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24 Hours of Le Mans 2020: The Preview

It might not be in June this year and there may be no fans in attendance, but the 24 Hours of Le Mans still holds all of the allure which, rightfully, makes it one of the most prestigious races in the world.

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic this year, there are only two fewer cars on the overall entry list compared to last year as some teams have had to alter and, in some cases, cancel planned entries in light of travel restrictions around the world.

The 88th running of the race this year has been pushed back from the 13th-14th of June to the 19th-20th of September as a result.

The race will mark the end of an era for the current LMP1 cars, both in hybrid and non-hybrid form, ahead of the upcoming LM Hypercar regulations next year; although the current LMP1 cars will still be allowed to race next season in a somewhat restricted state to be nearer the performance of the LM Hypercar entries.

The hybrid-powered cars have become some of, if not the, most technically-advanced racing cars ever created and the way they were able to deploy a claimed 1000HP out of slower corners thanks to 4-wheel-drive was both shocking and amusing to witness in person!

This year will also see the race run as the penultimate round of the 2019-20 FIA World Endurance Championship so for some of the teams and drivers, there will be even more than just a race at stake. 

And, as always at this race, there is a lot of Formula E interest - with nine drivers who raced in the all-electric series in the 2019-20 season taking part. We take a look at the Formula E-related entries below on a class-by-class basis.

Click here for a more in-depth preview of all the runners and riders that will compete in the great race.

LMP1

The LMP1 class features a mixture of hybrid-powered cars entered in the past by multiple manufacturers - but just Toyota this year along with non-hybrid powered privateers. The LMP1 cars are some of the quickest cars in any racing series.

Toyota Gazoo Racing

#8 Toyota Gazoo Racing: Toyota TS050 – Hybrid (Sebastien Buemi, Kazuki Nakajima, Brendon Hartley)

Toyota Gazoo Racing finally secured their first triumph in the great race in 2018 after years of being the bridesmaid but never the bride, only to back that up with another win last year. This year looks as if it might be a little bit more challenging for them though!

The equivalence of technology has seen the pair of Toyota’s gain a bit of weight compared to last year and they are also expected to lose the advantage they had in the pits.

As for the driver lineup, two members of the winning trio from last year remain as Nissan e.dams' Sebastien Buemi and Kazuki Nakajima are now partnered by Dragon Racing's Brendon Hartley, himself an overall winner for Porsche in 2017, who replaces Fernando Alonso. It will be a challenge for Toyota this as they will have to run an almost flawless race as Rebellion will be in a strong position to pounce should any issues arise!

Other entries

The first entry of note to mention in the LMP1 class is the Toyota on the other side of the garage. The #7 of Jose Maria Lopez, Mike Conway and Kamui Kobayashi - all former Formula E racers - is currently leading the World Endurance Championship and will be eager to avenge last year, where an incorrectly wired antenna on the tyre pressure warning system forced them to pit twice in as many laps.

The Rebellion entries are also looking strong this year. The full-season car of Gustavo Menezes, former Mahindra racer Bruno Senna and Norman Nato is third in the WEC standings and the Le Mans-only car features Romain Dumas, Louis Deletraz and ex-Team Aguri racer Nathanael Berthon. ByKolles are also taking part although statistically, they are unlikely to finish and Ginetta withdrew from Le Mans citing COVID-19 related reasons. 

LMP2

The LMP2 class is an open chassis class except there are only four to choose from these days; Dallara, Onroak/Ligier, Oreca and Riley. The Riley is, once again, the only one of the four which will not be racing at Le Mans this year. There is also a spec engine which is a 4.2L Gibson V8 which produces 600hp, and the class also features a tyre war between Goodyear and Michelin.

The class has been one of the largest numerically in recent years and this year is no exception to that. The quality of the field has always been rather high as well. As it is, on paper, a pro-am class, the teams all have to run a silver graded (i.e. amateur) driver, although they are increasingly bringing in younger drivers who are looking to make a career in sportscar racing.

G-Drive Racing

#26 G-Drive Racing: Aurus 01 - Gibson (Roman Rusinov, Jean-Eric Vergne, Mikkel Jensen)

G-Drive Racing, once again run by TDS Racing, is back for another go at Le Mans as they aim to better their second in class in 2016. They did initially win the LMP2 class in 2018 although they were disqualified following the discovery that the fuel rig had been modified. Roman Rusinov is the man behind G-Drive Racing, G-Drive being Gazprom’s premium fuel offering, and the Russian driver is notable for being a gold-rated (i.e. professional) driver who has a job outside of racing!

