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Le Mans reflections

2021 Le Mans reflections

In many ways, the 2021 running of the Le Mans 24 Hours last weekend was a tough one to reflect on. The race took so many twists and turns and kept everyone guessing right until the chequered flag fell. Overall, it was a memorable edition and history will almost certainly be kind to it. It marked the start of a new era for the race, saw at least some fans able to return, and was held with a backdrop of so much future promise.

Congratulations are certainly in order to all the class winners, but the organisation deserves a special mention for delivering a logistically challenging event, in tough circumstances, without any notable hiccups. Now that the dust has had a little time to settle, here’s a look at the highlights from the 89th edition of the ‘World’s Greatest Motor Race’:

Le Mans reflections

Toyota’s tricky triumph

After a glance at the results sheet post-race, you’d be fooled into assuming this was an easy ride for Toyota Gazoo Racing. Its new GR010 HYBRIDs claimed a historic 1-2 finish in the first-ever appearance for the Le Mans Hypercar class at the Le Mans 24 Hours, and finished laps ahead of the competition.

However, this was perhaps the toughest challenge for the Japanese marque since Porsche’s LMP1 exit at the end of the 2017 WEC season. Yes, both cars made the finish and crossed the line in formation, but it didn’t feel like a stroll in the park in the same way that its recent victories at La Sarthe have. This is because both GR010s had to overcome significant issues throughout the race.

Toyota’s top brass will be relieved that neither car spent an extended period in the garage during the 24 Hours, but eager for the post-mortem to find out the root cause of the lingering fuel pickup problem that struck both cars. The No. 8 had the toughest time, having to overcome an incident at Turn 2 at the start when Sebastien Buemi was struck by an over-committed Glickenhaus in the wet conditions, as well as two power resets out on track, persistent vibrations and a broken passenger door. The No. 7 though, didn’t emerge from the race unscathed as, like its sister car, it was unable to complete full stints for much of the race, and was forced to pit multiple laps early during each stint for a top-up. It made for a tense atmosphere in the Toyota garage, especially as the other three cars in the class ran reliably and piled on the pressure.

Alpine and Glickenhaus deserve a lot of praise for their respective performances. The former, became the first French marque to finish on the overall podium at Le Mans since Peugeot in 2011, the latter managed to get both cars to the finish, in top five places, with a brand new, somewhat underdeveloped chassis. While neither team had the outright speed to challenge Toyota on this occasion, all three cars in question ran like clockwork, let down only by driver errors that cost them valuable time.

Should both return next year, then the prospect for the 2022 edition is tantalising. With Peugeot joining the fun, it has the potential to be an all-time classic.

Le Mans 2021

WRT’s Wild Ride

Belgian outfit WRT should need no introduction for Travel Destinations regulars. As one of Audi’s premier customer teams, it has achieved countless accolades over the years racing all over the world. It should come as no surprise then, that it didn’t just win LMP2 on its debut Le Mans appearance, it dominated.

The headlines following the race though, focused far more on the frantic finish to the race, than on WRT’s dominance of this stellar field. The final moments of the Le Mans 24 Hours seemingly always produce drama, and this year was no exception. WRT’s No. 41 ORECA, on its way to head a phenomenal, faultless 1-2 finish for WRT, lost all power on the last lap. In a sequence that surely gave the entire Toyota crew PTSD, Yifei Ye was left totally helpless at the Dunlop Esses, and forced to watch the team’s sister No. 31 car blast past to snatch the victory at the death. To make matters worse, the car didn’t finish classified either and was instead categorised as a retirement despite being three minutes from glory.

In what was a cruel twist of fate, Ferdinand Habsburg, Charles Milesi and Robin Frijns were victorious, but not before a thrilling race to the line with the hard-charging No. 28 JOTA ORECA driven by a committed Tom Blomqvist in the final dash to the flag. Seven tenths turned out to be the winning margin, as Frijns was forced to slalom through slower traffic cruising to the line for a photo finish behind the two Toyotas. It was all a little too dramatic, especially for the flag-waver, who had to literally step out of the way in avoidance of the winning ORECA, which was being pushed to the limit until the very end.

LMP2 may have featured just one Ligier in amongst an armada of ORECAs, but for what it lacked in variety as a class, it certainly made up for in thrills and spills.

                                                   

Le Mans reflections

AF Corse’s double

The GTE classes at Le Mans rarely disappoint, and this was perhaps most evident with the backdrop of the ACO and FIA announcement on Friday that GT3 will replace the current GT platform in the FIA WEC and Le Mans 24 Hours from 2024 onwards.

