|The Le Mans Photo for 2012. ©ACO|
So, a year has past and it is time once more for the 24 Heures du Mans circus to take centre stage once more. What can we expect then ? Thats a hard one to call, even with the Le Mans Test Day behind us. Sandbags are not only of use in war afterall and you can guarantee that Audi at least were sandbagging at both Spa and the test at Le Sarthe.
Le Mans Prototype 1.
Let us first look to who is missing and this one has to start with the highest profile absentee. A year ago, just about, we were getting very excited by the thought of a three way manufacturer battle for the win. Then came the shock news of Peugeot's withdrawal, the French team not contesting the great French road race ! Could it be believed ?
We where left punch-drunk on the eighteenth of January when the news came in that the three 908's would race no more. They left on a good year, only one race escaped them, but that was the only race which really mattered. The 24 Heures du Mans. It is a crying shame that the cars will not be at Le Sarthe for the 80th Anniversary race.
|Muscle Milk, "plans for the future to
return to Le Mans." ©ALMS.com
Other missing P1 machines are not quite as high profile but will be equally missed. First up are defending champions. The Dyson Racing team who claimed the 2011 American Le Mans Series got two invites to the 24 Heures for their trouble. One for claiming the title and the other for taking the series win in the Michelin GreenX Challenge. It is highly ironic that the GreenX winners used Dunlop rubber to claim the victory !
Both the 16 and 20 cars will miss the 24 Heures du Mans, the team citing funding as the reason for missing the great race. That puts the duty of representing Lola down to Rebellion Racing. And while we are here we would be remiss if we didn't talk about the situation at the Huntingdon based constructor. Lola Cars are in Administration, which gives us the fear that we will not see Lola back at the 24 Heures.
Another ALMS car which is missing from the line up is the #6 Muscle Milk Pickett Racing. The white, red and black HPD-ARX 03a won a single invite to the race for coming second in the 2011 ALMS. The team's spokeswoman, Karina Redmond, gave Racing-Report.com the following statement :
We opted not to go to Le Mans to focus on this season in the ALMS with our new HPD ARX-03a. But it definitely is in our plans for the future to return to Le Mans.
Now, lets look at who will be there then, starting with the defending champions, Audi. Audi Sport will be represented in 2012 by two teams, the defending team, Audi Sport Team Joest and thier regular second team, Audi Sport North America. It is the same as it has always been, a badge engineering exercise rather than a substantive second effort. Peugeot did the same by running Peugeot Sport Total and Team Peugeot Total to run more cars than the rules officially allow.
Audi Sport Team Joest get the history book entry, running the first Diesel Hybrid at the 24 Heures while Audi Sport North America only get the new conventional diesel, and the fourth car of the campaign too.
The challenge of calling which machine will win, the R18 e-Tron Quattro or the R18 Ultra, is almost impossible. The Ultra took first blood in competition at Spa, after Audi opted to run the 'old' R18 TDI at the 12 Hours of Sebring. That could just be because the new car is very much a development of the old machine so they had better data on what would happen. The R18 TDI debuted at the Spa 6 Hours in 2011.
They really don't make it easy for us. In the first practice session the Ultra took top spot. In the second session it went to the e-Tron Quattro. The order in the top speed stakes went Ultra, Quattro, Ultra, Quattro. I think we can confidently predict an Audi win. No offence to their primary rivals but they have race data on the car, not to mention they have been to Le Sarthe sometime in this decade. I have to say though that I would be surprised if the #4 car takes the win.
|The R18 Ultra at the Ford Chicane.
It's the Ultra rather than the e-Tron and should Audi have the rub of the green, I would expect Dr Wolfgang Ulrich to find a way to engineer a hybrid victory. Better to take the entry to the history books now when there is going to be less of a threat from the TS030 Hybrid than next year when TMG have data. Add to that the fact that the #4 car has the newest driver lineup. Of the three drivers only Marc Gene has history at the 24 Hours. There is a challenge then there is an impossible mountain to climb.
To the primary rivals then, and the arrival of a team which has not been to Le Sarthe as a factory effort since 1999. Welcome back Toyota. The TS030 Hybrid is the successor to the TS020, known as the GT-One. The GT-One by the way was clocked at 351km/h through the speed traps, the TS030 could 'only' manage 330 at the test.
The team have done what they need to in order to grab an upset result. It's also a double take entry. There are two, #7 and #8, both of which are painted blue, red and white. The driver line up includes Alex Wurz, Anthony Davidson, Nicolas Lapierre, and Stephane Sarrazin. Thats four Le Mans drivers from the Peugeot effort. Add to that Kazuki Nakajima and Sebastien Buemi and you have a very fast driver line up.
The problem with the Toyota effort is the lack of race running. They have tested, in fact without wanting to they tested to destruction when Nicolas Lapierre binned it at Paul Ricard and totaled the test tub. The cars are fast, but that could well be because they were running a lower downforce setup than the Audis. Despite having a 1-2 at the top of the speed trap standings they only managed third and fifth in Practice 1 and fourth and fifth in Practice 2.
