Tag Archives: Le Mans

Peugeot Unveils Its 9X8 Hypercar

The rumours were true, Peugeot Sport has not just opted to join the FIA World Endurance Championship with a standard Le mans Hypercar, it’s gone radical too!

The brand new hybrid, twin-turbo V6-powered 9X8, launched today, is set to stun fans around the world. It features plenty of nods and styling cues to the Peugeot brand, and a radical aerodynamic design that features no rear wing and a rear-diffuser capable of producing the majority of the car’s downforce.

“The new Le Mans Hypercar regulations were drawn up to level out the importance of conventional performance-boosting systems,” explains Olivier Jansonnie, Peugeot Sport’s WEC Programme Technical Director.

“Designing the 9X8 has been a passionate experience because we had the freedom to invent, innovate and explore off-the-wall ways to optimise the car’s performance, and more especially its aerodynamics. The regulations stipulate that only one adjustable aerodynamic device is permitted, without specifying the rear wing. Our calculation work and simulations revealed that high performance was effectively possible without one.”

“The absence of a rear wing on the Peugeot 9X8 is a major innovative step,” adds Stellantis Motorsport Director Jean-Marc Finot. “We have achieved a degree of aerodynamic efficiency that allows us to do away with this feature. Don’t ask how, though! We have every intention of keeping that a secret as long as we possibly can!”

The drivers all appear to approve. Travel Destinations understands that the entire roster has played a part in helping develop both the simulator and the cockpit. Work has been ongoing for months, with drivers and members of the design team interacting and working hard in the build up to the testing phase.

“The 9X8’s lines are very different to those that have been unveiled or hinted at in recent months. It will be a historic moment if we succeed in winning with this car because nothing in this style has ever been attempted before,” said Mikkel Jensen.

Loic Duval added: “There are cars that you look at and say they’re nice from the three-quarters front view, say, or from the side, from the front or from the back. The 9X8 looks terrific from every angle!”

As for the car’s powertrain, the engine has been tested on the dyno, and TotalEnergies is understood to be in the thick of the planning stage surrounding the car’s batter. Parts for the car are already being manufactured and stress-tested too, with the car still on track to begin testing in December.

What does the 9X8 monikor refer too?  ‘9’ is a nod to Peugeot’s previous topflight sportscars, ‘X’ refers to its all-wheel-drive technology and hybrid powertrain and ‘8’, the suffixed used for all of Peugeot’s current models.

The theme of brand references and nods to the past can be found across the car. The 9X8’s front and rear lights take the form of ‘three claw-like strokes’, linked to Peugeot trademarks, while the brand’s new logo features in backlit form at the front and on the sides of the car. The colour scheme too, ‘Selenium Grey’ and contrasting ‘Kryptonite’ acid green/yellow mirrors the colours selected for the new 508 and 508 SW road cars.

“Since the 9X8 is a Peugeot, the original sketch that steered our work portrayed a big cat ready to pounce, a stance which we have suggested by the slightly forward-tilting cockpit”, said Design Director Mattias Hossann. “The overall lines of the Peugeot 9X8 express the brand’s styling cues, while its sleek, racy, elegant forms inspire emotion and dynamism.”

The Peugeot is set to make its race debut during the 2022 season, though Peugeot hasn’t confirmed to the full season with its pair of 9X8s just yet. Travel Destinations understands that the leaders of this effort and keen to ensure the car is fully ready before it takes on Toyota and Glickenhaus for the first time. Whether or not it will be seen at Sebring, Spa and Le Mans early in the year remains to be seen.

What is clear is that Peugeot still sees value in sportscar racing and Le Mans, and is incredibly excited to return to the front-end at Le Mans very soon.

“There’s more to Peugeot’s involvement in endurance racing than the sporting aspect,” said Peugeot CEO Linda Jackson. “Endurance racing is a form of motorsport that provides us with an extreme laboratory, which explains why our association with Le Mans is so strong. More significant perhaps than the results we obtain on the race track are the opportunities it provides to prove our technology and the fruit of our research work in a race that throws extreme conditions at you for 24 hours.

“Le Mans gives us a competitive environment to validate the hybrid systems and technologies we are currently developing to reduce the fuel consumption – and therefore CO2 emissions – of our road cars. The teams at Peugeot Sport are proud when they see their research carried over to our production models. For our customers, Le Mans is a laboratory that testifies to the quality of our cars.”

