The Le Mans 24 Hours is once again upon us. It’s the start of a new era with the Le Mans Hypercar category taking over from the longstanding LMP1 class at the head of the field.
The entry list for Le Mans 2021 is again an impressive 62-cars strong, showing that despite these challenging times there is still a huge appetite for sportscar racing among teams and drivers alike. There’s an argument to be made that things have never felt more stable. While Toyota and Alpine’s efforts up front don’t quite compare to the glory years of LMP1 Hybrid from 2014-16 with Toyota, Audi and Porsche, we are on the precipice of a truly golden era.
Next year we will welcome Peugeot back to the sport after a decade-long absence, and in 2023 Audi, Porsche, Acura, BMW and Ferrari are all due to join in the fun. By the time we reach 2023, which coincidentally is the centenary anniversary of the inaugural Le Mans 24 Hours, all eyes will be on sportscar racing, the FIA WEC and of course, the Le Mans 24 Hours.
We are not quite there yet, but the next edition of the French classic should serve as a nice warm up to what promises to be an astonishing period in the history of endurance racing.
So, for the Le Mans 2021 August edition, what can we expect and what should you look out for? Travel Destinations takes a look…
Quite frankly, the start of the Le Mans Hypercar era has been tough to analyse. What we have right now are three teams, all technically manufacturers, though Glickenhaus is a rather small, boutique marque fuelled by the incredibly passionate Jim Glickenhaus, who passionate Nurburgring 24 Hours fans will know well. But, we don’t have enough of an idea of form to predict the pecking order just yet.
On paper, a pair of new Toyota GR010 HYBRIDs up against a single Alpine A480 (grandfathered LMP1 chassis) and a pair of Glickenhaus 007s that are still very much in the early stages of development, doesn’t look like much of a fight. It would be easy to assume that Toyota will cruise to victory, as it has done in the years since Porsche walked away.
However, there is a case to be made that Alpine has the strongest package for this year’s race. The A480 is a tried and tested Rebellion R-13 chassis, rebadged. It has FIA WEC race-winning pedigree and last year almost took pole position at Le Mans against the all-conquering Toyota TS050 HYBRID. While Alpine only has one car to rely on, there are some really encouraging signs.
The car which Alpine will field at Le Mans is understood to be a fresh, newly-built chassis, with no racing miles under its belt. It is also running to the class BoP, which means its performance will be blunted to ensure it matches the pace of the heavier Hypercars in the category. This in turn means the car will be under less stress each lap and therefore has more chance of making the finish unscathed, as lest we forget, this car was designed to be driven in more aggressive conditions.
Last time out at Monza in WEC competition was telling, the Alpine ran faultlessly and finished second while both Toyotas suffered various technical issues. It remains to be seen if Toyota can get a car to the finish without any dramas, and to be honest, this early in the GR010’s lifecycle, behind the scenes, they will expect for at least one of the cars to hit trouble at some point. This will open the door for Alpine, which if it puts the pressure on pace wise, could have a shot at a famous win.
The two real issues Alpine will contend with are tyre temperatures and fuel mileage. Even in its old configuration, running faster lap times, drivers found it incredibly difficult to switch the front tyres on for the R-13 and as a result, it was at times a very ‘edgy’ car to drive. This issue will only be exacerbated at Le Mans, when the car will be running at lower speeds. It also cannot run as long as the Toyotas on fuel, so over the course of the race Alpine will need to get a comfortable lead if it hopes to maintain it to the end. In all likelihood, the French team will need to make additional stops and therefore need to race off into the distance so it can hold on in the closing stages.
What about Glickenhaus? The 007 showed it has pace in the locker at Monza, but reliability will be the key. In Italy, the team’s first outing with both cars, one hit major trouble with its engine, and the other had to make a brake change which ultimately cost it a podium. Getting to the finish will be Glickenhaus’ aim, with making headlines along the way perhaps a secondary target.
Toyota heads to Le Mans as the defending champion, and it is undoubtedly the favourite, but this appears to be the first time since 2017 that scoring a dominant win doesn’t seem certain.
The LMP2 Lottery
Each year in the current era you can paste the same narrative around LMP2 when it comes to Le Mans. Picking a winner is almost impossible. With 25 cars entered, and at least 10 of them more than capable of winning, picking a favourite is almost pointless.
