Category Archives: Le Mans News

Toyota Fires The Starting Gun For The Le Mans Hypercar Era

Toyota Gazoo Racing has officially kicked off the Le Mans Hypercar era by formally unveiling its brand new GR010 HYBRID challenger, which will make its global race debut in the opening race of the 2021 FIA World Endurance Championship season at Sebring in March.

After years of planning, designing, developing and more recently, manufacturing and testing, the wait is almost over for Toyota. The Japanese marque, which has won the last three Le Mans 24 Hours, has moved into a new era of sportscar racing and become the first marque to make the leap with a new car. Following multiple evolutions to its 2016 TS050 HYBRID over the past four years, it is refreshing to see a brand new car emerge from TGR’s headquarters in Cologne.

The GR010 HYBRID is a prototype racer based on the forthcoming GR Super Sports concept car which completed demo laps at Le Mans last September. While elements of the design feature nods to Toyota’s hybrid LMP1 cars of recent years, under the skin, it’s a very different animal to its predecessors, as it shares fundamental DNA with its road-legal counterpart.

The car will be powered by a four-wheel drive hybrid powertrain, with a 3.5-litre V6 twin-turbo engine, providing 680hp to the rear wheels, combining with a 272hp motor generator unit. With the total power output of the car capped at 680hp by regulation, the hybrid system, is being used to reduce the amount of power used by the engine through boosts of hybrid power each lap during a race.

Toyota has been hard at work on this project since it announced its foray into the Le Mans Hypercar class back in 2019 at the Le Mans 24 Hours. Using its Cologne base to design the car itself and its team of experts at Higashi-Fuji in Japan to develop the hybrid powertrain, the countless lessons learned through its eight-year WEC programme to this point have helped it create a car which it expects to be a winner from Day 1.

While it will have to wait another year to pit the GR010 HYBRID against Peugeot Sport’s new LMH chariot, this season will not be without its challenges. Competing with a brand new car is never a simple, trouble-free task, as Toyota knows from years of near-misses at Le Mans with new machinery which it expected to go the distance after gruelling test programmes. But the Toyota Gazoo Racing outfit appears to be as ready as it has ever been. As a team it has matured nicely with age and knows precisely what it takes to create and run a championship-winning car.

Toyota isn’t ready to go into too much detail about its test programme with the GR010 yet, though it has given Travel Destinations some indications of how the car has performed over the past few months. No mileage stats are available, but we know from the past that Toyota is not afraid to push a new car to its limits with lengthy endurance tests that often feature more than 24 hours of continuous running.

Over the course of Toyota’s pair of three-day tests to this point – one of which was at Paul Ricard, the other at Algarve – no major issues have been reported and driver feedback has been encouraging. The only real hiccup thus far is lost track time due to its third planned test at Aragon getting cancelled, due to heavy snow.

Those of us trackside may not notice the stark differences between the GR010 and the TS050 immediately. But over time the shift in philosophy will become clear.

The car is 162kg heavier and produces 32% less power than its TS050 HYBRID predecessor, meaning lap times are set to be significantly slower (as per the new set of regulations curbing the performance levels to mitigate rising cost). This means the days of sub 3:20 lap-times at Le Mans are over, at least for the time being, with the GR010 expected to produce times around 10 seconds slower than the outgoing LMP1 model at La Sarthe.

For the drivers behind the wheel too, there are major differences. The fighter-pilot level of multi-tasking that its selection of drivers were forced to adapt to in the LMP1 Hybrid era – which included intense management of fuel flow and hybrid boost throughout each lap – has been eased with this new machine. What we have instead is a more efficient car, which will suit the pure racers among Toyota’s roster.

“I was not expecting it to be as fun to drive as it is; I thought it would feel like a GT car,” Sebastien Buemi explains. “But we learned a lot during our LMP1 era and we used that knowledge to improve the new car, so it feels like a prototype.”

Perhaps the most important aspect from the driver feedback to this point is the drivability of the GR010. “I already feel at home,” Mike Conway adds. Though not every driver has been able to get a feel for the new car just yet, as Travel Destinations understands that neither of Toyota’s Japanese drivers: Kamui Kobayashi and Kazuki Nakajima, have been out testing.

It remains to be seen how the GR010 will stack up against its competition in Year 1 of the programme, but the expectations are (deservedly) high, even with the new Balance of Performance system governing the class with the aim of creating parity.

This year Toyota’s main competition could well come from France as it competes against Alpine’s (multiple Le Mans class and WEC title-winning) factory team, running a grandfathered Rebellion R-13 LMP1 car (below), which is a proven race winner.

There will be other Hypercars on the grid in 2021 though, which may give us more of an idea of how sophisticated the GR010 is up against cars developed to the same ruleset.

US manufacturer Scuderia Cameron Glickenhaus’ new car is being assembled and readied for its first test as we speak. James Glickenhaus himself has told media members in the past two weeks that he doesn’t expect to be at Sebring to debut the car, but he has nevertheless thrown down the gauntlet by hiring 15-time Le Mans winning outfit Joest to run its effort. Anyone who witnessed the dominance of Audi Sport’s programme between 2006 and 2016 in particular, will not need reminding just how impressive Reinhold Joest’s crew are when facing monumental challenges from rival teams.

Then there’s ByKolles, which is developing its own hypercar too for 2021. The current status of the new car is unknown at present, though the Austrian team is often very secretive about its racing operations behind the scenes, so the radio silence shouldn’t be considered too much of a concern yet.