Stephen Kilbey

If you want to be trackside at Le Mans next year call us on 01707 329 988 today and book your space. Camping spaces, hotels and certain ticket types are already limited for 2022.

Images courtesy of Peugeot Sport

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

Le Mans Classic 2020

Le Mans Classic Moved To 2022

Historic racing event organiser Peter Auto, has announced that the 2021 edition of the Le Mans Classic in July has been postponed to 2022 and will now run from June 30th to July 3rd* next year.

The decision has been made in light of the current health guidelines in France which would prevent it from hosting the event with a large crowd and all its usual fan-facing activities. By pushing the event back a year Peter Auto hopes to put on a spectacular show in 2022.

It has also confirmed that it will hold the Le Mans Classic on two consecutive years for the first time as a result of this change, with a 2023 event now scheduled too. This allows Peter Auto to hold the Le Mans Classic on the centenary year for the Le Mans 24 Hours and add to the celebrations and festivities the ACO is planning for the 24 Hours proper in June 2023.

“The maximum figures of people imposed by the government do not allow us to maintain this event on the initial dates (July 1 to 4, 2021),” said Patrick Peter, head of Peter Auto. “Moreover, even though it had been considered, a Le Mans Classic without fans would not do justice to this event and would considerably reduce the beautiful tribute to the great history of endurance. A Le Mans Classic without the public, without exhibitors and without car clubs is not the Le Mans Classic.

“We will nevertheless meet again in August during the 24 Hours Le Mans race week, with the presence of Endurance Racing Legends cars as the support race. Enthusiasts will have two successive years of Le Mans Classic since we will do another edition in 2023 which will be an opportunity to reinforce the tribute to the centenary of creation of the 24 Hours of Le Mans race.”

Pierre Fillon, President of the Automobile Club de l’Ouest added: “Organising Le Mans Classic behind closed doors would not make any sense. This event is made for the public, and the lack of visibility on the current situation generates this logical decision.

“This event loved by all enthusiasts will be held in 2022, before a return in 2023 for a centenary edition of the 24 Hours of Le Mans which promises to be exceptional.”

Anyone who has a booking with Travel Destinations for the 2021 Le Mans Classic will be contacted individually in due course by email and phone to discuss options. We would therefore request that you refrain from contacting us to ask about the status of your booking at this time.

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.

*2022 dates currently provisional and subject to ratification. The event may be moved to the second weekend in July if the date of the Le Mans 24 Hours falls a week later than usual. Confirmation is expected in September.

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.

ACO Details Changes To Le Mans Schedule For 2021

To accompany the news that entries are now open for the 2021 FIA World Endurance Championship and European Le Mans Series seasons for teams, the Le Mans 24 Hours organising body, the ACO, has revealed some changes to the schedule for the Le Mans 24 Hours next June.

The Le Mans Test Day has been moved to the Sunday before the 24 Hours itself, and Scrutineering will take place on Friday the 4th and Saturday 5th of June. For fans making the trip in 2021, this means there is now more track action than usual taking place in the run up to the race itself. It also means that the event as a whole will span 10 days rather than two weeks as in years past.

The practice and qualifying sessions have also been revised in response to competitor requirements. Full details on the format of Practice and Qualifying are yet to be revealed. However, it is expected that the quick-fire Hyperpole shootout format will return in 2021 after such a positive reaction at this year’s race in September.

In addition, the ACO has announced that it will give a prize rewarding a competitor’s commitment to Corporate Social and Environmental Responsibility (CSR), in particular the progress made from one year to the next. More detailed information on the terms and conditions of the prize will be provided at a later date. Competitors, on a voluntary basis only, will be invited to submit an application to be part of this initiative.

Want to be trackside for the 2021 Le Mans 24 Hours (on the 12th – 13th June)? We still have availability for a variety of accommodation, travel and ticketing options for race week.

Call us on 01707 329988 or email info@traveldestinations.co.uk to make a booking.

Stephen Kilbey

Toyota

Storylines To Follow In The 2020 Le Mans 24 Hours

The stage is set, the teams are ready, it’s time for the 2020 edition of the Le Mans 24 Hours. A race of this magnitude, being held in these ‘unique’ circumstances, is certainly going to make it an event we won’t forget anytime soon.

