The 85th Le Mans 24 Hours is the third round of the World Endurance Championship and given the cruel luck suffered by Toyota in last year’s race the Japanese team’s quest for victory at the legendry circuit continues.
The dramatic scenes when the #5 car driven by Kazuki Nakajima, came to a standstill just before the line, as it was about to begin its final lap and watched as the Porsche took the lead and ultimately the win, were indeed heartbreaking.
Toyota hold two records at Le Mans as the manufacturer with the most second place finishes without winning (five in 1992, 1994, 1999, 2013 and 2016) and the most pole positions without winning (two in 1999 and 2014). This year the Japanese team has brought three cars to the Sarthe circuit as they continue their quest for victory and set the pace at the test session a few weeks ago.
Porsche took their 18th win last year at Le Mans and will be looking to retain their title and although drivers Mark Webber, Romain Dumas and Marc Lieb have left the team, Andre Lotterer is the team’s new recruit following Audi leaving Le Mans.
Toyota have had a promising start to the 2017 WEC season with car #8 winning the opening round at Silverstone with drivers Kazuki Nakajima, Sébastien Buemi and Anthony Davidson taking Toyota’s 11th victory in the WEC. Porsche were second (car #2 Timo Bernhard, Brendon Hartley and Earl Bamber) and third (car #1 Nick Tandy, Neel Jani and André Lotterer) but the 919 Hybrid was using the low-downforce package, which was at a disadvantage compared to Toyota’s high-downforce bodywork kit.
Toyota took a 1-2 at Spa, their first since the 6 Hours of Shanghai in 2014. Sébastien Buemi held off Kamui Kobayashi to win by just 1.992s. Porsche took third place with the #2 of Brendon Hartley, Earl Bamber and Timo Bernhard, while the sister #1 crew of Neel Jani, André Lotterer and Nick Tandy took fourth position.
Since Rebellion Racing’s switch to LMP2, the only non hybrid LMP1 team is the ByKolles, driven by Dominik Kraihamer, Marco Bonanomi and British driver Oliver Webb. The team’s aim is to finish the race as next year they will be joined by three new teams; Ginetta, Perrinn and BR.
This year there are 25 cars competing in LMP2 including a mix of four chassis including Oreca, Ligier, Dallara and Riley. Given the straight line speed that the cars have achieved so far, could it be that this year one of these cars causes an upset and takes the out right win or at least gets a car on the podium?
Making his Le Mans debut is a famous name from the world of F1, Rubens Barrichello who will join fellow F1 aces Bruno Senna, Nelson Piquet Jr, Jean-Eric Vergne and Vitaly Petrov. Barrichello is racing with fellow F1 star Jan Lammers and Frits Van Eerd in the Racing Team Nederland Dallara P217.
In GTE Pro, as part of Balance of Performance, defending champions Ford are carrying 20kg more weight and a turbo boost pressure reduction while Chevrolet have had their air restrictor increased. However rule changes are possible following free practice and qualifying.
The only woman competing this year is 25 year old Danish driver Christina Nielsen who will compete in her second Le Mans, racing the #65 Ferrari 488 in the GTE AM class. It’s been 40 years since a woman took a class win at Le Mans 24 Hours when Anny-Charlotte Verney won Group 4 in a Porsche Carrera RS in 1978. Since then many women have taken part in the race including; Lella Lombardi, Lyn St James, Claudia Hurtgen and Vanina Ickx but none were able to achieve a class win.
The 2017 Le Mans race week kicked off in the Place de la Republique with the 60 cars being put through scrutineering and administrative checks. Over a day and a half, ACO officials inspected the 60 crews and cars to ensure they comply with the current regulations. Each car takes around 50 minutes to complete the procedure and during this time the drivers are interviewed on stage and then cars, drivers and team are photographed.
The 180 drivers that will compete in the race, gathered on the grid for the traditional photograph and this year that includes 44 rookies. Fans were then able to meet their heroes during the driver autograph session.
Now we look forward to finding out who will claim pole position and the driver parade on Friday ahead of the main event. The sweltering sunny weather this year is in total contrast to the rain last year which saw the race start under the safety car and will pose its own challenge for drivers and teams. By Melissa Warren