We will find out more very soon. With th full FIA WEC entry list set to be revealed next week, we’ll only need to wait a handful more days to see exactly what the field that Toyota’s new toy will be a part of looks like.

Stephen Kilbey

Want to be at the Le Mans 24 Hours this year? Act fast as availability is becoming limited for many of Travel Destinations’ accomodation options. Travel Destinations is also selling packages to FIA WEC races beyond Le Mans. You can contact our office by calling 01707 329988 or emailing info@traveldestinations.co.uk to get your next motorsport holiday booked.

Images courtesy of Toyota

Travel Destinations Now Open For Business In 2021

With 2020 in the rear-view mirror, the Travel Destinations office has now reopened for 2021. To our loyal customers, we wish all of you a happy and safe new year and look forward to seeing you all soon.

Last year was incredibly challenging, but we are now fully focused on the coming months and excited to restart doing what we do best: sending thousands of fans to the Le Mans 24 Hours and Le Mans Classic for unforgettable experiences.

The new year is only a handful of days old and we are are already taking bookings for both events, though spaces are now very limited for most accommodation options at this point.

Our refund guarantee policy is still in place for coronavirus cancelled events. So you can book with confidence and start planning your trip to Le Mans with confidence. We have also opened up bookings for the 2022 edition of the Le Mans 24 Hours, with identical prices to 2021.

If you have an existing booking for an event this year, then you can sit back and relax. We will contact you directly should there be any notable updates on the status of the Le Mans 24 Hours or Le Mans Classic.

Our office is open, as usual, from 09:00 – 17:30 UK time, Monday to Friday. Call us on 01707 329988 or email info@traveldestinations.co.uk to make a booking.

Thank you again and stay safe.

Porsche’s LMDh Commitment Is A Huge Moment For Sportscar Racing

The dust has barely settled on Porsche’s withdrawl from IMSA’s GTLM category at the 2020 season finale in Sebring last month and already the German marque has announced its return to sportscar racing as a factory.

Let’s not beat around the bush here, last night’s news that Porsche will return to top-class sportscar racing and compete in both IMSA and the FIA WEC with a new LMDh prototype, is as significant as it gets.

Audi was technically the first marque to commit to LMDh, with its brief statement of intent to race at Le Mans and Daytona in LMDh as part of the fallout from its Formula E exit earlier this month. But Porsche’s bulletin is the first full confirmation for IMSA’s LMDh formula, which will replace DPi and be eligible to race alongside Le Mans Hypercars in the FIA WEC as part of top class convergence.

Better still, Porsche’s commitment to the new LMP2-based, hybrid-powered category will likely add two full-season factory cars to both IMSA and the WEC’s grids, and potentially, multiple customer cars too.

“The new LMDh category allows us to fight for overall victories with a hybrid system at the Le Mans, Daytona and Sebring classics – without breaking the bank. The project is extremely attractive for Porsche. Endurance racing is part of our brand’s DNA,” explains Oliver Blume, CEO at Porsche AG.

Michael Steiner, Board Member for Research and Development at Porsche AG, adds: “In the medium term, Porsche focuses on three different drive concepts: fully electric vehicles, efficient plug-in hybrids and emotional combustion engines. We want to represent this trilogy in both the development of our cutting-edge road cars and in motorsport.

“We use the all-electric drive to contest the FIA Formula E as part of our works commitment, and the highly efficient and emotional combustion unit in GT racing. Now, the LMDh class closes the gap for us. There, powerful hybrid drives – like the ones that are mounted in many of our brand’s models – go up against each other. If the regulations eventually allowed the use of synthetic fuels, then that would be an even greater incentive for me in terms of sustainability.”

The car, Dailysportscar.com says, is planned to be powered by a twin-turbo V8, while the engine used by fellow VAG-brand Audi, is tipped to be a four-cylinder turbocharged engine from its outgoing Class One DTM chassis.

From the teaser renders meanwhile, it appears that the next-generation Multimatic LMP2 chassis has been selected as the base for Porsche’s LMDh car. Travel Destinations understands that it will also used for Audi’s forthcoming challenger also.

A further similarity is that like Audi, Porsche’s new car will hit the track in 2023, the year which Travel Destinations believes will be the first for LMDh as a formula, with IMSA set to delay its inception by 12 months to allow manufacturers more time to prepare. Crucially, this coincides with a hugely significant year for the Le Mans 24 Hours, which will celebrate the 100th anniversary of the inaugural running of the race held back in 1923.

The 2023 edition of the ‘Grand Prix of Endurance’ is shaping up to be an extraordinary occasion, with the ACO planning a whole host of festivities in the build up to what should be one of the most hotly contested races ever at La Sarthe. As it stands now, Toyota, Peugeot, Audi and Porsche are all set to be on hand for the 2023 race, with the potential for Glickenhaus and ByKolles to join the fun running privately entered Le Mans Hypercars. And that’s without any additional marques or privateers committing to either LMH or LMDh.

Don’t expect the coming months to be quiet though; we’re likely to hear about more programmes very soon. Acura is believed to be close to confirming its LMDh participation with ORECA, McLaren and Mazda are still actively assessing options and rumours persist that Ferrari is working on something behind the scenes following its participation in the technical working group meetings.

After a heavily disrupted year for motorsport, and the world as a whole, this news comes as a real boost. The future of both IMSA and the FIA WEC’s top classes are is taking shape. Convergence looks increasingly likely exceed the expectations of the key industry stakeholders on hand back in January when IMSA and the ACO’s top brass made their historic announcement.

