Le Mans Winter News Digest

After the ILMS season finale in China at the start of November, the world of ‘endurance’ began its short period of semi-hibernation, but we all know that time never stands still in the world of motor racing.

The tail-end of 2010 was a time of excitement, but also of sadness. It was a season of goodbyes for many reasons. We lost Hugh Hayden, founder of the team Sebah, who died suddenly of a suspected heart attack at the age of 66 while with his team testing in Portugal. Hayden’s son, Bart, continues as team manager.

We bid farewell to Luc ‘Lucho’ Alphand who has decided to hang up his helmet after contesting every 24 Hours of Le Mans from 2001 to 2009. His unquenchable good humour will be missed. His premises in the ‘Technoparc’ that lies just outside the Le Mans Bugatti circuit, have been sold to Oak Racing who are this week in the process of moving their base to Le Mans from Magny Cours.

Goodbye also to the Ferrari F430 GT, Peugeot 908 HDi FAP (below at Le Mans 2010), Audi R15, Porsche RS Spyder and Saleen S7-R, all have distinguished records in endurance racing and are sure to be prominent in the history books.

The saddest news was the passing of Tom Walkinshaw, owner of TWR, who died at the age of 64. The Scot will remain forever in the history of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, and in the hearts of endurance racing fans. Appointed by Jaguar to go racing in Europe after the early 80’s success of Bob Tullius in the USA with the Fabcar-built Jaguar engined XJR-5. The TWR Jaguar XJR programme lead to two victories at the 24 Hours of Le Mans (1988, 1990), and three series titles in the World Sportscar Championship; 1987, 1988 and 1991.

New Teams
We say ‘hello’ though to the rebirth of the ever popular Pescarolo team. Henri Pescarolo is probably more closely connected with the 24 hours of Le Mans than any other person on earth. As a driver with his distinctive green helmet, and as a team manager, he has four decades of racing in La Sarthe including a record number of participations, and four overall victories. This has earned him the love and respect of Le Mans fans of all nationalities. After difficulties last year, the future looked grim as the team’s equipment went under the auctioneer’s hammer. Fortunately there were ‘angels’ waiting to rescue the team and thanks mainly to Jacques Nicolet (Oak Racing) and Joël Rivière, the team now have equipment, premises and partners for the 2011 season.

New Cars
Ferrari fans will welcome the 458 Italia GT Endurance, that will defend against Porsche 997, Corvette C6 R, and BMW M3. It made its first shakedown at Fiorano before Christmas. Its 4.5-litre V8 is rumoured to put out 470hp with the new regulatory restrictor flanges.

Welcome also to the new Peugeot 90X and the Audi R18. The Peugeot is an evolution of the 908 to comply with the ACO 2011 LM P1 regulations, including the ‘shark fin’ between roof and rear wing. The Audi is more of a departure from it’s predecessor, going from open to closed configuration. You’ll have to wait until Spa LMS to see the R18 in action though as Audi have elected to run the R15+ at the ALMS season opener at Sebring. You may or may not like the styling of the two new main protagonists of the 24 hours of Le Mans, but they are both visually and technologically impressive. The rules of the LM P2 class have also changed significantly for 2011 with a reduction in costs, and the requirement for engines that will have to be more closely related to a production unit and have a lifespan of 30 hours minimum. For example, HPD (Honda Performance Development) who have become the benchmark for performance in LM P2 have opted for a road car derived twin-turbo 2.8 V6.

Intercontinental Le Mans Cup
As well as publishing new regulations, the ACO has also announced the 7 race 2011 ILMC calendar that begins with the Sebring 12 Hours on the 19th March alongside ALMS, then travels to Spa-Francorchamps for a 6 hour race on the 8th May in conjunction with LMS. Unlike 2010, this year the Le Mans 24 Hours on 11-12 June will be part of the series, and will yield double points. The ILMC then includes Imola on the 3rd of July, Silverstone on 11th of Sept, followed by the closing round of ALMS at Petit Le Mans (Road Atlanta) before concluding with a 6 hour race in China on 12th of November.

Le Mans Series
The 2011 calendar of the Le Mans Series was unveiled recently, initially with a question mark regarding the final destination. Speculation was soon over when it was announced as Estoril in Portugal on 23-25 September. It will be the first ever visit to the circuit for the ‘Le Mans Series’ (although the ‘European Le Mans Series’ had a 1000km race there in 2001), and will (with Imola) be one of the new highlights of the 2011 LMS season.

Le Mans 24 Hours
Of course we can’t finish without confirming the return of the Le Mans 24 Hours on th 11th & 12th June. Travel and tickets are selling fast so for the best available tickets book now by calling 0844 873 0203.

Dave Davies