Tag Archives: Le Mans

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.

The Last September Le Mans

Any Le Mans regular will know that it is highly unusual for the 24 Hours to be held in September. Things will be very different this year, but the action this year should still make for a fascinating watch.

Conditions for the teams and drivers will be somewhat unfamiliar, with no fans present, more night hours and a schedule condensed into four days. For the drivers that have perennially complained that race week at La Sarthe is too long and drawn out compared to a normal weekend, making it harder to stay focused, now is their time to shine.

But this year isn’t the first time that the Le Mans 24 Hours has been pushed back to September however, as civil unrest in France during the summer of 1968 prompted the ACO to postpone the event and make it the final round of the World Sportscar Championship that season.

So what was it like? Well the race itself was a memorable one, and not just because of the date change, as Stephen Kilbey writes…

Le Mans in the 1960s is always associated with the Ford vs Ferrari rivalry, but the ’68 edition wasn’t contested by factory efforts from either marque. Instead it was a race in which privateer entrants from Ford did battle for the victory up against Porsche’s factory and privateer teams as the challenges from the Alpine, Ferrari, Alfa Romeo and Matra outfits either faded or failed to feature.

The winning car was an iconic one, a JW Automotive Ford GT40 draped in a Gulf livery, driven by Pedro Rodriguez and Lucien Bianchi. It was a case of an older car coming out of retirement to claim a famous win.

Changes to the rules which limited the engine capacity of the prototype cars prompted Ford to withdraw its works effort after the Shelby-American team won the race in the two previous years with the GT40 MK II and GT40 MK IV respectively. With the regulations changed and the factory team out of the picture it was up to privateer teams to fly the flag for the ‘Blue Oval’. Enter John Wyer’s Slough-based outfit, who bested the field with the GT40 MK I up against a mixture of prototypes and grand tourers.

The French marques looking to reclaim the Le Mans title for their homeland after an 18-year drought were the real losers here.

Alpine scaled up its effort, and entered a record nine cars in the race. Had the event been run in June, it wouldn’t have been ready to stage such an attack with its A210 and A220 prototypes, though strength in numbers didn’t help on this occasion.

In the end just three of its cars made the finish, with the best of the trio crossing the line classified eighth, 34 laps down on the winning Ford after suffering multiple mechanical issues; though it did pick up a third place finish in the Prototype subclass for 3.0-litre cars. Its other two finishers, in the Prototype category for 1.15-litre cars took a 1-2 finish while finishing 10th and 14th overall.

Matra on the other hand, only entered a single V12-powered MS630 longtail for Messrs Pescarolo and Servoz-Gavin as part of a decision to focus on its Grand Prix programme. In fact, the French outfit wouldn’t have headed to La Sarthe at all had the race been run in June. Like Alpine, the delay to the event provided it more ample time to prepare.

As it turned out Matra fared better than Alpine for much of the race with its lone challenger. Johnny Servoz-Gavin stuck the car fifth on the grid for the race, before Henri Pescarolo (who would score three straight wins in the early 70s with Matra) moved up the order during the opening hours, claiming second overall before midnight.

It was a story of heroics from there on in for the team. A fault with the windscreen wipers persuaded Matra CEO Jean-Luc Lagardere to retire the car, but Pescarolo refused to throw in the towel and drove on. He battled through the night in an attempt to keep the team’s podium hopes alive with rain coming down through the early hours of Sunday morning. In the end his efforts would come to nothing though, as a puncture damaged the car terminally just after midday. Matra would have to wait another five years to claim an overall win.

Porsche also couldn’t seal the deal, the winning Ford proving too much for the Stuttgart make, which like both Matra and Alpine was searching for its maiden Le Mans victory. Porsche had seven cars on the grid, four of them new-for-68 908s fielded by the factory, with a further trio of 907s from privateers.

On this occasion the 907 came out on top, with the Swiss team Squadra Tartaruga coming home second overall, though five laps off the JW Ford. The factory’s hopes ultimately ended in the first half of the race and Just one 908 would finish, but after losing an hour to repairs for an overheating issue. Rolf Stommelen and Jochen Neerpasch pushed hard on Sunday to make up for lost time, although a third place finish was all they could muster, finishing a lap behind the brand’s Swiss customer team that in turn took the 3.0 litre Prototype class honours. The duo did however complete more laps than the trio of works Autodelta SpA Alfa Romeos that completed the top five.

Put simply, it was John Wyer, and consequently Ford’s day, against the predictions of many who had Porsche down as the favourite. Porsche had enjoyed plenty of success that season and had collected World Sportscar Championship wins at Daytona, Sebring, Palermo, Nurburgring and Zeltweg before Le Mans, where it looked to claim another win and the championship.

