Spengler and Alex Zanardi. The Italian will receive a lot of attention throughout the week, and the incredible Italian will be keen to show his pace as he gets up to speed with the Z4 GT3 car.

Once again Mercedes return with four Pro cup SLS GT3 entries, which marks a downfall for the usual hordes of Mercedes SLS entries in the premier class of the Blancpain series. With a new spec SLS due next year this may help explain the slight drop in numbers for this year, however this does not mean a lack of quality from the Mercedes entries, as they will hope to all achieve a good result from the usually bullet proof reliability of the SLS AMG GT3.

As for Nissan, their GT-R Nismo GT3 racer has two Pro cup entries, one of which is the famous GT academy entry. This car is also a very reliable entry, although the relative strength of their two entries compared to the rest may leave them struggling to produce a top three result without any misfortune for others. Do not however underestimate the Nissan entries, including in the Pro-Am class.

For Aston Martin, the majority of their entries come in the Pro-Am class, with only one Pro cup entry for the privateer Oman racing team. Aston Martin has given a lot of support with factory drivers and crew for the Pro-Am entries over the past few years. For the Oman racing team they may also struggle slightly in the highly competitive Pro cup, although a top five result is definitely possible including for the Pro-am factory assisted teams.

McLaren bring two new 650S factory supported entries run by VonRyan racing, with an all star cast driver line up, which should give McLaren a good chance of a good result if they can get the car working with the circuit. If so, a repeat of their dominant Silverstone win earlier this season could be possible, although the old MP4-12C seemed to struggle at Spa in the past. The ultimate potential of the car is currently unknown, therefore the team can only hope the 650S runs reliably, leaving the experienced drivers to show their pace throughout the race.

The only majorly represented manufacter who is not in the Pro cup is Ferrari with their 458 Italia. On the other hand, the manufacter has a good selection of factory supported privateer teams in the Pro-am class, and any Ferrari GT entry with Gianmaria Bruni behind the wheel deserves to be seen as a serious contender in it’s class. Whilst their are no Pro cup 458 entries the driver line up’s in the Pro-am class are good enough for this very quick car to be contending in the top five overall, and most certainly for Pro-am class honors come Sunday afternoon.

That wraps up my look at all of the major manufacters entered in this weekend’s Total Spa 24 Hours, and in terms of predicting a winner it’s almost impossible to guess correctly who will win. This is because the Blancpain endurance series is so highly competitive, with different contenders at each track.

If I ultimately had to pick a potential winner for me it’s very hard to look past the reigning champion #1 WRT Audi R8 LMS entry. The new car has looked quick this year, and with such a stellar driver line up and well organised team behind this entry they surely have to be car to beat going into the race weekend. What are your thoughts on contenders for this weekend’s Spa 24 Hours, or do you disagree with my prediction. Please comment and let me know your prediction for victory contenders come Sunday afternoon.

What now for Jean Eric Vergne?

First of all, Jean Eric Vergne deserves to be on the grid at the next years Australian Grand Prix. Vergne has shown more than enough potential and results over the past three seasons to warrant a place on the grid in 2015. Vergne has simply become a casualty of the ruthless Red Bull young driver scheme.

Whilst Red Bull have backed him from a young age and gave him a shot in F1 for three seasons, if you don’t show the necessary progress you will quickly be replaced with the next young hot shoe product from the Red Bull line up. With the news last Friday that Red Bull junior F1 team Scuderia Toro Rosso would replace Vergne with their latest prospect Carlos Sainz Jr. For now it seems Vergne has few options to remain in F1 next year, so what options does he have to remain racing next year?

The most likely option it seems for Vergne to remain within Formula One next year appears to be with the Williams team. Rumors began during the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix weekend as Vergne was spotted spending a fair amount of time in the Williams hospitality area. Whilst both Valtteri Bottas and Felipe Massa are confirmed to 2015 their reserve driver role is vacant as Felipe Nasr joins Sauber for next year. If this move comes to fruition it’s likely Vergne will get some Free Practice runs next year, and would be well placed to impress as Williams will be looking to replace Felipe Massa in several years time.

It seems the Williams role seems the most likely option to stay in F1 next year, with the only other likely reserve driver role would be with the Red Bull team, although this is unlikely to interest Vergne as there will be very little chance of being promoted to a race drive.

Vergne can be heartened by the thought that he will likely find plenty of offers from other disciplines of motorsport, and can take heart from the example of fellow Red Bull refugee Sebastien Buemi. Vergne was one of the drivers who replaced Buemi at Toro Rosso for the 2012 season, and Buemi became the Red Bull reserve driver before rebuilding his career with Toyota in the World Endurance Championship, where he has shown his tremendous speed to claim the drivers title in the WEC alongside Anthony Davidson.