It was clearly AF Corse’s year, as the Italian marque, for the first time, scored a double class win, and (astonishingly) its maiden GTE Am victory up against stiff competition from the WEC, Asian Le Mans Series, European Le Mans Series and IMSA.

In GTE Pro it turned into a straight fight between the No. 51 AF Corse Ferrari of James Calado, Alessandro Pier Guidi and Come Ledogar and the No. 63 Corvette of Jordan Taylor, Antonio Garcia and Nicky Catsburg. And it would surely have been an even more titanic tussle had a combination of incidents and reliability woes not befallen both team’s sister cars. Where was Porsche in all this? Both factory cars and the two customer cars lacked the outright speed to challenge, with the works 911s also dealt a bad hand during safety car periods early in the race to make matters worse.

The No. 63 tried to keep the pressure on all race long, and finished within a minute of the winning car, unable to overcome the Ferrari drivers who were able to answer back every time the C8.R was armed with a fresh set of tyres and optimum conditions.

Le Mans 2021

It was much the same story in GTE Am. No team was able to match the consistency and outright pace of the No. 83 trio. Francois Perrodo, Nicklas Nielsen and Alessio Rovera were the class of the field and took a convincing win. Aston Martin team TF Sport came closest to preventing a double win for the ‘Prancing Horse’, but a costly puncture during the night and a misfire towards the end of the race robbed Tom Ferrier’s team of what would have been a monumental comeback drive for its No. 33 crew.

Some of the cars will continue to compete in the final rounds of this year’s World Endurance Championship, whilst some will already start to dream of a return to Le Mans in 2022.

Written by Stephen Kilbey
Photography by Dailysportscar.com

You can book with Travel Destinations now for Le Mans 2022. The dates for the race have been confirmed as the 11th & 12th June and all our offers are on sale now. Demand is high as crowds return to racing, so be sure to book early by calling us direct on +44 1707 329988.

Le Mans 2022

Le Mans 2022 on sale now!

The Le Mans 24 Hours will return to its usual June slot in 2022. In the now-traditional ACO press conference prior to the start of this year’s race, the dates for Le Mans 2022 were confirmed as the 11th & 12th June.

Due to the current Covid restrictions, this year’s race could only accommodate a restricted audience of 50,000 spectators. At such a large circuit as Le Mans, this left many areas feeling quite empty. However, the race organisers are planning for bigger and better things for 2022, and so are we!

Everybody understands that a pandemic is difficult for business, and for a travel and events company that has been no different for Travel Destinations. However, we are blessed with very loyal and understanding customers who appreciated our many phone-calls over the last 18 months. Because of these efforts, we have managed to retain more than 85% of Le Mans bookings from 2020 through until 2022. We are hugely grateful to you all!

Now our thoughts turn to Le Mans 2022, and we are pleased to report that we are open once-again for reservations!
In 2022 we will be back with all our favourite offers, including our private trackside campsite at Porsche Curves, our popular private glamping site and of course our fantastic Flexotel Village cabins; all located at the circuit!

Travel Destinations Event Tents – Glamping at Le Mans

We will continue to offer the best choice of Le Mans tickets, grandstand seats and hospitality options for those that choose it, as well as all the different travel options for those attending from the UK.

Le Mans 2022
Travel Destinations Flexotel Village

With Le Mans 2021 postponed until August, it will feel that the Le Mans 24 Hours 2022 will be here quicker than ever, and with so many customers re-confirming for 2022 already, some high-demand Le Mans options are already low on availability. We anticipate that all of our private options and some circuit-run campsites will sell-out earlier than ever before! With that in mind we recommend that all those wanting to attend Le Mans in 2022 ensure that they secure their bookings as soon as possible.

Reservations for Le Mans 2022 are now open for new bookings. Please call our reservation team on +44 1707 329988 to secure your place. Further details are also available on our website where you can see all the available options.

Le Mans 2021 Results

Le Mans 2021 results

The No. 7 Toyota in the hands of Conway, Kobayashi & López triumphed at Le Mans 2021 in a race affected by temperamental weather. Much to the pleasure of the endurance racing family, the fourth round of the FIA World Endurance Championship took place before a crowd of 50,000; the maximum authorised in current circumstances. The Toyota GR010 HYBRID will go down in history as the first Hypercar to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans

Random downpours affected proceedings early on at the Circuit des 24 Heures. With crowds happily back at the track to witness the dawn of the Hypercar era, the 24 Hours of Le Mans was true to form – a gruelling test of mechanical and human resilience. Of the 61 cars at the start, 44 crossed the finish line at 16:00 on Sunday.

