The 2021 FIA World Endurance Championship campaign hasn’t even begun and already excitement is building for the 2022 season. The past few months have been packed with positive sportscar racing news, with Toyota revealing its GR010 HYBRID Hypercar, Porsche, Audi and Acura all committing to the LMDh formula and Glickenhaus and Alpine revealing their Le Mans Hypercar class driver squads for the upcoming season.
After a steady stream of news from the aforementioned collection of OEMs almost weekly since last November, today it was Peugeot’s turn to make the headlines with more information concerning its 2022 Le Mans Hypercar effort.
The French marque, which is returning to the Le Mans 24 Hours after a decade-long hiatus, has revealed more information about the status of its new chassis and named a roster of seven drivers for the 2022 season.
Let’s take a look at the most important aspect first: the car itself. Peugeot has opted to create a Le Mans Hypercar because it allows a greater level of aerodynamic and philosophical freedom than IMSA’s forthcoming top class LMDh platform (which is eligible to compete with Le Mans Hypercar under a converged set of rules).
The car will be powered by a 2.6-litre bi-turbo engine, which will produce up to 680 horse power. The ICE will be assisted by a battery co-designed with partner company TOTAL, which will add an additional 200kw boost from harvested energy to the front wheels when traveling in a straight line, making the car (part-time) four-wheel-drive.
Jean Marc Finot, theDirector of Stellantis Motorsport, says the car will be “100% a Peugeot Sport car, with our DNA. The regulations give us a lot of freedom in the design. You will be able to recognise the hypercar as a true Peugeot.”
Behind the scenes, the design and manufacturing processes appears to be on schedule. Despite the clear potential for the sort of delays, hiccups and general issues that can hinder every race car’s inception, Peugeot believes it is on track to get the car out testing before the end of the year, therefore giving the team ample time to prepare for the 2022 season opener which is likely to be at Sebring in March.
“We are going to build the first engine in the next few weeks and hope to put it on the engine dyne before the end of April,” says Olivier Jansonnie, Peugeot Sport’s technical director. “We will then test the front electrical engine on our rig and put the front and rear together on our four-wheel-drive dyno in November.
“As for the aero development. The brand styling elements was the most challenging thing, as well as meeting the required performance levels to cater for the Balance of Performance regulations. We know what the car is going to look like. We have to go into the details and deliver the design and release everything for production at Summer time.”
Simulation work has also begun, and that’s where the input of Peugeot’s new driver crew comes in. After conducting a lengthy study, and whittling down a huge list of potential drivers from “50 to 12”, Peugeot has settled on a diverse driving crew featuring youth and experience, from sportscar racing, Formula One and beyond.
Perhaps the most high-profile signing is Kevin Magnussen, fresh from his debut in sportscar racing at the Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona last month (below) in the wake of his departure from Formula One.
Magnussen brings both credibility, marketability and heritage to the programme. He’s a rapid driver, with an extremely high ceiling, who has experience of operating at the pinnacle of motorsport for the likes of McLaren and Haas’ F1 teams.
But his surname is, and always will be, etched in sportscar racing lore. This is thanks to his ultra-successful father Jan Magnussen, who after a brief foray in Formula One himself in the late 90s, went on to forge a lengthy career as a Corvette Racing factory driver, picking up multiple Le Mans 24 Hours class wins, countless trophies from major sportscar races in the USA, and multiple titles along the way. Though he no longer races for Corvette full time, he is still very much involved in sportscar racing, and will take to the FIA WEC grid this year with Danish outfit High Class Racing in LMP2.
“I’m so happy for Kevin to have this opportunity with Peugeot, they have a great history at Le Mans,” Jan Magnussen told Travel Destinations. “He’s in for a fantastic time and he has a chance to reach his own personal goal of fighting for victory at Le Mans. He really enjoyed Daytona, it was fantastic for him, he was in the fight until the last 10 minutes. He’s super happy with where he is, an is loving his time with sportscars and Ganassi Racing so far.
“This on top of it too is fantastic. He’s quick to adapt, he’s done it his whole career, this will be no different. The Peugeot is going to be a sophisticated car, they’re going all in. I have no doubts he’ll be fast when the time comes!”
Wouldn’t it be something to see both father and son challenge for Le Mans different class wins in different in the same race next year?
As for the rest of the squad, young gun (and fellow Dane) Mikkel Jensen joins Magnussen, along with former Audi LMP1 ace (and Le Mans winner) Loic Duval, multiple Formula E champion Jean-Eric Vergne, LMP1 stalwart Gustavo Menezes, former F1 and DTM driver Paul Di Resta. Japanese Super GT specialist James Rossiter has also been named as a seventh member, though he will act as a test/reserve driver.
“This line-up is stacked, when I saw it I was shocked,” Menezes told Travel Destinations. “Peugeot is a giant in the automotive field, and it is making giant moves in motorsport with this line-up. We’re all eager to get behind the wheel later this year, it is going to be a busy fall and winter for all of us!”
This selection is a real statement of intent for Peugeot. Beating factory efforts from the likes of Toyota, Alpine (assuming it continues in LMH beyond 2021) and eventually Porsche and Audi, will be extremely tough. But the French brand knows what it takes to win Le Mans, and will hope that its work today is laying the foundations for a fourth overall victory at La Sarthe and an FIA World Championship title to boot.
The 2021 of the Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona is in the books and it was truly memorable edition, with much to reflect on from each one of the five classes.
In our first debrief column of the year we take a look at the headlines after a thrilling weekend of action to kick off the 2021 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season:
Acura’s gamble pays off
Just days after committing to IMSA long-term with an LMDh programme, Acura scored its most significant DPi victory after Wayne Taylor Racing’s stunning performance in the final hour, which saw Filipe Albuquerque cross the line just four seconds ahead of the Ally Cadillac after the challenge from the factory Ganassi DPi V.R faltered due to a late puncture.
There is so much to unpick here.
Wayne Taylor Racing has now won three Rolex 24s in a row, and with two manufacturers. The team is an absolute powerhouse in long endurance races, and appears to be simply unbeatable at Daytona.
“So much went into this,” said Ricky Taylor, (driver, and son of Wayne) who scored the second overall Rolex victory of his career yesterday. “It was definitely a test of trust and a testament to preparation and sticking to a plan. … We skipped all of the offseason testing because the guys needed time to do everything properly. They know how to win this race. I feel like we were all lucky to be a part of it.”
The victory comes after Acura cut ties with Penske, which ran the brand’s factory effort from the inception of the 05 in 2018 until the end of last season. It was an incredibly bold move to step away from an American team which has such a rich heritage, but it appears to have paid off already. While Penske was able to win an IMSA title last season with the ARX-05, and a handful of other races, the jewel in the crown of the IMSA season is the Rolex 24 and Penske just couldn’t quite better the dominant Cadillacs each January.
You know what they say? If you can’t beat them, join them…
Corvette’s GTLM dominance
Despite BMW’s success at Daytona the past two years in GTLM, Corvette scoring a dominant 1-2 didn’t feel like a surprising outcome this time around.
Corvette’s #3 C8.R led the #4 sister car home after leading virtually the entire race. It’s a significant victory for the C8.R, its first in a 24-hour race, which saw its new car come of age with a mature performance.
But the GTLM class didn’t quite feel right. With BMW scaling back its effort to just the endurance races this year, Porsche’s challenge coming from a single WeatherTech entry after withdrawing as a factory and Risi Competizione bringing a single Ferrari to ensure the class reached six cars, it felt like a throwback to the final days of GT1 when Corvette raced itself primarily, and a rotating cast of other outfits.
It’s a real shame to see GTLM fade like this, but sportscar racing is cyclical in nature. IMSA is having to adapt and transition to a new era; change is on the horizon for GT racing in IMSA which looks to revitalise it. And we’ll get to that later in this piece…
Era, Winward and Riley also emerge victorious
In the other categories there was plenty of action too. Era Motorsport scored an impressive LMP2 win up against an competitive field with its crayon (fan-designed) liveried ORECA 07 Gibson.
In GTD, Mercedes claimed its first Rolex 24 class win with Winward Racing, after a hammer-and-tongs battle for the lead in the closing hours with a Spirit of Race Ferrari. Behind, SunEnergy1 made it a 1-2 for the German marque, ending Lamborghini’s reign at the top in the Rolex 24 in emphatic style.
And in LMP3, it was Riley Motorsport that took the honours. LMP3’s Rolex 24 debut as a category was, as expected, somewhat of a race of attrition, with almost every car in the class suffering mechanical issues. It was however, notable that only one retired. As others in the class ran into trouble, the #74 Ligier JSP320 fielded by Riley took control and eased victory. An impressive run from Bill Riley’s merry band.
A look to the future
The opening IMSA race of the season at Daytona is traditionally filled with speculation and announcements regarding the future and this year was no different.
The major news concerns the GT ranks of IMSA. With the increase in popularity for the forthcoming LMDh formula (which will debut in 2023), and the the GTLM category becoming light on numbers, IMSA has decided to drop the GTE-based class and add a GTD pro category for 2022. This will allow factory and private teams alike to field all-pro line-ups and GT3 cars from a wealth of manufacturers.
This has ramifications for the current GTLM teams and manufacturers, particularly for Corvette Racing, which is only in Year 2 of its C8.R programme. Unfortunately the C8.R was not designed to be easily converted to GT3-spec like Aston Martin’s Vantage or Ferrari’s 488 GTE, meaning Chevrolet will need to carry out a major redesign of the car to carry on competing with the C8.R in IMSA after this season is over.
The downsides are that this will bring unexpected cost to the programme, and prevent it competing at the Le Mans 24 Hours with the car it races in IMSA from next year (as GT3 cars are ineligible to race at La Sarthe currently). However, there is a major upside and that is in its potential competition. GT3 is still very much a healthy formula, and factories and privateer teams alike are likely to see the chance to race with an all-pro line-up for the full IMSA season with existing cars, at a budget significantly lower than in GTLM, as a tantalising prospect.
Beyond the GT news, there’s been plenty of speculation surrounding LMDh, as you would expect. With Audi, Porsche and Acura all signed up, the focus has shifted to the other marques that appear poised to join the top class in two years time. Travel Destinations understands that Ford, BMW, McLaren, Mazda, Hyundai and an un-disclosed GM brand are all expected to make a decision either way (at the very least internally) very soon.
The news yesterday that Acura is set to continue its presence at the top of IMSA with an LMDh programme from 2023 onwards is extremely important for the future of sportscar racing in North America. It now means that along with Audi and Porsche, three manufacturers are signed up for the new ruleset, giving credibility to not only the LMDh platform, but the ACO and IMSA’s top class convergences plans too.
The short of it is, that in 2023 we are due to see Audi, Porsche and Acura racing with the LMDh platform and Peugeot, Toyota and Glickenhaus racing Le Mans Hypercars, with the potential for all six to come together for the Le Mans 24 Hours and the big IMSA races at Sebring and Daytona. That’s without any further announcements from other interested manufacturers such as Mazda, McLaren and Ferrari that are all known to be taking a close look.
This commitment to LMDh from 2023 onwards makes perfect sense for Acura. It has a long history of competing in sportscar racing in North America, through the IMSA GTP, American Le Mans Series and IMSA Weathertech eras. It has always seen value in competing for victories in big races at circuits across its core market in the USA against brands it views as direct competitors.
Details are scarce at the moment, though one would expect Acura will pour a lot of resources into its LMDh programme, especially if it hopes to keep its two new customer teams – Wayne Taylor Racing and Meyer Shank Racing – onboard beyond the DPi era.
There are two big questions in the immediacy of this announcement:
The first concerns the programme overall. In simple terms, what will it look like? At present we don’t whether or not it will race alongside its customers as a full factory team, focus purely on creating a customer base and boosting it with technical and financial support, or centre its entire effort exclusively around one private team as it did with Penske?
The second concerns its chassis partner, specifically: will it stick with ORECA? While Acura hasn’t quite found the level of success it hoped for with its DPi to this point with Penske (zero wins at Daytona the key omission from its list of accolades in recent years), continuing this relationship appears on the face of it to be the obvious choice. Why? Because continuity is important, and ORECA’s expertise in LMP2 chassis development is incredibly valuable.
In the longer term this would make sense too, especially if it begins to look at taking a seat at the table for the next generation of sustainable motorsport beyond the (cost effective) mild-hybrid solution that LMDh presents in the short to medium term.
Honda (which Acura is the luxury division of) recently announced that it will be withdrawing from Formula 1 as an engine supplier after 2021, and stated that it is looking at developing ‘zero emission technologies’. Now this is pure speculation, but, stars have seemingly aligned here. With ORECA (its current DPi partner) and Red Bull (its Formula 1 partner) now involved in developing a chassis for the forthcoming Le Mans Hydrogen category, surely Honda would, at the very least, consider being a part of the ACO’s ambitious future vision from 2024 onwards?
That leads us to Le Mans. Will Acura compete at Le Mans with its LMDh chassis? This is not a given, as the entire programme is funded from North America. However, while Le Mans 24 Hours does not take place in a target market for Acura, it does for Honda.
The solution to this problem is simple: swap the badges. Its presence in the Intercontinental GT Challenge provides an interesting case study, as the factory effort from Honda sees the NSX GT3 compete badged as a Honda in Belgium, Australia, South Africa and Japan, and an Acura in the USA. This also occurred just over a decade ago, when Highcroft Racing came over from the American Le Mans Series to race at the 24 Hours running its LMP2 Acura badged as a HPD alongside Strakka Racing.
The precedent is already there. You would like to think that the proposition of taking its LMDh to Le Mans for a one off with a chance of winning overall will be too good to pass up? Convergence between IMSA and ACO regulations exists to cater for this very scenario after all…
Besides, even if Acura as a factory decides it doesn’t want to take cars to Le Mans, there’s nothing to stop a customer team such as Wayne Taylor Racing or Meyer Shank Racing making the trip across the Atlantic on its own.
LMDh is coming though folks, and it looks to be a smash hit, featuring multiple major manufacturers. Patience is paying off for IMSA President John Doonan and his team behind the scenes, who have worked tirelessly since the change of the guard last year to secure the championship’s future.
“Given the commitments already announced, and the number of auto manufacturers that continue to study LMDh as a marketing and technology platform, there is a tremendous amount of momentum for the future of our sport,” Doonan pointed out in the wake of Acura’s announcement.
“Our loyal fans worldwide are in for a real treat.”
Given the circumstances, it’s remarkable to see such a high number of entrants, with plenty of teams new and old ready to do battle over the course of the year to fight for world titles and of course, a win at the Le Mans 24 Hours.
There are plenty of headlines up and down the list, so the place to start is at the top in the new Le Mans Hypercar category.
Feedback has been promising from engineers and drivers alike thus far, with plenty of confidence that it can score wins right away.
To take another Le Mans win and a WEC title, it will have to overcome challenges from Alpine’s factory team (racing with a grandfathered Rebellion R-13 LMP1 car renamed the A480) and Glickenhaus’ pair of non-hybrid 007 LMHs.
Let’s talk Alpine first. The French automotive marque, in parallel to this Le Mans Hypercar effort, is taking over from Renault in Formula One, so it’s a big deal that it has decided to continue (and step up) in the WEC. This is incredibly ambitious for a small, boutique brand that has yet to truly establish a presence in the modern motoring space. But, two major motorsport programmes will go a long way in marketing its road car and performance brand role for Renault and building a customer base in the long run.