However, there are certainly a handful of teams to look out for. United Autosports, since switching to ORECA from Ligier has found a way to win more often than not. Richard Dean runs the tightest of ships, and attracts superb driving talent as a result. The defending champions in the No. 22 are hard to look past, as Filipe Albuquerque, Phil Hanson and Fabio Scherer are a formidable trio. The team’s second car though, also looks set to stun, with Wayne Boyd, 2020 GTE Pro winner Alex Lynn and forthcoming Peugeot Hypercar driver Paul Di Resta.
Beyond United, JOTA is also a force to be reckoned with. Its two ORECAs feature notable drivers such as ex-F1 man Stoffel Vandoorne and ex-Peugeot LMP1 ace Anthony Davidson. JOTA knows how to win at La Sarthe and is always in the mix.
Could the LMP2 newcomers like Team WRT and Risi Competizione spring a surprise here? The former has a CV as long as a laundry list in GT3 racing as an Audi-supported outfit, and Risi needs little introduction for Le Mans-goers. Guisseppe Risi’s team, with limited resources, always punch well above their weight. And with Ryan Cullen, Oliver Jarvis and Felipe Nasr at their disposal, perhaps a big result is on the cards after years spent battling with factory teams in GTE Pro.
What LMP2 doesn’t have anymore is variety, as unfortunately all bar one of the cars in the class are ORECAs (with two badged as an Aurus) and they will all be using a spec Goodyear tyre. Just one Ligier will line up, with Racing Team India Eurasia, and has little chance of making a mark on this race. It will however be gunning for LMP2 Pro Am honours rather than the outright win. This race-within-a-race is new for 2022, and will see 10 teams with ‘true’ amateurs have a chance at a bit of silverware against teams with far more punchy crews. Racing Team Nederland and its trio of Frits van Eerd, Giedo van der Garde and Job van Uitert will surely be the trio to beat in this company?
Corvette’s C8R Debut
The GTE Pro category has somewhat of a different feel in 2021, with Aston Martin not present, bowing out after winning at La Sarthe last year in order to concentrate on its F1 programme. This leaves Porsche and Ferrari factory cars to battle one another and a group from IMSA and the Asian Le Mans Series.
All eyes will be on Corvette Racing, which is debuting its C8R at Le Mans this year after deciding to stay in the US for last year’s September race. A mainstay in the GT class at Le Mans since the turn of the century, Corvette Racing has a fresh look to it, and is more motivated than ever after a year away from racing in France. Its driver crews are strong, and the C8R has been put to the test at Daytona and Sebring twice now, so is ready to fight.
Even with fewer factory cars, a win will not be easy. Ferrari and Porsche’s factory squads are on the top of their game and have been going at it hammer-and-tongs in the opening WEC races this year, with no signs of letting their feet off the gas.
This year’s GTE Pro battle may not have the same ‘joie de vivre’ about it, but that will not detract from the action, this will be an old-school GT battle, with three brands all with an equal chance of taking the top step on the podium.
GTE Am battles
Much like LMP2, GTE Am is a category with huge numbers, that is sure to entertain the returning fans trackside. So far in the WEC the GTE Am category has arguably been the best for door-to-door action, producing unpredictable, clean racing.
There are so many line-ups in this group that feature stars, but it is important to remember that the ability of the Bronze-rated driver that swings the balance of power during a GTE Am race. The difference between the best and worst of the amateurs is far more likely to affect the result than BoP or the performance of the most talented pros in this category.
Aston Martin is represented in Am, with four Vantages, and there is a case to be made that it is the customer teams running with the British marque that are best placed to battle for the class honours. The TF Sport Vantage of Felipe Fraga, Ben Keating and Dylan Pereira looked to be the class of the field at Monza before an explosive puncture ended its chances of victory. The No. 98 Aston Martin Racing entry with Paul Dalla Lana, Marcos Gomes and Nicki Thiim cannot be overlooked either. We say it every year, but surely Dalla Lana’s rotten Le Mans luck has to end at some point?
In among the Ferrari teams Iron Lynx have looked capable in ELMS competition, but the No. 83 AF Corse example with Francois Perrodo, Nicklass Nielsen and Alessio Rovera, which won the WEC class title in 2020 and took a comfortable win at Monza last month, is perhaps the best group on paper.
As for Porsche, Team Project 1 will come prepared, and Dempsey Proton Racing will be desperate to have a good showing, especially with rumours currently swirling that it will be joining the Le Mans Hypercar class as a Porsche customer in the coming years….
If you want to be at Le Mans in 2022 for the 90th running of the Grand Prix d’Endurance then act fast as spaces are already limited across the board. Call our offices on 01707 329 988 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to make a booking.
Images courtesy of FIA WEC/Corvette Racing/Aston Martin Racing/Toyota (James Moy)