With Porsche now on board, even if nobody else pushes the button on an LMDh or LMH programme going forward, the grids for the big endurance races like Rolex 24 Hours, Sebring 12 Hours and Le Mans 24 Hours are all set to be blockbuster, with multiple major marques in wildly different cars battling for the overall wins. And that, as we sit here more than two years out from LMDh’s debut, may be the best news of all…

ACO President Pierre Fillon puts it best: “This eagerly anticipated announcement is excellent news for endurance racing. It proves that our regulations, boosted by a historic agreement with the USA, are an attractive proposition.”

Stephen Kilbey

Want to be trackside at Le Mans in 2021? Call our office today on 01707 329988 or email info@traveldestinations.co.uk to make a booking…

LM24 Debrief: Toyota’s Triple

Well folks, the 2020 Le Mans 24 Hours went ahead, and it proved to be a huge success. The ACO deserves high praise for persevering and delivering an event that many thought wouldn’t happen at various points this year.

It was an event that featured much more than just a race too. It provided a look at the future, with news emerging about future regulations, calendars, which Travel Destinations took a look at back on Friday.

So with the 88th edition in the books, let’s revisit some of the key takeaways from the race itself:

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Thanks for everything TS050, it’s been quite a ride

The LMP1 Hybrid era is now over, and it ended with Toyota scoring its third straight win at Le Mans with the No. 8 TS050 HYBRID. What a ride it’s been, an eight year roller-coaster that started back in 2012 with Audi Sport and Toyota pushing the boundaries at the inception of the FIA WEC and sparked off a ‘Golden Age’ for top level sportscars that fans will never forget.

Toyota’s commitment to endurance racing has been admirable through the years, and now it has been rewarded for its efforts with three Le Mans wins.

While it can be argued that Toyota’s victories have come against lesser competition, since the departure of Audi and Porsche, it can only beat the competition in front of it. It should also be applauded for sticking with the sport through peaks and troughs.

As a race, LMP1 this year was the most entertaining it’s been since Porsche withdrew from the class after 2019. Rebellion, on pace, were there or thereabouts with the TS050s and during the race actually managed to set the fastest lap with its No. 1 R-13.

Unfortunately, Rebellion didn’t risk pushing the limits of its cars for the entire race, and instead opted to run at a pace which didn’t put too much stress on the car’s components in order to get both cars to the finish.

In some ways, this worked, as neither of Toyota’s TS050 HYBRIDs had a clean race, and had the winning No. 8 suffered any further issues in the second half after its brake duct issue early in the race, then Rebellion would have been ready and waiting to steal the victory.

But fortunately for Toyota, the No. 8 held out and won by multiple laps. Sebastien Buemi, Brendon Hartley and Kazuki Nakajima, as you would expect, didn’t put a foot wrong and brought the car home, securing another big win for the Japanese marque.

Their teammates in the No. 7 must wonder what they have done to deserve such rotten luck, as Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and Jose Maria Lopez have come close so many times now, and this year more than ever they looked a sure bet to win.

With the No. 8 in trouble early with a puncture and brake duct fault, the No. 7 led the charge until nightfall, when a turbo-charger problem forced lengthy repairs that dropped the car outside the top three. They were lucky to get on the podium too; had Louis Deletraz not had an off at Indianapolis in the final hour in the No. 3 Rebellion and been forced into the pits for a change of front and rear bodywork then they would have finished fourth.

They’ll have to try again next year, when Toyota returns to Le Mans with its brand new Le Mans Hypercar….

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Aston’s double win

The 2020 Le Mans 24 Hours was a huge success for Aston Martin, its Vantage AMR taking wins in the GTE Pro and Am classes, wrapping up the GTE Pro Manufacturers’ World Championship in the process. Was it the brand’s best ever Le Mans result? You could argue the 1959 overall win was more significant… But nevertheless, this was a truly momentous day for Aston Martin, and will come as a real positive for everyone at Prodrive (which runs the team) and the automotive arm of the business after a tough year financially.

Alex Lynn, Maxime Martin and Harry Tincknell won GTE Pro in the No. 97, and proved to be the class of the field after the opening hours. This year it quickly became a head-to-head battle between AF Corse and Aston Martin Racing after Porsche’s two 911 RSR 19s were quickly exposed as lacking pace and reliability.

In the end Aston Martin took the win, after a remarkably consistent and fault-free performance over the No. 51 Ferrari 488 GTE EVO of James Calado, Alessandro Pier Guidi and Daniel Serra after a performance than on any other year may have been easily good enough to take the victory.

One of the most astonishing factors that led to victory for the No. 97 was how well the trio managed the car and conditions. All three found a way to extract race-winning pace while preserving the car, to the point where they could go the entire race without a brake change, something that would have been unthinkable a few years ago.

TF Sport meanwhile, delivered a similarly emphatic win in GTE Am, becoming the first Aston Martin customer team to get a class win at Le Mans in the modern era. Tom Ferrier’s team ran like clockwork, and Salih Yoluc, Jonny Adam and Charlie Eastwood all putting in the best drives of their careers to date.

GTE Am was somewhat of a lottery early in the race, as the varying strategies surrounding the use of gentlemen drivers caused a cycle of various contenders rising and falling up and down the order. It wasn’t until the night hours set in that the real contenders emerged, TF Sport’s Aston looking like a solid bet for the win along with the other Vantage AMR in the class from Aston Martin Racing. But reliability struck the AMR crew and eliminated them from contention before sunrise, leaving TF to fend off the challengers from Porsche and Ferrari solo. TF, to its credit, pushed on and produced a textbook faultless run.