The A480 Alpine brings to the WEC is a proven race-winner, a car that has been developed over the past two years by Rebellion and its partner ORECA. It’s not a perfect prototype, it isn’t bullet proof mechanically and in certain conditions it can be a handful for even the most seasoned driver. But it is fast, and it has potential to mature further with Alpine coming on board.
With both WEC titles and Le Mans class wins to its name in LMP2 in recent years, Alpine knows what it is doing in big races. For that reason, it should be considered a serious challenger for Toyota, especially in the early part of the season if the GR010 fails to hit the ground running and the Balance of Performance system works as planned.
As for Glickenhaus, its commitment to bring a pair of Pipo-powered 007s to the WEC this year is really encouraging. The development of the car is progressing, albeit at a slower pace than Toyota’s GR010 which has already been put through its paces on track ahead of the season.
Glickenhaus hasn’t been able to try out its car yet, and is almost certainly going to skip the opening round of the season at Sebring, but Jim Glickenhaus has a reputation of delivering on promises. We will have to wait a little while longer to see just what the 007 can do on track, but there’s no reason to believe it cannot compete if the car proves to be reliable.
The seriousness of this programme is apparent when looking at the first two drivers listed for 2021 on the entry: Rebellion refugee Gustavo Menezes and Indy Car star Ryan Briscoe. Both are capable and bring a wealth of experience to this programme.
For all the positivity in Le Mans Hypercar this year, there is one slight disappointment, and that is the ByKolles effort not featuring on the list. The Austrian team, which opened up on plans to build road cars alongside its race car at the end of last year, is nowhere to be seen at this point. Will it show up later in the season? We will have to wait and see…
In the other classes, while there are no new cars to examine, there are plenty of big storylines to follow in LMP2 and the two GTE classes.
LMP2 features 11-cars, a real coup for the WEC which has attracted some of the world’s best teams and drivers (five of which have Formula One starts to their name). Among the entries are some new faces, Richard Mille Racing’s all-female crew, Real Team Racing and plucky Polish squad Inter Europol Competition (below) stepping up from the ELMS, to race against experienced WEC teams High Class Racing, DragonSpeed, United Autosports, JOTA and Racing Team Nederland.
The pleasant surprises here are the additions of Asian Le Mans stalwart ARC Bratislava with a Ligier chassis and Audi customer team WRT with an ORECA.
WRT’s foray into the WEC is most interesting, as its return to prototype racing (after a one off ELMS appearance in 2016 at Spa) comes in the build up to Audi’s return to top-line sportscars with an LMDh programme. Could this be a toe-in-the-water operation for WRT that leads to a factory or customer LMDh effort down the line?
GTE Am, like LMP2, is big in numbers and quality. The category features 13 cars, with Ferrari, Porsche and Aston Martin all represented. The entire full-season field from last season returns, with the addition of another all-female crew from Ferrari team Iron Lynx and Japanese fan favourite D’Station Racing that brings an a third Vantage to the party for Aston Martin.
The only major omission in the GTE ranks is the full-fat GTE Pro factory effort from Aston Martin Racing. AMR has cut back its sportscar effort this year as it shifts focus to Formula One. It is represented with Paul Dalla Lana’s No. 98 Vantage in Am, but that is privately funded by Dalla Lana himself. Aston Martin’s pair in Pro will be sorely missed after their exceptional Le Mans and WEC title wins last term. We can only hope that like Audi, Aston Martin’s WEC hiatus as a factory doesn’t last long…
For now though, we’ll have to savour what promises to be a hotly contested battle in GTE Pro between Ferrari and Porsche, with the potential for Corvette to dip in and out throughout the season.
Photo credits: Toyota, Inter Europol, WRT, Glickenhaus
With the 2019/20 FIA WEC season over and the 2021 campaign fast approaching, there is so much to digest and look ahead to.
After what has been an extraordinary second half to the year for motorsport in terms of schedule congestion, it has been so hard to keep up with all the movements within the major sportscar championships. 2021 though, should look a lot more like a traditional motorsport season. And in the case of the FIA WEC, it returns to a standard calendar that doesn’t cross over two calendar years.
In his latest Debrief column Stephen Kilbey takes a look back at the season finale in Bahrain, and all the news you need to know about from the world of ACO sportscar racing:
Before looking ahead to next season and beyond, congratulations are in order for the prize-winning teams.
The 2018/19 FIA WEC season was supposed to be a rare, extended campaign, to see the championship through a transitional period. The 2019/20 season however, would end up running longer than normal, beginning at Silverstone in September last year, and ending in Bahrain earlier this month.
What a ride it was, with thrills, spills, and even a set of postponed and cancelled races thrown into the mix. But the organisers did a superb job of navigating the challenges 2020 created and finished the season in style at Bahrain.
For Toyota, it was the No. 7 crew of Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and Jose Maria Lopez that took the LMP1 honours over their teammates in the No. 8 TS050 HYBRID with a faultless performance. Winning a world title represented somewhat of a consolation prize after years of heartbreak in the title race of the FIA WEC and at Le Mans for the trio in the No. 7.
It’s just a shame that LMP1’s final race wasn’t a classic, instead it was a head-to-head clash between two cars from the same team, with no competition from other factories or privateers. But we will get to that a bit later in this piece.
In the other classes the titles were settled too. The No. 95 Aston Martin duo of Nicki Thiim and Marco Sorensen winning the GTE Pro title, capping off an incredible season for Aston Martin Racing which lest we forget saw it win Le Mans too with its No. 97 Vantage.
A fourth place finish in or United Autosports’ No. 22 ORECA was enough to secure the Richard Dean’s team the LMP2 title, and in GTE Am, Francois Perrodo and Manu Collard’s completed a remarkable comeback to the category with a second title alongside Nicklas Nielsen in AF Corse’s No. 83 Ferrari 488 GTE EVO.
It was not a classic, it wasn’t particularly entertaining either, but the LMP1 race in Bahrain was nonetheless memorable because it was the final time the category will feature in the FIA WEC before the new Le Mans Hypercar class debuts next season.
LMP1 should not be remembered for the trials and tribulations it has faced since Audi and later Porsche withdrew, leaving Toyota to race against privateers in 2018, 19 and 20. Instead it should be remembered for the phenomenal racing it produced in the glory years of the LMP1 Hybrid era.
LMP1 of course dates back to the turn of the century, before even the diesel-powered prototypes were introduced by Audi and Peugeot, but it was the 2014-16 period where it shone and became arguably the most entertaining category of racing worldwide. When Audi, Porsche and Toyota did battle in the FIA WEC and of course Le Mans, with cars on the bleeding-edge of technology, it was simply unmissable.
There were, of course, low(er) moments prior to Toyota’s dominance in recent years: Nissan’s ill-conceived GT-R LM NISMO in 2015 and Peugeot pulling the plug on its 908 programme days before the inaugural FIA WEC race in 2012 spring to mind. But as a whole, LMP1 cars were both spectacular to watch trackside, a real showcase of efficiency and future-thinking technology.
The hybrid-era, which began in 2012, was the best example of this. In the early days just running on electric-power running down the pit lane once and hour was considered impressive. How things have changed…
In recent years, maintaining record-breaking pace while improving lap-by-lap fuel efficiency year-on-year has become the norm. Consider this: Toyota’s 2019 TS050 HYBRID completed the Le Mans 24 hours using 300kg less fuel and travelled more than 500km further than the TS030 HYBRID it raced with in 2013. That, put simply, is an astonishing achievement.
Toyota Ploughs Ahead
At Toyota Gazoo Racing’s Cologne headquarters the team behind-the-scenes have had little time to reflect on the progress of the past eight years, because it has been full speed ahead for them with the new Hypercar programme.
The new car (pictured above), which will make its global debut at Sebring in March is already out testing and the feedback thus far has been very encouraging.
Travel Destinations understands via a team source that the new car, at its first true test at Paul Ricard, ran incredibly reliably. The drivers are also noticeably pleased that the lift-and-coast fuel-saving measures required to steer the previous LMP1 Hybrids won’t be necessary going forward.
We won’t know what the new Toyota can do in terms of performance for a while yet, but the fact that it has been reliable from the off is a great early sign.
The new Le Mans Hypercars are expected to be significantly slower than the outgoing LMP1 breed, but that is unlikely to detract from the race action. In fact it is more likely to be a blessing in disguise, as the steep developmental curve seen in years past from the LMP1 cars was a real turn off for new manufacturers coming in with a brand new car. Less sophisticated machinery, with lower budgets, could go a long way in building a grid over the coming years.
The hard work continues for Toyota ahead of the new season. We expect to hear more in January about the new car and the brand’s WEC programme as a whole.
Fields of Dreams
While we won’t see a full entry list for either the 2021 FIA WEC or the ELMS (European Le Mans Series) seasons this side of the new year, the grids are forming and looking strong.
Travel Destinations expects the grids for both championships to be big, with the FIA WEC field for the shorter 2021 season at either maximum capacity or close to it.
This is because privateer interest in both will be strong once again, with the team owners and drivers as motivated as ever to go racing, even during these challenging times. There are no major rule changes or regulation shifts for privateer teams either, meaning very few will need to invest in brand new cars for 2021 to compete at a high level.
The only real uncertainty surrounds the GTE Pro class in the WEC. What will it look like? Will all three factories: Aston Martin, Porsche and Ferrari return? Or will the field take a hit, like in IMSA, where Porsche has decided to walk away from GTLM, leaving just Corvette and BMW to do battle?
Whatever the factories decide, GTE as a pro/am platform for customer teams is set to remain popular next year, with the highlight being a batch of brand new Porsche 911 RSR 19s due to enter circulation for their first eligible season in GTE Am of the WEC and the GTE class of the ELMS.
The Test Day Returns!
The Le Mans 24 Hours Test Day is set to return in 2021, and with a new date too.
After being cancelled for this year’s postponed edition of the great French race the Test Day in 2021 will take place on the Sunday before race week, a week later than usual, as part of a refined timetable for the event.
This means anyone planning to head to Le Mans next year with Travel Destinations a week before the race can expect to see more track action than ever, with the Test Day kicking off a new-look, condensed schedule!
Guess who’s back?
Perhaps the most significant news to emerge since the Le Mans 24 Hours back in September came today, courtesy of Audi Sport. That’s right, it is set to make a return to top-line sportscar racing with an LMDh programme.
The shock confirmation of Audi’s future plans came as part of a shakeup at the top of Audi Sport, which sees Dieter Gass leave his post as Director and replaced by Julius Seebach, the current Managing Director of Audi Sport.
It didn’t take long for big news to follow Seebach’s appointment, as in the immediate aftermath he confirmed that the German brand will leave Formula E after next season to focus on an all-electric Dakar Rally programme and LMDh, which will enable it to return to Le Mans and compete stateside in IMSA.
“We are intensively preparing to enter the new sports prototype category LMDh with its highlight races, the Daytona 24 Hours and Le Mans 24 Hours,” Seebach said. “The most important message for our fans is that motorsport will continue to play an important role at Audi.”
Details of Audi’s programme are (unsurprisingly) scarce at the moment, but this is a momentous piece of news, the first LMDh programme announced by an OEM. The key questions are: When will Audi’s LMDh car debut? (the LMDh regulations are expected to be delayed by a year and debut in 2023) And where will it race? (It has the choice to compete in the FIA WEC alongside the Le Mans Hypercars, in IMSA with other LMDh manufacturers, or both)
Fancy being trackside for the Le Mans 24 Hours in 2021? Call our offices and book now on 01707 329988! We would also like to remind customers that all packages are financially protected by our ‘Refund Gaurantee’. So you can book with confidence…
We will begin our rollout of Formula 1 tours with three major European races from next year’s 23-race calendar: the Austrian, Belgian and Dutch Grands Prix, before adding more events to our offering in the coming months.
All three races will include multiple travel, accommodation and ticketing options to suit everyone wishing to be trackside for the world’s premier motorsport championship next season.
“We are so excited to add Formula 1 to our growing list of motorsport offerings for customers in 2021,” said Andrew Melley, the Director of Travel Destinations. “With so much pent up demand for travelling, and Formula 1 visiting so many incredible circuits around the world, it makes sense for us to expand our offering to give our customers even more options for future holidays.
“We look forward to welcoming fans to some of the most well-attended and exciting motor races in the world from 2021 onwards.”
Packages to the Austrian, Belgian and Dutch Grands Prix are on sale now.
To make a booking or register your interest for one of the other races on the calendar, call Travel Destinations’ office on 01707 329988 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
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The 2020 IMSA season came to a close last weekend at Sebring and there is so much to talk about. With the start of the 2021 season fast approaching, the cars will be hitting the track at Daytona for the Rolex 24 Hours before we know it.
With that in mind, and so much news and speculation to digest from the past few months, it’s a good time to look back on an extraordinary year in 2020. The challenge of completing a season amid new rules and restrictions was mammoth and we should not forget the effort of IMSA’s team behind the scenes to ensure that the fans, teams and drivers could get their racing fix. A round of applause is in order for IMSA President John Doonan and his team.
It’s also time to look look ahead to what promises to be another memorable season in 2021. The off-season will be historically short, with under two months for the teams and drivers until the start of the new campaign in Daytona. But what represents a logistical challenge for the teams, which are frantically preparing for the next season, is a reason for excitement and optimism for fans. The grid is building and the points tables have been reset. Roll on Rolex!
At this point Mazda winning a postponed edition of the 12 Hours of Sebring in November should come as no surprise. If there’s one thing that 2020 has taught us, it’s to expect the unexpected, and even just a year ago, the prospect of a Mazda DPi winning the Sebring 12 Hours would have been considered an outside bet.
In practice, the Japanese marque’s triumph at the Sebring 12 Hour last weekend was fitting really, a wild end to a wild year. Mazda has of course, been far more of a challenger in the DPi ranks since its maiden win last summer at Watkins Glen, but success at the headline IMSA endurance races in Florida had always eluded it until now.
It was by no means a dominant win from Harry Tincknell, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Jonathan Bomarito, but it was a deserving one. Up front in the top class the Sebring 12 Hours this year was a titanic tussle, a race that no team could get control of and a another reminder that the DPi formula seems always find a way to produce truly memorable endurance races.
Of the eight entrants in the DPi class, all of them led, and the winning trio in the No. 55 was indeed the last to claim the top spot when the sister No. 77 Mazda suffered a puncture and caused a late caution period in the final hour. It is often said that Sebring ‘choses its winners’, and this year that certainly seemed to be the case. Despite the late drama, in the 68th running of the 12 Hours, it chose Mazda instead of Cadillac or Acura.
Porsche’s perfect send off
In the GTLM category Porsche GT Team grabbed the headlines before and after the race in Sebring. Before the event it revealed its striking patriotic ‘thank you’ liveries to mark the end of its tenure in the class as a factory, then on Saturday claimed a 1-2 finish in the race proper – remarkably, on the same day its sister factory team in the FIA WEC run by Manthey claimed a 1-2 finish in GTE Pro in the Bahrain season finale.
The CORE autosport-run crew, in its final outing with the 911 RSR, delivered the goods and produced a very ‘Porsche-like’ performance to overcome challenges from BMW Team RLL and Corvette Racing (the 2020 IMSA GTLM Manufacturers’ Champion). It was a fitting sign-off after a hugely successful run in IMSA’s premier GT class, which saw it claim seven titles in seven years, 21 race wins and 56 podiums.
“I’m incredibly proud of the team. This weekend wasn’t easy for us,” said Steffen Höllwarth, Porsche’s Head of IMSA Operations. “Because of the upcoming farewell, the mood was different than usual, but everyone coped just fine. We weren’t the fastest in the field, but we were the ones who made the least mistakes – and that’s how things like this happen. Suddenly you find yourself at the front. After three straight wins at Sebring, I’d say that this track has become our turf.