With no spectators trackside, the race itself is the lead attraction this time. So what can we expect from each class? Travel Destinations’ Stephen Kilbey takes a look at some of the storylines to follow…

Toyota’s triple

The LMP1 battle throughout the 2019/20 FIA WEC season has been an intriguing one. It hasn’t been the Toyota whitewash that many would have expected, because, to be frank, the ‘Success Handicap’ system has worked – almost too well at times.

The challenger to Toyota has been Rebellion Racing, which has only run with a single R-13 during the season and will bow out of the sport at the end of the current campaign. (Though it will race with two cars at Le Mans once again).

Rebellion powered to victory at Shanghai and later at Circuit of The Americas in Texas. In the latter Rebellion had a dominant run, the restrictions placed on the Toyotas after their 1-2 finish in Bahrain meant the non-hybrid, Gibson-powered prototype could produce substantially faster lap times than the TS050s, and comfortably took the win.

The question is, will it be able to sustain a challenge over a 24-hour period?

The good news from Rebellion camp is that last year, both its R-13s made the finish, in what was their second 24-hour race. The bad news is that neither made the finish in a clean run. The car has matured since then though, so if it gets a break on the handicap front, it has the drivers capable of keeping Toyota honest throughout.

The issue, as always in performance terms, is the inherit disadvantage their non-hybrid cars have up against the Toyotas which utilise hybrid-boost through traffic which can make a huge difference over the course of a long race, even if over a single lap in Qualifying the R-13s have the edge. The four-wheel-drive nature of the TS050 HYBRIDs also benefit in wet weather with superior grip. After a tough run at Spa prior to this weekend in changable conditions, Rebellion will hope that the rain stays away on this occasion.

If they can’t challenge then ByKolles – which has only been present at one WEC race since Le Mans last year – will be left with the surely impossible task of taking the fight to the Toyotas.

Should Toyota prevail, and it is clearly the favourite, then it would be three straight wins at La Sarthe, something which would have appeared unthinkable prior to 2018.

The P2 lottery

In recent years the LMP2 class at Le Mans has been getting stronger and stronger. The level of the drivers, the standard of the teams and the racing has all taken a step up.

As a result, in 2020 we have a another astounding entry of more than 20 cars, featuring the best teams from the FIA WEC, ELMS and even a handful from the Asian Le Mans Series – which adopted the current generation of LMP2 cars last season. Once again ORECA chassis make up the majority of the pack, but that shouldn’t detract from the racing, which should be fast and furious.

Who are the contenders? From the WEC pack United Autosports has to be considered the favourite. It has two cars entered in the race (one from the ELMS), both with strong driver line-ups, and is on track to take the LMP2 class titles in both championships. Richard Dean will hope his team can ride its current momentum into Le Mans and emerge with its first class win in what will be its first attempt with an ORECA.

The two JOTA-run, Goodyear-shod, ORECAs (one a Jackie Chan DC Racing entry) too should be considered a threat, after another strong campaign from Sam Hignett’s crew. If Goodyear’s tyres at Le Mans prove to be stronger than Michelin in the conditions, then it could swing the balance of power dramatically.

Alpine cannot be counted out either. It’s been a tough year for the French team in the WEC; its sudden retirement from the 6 Hours of Spa last month (its first in a WEC race since 2015!) only adding to its disappointing season. Nevertheless it is the defending class champion and will be eager to score its first win since last year’s Le Mans.

Beyond the WEC, G-Drive Racing will be looking for redemption after its hopes of victory were dashed late in the race last year. Its leading line-up features team stalwart Roman Rusinov, ex-F1 man Jean-Eric Vergne and up-and-comer Mikkel Jensen.

It also has a second Aurus in the race thanks to an invitation earned by winning the Asian Le Mans Series. It will be run by Algarve Pro Racing and includes a strong trio of drivers: Le Mans winner Nick Tandy, Mazda DPi factory man Oliver Jarvis and Rolex 24 class winner Ryan Cullen.

Another team to look out for is IDEC Sport. Fresh from a 2019 ELMS title run, the French team will also be looking to add a Le Mans win to its growing CV.

Advantage Aston in Pro?

