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.
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…
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 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
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 Automobile Club de l’Ouest and the Sarthe Prefecture have announced that the 2020 running of the Le Mans 24 Hours will be held without spectators in September.
Prior to today’s announcement multiple solutions had been explored to allow a capped number of fans to attend the race during the current COVID-19 situation, including a zone system which would have split the fans track-side into 10 areas. However, after lengthy discussions with the public health and safety authorities the ACO and the Sarthe Prefecture decided that the best move was to run the event without fans.
“The 88th 24 Hours of Le Mans will go down in the annals of history as, sadly, the world’s greatest endurance race will be run this year with no spectators trackside,” Pierre Fillon, president of the Automobile Club de l’Ouest commented.
“Over the last few weeks, we have looked at many ways in which we could hold our event in September with fans present, albeit in limited numbers. However, given the constraints involved in organising a festival-scale event over several days in the current situation, we have opted with the local government authorities to hold the race behind closed doors. There were still too many question marks regarding health and safety.
“We know that our fans will be as disappointed as we are by this decision but, with public health in the balance, it really wasn’t a difficult call to make. You don’t compromise where safety is concerned.
“Fans will not miss out altogether. They may not be at Le Mans, but our media teams and service providers will bring Le Mans to them! We are sure that we can count on everyone’s support and understanding at this time.”
Anyone with an existing booking with Travel Destinations to attend the Le Mans 24 Hours this September will be contacted directly by a member of the team to discuss the available options in the next few days.
Travel Destinations Ltd is pleased to confirm that the Speed Chills brand will be returning to Le Mans as part of the Travel Destinations family.
Speed Chills was set up by Directors Neil Matthews & Chris Daynes to look after race fans at Le Mans, offering a comprehensive service of travel, tickets and camping offers. In recent months Neil’s work commitments away from the company, meant he was unable to devote the time he would like to Speed Chills & its customers.
Neil Matthews said “With Speed Chills, our aim was always to put the customer at the heart of everything we did and then to surround them with rock-solid administration and the best team of like-minded people we could muster to deliver a great experience. So, when the time came to pass on the baton, there was only one organisation to work with; the team at Travel Destinations. I am confident that our customers will be extremely well looked after and the spirit in which we developed the brand will be upheld.”
Richard Webb, Director at Travel Destinations, added “We have always kept good relations with Neil and the Speed Chills team, so we were delighted when Neil approached us to continue the Speed Chills brand. We see Speed Chills as a very good fit with Travel Destinations & we look forward to welcoming Speed Chills customers to Le Mans and our other events.”
Initially Speed Chills customers will notice a face-lift to the Speed Chills website in the coming days and then all Speed Chills registered subscribers will receive a further update in the next week.
Your questions answered:
We usually book for Le Mans now, when can we book for Le Mans 2020? We are open and on sale now for the Le Mans 24 Hours & the Le Mans Classic. Initial bookings are best made by telephone by calling 01707 329988. If you have already lodged a booking request with Speed Chills, that information has been passed to Travel Destinations and we will be in touch.
Can I still contact Speed Chills? The Speed Chills brand will now be owned by Travel Destinations. Initially the Speed Chills phone number will be diverted to the Travel Destinations reservations team, who will be happy to assist.
I normally buy just my tickets through Speed Chills; can I still do this? Of course, you can still call to purchase your tickets, ultimately these will be processed via www.tickets-2-u.com, another member of the Travel Destinations family.
Will the Speed Chills private camping areas resume? Speed Chills last offered private camping at Le Mans in 2018. Travel Destinations were actually the first company to offer private camping and continue to offer private camping at Porsche Curves. We hope that Speed Chills customers will enjoy their new home there. Travel Destinations also offers glamping and our Flexotel Village cabins, which will also be available to Speed Chills customers.
Were Speed Chills in financial difficulties? No. Speed Chills were always successful, but Neil recognised that his time was being spent away from the business. By transferring the brand to Travel Destinations, Speed Chills customers will continue to receive a knowledgeable & experienced customer service.
In the past we travelled with Speed Chills to Daytona and hoped to return. This is also no problem; Travel Destinations already have 2 very similar offers available for the Daytona 24 Hours & the Daytona Classic. We also have offers for Sebring & Bathurst. All Travel Destinations offers are available now on www.traveldestinations.co.uk and will also be available to Speed Chills customers
We booked through Speed Chills because they were members of ABTA so we knew our money was safe. Travel Destinations are also ABTA bonded. We are also members of AITO and hold an ATOL license, so you can book with confidence through Travel Destinations.
For further information or to make a booking for Le Mans or any of the other Travel Destinations packages, please call Travel Destinations directly on +44 01707 329988.