“Now it’s time to celebrate!”
Then there were two…
So where does Porsche’s departure leave GTLM, and for that matter, IMSA, going forward?
Porsche will not be present as a factory in IMSA next season, that’s a certainty. However, looking further ahead there is still a good chance that it will return as an LMDh manufacturer once the new regulations debut in either 2022 or 2023. It is currently undergoing a formal evaluation internally, and is expected to make a decision in the coming weeks. Whether or not it would commit to LMDh and compete in IMSA or the FIA WEC (as part of the planned top-class convergence) or both is also a mystery at this point.
As for GTLM as a platform, well it’s not in rude health anymore.
With Porsche gone just BMW and Corvette are left as factories in the GTLM category for next year. Discussions are ongoing behind the scenes to fill the Porsche-shaped hole in the grid for next season, with BNW Motorsport boss Jens Marquardt telling the media back in September that IMSA was doing its best to encourage other manufacturers to join the class. But it will not be easy to build a larger field, especially for the full season.
This is mainly because the pool of potential additions is shallow. Currently Aston Martin and Ferrari (AF Corse) are the only legitimate prospects for a factory effort in IMSA, but neither are likely to mount the challenge. Competing in IMSA is extremely expensive, it’s a long season with four major endurance races and high manufacturer fees that must be paid to enter. Add to that their current commitments to the WEC and on the face of it at least, it appears unlikely that either brand will commit to a full programme.
What’s more likely, is a factory-supported effort from a Ferrari, Porsche or Aston Martin customer team stepping up. Could we see fan favourite Risi Competitzione commit to more races? How about a new programme from Proton Competition, which in the early days of the FIA WEC was Porsche’s only GTE Pro presence?
It will be fascinating to see what happens, as for 2021 at least there will no major changes to the GT class structure to allow GTD cars to compete on a level playing field with GTLMs. Can IMSA President John Doonan pull something off? Let’s hope so.
A new-look for DPi
Maybe the best news du jour is the outlook for DPi next year. With LMDh fast approaching, and much speculation focused on the brands and teams that will commit to that, it’s easy to forget that the DPi era is not yet over. 2021 is certainly going to be a memorable year, as the category has been shaken up ahead of next season.
The biggest change is the departure of Penske from Acura’s DPi effort, the legendary US team rode off into the sunset on a high at Sebring, securing the WeatherTech Championship.
But the title success comes after three somewhat disappointing campaigns with the Acura DPi, in which it failed to win the Rolex 24 or Sebring 12 Hours – the most important and historically significant races on the calendar. This came as a surprise to those expecting Penske to dominate the class, with its ORECA-based chassis. Nevertheless Penske did manage to win plenty of races and add spice to the DPi category. Will Penske return to IMSA soon with new manufacturer? There are rumblings with LMDh around the corner.
Anyway, Acuras will still be on the grid next year, with Michael Shank Racing returning to the top class, and Wayne Taylor Racing moving over from Cadillac’s stable.
WTR’s move, in turn, meant a space needed to be filled in the GM ranks alongside Action Express and JDC Miller’s programmes. And that will be taken up by the return of Ganassi, which achieved the highest of highs in IMSA and the FIA WEC between 2016 and 2019 with the Ford GT in GTLM and GTE Pro respectively. Chip Ganassi does nothing by half measures, so armed with the best DPi chassis of the bunch – the Cadillac DPi V.R, the sky is the limit here. Make no mistake, this is a huge addition to IMSA’s top class.
It also begs the question: what does the future hold for the Ganassi-Cadillac tie up? Is an LMDh programme in the works? Cadillac has been involved in shaping the new regulations, though the move to a mild-hybrid solution was thought to be a sticking point for the brand.
What about Mazda for 2021? Unfortunately it has decided to reduce its effort to a single car. This is a real shame as the programme has truly hit its stride over the past year, and looked capable of winning big races and titles going forward. Prior to March there was even a buzz surrounding a third Mazda for 2021, run by a customer team, but that hasn’t come to fruition. What we don’t know yet though, is whether freeing up resource is all part of a strategy to hit the ground running with a future LMDh effort.
The wait for the first LMDh programme to get the green light continues…
Images courtesy of Corvette Racing, Acura, Mazda and Porsche
You can also register your interest to attend the 6 Hours at The Glen and Petit Le Mans later in the year too. Call our office on 01707 329988 or email email@example.com to make a reservation or find our more.
Last weekend’s Spa 24 Hours is in the books, with Rowe Racing delivering a second straight win at the event for Porsche in an Autumnal edition of GT racing’s biggest endurance race.
What can we take away from the week in Spa? Travel Destinations’ Stephen Kilbey unpicks the best bits…
Rowe, Rowe, Rowe Your Porsche
This certainly wasn’t the first time the Spa 24 Hours has been run in wet and windy conditions, and it won’t be the last…
It was a real race of attrition on this occasion, with contenders hitting trouble all the way to the flag. We’ll get onto some of that later, for now it’s time to reflect on the winning Porsche’s run.
Nick Tandy was simply superb in the closing stages, powering Rowe Racing’s No. 98 Porsche 911 GT3 R to the win, snatching the victory from the pair of Audis from Attempto and Sainteloc that appeared to be in control as the race began to wind down.
With the rain increasing and 90 minutes to go, Tandy began to make his move, cruising past Alessandro Pier Guidi’s No. 51 AF Corse Ferrari for third before taking chunks of time from the Audis ahead.
A Full-Course Caution moments later would prove aptly timed, as it bunched up the field when the safety car made an appearence. The Audis dived in to change tyres while the crew behind the scenes at Rowe gambled and double-stinted the No. 98’s Pirellis, allowing Tandy take the lead.
With the final hour in progress the chase was on, and Tandy, who lest we forget has wins with Porsche at Le Mans, Sebring, the Rolex 24 and Petit Le Mans under his belt, would be pushed to the limit. With the conditions treacherous, his tyre performance dropping off and the added stress caused by his gearbox failing due to a ‘lack of transmission oil’, it would take something special to claim the victory. With eight cars still on the lead lap by that point, one mistake could have been the difference between a famous win and a disappointing finish outside the top five.
Luckily for Tandy, the Attempto Audi of Patrick Niederhauser, which was reeling him in, was unable to make a move for the lead in the final moments. In a wild twist of fate, the gearbox issue that caused Tandy’s lead to shrink to just a couple of seconds by the final few laps prevented the Audi from getting past, as the 911 was laying down oil, making it near-impossible for Niederhauser to find the traction required to get through. It meant that the Audi would follow the coasting-Tandy home, just over two seconds off.
This was a dramatic crescendo to the race, which made the victory even more sweet for Tandy and his teammates Earl Bamber and (hometown hero) Laurens Vanthoor, who had battled hard throughout. As is often the case with the Spa 24 Hours, it was a 20-hour battle for survival that consisted of jabs rather than knockout-blows being traded between the frontrunners, with a four-hour no holds barred sprint at the end.
“I’ll never forget this finale,” said Tandy after the race. “Our victory was hanging by a thread when loud noises suddenly started coming from the rear of the vehicle in the penultimate lap. It almost sounded as if small bombs were exploding. I got a fright and at the same time, the rear axle was sliding around on a trail of oil.
“What I didn’t realise was that the oil was coming from our car. Unfortunately for our competitors, we coated the track with oil. We can only apologise for that, but it kind of saved us! I had to drive the last lap and a half without pushing, and I had to coast through the corners in order not to cause more damage. I still can’t quite believe that the Porsche 911 GT3 R got us over the finish line. The relief and joy are indescribable.”
It must be noted too that Rowe Racing’s win was particularly notable because it comes just a month after it scored a huge win at the Nurburgring 24 Hours, but with BMW, not Porsche!
In an age of bullet-proof reliability in sportscar racing, it’s become a rarity to see a huge list of DNFs on a 24 hour race result sheet, especially in GT3-only races such as Spa where the entire field are competing with proven machinery, all running to similar lap times.
But Spa is a punishing circuit, especially when the weather takes a turn for the worst like it did over the weekend. There were plenty of thrills and spills up and down the order, with 18 of the 56 cars that took the start retiring.
This list included some of the contenders for the outright win, with FFF Racing’s No. 63 Lamborghini perhaps the most significant of the bunch, after Dennis Lind crashed at Raidillon during the morning.
Audi stalwart WRT’s challenge was ruined too, though by mechanical woes, the pole-sitting AKKA ASP Mercedes suffered a front-left tyre failure, and Walkenhorst’s BMW retired overnight after DTM ace Martin Tomczyk went into the barriers hard.
However, the most dramatic incident of the weekend didn’t come during the race, or even during a session for the Spa 24 runners. Instead, a huge incident for Raul Guzman on Saturday morning in the Lamborghini Super Trofeo delayed the start of the 24 and produced the biggest talking point of the meeting.
The incident saw him sent flying over the fencing and Armco on drivers’ left on the run down to Eau Rouge, after running three-wide with Jonathan Cecetto and Kevin Gilardoni (as seen in the video above). Thankfully the Mexican was ok and escaped with minor injuries. It’s a testament to the safety of modern GT machinery….
2021 Takes Shape for SRO
SRO held is annual ‘state of the union’ press conference ahead of the Spa 24 Hours, with Stephane Ratel outlining the plans his huge swathe of GT championships.
Most of the calendars were revealed as part of the conference, the headline being the Intercontinental GT Challenge schedule for ’21 being reduced to four races, with the Spa 24 Hours next year now the opening round following the cancellation of the Bathurst 12 Hour.
The emphasis this year was on a renewed focus to attract and cater for amateur drivers and private teams to all of SRO’s championships from World Challenge, all the way down to its regional series.
This includes the introduction of a new GT Rebellion championship for Bronze drivers, a GT3 Anniversary festival at Monza which will include the chance for some of the older GT3 cars in circulation to race at Monza. The GT2 platform will also be rebooted with a new European Series with the same calendar as the GT Rebellion series which will include a races at Spa on race week for the Spa 24 Hours.
At times like this, organisers cannot, and should not, rely too much on factory money. SRO’s philosophy is smart. It builds grids in GT racing from the bottom up; Pro teams with factory money are an added bonus which headline events, but the foundations long-term have been laid with privateer outfits. That is why SRO has been able to attract huge fields of cars in its various championships around the world and it is why we should remain confident it can navigate these challenging times successfully.
The Future of Spa
As for Spa itself, the future looks bright too.
A 10-year redevelopment project was announced earlier this month, which includes a huge cash injection which will see brand new grandstands constructed around the pits and Eau-Rouge/Raidillon as part of the drive to bring international bike racing back to the circuit.
These new stands will double the number of seats for spectators at the circuit and increase hospitality areas. For fans this is welcome news, as the circuit facilities have needed updating for a while now. The new Raidillon stand with 4,500 seats sounds particularly impressive, with views from La Source all the way through to the start of the Kemmel Straight.
Once completed it should make spectating at the world-famous Ardennes circuit even more incredible….
Want to make the trip to Spa next year for the 24 Hours? We are already on sale for 2021! Give our office a call today to get yourself booked by calling 01707 32 99 88.
The FIA WEC’s Le Mans Hypercar category is beginning to shape up nicely. With Toyota, Alpine, Glickenhaus, Peugeot and ByKolles all on board, we now await the first programme confirmations for IMSA’s LMDh platform which forms the other half of the planned convergence of the top classes from IMSA and the FIA WEC.
But which OEM will make the first leap of faith and sign off a programme? Over the past few weeks the picture is becoming ever so slightly clearer, as Travel Destinations’ Stephen Kilbey writes…
Push back or push on?
‘A dozen’ marques are believed to all still be involved in the technical working group for the new platform, which will see manufacturers put their own stamp on hybrid-powered next-gen LMP2 chassis and compete in either IMSA, the FIA WEC or both.
Two pertinent questions arose from the latest public update which occurred during the ACO’s annual Press Conference at the Le Mans 24 Hours earlier this month: 1. When will the LMDh formula make its debut? And 2. who will bite the bullet and be first to commit?
Originally LMDh was intended to debut in 2022, but time is ticking and it is becoming clear that a debut for these new cars at the 2022 Rolex 24 Hours in January is an unrealistic target. While reports from RACER.com suggest that the entire time frame has changed, with the debut now expected to be 2023, Pierre Fillon, the President of the ACO, has since said that no firm decision had been made on whether or not we’ll see them race “before or after Le Mans 2022”.
Currently, as the manufacturers continue to study and evaluate future programmes, the process is becoming increasingly difficult with no firm date for the category’s introduction.
It would be a mistake for the organisers to sacrifice 2022 and extend the lifespan of the current DPi field (which is becoming increasingly thin) if more than two factories have plans to be out testing cars this time next year with the intention of being ready for the original time frame. And equally it would be an error for IMSA and the ACO ahead as planned, push for 2022, and struggle to assemble a grid at all.
Ultimately the market will decide when LMDh makes its first appearance…
Porsche’s pulling power
Of all the manufacturers looking likely to commit first, it looks increasingly likely that an OEM which doesn’t currently feature in IMSA’s DPi ranks will be the first to press the green button: Porsche.
If Porsche opts to join LMDh, and its announcement could potentially come as soon as its annual Night of Champions event in December, then it’s truly ‘game on’. All along Porsche has been ‘in the room’ on LMDh and told Travel Destinations back in January that it was a very supportive of ‘convergence’ and the direction that LMDh was heading.
Its has publicly stated that it is formally evaluating an LMDh programme multiple times. And while it didn’t reveal anything in the wake of the ACO Conference which celebrated the publication of the full set of LMDh regulations and showcased LMDh example chassis (of which one looked somewhat Porsche inspired (below)), it did release a statement which served as a reminder that it is serious about returning to prototype racing.
“We’re very happy that FIA, ACO and IMSA have provided the final details of future LMDh regs,” it read. “We’re now able to take the final step in the concept study commissioned by our board of directors.”
With Penske set to cut ties with Acura at the end of the current IMSA season, and Porsche’s GTLM effort coming to a close, the timing seems almost too perfect for a Penske-Porsche reunion?
The question is, would it join the WEC or IMSA, or both? And would it prompt a swathe of other manufacturers to reveal their plans? You’d like to think so…
Someone needs to become the first domino to fall. If it is Porsche, then the potential for more heavy hitters to join in is huge; there is no other manufacturer with an equal level of status, heritage and ‘pulling power’ in sportscar racing.
Of the current DPi pack, Acura (HPD) looks closest to confirming its intention to continue its presence in IMSA’s premier class beyond the current ruleset.
“We are not confirming an LMDh programme today though clearly that is our desire,” said HPD President, Ted Klaus to select media recently.
“It is our intention to go forward with LMDH.”
These comments came shortly after it was announced that Wayne Taylor Racing and Michael Shank Racing would take over from Penske as DPi partner teams from 2021 onwards.
Prying Wayne Taylor from GM after a 30-year relationship was surely not an easy task? Was the promise of something beyond the current DPi programme on the table as a key factor for this move to occur?On paper there appears to be almost no standout reason for WTR to abandon Cadillac after so much success with the current DPi V.R in recent years, while in the midst of a title run in 2020.
But, it has indeed happened, Wayne Taylor making it clear that his involvement in the sport is slowly coming to a close. “I’m really excited about this new adventure we’re entering into,” he told RACER.com’s Marshall Pruett. “I always wanted to finish my career on top, and that’s where I feel we are headed.”