In year’s past the balance of power in GTE Pro has swung like a pendulum throughout the season, and even during race weekends due to the BoP process and the trials and tribulations of governing a class with so many different chassis.

While the numbers are down on recent year’s this time out, in part due to withdrawals from Corvette Racing and Porsche’s IMSA and the loss of Ford’s programme, the racing this time actually has real potential to be closer and more exciting.

With fewer cars to balance, the racing during the current WEC season has proven to be superb. Aston Martin, Porsche (with its revised 911 RSR-19) and Ferrari have all taken race wins and been involved in memorable race-long scraps. Add to that an additional Ferrari from Risi Competizione, which may be a private team but operates on the level of a factory effort despite having limited resources and we’ve got a real race on our hands.

And it will have world championship implications too, with all three marques looking to head into the finale at Bahrain ahead in the points tally. Right now the Dane Train Aston Martin of Nicki Thiim and Marco Sorensen lead the way and have been the duo of the season, the ones to beat, but who knows what form everyone will find themselves in once we get to the race?

Keating’s redemption

After last year’s post-race disqualification for Ben Keating will be out to prove a point in the 2020 edition. Last time out his Wynns-backed Ford had its win stripped on Monday morning due to a fuel tank irregularity. There was no malice involved but the team took responsibility and accepted the outcome.

This time around Keating returns but with a completely different set up. The Ford has been parked and the Texan has taken his talents to German Porsche outfit Team Project 1. It’s been quite a season for him, a real rollercoaster, with a win at Bahrain the clear highlight and an 11th place finish on home soil in Texas back in February the lowlight. Alongside Jeroen Bleekemolen (and a rotating third chair of Felipe Fraga and Larry ten Voorde), Keating and his pursuit of redemption may well prove to be the story of the class in GTE Am as on his day he’s the best Bronze-rated driver in any field.

GTE Am is a category that is in rude health though, packed with intrigue. It features 23 entries with a bundle of ELMS, IMSA and Asian Le Mans Series teams adding to the full-season WEC pack.

Other teams to look out for will surely be Aston Martin Racing and TF Sport in the Aston camp, and AF Corse’s No. 83 488 GTE which is fresh from a win at Spa and leads the standings?

JMW and Dempsey-Proton Racing from the ELMS are always in with a shout too. Then there’s the WeatherTech Racing Ferrari from the IMSA ranks, which could well spring a surprise in this company.

Stephen Kilbey

Want to make the trip to Le Mans next year for the 24 Hours or Classic? We’re already on sale for 2021 and demand is high! Give our office a call today to get yourself a package booked on 01707 329 988.

Photos courtesy of Dailysportscar.com/Peter May

The Significance Of Alpine’s 2021 Top Class WEC Entry

French automotive manufacturer Alpine has announced today that it will be racing in the top class of the FIA World Endurance Championship next season with a grandfathered LMP1 car. This is an incredibly welcome surprise for everyone in and around the FIA WEC, and kicks off what is set to be a big week for Le Mans news ahead of the delayed 2020 Le Mans 24 Hours this weekend.

So what do we know, what do we think we know and how significant is this announcement?

Travel Destinations understands that Alpine will race a grandfathered (Gibson-powered) Rebellion R-13 for this FIA WEC programme, leased from ORECA (which manufactures the chassis) following the end of Rebellion Racing’s LMP1 effort at the end of this season. The R-13 a proven, race-winning car, which in the hands of an aspirant manufacturer like Alpine could prove to be a force in the WEC’s new-look top class.

Just how competitive will it be? Well a lot will come down to how strong the Le Mans Hypercar offerings from Toyota, Glickenhaus and ByKolles prove to be in their debut season. The Le Mans Hypercars are expected to be slower in terms of lap time than the current crop of LMP1 cars, meaning the Alpine will need to be handicapped in order to balance the field.

This plays to Alpine’s advantage. Should the restrictions on the car not prove too harsh, then the R-13 (which will likely be re-badged an Alpine) can surely take the fight to Toyota’s challenger? The R-13, after two seasons of competition, is a package that has proven to be pretty reliable, and quick too, so a de-tuned version of the car – in theory at least – should be even more capable of surviving the bumps at Sebring and the stress-test that 24 hours of racing at Le Mans provides.