In the end the battle for second proved to be the most thrilling, as a late safety car bunched up the field and produced a titanic scrap between three young rising stars in Nicklass Nielsen, Matteo Cairoli and Matt Campbell for the final two spots on the podium. It would be Campbell in the No. 77 Proton Porsche who would lead Nielsen in the No. 83 AF Corse Ferrari home for silverware behind the TF Aston.

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United’s dominance continues

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The race for LMP2 glory was an unusual one, a real war of attrition, something we don’t often see in the current era, with spec prototypes that have proven to be on the whole bullet-proof since their debut season in 2017.

Racing Team Nederland’s ORECA, the Signatech Alpine, United’s No. 32 ORECA, both DragonSpeed’s ORECAs, the High Class Racing 07, both of the G-Drive Racing Aurus entries, Eurointernational and Inter Europol’s Ligier, Nielsen’s ORECA, the Jackie Chan DC Racing ORECA and the Cool Racing ORECA all suffered notable failures. There were so many issues, for so many teams, that no lead or strong position felt safe.

United Autosports however, bucked the trend and managed to get the No. 22 of Paul Di Resta, Phil Hanson and Filipe Albuquerque home without any issues, continuing its winning streak in the LMP2 classes of the ELMS and FIA WEC this year alive.

“To win the legendary Le Mans 24 Hours, on only our fourth appearance, and clinch the FIA LMP2 World Endurance Championship title for Drivers and Teams on our very first attempt with one race still to run, is just amazing,” a jubliant Zak Brown told Travel Destinations.

“Richard [Dean] (United co-owner) has built such a great team over the past 10 years since United started racing. Full credit to Phil, Filipe and Paul plus the entire team for earning United an awesome result.”

It comes as no surprise after studying the form pre-race, but it is nevertheless a remarkable achievement, especially considering the team had never raced the ORECA chassis (with its Le Mans joker aero package) at Le Mans before, up against a field of world-class teams and drivers.

United looks like it will be a force to be reckoned with for years to come…

Want to make the trip to Le Mans next year for the 24 Hours or Classic? We are already on sale for 2021 and demand is high! Give our office a call today to get yourself booked by calling 01707 32 99 88.

Le Mans 2021 Packages On Sale Now!

With the 2020 Le Mans 24 Hours in the rear-view mirror, it’s time to look ahead to the 2021 edition on June 12th-13th!

Travel Destinations is already on sale for 2021, and with so much pent-up demand following the events leading up to this year’s race, spaces in campsites and at hotels are filling fast!

We continue to offer our usual unrivalled selection of both on-circuit and off circuit options for fans wishing to be track side for what is set to be a memorable Le Mans 24 Hours, after an unprecedented year without fans in the stands.

There are still (limited) spaces for anyone wishing to spend race week in a ‘Flexotel’ cabin, a pre-erected Event Tent or at our private trackside campsite at the Porsche Curves. But act fast, as all these options will sell out before long.

As for the public circuit-run sites, we are still offering camping pitches at Houx, Houx-Annexe, Beausejour, Maison Blanche, Expo, Mulsanne, Arnage, Bleu Nord and Bleu Sud.

If you want to be there to see the Le Mans Hypercars and Corvette’s C8R make their debut at Le Mans, as well as the usual field of prototypes and GTE cars, then call our offices and book now on 01707 329988!

We would also like to remind customers that all packages are financially protected by our ‘Refund Gaurantee’. So you can book with confidence…

LM24 Friday Debrief: A Step Closer to Convergence?

Today was a big day for Le Mans news, as Friday at Le Mans always is. With Hyperpole in the books and the grid set for the race early in the day, press conferences and announcements dominated headlines this afternoon.

There really is so much to digest, as Travel Destinations’ Stephen Kilbey writes…

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The Convergence conundrum

Despite the main event being the ACO conference today, at an ACO event, IMSA’s LMDh category was front an centre, with plenty of pieces of news emerging.

The headlines here, along with more details regarding the technical regulations, are the new technical partners. Williams Advanced Engineering and Bosch have been brought in to create the KERS system for the new (LMP2-based) LMDh cars – with Bosch looking after the mechanical portion of the unit.

The target output for the system is 40bhp, adding to tthe 630hp internal combustion engines that will be in the back of the LMDh chassis formed from Dallara, Ligier, Multimatic and ORECA’s next-generation LMP2 models. X-Trac meanwhile, will be responsible for the gearboxes for the new formula.

So many questions are yet to be answered though. The most pressing one concerns the debut of the category.

Originally, LMDh was supposed to debut in 2022, just a single year after the first races for the Le Mans Hypercars. But Travel Destinations understands it is increasingly likely for the first season of LMDh to be pushed back to 2023, the disruption caused by the pandemic clearly to blame here. (RACER.com has more on this HERE)

We should hear more on this sooner rather than later, as John Doonan (above) and his IMSA team behind the scenes continue to work with manufacturers to put together a world-class field that can compete in North America and around the world alongside Le Mans Hypercars as part of the ‘convergence’.

If LMDh’s introduction was indeed pushed back to 2023, what would that mean for said ‘convergence’? This is where we begin treading into the real ‘unknown’.