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.
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.
The majority of people that visit Le Mans do so by car and we receive lots of questions every year asking about driving to Le Mans, what they need to take and what documents they need to bring. It can be daunting driving in a foreign country, particularly if you haven’t done it before, but in reality, it is fairly simple driving to Le Mans.
There are however, some things that you should bring with you & certain things that are unique to driving in France and driving to Le Mans. We covered passport and travel documents in the previous article, so here I will just concentrate on what is required for driving to Le Mans. The first is perhaps obvious but somehow easily overlooked and that is your driving licence. You need to be at least 18 and have a full valid driving licence (so not provisional) to drive in France. If you are planning to hire a car then in addition to your licence you should also arrange to either print or share your driver record via the DVLA (in the UK) as proof that you are not banned from driving. Now the big discussions over Brexit may have muddied the waters here, but for now at least, If driving from the UK, you do not currently require an International Drivers Permit to drive in France. Your UK licence is sufficient. However, residents in other countries should check their requirements through a local government source.
You should have your vehicle registration document (V5c) with you. In theory this shouldn’t be just a copy. This is to prove that you own the vehicle, should you be asked to do so. Similarly, and this is more common these days, if you are renting or leasing the vehicle, you should have a VE103 form, showing that you are entitled to take this vehicle abroad. This needs to be obtained via the leasing or rental company before driving to Le Mans.
All good so far then. You must be insured to drive your vehicle. In France the minimum is third-party cover. You should then have your motor insurance certificate with you & have the contact number for your insurer available should you need to contact them (often this isn’t on the certificate!). In recent months, there has been much talk about the need for Green Cards when bringing your car from the UK to Europe, however, for now at least, that isn’t necessary.
I hope that everyone is aware that you have to drive on the right in France, so in the limited time we have available here, I just want to highlight some of the other differences that you may come across driving to Le Mans. At some point you will probably need to refuel. Unleaded petrol (95 & 98 octane is readily available as is diesel (called Gazole), however you should be careful which pump you choose. “SP95-E10” is common, this is 95 octane unleaded with 10% ethanol. This is not suitable for all cars. Equally be careful of B8 biodiesel, this is normal diesel with up to 8% biodiesel. Again, this is not suitable for all cars. If you are in doubt you should check your car handbook, but ultimately, I would recommend using the standard fuels. Just as an aside foreign registered credit cards aren’t always accepted in automated petrol pumps, so it is worth seeking out a manned station, however, some local petrol stations will be closed on a Sunday too.
Remember speed limits in France. Particularly when driving to Le Mans as the Gendarmes are aware a motor race is happening and that there are going to be a lot of high-performance cars around. Speed signs are in km/h. So in a built up area or village the speed limit is 50km/h (or roughly 30mph). Single carriageway roads away from buildings will likely be 80km/h (or roughly 50mph), whilst dual carriageways are 110km/h (or 68mph). On motorways the speeds vary, but 130kmh is the maximum which is about 80mph. On the spot fines (with a receipt) can be given by the local police, so you have been warned.
There are some compulsory items that you are required to carry or display whilst driving to Le Mans:
– A warning triangle to be displayed in advance of the vehicle should you breakdown or be forced to stop by the side of the road
– At least one, reflective jacket or vest (gilet Jaune) readily accessible in the vehicle (not in the boot) and this should be worn should the driver need to get out of the vehicle near to the carriageway. It is advised that you should have one per person in the vehicle should you all need to evacuate, but this isn’t currently the law in France.
– Although you may not be planning to drive at night, it is illegal to dazzle oncoming drivers with your headlights in France. This applies to rain, fog, tunnels or just cloudy conditions, so your headlights should be deflected or set for driving in France
– Finally, unless you have a European plate with a GB indicator, you should also display a GB sticker.
– Other items that are not compulsory but are recommended include a fire extinguisher & a first aid kit, which are both useful items to have anyway.
Two other things that you should be made aware of:
– Radar detectors are forbidden. You are not allowed to carry or even transport such a device. For cars with sat-nav, gps capabilities, then legally you are required to disable the fix speed camera identifying part of the device, usually via the points of interest function. Fines for not doing so can reach €1500!
– Breathalyzers: To cut a long story short, the French government brought in a law saying that it is compulsory to carry a breathalyzer certified by the French authorities (ie carrying a NF number). However, as of January 2013 (some time ago) they also introduced a law stating that no driver can be penalised for not having a breathalyzer. This is basically because there were not enough breathalyzers available. Officially yes it is a French law, however the fine for not complying has been postponed indefinitely.
