Saturday 8 June 2019

Le Mans: What did (or didn't) we learn from last weeks testday?

The Test for the 87th edition of the 24-hours of Le Mans is complete and while the outputs are broadly meaningless for the teams involved it was predominantly clean running, set-up programmes followed and thankfully few incidents of significance with all participants coming away with reams of data to pore over.  

Some will be wondering what they have missed others will be looking for those marginal gains in their performance to best a competitor.  Predominantly it is now time for preparation, to put their chargers into first class running conditions and ensure that when struck by a challenge as a team they are ready to rise up to that challenge. With all that in mind lets see what we can gather from the results of the two four-hour sessions. 

All times are seemingly slightly compromised by the higher air temperatures of the weekend, and revisions to EoT (Toyota citing a 10kg increase) and BoP may have also slowed the competitors marginally.. Or alternatively everyone is holding back, not showing their true hand for fear of attracting negative revisions to the aforementioned measures…  Which ever school you sit with it keeps the fire burning for race week. 


Toyota have last year’s win under their belt now, and exude resultant confidence. The TS050s completed a combined total of 220 laps or 2,998 km, ensuring every component was faced with a substantial challenge and with no notable stops passed with flying colours. For pace each driver seemed balanced and comfortable to run perhaps 2-seconds a lap ahead of their nearest rival. With fuelling restricted to a total volume of circa 45 litres (10-gallons) it looks to be a solid grounding for further success at Le Mans in the conclusion to the WEC Super Season. But the Lady of Le Mans always has some surprises to share over the 24-hour duration…

Kamui Kobayashi commented: “We made good progress today. We have been improving the set-up of the car step by step, making it better each time. The track was improving as well every hour as more rubber went down. Overall it has been a smooth day with nothing unexpected. Of course, we never draw conclusions based on lap times at the test; it is only the beginning of the event and the track will continue to improve.” 

And Sébastien Buemi added: “It was a positive test day for us, particularly because we could do a lot of laps. Our car is the same as last year so there were no surprises and it worked well. We have a lot of data to analyse and make the car as strong as possible next week. It was pretty hot, much hotter than last year, so it was helpful to get a feeling for how the car works in such conditions.” 

As a side note, that accumulated distance at a test multiplied up and applied to one car leaves Toyota just 1,000 km off the distance record for the race.. That seems a reasonable target right now and within sight, will they go after it? For Senor Alonso it would seem an irresistible objective...

Below our partners Sportscarglobal and @TheBPillar have analysed Sunday's data to provide an average per car based on the combined performance of each cars driver squad. Its apparent the race for a step on the podium is close between Rebellion Racing and SMP Racing.  Rebellion seem to have a distinct Hare (#3) and Tortoise (#1) strategy, though Andre Lotterer could not resist a demonstration of the absolute pace of the #1 R13 with a 3:21.323.

If two teams are showing early vulnerability its the #10 Dragonspeed LMP1 Gibson powered BR1 and the Gibson rejuvenated CLM of the ENSO ByKolles team. Both teams perhaps lack testing, with this being a swansong for Dragonspeed in the top category and the ByKolles being short on testing kilometers with the bullet-proof Gibson power unit… We hope to see both on a Sunday afternoon in La Sarthe, but fear it may be plus ca change…


Recognising that bar two (#29 & #47) Dallara P217 and six Ligier JSP 217 its all about the Oreca 07s (and their like) the difference in LMP2 comes from the driver combinations, hence the average fastest lap performance by driver is a valid measure. Indeed it alters the official order in category slightly.

The Jackie Chan DC Racing #38 still comes out on top, but 0.5 sec covers the top three of #38, 31 & 30, that is half a second over a distance of 8.467 miles! The crews of the JC-DC, Dragonspeed and Duqueine teams have little more than ten days to hone and improve their stop procedures and prepare for the unexpected moments the 24-hours can throw at them.. Of course beyond those three, there are another 6 with individual laps of sub 3:31 and eleven further cars within the category. 

For all the talk of woe and destitution in the Le Mans prototype categories 28 of 62 cars in this field is quite sufficient for any 24-hour motor race, and should the worst happen and we retreat to just one prototype category there are plenty of non-manufacturer sporting teams willing to run and take overall victory at this great race. Perhaps racing for sport, for fun, for the hell of it could become the thing for the future.  We will be there to see it.


If the closeness of the above prototype battle does not excite then lets consider the Balance of Performance in GTE-Pro which is absolutely the finest of fine. First the individual fastest laps have twelve of the seventeen Pro runners within one brief second of each other around the 8.5 mile circuit, Twelve cars! That is at least one of every manufacturer entrant(5) apart from the soon to be departing BMW M8s. The fastest lap was set by Mike Rockenfeller just 2-thou from a 3:53.999 lap, his team mates were just a smidge slower delivering an average between them of 3:54.385. 

The single lap pace of the Ferrari 488 GTE Evo was put to good effect by Davide Rigon of 3:54.103 for fourth fastest, but again its the driver squad performance that impresses. the #71 drops to fifth fastest but by only 3-thou from its sister car line-up. From a Team performance that is impressive, programmes are not about pure outright pace but consistency and here are six works Ferrari drivers at AF Corse demonstrating their remarkable abilities.

As per the LMP2 category the goal for the GTE-Pro race is preparation for every eventuality, and to provide a platform for your driver squad to perform to the best of their collective abilities from flag to flag ensuring that team performance is, over a 24-hour period, a fraction of a second better than your nearest rival. 

Its hoped that the organisers can find a method to gift a couple of seconds to the BMWs, it would be nice to see them at least in the same race as the others in the category. Unlikely to bring a change of mind in the boardroom, but for the fans it would add that dusting of amazement to the final iteration of the largest GTE-Pro field that we are likely to see for awhile. 


On single fastest lap GTE-Am looked like a Ferrari-fest for the top 5 places, but delving a little deeper and team averages show a very different story. Mr Toni Vilander delivered the Weathertech #62 sponsored 488 to the top but that averaged out across the squad to twelfth in category.

It was the #54 Silver Spirit of Race Ferrari that proved most consistent across the squad pursued by the Clearwater Racing #61 example. 

Next time we see the cars on track it will be for further testing at 16h00 on Wednesday afternoon.  The track will need cleaning again, the weather will be different and the teams will each have a new workbook to go through of ideas to find those marginal improvements that are still alluding them, plus the tweaks for the prevailing conditions. And just when they think they’ve got everything nailed and sorted Lady Le Mans will roll the dice and the game will change, mark our words, its never over until its over, just ask Toyota!