We still don’t know whether or not IMSA will accept LMH cars into the WeatherTech SportsCar Championship for instance. It will not be an easy task to balance proven Le Mans Hypercars (some of which will be in their third season) with brand new LMDh cars either, especially if the first time the two formulas meet is at Sebring or Le Mans – at two very important events. There’s also a real question mark about any WEC-bound manufacturers/teams that want to race in the Le Mans Hypercar category with an LMDh car.

Will they have to wait until 2022 or will the WEC make moves to allow them in early? Pierre Fillon, the ACO President, gave a non committal answer in the conference, stating that they are unsure whether the debut of LMDh will be “before or after Le Mans 2022″…

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Peugeot Commits to Hypercar

Meanwhile, on the subject of Le Mans Hypercar, it is now official: Peugeot Sport has chosen the Hypercar formula over IMSA’s LMDh platform for its top class FIA WEC entry scheduled for the 2022 season.

The French constructor cited the amount of aerodynamic freedom in LMH as a key reason for its decision. It also relishes the chance to develop a hybrid powertrain alongside technical partner TOTAL, which extends its relationship with Peugeot as part of this WEC effort.

Renders were also shown off, which produced a strong positive response from fans.

This is all positive news. The cavalry is certainly coming for the FIA WEC, with Peugeot set to join the fun in 2022 to race against Toyota, Glickenhaus, ByKolles and, we hope, Alpine. There are plenty more manufacturers in the mix for future programmes too. The questions remain, how many more will come and as discussed above, what does the future hold for LMDh?

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ByKolles’ Hypercar programme lives!

Prior to today, it had been quite a while since we last heard anything from LMP1 team ByKolles about its Le Mans Hypercar plans. It was therefore a pleasant surprise to see some new renders of ByKolles’ 2021 Hypercar.

ByKolles says its staff has run thousands of CFD runs to create the aero concept seen above, which it hopes will produce ‘class leading performance’.

The project is part of a wider drive to manufacturer and sell both track day and road-going versions of the car in the coming years. It’s certainly an ambitious move from the team which has been a part of top-level prototype racing for over a decade now.

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Hyperpole proves a success!

To put it simply, Hyperpole works… Really, really, well.

The debut of the Le Mans 24 Hours’ new Qualifying format today, (which saw the top six from Qualifying Practice hit the track for a short, sharp session with fresh tyres and low fuel), produced plenty of action.

In the past Le Mans Qualifying, with its multi-session format, always had potential to be an anti-climax. Those trackside in the stands and garages often wouldn’t know when the pole lap was set, or likely to be set, because weather conditions across multiple days and varying strategies from teams meant there was always a good chance it wouldn’t go down to the wire on Thursday night.

Thus, having the fastest cars and drivers, all on fresh rubber for a quick session to decide pole this year, was (unsurprisingly perhaps), very entertaining.

Toyota took pole on this occasion, ahead of the TS050 HYBRID’s final Le Mans run this weekend. But it wasn’t an easy ride

Rebellion showed a real flash of pace with American Gustavo Menezes, who set a 3:15.822 early in the session to put the No. 1 Rebellion R-13 on provisional pole. To put that lap into context, it was the fastest non-hybrid LMP1 lap at Le Mans, ever, a few tenths faster than the previous best by SMP Racing.

Unfortunately for the Swiss team though, it wasn’t quite enough, as Kobayashi’s 3:15 came shortly after and put the No. 7 atop the times on the second lap of his first fresh set of tyres. He then went on to attempt to break the all-time lap record, (which he set back in 2017 with a 3:14.791), and was on course to do so but had to abandon the lap just as the checkered flag came out while passing through the final sector.

Elsewhere United Autosports’ Paul Di Resta narrowly took the top spot in LMP2, Porsche beat out AF Corse and Aston Martin Racing in the hotly-contested GTE Pro class and Luzich Racing claimed the honours in GTE Am.

Already we’re looking forward to seeing the response from fans trackside in 2021 to Hyperpole. If it produces drama anything like this year, then it’s sure to be a hit.

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Sebring confirmed in the FIA WEC’s 2021 calendar

The FIA WEC revealed the 2021 calendar during the press conference today. The new schedule for next year sees the number of races reduced from eight to six, meaning there are a trio of omissions from the original 2020/21 calendar that was scrapped due to the pandemic.

The season will begin at Sebring, with a 1000-mile race, in a double-header with the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship’s 12 Hours of Sebring. This will be the global debut for the Le Mans Hypercar formula and mark the return of ‘Super Sebring’ after the 2020 edition was cancelled.

Spa is next up for the first of three European races. The race in Belgium precedes the Le Mans 24 Hours, as per tradition, before the teams head to Italy to race for the first time at Monza. While it won’t be the full debut of the circuit in the WEC – it played host to the pre-season prologue test back in 2017 – it will be the first race at the ‘Temple of Speed’ for the championship.

With the European leg over, the season will finish with races in Fuji Speedway, Japan and at the Bahrain International Speedway.

This means no racing, as was originally planned, at the newly-renovated circuit at Kyalami. The WEC will also not return to either Shanghai or Silverstone for the first time in its history.

Stephen Kilbey

Want to make the trip to Le Mans next year for the 24 Hours or Classic? We are already on sale for 2021 and demand is high! Give our office a call today to get yourself booked by calling 01707 32 99 88.

Images courtesy of Peugeot, ACO, ByKolles and Toyota

LM24 Thursday Debrief: Will The Lap Record Fall?

We’re not even through the first full day of track action at La Sarthe, and already there is plenty to talk about and ponder as we edge ever closer to raceday.