Finally, French motorways often have tolls. These can often be paid by card as well as cash, but if you are driving on your own, it will often mean you have to run around the vehicle! If you want to avoid paying by cash or card, it is possible to arrange a tag account in advance on-line. You will need to arrange to pay by direct debit & allow time for the tag to be sent to you.
France has recently introduced low emission zones in certain cities. This means to drive in these areas, you will need to purchase a vignette/sticker for your windscreen. Currently this only affects areas of Paris, Lyon, Lille, Grenoble, Strasbourg, Toulouse and Marseille. Now generally this shouldn’t affect cars driving to Le Mans. However, if you are planning to extend your stay in France and are visiting any of those cities, then you should check requirements before you travel and be careful as there are 6 different types of sticker depending on the emissions of your vehicle.
The Le Mans 24 Hours may be just under a year away, but as most people know the most popular hotels, camping and grandstand tickets sell out quickly, so it is important to reserve your booking early. All our prices include travel from the UK, entrance tickets and your choice of accommodation for the Le Mans 24 Hours, however for international visitors it is also possible to book without the travel element. Just enquire at the time of booking for a revised price. All Travel Destinations exclusive on-circuit options sold out in 2017 so please ensure you reserve your place soon to avoid disappointment.
For those not wanting to camp, the Travel Destinations Flexotel Village offers a private bedroom in the centre of the track. Exclusive to Travel Destinations this pop-up hotel offers lockable rooms with two beds and all bed linen. Standard rooms have separate shower and toilet blocks on-site, but for those that want their own bathroom then an upgrade to comfortel rooms is also possible. Set in their own secure paddock (not on grass) the Flexotel Village is just a short walk from the start/finish line, the Dunlop Bridge and the Tertre Rouge corner. There is parking for those arriving by car, and the location is ideal for international guests arriving by train and tram from Paris.
Grandstand seats and Le Mans hospitality are also available and can be added to any of our Le Mans 24 Hours 2018 packages. These are ideal if you would like to get a better view of the action, or just want a different experience.
The Le Mans 24 Hours 2017 may be most remembered for beautiful weather and surprise results; the race was run under sunshine and cloudless skies with track temperatures in excess of 30 degrees centigrade, and surprise results as most of the LMP1 manufacturer team cars fell by the wayside allowing two LMP2 cars on to the winners podium.
Although this year’s Le Mans 24 Hours had a relatively low attrition rate, the opposite could be said of the manufacturers in the LMP1 class. By the end, no car had avoided lengthy time in the garage ore retirement on track & only two LMP1s managed to complete the 24 hours. The writing was perhaps on the wall early when a Toyota sustained damage in the early laps, causing debris to hit the ByKolles Racing team car. Despite it limping back to the pit lane, the car was never able to get going again and the garage door was pulled down early.. With the numeric disadvantage of only 2 cars, Porsche suffered a blow when the No. 2 car had to spend an hour in the garage for a rebuilt front axle, relegating them out of the top 50.
Toyota looked to dominate the first period of the race from pole position. They secured a 1-2 for much of this time but could never really pull away from the lone Porsche during this time. The No. 7 Toyota lead the way and looked particularly fast in the early stages. However it was all going to go wrong for Toyota as darkness fell. One by one, they experienced power problems. Only the No. 8 car managed to return to the race, but after losing more than 2 hours in the garage, they were never in contention for the overall win, despite setting the race’s fastest lap.
The demise of Toyota’s challenge left the No.1 Porsche with a free run at the chequered flag. They managed to survive the night and most of the morning, until, with just four hours to go, oil pressure problems left them limping with just electric power down the Mulsanne straight. Despite Andre Lotterer’s best efforts the car ground to a halt and could not get going again.
The demise of the No. 1 Porsche briefly opened the window for an LMP2 win, as No.38 Jackie Chan DC Racing Oreca-07 Gibson, inherited the lead. However, their hopes were dashed, with the flying return of the No. 2 Porsche. Despite their early delay in the garage, the No. 2 Porsche came flying back through the field. Brendon Hartley, Earl Bamber & in particular Timo Bernhard got the best out of the car, and managed to avoid and pass the traffic with ease. They took the lead with almost exactly an hour to go and didn’t look back, eventually crossing the finish line more than half a lap of the second placed car. A remarkable turnaround then from the No.2 Porsche team, who were not even in the top 50 cars after their technical woes.
Whilst the top class suffered with a very high attrition rate, the opposite could be said of the biggest field in the race; LMP2. Only four of the twenty-five cars in this class failed to finish. This is all the more remarkable considering there were new regulations for this class this year, and none of the contenders had completed a race of this distance. Despite many expert predictions to the contrary the LMP2 class not only showed the necessary endurance, but also very nearly pulled of the overall win.