The combination of Rodriguez and Bianchi was also an unknown quantity for the JW Automotive team too, as injuries to two of its star drivers – Jacky Ickx and Brian Redman – (who together claimed two wins together that year) meant a new line-up was required at the last minute for Le Mans in the No.9 Ford.

Bianchi at least was a two-time class winner ahead of what would be his final ride at La Sarthe, but Rodriguez had retired nine times in his previous 10 attempts and finished only once (seventh overall in 1965). On the day though both would drive faultlessly, and after Porsche’s factory cars hit trouble in the opening hours would take control of the race. It may have been a 1-2 finish for Gulf GT40s too had the sister No.10 entry of Paul Hawkins and David Hobbs not suffered a clutch issue and subsequent engine failure having run up front in formation with the winning GT40 during Saturday afternoon.

Wyer wouldn’t leave disappointed however, as the victory for his team was comfortable and secured the Manufacturers’ crown in the World Sports Car Championship for Ford by three points over Porsche. It was real added value for the American giant which had poured so much into its Le Mans effort during the decade.

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 Ford Motor Company and Porsche

2020 Le Mans 24 Hours To Be Held Behind Closed Doors

The 2020 running of the Le Mans 24 Hours is set to be run behind closed doors in September (19th-20th), following a decision from the event organiser, the Automobile Club de l’Ouest and the Sarthe Prefecture today.

Prior to today’s announcement the ACO had explored multiple solutions to allow a limited number of spectators to attend the race during the current COVID-19 situation, including a zone system which would segregate the fans trackside. However, after lengthy discussions with the public health and safety authorities the ACO and the Sarthe Prefecture decided that the best move was to run the event without fans.

“The 88th 24 Hours of Le Mans will go down in the annals of history as, sadly, the world’s greatest endurance race will be run this year with no spectators trackside,” Pierre Fillon, president of the Automobile Club de l’Ouest said.

“Over the last few weeks, we have looked at many ways in which we could hold our event in September with fans present, albeit in limited numbers. However, given the constraints involved in organising a festival-scale event over several days in the current situation, we have opted with the local government authorities to hold the race behind closed doors. There were still too many question marks regarding health and safety.

“We know that our fans will be as disappointed as we are by this decision but, with public health in the balance, it really wasn’t a difficult call to make. You don’t compromise where safety is concerned.

“Fans will not miss out altogether. They may not be at Le Mans, but our media teams and service providers will bring Le Mans to them! We are sure that we can count on everyone’s support and understanding at this time.”

Anyone with an existing booking with Travel Destinations to attend the Le Mans 24 Hours this September will be contacted directly by a member of the team to discuss the available options in the next few days.

Travel Destinations is already looking ahead to the 2021 running of the Le Mans 24 Hours, which is set to be held on the 12th & 13th June. Everyone can book travel packages to next year’s race now (and at 2020 prices for a limited time). Please call our offices on 01707 329988 today.

Le Mans

Reasons to be Cheerful – Le Mans

My phone calendar has helpfully reminded me where we all should be next week. As we move into what would have been Le Mans week, many of us are filled with a longing for La Sarthe. You often don’t appreciate something until it’s gone, but we have always appreciated the spectacle that is Le Mans.

You don’t have to look far to find negativity regarding the future of Le Mans on websites, forums and social media groups. It has been there for a while, even before the pandemic. However, while it may not be fashionable right now, I would like to point out the positives and see if we can find some reasons to be cheerful. After all, the Le Mans 24 Hours will return and so will we.

2020

The virtual Le Mans event next week may be just a reminder of what could have been, but expect the ACO to be reminding everyone the real thing will return this September. Once it was apparent that the race couldn’t take place this June, the ACO was relatively quick to pencil in the 19th & 20th September for this year’s race. Initial doubts that this may still be too early to return to Le Mans, have now been replaced by belief that this will happen.

There are many political and business reasons why the race must take place, which I won’t go into here, but I can say that the noises from Le Mans, have gone from “If the race can go ahead” through “how the race can go ahead” to now “the race will go ahead”. I have no doubt now that the race will happen, but will we be able to be there?

We know that the ACO is currently liaising with the French government at various levels from local to national, to see what requirements will be required to make the race safe for everyone, including spectators. Those in charge will do their best to make that happen. Don’t get me wrong, Le Mans 2020 may not have the same crowds as previous races, but accepting that may be the best way forward. Expect further news soon, so watch this space….