Here’s a few observations from Travel Destinations’ Stephen Kilbey after the opening sessions:

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Will Toyota break the circuit lap record again?

With Qualifying and the debut of the new ‘Hyperpole’ format right around the corner, there’s plenty of utterances about the circuit lap record being broken again by Toyota.

Thus far in practice, through the opening sessions, Toyota’s pair of TS050 HYBRIDs have already managed laptimes under 3:20, which in itself is impressive as it wasn’t long ago that a 3:30 at Le Mans would have been good enough for pole. This sort of performance level is equally impressive when you consider the efficiency too. Last year, with the same car lest we forget, Toyota managed to cover 500km more during the race at Le Mans compared to its debut with a Hybrid (TS030) LMP1 car back in 2012, and use 300kg less fuel.

However, the 3:19s we’ve seen thus far are nowhere near the astonishing 3:14.791 Kamui Kobayashi set back in 2017.

So is it possible? Well, to be perfectly honest, even Toyota are not entirely sure. The current TS050 HYBRID, which admittedly is running a revised low-down force kit this year, would certainly be capable if it ran without restrictions. The issue is that this year the cars are hit with a less favourable Equivalence of Technology handicap than they were in ’17.

The other factor is the conditions trackside. While Le Mans is notorious for throwing up surprises on the weather front in June, a September race brings with it even more question marks. Will cooler track temps, and the condensed schedule allow for a surface more suited to rapid times come qualifying? It remains to be seen.

Speaking to Travel Destinations, a Toyota source said: “We don’t see a big chance (of breaking the record). The success handicap is gone for Le Mans but there is still EoT which is harsher on us than in 2017. With a clear lap and perfect conditions, given we have an updated low downforce kit, you never know but we’re not holding our breath. And we’re not focusing on it in terms of prep.”

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Porsche already up to speed?

Looking at the GTE Pro field on paper, it’s clear that Porsche’s factory crews have the most work to do early in the week this year at Le Mans.

This is because the 911 RSR-19 has never competed at the Circuit de la Sarthe before, whereas Aston Martin Racing and AF Corse have two entire weeks worth of data to draw from since their current cars made their first appearances at the track in in 2018.

With no test day this year and a packed timetable over Thursday and Friday, finding the right set up will prove to be a real challenge. But if anyone can get up to speed quickly, it’s Porsche, and already we’re seeing how quickly the crew in the garages can get a baseline sorted.

After finishing up Free Practice 1 in 7th and 8th in GTE Pro (slowest in the class), the No. 92 managed to top the times in FP2 with a (3:52.783) time that was good enough to go six tenths clear of the field. A 3:52 though, is nowhere near the Pole time from last year (3:48), so there’s a ways to go in terms of performance gains as the drivers and teams find their rhythms and the track rubbers in.

Following FP2, times did tumble further for Porsche and the entire Pro pack in Qualifying Practice later in the day, as you’d expect. The best time was a 3:50.093 from the No. 95 Aston Martin. Interestingly, the two Porsches only just made it into Hyperpole, the two 911s fifth and sixth in the times.

Will anyone show their true hand before raceday anyway? In GTE Pro it is often unwise to do so, due to the Balance of Performance system that governs the class and has been known to be tweaked between Qualifying and the Race in the past. Thus, we will likely have to wait until Saturday afternoon to get a clear picture.

***

IDEC Sports’ nightmare start

The Circuit de la Sarthe has already claimed its first victims with two big offs in Free Practice 2, unfortunately by two drivers from the same team: IDEC Sport.

The first off was Paul Lafargue, who suffered heavy front-right damage to his #28 ORECA after going into the armco hard at the exit of the second Mulsanne Chicane. This is a notable drama, the #28 was considered among the favourites heading into this week, as the defending European Le Mans Series championship-winning car.

After a lengthy red flag period, once the session got going again, it wasn’t long before the second IDEC ORECA, the #17, hit trouble. This time it was Dwight Merriman, who also went head-on into the barriers, though on the drivers’ left on the run from the exit of the Porsche Curves to pit-in. (Thankfully both drivers are ok after their respective impacts.)

Now it’s down to the mechanics to push on and get both cars repaired in time to ensure the drivers get some more valuable track time in before the race. Both cars already missed out on Qualifying Practice, and therefore their shot at an appearence in the Hyperpole session tomorrow.

For better or worse, this year’s condensed schedule certainly doesn’t allow teams much time to bounce back from big incidents!

****

All eyes on Hyperpole

The stage is now set for the first ever Le Mans 24 Hours Hyperpole session tomorrow morning. Qualifying Practice this evening saw the six cars from each class granted their place for the shootout session, which promises to be frantic!

The entire LMP1 field has made it in, because there are only five cars on the entry this year. In LMP2 six ORECAs made the cut from Racing Team Nederland, Jackie Chan DC Racing, United Autosports (both 07s), G-Drive Racing (#26) and High Class Racing.

In GTE Pro, perhaps unsurprisingly the six FIA WEC factory cars made it in, the two privateer Ferraris from Weathertech Racing and Risi Competizione unable to find the required pace.

And finally, in GTE Am, Aston Martin Racing and TF Sport’s Vantages are in, as are Porsches from Gulf Racing, Project 1 (#56) and Dempsey Proton Racing (#77) and a single Ferrari from Luzich Racing.

Stephen Kilbey

Want to make the trip to Le Mans next year for the 24 Hours or Classic? We are already on sale for 2021 and demand is high! Give our office a call today to get yourself booked by calling 01707 32 99 88.