For the majority of the race the two cars from Vaillante Rebellion showed their experience and stayed at the front of the pack. Having raced LMP1 cars over the last few year, the Rebellion team clearly know a thing or two about how to race at Le Mans. The G-Drive and CEFC Manor TRS Racing teams, also showed strong performances, but ultimately the story of this class enfolded late on. Having watched the LMP1 cars disappear in front, and finding themselves more than 10 laps behind the leaders, the LMP2 cars started to climb the leader-board as the manufacturer LMP1s began to retire. When the leading No.1 came to a halt on the track, it was the No. 38 Jacki Chan DC Racing car that caught up and inherited the lead of the race. They managed to defend that position from other LMP2 challenges, and for 2 hours they continued at the front. It would have been the most remarkable story. A David vs Goliath type victory, however it was not to be. Despite the best efforts of Thomas Laurent, Oliver Jarvis and ultimately Ho-Pin Tung, behind the wheel, they were unable to compete with the superior speed of the Porsche No. 2 car that reeled them in; hunting them down shark-like and then passing them with only an hour of the race to go.
Despite this the all involved with the No. 38 car should be immensely proud of what they achieved; not only winning the LMP2 class, but finishing second overall at Le Man. The No. 13 Vaillante Rebellion ended second in class, so took the third step on the overall podium which was just reward for the excellent Rebellion team.
There had been much criticism before the race about the rule makers and the changes made under the balance of performance regulations. It is a complex thing trying to make all cars competitive and in the past, this has been hugely unsuccessful. However, credit where credit is due, they definitely got it right this time and they provided the spectators with a remarkable race. In fact had Hollywood script writers come up with the story they would have probably rejected the idea under grounds of lack of reality.
No one manufacturer was able to dominate this class. Even Ford’s numeric advantage didn’t help them get ahead. Hour after hour, often minute after minute, the lead changed hands. The racing was so close, that as cars peeled off to complete their pit stops, the next car would inherit the lead. Once that car pitted the baton was passed on. And do it went on throughout the race.
Quite unbelievably going in to the last hour of the 24, each manufacturer had a car on the lead lap. Corvette, Aston Martin, Ford, Porsche and Ferrari all had a chance to win. Nobody was able to pull away and seconds separated all five cars. In the end it came down to pit lane strategy and a bit of luck as to when the race was actually going to finish. Aston Martin were leading, but had to have an extra stop for fuel. This opened the door for Corvette. With the other three cars fast catching, Corvette with Jordan Taylor at the wheel, left the pit lane with Aston Martin and Jonny Adam filling its mirrors. It was going to go right down to the wire. The two cars continued to lap just seconds apart as Jonny Adam looked for a place to attack. It looked as though Jordan Taylor had done enough to keep ahead and take the win, when the Aston Martin braked late at Mulsanne and tried to pass. Quite legitimately the Corvette closed the door as they exited and the corner, but there was contact between the two.
The two cars continued around for one more lap, but suddenly the Corvette had an issue and cut one of the chicanes on the Mulsanne straight, skidding across the gravel, but retaining the lead. However, Jonny Adam could sense he might get one more opportunity. It came literally at the start of their last lap. Coming through the Ford chicane on to the start finish straight, the Aston Martin took advantage of the damaged Corvette and powered past. Despite the great skills of Jordan Taylor there was nothing he could do to protect the lead. As the Aston Martin disappeared to take the win, salt was rubbed in to Corvette’s wounds as the No. 67 Ford managed to catch the limping Corvette and demote them to third in Class. Nevertheless all teams involved should take great credit for their efforts. This was a very hard fault battle that really entertained the fans, and should be remembered for a very long time.
The battle in GTE Am was not as close as the Pro class. In the early running, it appeared that the No. 98 Aston Martin would run away with it. However, technical issues dragged them back. The speed shown by the Larbre Competition Corvette in qualifying never reappeared, and it was left to the Ferraris to dominate the class. The No. 84 yellow and black, JMW Motorsport Ferrari 488 GTE took the lead in the darkness and was not in the mood to relinquish the position once daylight returned. For hours they remained at the front of the class, often mixing with the back markers of the GTE Pro field. They managed to spend the minimum of time in the pit lane and came home to be quite comfortable winners in the end. The other class podium slots were also filled by Ferraris, clearly the car to have in this class, with Spirit of the Race and Scuderia Corsa coming home second and third.
Overall this was an excellent race, and one that will be much talked about around the trackside barbecues tonight. Porsche were the outright winners, but the plaudits will be taken elsewhere in the classes below. Le Mans 24 Hours 2017 will be remembered for the hot temperatures around the circuit and the amazing racing that took place on it. Roll on Le Mans 24 hours 2018.
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