Entering the 2021 season with a proven piece of machinery in a year that will see all of its competitors getting to grips with a new formula, looks like a smart move from Alpine and its parent company Renault at this stage. Alpine has been a stalwart in LMP2 racing since it first partnered up with Signatech back in 2014 and has WEC and ELMS titles and multiple Le Mans class wins to its name. The transition should therefore be relatively seamless to LMP1, especially as the R-13 is, in effect, a heavily modified version of the re-badged ORECA 07 the team competes with currently.

Many feared that Renault’s decision to re-brand its Formula One team as Alpine for 2021 would mark the end of Alpine’s run in sportscar racing. But this is clearly not the case. Renault is showing that it has bold plans for its boutique brand, which lest we forget, has a long and storied past at La Sarthe, with an overall win in 1978 among the successes.

So where will this lead? Currently, grandfathered LMP1 cars are only eligible in the FIA WEC for the 2021 season as part of the championship’s transition to the new Le Mans Hypercar era. So beyond next year it remains to be seen what Alpine decide to do. But the rumour mill is already churning away, with many outlets confident that this move to LMP1 is part of a wider plan to join the Le Mans Hypercar/LMDh formula in the medium term, allowing them to compete for Le Mans wins outright with a brand new car. The prospect of winning the 2023 edition, on the 100th anniversary of the inaugural Le Mans 24 Hours, for instance, has to be on the minds of those behind Alpine’s sportscar programme, especially with rival brand Peugeot Sport already signed up and readying itself for the task.

That’s a ways off though. Right now it’s time to get even more excited about the 2021 FIA WEC season. Toyota vs Alpine vs Glickenhaus vs ByKolles at the front of the field at Le Mans? It’s shaping up nicely!

Stephen Kilbey

Want to make the trip to Le Mans next year for the 24 Hours or Classic? We’re already on sale for 2021 and demand is high! Give our office a call today to get yourself a package booked on 01707 329 988.

Image courtesy of Alpine Cars

Last Time Out at Le Mans…

With the delayed 2020 running of the Le Mans 24 Hours right around the corner, Travel Destinations has taken the time to look back at last year’s race, which feels like a very long time ago now!

Le Mans wins are like buses it seems… Having waited decades for its first victory at La Sarthe, Toyota made it two overall Le Mans wins in two years in 2019, with another dominant showing against the privateer pack. Last year’s edition served as the ‘Super Finale’ to the 2018/19 WEC ‘Super Season’ and delivered, in every class, with drama right until the checkered flag fell.

In the end, it was Toyota Gazoo Racing’s No. 8 TS050 HYBRID that took the spoils. It was back to back wins for Fernando Alonso, Sebastien Buemi and Kazuki Nakajima, though throughout the race they were not the quickest of the two crews from the Japanese marque.

The final hour served up a huge bout of confusion, as a faulty sensor for the sister No. 7 of Kamui Kobayashi, Jose Maria Lopez and Mike Conway caused the lead to change between the two TS050s, leaving 252,000 fans in the stands and members of the team, scratching their heads throughout the final stint of the race.

The No. 8 eventually took the victory, after a final hour filled with confused radio messages between Kazuki Nakajima in the winning car and Jose Maria Lopez in the No. 7 and their engineers.

It was rather heart-breaking for No. 7 team, who led most of the second half of the race but came up short, all three forced to wait at least another year to score their first win. It was a cruel end after the car had the pace to win this race all the way to the flag.

The picture became clearer after the race. The No. 7’s tyre sensors indicated that there was a right-front puncture just before the end of the penultimate hour. This forced the team to pit the car. When it pitted, the team changed only the right-front tyre. The sensor was then discovered to have been wrong. So they pitted the car once again, to change the right rear.

After that, the team managed the finish. Alonso, Nakajima and Buemi claimed a second straight Le Mans win and the FIA WEC World Drivers’ Championship.

Behind Toyota, there was plenty of excitement in the privateer ranks. Four of the privateer LMP1s from SMP Racing and Rebellion Racing went toe-to-toe for third place overall.

On Sunday afternoon, though, it would be SMP that would take the ‘best of the rest’ moniker with the No. 11 BR1 of Vitaly Petrov, Mikhail Aleshin and Stoffel Vandoorne. The trio drove masterfully en route to scoring the best result for the chassis to date and AER’s first ever Le Mans overall podium.

