The release of the 24 Hours of Le Mans entry list confirms mostly good news for the American contingent of teams and drivers planning to go to this year’s race, but with some disappointment sprinkled in.
As Sportscar365 predicted late last month, while there’s still double digits in terms of American entries, not all team dreams have been fulfilled.
ENTRY LIST: 24H Le Mans
In total, 12 of the 60 cars entered – a full 20 percent – comes from teams that will run under the U.S. flag.
They’re split between four in LMP2, seven in GTE-Pro and one in GTE-Am, with two other U.S.-entered cars further down the reserve list.
The majority of American team interest will come in the GTE-Pro class, with seven of the 14 cars entered under the U.S. flag.
All four of the Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GTs have been confirmed, with the two IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship entries taking on the “Ford Chip Ganassi Team USA” entry name and car Nos. 68 and 69.
The full-season FIA World Endurance Championship entries have Nos. 66 and 67, same as the IMSA ones do in the U.S., and are entered as “Ford Chip Ganassi Team UK,” but still under the U.S. flag.
The WEC pairings are still yet to be determined but Marino Franchitti and Olivier Pla were listed as nominated drivers for the No. 66 and 67 cars, with Andy Priaulx and Stefan Muecke rounding out the lineup there.
With Joey Hand and Ryan Briscoe nominated in cars No. 68 and 69, it would follow that Dirk Mueller (No. 68) and Richard Westbrook (No. 69) will fit in there.
Sebastien Bourdais is likely to fill one of the extra spots, with Scott Dixon and Tony Kanaan possible and newly signed IndyCar driver Max Chilton less likely.
“The Ford program’s amazing, but if I was to do Le Mans again, I’d love to do it in LMP1 again,” Chilton told assembled reporters at IndyCar media day in Indianapolis this week.
Nonetheless, Ford has its four cars confirmed for its assault on La Sarthe, 50 years after its historic 1-2-3 finish in 1966.
“It was great to see all four Ford GTs up there on the Le Mans entry list today,” said Dave Pericak, Ford Performance global director, who attended this afternoon’s press conference in Paris.
“Newcomers are by no means guaranteed an entry, whatever their history or ambitions, so we thank the ACO for giving Ford the opportunity for a four car assault in June.”
“I’m very happy that we can run all four Ford GTs at Le Mans,” added Ganassi, owner of Ford Chip Ganassi Racing.
“It will be a big challenge for us but one we are thrilled to undertake. We have prepared well and can’t wait to get the Ford GTs onto the track there and show everyone what they can do.”
Corvette Racing is set to return as ever with its usual pair of Corvette C7.Rs. Brothers Ricky and Jordan Taylor will be split between the two full-season pairings, Antonio Garcia and Jan Magnussen, and Oliver Gavin and Tommy Milner. Gavin, Milner and Jordan Taylor captured a thrilling and emotional GTE-Pro class win last year.
“Being invited to Le Mans always is a special honor for everyone at Chevrolet and Corvette Racing, and we are fortunate to return as the GTE Pro winner,” said Mark Kent, Director, Chevrolet Motorsports Competition.
Risi Competizione rounds out the U.S.-based teams in GTE-Pro, and is set to make its return to Le Mans for the first time since 2010, then in the last year of the Ferrari F430 GT2.
The team has three class wins at Le Mans (1998, 2008, 2009).
“We are honored to be returning to Le Mans for what will be sure to be a great GT battle and exciting race overall,” said Giuseppe Risi. “Le Mans is a very special race and one that has even more meaning when you win.”
It will see Risi’s new Ferrari 488 GTE as a third Ferrari within GTE-Pro, to take on the four Fords, two Corvettes, three Porsches and two Aston Martins.
Giancarlo Fisichella was nominated as driver for Risi’s No. 82 car, and Toni Vilander will drive with Fisichella in the full WeatherTech Championship season and at Le Mans.
In the past, the two had shared an AF Corse Ferrari with Gianmaria Bruni at Le Mans.
Porsche’s two extra works 911 RSRs have been accepted as well in GTE-Pro, but as projected back in December at Porsche’s Night of Champions event, they’ll fall under German entry and not U.S., even though they’ll have lineups from the WeatherTech Championship.
Patrick Pilet is expected to share the No. 91 car with Nick Tandy and Kevin Estre, with Fred Makowiecki, Joerg Bergmeister and Earl Bamber slated to drive the No. 92 car.
Tandy and Bamber would be split up in their quest to defend their wins at Le Mans this year, which would be in class and not overall.
Elsewhere, there are five additional U.S.-entered cars. The two Tequila Patron ESM Ligier JS P2 Nissans, now run by OAK Racing, are the only U.S.-entered cars in the full WEC.
One-offs at Le Mans come from Krohn Racing and Michael Shank Racing in LMP2, and Scuderia Corsa in GTE-Am. Those teams are set to feature American drivers Tracy Krohn, John Pew, Bill Sweedler, Townsend Bell and Jeff Segal.
Scuderia Corsa does not have an extra Ferrari listed on the reserve list, and that list is there where disappointment resides for two U.S. teams.
Elton Julian’s DragonSpeed team, which has committed to a full ELMS season, is only eighth on the reserve list with Henrik Hedman as nominated driver for its Oreca 05 Nissan.
Riley Motorsports, meanwhile, suffers a hit in its quest to return to Le Mans, as it was only the seventh reserve entry. The team ran one of the more popular cars last year, the sole Dodge Viper GTS-R.
It would leave the trio of Jeroen Bleekemolen, Ben Keating and Marc Miller sidelined, along with the Bill Riley-led crew, after preparations have been in place for months for a return to Le Mans for a second run in GTE-Am.
It’s a gutting blow for a team and entry that, while not running an ACO-homologated GTE car for a full-season, has still been a full-time series stalwart in IMSA for years in both GT Le Mans and GT Daytona.
Also of note, with up to four Proton Competition-affiliated cars entered at Le Mans, there could be a place for Patrick Dempsey to race, although it remains to be seen whether the actor turned racer will do so.
Dempsey-Proton Racing has a fully set lineup in GTE-Pro (Richard Lietz, Michael Christensen, Wolf Henzler) and Abu Dhabi Proton Racing does so in GTE-Am (Khaled Al Qubaisi, David Heinemeier Hansson, Patrick Long).
But with the KCMG Porsche entered for the full WEC season and Proton’s Christian Ried the nominated driver, plus an extra Proton Porsche also entered in GTE-Am, those two 911 RSRs will have four seats to fill.