Le Mans 2014 Preview (Part 1)

With Le Mans fast approaching we sat down with Graham Goodwin from Dailysportscar.com to take a look at what is new for this year’s race. Here we focus on the front end of the grid and the LMP1 cars.

2014 has seen some major changes in the regulations for the top class LMP1 cars for the Le Mans 24 Hours. Literally thousands of words could be written about the technical differences between last year’s cars and those that you will see at this years 24 hours, but let’s try and keep it simple…

The new cars are smaller, more aerodynamic and significantly more powerful then the predecessors. Another major difference is in the fuel consumption of these new cars; it is expected to be around 25% less than the 2013 cars. That fuel consumption will be enforced with the introduction of high-tech fuel flow sensors which will measure and report whether the cars are keeping to their predetermined and mandated level of fuel usage. Major penalties await those that break the rules!

Toyota -8-front -500

The increased efficiency is achieved in no small part by the introduction of far more powerful hybrid systems. How powerful? Let’s take the Toyota as an example:

It’s normally aspirated V8 engine produces around 600 BHP with a further 400 BHP produced by its high-tech supercapacitor hybrid system that adds enough power to fire a small car 6 metres into the air 12 times on every lap of the Le Mans circuit.

Various options are available to the teams and manufacturers on the balance between engine power and hybrid power. Both diesel and petrol fuel are allowed as are a bewildering range of hybrid systems which collect the heat energy produced under braking, and make that energy available under acceleration; giving the cars an astonishing punch.

Audi -2-500

So far so interesting. The reality is, on the evidence of the racing that we have seen the new cars engage in so far at Silverstone and Spa, that once the lights go green on Saturday afternoon the fans will pretty much forget all about the tech and simply enjoy some truly stunning racing.

Despite the fact that Audi, Toyota and Porsche have all chosen, not only different engine configurations, but also entirely different hybrid solutions, the cars seem remarkably well matched over a single lap and even more so over a race distance. We will have to wait and see whether that is still the case at Le Mans with its unique track, much of it used throughout most of the year as a public road, the potential for rapidly changing weather, and of course, the challenge presented by racing through the night.

It is a mouthwatering prospect, in particular because not only will we have the competitive freight train that is Audi up against the increasingly impressive Toyota team, but in addition, in 2014 we have the return of a sleeping giant. Porsche arrive under the banner ‘Mission 2014’ and though this is just year one for the new squad, the efforts of what is a brand-new team already look impressive.

Porsche -14-side -500

Porsche’s new car; the 919 Hybrid is fast. Very very fast. Particularly in a straight line, fow which the Mulsanne straight looks perfect. Porsche have also enlisted the driving skills of an impressive array of talents. Romain Dumas and Timo Bernhard arrive with years of Porsche racing experience but also with years behind them with the Audi LMP1 efforts. Both, of course, have won the race overall previously and are now looking to do likewise against one of their fiercest rivals.

Marc Lieb is another Porsche ‘Lifer’ with more than a decade of experience with the factory’s GT racing efforts. He has already shown that the transition to the new car has been made successfully after he set the pole position lap at the last round of the WEC at Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium. Neel Jani comes to Porsche with huge experience and massive speed and is joined by another Porsche newcomer, Kiwi, Brendan Hartley. Both are set to be part of Porsche’s plans for several years to come.

Porsche -20-front

The big name signing though, is the hugely experienced ex-Red Bull Formula One driver Mark Webber. Webber has raced at Le Mans before, for Mercedes-Benz. Infamously he was the innocent victim of the factory’s miscalculations over the aerodynamics of their 1999 racer which left the Aussie flipping the car (not once, but twice). His speed and commitment through are in no doubt and his role as an ambassador for this new effort will never be more apparent than over race week in June. Expect his presence to but a few thousand more tickets sold this year.

Toyota -8-side -500

Toyota meanwhile, are bringing their new car with a screaming normally aspirated V8, and an evolution of their supercapacitor hybrid system. Evolution rather the revolution has been successful so far for the team based in Cologne. Their No.8 car has won both of the WEC races thus far this season. They aren’t short of driving talent either; ex- Formula 1 men, Alexander Wurz, Anthony Davidson, Sebastien Buemi and Kazuki Nakajima are joined in the team by sportscar specialists Nicolas Lapierre and Stephane Sarrazin; a man with a racing CV that includes not only F1 and Le Mans but also the World Rally Championship too.

Finally amongst the factory three are the team with an unmatched record in the 21st century. Audi have won this great race no fewer than 11 times in the last 13 years. They don’t intend to give any opposition a free pass this year. They will field three cars in 2014, including the No.1 car for the reigning World Champions and last year’s Le Mans winners, Tom Kristensen and Loic Duval. The retirement from driving at the end of 2013 by their fellow World Champion Alan McNish means that there is a free seat in the Champion’s car. That is filled by yet another ex F1 man. Lucas di Grassi is a man looking to make his mark with the team and to put his name on the honours board as the first Brazilian ever to win at the Le Mans 24 Hours.

Audi -1-500

The second diesel powered Audi entry will be crewed by double Le Mans winners and 2012 World Champions Andre Lotterer, Marcel Fassler and Benoit Treluyer. All three are fast, race smart, and consistent. The third Audi brings Britsh driver Oliver Jarvis together with experienced Audi Test Driver Marco Bonanomi. The pair are joined by Le Mans rookie Filipe Albuquerque.

Having said all of the above, 2014 may not be a race simply about the factory teams. There is an outside possibility that at least one privateer team might just be a factor too. Rebellion Racing will field a pair of their brand new Toyota engined, Oreca designed and built, R one prototypes and will be hoping for a faultless run for themselves, but perhaps a more problematic one for the factory opposition. If the new regulations live up to their promise that could mean the Rebellion cars are close enough to take advantage if others ahead of them stumble.

Behind the LMP1 cars there is a supporting cast of LMP2 prototypes from around the world. Almost 20 cars will make up this class grid with a variety of chassis, driver squads, tyres and engines separating the real prospects for the potential also rans. Look out for the efforts of Jota Sport, Oak Racing (with their new Ligier coupe), Signatech Alpine, G Drive Racing, KCMG, and others too, to feature in the thick of things.

Ferrari -GTE-Pro

And whatever you do don’t ignore the GT cars, because here you are likely to find some of the best racing through the 24 hours. Ferrari, Porsche, Aston Martin and Chevrolet with their Corvettes will all serve up fast, close and great sounding racing. Much of the time they will be running wheel to wheel or nose to tail. World Champion Gianmaria Bruni will anchor Ferrari’s charge, Porsche field their usual stellar factory line-up, Corvette will have Britons Oliver Gavin and Richard Westbrook and Aston Martin racing, in their tenth anniversary year, will have longstanding factory man Darren Turner joined by the highly popular and very quick Bruno Senna.


So read up on the tech, take a good look at the cars, and then sit back and savour the racing! It all promises to be a great spectacle starting at 3pm local time on the 14th June 2014.

Written by Graham Goodwin
Photos by Dailysportscar.com

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