Hypercar Result

  1. Toyota Gazoo Racing No. 7 – CONWAY / KOBAYASHI / LÓPEZ
  2. Toyota Gazoo Racing No. 8 – BUEMI / NAKAJIMA / HARTLEY
  3. Alpine Elf Matmut No. 36 – NEGRÃO / LAPIERRE / VAXIVIERE

For their first 24-hour race, the Hypercars streaked ahead of the rest of the field, displaying impressive reliability and consistency. Rapidly putting the incidents in the early stages of the race behind them, the Toyotas gradually forged a comfortable lead. Untouchable throughout the night, the Japanese cars settled in for some sibling squabbles, hustling around within seconds of each other. Lagging several laps behind, Alpine and Glickenhaus could only dispute third place. The French team won that battle when Glickenhaus fell foul of mechanical issues as the day dawned.

LMP2 Result

  1. Oreca 07 – Gibson No. 31 Team WRT – FRIJNS / HABSBURG / MILESI
  2. Oreca 07 – Gibson No. 28 Jota – ELAEL / VANDOORNE / BLOMQVIST
  3. Oreca 07 – Gibson No. 65 Panis Racing – CANAL / STEVENS / ALLEN

Competition is always tight in LMP2 but this year Team WRT went from excitement to bitter disappointment in the space of a lap. Having dominated the race in spectacular fashion the Belgian outfit was poised for a one-two finish when the No. 41 car, in the hands of Robert Kubica came to a halt. The No. 31 held off Blomqvist in the No. 28 JOTA in a memorable dash to the line. Panis Racing took third place.

LMGTE PRO Result

  1. AF Corse No. 51 – PIER GUIDI / CALADO / LEDOGAR
  2. Corvette Racing No. 63 – GARCIA / TAYLOR / CATSBURG
  3. Porsche GT Team No. 92 – ESTRE / JANI / CHRISTENSEN

The LMGTE Pro class often provides spectacular sporting entertainment and this year was no exception, with an epic head-to-head between Ferrari and Corvette. After 24 hours, there were only 42 seconds between the AF Corse No. 51 Ferrari 488 GTE and the Corvette Racing No. 63 Chevrolet Corvette C8.R, on its maiden Le Mans! The Pier Guidi/Calado/Ledogar crew admirably resisted the Corvette onslaught to give the Ferrari chairman and this year’s race starter John Elkann the result he hoped for. The Italian firm has announced its return to the top class of endurance with a Hypercar entry in 2023!

LMGTE Am Result

  1. AF Corse No. 83 – PERRODO / NIELSEN / ROVERA
  2. TF Sport No. 33 – KEATING / PEREIRA / FRAGA
  3. Iron Lynx No. 80 – CRESSONI / MASTRONARDI / ILOTT

AF Corse claimed two class wins at this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans. The team founded by the 2020 Spirit of Le Mans awardee Amato Ferrari drew on its wealth of experience to stay ahead of the TF Sport No. 33 Aston Martin. Rookie Callum Ilott and his teammates take third place with the Iron Lynx No. 80 Ferrari 488 GTE Evo.

Thanks to all those who enabled Le Mans to happen this year

The Le Mans 24 Hours will return to its normal June slot in 2022. The race dates are confirmed as the 11th – 12th June 2022. You can book your travel, tickets and camping options now by calling Travel Destinations on +44 1707 329988. Further details are available on this website.

Le Mans Hyperpole

Kobayashi claims Le Mans Hyperpole

Toyota Gazoo Racing’s Kamui Kobayashi driving the No. 7 Toyota GR010 Hybrid Hypercar has taken pole position for this weekend’s 24 Hours of Le Mans.

It is the fourth time in five years that Kobayashi has taken pole at Le Mans. The outright track record holder sealed pole with a sensational 3m23.900s lap.

Hub Auto Porsche took a surprise pole in LMGTE Pro after the session was red flagged following accident for Kevin Estre’s Porsche 911 RSR – 19 at Indianapolis Corner.

Antonio Felix da Costa for JOTA led in LMP2, while No.88 Dempsey Proton Porsche took pole in the LMGTE Am category.