A Le Mans win is something missing from his and (coincidentally) Mike Shank’s CV’s. Will the commitment to Acura’s DPi effort in the short term allow both to gun for the overall win in the coming years?
The view from left field
McLaren is a brand that continues to be mentioned in industry conversations about LMDh. This is in part because it has been actively sniffing around top-level sportscar racing for a number of years now without actually committing to anything. As recently as 2018 it appeared close to signing off a GTE programme, before opting to focus on GT3 and GT3 customer-focused efforts.
Now though, with the viability of GTE in the medium term looking uncertain, it is looking to add a top class programme to its factory motorsport repertoire, as a third prong alongside its Formula One and IndyCar commitments.
With Formula One set to cap costs at the next set of regulations in 2022, the timing appears perfect on the surface to reallocate resources and man power to a new venture in sportscar racing. (This is, in part, why Ferrari is thought to be circling LMDh too.)
McLaren CEO Zak Brown spoke to Travel Destinations last weekend about this very subject and confirmed that the brand is still interested, as he feels Le Mans in particular is “still very relevant”. During the conversation he gave an outline for a timeline for the programme too, stating that if McLaren did enter the LMDh ranks it would have to do so in either 2023 or 2024. “We wouldn’t see the value in entering a formula with less than three years left in the ruleset,” he said.
He also made an interesting point about 2023.
The 2023 Le Mans 24 Hours will be held on the 100th anniversary of the first edition, which will surely attract multiple manufacturers set on taking the overall win on such an important year. It is also a very important year for McLaren.
“There is a real appeal in 2023, as it’s the 60th anniversary of McLaren Racing. Le Mans is like Disneyland, there’s a big anniversary to celebrate for something every year it seems!”
What would a McLaren programme look like? Factory cars with the added punch of customer teams running additional chassis? There has always been the desire from McLaren’s side for customer cars to be made available to make things more financially viable.
Could this see Brown’s other motorsport interest, United Autosports (which he co-owns), step up from an ultra-successful LMP2 and LMP3 team to a player in the top class of sportscar racing?
“I’d like to think we (United) are putting ourselves in a position to be considered on a shortlist as a technical partner for a manufacturer as they come in,” he hinted.
Brown did mention though that there are still a few finer details within the LMDh ruleset which McLaren feel need further work and clarity.
“We have been participating in all the technical meetings and we like the direction they are headed with LMDh,” he said.”However, there is a little bit of concern from our side over how difficult it will be to balance LMDh and LMH cars, specifically in tricky conditions because one set of rules features two-wheel-drive cars (LMDh) and the other features four-wheel-drive. How are going to ensure parity at two in the morning at Le Mans when it’s raining and the Hypercars can power out of the corners with four-wheel-drive?
“They need to be careful. They are confident they can find a way. We just need to make sure it can be done.”
The dust has barely settled on the 2020 Le Mans 24 Hours and already, less than a week later, it’s time to start looking ahead to the next major endurance race: the Nürburgring 24 Hours (N24).
Predicting who will take the crown at the N24 each year is notoriously difficult, with so many cars in the SP9 category featuring crews of world-class drivers in with a legitimate shot at glory.
Gone are the days where it felt like a small-time event lacking appeal outside of Germany. Now it’s a race with a huge international following, that is taken incredibly seriously by a slew of major manufacturers. That’s not to say it has lost its club-racing roots, as it is still very much a race with its own culture, that welcomes just about every type of GT or touring car past and present.
With the absence of fans on the Nordschleife, (though happily there will be some on the GP loop) this year’s race may look and feel different, but the teams and manufacturers involved will all be pushing as hard as ever to be crowned ‘King of the ‘Ring’
So who are the contenders? What oddball entries should you follow?
Let’s take a look at some of the storylines to follow in this year’s race:
The SP9 war
The battle for the overall win at the N24 is seldom a dull, predictable affair. This year will be no exception. The race as a whole may featuring a lower car count than usual, but in the SP9 class there’s 30 cars all in with a chance at taking overall honours.
Customer teams from Audi, BMW, Ferrari, Lamborghini, Mercedes, and Porsche will be going tooth and nail with GT3 machinery. So far Mercedes, BMW and Audi have taken wins in the NLS (formerly the VLN), with an Octane 126-fielded Ferrari almost taking a surprise win in the third round.
Could the 488 GT3 prove to be the surprise package here? Ferrari has never won the Nurburgring 24 Hours, despite having produced GT3 cars more than capable enough. This is mainly because there hasn’t been a serious factory-supported effort from the likes of AF Corse or any of its other major teams since Hankook-shod models came close a decade ago in the pre-GT3 era, with GT2-spec 430 and 458s.
Porsche meanwhile, hasn’t taken a win this year at the ‘Ring in NLS competition, but its customer teams should never be counted out. Frikadelli Racing, KCMG, Falken Motorsports and Huber Motorsport will all be present, and eager to score the Stuttgart-based marque its second victory in three years at the event.
The spotlight will be on Porsche in particular this year, after Manthey withdrew its ‘Grello’ #911 entry due to some positive COVID tests emerging for the crew post-Le Mans. This had a further knock-on effect, as the withdrawal of all Porsche’s Le Mans factory drivers (as a result) left Falken and KCMG with last minute decisions to make; both were due to compete with drivers that will now not make the trip.
Falken has opted to reduce its driver crew from eight to six, while KCMG has drafted in the likes of Earl Bamber, Timo Bernhard and Jorg Bergmiester to make up the numbers.
Which teams will be in the mix from the other marques?
Audi Sport has entered three factory R8 LMS GT3s all packed with factory drivers. Phoenix Racing also has a pair of R8s to add to the attack. None should be counted out here, especially considering Audi’s form at the N24 which has seen it claim five of the last eight overall wins with the R8 platform.
Mercedes meanwhile has seven AMG GT3s in the race, headlined by debuting team Haupt Racing’s trio of entries, all featuring experienced peddlers. HRT effectively replaces Black Falcon in Mercedes’ line-up of factory supported teams, the longtime German outfit stepping back to compete in the lower ranks going forward. But Mercedes hopes this change won’t affect its hopes of a win. The NLS season so far has been encouraging, HRT delivering a maiden victory as a Mercedes customer team in just its second appearence.
Then there’s BMW, which is desperate to end its win-less drought that dates back to 2010. The GT3-era hasn’t been kind to the Bavarian brand which has been unable to score wins with either the Z4 or M6 models.
BMW has come close numerous times in recent years, but no matter how much firepower it throws at this race it always seems to end in bitter disappointment. This is a far cry from the pre-GT3 era of the N24 when it regularly dominated proceedings
ROWE Racing (above), Schnitzer and Walkenhorst have been tasked with putting an M6 GT3 on the top step this year, and all three are capable of doing so. Will they deliver?
Glickenhaus’ 004C put to the test
It wouldn’t be an N24 without odd-ball entries or one-off specials in the field. While there is no Opel Manta this year (for the first time in almost two decades), there are still some fan-favourites set to take part outside of the SP9 field.
The most high profile is Scuderia Cameron Glickenhaus’ new 004C which will run on its own in the SPX category. Now, this isn’t SCG’s attempt at taking a trophy by default, as usual the team has its heart set on overall glory. As was the case in the past, the 004C is set to be able to remain competitive alongside the SP9 cars in the race; it just doesn’t fit in the category by regulation as it isn’t an FIA-homolgated GT3 car.
The 004C takes over the reins from the 003C which SCG has fielded in the race over the past few years. And it has a lot to live up to. The 003C may not have won this race overall, but it did storm to pole position back in 2017 and prove time and time again to be fast enough to keep up with the best of the best in the SP9 ranks.
Franck Mailleux, Felipe Laser and Thomas Mutsch have been entrusted with the new car for what will be an incredibly important weekend for Glickenhaus.
This race will see the 004C put to the test properly for the first time. Following its initial test programme, the team did manage to get the 004C to the finish in its debut NLS race ahead of this weekend, despite an exhaust fire which saw the team work overtime to rebuild much of the car using spares loaned from Black Falcon.
This latest chapter in Jim Glickenhaus’ N24 programme will be well worth tracking. Lest we forget that this serves nicely as a precursor to his forthcoming FIA WEC Le Mans Hypercar programme next year.
Interestingly its main rival in the 2020 FIA WEC season, Toyota Gazoo Racing, also features in the race this year with a pair of SP3-class Carolla Altis’!
Will the SP8s provide the most entertaining race within the race?
Further down the order the most interesting racing beyond the SP9 may come in the SP 8 (normally aspirated) and SP 8T (turbo-charged) categories which predominantly feature GT4 cars. The numbers in the two categories aren’t huge, but there are some rather interesting drivers and teams involved.
In SP 8T there are four cars representing three marques. The only Aston Martin in the race is included in this bunch, former Blancpain Endurance champion Garage 59 (above) making its N24 debut with factory driver Darren Turner, former McLaren test driver Chris Goodwin and Alex West.
The team has high hopes after successes in NLS races prior to this weekend. Aston Martin may not have a history of winning this race overall, but it has a track record of customer and factory efforts taking regular wins in the lower classes with the Vantage platform in recent years.
“This is the biggest test yet of the Garage 59 team,” says Goodwin. “We entered two NLS races to tune our Vantage to the particular requirements of the Nordschleife but also to prepare the team itself.
“The 24-hour race is a massive challenge but this team has great experience in other forms of GT endurance racing so we knew they were up to the challenge. Second place at the six-hour race here last month confirms that.”
Garage 59’s competition will be hot, up against an M4 GT4 from N24 stalwart Walkenhorst Motorsport, a Mercedes AMG GT4 from multiple former overall winner Black Falcon and a Keeevin Sports & Racing BMW M2 CS for added variety.
SP8 meanwhile, is a two-horse race between two aspirant tire brands: a Giti Tire Motorsport Audi R8 LMS GT4 and Lexus RCF fielded by Toyo Tire Ring Racing. Dominik Farnbacher.
As usual, if you love tyre wars, then there’s plenty to look out for in this race. In SP9 alone, Michelin, Yokohama, Goodyear and Falken are represented. Beyond the top class, Toyo, Hankook, Pirelli, Nexen and Giti are also supplying tyres to teams. And with heavy rain forecast for the race, it will fascinating to see which tyres are the ones to have as the conditions change and evolve…
The 2021 World Endurance Championship calendar has been revealed. Next year will see a reduced six-race schedule.
The season, the first for the new Le Mans Hypercar formula, will start with a trip to Sebring for a 1000-mile race, in a double-header with the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship and the 12 Hours of Sebring. This will mark the return of ‘Super Sebring’ after the 2020 edition was cancelled at the last minute.
After that the teams will race at Spa-Francorchamps for the annual six-hour Le Mans 24 Hours ‘dress rehearsal in May. The third round of the season will then be the Le Mans 24 Hours on June 12-13th.
Following the Le Mans 24 Hours the teams head to Italy after a summer break for a weekend at Monza, in what will be the first ever FIA WEC race at the ‘Temple of Speed’ and the championship’s first appearance at the circuit since the pre-season Prologue test was held there in 2017.
Two further trips out of the country then round off the season, the first being a race at the Fuji Speedway, for Toyota’s first home race with its Hypercar, the second the season finale at Bahrain in November.
There are three key omissions from the original 2020/21 calendar which was shelved in favour of a calendar year schedule due to the pandemic. The WEC will not head to newly renovated circuit at Kyalami for the first time or return to either Shanghai or Silverstone for the first time in WEC history. Both circuits have been ever present since the inaugural WEC season in 2012.
2021 FIA WEC Schedule (Provisional)
13-14 March: Pre-Season Test (Sebring) 19 March: 1000 Miles of Sebring 1 May: 6 Hours of Spa 12/13 June: 24 Hours of Le Mans 18 July: 6 Hours Monza 26 September: 6 Hours of Fuji 20 November: 6 Hours of Bahrain
The 2021 GT World Challenge Europe provisional calendar has been revealed by the SRO, the campaign featuring 10 rounds including the Spa 24 Hours which will be held on 29th July – 1st August.
Travel Destinations will be offering tours to the Spa 24 Hours in 2021, offering reserved camping pitches or hotel stays for the event as part of a package including event tickets and crossings.
Prior to the 24 Hours at Spa the season begins with a three-hour Endurance Cup contest at Monza on 16-18 April, returning the historic Italian venue to its traditional position at the start of the season. It will be followed by another old favourite, Brands Hatch, which will kick off the Sprint Cup on the national bank holiday weekend (1-2 May).
A further two Endurance Cup events will follow. The first will take place on either 7-9 May or one week later on 14-16 May, with the venue yet to be finalised. Then, on 28-30 May, Circuit Paul Ricard will stage its popular 1000km contest.
The battle for the Sprint Cup title will heat up with a pair of summer events. The first takes place on 18-20 June at Dutch seaside venue Zandvoort, which will stage the series for the fifth time. The annual trip to Misano follows two weeks later (2-4 July), when the Adriatic track will welcome GT World Challenge Europe for a seventh year in succession.
Following the Spa 24 Hours, racing then resumes at the Nürburgring on 3-5 September, with the German venue retaining its status as an Endurance Cup event and bringing the curtain down on the long-distance championship.
To enquire about a trip to the 2021 Spa 24 Hours, call our offices on 01707 329 988 and speak to a member of our team.
2021 Provisional Calendar
16-18 April – Monza, Italy (Endurance) 1-2 May – Brands Hatch, UK (Sprint) 7-9 May or 14-16 May – TBA (Endurance) 28-30 May – Circuit Paul Ricard, France (Endurance) 18-20 June – Zandvoort, Netherlands (Sprint) 2-4 July – Misano, Italy (Sprint) 29 July – 1 August – Total 24 Hours of Spa, Belgium (Endurance) 3-5 September – Nürburgring, Germany (Endurance) 24-26 September or 8-10 October – Barcelona, Spain (Sprint) 24-26 September or 5-6 November – TBA (Sprint)
Following the announcement from Spa Six Hours organiser Roadbook that the 2020 edition of the Spa Six Hours will be held behind closed doors later this month, provisional dates for the 2021 edition have been revealed.
Next year’s event will be held on the weekend of September 24-26* at the Spa-Francorchamps circuit, and promises to be another exciting edition with the usual gathering of more than 600 historic race cars all taking to the circuit.
Following each FIA WEC race, Travel Destinations’ Stephen Kilbey runs through the matters of the moment, re-capping the weekend’s action before looking at what lies ahead in the coming months.
His first ‘WEC Debrief’ column covers the FIA WEC’s return following a six-month hiatus caused by the COVID 19 pandemic at Spa-Francorchamps and some of the pressing topics in sportscar racing as motorsport comes roaring back.
The more things change, the more they stay the same
Sometimes you just can’t be stopped. Even with a six-month break from racing, huge success handicap penalty, heavy rain and a heap of new protocols to adhere to, the No. 7 Toyota of Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and Jose Maria Lopez still found a way to win at Spa.
Since Porsche’s LMP1 exit a Toyota victory may seem like standard service, but the No. 7 genuinely wasn’t expected to emerge victorious here. The Success Handicap system, in use this season to help balance the field in LMP1, has served its purpose thus far, allowing privateer non-hybrid LMP1 cars win races outright without relying on miscues or reliability woes from the factory hybrids.
At Spa, the No. 7 was the hardest hit in the Success Handicap table, and could only muster a combined time good enough for a second row spot on the grid, a second and a half off Rebellion Racing’s R-13 which took pole. Had the race stayed dry, then surely Rebellion would have been able to pull off a third win of the season? But the four-wheel-drive systems in the Toyotas, as expected, provided the team with a huge advantage in heavy rain and changeable conditions.