Images courtesy of Porsche and Toyota

The Calm Before The Storm

It is Wednesday of race week at Le Mans and before any cars have hit the track it already feels ‘different’. With very few non-team personnel on site in the paddock, no fans and very little pomp and circumstance prior to the start of Free Practice, this truly is going to be a Le Mans 24 Hours like no other.

But, the waiting is now almost over, and the fact that we will all still be able to enjoy the Le Mans 24 Hours in 2020 is a huge victory for the sport and the organisers.

All the cars, teams and drivers are already in the paddock and set up for the event, with Scrutineering taking place throughout the day.

While a few members of the paddock on the ground have already pointed out to Travel Destinations that it seems almost ‘too’ quiet with no spectators, they unanimously agree that it still feels like the Le Mans 24 Hours of old, with every team up and down the paddock already fully focused and on putting maximum effort into the task at hand.

As for the cars themselves there are plenty of new and tweaked liveries to get used to, including a pair of superb tribute liveries from Porsche on its GTE Pro cars.

These new colour schemes (below) celebrate the 50th anniversary of Porsche’s first win at Le Mans with the 917.

Once track action starts tomorrow, keeping the race aside for a moment, all eyes will be on the new Hyperpole format for Qualifying. It will see competitors have just 30 minutes on Friday to record their fastest possible laptime. This will decide the top six positions in each class. The remaining cars will have their spot on the grid decided on Thursday during Qualifying Practice.

“We shall have two sessions specially dedicated to fast lap times. The idea is to more clearly identify the specific period when the competitors are in pure speed mode and showcase the adrenaline and suspense that is so different on our track,” says ACO Sporting Director Vincent Beaumesnil.

“Previously, we could guess roughly when the competitors were going to attempt to record their qualifying time from the track conditions, the temperature and the stage the car was at in its testing programme. But there were no guarantees and, of course, they were not necessarily in competition with each other at the same moment in time.

“Now they will be, and it will be a festival of speed! On such a long circuit, this session is going to be a favourite with drivers and fans alike.”

It certainly looks like an exciting change on paper. We now wait to see how it plays out in reality. If it’s a success, then it’s yet another reason to be there track-side early in the week in future years.

But the real intrigue pre-race is of course the ACO’s annual press conference on Friday afternoon. There we expect to hear updates on the Le Mans Hypercar and LMDh platforms, the 2021 FIA WEC calendar and the ACO’s future plans for hydrogen technology.

In addition to what the ACO has to say, Peugeot Sport has revealed that it will be releasing further news about its forthcoming top class project. Travel Destinations understands we will see the French manufacturer compete in the FIA WEC full-time with a Le Mans Hypercar from the 2022 season on. Will we see renders of the car this week? A development timeline or testing schedule? We will have to wait and see!

Beyond that are any further surprises on the news front likely this year? Well there is every chance; especially with the debut of the new top class regulations quickly approaching. Le Mans week is always a hotbed for news, rumours and gossip, and Travel Destinations is already hearing murmurs…

It will be interesting, as always, to see if what’s being whispered turns out to be true!

Stephen Kilbey

Want to make the trip to Le Mans next year for the 24 Hours or Classic? We are already on sale for 2021 and demand is high! Give our office a call today to get yourself booked by calling 01707 32 99 88.

Images courtesy of the ACO/Porsche

Toyota

Storylines To Follow In The 2020 Le Mans 24 Hours

The stage is set, the teams are ready, it’s time for the 2020 edition of the Le Mans 24 Hours. A race of this magnitude, being held in these ‘unique’ circumstances, is certainly going to make it an event we won’t forget anytime soon.

With no spectators trackside, the race itself is the lead attraction this time. So what can we expect from each class? Travel Destinations’ Stephen Kilbey takes a look at some of the storylines to follow…

Toyota’s triple

The LMP1 battle throughout the 2019/20 FIA WEC season has been an intriguing one. It hasn’t been the Toyota whitewash that many would have expected, because, to be frank, the ‘Success Handicap’ system has worked – almost too well at times.

The challenger to Toyota has been Rebellion Racing, which has only run with a single R-13 during the season and will bow out of the sport at the end of the current campaign. (Though it will race with two cars at Le Mans once again).

Rebellion powered to victory at Shanghai and later at Circuit of The Americas in Texas. In the latter Rebellion had a dominant run, the restrictions placed on the Toyotas after their 1-2 finish in Bahrain meant the non-hybrid, Gibson-powered prototype could produce substantially faster lap times than the TS050s, and comfortably took the win.

The question is, will it be able to sustain a challenge over a 24-hour period?

The good news from Rebellion camp is that last year, both its R-13s made the finish, in what was their second 24-hour race. The bad news is that neither made the finish in a clean run. The car has matured since then though, so if it gets a break on the handicap front, it has the drivers capable of keeping Toyota honest throughout.

The issue, as always in performance terms, is the inherit disadvantage their non-hybrid cars have up against the Toyotas which utilise hybrid-boost through traffic which can make a huge difference over the course of a long race, even if over a single lap in Qualifying the R-13s have the edge. The four-wheel-drive nature of the TS050 HYBRIDs also benefit in wet weather with superior grip. After a tough run at Spa prior to this weekend in changable conditions, Rebellion will hope that the rain stays away on this occasion.

If they can’t challenge then ByKolles – which has only been present at one WEC race since Le Mans last year – will be left with the surely impossible task of taking the fight to the Toyotas.