Le Mans Hyperpole Highlights:

Hypercar
• Kamui Kobayashi is in pole position for the 89th running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans by setting rapid 3m23.900s lap in the No.7 Toyota GR010-Hybrid Hypercar
• The No.8 Toyota GR010-Hybrid Hypercar is in second place as Brendon Hartley posts 3m24.195s lap just 0.295s off pole
• Alpine Elf Matmut with Nicolas Lapierre will start third on grid after 3m25.574s lap effort
• No. 708 Glickenhaus Racing entry driven by Olivier Pla places fourth with a 3m25.639s lap set by Pla who gets to within 0.065s of Alpine
• No. 709 Glickenhaus of Roman Dumas will start in fifth place for Glickenhaus Racing’s first Le Mans start

LMP2
• Antonio Felix da Costa takes the No.38 JOTA car to LMP2 pole position with a lap of 3m27.950s
• The Portuguese ace laps 0.5s quicker than Louis Deletraz in No.41 Team WRT machine
• Panis Racing’s Will Stevens peaks on a 3m28.586s lap to claim third place start for Saturday afternoon
• G-Drive with No.26 car qualified by Nyck de Vries starts fourth ahead of United Autosports USA pair as No.32 car just beats No.23 machine

LMGTE Pro
• Dries Vanthoor starred for Hub Auto Porsche as he takes surprise pole position with sensational lap of 3m46.882
• Belgian young-gun beats WEC entry No. 52 AF Corse Ferrari 488 GTE driven by Daniel Serra who sets a lap just 0.171s off polesitter
• No.63 Corvette places third as Nick Tandy makes it three different manufacturers in top three positions
• Accident for points leading No.92 Porsche as Kevin Estre endures off at Indianapolis

LMGTE Am
• No.88 Dempsey Proton Racing Porsche’s 3m47.987s set by Julien Andlauer good enough for pole as French ace continues excellent form
• GR Racing take second as Tom Gamble brings joy to British team with fine 3m48.560s lap
• Team Project 1 Porsche driven by Matteo Cairoli in third position ahead of No.47 Cetilar Racing Porsche

Don’t forget that you can join us track-side for the Le Mans 24 Hours 2022. The confirmed dates will be the 11th & 12th June 2022. Call us now on +44 1707 329988 to reserve your place!

Storylines To Follow At Le Mans 2021

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…

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Hypercar Hype

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.

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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?

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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.

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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….

Stephen Kilbey

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 info@traveldestinations.co.uk to make a booking.

Images courtesy of FIA WEC/Corvette Racing/Aston Martin Racing/Toyota (James Moy)

Hydrogen Is Coming… Part 2

This is the second part of Travel Destinations’ deep dive into hydrogen technology at the Le Mans 24 Hours and the ongoing Mission H24 project. If you missed Part 1 you can read it by clicking HERE.

Looking beyond the immediate future of the H24 project, 2024 and the implementation of the new hydrogen class in ACO racing is looming.

Working out how this will all shake out is perhaps a more complex task than understanding the fuel cell technology itself. How will the cars look? What performance level will they achieve? Which manufacturers will sign up? These are just some of the questions that will remain unanswered for a while yet.

The first domino

Manufacturer confidence will be a huge and ultimately decisive factor in the formation of this (and any) new category. As a project, Mission H24 is taking real, tangible, strides on a regular basis, but is the progress fast enough to convince manufacturers that race-winning pace at the Le Mans 24 Hours is achievable for a hydrogen prototype by 2024?

The targets set by the ACO and all its project stakeholders are incredibly ambitious, as noted in Part 1. This self-imposed pressure to deliver could result in stratospheric progress, or lead to delays and U-turns that may make manufacturers cautious and risk-averse when it comes to making the final decision on green-lighting a programme.

For now there appears to be an appetite for hydrogen-powered prototypes to compete at Le Mans, among a cabal of OEMs. Travel Destinations understands that eight marques are currently involved in the technical working group and that of those, at least one is relatively close to confirming a programme.

Is just one enough to make this a viable formula? That’s a tough question to answer.

What is undeniable though, is that a manufacturer running with hydrogen power up against Le Mans Hypercars and LMDh entries would steal lots of headlines.

By 2024 Toyota, Audi, Porsche, Peugeot, Ferrari and potentially Acura will all be present at Le Mans and gunning for the overall win, and that’s without any more manufacturers signing up to LMDh or Hypercar. Therefore, there will be multiple factories that don’t win or make the podium, and therefore miss out on crucial coverage.

Anyone racing with a Hydrogen Prototype in 2024 will generate a lot of noise, simply because of the technology being showcased. A real-world example of this is the Nissan Deltawing that ran at Le Mans in 2012, outside of the regulations in a class of its own.