The World Endurance Championship is growing in significance every year with Nissan joining Audi, Porsche and Toyota in competing for wins next year. Vergne would be able to retain a reserve driver role in F1 with a WEC campaign with a manufacture or privateer team.

Another option for Vergne could be the new Formula E championship. The series has a prestigious line up of drivers and teams and is growing with every race in it’s debut season and would be an attractive option for next year. Formula E would be another series which could inter link with his reserve driver commitments should he find a drive within F1.

Other much less likely options would be for Vergne to swap F1 for Indycar, with his single seater skills would be clearly evident as he would likely become a household name in the series. Vergne once adjusted to the Dallara DW12 Indycar could become a multiple series champion such is his skill. Another option could be a top line career in GT racing with prominent series such as the Blancpain Endurance Series or GT classes within the WEC would be a great chance to rebuild his career after F1.

From here it’s not known where Jean Eric Vergne will be racing in 2015, with several options for him it’s up to him and his agent to decide which is his best option for next year. For me the best option would be a reserve driver role in F1 to keep his face known within the F1 community, with a sportscar campaign the perfect chance to show his considerable talent such as Sebastien Buemi has done this year. It would be a shame if Vergne isn’t racing at all next year, as he’s shown in his 3 years at Toro Rosso he deserves to remain at the top line of motorsport, where his talents belong.

Why Andre Lotterer deserves F1 chance

Immediately following the shock announcement of Max Verstappen joining Scuderia Toro Rosso for the 2015 F1 season on Monday night, rumours began circulating that for this weekend’s Belgian Grand Prix Caterham would replace Kamui Kobayashi with stand-out Audi sportscar driver Andre Lotterer. By Tuesday afternoon it appeared almost certainly a done deal, with the final confirmation being announced by Caterham in a press release this morning, Wednesday 20th August. For the insular world of Formula One many have started scrambling around for information and analysis on this very quick German, with the results they’ll find on him being enough to show his F1 debut this weekend is long overdue.

Andre Lotterer has already been amongst the F1 circus once before, with early titles in German Formula BMW Junior and ADAC Formula BMW in 1998 and 1999 brought him to the attention of the new Jaguar team for 2000, who offered him several tests during the 2000 season to complement his 4th in the German Formula Three Championship campaign. The link to the Jaguar F1 team was made stronger in 2001 as he raced in British F3 for the Jaguar junior racing team, before stepping up to become the official test driver for the Jaguar F1 team for the 2002 season.


Lotterer testing for Jaguar in 2002.

Whilst it initially looked likely that Lotterer would be promoted to a race seat in 2003 after it was announced that both Eddie Irvine was retiring and Pedro De La Rosa was to also leave. Sadly for Lotterer the team chose 2002 Minardi stand-out Mark Webber alongside promising young Brazilian Antonio Pizzonia for the 2003 season, leaving Lotterer looking to re-build his career momentum.

Lotterer subsequently shunned Europe and went to Japan to race in their premier Formula Nippon series, now called Super Formula, and Japanese Super GT series for 2003. Impressive results in both cemented his reputation in Japan as a very fast young driver as he was a frequent title contender in Formula Nippon for the works TOM’S Toyota team, alongside two Super GT titles in 2006 and 2009.


Lotterer and Kazuki Nakajima driving for Lexus in Super GT at Okayama in 2011.

These impressive results in Japan led to some well deserved attention from Europe, although it does seem surprising looking back that despite consistently impressive Super GT results it took until 2009 for Lotterer to make his Le Mans 24 Hours. The call came from the Kolles team racing their privateer LMP1 Audi R10 TDI. After a herculean effort from Lotterer and co-driver Charles Zwolsman to complete the race without third driver Narain Karthikeyan to injury, the car came home an impressive 7th overall after completing 369 laps.

The impressive debut with the Kolles Audi in 2009 led the highly successful works Audi team to offer him a deal for the 2010 season, where his Audi R15 TDI+ came home 2nd. From here things would get very busy for Lotterer as from 2011 onwards he would have to dovetail his Japanese Formula Nippon and Super GT commitments with a full schedule in the new Intercontinental Le Mans Cup, morphing into the World Endurance Series for 2012.

The full time schedule has not affected Lotterer’s pace however as he finally claimed a first Formula Nippon title in 2011 after 8 years of trying, with a perfect 2011 being completed with a heroic first Le Mans 24 Hours victory for him, after fighting off an onslaught of Peugeot’s to claim the win. Things improved in 2012 as the Lotterer/Marcel Fassler and Benoit Treluyer partnership swept to a second consecutive Le Mans 24 Hours victory and the inaugural World Endurance Championship title also.