In practice, the TS050 HYBRIDs had far better traction through corners and punch through traffic, while the R-13 struggled for grip, specifically early on when the team reportedly suffered an issue with tyre pressures. To make matters worse a gamble on tyres, putting new wets on with the level of rain reducing, cost Norman Nato, Gustavo Menezes and Bruno Senna further time and ultimately, a chance to truly challenge for anything other than a third place finish.
But even with Rebellion faltering, the No. 7 should still have been beaten by the sister car, on pace at least. The No. 8 of Sebastien Buemi, Brendon Hartley and Kazuki Nakajima, with only a single win thus far this season back at Fuji, had the speed to take a comfortable victory thanks to its more favourable handicap. It took the lead early and powered off into the distance with Buemi at the wheel, but suffered an intermittent fault which caused a loss of hybrid power that ultimately cost the car the better part of a minute during the first half of the race. It left the No. 7 crew with the task of staying out of trouble and making the finish, which they did, with a faultless run, extending their championship lead to 12 points ahead of the Le Mans 24 Hours next month.
“With the success handicap we had, we just assumed we would finish third, maybe second if things went really well. But it’s been a great day and it’s a fantastic result,” a surprised Mike Conway said after the race. He will hope that the momentum will translate into a first victory at La Sarthe for the No. 7 crew.
LMP2 on the other hand, was action packed but served up a rather more predictable result: a United Autosports win.
It must be said at this point that United’s form is simply astonishing. Across both ELMS and the FIA WEC competition, Richard Dean’s team have won five straight races dating back to the Bahrain WEC race last year. The switch from Ligier to ORECA has paid off hugely.
It wasn’t a dominant performance in the race for the pole-sitters, by any means, but when it mattered most towards the end the car was still very much in contention and took control. Granted, Racing Team Nederland’s driver line-up, featuring Bronze-rated Frits van Eerd, meant a victory was always going to require an element of luck up against United’s line-up of Phil Hanson, Filipe Albuquerque and Paul Di Resta. Still, that shouldn’t take the shine of what was nevertheless a hard-fought victory.
RTN’s Giedo van der Garde was easily the driver of the race here however. The Dutchman, with another one of his trademark opening stints drove from the very back of the grid to the lead in the class, and ultimately put the team in contention for a second victory this season. Following Job van Uitert’s efforts, Van Eerd gave his upmost to defend the lead, but was powerless to resist when Di Resta got within striking distance and made the winning move.
The incident a handful of laps later involving Thomas Laurent also garners a mention here, although for a rather different reason. Van Eerd, blinded by traffic, didn’t see Laurent’s attempt at move for second in the Signatech Alpine up the inside through Blanchimont. The Dutchman closed the door to take his line sending Laurent onto the grass and veering off the track to the barriers on drivers’ right. It was a big hit, so those watching were left relieved that he was able to walk away.
Modern day prototypes continue to amaze on the safety front…
The Aston Martin-Porsche-Ferrari battle in GTE Pro was simply unmissable. It’s been a similar story for most of the season, but it’s still baffling at times that a six-car field can provide so much entertainment. The current Automated BoP system that governs the class has come into its own this season, keeping everyone guessing throughout every race; no lead has ever been safe.
Porsche eventually took the win – its first at Spa in GTE Pro for eight years. The No. 92 of Kevin Estre and Michael Christensen found a breakthrough in the final hour of the race after each of the three teams held a lead at various points. The evolving conditions and safety car periods kept the field bunched up at key stages, each one finishing on the lead lap.
Aston Martin completed the podium with its pair of Vantage AMRs. Its title hopefuls in the No. 95, Nicki Thiim and Marco Sorensen took second, ahead of the No. 97 which led into the final hour but lost the top spot to an error by Maxime Martin, before being forced in for a late splash that dropped them to third.
The change in order late meant Thiim and Sorensen hold a 19-point lead and have to be considered favourites going into Le Mans, though only by the slimmest of margins. The duo certainly had luck on their side in Belgium, a puncture early in the race could have ended their podium chances. Thankfully the left-rear blowout occurred at the end of the lap, allowing for a quick stop for a fresh set of rubber that didn’t cost too much time.
AF Corse were the biggest losers, the No. 51 looking quick and consistent enough to take the win for lengthy portions of the race. Alessandro Pier Guidi and James Calado though were the first of the two 488 GTE EVOs across the line, but could only muster a fourth place finish (for the fourth time this season), denting their title hopes significantly.
Even so, it wasn’t all bad news for the Italian team as in GTE Am its No. 83 trio of Manu Collard, Francois Perrodo and Nicklas Nielsen took their first win since the season opener at Silverstone, extending their points lead in the process. The Porsche 911 RSRs in the field appeared to have the pace for the majority of the meeting, but the lottery created by late pit stops and safety cars propelled AF Corse to the front after a stealthy run through the five-hour mark.
This all leaves us with a tantalizing prospect for Le Mans next month. You’d be hard-pressed to pick a favourite in either GTE class.
It should also be pointed out too that the simple act of being able to look forward to Le Mans 24 Hours happening marks real progress. Seeing the FIA WEC back in action in Belgium was a huge step forward in uncertain times. The WEC was by no means the first championship back following the COVID-19 lockdowns around the world, but the organisers and team personnel deserve real praise here. ACO racing is back, let’s hope the return of trackside fans will follow shortly…
The calendar conundrum
On the subject of fans returning to watch WEC racing trackside, the 2021 calendar is currently being formed behind the scenes and it has real potential to benefit keen race-going fans in the UK and continental Europe.
It appears that the schedule will be shorter than usual, with six races being reported following a briefing to the media from FIA President Jean Todt. And the likelihood is that it will comprise of a selection of the more cost-effective races for the teams involved.
What do we know? Or think we know? Well Le Mans will, as usual, be the centrepiece, and the race at Spa-Francorchamps will serve as a dress-rehearsal. Beyond that no other trips are ‘set in stone’, publicly at least.
The WEC remains as keen as ever to return to Sebring in March for a double-header with the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship’s 12-hour race. At present it would be a tough ask, but a lot can, and will, change in the coming months. It’s not a cheap event for competitors, yet it is popular with teams and drivers and there is an element of unfinished business surrounding ‘Super Sebring’ after it was cancelled just days before the start of the event way back in March.
Silverstone will surely feature too? A mainstay on the WEC schedule since the inaugural season, a return to ‘Home of British Motorsport’ is a relatively easy race to manage, both in terms of logistics and cost.
The question beyond that becomes, how many of the remaining races on the calendar will be held outside of Europe? F1 is currently touring the continent as part of its flexible 2020 calendar which continues to grow as the season wears on. Is there any reason to believe the WEC couldn’t follow suit and become firmly European next season? It would be significantly cheaper, and easier to tweak should travel restrictions continue to cause headaches. Lest we also forget that the ACO has plenty of experience putting on events at a slew of European circuits with the European Le Mans Series….
European-based fans keen to explore some of the best circuits on the continent could very well be in for a treat in ’21!
Hypercar’s silver lining
It’s strange to think that the original debut of the Le Mans Hypercar category was set for next month, yet here we are, still in the midst of a season that should have finished two months ago. It’s not all bad news though. Delaying the debut of the FIA WEC’s top class may prove to be a blessing in disguise, as it has given Toyota, Glickenhaus and ByKolles additional time to prepare their new cars.
Toyota being ready is paramount for the championship and its health. While it would have ultimately found a way to attend the season opener from the original calendar, it has admitted to Travel Destinations that it wouldn’t have been a comfortable experience, with extremely limited testing for its car between Le Mans and the opener at Silverstone.
Now, with an additional six months until its debut to play with, and the team spending much of the lockdown making progress, the GR Super Sport Concept is set to be truly ready for the 2021 season, whenever it starts. Travel Destinations understands that bodywork for the car already exists, with the first chassis set to be built up the week after Le Mans next month before its testing programme begins in October.
Whether the extra time to ready the car will translate into reliability and pace from its debut onward remains to be seen, though the crew behind the scenes are far more confident in their ability to hit the ground running than they were at the start of the year.
It’s a similar situation for Scuderia Cameron Glickenhaus, which is committed to racing in the WEC next year with two of its new 007s. The aero design is currently being put through its paces in a windtunnel, ahead of a full chassis being built up for circuit testing. Jim Glickenhaus himself had previously revealed that the team would be unable to make the start of the 2021/22 season, with its debut then expected to come in the race at Kyalami next year. Thankfully, with the calendar now torn up, it now has a chance to be there from the beginning and take the fight to Toyota with its Pipo Moteurs-powered challenger.
Glickenhaus has publicly stated recently that it plans to debut the car at Sebring next March for what would serve as the team’s home race. Wouldn’t it be something if the BoP works as planned in the class and the unpredictable nature of multiple new chassis being put to the test on such a punishing circuit ended up creating a shock result for the plucky American manufacturer?
Who else is set to join the party? Lest we forget that ByKolles remains committed with its own Hypercar from next year, and Peugeot Sport is slated to return to the top-level of sportscars in 2022. Little is known of the current status of ByKolles’ Hypercar, nonetheless its return to WEC action at Spa last weekend (albeit with its rather fragile CLM LMP1) should be considered encouraging.
Pegueot has also been quiet, though news on its progress is expected sooner rather than later. It isn’t yet clear whether or not it has decided to compete in Le Mans Hypercar or the parallel LMDh formula (which will see manufacturers able to compete with the same car alongside Le Mans Hypercars in the WEC and the top class of IMSA) with its new model in the WEC. Industry sources have indicated to Travel Destinations that a Hypercar is and has always been the more likely of the two, especially as there now appears to be potential for the debut of the LMDh ruleset to be pushed back a year to 2023 and the French make is still planning for a 2022 debut.
That’s all still a long way down the line. For now we still have the 2019/20 WEC season to finish! Next stop, Le Mans…
Images courtesy of Toyota Gazoo Racing, Porsche Motorsport, United Autosports, Scuderia Cameron Glickenhaus & dailysportscar
The 2021 calendar of historic races by Peter Auto has been released, featuring nine events across the year. With Travel Destinations you can book a travel package and be there to experience the highlights with trips to the Grand Prix de l’Age d’Or and the 10th running of both the Spa and Le Mans Classic all now on sale.
The 10th staging of Le Mans Classic is no doubt the centre-piece of the year for Peter Auto. The 2021 running will be held on July 1st to 4th, and promises to be bigger and better than ever. As usual, a selection of grids featuring iconic cars from Le Mans history racing day and night on the full Circuit de la Sarthe.
Before that though, over in Belgium during May (14th – 16th), the Spa Classic returns. It is another increasingly popular event for fans, during with a wide variety of historic machinery hit the challenging Ardennes circuit.
Then, a month later in France, the 56th edition of the Grand Prix de L’Age d’Or will take place at Dijon. It presents a rare opportunity to see some of the most spectacular historic race cars – everything from sportscars, single-seaters and touring cars – on a circuit with an ‘old school’ charm.
Below is the full calendar, with the events we are selling packages for in bold. Call our offices on 01707 376 888 to book a trip today…
4-5 March – Series Test Days – Circuit Paul Ricard (France) 26-28 March – Dix Mille Tours du Castellet – Circuit Paul Ricard (France)19-24 April – Tour Auto Optic 2000 – Rally (France) 14-16 May – Spa-Classic – Spa-Francorchamps (Belgium) 4-6 June – Grand Prix de l’Age d’Or – Circuit Dijon-Prenois (France) 1-4 July – Le Mans Classic – Circuit des 24 Heures (France) 17-19 September – Monza Historic – Autodromo di Monza (Italy) 21-25 September – Rallye des Légendes Richard Mille 8-10 October – Estoril Classics – Estoril circuit (Portugal)
The 2021 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season opener at Daytona International Speedway – the Rolex 24 Hours – has been given a set of dates, the race set to be held over January 30-31, 2021.
The 59th running of America’s premiere endurance race will again see a star-studded field of prototype and GT cars take on the world-famous Daytona banking. And with Travel Destinations, you can make the trip and experience it for yourself.
IMSA’s 2021 campaign is set to be the final one for the hugely successful DPi platform. Acura, Mazda and Cadillac will be on the grid, their teams getting one last shot at a victory in the championship’s most prestigious race before the LMDh era begins in 2022.
In addition to the dates for the race being confirmed, the annual “Roar Before the Rolex 24” preseason test sessions have been released too. Next year the Roar will be held the weekend before race-week, January 22nd – 24th (Friday-Sunday). This gives a rare opportunity for fans to take in an additional three-days of track action, and fan-focused events at the ONE DAYTONA plaza across the road from the speedway, just before race-week begins.
The Rolex 24 has become an unmissable event in the motorsport calendar in recent years, but it is a race with a long history. It was first held as a three-hour event in 1962, then known as the Daytona Continental. It has become renowned for annually attracting many of the world’s finest drivers – from various racing disciplines – to make history against the world’s best sportscar racers. Historically, drivers from NASCAR, IndyCar and Formula 1 have joined teams for “one-off” efforts. Past Rolex 24 At Daytona champions include four-time NASCAR Cup Series and three-time DAYTONA 500 champion Jeff Gordon, five-time IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon and two-time Formula 1 world champion Fernando Alonso. Dixon co-drove to his third Rolex 24 title this past January.
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.
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 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.
At this time, the Le Mans Classic remains as going ahead as planned for July.
Thank you for your understanding in this matter and we will be in touch very soon.
The Circuit des Remparts in Angoulême is an event that we have been attending since the late 90’s. It is a firm favourite of ours, if you have yet to experience it, then let us set the scene; picture a beautiful city in an elevated position overlooking the meandering Charente river. Visitors and participants attending the event fill the bars and restaurants which line the streets. The anticipation ahead of the weekend’s events are palpable. The soundtrack is provided by the burble of unsilenced race cars weaving passed the crowds en route to the paddock ready for race day.
In 2019 it was the 80th anniversary of the Circuit des Remparts. The concept for the event was born in 1938 by the local car club and ratified by the mayor of Angouleme. The first race happened in 1939, Some of the most prestigious pilots of the time were entered into the first edition of the Angoulême Circuit des Remparts: Maurice Trintignant, Jean-Pierre Wimille, René Bonnet or Raymond Sommer who won the race and scored the fastest lap with 1 minute 10 second lap at the wheel of his Alfa Romeo 308.
When the Second World War was announced two months after the Circuit des Remparts first edition, the events were suspended from this point for eight years. The second edition of the Angouleme race took place in June 1947.
There is so much history of the race during the period of 1947 and 1955, it is worth reading on www.circuitdesremparts.com/en/history. In 1955 the laws were changing about racing on street circuits. Then the catastrophic accident at Le Mans that year put pay to street racing, for the most part, for years to come.
The event was revived in 1978 although the rules about running timed events restricted what the organisers were able to put in place. The true revival was in 1983, with real racing back on the streets. That year Stirling Moss, John Surtess and Didier Peroni were all guests at the event. In 1990 the Circuit des Remparts adopted the format we know today, with the Concours d’Elegance/d’Etat, the Saturday rally and racing on the Sunday. To this day the circuit layout remains as it did in 1939.
Our 2019 tour started in Portsmouth on a Tuesday evening, for the overnight sailing to Caen. We then travelled down via the d-roads for breakfast in Putanges, followed by a fascinating visit to the chateau that Steve McQueen stayed in during the making of the movie Le Mans. Our first overnight stay was in the charming town of Loué, at a hotel also linked with the movie Le Mans. There was plenty of time to relax, explore and unwind before an excellent dinner.