The promise of huge amounts of publicity will surely have a real appeal to some of the decision-makers from OEMs.

It’s all about the stack

There was an interesting reaction to the news that the spec chassis for the 2024 hydrogen formula is being created in partnership with two major companies: ORECA and Red Bull Advanced Technologies. Many fans and keen observers took this as a sign that the Hydrogen category will be ‘spec’, like Formula E was when it first launched and expressed disappointment.

However, once you dig deeper, it’s clear that this isn’t the case. The decision to get two extremely capable organisations, with a reputation of producing high quality chassis, involved in this initiative, is a smart move. It gives the entire project credibility.

As for the cars being ‘spec’, while it’s not strictly true, the decision to make some elements spec has been made for a reason. While certain aspects of the cars, like the chassis, gearbox and battery will be controlled, this will allow more resources to be placed in the area that matters most, the hydrogen stack, which can be freely developed by each manufacturer.

What are hydrogen stacks, you ask? They make up the fuel cell, in which dihydrogen and oxygen atoms combine to form the water molecules that the car will omit. The reaction within the cell produces heat and electricity that powers the car’s motor.

An industry source close to the Hydrogen movement explained to Travel Destinations that the manufacturers will have freedom to develop their own fuel cell. Green GT meanwhile, will provide the electric engine, the batteries and the gearbox.

The heart of the car is the fuel cell and manufacturers can develop their own. And that is the area that needs the most development so it makes sense. The ACO clearly wants the costs to be kept under control, by forcing OEMs to focus on the new technology, and negate the need to spend huge amounts on aero, the gearbox, the chassis.

Beyond Le Mans

Travel Destinations understands that the final timing for the fielding of the Hydrogen category at the Le Mans 24 Hours will be made imminently, ACO President Pierre Fillon telling the Editor of dailysportscar.com, Graham Goodwin that  “we will make a decision at the end of June about timing.”

The 2024 timeline is still on the table but the longer-than-expected impacts of COVID have potentially taken their toll.

Either way the proposal is that in year-one a fuel cell car would race likely at Le Mans only, with other FIA WEC races only set to be added the following season.

It seems clear that from the eight manufacturers around the table defining the regulations likely just one will emerge to pick up the baton of a challenging timeframe. How far the hydrogen class progresses beyond that will depend on two things: how many manufacturers sign up and how the filling technology from TotalEnergies’ side progresses.

As mentioned in the first part of this feature, TotalEnergies has developed a portable filling station which it is using at circuits around Europe with the Mission H24 project. However, the station needs to become more mobile therefore more environmentally friendly before it is a sustainable option for a grid of cars racing around the world.

If it turns into smash hit, then there is no reason why these cars won’t be seen beyond the races at Le Mans. Manufacturer commitment is needed before this becomes anything more than a Le Mans-only proposition.

And as Pierre Fillon himself has commented, the technological challenge is enormous: “at this time, I think in the world there is only maybe three brands able to build a powerful and high performance Hydrogen car.”

To have such a cutting-edge car competing at Le Mans top class pace would be a headline generator.

We hope to hear more very soon.

Stephen Kilbey

Do you want to be trackside at Le Mans in 2022 or 2023 for the 24 Hours? Call our offices today on 01707 329 988 or email info@traveldestinations.co.uk to make a booking.

Images: TotalEnergies, NISSAN, ACO & Hyundai

Hydrogen Is Coming… Part 1

The automotive sector is undergoing major change. With manufacturers around the world scrambling to find more sustainable solutions for motoring and spending billions on R&D, it’s becoming clear that the cars we drive in a decade or two’s time will be radically different to the ICU-based machines we’ve been using since the inception of the mass market motor car in the early 20th century.

At present, the talk is electric, electric, electric, with most major brands committed to replacing part of, or all of, their entire ranges with electric-or part-electric models. But behind the scenes, Hydrogen fuel cell power is another movement and while it is still in arguably in its infancy, the technology behind it is progressing apace.

Motorsport wise, hydrogen’s presence has been rather small thus far, but sportscar racing is on the cusp of adopting it and projecting it to a mass audience. If everything goes to plan, before we know it, hydrogen powered cars will be running up front at Le Mans. The ACO believes that from 2024 onwards the technology will be mature enough for major OEMs to use endurance racing as a test bed and platform to market the new technology to consumers and pit it up against hybrid-powered Le Mans Hypercars and LMDh entries.

With such significant change incoming, Travel Destinations has been speaking to numerous people in the industry, most notably, Romain Aubry, the technical manager of the H24 Hydrogen project at TotalEnergies (formerly Total Motorsport), to gain insight.

