With a record grid, the return of Ford and the unpredictable fight for overall honors, there are a number of intriguing storylines heading into the 84th running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Sportscar365 breaks down the ten things to watch for in this weekend’s French endurance classic:
***An expanded 60-car grid, the largest since the 1950s, has allowed for the arrival for a number of high-profile entries, including the four-car Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT effort in GTE-Pro. It marks Ford’s return to La Sarthe on the 50th anniversary of its first overall win with the legendary GT40 in 1966.
***The LMP1 class has been reduced to a nine-car entry, with only two entries each for Toyota, Audi and defending race winners and FIA World Endurance Champions, Porsche. Budget cutbacks for both German manufacturers, which ran three cars last year, have resulted in 2015 overall winners Nick Tandy and Earl Bamber being moved to Porsche’s GTE-Pro effort.
***All three LMP1 manufacturers have new or revised machinery, which have struck reliability issues in the opening two WEC rounds. Both Toyota TS050 Hybrids had issues with its new 2.4-liter V6 turbo engines at Spa, while hybrid failures have hit both Porsche and Audi, the latter which has switched from a flywheel to battery-based system this year. Porsche has even reverted to its 2015-spec battery system for Le Mans.
***The early season issues for the factory juggernauts could open the door for a LMP1 Privateer team, such as Rebellion Racing, or even a LMP2 car to claim an overall podium finish. Rebellion is on the heels of back-to-back podiums in WEC with its No. 13 Rebellion R-One AER, with its drivers currently sitting second in the Drivers’ World Championship. The last time a privateer team has finished on the overall podium at Le Mans was Pescarolo Sport in 2007.
***Balance of Performance has been a major talking point in GTE-Pro, which sees a titanic five-way factory fight between Ford, Ferrari, Corvette, Aston Martin and Porsche. Corvette Racing topped the time charts at the test day but has been hit with a power reduction for the race, while both the Ford GT and Aston Martin Vantage GTE has received a weight break and the Porsche 911 RSR handed a minimum weight increase for the weekend.
***There’s a significant American presence this year, even beyond the two Detroit brands. Tequila Patron ESM, Krohn Racing and Michael Shank Racing are in LMP2, with Risi Competizione joining Ford and Corvette in GTE-Pro and Scuderia Corsa represented in GTE-Am, totaling 12 entries. In all, there 23 American drivers taking part in the race.
***LMP2 features a massive 23-car field, up from 19 last year. It largely features closed-top prototypes, in the final year of the current regulations. Twenty of the cars are Nissan powered, with two Judds and a single Honda. Onroak Automotive is the most represented constructor, with nine Ligier JS P2s and one Morgan LMP2 Evo, while there are seven cars under the Oreca badging (03R/05), plus two Oreca 05s badged as Alpine A460s.
***A tire war has returned to all four classes for the first time in a number of years. Both Rebellion an ByKolles Racing have switched to Dunlop tires in LMP1, with Aston Martin Racing also on Dunlops in GTE-Pro and GTE-Am. Michelin, however, still holds the advantage in numbers, with 33 of the 60 entries on French rubber.
***While being an event of its own, Le Mans also counts towards a round of the FIA World Endurance Championship. Double points are awarded for this race, adding extra incentive to more than half of the field, which are made up of full-season entrants.
***Following efforts from DeltaWing and Nissan, Garage 56 returns this year for Frederic Sausset, a quad-amputee who will drive a specially adapted OAK Racing-run Morgan LMP2 Nissan with Christophe Tinseau and Jean-Bernard Bouvet. Sausset had all four limbs removed following a bacterial infection in 2012.