2021

It is never too early to plan Le Mans. We already know that the Le Mans 24 Hours in 2021 will take place on the 12th & 13th June and you can already book your place through Travel Destinations (of course you can!). Why should we be looking forward to 2021?

This could be the start of a new era in sports car racing and you can be there at the beginning! Well nearly the beginning, as actually the new season of the FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) is scheduled to start earlier in the year, with new machinery most likely making their debuts at Sebring in March. 2021 will see the entrance of Hypercar. The journey to get here is less important now. The cars will be here and racing.

At the time of writing we know that Toyota will be present. Their loyalty to Le Mans should be recognised by us all. We also know that they will be joined by two cars from Scuderia Cameron Glickenhaus for what has been dubbed by Jim Glickenhaus himself as a ‘David vs Goliath’ battle. In 2019 Toyota manufactured more than 10 million cars. Glickenhaus produced less than 400.

Does that mean that Glickenhaus cannot take the fight to Toyota and win Le Mans? It wouldn’t be the first time that we have seen something like that happen. Glickenhaus also has form when it comes to surprising doubters; just ask Jeff Westphal who took pole position for the American team with its in-house 003C at the Nurburgring 24 Hours a few years ago when up against the factory-backed GT3 cars from Audi, Porsche, BMW, Mercedes and Bentley.

We also know that ByKolles is likely to take to the grid with its new Hypercar too, so this could be the start of a new manufacturer competition at the front of the grid.

Le Mans
Toyota’s Hypercar

2022

Just when you have got over the excitement of seeing Hypercars race at Le Mans, you have something more to look forward to. The Le Mans 24 Hours in 2022 is set to be the first time you will get to see the new LMDh class go head-to-head with the Hypercar field, which is in-turn set to be bolstered by the return to Le Mans of Peugeot Sport.

The claims in recent years of tensions between the ACO and IMSA appear to be unfounded as the two bodies have come together and approved a global top class, paving the way for something truly special at Le Mans; a huge field of manufacturers fighting for the overall win, the likes of which we haven’t seen since the late 1990s.

Along with the possible addition of Peugeot to the Hypercar grid, there is a sizeable list of prospective manufacturers all currently evaluating LMDh programmes. Porsche, Mazda, Cadillac, Audi, Acura, Lamborghini and McLaren are all known to be ‘in the room’ and seriously considering their options. It is now a case of which marque makes the first move and gives a programme the green light, but it all looks promising.

2023

Back in 1923, André Lagache & Réné Léonard won the very first 24 Hours of Le Mans. Ultimately, they had two grandstands at the circuit named after them too. 2023’s centennial celebrations should be something not to be missed. A new pit-complex with future-proofed garages enabling the introduction of a Hydrogen class at Le Mans, set to be unveiled for 2023, is currently in the works.

Needless to say, a centenary of racing at Le Mans will be celebrated in a big way throughout 2023, and the Le Mans 24 Hours (and, we believe, the Le Mans Classic too) will be at the centre of it. It is certainly something to start looking forward to. The crowds will be huge and the manufacturers involved will all be more eager than ever to claim a historic victory.

We may not be able to watch racing at Le Mans next week, and of course that is disappointing, but look a bit further down the road and there are a lot of reasons to be cheerful.

Written by Richard Webb
Photography by Dailysportscar

Want to reserve your place at Le Mans in September 2020 or June 2021? Call the Travel Destinations team now on +44 (0)1707 329988.

Le Mans 2021

Le Mans 24 Hours 2020: Important Update

LE MANS 24 HOURS: IMPORTANT UPDATE

Today we have received the news that the Le Mans 24 Hours has been postponed and the new dates have now been confirmed as the 19th & 20th September 2020.

IMPORTANT

  • In the first instance, please do not call or email our office.
    In order to manage the volumes of correspondence we are receiving, we respectfully ask you to refrain from contacting us at this time. Rest assured we will be contacting you in due course in a systematic manner. This may well take some weeks in the current situation so your patience would be appreciated.
  • Reservations will be amended to the new dates, keeping the same price and travel arrangements as previously confirmed. Your new balance due date will be on or before 1st June.
  • Should you be unable to attend the Le Mans 24hrs in September, you are entitled to a credit note or refund for the full amount already paid. This must be redeemed by 24th December 2021 and is valid for any events until 30th September 2022.
  • As ABTA members we would like to re-assure you that any monies held with us are financially protected.

Please note that at this time the Le Mans Classic will continue to go ahead in July as planned.

Thank you for your understanding in this matter and we will be in touch very soon.