I'd give Toyota a chance of splitting the Audi's, giving them pause for thought, at least early on. The problem is that even if they get in between the two Audi teams, it would take a miracle for them to get onto the top step.
2011 teaches us here though that nothing is certain. Peugeot arrived at Le Mans with more data, a better form sheet and everything in their favor. Still Audi managed the upset win. They were down to one car after two horrific accidents and still they did the job. Toyota need to pray for one thing, and it's not rain ! Hope to hell that Audi are not filming Truth in 24 III, if they are, you don't stand a chance.
Behind the main battle will be the rest of the prototype 1 class. Thanks to Toyota we can't call it the petrol sub class anymore ! Lets see who is there :
Strakka Racing, Rebellion Racing, Pescarolo Team and JRM will be the contenders here. Straight away write of any hope of the win for these guys. There were ten seconds splitting the fastest privateer team from the factory Audi which topped the timesheets at the close of test day. Only if things go horribly, horribly wrong for the Inglostadt outfit will a privateer stand a chance.
There could be a chance of a slight upset for the properly hooked up team here though. If Toyota have the problems that most expect, a privateer could steal a march on the German/Japanese factory effort. If that comes off though, it will be care of the Strakka team, almost certainly. They know their car better than any other. Both Strakka and JRM had their cars for Sebring, but JRM were just getting to grips with prototypes when they started in Florida.
JRM are not a team to give up easily but their lack of experience with Le Sarthe will be their downfall. Strakka have experience with HPD's, experience with the HPD they will be driving and experience with the unique circuit on which the challenge will take place. JRM will have identical equipment,both teams will run the HPD-ARX 03a with HPD power, but their lack of experience will most likely cost them the chance for glory.
It may not help either that one of their drivers, David Brabham, took part in the first session at the test day, setting the 55th fastest time of all drivers. He then got on a plane, went back home and spent a while sat in the Silverstone gravel. He didn't want to, be was helped by a BMW but the lack of running at the test day could hold Brabs back.
Rebellion Racing, the Toyota powered Lola B12/60 Coupe. If it was the old car Rebellion would be my bet for the sub-class victory. They knew that car like they knew the back of their hands. They spent thousands and thousands of pounds on developing a bespoke package for it only to have the use of it denied by the regulations. Progress is progress but it must smart in the race shop of the Swiss team.
The Lola vs HPD battle this year has gone 4-1 in favour of the American/Japanese chassis builder. The only race won by Lola was the 6 Hours of Spa. Rebellion was the team which took that win. In the States it has been a HPD whitewash, though Dyson lost out to WEC entries at Sebring. Muscle Milk only gained their momentum at Long Beach.
If any team can do it, it is Rebellion but statistics say that you have to back Strakka for the 'win' here.
Oak Racing's Pescarolo-Judd is the strange one here. If it gets a clear run it could do well, but it didn't cover itself in glory at the test, placing 28th and well down into the LMP2 pack. The problem there was a massive shunt which put Moreau into hospital with a fractured vertebrae. He won't race at the 24 hours, which leaves the team with a quick hunt for a qualified driver, and the damage to the car will give them a challenge getting ready for the start of Scrutineering. Add to that they are the only P1 car whic his running on Dunlops and it's hard to guess where the car will place.
Don't worry, I have not forgotten the Dome or the Pescarolo. Both of the Pescarolo entries are a bit odd-ball. The Dome is the only 'privateer' car that could keep up with the factory Audis in a straight line. The Dome-Judd exactly matched the #1 Audi R18 e-Tron Quattro for pace in the speed traps. The car ended the test day eleventh though and took fifteenth at Spa on it's debut. It doesn't seem to have the overall package, downforce appears to be lacking here.
The other Pescarolo is one to watch for the future but this year's Le Mans is likely to be more of a 24 hour shakedown than a serious race for the Pescarlo 03-Judd. It is a shame really, the project is hoped to bring some glory to the AMR-One which died in it's infancy. That task will now be left to the one car in the field that you can't really classify which runs in the CDNT class or Cars Debuting New Technologies.
That is the Nissan DeltaWing, a radical looking car which hopes for one of two things. First it hopes to run somewhere between the LMP1 and LMP2 class in terms of pace. The other goal for the Highcroft run car is to use half the fuel and half the tyre material of a traditional prototype. It will also bring some joy to Aston Martin and Prodrive as it uses the tub from the AMR-One along with the Pescarolo.
It didn't have a trouble free day on the official test. It turned a total of 54 laps during the day and placed 32nd at the end of the day. What is interesting though is that the 53 laps run on the Michelin slick tyres, equivalent to five stints on an LMP1 tyre, left the tyres looking apparently like new. It doesn't matter where it places in terms of the race, the important bit of the effort is getting the car to the finish.
That is important for debuting the new technologies, for giving Highcroft something to boast about after loosing their chance to shine in 2011 after the earthquake in Japan caused a lack of funding for the effort. It is also important for giving the DeltaWing a strong result after loosing out to the Dallara DW12 in it's bid to be the new IZOD Indycar hardware.
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