2013 and 2014 so far have seen a continuation of is stellar results as the Audi trio claimed a third Le Mans 24 Hours victory and currently sit 2nd in the World Endurance Championship with 5 rounds remaining. During his sportscar and single seater career so far Lotterer has regularly proven himself to be a master of wet conditions, which maybe gives some indication of why Caterham chose to give him debut in the notoriously wet Belgian GP at Spa. Another reason may be his experience of the Spa circuit this year as he’s already raced there for Audi both in the WEC and the recent Spa 24 Hours.


Lotterer at this year’s Le Mans 24 Hours for Audi.

Whatever Caterham chose they have made a bold yet good decision in my opinion to take a chance on the always quick Andre Lotterer for this weekend, as a sportscar fan I’ve seen plenty of impressive drives from him over the last few years for Audi. He has a chance to improve things for the Caterham team although despite circuit knowledge the Caterham car has proved very difficult all season. I sincerely hope he gets the chance to give a good account of himself this weekend despite the troublesome Caterham car, which I think is only fair after the wait he’s had to make his F1 debut.

Photo credit goes to http://www.Motorsport.com , http://www.worldcarfans.com and http://www.autoindustriya.com please visit their sites for more amazing photos.

2014 Le Mans 24 Hours LMP1 Review

After previewing all four class competing in this year’s Le Mans 24 Hours, now seems an appropriate time to subsequently review all four classes how they fared in a thrilling 2014 Le Mans 24 Hours. The 24 Hours kept race fans glued to the race throughout, with changeable conditions teaming with uncharacteristic unreliability to provide a classic Le Mans. Like with the previews, I’ll go through each class individually, starting with the highest class, LMP1.

Audi Sport Team Joest:

#1 Audi R18 E-Tron Quattro: Tom Kristensen/Loic Duval/Lucas Di Grassi/Marc Gene
For the No1 Audi, this race provided all the extremes this great race can provide. After initially looking quick, a monumental accident in first practice at the Porsche curves rendered Loic Duval unable to race. Audi quickly drafted in reserve driver Marc Gene from the Jota Sport LMP2 team, and set about rebuilding the car. The mechanics worked flat out to get the car qualified the next day, and the team’s confidence grew as the race drew closer. After running solidly early on, the team capitalized on other’s misfortunes to snatch the lead when the leading Toyota faltered in the early morning hours.

From here the team were set for a fairytale victory. However, Le Mans proved how cruel it can be as the car suffered a misfire at around 9am, which forced the car into the pits for 4 laps of repairs, subsequently ending it’s chances of victory. From here the team followed the sister No2 entry in 2nd to the flag after Porsche’s dramatic late demise. Considering the state of the car on Wednesday evening, 2nd is a terrific result for this team, yet anything other than a win for Audi drivers at Le Mans is a disappointment.

#2 Audi R18 E-Tron Quattro: Marcel Fassler/Benoit Treluyer/Andre Lotterer
For all three Audi cars, the 24 Hours week got better the further along we got. Initially in practice and qualifying they appeared to lack the pace of Toyota and Porsche, a concern for the race. Whilst some discounted Audi based on their qualifying pace, the team did what they do best, and provided a relatively trouble free run.

Just as the team were getting comfortable in the lead, after the demise of the leading Toyota, the team were forced to pit in the early hours of the morning with a failing turbocharger, the team lost 20 minutes and dropped to 3rd. From here all 3 drivers drove flat out, and allied with problems for the cars ahead, were able to re-claim the lead for good at around mid morning. From here it was fairly comfortable, as the remaining Porsche challenge crumbled, leaving an Audi 1-2 to the finish. This is the trio’s 3rd win in 4 years, a truly remarkable achievement for this highly talented trio.

#3 Audi R18 E-Tron Quattro: Oliver Jarvis/ Marco Bonanomi/ Filipe Albuquerque
Before the event started, the #3 Audi had already been discounted as a challenger for victory by some people, who pointed to the driver line-up and the fact this not a full season entry as justification for their viewpoint. After qualifying however, they were proved wrong as this Audi was the fastest of the 3 in qualifying going into the race. The team were hoping this car’s usual bad luck would not repeat itself this year, yet the couldn’t of been more wrong.

With only a few hours gone in the race, the rain showers began with heavy intensity, at which point the slow travelling #3 Audi was rear ended by the #81 GTE Am Ferrari, subsequently eliminating both as they were both unable to hustle their cars back into the pits for repairs. A very sad end to what promised to be a great run for this #3 Audi crew, who must surely be asking which spiritual God they offended with the amount of bad luck they have in the 24 Hours.

