Saturday 16 June 2018

When the talking stops - A look at what we can expect in the prototype classes

Its is now less than 24-hours to the start of the 86th edition of the 24 hours of Le Mans.  Qualifying has been concluded and despite many cars throwing themselves at the scenery all are understood to be fit for the fit, so we express a mass grid of the 60 selected cars to take the flag (dropped by Rafa Nadal & the Grand Marshall Jacky Ickx) at 1500cet tomorrow Saturday 16th June. All the talk, banter and speculation will stop and we will see a great fight up and down the field on-track for 24-hours and the car and its crew that covers the greatest distance will be crowned champions! 

By category let us try and tackle some of the things that we think you should look out for and keep an eye on.  There will be more, you will have your favourites, but these are where we think the struggle for victory will be fought for and eventually a winner will succeed and many a story will be written into legend.

LMP1 - Toyota's to lose

With just one manufacturer entry this was always going to be a challenge for the Organisers to manage. It is important for many commercial reasons for Toyota, the Automobile Club de L’Ouest (ACO) and FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) that a fight both takes place but that the right result is reached.  Toyota have become infamous for stealing away defeat from the jaws of victory and despite all the testing, what-if scenarios etc… it is still possible that with just two-cars we could see a non-manufacturer victory. 

We can take some issue with which car, but a Toyota victory overall would be a good outcome, a dominating 1-2 would be something of a disappointment.  The gaps are too large to realistically consider any other outcome. Below it is evident that Toyota can comfortably run 3:20 laps which is at the limit of the Rebellion Racing R13 and SMP Racing BR1 performance. Hopefully that is a laurel they will rest on and pray for no significant incidents. Team orders if within range is likely and the potential for Fernando Alonso to achieve the second prong of the Triple Crown trident could not be more possible, but then Le Mans is never predictable… 

Behind the battle between Rebellion and SMP Racing could not be better and especially as they have different power units we could see a fascinating duel well-worth focusing on.  The driver line-up in the #1 of Lotterer/Jani/Senna looks tempting but then in many ways #11 Petrov/Aleshin/Button while possibly less experienced has an edge to it. No distinction in the Equivalence of Technology(EoT) will get in the way, it is a straightforward dog-fight and will be a joy to behold, noting each car also has a back-up second car in the team too! 

Furthermore the sleepers of the ENSO CLM ByKolles #4 and Dragonspeed BR1 running the same engine from Gibson Techonology (GL458) as the Rebellion could both have immaculate runs and whilst slower, has the opportunity to run both long and clean which could be the approach to achieve a win. All bar ByKolles (& Toyota) are running new equipment and hence will face issues and the serviceability (how teams cope with those challenges) will be a significant factor in who takes the third, possible second or could it just be the Top step of the podium come Sunday afternoon.

Finally Le Mans and its fans always loves a trier! And the challenges that have been thrown the TRS Manor Racing team and Ginetta have not been inconsiderable. They are both for registration purposes logged as Chinese entrants, but that funding seems to have been the root of many of their issues to-date, and a cash-strapped approach in this category will never ever be a successful option. Both cars have delivered sufficient laps for their driver squads to qualify and in the few days from Test Day to this week they have found in excess of 5-seconds with the #6 of Rowland/Brundle/Turvey start from the fifth row, and it will be a joy to see either that car or the sister car at the finish on Sunday.  That could be the biggest victory for restricted budgets in the history of motorsport!

LMP2 – Driver Squads & Tyre Choices

We have ourselves a tyre war, and its clear that the Michelins in warm temperatures that they perform. However since the warmth of the Test Day conditions have dropped from high 20s and are now more in the low numbers, and its evident from the details below that a number of the Dunlop runners are in a better place over a longer period of time. 

As a category the stock approach to LMP2 manufacturers whilst swelling the numbers and controlling the costs has resulted in a premiership and championship team situation. If you run an Oreca 07 – Gibson it is clear you are premiership and you have to look down to seventh to find a non-Oreca runner, irrespective of the efforts to improve the ‘balance’ in the category. Drivers in this category play a larger role than any other, and hence its is the slowest member of that driving squad that will hold a car back. This is evidenced on the normalised timing analysis below with IDEC Sport falling from pole to fourth. 

Whilst the squad at G-Drive #26 is formidable (Rusinov/Pizzitola/Vergne) and well practiced as a full seasonn WEC entrant, as we are in France we suggest keeping eye on TDS Racing #28 (Perrodo/Vaxiviere/Duval) & the Alpine-Signatech Matmut #36 (err. Oreca) of Lapierre/Negrao/Thiriet. Home advantage may seem more relevant in football, but at Le Mans we believe its worth at least a couple of tenths, and more likely the odd penalty for your competitors! 

The table below takes best stint values and creates an average table potentially more reflective of true race pace rather than a single lap. Hence for example we see Toyota targeting 3:18s, Rebellion in the 20s etc…  Note the changes in the running order for LMP2 with pole-sitter IDEC Sport #48 falling off to fourth in category…

Analysis with Thanks to @theBpillar

Remember last year, an LMP2 can come with a strong no-fault run and get very close to an overall victory.  There is always cause for optimism at Le Mans. Revel in the show, enjoy the weekend and engage with the story as it is written for you by the travails and tribulations of 24-hours of World Class MotorSport. 

Nick Holland via SportscarGlobal