So to help you get ahead of the curve, we’ll take a look at the Mission H24 project and its role in moving hydrogen technology forward in motorsport. Then in the second part of this feature we’ll delve into the 2024 regulations, which manufacturers are likely to feature and how everything will work.

On a mission

So, Mission H24. What is it, and why should you care? Mission H24 is an ACO-backed project (in partnership with GreenGT, TotalEnergies, Michelin and Adess) that for the past few years has focused on moving hydrogen-powered prototypes from being a concept, to a reality ahead of the new ruleset making its debut. It’s hugely important, the successes of the Adess LMP3-based H24 hydrogen prototype that has been developed and tested extensively in recent years will go a long way in proving that the technology is viable.

Few have seen the H24 car run on-track to this point. Much of its mileage until now has been behind closed doors or in practice sessions at low-key European Le Mans Series events. However, we are on the precipice of finally seeing H24 in a competitive environment, in what promises to be a major milestone for the programme and the technology. TotalEnergies has revealed to Travel Destinations that it will compete for the first time in the Le Mans Cup at Monza next month and from then on in the remaining rounds on the calendar. The car was due to compete in the Le Mans Cup race at Paul Ricard this weekend, but a decision was made on short notice to go testing instead.

You may think: ‘how on earth will hydrogen powered prototypes go from a Le Mans Cup (LMP3/GT3) level of pace to fighting for wins in the FIA WEC in just three years?’ It’s a valid question. There is no denying that the target of having major OEMs fight for overall Le Mans wins by 2024 is incredibly ambitious, but the technology is moving fast.

The development curve of the H24 prototype has been on a steep, upward trajectory since it first lapped Spa-Francorchamps back in 2019 (below). In just a couple of years it’s gone from struggling to coast around Spa to producing respectable, competitive lap times. And the only way is up from here, who knows what the next two years will bring?

The target this year is to be able to run at the same pace as the GT cars at the back of the field in the Le Mans Cup. At Portimao in 2019 the first generation prototype was a few seconds off, now the expectation is be mixing in with the GT3 entries.

Lighter, better, faster, cooler

There are three major obstacles for H24 to overcome before the performance levels hit the ultimate target of front-running pace in an FIA WEC race: weight, cooling and range.

The H24 car is a lot heavier than the other prototypes that race in ACO-sanctioned series each year, because it houses weighty electric motors, a battery, fuel cell and hydrogen tank.

Extensive developmental work has already been done to combat this. The car that will be seen by the public in the Le Mans Cup this year is the second second-generation H24 prototype. It’s radically different aerodynamically to the original chassis that was first seen back in 2018, and crucially, 150kg lighter, making the performance targets appear more achievable. This has been achieved by utilising a new battery that stores more energy and produces more power, reducing the number of motors from four to two and installing a more compact gearbox. Yes, it’s still heavier than an average GT3 car, but the progress is undeniable.

As for cooling, look no further than the huge air-box over the cockpit, it’s needed to ensure the temperature stays manageable when it’s pushed to the limits. The heat created by the process of electrolysis that occurs in hydrogen fuel cell devices, that generates the electricity to power the battery, (and the car) is significant. It’s why the original LMPH2G featured a huge front grill that effectively acted as an enormous oxygen vacuum cleaner.

Then there’s range. Range anxiety is a phrase used all too often when discussing modern EVs. Put simply: can the car get from A to B without having to stop for a lengthy battery charge? While the H24 prototype doesn’t need a lengthy recharge, it still has range challenges of its own. The crux of the problem is whether or not the car run at the desired performance level long enough in racing conditions to match the stint lengths of its petrol-powered counterparts, and thus compete over the course of a full race? (You can see how this challenge translates to directly to lengthy drives in an everyday setting…)

“An objective is to do 10 laps at Le Mans between stops,” said Aubry. “And it is feasible, the manufacturers feel it’s reachable.”

Once the car is out of gas stored from its initial fill-up it needs to be re-filled in a similar way to a car with a combustion engine. And this is perhaps where the benefits of hydrogen power over EVs is most clear, since the tank can be filled in just a few minutes. And lest we forget that the car will only omit water out of its exhaust(s), and the hydrogen used will – theoretically – be produced in industrial quantities using a greener process than the process used to manufacture the lithium batteries used in EVs in the future.