By race end it was no longer close between the two teams, as the No. 3 Rebellion was knocked out of contention in the second half of the race after a wild sequence of events. The list of mishaps included a three-minute penalty for supplying officials with the wrong tire serial numbers, a spin into the gravel on the Porsche Curves by Gustavo Menezes and a series of brake issues. All this after the car had to be repaired hastily in the opening hours of the race after Thomas Laurent went nose-first into the barriers down the Mulsanne Straight.

Both of Rebellion’s cars finished though. The best of the two was the No. 1 of Neel Jani, Bruno Senna and Andre Lotterer which took fourth, three laps behind the No. 11 (sole-surviving) SMP machine after the car hit trouble early when the team incorrectly misidentified a puncture, and didn’t recover.

In the other classes there was plenty of drama and excitement too.

LMP2 saw Signatech Alpine won the class, like Toyota, for a second straight year. Though on this occasion its drivers could celebrate on the podium – as in 2018 it was handed the victory via a post-race investigation for the car which crossed the line third. Andre Negrao, Nicolas Lapierre and Pierre Thiriet finished up an astonishing 2018/19 campaign with a pair of Le Mans wins and a world title.

It wasn’t a dominant run as such for the French outfit, but towards the end the of the race its competition from Jackie Chan DC Racing and G-Drive Racing faded.

GTE Pro, with an entry packed with factory cars from Ford, Ferrari, Aston Martin, Porsche, BMW and Corvette, surprisingly, was the only class that was settled early in the 87th edition. It was AF Corse’s year, the Italian team scoring the first win for the Ferrari 488 GTE at this famous race on the 70th anniversary of Ferrari’s first win at Le Mans.

The No. 51 of James Calado, Alessandro Pier Guidi and Daniel Serra was the winning car, the trio emerging as a contender in the race’s opening hours and fighting for the win all the way through the night and into Sunday afternoon. The battle, which involved multiple marques for the win, wasn’t decided on track, and instead by a safety car period splitting up the field in the final hours. After that it was an easy ride for the No. 51 crew, who finished over a minute ahead of the No. 91 and No. 93 Porsches that completed the podium.

While it was a huge result for Ferrari, its rival marque Ford had a forgettable weekend in what was the final weekend for the GT factory programme in the WEC. It had five cars in the race, with four of them entered in the Pro class run by the Ganassi team. The works entries finished in formation from fourth to seventh. In order to challenge, the drivers had to run the cars ragged, not a sustainable option over 24 hours…

Meanwhile in GTE Am, it looked as though the GT would sign off with a farewell victory via its customer car from Keating Motorsports; but post-race technical checks saw the team stripped of what would have been a memorable victory.

The US team, owned by Ben Keating, crossed the line first after Keating himself, Jeroen Bleekemolen, and Le Mans debutant Felipe Fraga survived late drama to beat the Project 1 Porsche to the flag. Seemingly out of nowhere, in a similar fashion to AF Corse’s No. 51 Ferrari in Pro, the No. 85 rose up the order and went on to control the race in Am.

In the second half, it looked almost too comfortable for the American guest-entered team. The trio had built a big lead and looked set to cruise to the finish. But a pit stop to change the car’s front end, requested by the organizers in the penultimate hour, spawned drama. Keating left tyre marks when leaving his pit box, prompting race control to hand out a stop-go penalty.

All of a sudden, with less than an hour to go, the team’s lead had vanished, and the Project 1 Porsche was just a handful of seconds behind after the final stops. It was a straight fight in the end between Bleekemolen and Jorg Bergmeister, the Dutchman soaked up the pressure and made it look easy, eventually finishing 44 seconds up the road.

But the drama didn’t end there. As the following day the team was disqualified due to the fuel tank being in excess of the total permitted for the race. It meant the aforementioned No. 56 Team Project 1 Porsche 911 RSR of Bergmeister, Patrick Lindsey, and Egidio Perfetti, who had already claimed the world title by finishing second, were handed the class win post-race too.

Stephen Kilbey

Want to make the trip to Le Mans next year for the 24 Hours or Classic? We’re already on sale for 2021 and demand is high! Give our office a call today to get yourself a package booked on 01707 329 988.