The sun and sea air welcomed us on day two, as we arrived on the West Coast at les Sables d’Olonne. There was once again plenty of time for a stroll along the sea front ahead of drinks in the bar and dinner. From the coast it was a delightful run under beautiful sunshine into Angouleme. We arrived at our central hotel and parked the cars up in their dedicated spaces for the weekend. Thanks to our early arrival we set out on foot to give our customers (all first timers in Angouleme) a walking tour of the city. With bearings well and truly worked out the group took up position in a central bar to soak up the special atmosphere.
Tour managers Thomas and Richard, both long running supporters of the event found this edition to be the best yet. Commenting that the atmosphere was better than ever with real care and attention paid to the additional anniversary features; from the Exhibition in the Angoulême museum detailing the history of the Circuit des Remparts, through to the images of the drivers that have competed at the event over the year, displayed in the streets.
The International rally was a highlight for many of our guests. They were blown away by the crowds that come out to cheer the participants on as they drove their classics through the Charentais countryside.
On Sunday the paddock came alive as the racers and mechanics prepared themselves and their cars for action. Each grid head out onto the circuit during the morning to set their qualifying times and grid position for their race in the afternoon. The GT category saw Mini’s, Mini Marcos, Alfa Giulia’s and E-Types to name but a few. In the Vintage classes there were numerous Austin 7 specials, Frazer Nash and of course a whole grid of Grand Prix Bugatti’s. The Edwardian cars we something else, dating back to 1902, these thundering beasts looked right at home on the historic street circuit. Last but not least the sight and sound of the 700 brake horsepower Corvette will live with us for some time!
The second round of the 2019/20 FIA WEC season at the Fuji Speedway last weekend put to bed any doubts from the pre-season about the competitiveness and excitement levels that the LMP2 class could produce.
Looking at the category from afar, it is relatively easy to take shots at the lack of variety in chassis (seven ORECAs and a single Dallara) and the disparity in the driver line-ups (four of the eight featuring a Bronze-rated driver). But the opening two races, and in particular the race in Japan, have shown observers just how competitive this year’s class is, and how it can provide captivating prototype racing while the new ‘success handicap’ system introduced to balance the LMP1 privateers with the factory Toyotas takes shape.
Winning the race last week was Racing Team Nederland. The Dutch outfit, owned by successful businessman turned driver Frits van Eerd, has turned a corner this year. The switch of chassis from Dallara to ORECA and a change in the team behind the scenes to title-winning crew TDS Racing has made a huge difference. At Silverstone the team bagged its first podium, a feat which Bronze driver van Eerd said before the season opener was “something I only dream of”.
With the dream then made into reality, the team headed to Japan with renewed confidence, but cautious after van Eerd’s, quite frankly, poor performance at the Fuji circuit in 2018 (and even he would admit it wasn’t his finest hour).
The combination of van Eerd, ex-F1
driver Giedo van der Garde and newly-crowned Formula 2 champion Nyck de Vries
would prove to be deadly. In LMP2, the saying is, “you’re only as good as your
amateur driver”, and while that is somewhat true, on Sunday, van Eerd’s
performance combined with masterful drives from his teammates, propelled the
team to a shock victory.
After the race, the victory seemed rather natural, but prior to the season most would expect that the four teams that feature Silver-rated drivers rather than Bronzes would take all the wins. What made the difference here, in tricky conditions, were three things; van der Garde’s rocket start to the race, de Vries’ mercurial pace in the treacherous conditions and van Eerd’s perseverance during his stints.
Van der Garde put the team on top early with what he described as one of his “trademark starts”, slaloming through the pack in the opening two laps, climbing from seventh to the lead. From there he held station and built a foundation for his co-drivers to work from. With intermittent rain showers preventing the circuit from ever drying out completely, the conditions were arguably at their trickiest, bar perhaps monsoon-like rain which can and does hit Fuji on occasion.
But van Eerd in his pair of stints, made zero mistakes and didn’t lose as much time to the pro drivers around him during his time in the car as you may expect. This meant that when de Vries took the wheel, and he did for over three hours, over the course of two stints, he was able to fight at the front.
The young Dutchman was head-turning, producing what was one of the all-time great LMP2 drives. He stormed off into the lead and was lapping, on occasion, a handful of seconds quicker than all the other LMP2 drivers and at one point managed to set times quicker than the Toyotas.
It was one of those drives where you
knew at the time it was special. And because of van Eerd’s pace, which
understandably isn’t the same as some of the younger Silver-rated hot-shoes and
pros, de Vries was forced to work for it. In the final hour, he was tasked with
fending off a hard-charging Anthony Davidson, but made it look easy and sealed
So, if what we have to look forward to going forward is a team like Racing Team Nederland having to push the envelope during each race in order to have a chance of winning further races and the title, then you won’t want to miss the remaining races this season.
Beyond Racing Team Nederland’s ‘coming out party’, High Class Racing also proved its worth too. The Danish team, new to the FIA WEC, also had a head-turning day. Regular driver Anders Fjordbach and Toyota affiliated driver Kenta Yamashita (also the current Super GT points leader) kept the team in the race for the win throughout the race, and led for an extended period. This is a team that has yet to win a race in LMP2, in part because like Racing Team Nederland, it races with Bronze drivers.
Its Bronze in the FIA WEC, Mark Patterson, had to wait until the final 80 minutes to step into the car and defend the team’s lead. Unfortunately he couldn’t hold off the slew of pro drivers behind and finished fourth. That was though, still impressive.
If Racing Team Nederland and High Class Racing continue to find form, then they, along with Silverstone revelation Cool Racing (another new FIA WEC team) and the known quantities of United Autosports, JOTA, Jackie Chan DC Racing and Signatech Alpine are all battling it out for wins on a regular basis, then we could see seven of the eight cars in the class in the title race. How many forms of motorsport can boast that level of parity and competitiveness?
FIA World Endurance Championship 2019/20 starts at Silverstone
The 2019/20 FIA WEC season is upon us, as we edge closer to the major change coming to the championship in 2021/22, when the new Hypercar Prototype ruleset debuts.It begins at Silverstone, with a four-hour encounter this time, with 31 cars on the entry and plenty of intrigue.
Most eyes will be firmly fixed on the LMP1 class at the opening round. The list is currently six-cars-strong, with changes in terms of teams, drivers and regulations, all with the hope that this season we will see close racing between the hybrid-powered TS050s fielded by Toyota Gazoo Racing and the non-hybrid privateer chassis from Rebellion Racing and Team LNT.
Team LNT is a name that may be familiar to long-time sportscar fans, especially to those that were present at the 2006 running of the Le Mans 24 Hours where it steered Panoz to a class win in GT2. Lawrence Tomlinson, now chairman of Ginetta, has brought the team back to ACO sportscar racing after a few years away and means business. Armed with a pair of updated, AER-powered, G60-LT-P1s, Team LNT hopes to turn heads and take the fight to both Rebellion and Toyota off the bat. That may seem overly optimistic on the face of it, especially after the forgettable outing that CEFC TRSM endured back in June of 2018 at Le Mans when the Ginetta LMP1 challenger made its debut. A lot has changed since that week. The team running the cars is all new, the engine is now from AER rather than Mecachrome (and yes, it’s the AER engine SMP Racing used at Le Mans this year which out qualified a Toyota) and the driver crew (which includes Ginetta factory drivers, ex-DragonSpeed LMP1 man Ben Hanley, Egor Orudzhev formerly from SMP’s LMP1 programme and 2003 Le Mans-winning Bentley Boy Guy Smith).
Pre-season testing has been overwhelmingly positive for Team LNT. Trips to Paul Ricard, Spa-Francorchamps and Motorland Aragon before the Prologue Test at Barcelona have raised eyebrows in the paddock. The cars have been reliable, minor niggles aside, and crucially, fast. Fast enough that going toe-to-toe with Rebellion’s R-13 Gibson(s) early in the season is an expectation within the team rather than a target. Whether or not challenging Toyota is possible remains to be seen, though there is reason to expect the void between the hybrid and non-hybrid prototypes this year to be less cavernous. The race organisers have introduced a success handicap system, which will slow specific cars each time they win. The disparity in stint lengths and time spent in the pits between Toyota and the rest of the field, which was artificial and favoured the Japanese automotive giant have also been removed. Will this make a noticeable difference at Silverstone? We will have to wait and see. We shouldn’t though, assume Toyota will dominate each race as it did during the ‘Super Season’.
LMP2 meanwhile, should be close and produce on-track action that you won’t be able to look away from. While there are plenty of story-lines to follow, which will be explored here on Travel Destinations’ website throughout the season, it’s worth pointing towards a couple of them for the opening round of the season. The tyre war between Michelin, and Goodyear (which has taken over from Dunlop) could prove pivotal in the title race. Currently High Class Racing (which has stepped up from the ELMS this season) and the two Jota-run ORECAs (one of which will race under the Jackie Chan DC Racing banner) have chosen Goodyear. The other five have declared that Michelin is their supplier of choice.
Goodyear is pouring resources into this season as part of a drive to forge a long-term relationship with the FIA WEC, and will hope to poach Michelin teams during the season. Each team, by regulation, can make one switch of supplier each season. Michelin on the other hand will hope to build on the momentum it has created in recent seasons, producing tyres capable of winning races after years of Dunlop domination. Keep an eye on United Autosports, which is set to embark on an ambitious maiden WEC campaign this term, and reigning champion Signatech Alpine. Both outfits bring a wealth of experience to this field, and along with Jota, are likely to be the teams to beat.
Steering away from prototypes, there’s a huge field of GTE cars on the entry this year. Six of them are factory efforts in Pro, with another 11 making up the record-grid in Am. GTE Pro, like LMP1, has taken a hit in numerical terms for this season. But that shouldn’t detract too much from the on-track action. Porsche, AF Corse and Aston Martin Racing all return, more eager than ever to win the GTE World Championships. All eyes will be on Porsche, as its stable of factory drivers will debut the brand new Porsche 911 RSR 19 at Silverstone. The updated car replaces the fan-favourite 911 RSR which is still present in GTE Am. Off the back of a title and Le Mans winning WEC campaign in 2018/19 and a five-race win streak earlier this year in IMSA with the now-previous-gen, model, it’s a scary to think that Porsche feels it can still improve!
AF Corse and Aston Martin meanwhile, know they need to find consistency to beat Porsche this season. AF Corse, with its Evo-spec 488 GTEs, will be confident after a huge victory at Le Mans in June, while Aston Martin’s crew behind the scenes remain optimistic that they can improve upon the Vantage AMR’s struggles with tyres last season and unlock its true potential.
GTE Am also sees a Porsche team defending a title, in Project 1, and the German outfit hopes to get its campaign off to a fast start with its expanded two-car effort. It will be no easy task to win it all once again, and Le Mans for that matter, as the competition has only increased. Aston Martin Racing brings a brand new Vantage AMR chassis for its GTE Am debut and fresh faces in Darren Turner and Ross Gunn to partner Paul Dalla Lana in its #98 car, while Proton Competition will aim to put the drama and disappointment that its 2018/19 produced with its pair of Porsches.
Ferrari teams are out in force too, from MR Racing, Red River Sport and AF Corse, all with high hopes. Lest we forget that in addition to AMR’s No.98 Vantage, TF Sport is also pushing for a big result on home soil. Team owner Tom Ferrier, will hope that the team’s new chassis will be the catalyst that powers the ever-expanding British team to its first WEC class win.
In addition to the WEC action, fans trackside will, as usual, be treated to a four-hour European Le Mans Series race on Saturday. That’s eight hours of high-level sportscar racing to look forward to in one bumper weekend. The road to Le Mans 2020 starts here!
Imagine the all the intensity, raw power, edginess, drama, unpredictability, beauty and quirks of the Nürburgring 24 Hours (N24), in a more condensed format. Imagine the 25km Nurburgring Nordschleife with a crowd big enough to create an atmosphere, but small enough to make the circuit’s wide variety of spectating opportunities easily accessible. Imagine fan access unparalleled in high-level sports car racing, with free grid walks, and garage access before and during the races and countless vantage points for fans, at no cost beyond the price of admission. Well, it’s not fantasy, what you’re imagining is the VLN championship, which runs throughout the European motorsport season.
The VLN championship, or Veranstaltergemeinschaft Langstreckenpokal Nürburgring if we’re getting technical, does not feature the Nürburgring 24 Hours as part of its calendar, but much of the same teams and drivers compete in both. The drivers have to, to obtain a permit to race in the 24-hours in June, and the teams use the rounds as preparation for the big dance each year.
Over the years the Nürburgring 24 Hours has gained much exposure. It is far more of an international event than it ever has been. It maintains its ‘German’ feel, but has never been more accessible and marketable to the wider motorsport community. It doesn’t feel as much of a hidden gem as it did at the turn of the century. This is in part because the VLN championship, which runs on the full Nordschleife and runs with grids close to 200 cars, has become more professional and important. In recent years the Nürburgring circuit owners have gone to great lengths to ensure that racing on such a vast, unforgiving circuit is as safe as it can be for competitors and spectators alike, and required the competitors to step up their level of professionalism. This has made the racing better, and attracted the attention of the major manufacturers that now do battle with their customer GT3 programmes to win the N24 overall.
But heading to the ‘Ring for a VLN race gives you the best of both worlds. You still get a fleet of world-class teams and drivers racing up front in GT3 machinery, and a mixture of entry-level and mid-tier race cars following on behind. Crucially though, as a fan, it’s as accessible as it ever has been. You can still head onto the track for a grid walk pre-race, access the paddock easily and navigate the forestry surrounding the Nordschleife without the need to utilise the shuttle-bus system that the N24 now relies on. Instead, there’s space and time to drive your own car to the various car parks near the key corners such as Pflazgarten, Hohe Acht and Hatzenbach and come and go as you please.
Spectating at the full ‘Green Hell’ is an old-school experience, which must be savoured, treasured and preserved. Travelling the world, visiting circuits old and new for a living, as this writer does, you become somewhat of a connoisseur of motorsport venues. You can travel to Abu Dhabi for the modern, pristine feel that the Yas Marina circuit has to offer, Bathurst to marvel at Australia’s most celebrated racing amphitheatres, or Sebring to get a snapshot of rural America and its motorsport culture, but no circuit, even rival venues in Germany, matches the Nürburgring if you’re a fan of circuits that are as beautiful as they are steeped in history.
VLN races are either four or six hours long. There is plenty of time to take in the seemingly endless pre-race grid walk, dash to the Mercedes Tribune to watch the cars pile into Turn 1 at the start of the race, before heading out into the forest for an adventure. There’s something special about navigating the Eiffel Forests to find spectator banks and trails during a race. Those who have attended World Rally Championship events will be in their element, taking out a map, driving to a corner, and exploring the surrounding areas to find man-made grandstands, and climbing grass verges to get a glimpse of some of the more stunning backdrops that the ‘Ring has to offer. Why not start at Pflatzgarten and walk the trail that leads past Brünnchen, Eschback, Wipperman, Hohe Acht and all the way to a clearing where you’ll find the world-famous Caracciola Karussell. By taking in that sequence of corners you’ll see the drivers test their mettle in low, medium and high speed corners. It’s narrow, bumpy, with very little run off. The skillset required to win at the ‘Ring becomes far clearer.