Now, this writer will admit that the last part is the base of a hugely complex aspect to sustainability in mobility, and one that really warrants a deep-dive of its own. So for the purposes of this piece, we will leave that aside and focus on the racing. The solution is clear, if the range of a hydrogen prototype is long enough that it can outlast a petrol/hybrid-powered challenger, then the additional minutes needed in the pits at the end of each stint can be balanced over a long race because fewer stops will be needed.

Fill me up

This piece could not be written without mentioning the TOTAL filling station that fills the Mission H24 prototype. It’s a colossally important piece to this puzzle and deserves your attention. It’s a bespoke portable station that has been developed by TotalEnergies, and it works! It may not look flashy, but its significance cannot be overstated. The container that TotalEnergies now takes trackside solves the underlying issues surrounding infrastructure at circuits. Hypothetically, without the need for major investment in permanent purpose-built hydrogen filling stations at each track, hydrogen is viable and has a future in this sport.

“We are working with the ACO about what infrastructure could be needed if at Le Mans we have 6-10 cars in a few years time all powered by hydrogen,” Aubry said.

“What will the paddock look like is being discussed. The objective is not to have a permanent station at each track, it’s to develop something that is as mobile as possible, because it’s hard to get circuits to invest at this stage. We want something more mobile than we have today. The technology will evolve and have a reduced footprint.”

Up close it’s also a proof of concept for the future of filling stations in consumer motoring. Hypothetically, a regular petrol station could be converted (or part-converted) to accommodate hydrogen in the future if it becomes the dominant technology used to power consumer cars using some of the technology within TotalEnergies’s station.

How likely a future scenario where every petrol station slowly evolves into a hydrogen station is unclear, as the road-map to a more sustainable future for the automotive industry is inherently political. TotalEnergies believes in its invention though, and expects that hydrogen is still on track to find a place in society.

“We see passenger cars as moving to electricity,” Aubry stated. “That’s a political decision in Europe, we think because the technology is more mature. But hydrogen should appear in heavy mobility so buses, trains, trucks in a decade or a little more. For aviation, that could be an option too.

“It’s going to be an interesting few years ahead of us, that’s for sure.”

Stephen Kilbey

Do you want to be trackside at Le Mans in 2022 or 2023 for the 24 Hours? Call our offices today on 01707 329 988 or email info@traveldestinations.co.uk to make a booking.

Images: Green GT & Mission H24

Exclusive Discount On Signed Copies Of Tom Kristensen’s New Memoir

Travel Destinations customers have been given the chance to buy signed copies of Tom Kristensen’s brand new memoir ‘Mr Le Mans’ at a reduced price, courtesy of our friends at Evro Publishing.

Mr Le Mans is a personal reflection on the astonishing career of Danish racing driver Tom Kristensen, who has a record nine overall Le Mans 24 Hours victories to his name. It’s a 432-page hardback packed with personal anecdotes and photographs from Tom (and Dan Pilipsen), in amongst a wider narrative written by Nils Finderup, Charles Bradley and Gary Watkins.

In addition to the detailed sections on his successes in sportscar racing with Porsche, Audi and Bentley, Tom Kristensen’s early years in karting and single seaters, DTM career and time spent testing in Formula 1 are all covered. Full of emotion and fascinating tales from inside and outside the cockpit, this simply a must-read for anyone interested in sportscar racing.

Signed copies of Mr Le Mans for Travel Destinations customers are available at a reduced rate of £40.00, and can be purchased at evropublishing.com. Quote the discount code TDTK at the checkout to make use of this exclusive offer.

For more information on the book and this offer, please click below:

2021 Le Mans 24 Hours Pushed Back To August

The ACO (Automobile Club de l’Ouest) announced yesterday that the 2021 running of the Le Mans 24 Hours has been postponed for the second year running, from its traditional mid-June date to August 21st – 22nd. This will be the first time that the race has been held in the month of August

The ACO has said that by moving the race to later in the year, it hopes to be able to run the race with fans trackside. This is primarily the reason for the ACO making this decision. Further information regarding capacity for the new dates will be provided by the ACO in April. 

The official statement reads: “The decision has been made early in the season to give competitors, partners and spectators as much visibility as possible and to maintain the current FIA WEC calendar. The dates of the other races and events to be held at the Le Mans Circuit remain unchanged at the present time. The ACO is working closely with the organisers of the various events that could be impacted by this change.”

Pierre Fillon, President of the Automobile Club de l’Ouest said: “Although it was a tough decision to make, it is the right one. Holding the 24 Hours of Le Mans behind closed doors for the second year running would be unthinkable.