FIA WEC

A Positive future for FIA WEC, IMSA & Le Mans?

What should we take away from the race weekend last week? That all-eyes are firmly on Super Sebring next month.

If the convergence announcement in Daytona was the appetiser, then Super Sebring’s LMDh technical regulations reveal will be the main course. The dessert in this metaphor will be any big announcements from OEMs that follow.

Where does IMSA-ACO convergence currently stand after Aston Martin announced that its Valykrie-based Le Mans Hypercar programme will be ‘paused’ you ask? It’s an interesting question, and one that is not easy to answer.

Le Mans Hypercar will soldier on. Toyota stressed to the media during the CoTA weekend that it is continuing as planned with its programme. Its new car is in the process of being built; the parts are being manufactured as we speak, with Toyota Gazoo Racing’s technical director Pascal Vasselon telling Travel Destinations that it remains on course to take its car testing twice before the FIA WEC official test at Silverstone ahead of the 2020/21 season opener.

The question mark surrounds the Japanese giant’s competition.

ByKolles is believed to be on course to bring its car to Silverstone to start the season (though any rumours surrounding the Austrian privateer team should be taken with a grain of salt). Glickenhaus on the other hand is now unlikely to make the races in the 2020 calendar year, and will instead debut its 007C at Kyalami in 2021.

Then there’s Peugeot. The Rebellion partnership is no more, but the French constructor is still certain to join the fun, the only question is which route it will take. Its programme is in an embryonic stage (set to debut in 2022), so senior management will be looking closely at the potential of the LMDh formula compared to Le Mans Hypercar, as it could still change to taking the route that IMSA proposes for its FIA WEC effort and still go racing without any delays.

FIA WEC

While none of this is hugely positive news, the powers at be at the FIA WEC are pressing on, disappointed, but not panicking about the state of next season. There are plenty of potential solutions, many of them being brainstormed now, to ensure that the top class isn’t a one-horse race. But much more of the creative and positive energy is being poured into the LMDh technical regulations.

Travel Destinations understands that there is still an abundance of manufacturers (some truly surprising) either ‘in the room’ when it comes to the IMSA Steering Committee gatherings, with multiple close to committing to the new formula. The issue here is that the cavalry is not set to arrive until the 2021/22 FIA WEC and IMSA 2022 seasons. However, that will not matter in the eyes of both governing bodies if the factories announce programmes in numbers this year.

There are two Steering Committee meetings remaining ahead of Sebring, one in Daytona this week, the other the week before Sebring, in Sebring. On the agenda is discussions surrounding the finishing touches on the announcement that will be made. The game of poker between the interested parties will begin to enter its final stages once these meetings are adjourned.

We don’t quite know what LMDh cars will look like, though we do know that this is meant to be an evolution of the successful DPi formula. The cars that hit the track will be prototype-based, with each constructor partnering up with an existing LMP2 chassis supplier. They will feature a spec hybrid system to reduce costs and (with more aerodynamic freedom) styling cues that IMSA and the FIA WEC hope will make the cars look more like road-going models than the current DPi challengers.

So much weighs on this set of regulations. With Aston gone (and while it says it has only ‘paused’ its effort, there is widespread belief in the paddock that it is highly unlikely that we’ll ever see the Valkyrie race), it now appears that every single car racing beyond this year in the WEC and IMSA’s top class will be prototype based. This is actually a good thing in some ways, as it will make it easier to balance the two formulas (LMDh and LMH). With nobody going down the ultra-expensive route of converting a road car into a race car, the budget levels should also be far more achievable for everyone involved.

Programmes, as ever, will not be cheap, but in the current automotive landscape, where programmes have never been harder to sign off, reducing costs necessary. The ability to take a pre-existing chassis, and race it with a bespoke (likely GT3-based) engine, with a spec hybrid system has real appeal while we wait for the next wave of technology (all-electric/hydrogen) to develop into something capable of being used in high-performance endurance racing.

FIA WEC

The window to do this is now, the opportunity to allow factories to build one car to race globally, at all the major IMSA and WEC sportscar races doesn’t come around often. So it must be grasped at. The FIA, ACO and IMSA know this.

““This week was a difficult week. We are working like crazy. When I’m thinking about Sebring, I have a weekly meeting with John (Doonan) on the phone, and Sebring will be amazing. I’m hopeful of a very good announcement of LMDh, that will be fantastic for the sport,” FIA WEC CEO Gerard Neveu told Travel Destinations, and select media at CoTA.

