We continue our series of previews for the 2012 race season with a look at the European Le Mans Series. 2012 sees many changes, so Graham Goodwin, from Dailysportscar.com, takes a look at what we know so far and what we can expect.
It’s all change for the 2012 Le Mans Series –
Firstly a new name – The European Le Mans Series reflecting the introduction of the new for 2012 FIA World Endurance Championship;
There’s a new look to the competition too – still six hour races but with a new class structure – no fewer than five potential classes; headed by LMP2, with the Formula Le Mans Oreca prototypes now classed as LMPC. The GT cars have no fewer than 3 classes – GTE Pro for the newest cars and potentially all professional line-ups, GTE Am, for cars at least a year old and with only one Pro allowed and the new for 2012 GTC class for more basic, one-make championship style, Porsches and Ferraris.
Greaves Motorsport LMP2
Finally there’s a very different look to the calendar with five standalone races, no mixed grids in 2012 with the WEC, and a season extending from April through to November.
The calendar features a season opener at the popular Paul Ricard circuit in Southern France in April followed by the first of two circuits new to ACO rules racing, the fast and tricky Zolder circuit in Belgium, an easy drive from the Channel Ports or a more challenging balancing act with the Nurburgring 24 Hours on the same weekend – Why not watch the start of the German classic and then take in the whole ELMS race?!
Donington Park has only ever hosted one ACO rules race – a one-off visit from the Le Mans Series before the ill fated bid to attract the British Grand Prix left the circuit unusable. Kevin Wheatcroft’s new team though have put much of the damage right though and have made some changes for the better too – The fast flowing Midlands track should suit the mixed class grid well.
JMW Motorsport Ferrari
September sees another first time addition to the calendar with the pretty, and pretty amazing, Brno circuit in the Czech republic taking centre stage. It might be a longer trip than most European circuits but it’s a setting that suits great racing and a great weekend. Brno might well turn out to be a lasting favourite!
The season finale comes in early November, the grey skies in the UK exchanged for blue skies and warming sunshine on the Algarve – The Portimao circuit is a popular one with the competitors, and it gives racegoers the chance for a pre-winter break too.
Full European Le Mans Series 2012 Calendar
1st April – Paul Ricard (France)
20th May – Zolder (Belgium)
15th July – Donington Park (UK)
9th September – Brno (Czech Republic)
4th November – Portimão (Portugal)
The full 2012 grid has still to emerge as we go to press, the LMPC class pre-season test was snowed off so full details have yet to emerge of a class that could number 5-8 cars.
Formula Le Mans
If it hits the top end of that estimate then racegoers could be watching a 20 car grid of prototypes – the full season entry numbers no fewer than 13 LMP2s with some great teams and some very quick drivers amongst them:
There’s plenty of British interest too with four of the thirteen teams hailing from these shores – Greaves Motorsport field a brand new 2012 spec Zytek powered by the gutsy Nissan V8 – 2011 LMS and Le Mans LMP2 champion Tom Kimber Smith is back, teamed with 2009 Nissan GT Academy winner Lucas Ordonez and Brundle the Younger, Martin’s son Alex a full season driver with his father replacing TKS at Le Mans.
Jota Sport field another new Zytek Nissan for Sam Hancock and Simon Dolan, they’ll be pushing hard too after a tricky 2011.
Status GP are the first of two new names from Britain in this class, their new Lola Judd will likely be amongst the best presented on the grid if previous single seater offerings from the ambitious squad are any yardstick.
Finally from the UK there’s the Murphy Prototypes crew, this the team previously known here as RLR, and still run by the Bolton based squad – Their elderly MG Lola though has been replaced by…An MG Oreca, the chassis homologated with the famous old marques badge – ex MG factory man Warren Hughes is joined by Jody Firth in this entry.
There’s another famous old British marque represented elsewhere on the grid as OAK Racing field a pair of their LMP2 machines, now badged as Morgans!
Almost half or the LMP2 grid though is made up of Oreca chassis and aside from the Britpack there are still other fast men to savour – Ex audi factory driver Pierre Kaffer and fast Frenchman Soheil Ayari will put the Pecom Racing Oreca into contention for sure, as will Mathias Beche in the TDS Racing Oreca.
Finally for this summary though there’s probably the most famous name of all on the grid – Sebastien Loeb – Sadly the man himself is not racing – yet! But the team that carries his name enters both an LMP2 Oreca, with the very rapid Swiss driver Nicolas Marroc already signed, and an LMPC Oreca too – Check out the calendar for non clashing weekends with WRC and take your autograph book – Loeb is sure to be checking on his new venture’s progress!
LMP2 Entry (as at 16.2.12)
Pecom Racing, Luis Perez Companc Soheil Ayari Pierre Kaffer, Oreca 03-Nissan
Race Performance, Jonathan Hirschi Michel Frey, Oreca 03-Judd
Greaves Motorsport, Alex Brundle Lucas Ordonez Tom Kimber-Smith, Zytek Z11SN-Nissan
Jota Sam Hancock Simon Dolan Zytek Z11SN-Nissan
Extreme Limite ARIC Fabien Rosier TBA Norma M200P-Judd
Boutsen Ginion Racing Bastien Briere TBA Oreca 03-Nissan
Status GP TBA TBA Lola B12/80-Judd HK
Murphy Prototypes Jody Firth Warren Hughes TBA MG Oreca 03-Nissan
Sebastien Loeb Racing Nicolas Marroc TBA Oreca 03-Nissan
Jetalliance David Heinemeier-Hansson Kristian Poulsen Lukas Lichtner-Hoyer Lola B12/80-Judd
OAK Racing Jacques Nicolet TBA Morgan-Judd
OAK Racing TBA TBA Morgan-Judd
TDS Racing Mathias Beche Pierre Thiriet Oreca 03-Nissan
IMSA Performance Matmut
The GT Entry has yet to be finalised but there are some quality cars already assured, including the Dunlop backed JMW Ferrari 458 and Porsches from the crack Prospeed and IMSA Performance teams.
In sumamry, all it is a brave new world for the European Le Mans Series (ELMS) – but with the friendly paddocks of this form of racing, and less of the closed doors that factory backed racing brings – the 2012 ELMS could just prove to be better than ever!
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