Should Toyota prevail, and it is clearly the favourite, then it would be three straight wins at La Sarthe, something which would have appeared unthinkable prior to 2018.

The P2 lottery

In recent years the LMP2 class at Le Mans has been getting stronger and stronger. The level of the drivers, the standard of the teams and the racing has all taken a step up.

As a result, in 2020 we have a another astounding entry of more than 20 cars, featuring the best teams from the FIA WEC, ELMS and even a handful from the Asian Le Mans Series – which adopted the current generation of LMP2 cars last season. Once again ORECA chassis make up the majority of the pack, but that shouldn’t detract from the racing, which should be fast and furious.

Who are the contenders? From the WEC pack United Autosports has to be considered the favourite. It has two cars entered in the race (one from the ELMS), both with strong driver line-ups, and is on track to take the LMP2 class titles in both championships. Richard Dean will hope his team can ride its current momentum into Le Mans and emerge with its first class win in what will be its first attempt with an ORECA.

The two JOTA-run, Goodyear-shod, ORECAs (one a Jackie Chan DC Racing entry) too should be considered a threat, after another strong campaign from Sam Hignett’s crew. If Goodyear’s tyres at Le Mans prove to be stronger than Michelin in the conditions, then it could swing the balance of power dramatically.

Alpine cannot be counted out either. It’s been a tough year for the French team in the WEC; its sudden retirement from the 6 Hours of Spa last month (its first in a WEC race since 2015!) only adding to its disappointing season. Nevertheless it is the defending class champion and will be eager to score its first win since last year’s Le Mans.

Beyond the WEC, G-Drive Racing will be looking for redemption after its hopes of victory were dashed late in the race last year. Its leading line-up features team stalwart Roman Rusinov, ex-F1 man Jean-Eric Vergne and up-and-comer Mikkel Jensen.

It also has a second Aurus in the race thanks to an invitation earned by winning the Asian Le Mans Series. It will be run by Algarve Pro Racing and includes a strong trio of drivers: Le Mans winner Nick Tandy, Mazda DPi factory man Oliver Jarvis and Rolex 24 class winner Ryan Cullen.

Another team to look out for is IDEC Sport. Fresh from a 2019 ELMS title run, the French team will also be looking to add a Le Mans win to its growing CV.

Advantage Aston in Pro?

In year’s past the balance of power in GTE Pro has swung like a pendulum throughout the season, and even during race weekends due to the BoP process and the trials and tribulations of governing a class with so many different chassis.

While the numbers are down on recent year’s this time out, in part due to withdrawals from Corvette Racing and Porsche’s IMSA and the loss of Ford’s programme, the racing this time actually has real potential to be closer and more exciting.

With fewer cars to balance, the racing during the current WEC season has proven to be superb. Aston Martin, Porsche (with its revised 911 RSR-19) and Ferrari have all taken race wins and been involved in memorable race-long scraps. Add to that an additional Ferrari from Risi Competizione, which may be a private team but operates on the level of a factory effort despite having limited resources and we’ve got a real race on our hands.

And it will have world championship implications too, with all three marques looking to head into the finale at Bahrain ahead in the points tally. Right now the Dane Train Aston Martin of Nicki Thiim and Marco Sorensen lead the way and have been the duo of the season, the ones to beat, but who knows what form everyone will find themselves in once we get to the race?

Keating’s redemption

After last year’s post-race disqualification for Ben Keating will be out to prove a point in the 2020 edition. Last time out his Wynns-backed Ford had its win stripped on Monday morning due to a fuel tank irregularity. There was no malice involved but the team took responsibility and accepted the outcome.

This time around Keating returns but with a completely different set up. The Ford has been parked and the Texan has taken his talents to German Porsche outfit Team Project 1. It’s been quite a season for him, a real rollercoaster, with a win at Bahrain the clear highlight and an 11th place finish on home soil in Texas back in February the lowlight. Alongside Jeroen Bleekemolen (and a rotating third chair of Felipe Fraga and Larry ten Voorde), Keating and his pursuit of redemption may well prove to be the story of the class in GTE Am as on his day he’s the best Bronze-rated driver in any field.

GTE Am is a category that is in rude health though, packed with intrigue. It features 23 entries with a bundle of ELMS, IMSA and Asian Le Mans Series teams adding to the full-season WEC pack.

Other teams to look out for will surely be Aston Martin Racing and TF Sport in the Aston camp, and AF Corse’s No. 83 488 GTE which is fresh from a win at Spa and leads the standings?

JMW and Dempsey-Proton Racing from the ELMS are always in with a shout too. Then there’s the WeatherTech Racing Ferrari from the IMSA ranks, which could well spring a surprise in this company.

Stephen Kilbey

Want to make the trip to Le Mans next year for the 24 Hours or Classic? We’re already on sale for 2021 and demand is high! Give our office a call today to get yourself a package booked on 01707 329 988.

Photos courtesy of Dailysportscar.com/Peter May

Andy Blackmore’s Le Mans Spotter Guide Now Available

Andy Blackmore’s superb 2020 Le Mans 24 Hours spotter guide is now available for fans to download ahead of this weekend’s race in France.

As usual, the guide features each of the (59) cars on the grid and every driver. It is packed with details, including chassis details, driver rankings, tyre manufacturers, team and driver nationalities, social media handles and of course the 2020 liveries.

Put simply, if you’re going to watch the race, then you need this year’s Spotter Guide!

For more information, visit Andy Blackmore’s website HERE >>>

To download your own copy, click HERE >>>