“We just learned a few days ago about the Aston Martin decision. We have working group sessions with Pierre (Fillon) and a few people in the ACO and FIA, so for sure you will have an exact definition of what will happen next year in the FIA WEC before we open the entry registration.
“At the same time, our first priority now is to deliver the convergence strategy at Sebring. How this announcement is received will give us an indication of how the championship will be in 2021, and will give us a chance to decide the format for 2020.

“The WEC will be here in 2020, no question and we will work on very small modifications and adaptations, the final configuration. You can understand that this discussion will involve the ACO, FIA, Toyota and a few others around the table. It’s too early to tell you something today. We are putting everything into Sebring.”

So now we wait. The plans are in motion to create something truly spectacular. We haven’t seen more than four factory teams racing in the top class of sportscar racing at a race like Le Mans for decades.
Right now it would be easy to look at the current state of sportscar racing and see only negativity. But things can change remarkably quickly. If the announcement next month is, as it is expected to be, well received by the OEMs interested, then announcements will come quickly. The prospect of something truly remarkable, the likes we haven’t seen in international sportscar racing since the Group C era, all of a sudden can become real.

Written by Stephen Kilbey
Photography by Dailysportscar

Speed Chills

Speed Chills joins the Travel Destinations family

Travel Destinations Ltd is pleased to confirm that the Speed Chills brand will be returning to Le Mans as part of the Travel Destinations family.

Speed Chills

Speed Chills was set up by Directors Neil Matthews & Chris Daynes to look after race fans at Le Mans, offering a comprehensive service of travel, tickets and camping offers. In recent months Neil’s work commitments away from the company, meant he was unable to devote the time he would like to Speed Chills & its customers.


Neil Matthews said “With Speed Chills, our aim was always to put the customer at the heart of everything we did and then to surround them with rock-solid administration and the best team of like-minded people we could muster to deliver a great experience. So, when the time came to pass on the baton, there was only one organisation to work with; the team at Travel Destinations. I am confident that our customers will be extremely well looked after and the spirit in which we developed the brand will be upheld.”


Richard Webb, Director at Travel Destinations, added “We have always kept good relations with Neil and the Speed Chills team, so we were delighted when Neil approached us to continue the Speed Chills brand. We see Speed Chills as a very good fit with Travel Destinations & we look forward to welcoming Speed Chills customers to Le Mans and our other events.”

Travel Destinations

Initially Speed Chills customers will notice a face-lift to the Speed Chills website in the coming days and then all Speed Chills registered subscribers will receive a further update in the next week.

Your questions answered:

  • We usually book for Le Mans now, when can we book for Le Mans 2020? We are open and on sale now for the Le Mans 24 Hours & the Le Mans Classic. Initial bookings are best made by telephone by calling 01707 329988. If you have already lodged a booking request with Speed Chills, that information has been passed to Travel Destinations and we will be in touch
  • Can I still contact Speed Chills?
    The Speed Chills brand will now be owned by Travel Destinations. Initially the Speed Chills phone number will be diverted to the Travel Destinations reservations team, who will be happy to assist.
  • I normally buy just my tickets through Speed Chills; can I still do this? Of course, you can still call to purchase your tickets, ultimately these will be processed via www.tickets-2-u.com, another member of the Travel Destinations family.
  • Will the Speed Chills private camping areas resume?
    Speed Chills last offered private camping at Le Mans in 2018. Travel Destinations were actually the first company to offer private camping and continue to offer private camping at Porsche Curves. We hope that Speed Chills customers will enjoy their new home there. Travel Destinations also offers glamping and our Flexotel Village cabins, which will also be available to Speed Chills customers.
  • Were Speed Chills in financial difficulties?
    No. Speed Chills were always successful, but Neil recognised that his time was being spent away from the business. By transferring the brand to Travel Destinations, Speed Chills customers will continue to receive a knowledgeable & experienced customer service.
  • In the past we travelled with Speed Chills to Daytona and hoped to return.
    This is also no problem; Travel Destinations already have 2 very similar offers available for the Daytona 24 Hours & the Daytona Classic. We also have offers for Sebring & Bathurst. All Travel Destinations offers are available now on www.traveldestinations.co.uk and will also be available to Speed Chills customers
  • We booked through Speed Chills because they were members of ABTA so we knew our money was safe.
    Travel Destinations are also ABTA bonded. We are also members of AITO and hold an ATOL license, so you can book with confidence through Travel Destinations.

For further information or to make a booking for Le Mans or any of the other Travel Destinations packages, please call Travel Destinations directly on +44 01707 329988.

www.traveldestinations.co.uk
www.lemansrace.com
www.speedchills.com
www.tickets-2-u.com