The 24 Hours of Le Mans is Sept. 19-20; Here’s What You Need to Know
“Things have changed,” says the caption on the “Official Teaser” video airing on the official FIA World Endurance Championship website, “but we are not worried. We are prepared to fight.”
That’s the website for the Automobile Club de l’Ouest-FIA World Endurance Championship, the sanctioning body for the 88th 24 Hours of Le Mans endurance race, which takes the green flag this Saturday, and the checkered flag twice-around-the-clock later on Sunday. While COVID-19 pushed the event from June to this weekend, there’s still a strong field of cars entered, but there are some absentees.
All 24 hours of the race will be broadcast on MotorTrend TV. The coverage begins at 7:30 a.m. ET on Sept. 19.
One of those absentees, oddly, featured briefly on his teaser won’t be coming—the Chevrolet Corvette Racing team passed on an international opportunity to showcase its new, and very fast C8.R, which has won in IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship competition four times already this season. The pandemic and a commitment to IMSA are the reasons why the team won’t make the trip for the first time in 20 years, said GM president Mark Reuss in response to an Autoweek story on the decision.
The main absentees: The usual six-figure crowd. Said FIA president Pierre Fillon: “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. 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 organizing 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.”
A “limited number” of journalists “will be accepted,” the FIA said.
Still, there’s plenty to watch this weekend, albeit with a dearth of American drivers. Fifty-nine cars are entered, down from 60 with a last-minute cancellation of a Ginetta entry in the Le Mans Prototype class, bringing the total down to five. (Mentioned in Ginetta’s press release as a reason for skipping the race: “New COVID cases in France are at their highest levels since the start of the pandemic…”)
There are 24 cars in the Le Mans Prototype 2 class, eight in the Le Mans GTE Pro class, and 22 in the Le Mans GTE Am class.
The LMP1 cars are the fastest, led by a pair of defending-champ Toyota Gazoo entries. The overall victory is expected to be decided between the two Toyota TS050 Hybrids, unless something goes horribly wrong. The other three LMP1 cars are powered by Gibson V-8 engines, and technically should be in a separate class. And there’s no Fernando Alonso this year, as the Toyota LMP1 entries this year are manned by Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and Jose Maria Lopez in the No. 7 and Sebastien Bueimi, Kasuki Nakajima and Brendon Hartley in the No. 8.
LMP2 is a mix of cars built to a very comparable specification, made by Oreca, Ligier, Aurus, Alpine and Dallara, though all but six of the entries are Orecas. Engines are all V-8 Gibsons, built by the small manufacturer in England.
LM GTE Pro cars are mostly factory-backed, with the field consisting of four Ferrari 488 GTE Evos, a pair of Porsche 911 RSR-19s, and a pair of Aston Martin Vantage AMRs. The two Corvette C8.Rs from the GTLM class in IMSA would usually be on the roster. The other IMSA GTLM players, two Team RLL BMWs, led by team principal Bobby Rahal, don’t race at Le Mans.
The largest class, LM GTE Am, which factors in heavily the participation of (usually deep-pocketed) amateurs, has two Aston Martins, and the rest of the class is a mix of Ferrari 488s and Porsche 911s.
The FIA and WEC, as well as IMSA, rate drivers based on age, experience and success into Bronze (pure amateur), Silver (amateur but experienced), Gold (a professional driver) and Platinum (the top rating), and the LM GTE Am class requires at least one Bronze driver, but two cars have all three-out-of-three Bronze drivers, and may best be passed at 3 a.m. in the rain with care.
Speaking of rain, some is expected this weekend—though the 8.5-mile track is so big it can be raining at one corner, dry at another—but the often-hot temperatures of the usual June running should be avoided. Also different: The June weekend has one of the shortest nights of the year, maximizing daytime running. This Saturday night is longer than the June Saturday.
As for the American drivers: Some of the familiar names are Juan Pablo Montoya (who is, of course, Colombian, a last-minute replacement for Pipo Derani in a Dragonspeed LMP2 entry), Cooper MacNeil (son of the owner of WeatherTech), Texas car dealer Ben Keating, veterans Mark Patterson and Oswaldo Negri, and IMSA regulars Jeff Segal and Matt McMurry. Chris Dyson was entered in the Ginetta that scratched from LMP1 this week.
24 HOURS OF LE MANS COMPLETE ENTRY LIST
Other Americans listed among the 177 drivers on this year’s entry list include Gustavo Menezes (LMP1 with Rebellion Racing), Dwight Merriman (IDEC Sport in LMP2), John Falb (Algarve Pro Racing, LMP2), William Owen (United Autosports, LMP2), Richard Heistand (JMW Motorsport, GTE AM), Maxwell Root (JMW Motorsport, GTE AM) and Dominique Bastien (Dempsey-Proton Racing, GTE AM).
It’s a rather small group of Americans in Le Mans this year.
Still, it’s Le Mans. And that makes it always worth your attention.
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