If you’re new to the circuit as a fan, a trip to a VLN race isn’t as overwhelming as it sounds, and will prepare you well for a trip to the N24, where the crowds are far bigger and local knowledge is key to getting the most out of the experience. Once you’ve reached the famous horse-shoe, turn around, and return to your car, before heading to Adenau, where with Travel Destinations, you’ll be staying. It’s a friendly town, littered with petrol-heads and homages to motorsport culture. There the walk from Ex-Muhle to Kallenhard is another fan-favourite trail. It’s hilly, but work the trek, is the cars navigate the sharp turns and sudden drops. And that’s just two sections, for there are plenty more fan-friendly areas to touch on in future trips.
Outside of the race itself, there are many more opportunities to explore in region surrounding the circuit. It’s somewhat of a goldmine, full of restaurants, bars, landmarks and museums to visit. So prepare yourself. The Nürburgring is like no other circuit; you don’t just turn up, watch the track action and leave. There’s always something nearby that will either prompt you to stay after dark or return again soon.
July is upon us. What a first six months of 2019 we have had. We have completed so many motorsport events. There have been successful visits to the USA for Daytona and “Super-Sebring”, we have ventured even further afield for the Bathurst 12 Hours in Australia. Then closer to home we have already visited Spa-Francochamps twice and survived the incredible double header that was the Le Mans 24 Hours followed by the Nurburgring 24 Hours. Just around the corner we have the Spa 24 Hours too followed by the Nurburgring Oldtimer Grand Prix, but beyond that there is still so many motorsport events to look forward to.
For classic motorsport fans we have three great events to attend this September. Each is unique and well worth taking a look at. First up is the Zandvoort Historic Grand Prix. At the time of writing we have just a few hotel rooms left available for this event. Historic racing doesn’t get more picturesque than this with the track winding through the Dutch sand dunes. Certainly, one not to be missed.
Similarly, we have a last few hotel rooms available for the Circuit des Remparts event in Angouleme. The tight street circuit around, the French town’s walls, not only provides a technical challenge for all the drivers, but it provides exceptional views for spectators too. With other activities such as a fun concours & touristic rally, adding to the weekend’s events, Angouleme really is a worthwhile visit.
Rounding out September’s historic racing trilogy is the Spa Six Hours. We describe this weekend of historic racing, as an event organised for drivers, that the public are allowed to gate-crash. Whilst there may be no fair ground, entertainment and off-site events, the Spa Six Hours excels in providing excellent grids with access to all areas for all spectators. If you want to get close to some of your favourite cars from the past, then the Spa Six Hours is perfect for you. Hang out in the garages, wander the paddocks and relax in any grandstand whilst enjoying the on-track action.
We have something special lined up for October. If you have yet to experience a VLN race at the Nurburgring, then this is the way to do it. The VLN is the sister series to the Nurburgring 24 Hours & for the deciding race of the season we have teamed up with professional racing driver & driving coach David Pittard, to provide a unique way to enjoy the race. As well as 4-star hotel accommodation, just minutes from the track, our offer includes race-day hospitality with the Walkenhorst Motorsport team and a guided garage visit with David during the race. Not only that, but as David is driving a BMW in the VLN, we have added the option to add passenger laps around the Nordschleife with David as your driver. This will be as close to racing the famous circuit as most of us will ever get. This is an amazing package and one we think you will really enjoy.
The Daytona circuit needs no introduction. Watching racing around the famous banking has to be on every motorsport fan’s bucket list. The Rolex 24 at Daytona in January is the perfect excuse to fulfil those ambitions. We make things easy for you with a choice of hotels; one adjacent to the track and one overlooking Daytona beach. We can arrange flights from the Uk and car hire if required to enable you to enjoy your time in Florida.
March 2020 sees the return of “Super-Sebring”. This sees not only the traditional 12 Hours of Sebring IMSA race, but also one of the longer rounds of the FIA World Endurance Championship in consecutive days. We love the fun atmosphere and relaxed nature of the Sebring circuit and both races provide on-track competition second to none. Our private condos were hugely appreciated by all our guests this year and we had a great crowd enjoy the racing with us. We will be repeating the Super-Sebring experience again in 2020, but places are limited, so we kindly encourage you to book early to avoid disappointment.
Last weekend’s Nurburgring 24 Hours was ‘old school’, in almost every way. It featured a smattering of factory teams, and twists and turns throughout. Despite the form of the region the circuit sits in weather didn’t play a part this year, but drama certainly did. With almost every contending car finishing the Nurburgring 24 Hours filthy and damaged, and a combination of mechanical issues and incidents mixing up the order at steady intervals, it was an encounter we won’t forget in a hurry. Ultimately it was Audi’s day, after Mercedes and Porsche came achingly close. And it served up some interesting talking points.
Safety changes and smaller entries are not ripping the heart out of this race
Safety is paramount at a circuit like the Nürburgring Nordschleife; it is long, narrow, and features little or no run-off. With such a mixture of machinery permitted to compete in the Nurburgring 24, ensuring that the drivers and fans aren’t in too much danger is important. In recent years so much action has been taken to improve the circuit’s safety, as huge incidents over the years have threatened not just the Nurburgring 24 Hours, but the viability of the circuit in the modern day. But the ongoing work continues to retain the spectacular nature of the historic forest circuit while making necessary the improvements.
This year much of the circuit had been resurfaced, and the SP9 GT3 cars had to run slightly down on power. That, coupled with a smaller entry list of just over 150 cars, on paper, may appear to be tweaks against the spirit of this historic endurance race. But, once the cars got going, it made little difference to the excitement levels. In fact, with a little more space and less traffic, it prompted the top drivers to push even harder. The racing was spectacular and the variety in the field is still very much apparent. Of course, just 10 years ago the N24 used to run with around 250 cars, but in hindsight, that may have been just too much. What we have now, is a better selection of cars, driven by a smaller cabal of drivers that all have to work harder to earn the right to race. It’s making for a better race, and this year’s edition proved that. We still had a huge field of GT3 cars racing on the same track as Opel Mantas, VW Golfs, Opel Astras and an armada of cup cars, on arguably the most spectacular circuit on the planet. Long may this continue.
No rain? No problem! It has become almost a rite of passage for fans of the Nurburgring 24 Hours to have to spectate in a combination of blazing sunshine, heavy rain and even snow on occasions, sometimes within the same hour. But this year, aside from Free Practice being stopped due to heavy rain, the weather gods were kind to those at the ‘Ring. Some, may complain, as rain only adds to the spectacle this race can deliver, but this year, we had just as many thrills and spills without a drop of water falling on the circuit. There was a battle for the lead, where Kevin Estre in the No.911 Manthey Porsche took to the grass on the Dottinger Hohe at full speed to make a pass, and hours of squabbling for the podium places. That’s not to mention the amount of offs there were on the bone dry circuit. Drivers up and down the order pushed unbelievably hard, and were going to extreme lengths to make passes through traffic. All the cars that made it to the end, and around 50 retired, looked battered, covered in dirt and tank tape. If you tuned in just for the finish you’d have taken some convincing that this was a dry race, as the drivers and cars all looked like they’d fought through rain and shine as well as night and day.
BMW’s worst nightmare? Just a week on from BMW’s disappointing final FIA World Endurance Championship appearance with its GTE Pro M8s, the Bavarian brand had a disastrous outing at the N24. The customer teams, ROWE Racing, Walkenhorst Motorsport, Falken Motorsport and Team Schnitzer, who all received some level of support from the factory had a tough time. The speed of the M6 GT3, which has yet to win the N24, wasn’t there, and neither was the reliability.
Almost the entire fleet of BMWs were out of this one by the quarter race mark. ROWE Racing’s team manager Hans-Peter Naundorf claimed that this year’s N24 was “the worst 24-hour race we’ve ever had”, and he was right. The Falken M6 GT3 was the only one that managed to finish high up the order, but multiple issues meant the team spent almost the entire race fighting back from laps down rather than for a podium. It really was a disaster, especially in a race that features all of its key domestic rival brands, who all had a better showing. This may sound hugely negative, but this should spur on BMW to come back stronger next year. And that will be a sight to see. BMW is the brand with the most overall wins at the Nurburgring 24, it has a proud tradition and history of success. But its last win was a very long time ago now. How long? Back in 2010, when GT2 cars were the top dogs in the field. The SP9 GT3 era hasn’t been kind to BMW M-Power.
Audi has still got it Audi on the other hand, played a blinder last weekend with its customer teams. The R8 LMS pack didn’t have the outright pace to win this one, but as always, Audi stuck to its longstanding strategy of outlasting its competitors. Rarely has Audi won big endurance races over the years, in GT or prototype racing, with the fastest car. When attrition sets in the ‘Four Rings’ always rises to the top. It wasn’t a perfect race for the teams racing with R8s, as punctures and incidents did put Car Collection and Land Motorsport’s challenges to a premature end. But Phoenix Racing, which has a history of winning the ultimate prize at the ‘Ring, was there to pick up the pieces when other cars hit trouble, and crucially, when the No.911 Manthey Porsche, which led the race for 14 hours, was handed a huge five-minute 32-second stop-hold penalty for speeding in a yellow flag zone. Audi has now won the race five times, and Phoenix has emerged victorious four times. The marque’s main focus may appear to be on Formula E since its LMP1 exit, but it continues to put resources into its customer GT programme, and it is paying off.
As an official Le Mans 2020 ticket agency, Travel Destinations are already planning ahead for next year. Not only does 2020 provide us with the Le Mans 24 Hours in June, but also the Le Mans Classic in July. Both events are always popular so it is important to plan for Le Mans 2020 now.
Le Mans 24 Hours; 13th & 14th June 2020
The Le Mans 24 Hours is always a spectacular event. Le Mans 2020 will also mark the finale of the 2019/20 FIA World Endurance Championship season and the last opportunity to see the LMP1 class race in its current format. Already committed to being there are manufacturers such as Toyota, Porsche, Aston Martin, Ferrari and Ginetta and more will be added to create a 62 car grid. Travel Destinations offer track-side camping, private glamping & a pop-up hotel. Click here to read more about our Le Mans 2020 offers.
Le Mans Classic; 3rd – 5th July 2020
The Le Mans Classic returns in 2020 and it will be bigger and better than ever. Attracting a crowd of more than 130,000 this biennial event is a glorious retrospective of Le Mans on the full circuit. Featuring cars that raced at Le Mans from 1923 through to 2010 there is always something for everyone to enjoy on track & wandering through the paddocks and displays is a joy to behold. Once again Travel Destinations will be at Le Mans 2020 with camping, glamping and hotel offers. Click here to read more about our Le Mans Classic offers.
Both these Le Mans events are very popular and we recommend booking early to avoid disappointment. You can reserve your place now. To book your place at Le Mans 2020 with Travel Destinations, please call our reservations team on +44 (0)1707 329988
The Le Mans 24 Hours 2019 created a multitude of stories. There were winners and losers throughout every hour of the race and in each and every class. Here we highlight just a few:
Winner: The No. 8 Toyota
It is in the history books already. The No. 8 Toyota won the Le Mans 24 Hours 2019. The Toyota Gazoo Racing TS050-Hybrid, driven by Sebastien Buemi, Kazuki Nakajima & Fernando Alonso, crossed the line first and climbed to the top spot of the podium at the end of the race.
A strange one this. Throughout the race the No. 7 Toyota showed greater speed and performance. It lead through much of the race and was first from 2am until the last hour of the race. Then a puncture and sensor failure relegated the car to 2nd, allowing the more high profile No. 8 car to win. Conspiracy theorists will say that Toyota “engineered” the problem to allow their preferred team to win. Alternatively had Toyota allowed the No. 7 to regain the lead through team orders, they would have been criticized by the same theory. Ultimately Toyota were the only manufacturer in the field and all they could do was lose from there.
Winner: SMP Racing
By finishing 3rd overall and the first non-hybrid, non-manufacturer car, SMP Racing deserve a lot of credit. Their performance was unrecognizable from last year and they were good enough to hold off the never-ending challenge of Rebellion Racing
Winner: Signatech Alpine
The LMP2 class is crowded with excellent teams. By definition of LMP2 rules they all have similar machinery. So by winning the class at Le Mans 2019, Signatech-Alpine showed they are the class in the field. It also helped them to lift the FIA World Endurance Championship.
Winner: AF Corse Ferrari
Prior to Le Mans 2019 there was not much talk about Ferrari. They have been at Le Mans and in the FIA WEC for many years, but in qualifying they were quiet and in a class that featured 5 different manufactures (Porsche, Aston Martin, Ford, Corvette and Ferrari) some with 4 cars each, Ferrari were overlooked. That they came from behind to beat the favourites, shows that you should never overlook the prancing horse.
Loser: Aston Martin
The Le Mans 2019 weekend started so well for Aston Martin. On Thursday they claimed pole position in GTE Pro with an outstanding lap by Nicki Thiim, in the last few minutes, then on Friday following the ACO’s announcement on Hypercars for the 2020/21 season, Aston Martin announced they would be competing with two Aston Martin Valkyries. Then things turned for the worse. First they were hit with a Balance of Performance reduction, that sadly saw them unable to compete at the front, then as the cars dropped down the field, the cars suffered problems and ultimately they crashed out under the cover of darkness.
Winner: Ben Keating
Not many people would have predicted a win for the Purple Ford GT in the GTE Am Class at Le Mans 2019. However, with consistent speed and by avoiding incident, they claimed a well-deserved win. Ben Keating not only manages & brings the finances for the team together, but he drives as well. As the bronze driver (and potential weakest link in the driver line-up) it was the American’s performances behind the wheel that set the foundation for the win.
After a spectacular Rolex 24, ‘Super Sebring’ beckons!
All of a sudden it is the end of February and the motorsport season continues in the next few weeks with the highly anticipated FIA WEC & IMSA “Super Sebring” double header. After almost two years of planning the time has finally arrived for the FIA WEC and IMSA to share a race meeting for the first time since the 2016 WEC-IMSA double header at CoTA, and the first time at Sebring since the inaugural WEC race back in 2012.
For fans track-side, the ‘Super Sebring’ race week is set to be astonishing, with such a packed programme of events, open paddocks and two marquee races to look forward to over the weekend in what should be, as usual, great weather.
So what exactly is there to look for at Sebring? Well let’s start with IMSA, as for the WeatherTech runners in the 12 Hours of Sebring on the Saturday is the second round of the season, with the teams and drivers still very much fresh from the historic, rain-soaked Rolex 24 back in January. The Rolex 24 this year may have ended on a slightly subdued note due to the rain, but the action throughout, and the history made during race week (we’re looking at you Mazda, and that astonishing record-breaking lap!) made it an unforgettable edition. And now, still in Florida, it’s time for round two of what’s always a testing season of IMSA racing.
Last month Cadillac took the spoils for a third year in a row at Rolex, the DPi V.R still the car to have on the banking. Don’t be fooled though, the (newly-named) DPi class is closer than ever, as Mazda has hit its stride, Penske’s Acuras are more than capable of winning races on a weekly basis and the CORE Autosport Nissan is a formidable machine and will be in the running for race wins during the season as the team gets up to speed with their new toy.
Mazda was always going to be the big unknown going into the season, the Multimatic/Joest-run team the only one in the prototype field having made significant off-season changes to its car. The RT24-P is now in its third iteration and has never been better for it. Updates to the cooling systems, and aero have made a huge difference to the car’s speed and reliability. At Daytona the car broke the all-time circuit lap record during Qualifying, British driver Oliver Jarvis once again the hot shoe, as he was at the pre-event test a few weeks prior. The car’s performance was good, although it ended in vein, with on-track incidents and mechanical niggles putting the team out of the running. But the overall picture was positive, and marked a big step forward for the effort, which has been working tirelessly to score that all-elusive first win for Mazda in prototype racing since the Grand Am-ALMS merger. At Sebring, the team will be hoping that with its car clearly up to the task, that it can leave with a set of winner’s trophies. But of course, the challenge will be to beat the competition as well as the notoriously grueling Sebring circuit. And with so many big names in the DPi driver and team ranks, this will be a clash of the titans.