Alongside him is longtime co-driver Jean-Eric Vergne, who is, of course, a two-time Formula E champion with DS Techeetah, and Mikkel Jensen, who is racing in the LMP2 class for the first time this season. The team, once again, has another very strong driver line-up who will be arriving at Le Mans with only one goal, to win!

Racing Team Nederland

#29 Racing Team Nederland: Oreca 07 - Gibson (Frits van Eerd, Giedo van der Garde, Nyck de Vries)

Racing Team Nederland is another WEC regular competing at Le Mans. This year also marks the first time they’ve used the Oreca 07, having used the Dallara P217 for the last two runnings of the great race. Team owner, and owner of the Jumbo supermarket chain, Frits van Eerd is once again joined by Giedo van der Garde and Mercedes Formula E racer Nyck de Vries.

Van der Garde is one of the fastest drivers in the class having arrived into sportscar racing with a bang with an impressive final stint at Silverstone in 2016 which saw him try and get the fastest lap on the final lap of the ELMS race. De Vries is last year’s Formula 2 champion and also put in a true hero stint at the beginning of the Sebring 1000 miles in the heat of the day and without a working drinks bottle!

The team have had success this season with podiums at Silverstone and Spa and a win at Fuji. A podium might be a stretch for the team but a solid top-10 is most certainly possible.

 JOTA

#38 JOTA: Oreca 07 - Gibson (Anthony Davidson, Antonio Felix da Costa, Roberto Gonzalez)

Jota Sport is another team currently fighting for the title of best of the rest in the WEC this season. Sixth in the standings courtesy of one trip to each step of the podium so far being the highlights, they would be higher up had they not been disqualified from second in Fuji due to the outside neutral switch not being able to disconnect the transmission.

Anthony Davidson is a former WEC champion and Antonio Felix da Costa is the current Formula E champion for DS Techeetah and both drivers are seriously fast. Roberto Gonzalez is the silver graded driver and is also incredibly fast. Jota Sport knows how to win at Le Mans, having done so in 2014 and they will want to get back onto the podium again this year.

Other entries

In what is one of the hardest classes to pick a winner in, there are plenty of others which stand out. The G-Drive by Algarve Pro (Ryan Cullen, Oliver Jarvis, Nick Tandy), both United Autosports (Phil Hanson, Filipe Alburquerque, Paul di Resta) and (Will Owen, Alex Brundle, Job van Uitert), IDEC Sport (Paul Lafargue, Paul-Loup Chatin, Richard Bradley), Jackie Chan DC Racing (former FE racer Ho-Pin Tung, Gabriel Aubry, Will Stevens) and Signatech Alpine Elf (Andre Negrao, Pierre Ragues, Thomas Laurent) are all entries to keep an eye on. 

LMGTE Pro

The LMGTE Pro class at Le Mans has arguably, been taken the biggest hit compared to last year, thanks to both manufacturer withdrawals (Ford and BMW) and COVID-19 travel restrictions (Corvette Racing and CORE Autosport).

Having said that, there is still a lot of quality in the class. Technically, the cars are all based on production supercars such as the Ferrari 488 and the Aston Martin Vantage. The Porsche is based on the 911 although it is mid-engined whereas the production car is rear-engined.

There is also a new fuel fill formula for this year; introduced in a bid to try and reduce the number of post-race disqualifications and penalties. In summary, for every lap which is completed, the car must be stationary for 2.5 seconds. As an example, if a driver did a 12 lap stint, their fuelling time would be 12 x 2.5, equating to a minimum refuelling time of 30 seconds.

AF Corse

#51 AF Corse: Ferrari 488 GTE Evo (Alessandro Pier Guidi, James Calado, Daniel Serra)

#71 AF Corse: Ferrari 488 GTE Evo (Davide Rigon, Miguel Molina, Sam Bird)

AF Corse brings half of the Ferrari entries in the LMGTE Pro class and they have gone all-in with their driver line-up! The full season pairings of Alessandro Pier Guidi and Jaguar FE racer James Calado in the #51, & Davide Rigon and Miguel Molina in the #71, have had a quiet season so far with the highlight for the team being the #51 winning at Shanghai while the #71 has a best placing of second in the Bahrain 8 hours.

Pier Guidi and Calado are joined by Daniel Serra, with Formula E veteran Sam Bird returning to the #71 after having to vacate his seat to Molina due to his FE commitments with Envision Virgin Racing.