Images courtesy of Dailysportscar.com

Five Le Mans Battles That Defined LMP1

While this year’s Le Mans 24 Hours will no longer be the final race for the LMP1 category – the FIA WEC’s newly scheduled trip to Bahrain later this year will be ­– it will represent somewhat of a last hurrah for a class which has represented the pinnacle of sportscar racing for most of the past two decades.

The list of designed and raced LMP1 cars is surprisingly long, when you consider that new models have been few and far between in recent years. It comprises of 53 chassis spanning 26 manufacturers. There have been some stinkers, but also some absolute stunners.

It begs the question: When the Le Mans Hypercar category takes over the reigns at the top of the FIA WEC next year, what will we remember when we look back on the LMP1 era? Lest we forget that it has provided some of the most memorable races in sportscar racing history and pushed the boundaries on the technology front.

So before we say goodbye, at Travel Destinations we’ve picked six of the most significant LMP1 battles at La Sarthe to remember:

2007: Audi Vs Peugeot Round 1

Cast your mind back to 2007. The Diesel-powered era was in its infancy, and the class’ visibility beyond the Le Mans 24 Hours was low. Audi wasn’t fighting Peugeot for a world title over the course of a season, in fact Audi chose to race in the American Le Mans Series in an attempt to grow its Diesel product in the US and its French rival planted its flag in the Le Mans Series. This meant the only time they came together and raced was at Le Mans, which was a non-championship race at the time.

As a spectacle, the 2007 Le Mans 24 Hours may not have lived up to the hype that two automotive giants competing against one another for the ultimate prize in endurance racing creates. But the result was significant. It was a race in which Audi flexed its muscles and won its seventh Le Mans by 10 laps with its sole-surviving R10 TDI and kickstarted a rivalry that would last five years.

For Peugeot it was a baptism of fire for the 908 programme. It took two examples to the event and put them up against a trio of R10s manned by highly experienced crew members who the year prior had dominated the 2006 edition scoring the first ever diesel victory up against a cabal of petrol-powered privateer LMP1s that in reality stood little chance due to the inherent advantage in fuel efficiency the Diesels benefitted from. In 07, the disparity between the petrol and diesel cars was no different.

For much of the race it appeared that the venerable trio of Tom Kristensen, Allan McNish and Dindo Capello would storm to victory. For 15 hours, they were in control, showing stunning raw pace and consistency up against their teammates and the 908s that proved to be fast but fragile.

But it all went wrong for the No. 2 Audi, when the right-rear wheel came detached at Indianapolis sending Capello into the barriers and into retirement. This left the No. 1 Audi of Frank Beila, Emanuele Pirro and Marco Werner to claim the lead and a second consecutive victory as a trio. A 10 lap margin looks comfortable on paper, but in reality there was a sense of unease at Audi in the closing stages; it was down to one car by the end as the No. 3 R10 had also retired following an off of its own. It meant Audi and Peugeot would head into the final hours with one car apiece following the No. 7 908’s engine expiring.

In the end though Audi would prevail.

2010: Peugeot’s meltdown

Three years on from Peugeot’s debut with the 908, it was on top of the world. It had scored a famous Le Mans victory in 2009, making the most of an uncharacteristically poor showing from Audi’s factory team and was poised to make it two wins in a row for its updated 908 HDi FAPs.

The 908 was a considerably faster car than Audi’s revised R15 Plus, and it appeared to be reliable too, having scored commanding 1-2 finishes in the Sebring 12 Hours and the 100km of Spa in the run up to the race in France.

But it simply wasn’t meant to be, as the French giant would see its hopes of winning Le Mans slowly fade away during the 24 Hours as the four 908s hit trouble and retired; three of them with identical engine failures. The scenes trackside and in the garages were remarkable, it was beyond a missed opportunity and the top brass at Peugeot knew it.

Peugeot’s woes left Audi to pick up the pieces and score a highly unlikely 1-2-3 finish, the marque’s ninth overall win which equaled Ferrari in the all-time tally. Ultimately, the French marque wouldn’t get a better chance to score a second Le Mans victory with the 908 platform, though it did come close the year after.

2011: Audi’s Last Man Standing

And it was a year later, in 2011, which saw arguably the greatest on-track battle in LMP1 history between Audi and Peugeot, in what turned out to be the French constructor’s final Le Mans before withdrawing from the sport.