Toyota Racing:

#7 Toyota TS040 Hybrid: Alex Wurz/Stephane Sarrazin/Kazuki Nakajima
For Toyota and especially this #7 entry, the 2014 Le Mans 24 Hours is the ultimate example of one that slipped away. In the pre-race build-up Toyota were more than comfortably justifying their pre-race favourites tag as this car claimed pole. Nobody appeared to be able to match their pace during the race, with the #7 entry leading from the start and building over a 2 minute lead on the chasing pack by the early hours of Sunday morning, despite spending longer in the pits.

This car’s dream run was brought to a sudden halt however as the car lost drive coming out of Arnage in the 9th hour. Despite frantic contact between driver Kazuki Nakajima and the team, the electrical problem could not be fixed and the car was forced to retire. For Toyota this was a heart breaking moment as no manufacture has worked so hard to win this race. Toyota will surely come back stronger in 2015 and they might just finally claim the Le Mans 24 Hours victory they so badly crave.

#8 Toyota TS040 Hybrid: Anthony Davidson/Nicolas Lapierre/Sebastien Buemi
The second Toyota also suffered a greatly unlucky run in the 24 Hours, as their car was eliminated from realistic victory contention within the first few hours of the race. The #8 car was caught out in the same conditions as the #3 Audi. Although driver Nicolas Lapierre gave the car considerable contact in the very difficult conditions, the team was able to mend the car for it to continue, unlike the #3 Audi.

From here the team simply drove flat out and hoped for the best, with the pace they were able to show in the remaining hours proving an ultimate what if statement. Their pace was remarkable as they were the only car to be able to consistently lap in 3m26 laps during daylight conditions. With others misfortunes and their startling pace the car salvaged the final podium spot, after the demise of Porsche in the final few hours. This team will surely come back in 2015 even more determined to claim victory after this year.

Porsche Team:

#14 Porsche 919 Hybrid: Romain Dumas/Neel Jani/Marc Lieb
For the Porsche outfit, 2014 was always pencilled in as a learning year for this new team, with any competitive results being a bonus for them. During the race, the car was running well above predictions as it mixed it with the Toyota’s for the lead. The team’s great run was dampened however with two separate fuel pressure problems, leaving the car well behind the leaders.

The car continued circulating at an impressive pace, before in the cruellest fashion possible, mechanical problems forced the car into the garage with only 3 hours remaining, where it would remain until the end.For this team the pace they showed will provide huge encouragement, expect this team to be seriously challengers when they return to Le Mans next year.

#20 Porsche 919 Hybrid: Timo Bernhard/Brendon Hartley/Mark Webber
Incredibly, the #20 had an even more impressive Le Mans 24 Hours than the sister car. This entry showed they meant business by claiming provisional pole on Wednesday, thanks to a stunning lap from Brendon Hartley. Although they slipped back on Thursday, they went into 24 Hours reasonably confident of a good result. From the start the team ran under the radar, capitalising on other’s misfortune to climb the leader board.

Sensationally, after the problems for the #1 Audi on Sunday morning, this promoted the #20 Porsche into a fairy tale lead with only a few hours remaining. From here however this slipped out of their grasp as the charging #2 Audi was able to reclaim the lead an hour later. Soon after, things got even worse as the #20 was forced into the garage with a broken anti-roll bar. This halted their run and in a final twist of cruel fate, the car was not classified as a finisher after it failed to complete the final lap in the set time. Again huge positives can be taken from their run and expect them to be on the podium next year.

Rebellion Racing:

#12 Rebellion R-One-Toyota: Nicolas Prost/Nick Heidfeld/Mathias Beche
For the Rebellion team things went according to expectations mostly, with the only major surprise being the relatively faultless run they had in the 24 Hours, considering it was only the second race for a car short on testing miles too. The car’s paced compared to the other LMP1 entries may have worried them, as they finished 14 laps behind the next LMP1 entry ahead of them.

The team did however benefit massively from the misfortunes of others, as they climbed the charts to eventually finish a brilliant 4th overall. The team will be thrilled with this result, with the team’s only concern going into the 2015 24 Hours will be the overall pace of their LMP1 entries, although for now they can celebrate an excellent result for this privateer outfit.

#13 Rebellion R-One-Toyota: Dominik Kraihamer/Andrea Belicchi/Fabio Leimer
The #13 entry proved to be the slightly slower of the two Rebellion racing entries, although this is not a major surprise considering the relative driver line-up’s of the two cars. This car was hoping for a steady run in the 24 Hours, ;although unlike the sister team entry, this car was unable to achieve this. The team suffered terrible luck as an engine problem side lined the car after only several hours. The team will be hoping to come back a lot stronger in 2015 as they aim to bring more pressure to the factory entries.

There’s the first of my Le Mans 24 Hours reviews. The other class reviews will be posted in the next few days. Once again huge thanks to http://www.Motorsport.com for their amazing photos, please feel free to visit their site if your interested.

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.
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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