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Competitors React to Return of Tire Warmers for Le Mans

Competitors in each class weigh in on return of tire warmers for 24-hour race…

Photo: Joao Filipe/DPPI

FIA World Endurance Championship competitors in each class have weighed in on the reintroduction of tire warmers for the 24 Hours of Le Mans in a one-off measure.

Le Mans organizer the ACO last week announced that pre-heating tires will be allowed for the 100th-anniversary edition of the race next month following consultation with suppliers Michelin and Goodyear.

The ban was introduced on sustainability grounds but several competitors, particularly in Hypercar, were skeptical about the impact of starting on cold tires and some voiced concerns about driver safety after incidents at the 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps.

“I think it’s a good idea,” Peugeot LMH driver Mikkel Jensen told Sportscar365 during last weekend’s IMSA event at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca.

“There have been a lot of keyboard warriors out there saying the WEC drivers should come to IMSA and learn how to drive. I’ve done IMSA a long time as well and I can say that we don’t have an issue here.

“The tire used [in GTP] is the soft-high temperature. They are not using the medium-high temperature which [in Hypercar] we are obliged to do a double stint on because of the tire allocation.

“We have to use MHT. It takes away a minute or half a minute in Spa conditions, but it’s just the best tire for a double stint. So we have to use it, and that’s when it gets super risky on the warmup.

“It’s hard to tell how you improve it in the future, but you can’t compare WEC with IMSA. I think it’s a good decision.”

Porsche’s factory LMDh director Urs Kuratle told Sportscar365 that the manufacturer “always felt safe to run” on this season’s Michelins under the ban and that it will “have to live with” the decision to reintroduce tire warmers.

He also noted that the Le Mans-specific measure will present logistical challenges as teams adjust their inventories at short notice.

“We do accept the decision from the FIA and ACO to have it,” said Kuratle.

“Now we have to see, as it’s only a short period of time until Le Mans on how to manage it. Logistically there will be changes obviously on the operational side, where we will also have changes to the original plan.

“We have the equipment, but honestly if we would have known further in advance we could have prepared ourselves much better. But that’s probably everybody who belongs to the Hypercar class that is affected by this thing and it’s also the GTs as well.”

Michelin also supplies all cars in GTE-Am but, unlike Hypercar, those tires have been retained from last season and were not developed with the pre-heating ban in mind.

GTE-Am points leader Ben Keating, who drives the No. 33 Chevrolet Corvette C8.R, suggested that the reintroduction “changes the dynamic” for WEC teams that have been setting their cars up to race on cold tires so far this season.

“You could have a setup that is really good at getting heat into the tires, but then you have a much higher chance of over-driving and hurting them towards the end of the stint,” he said.

“I think it takes that dynamic away a little bit.

“I really think that it’s mostly about the Hypercar wrecks that we had at Spa.

“So many of the manufacturers complaining about very simple and needless incidents that I’m sure was a seven-figure damage number when you add everything up.

“But that’s the direction [the WEC] chose to go and we’re all going from the same playbook.

“I do think safety has got to be one of the number one things. You can’t be out there just to watch the wrecks happen. You’ve got to take care of the drivers and make sure everything is safe. Clearly, having tire warmers is a safer option.”

LMP2 driver Louis Deletraz, who won the Spa race with Team WRT, reckons that Bronze-rated drivers in the second-tier prototype class at Le Mans will benefit from the change.

“For the Bronze drivers it will be better for sure; it will make it safer and easier,” he said.

“But I personally quite like cold tires. When the weather is good, LMP2 was no big issue. We were losing three or four seconds on out-laps which is acceptable.

“The grip was good enough to be safe. But when you were catching Hypercars it was tricky, because on out-laps they were slow. It’s not nice to have at 2 a.m. in the night.

“I was really worried over the winter because when we tested in the cold it was difficult. But I have to say that Portimao and Sebring there were zero issues. At Spa, it was a bit trickier but nothing bad. The Hypercars were not fine, so I think it’s a good decision.”

It’s understood that the NASCAR Garage 56 entry won’t have tire warmers considering all of its development was done without them, although Mike Rockenfeller indicated that the reintroduction could impact the project’s target of being comparable to GTE-Am.

“I feel like we can somehow be on a similar pace with the GTE cars,” he said.

“I think the tire warmer [ban] was an advantage for us. Now to have it back, of course they will be super good.”

John Dagys contributed to this report

Daniel Lloyd is a UK-based reporter for Sportscar365, covering the FIA World Endurance Championship, Fanatec GT World Challenge Europe powered by AWS and the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, among other series.

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