Pier Guidi, Calado and Serra are the defending champions in the class, adding to Serra’s win for Aston Martin in 2017, while Rigon, Molina and Bird are looking for their first success in the class. Given the current form shown this season, it could be tricky for them although both crews are going to give it their best shot regardless!

Aston Martin Racing

#97 Aston Martin Racing: Aston Martin Vantage AMR (Maxime Martin, Alex Lynn, Harry Tincknell)

Aston Martin Racing will be heading into Le Mans with a sense of confidence following what has been a strong season so far. With a 29-point lead over Porsche in the Manufacturer’s Championship and a car at the head of the Driver’s Championship, things on paper at least do appear to be looking rather good for the team.

The #97 of Maxime Martin and Mahindra's Alex Lynn has either finished in third or fourth all season long. Former Jaguar and NIO tester Harry Tincknell joins the #97 crew for Le Mans following the culmination of the Ford GT programme at the end of 2019. The crew are going to be hungry to add to Aston Martin’s list of class wins and everything looks as if this could well materialise!

Other entries

Pretty much all of the entries in the LMGTE Pro class are going to be capable of getting on the podium at the end of the race. The other Aston Martin of Nicki Thiim, Marco Sorensen and Richard Westbrook is the championship leader. The Porsche's have shown good pace and traditionally have gone well at Le Mans. The other two cars in the class are both from the IMSA championship. Risi Competizione returns with a car for Jules Gounon, Sebastien Bourdais and Olivier Pla. The Weathertech Ferrari has been moved up from LMGTE AM with Cooper MacNeil joined by Toni Vilander and Jeff Segal. The Weathertech Ferrari have decided against racing for WEC points though which means there is no minimum drive time for MacNeil to do. This strategy loophole could be a massive advantage for the team as they are running the only pro-am line up in the class. 

LMGTE Am

The LMGTE Am class has been one of the highlights of the 2019-20 WEC season. the class has seen some of the highest car counts as well as some of the best racing. The cars are almost the same as in LMGTE Pro although they have to be a year older. The driver line-ups must have at least one bronze graded driver and one silver graded driver, i.e. two amateur drivers.

The new fuel fill formula also applies to this class although the time is increased to three seconds per lap completed in that stint. For example, if one was to do a short stint on track of 10 laps, that would equate to a minimum 30-second fuel stop.

 Hub Auto Racing

#72 Hub Auto Racing: Ferrari 488 GTE Evo (Morris Chen, Tom Blomqvist, Marcos Gomes)

The winners of the GT class in the Asian Le Mans last season, Hub Auto Corsa make their Le Mans debut with their Ferrari. Morris Chen is the team boss and will be the second Taiwanese driver to compete at Le Mans Chen will be joined for this year by Marcos Gomes, the Brazillian who was the only driver to do all four Asian Le Mans Series rounds for the team last season. The 2015 Brazillian Stock Car champion looks likely to potentially emulate Felipe Fraga in moving into international competition and will be hoping for similar results.

The final driver for Le Mans this year will be Jaguar's Formula E racer Tom Blomqvist, who made a few appearances for BMW last season with a best result of second at Fuji. With another strong line-up on paper, they could also be contenders for a podium although it will be interesting to see how the team get in the great race.

Other entries

Like the LMP2 class, the LMGTE Am class is another where there are a lot of entries which could win. Out of the WEC entries, the #56 (Egidio Perfetti, Larry Ten Voorde, Matteo Cairoli) and #57 (Ben Keating, Felipe Fraga, Jeroen Bleekemolen) from Team Project 1, the MR Racing 'CarGuy' Ferrari (Takeshi Kimura, Kei Cozzolino, Vincent Abril), the #75 Dempsey-Proton Racing Porsche (Christian Reid, Riccardo Pera, Matt Campbell), the #83 AF Corse Ferrari (Francois Perrodo, Emmanuel Collard, Nicklas Nielsen), the TF Sport Aston Martin (Salih Yoluc, Charlie Eastwood, Jonny Adam) and the Aston Martin Racing entry for Paul Dalla Lana, Ross Gunn and Augusto Farfus. Outside of the WEC entries, the Spirit of Race Ferrari for Duncan Cameron, Aaron Scott and Matt Griffin is likely to be the main challenger from the European Le Mans Series.

Photo: Joao Filipe / AdrenalMedia.com

Rob Lomas

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