It is a similar story in the GT ranks too. GTLM at Daytona was as close as its ever been, with BMW emerging victorious, scoring the M8 GTLM, its biggest victory to date. The Balance of Performance was as perfect as it can be back in January, and it provided fans that braved the weather some of the tightest GTLM racing ever seen in IMSA between all five marques present. GTD was also a lottery throughout, with most of the top teams sitting in top five positions at various fixed points during the race. Then once the rain came down, it became even more unpredictable, with multiple incidents knocking some of the more prominent runners out of the race and prompting some of the world class drivers in the pack to come into their own. Grasser Racing, after a rather quiet run throughout the race, took a second win in a row for Lamborghini, and scored the first for the EVO-spec Huracan GT3.
And that’s just a taste of the IMSA battles to look forward to, as the FIA WEC 1000-mile race on the Friday night is sure to be a hit with the fans too. There is plenty of talking points for the WEC heading into race week, and lots to look forward to, and maybe it’ll come as a surprise to some, but the LMP1 class could well provide the biggest headline of the weekend. While the racing in LMP1 to this point has been lop-sided in favour of the more sophisticated, tried and tested Toyota Gazoo Racing TS050 HYBRIDs, they will want put on a show at Sebring. This year is the first time that we’ve seen the current crop of LMP1 machinery tackle “the bumps” so expect some astonishing lap times. The current circuit lap record is a 1:43.886; Marcel Fassler’s pole lap ahead of the 12 Hours race in 2013, driving an Audi R18 e-Tron Quattro. Since 2013, the performance levels have skyrocketed in LMP1, so expect this time to be destroyed by the TS050 HYBRID during race week if the weather is kind.
Elsewhere in the field there is plenty to look forward to, with title battles in three of the four classes now in full swing as the ‘Super Season’ begins to draw to a close. Can Team Project 1 move into an even stronger position in GTE Am? Will a challenger to Porsche emerge in GTE Pro? and can Jackie Chan DC Racing’s No.37 crew fend off the consistent Signatech Alpine crew that’s just 10 points back in the standings? Also, how will Corvette Racing fare on home turf against the other WEC teams? The US factory, which competed in the WEC for the first time since 2014 last year in the race at Shanghai, is back for more, and will look to do more than just make up the numbers on a weekend in which it will run three thundering C7.Rs for what we expect will be for a final time at Sebring across two marquee races.
For fans, it’s going to be a real festival of sportscar racing, with the two most prominent series sharing a meeting at one of the most iconic venues in motorsport history. It will be fast, it will be furious, and sure to keep everyone on the infield occupied for the entire week, with two major races over Friday and Saturday, that will run from bright sunshine in the afternoon into the evening and full darkness. We can’t wait.
The Le Mans Classic has always focused on the cars that raced at Le Mans from 1923 through to 1979, however the perceived success of the introduction of both the Group C cars (1982 – 1993) and the Endurance Racing Legends (1994 – 2010) at the 2018 event, will no doubt see the extension of the Le Mans Classic reach in to the current century.
Travel Destinations are official ticket agents for the Le Mans Classic & continue to offer the widest range of offers for those wishing to attend and spectate at the Le Mans Classic 2020. These offers include exclusive trackside camping, glamping and hotel rooms.
It is possible to add grandstand seats and hospitality to all bookings, and those arriving in a classic or modern sports car, can even choose to join others on the famous Le Mans track for a couple of laps.
For those ready to confirm their Le Mans Classic 2020 with a deposit before the end of February 2019 there is a special incentive. Travel Destinations will be honouring all those bookings at 2018 prices, so not only can you guarantee your attendance at Le Mans Classic 2020, you can also save money by booking now!
Wayne Taylor Racing wins the 2019 Rolex 24 at Daytona
The elements were at work at Daytona this weekend, as the importance of patience and perseverance meshed with the need for speed during a rainy, 57th running of the Rolex 24 At Daytona, at Daytona International Speedway. It seems history was at work, as well.
Former Formula 1 world champion Fernando Alonso and his Wayne Taylor Racing teammates emerged from the wet to win the event, which was halted under red-flag conditions due to increasingly heavy rain at 2:25 p.m., 10 minutes short of the scheduled time limit. Alonso becomes the third former Formula 1 champion to also win the Rolex 24. The others on that most illustrious short list: 1964 Rolex 24 champion Phil Hill and 1972 champion Mario Andretti.
Alonso, racing in the Rolex 24 for the second-straight year, co-drove the No. 10 Cadillac DPi with Jordan Taylor, Renger van der Zande and Kamui Kobayashi. Finishing second was the No. 31 Cadillac DPi of Whelen Engineering Racing, co-driven by Felipe Nasr, Eric Curran and Pipo Derani.
After a cold and windy Saturday, the rains came to the Rolex 24 in the early hours of Sunday morning – and hung around for the balance of the 24-hour sports car endurance classic that opened the season for the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. Weather worsened to the point of necessitating a red flag at 7:21 a.m., just short of the 17-hour mark. After a one-hour, 45-minute stoppage, racing resumed. Amidst alternating green- and yellow-flag conditions, the second red flag was brought out by heavy rain at 12:39 p.m. It was the first time the race had been red-flagged twice due to wet conditions. Seven minutes earlier, Alonso had gotten by Nasr in Turn 1 and it proved to be the race-winning move. “Very, very proud of the job we achieved today,” said Alonso, who also co-drove to victory in last year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans. “The race itself was very, very difficult. Conditions were changing all the time. But we had perfect execution. We led in night, day, dry and wet.”
Grand Marshal and five-time Rolex 24 champion Scott Pruett gave the command to start engines on Saturday afternoon, with 47 cars across four WeatherTech Championship classes negotiating the 3.56-mile road course. The field was led to the green flag by Oliver Jarvis in the pole-sitting No. 77 Mazda DPi. The highly-anticipated runs by the two Mazda Team Joest entries, however, failed to pan out. The pole-sitting Mazda left the race at the seven-hour mark after catching fire, having completed 220 laps. It ended 46th. A short while later, the team’s No. 55 car, which started fourth, developed a fuel leak problem and would finish 42nd.
A significant sidebar to his Rolex 24 morphed into an emotional farewell for three-time and defending Rolex 24 champion Christian Fittipaldi, who has announced he will retire from competition after this weekend. With his team’s No. 5 Cadillac DPi out of contention in the closing hours after battling several mechanical problems on Saturday, Fittipaldi came into the speedway media centre for a final press conference. He was almost immediately overcome with emotion, unable to choke back the tears – much less answer the first question he received, until media members broke into applause, as encouragement. A cardinal rule of journalism impartiality had been broken, or at least bent. In this instance, no one cared. “Racing has played a major role in my life but life is not only about racing … it was a great ride,” said Fittipaldi, a former IndyCar Series standout and the nephew of former Formula 1 and Indianapolis 500 champion Emerson Fittipaldi. “I had three goals when I arrived here this year. One was to finish, the second was to finish on the podium and the third goal was the cherry on top of the cake, to get two wins in a row and fourth [overall]. But it didn’t happen. Yeah, I’m sad, happy, relieved … but most of all I’m at peace with myself and I think that’s what’s most important.”
The inspiring Rolex 24 entry of Alex Zanardi ended with a 32nd-place finish in the No. 24 BMW M8 GTE. Zanardi is the former IndyCar driver who lost both legs after an accident in 2001. In years since, he has become one of the world’s top hand-cyclists while occasionally returning to the race track in specially equipped cars.
In addition to the headlining DPi class, three other classes competed in the Rolex 24. Those winners:
• In the LMP2 class, Roberto Gonzalez, Pastor Maldonado, Sebastian Saavedra and Ryan Cullen in the No. 18 ORECA LMP2.
• In the GT Le Mans class, Augusto Farfus, Connor De Phillippi, Philipp Eng and Colton Herta co-driving the No. 25 BMW M8 GTE.
• In GT Daytona, Rolf Ineichen, Mirko Bartolotti, Christian Engelhart and Rik Breukers co-driving the No. 11 Lamborghini Huracan GT3, which also won the GTD class last year.
Travel Destinations guests really enjoyed this weekend’s Rolex 24 at Daytona. Despite the wet end to the race, our guests enjoyed getting privileged behind the scenes access with the Radio Le Mans, IMSA radio commentary team as well as hospitality in the Champions Club. Our hotel overlooking Daytona Beach was the perfect location to relax away from the track.
With the Roar Before the 24 test weekend in the books, the focus of the IMSA paddock shifts to the season-opening Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona at the end of the month. Our man in the stands was track-side at the Roar, to tell as what we can expect to see at the Rolex 24 Hours that takes place 26th – 27th January.
We are in to the third year of the DPi formula, in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, and it has really hit its stride, across the board. A healthy top class, with elite drivers and new Michelin tyres, have added up to create a Daytona 24 which will likely be unforgettable. Up front the DPi class is now 11-cars strong, with an influx of Cadillac customer teams to add to the already sterling Acura, Mazda and existing Cadillac efforts. There’s manufacturer interest in IMSA, and it’s stronger than ever, with the big three up front, Mazda, Cadillac and Acura all heading into the season on the front foot.Mazda is the biggest mover here, the Joest-run effort finally looking world-beating and capable of winning its first race with two heavily revised RT-24Ps, a new set of backroom staff and Olivier Pla and Timo Bernhard added to the driver roster. Last weekend at the Roar test, the RT-24P was the class of the field on pace, so much so that Oliver Jarvis broke the all-time Daytona infield circuit lap record (unofficially) during the session dedicated to decide the pit boxes and garage allocation for race week. Why is this significant? One because the Mazda finally looks pacey on the unique, challenging speedway course, and two, because the record Jarvis broke stood for over two decades. That’s right, the last man to lap Daytona as fast as Jarvis was PJ Jones back in the GTP era in 1993, in an All American Racers-run Toyota.
Why have DPis become so fast? In part because of the development curve that the cars have been on, but mainly because of the tyre change. Out is Continental,and in is Michelin as the IMSA supplier and the difference is huge. The DPis are lapping Daytona a handful of seconds faster than in the past, with tyres that last longer and that are more predictable. It is still early stages, but it looks like Michelin has come out swinging, and will deliver us what should be the fastest Rolex 24 ever at the end of the month!
Cadillac and Acura are not far behind Mazda, at all, so don’t expect an easy win for Joest, who engineered Audi to over a decade of Le Mans success in the 2000s. In fact, come race week, when it matters there is an expectation that the Wayne Taylor and Action Express Cadillacs and the Penske Acura factory team will all be gunning to break the lap record again, and then the win in the race proper.While the cars have certainly matured, the drivers racing them have too. 2019 in IMSA is set to run with some superb talent behind the wheel, but the Rolex 24 in particular continuing to attract stars. Fernando Alonso? Yes he’s in a Wayne Taylor Cadillac with his WEC teammate Kamui Kobayashi. Rubens Barichello? Check. Mike Conway? Check. The Taylor brothers? Of course. Juan Pablo Montoya? Certainly. And that’s just a handful of drivers in DPi, as the rest of the field is littered with quick drivers too.
You may remember that Nissan was involved in DPi, with the ESM-run Onroak chassis? Well, ESM has shut its doors, but CORE autosports, which almost won the overall IMSA title last year with an LMP2 ORECA has stepped up and bought one of ESM’s old chariots to campaign this year. So yes, there’s variety and DPi looks stronger than ever.Elsewhere, GTLM looks as strong as ever too. There are no new cars for 2019, but the same strong set of factory teams are all eager to duke it out. New for 2019 Michelin tyres in the class (which has always been running with the French constructor) mean the lap times are tumbling in GTLM too. That coupled with the armada of Porsche, Ford, Corvette and BMW drivers (plus a Risi Ferrari) means that at times we won’t know where to look on track, as usual.
Alex Zanardi also deserves a mention here, the Italian, who has multiple Paralympic hand cycling gold medals and two CART championships to his name is racing with BMW. The man, who is quite possibly the most positive force ever to grace a paddock, is set to drive in a factory M8 GTLM, which does have a shot at victory. He’ll race with hand controls, and climb in and out of the car under his own steam at stops. He’s remarkable, and so are BMW for giving both him and the fans an opportunity to witness such greatness first hand. He’s also hinted that this could be his last ever race, so his progress will be one of the big story lines to follow.Oh, and expect a retro livery or two in GTLM for Rolex – you’re going to want to watch this space!
Then we have GTD, with over 20 cars once again, from a slew of manufacturers. IMSA boasts nearly 20 manufacturers competing in WeatherTech these days, and much of them race in the GT3 contingent. Acura, Lexus, Ferrari, Porsche, Audi, Mercedes, Lamborghini and BMW are all present, with top teams and drivers. It’s impossible to pick a winner here, and there are more question marks than usual as the majority of the field are running 2019 EVO kits. At the Roar Riley Motorsports’ trusty Mercedes AMG GT3 topped the times, but Meyer Shank Racing’s new Acuras and the selection of Ferraris were close behind. In testing, times shouldn’t be read into though, especially in a Balance of Performance-oriented class.So, grab the entry list, marvel at the lengthy list of world-class teams, cars and drivers, sit back and relax. If the weather holds out, this will be the fastest, most hotly contested Rolex 24 of the modern era. And if you find that you now want to be track side for the Rolex 24 at Daytona? You had better call Travel Destinations quick because time is running out!
In the South-West of France lies this sleepy town on the top of a steep hill. At the end of a late summer’s day, it’s mighty cathedral glows above the hairpin corners that lead into the historic city centre. From up here, on the city walls or “Remparts” in French, one can enjoy the beautiful view over the countryside towards Cognac.
From 1939 something changed in the quiet city of Angoulême. During one weekend a year, the fresh air mixed with a scent of petrol, the bird songs drowned out by growling engine noises and the coaches dragging up the hill made way for a flock of galloping race cars. The “Circuit de Remparts d’Angoulême” was born. Just after the second world war, the event grew very popular. Illustrious racers such as Maurice Trintignant and Juan Manuel Fangio added victories to their already impressive ‘palmares’ here. By 1955, the Formula 1 cars and the circuit became incompatible, the city turned silent again.
In 1978 when the city of Angoulême wanted to resurrect the historic race, it was under nothing less than the personal patronage of Juan Manuel Fangio. This event grew to become an exceptional display of classic car culture during the last couple of decades. Not only on the track, but also throughout the city: from pre-war cars to young timers are to be enjoyed on the circuit, during a Concours d’Elegance on the Friday evening, a touristic rally on the Saturday and interesting classics in just every street across town. These days of the year, the town simply breathes classic cars.
The highlight of the program is that one of the most important yearly concentration of Bugatti’s and pre-war race cars. They gather to fight their dominance on the same course that faced the great pilots in the heyday of the circuit. 2018 saw a grid of 26 Bugatti’s racing along the narrow streets and hairpin turns of the ancient town. So close to the spectators that they could almost touch them. Thanks to Mark Jansen for this account and photography.
This magical event has to be experienced, we believe the atmosphere is unique. We have two tours on offer to the event this year.
For those wishing to drive straight down to the event and spectate can follow this five night itinerary
Those wishing to take a bit more time to travel down via some attractive roads with two overnight stays before arriving at Angoulême can select our seven night tour. Or simply give us a call and we can talk you through the event 01707 329 988.