“We are therefore doing all we can to avoid that happening and to give competitors a clear view of the whole season. We are working very hard to put on a safe event, with all the necessary health precautions in place. This year’s race promises to be another thriller as the new Hypercar class makes its debut.”

Anyone who has a booking with Travel Destinations for the 2021 Le Mans 24 Hours will be contacted individually in due course by email and phone to discuss options. For your peace of mind, we will not be collecting any balance payments at this time but we will be offering free transfers to August, the new dates in 2022, or a full refund for those that request it.

The Travel Destinations team would like to thank you for your patience, loyalty and understanding and we look forward to seeing you all again soon.

Ferrari Commits To Le Mans Hypercar, This Changes Everything…

Toyota, Glickenhaus, Peugeot, Alpine, Audi, Porsche, Acura… Just when you thought the flow of positive sportscar racing news was slowing down, Ferrari announces that it is committed to the Le Mans Hypercar category from 2023 onwards, as a full factory.

News of this magnitude doesn’t come around often, but when it does, it makes an impact not just on the championship in question, but in the industry as a whole. All eyes will be on Ferrari, the FIA WEC and the Le Mans 24 Hours now. The Le Mans Hypercar formula can be lauded a true success already, as we can confidently say that it has more than enough committed manufacturers to make it viable in the short and medium term, and enough buzz to propel international sportscar racing into the mainstream.

“In over 70 years of racing, on tracks all over the world, we led our closed-wheel cars to victory by exploring cutting-edge technological solutions: innovations that arise from the track and make every road car produced in Maranello extraordinary,” said John Elkann, Ferrari President. “With the new Le Mans Hypercar programme, Ferrari once again asserts its sporting commitment and determination to be a protagonist in the major global motorsport events.”

So what do we know about Ferrari’s programme; its first in top class endurance racing since 1973? Well Travel Destinations believes that it’s a full-factory effort, rather than a semi-works or customer programme run by AF Corse, meaning it should get a huge amount of resources thrown at it. Ferrari has never pushed hard to market its successes in GTE competition over the years, even after class wins at Le Mans, but we should see a far more creative, public-facing approach now. And that will only benefit the FIA WEC and Le Mans 24 Hours in the long run.

As of yet there are no details about the car or who might drive it, but Travel Destinations understands that work has been going on behind the scenes for a while now, with members of the programme believed to be using another major manufacturers’ wind tunnel facility, privately, to complete early work on the project. As for drivers, there’s no confirmation yet, but prospective talent will certainly be circling to see what potential there is for drivers beyond its existing stable to join in. Multiple drivers were known by Travel Destinations to have been meeting with Ferrari as far back as Le Mans last year, so the race is on to secure a seat for what looks to be a landmark programme.

Perhaps the biggest news here will come from outside Ferrari’s castle walls, as its committal may prompt other manufacturers to also jump aboard. Will manufacturers such as Ford or McLaren; which are ‘rivals’ in motorsport with Ferrari, be able to resist? How about Renault, which to this point is only committed to the Hypercar category for 2021 with Alpine?

Toyota has already reacted to this news. “We warmly welcome Ferrari to the top class of the FIA World Endurance Championship and we are honoured to compete against them in Hypercar,” it said in a statement. “This is exciting news for endurance racing fans and for the WEC. We welcome the competition and look forward to being part of a very strong Hypercar grid.”

This may also prompt a decision from IMSA on the eligibility of Hypercars in the WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. To this point LMDh class cars have been accepted by the ACO to compete in the FIA WEC, but not the other way round. Could the allure of Ferrari prove to be the tipping point and ensure top class parity in both premier sportscar championships?

But even if nobody else comes to play, what we already have is far and away the strongest top class we’ve had in sportscar racing for decades. Just picture it: Audi, Porsche, Toyota, Peugeot, Ferrari, Glickenhaus and Honda (Acura) all lining up on the grid at Le Mans in two years time.

“Alongside Ferrari, in 2023, many manufacturers who have already joined us are sure to pull out all the stops to win the race in its centenary year,” ACO President Pierre Fillon said in reaction to the news. “This is excellent news for a discipline whose rule base forms a solid foundation on which to build a bright future.”

The 100th anniversary of the inaugural LeMans 24 Hours in 2023 is going to be a massive event, and you are going to want to be there.

Stephen Kilbey

If you do want to be there, then you can pre-register your interest for tickets and travel packages with Travel Destinations today by calling 01707 329988 or emailing info@traveldestinations.co.uk. We are also on sale for Le Mans 2022, so call or email us to book now.