It was a classic round-the-clock war between two teams. Both Audi’s brand new R18 and Peugeot’s revised 908 ran on rather equal terms, though both cars had strengths and weaknesses. The Audi? It was quicker over a single lap at La Sarthe and could quadruple stint its tyres. The Peugeot? It could go longer on fuel and proved to be faster during the night hours when the temperature dropped.

That combination made for a thrilling race in which the pendulum swung wildly throughout. Audi may have taken a clearer win had it not had two of its three cars eliminated by major accidents. The team’s No. 2 example of McNish, Capello and Kristensen crashed out early after a tangle with a Ferrari at the Dunlop Bridge which sent McNish flying into the barriers. Then overnight Mike Rockenfeller had a huge accident in the No. 3, also (coincidentally) with a Ferrari, at the Mulsanne Kink, which saw him spear into the barriers, destroying the car. Thankfully both were unhurt.

It left a sole-surviving R18 of Benoit Treluyer, Marcel Fassler and Andre Lotterer to defend Audi’s honor and score their second straight win as a crew. The trio performed impeccably under increasing pressure from the Peugeots throughout, and survived some rather ‘daring’ attempts to force mistakes. When the cars crossed the line it was Audi’s day once again in a tight finish that came down to the final round of pit stops.

It was the closest finish since ’69, just 13.8 seconds separated the leading pair.

2015: Porsche makes it 17

Held in front of a record crowd of over 260,000 people, the 2015 Le Mans 24 Hours had a lot to live up to. With 11 factory cars in the LMP1 ranks on the entry list and an ensemble cast of drivers in the top class at a level higher than any race at La Sarthe post-2000, it had so much promise, and thankfully delivered.

When it came down to it, the race turned into a titanic battle between Porsche and Audi. The two Japanese marques failed to feature. Toyota on this occasion was a step behind two German makes up front, and Nissan’s radical GT-R LM NISMO was so far off the pace (and unreliable, in part because its hybrid system simply didn’t work) that the pole-setting LMP2 car reeled off a time half a second up on the slowest of the three in Qualifying.

But it was still a race filled with drama, as Audi attempted to further chip away at Porsche’s record number of overall wins. Unfortunately, the race weekend would mark the start of Porsche’s dominant run in LMP1. The 919 was hitting its stride, proving to be both fast and (mostly) reliable.

But on this occasion, Porsche’s full-season crews in the No. 17 and No. 18 examples were not the shining stars, instead its third car – in just for Spa and Le Mans – with Earl Bamber, Nick Tandy and Nico Hulkenburg had a faultless run to the victory. Audi’s leading trio of Lotterer, Fassler and Treluyer were in the fight for the first half of the race, before the pace of their car dropped off when the sun went down and the rear deck of their R18 became detached on Sunday morning, costing them valuable time in the pits. It left the door open for Porsche to score a 1-2 finish.

It was victory 17 at Le Mans for the brand, which would go on to make it 19 before walking away in 2018.

2016: Toyota’s heartbreak

You can’t write about the best LMP1 races without mentioning the 2016 Le Mans 24 Hours. It was a simply staggering race, with one of the most gut-wrenching finishes in sportscar racing history.

We’ll start at the end. Toyota had this won. With two laps to go, well over 23 hours of the race completed, Kazuki Nakajima was heard on the team radio complaining that he had lost power. At that point he held a comfortable lead over Porsche’s leading 919 which was on the lead lap but had opted to back off as a showing of class.

Those trackside saw the No. 5 TS050 HYBRID slowing and immediately brushed off it off as an attempt to create a formation finish. But it quickly became clear that the panic was beginning to set in down in the Toyota camp. It wasn’t part of the plan at all, instead there was a fault with the car which caused it to slow to a crawl and eventually grind to a halt on the start/finish line directly in front of the team’s garage.

Nakajima could barely walk after being retrieved from the car and the entire squad, understandably, were experiencing collective shock on an colossal scale. After so many years of trying, Toyota, once again had run out of luck when it mattered most. It would have to wait another two years to claim its first win. Porsche meanwhile, took a surprise victory.

Stephen Kilbey

Want to make the trip to Le Mans next year for the 24 Hours or Classic? We’re already on sale for 2021 and demand is high! Give our office a call today to get yourself a package booked on 01707 329 988.