***The ACO officially opened the Panoz footbridge on Friday, in memory of the late Don Panoz. The 82-foot long, 10-foot wide bridge overlooks Circuit de la Sarthe and is aimed to ease pedestrian traffic between the main entrance and race village. ACO President Pierre Fillon was joined by Don’s son, Danny Panoz, for the inauguration.
***Panoz, the founder of the American Le Mans Series and longtime Le Mans entrant, passed away in 2018. “This footbridge is dedicated to the fans, like our slogan ‘racing for the fans,'” said Don’s wife Nancy. “It is our way of thanking the Automobile Club de l’Ouest for the challenges and excitement that the world’s greatest race gave us over 20 years.”
***Toyota Gazoo Europe technical director Pascal Vasselon said their drivers have been told to back down a bit after “too many” off-track excursions on Thursday. “Yesterday, drivers were pushing quite a lot and we had a lot of off-tracks, wheel-locking. So this we have to reset a bit… They will have to race but we want them to race at lower risk levels than yesterday.”
***Vasselon said the No. 7 Toyota GR010 Hybrid’s electrical glitch in Free Practice 3 was related to an off-course incident and nothing to do with the car’s issue seen in last month’s 6 Hours of Monza.
***Kamui Kobayashi’s 3:23.900 Hyperpole-winning lap could have been even quicker had the Japanese driver not exceeded track limits at Tertre Rouge on another flyer that had to be abandoned. Vasselon still admitted that they didn’t expect that quick of a lap out of the car.
***Toyota is preparing for all aspects of uncertainty in the race including practicing changing parts “all around the car” according to Vasselon, who said they don’t expect to make a brake change in the race. He said they have roughly a 20-minute gap to the class-leading LMP2 cars should a problem occur.
***Richard Mille Racing’s Oreca 07 Gibson stopped during FP3 due to a loss of water pressure, according to team principal Philippe Sinault. “There was no damage to the engine, we went in saving mode and told Sophia to park the car and wait,” he told Sportscar365.
***It’s understood that the GTE Balance of Performance change affecting Ferrari came into effect less than ten minutes before the start of FP3 on Thursday afternoon. This resulted in a half-hour delay in the AF Corse GTE-Pro cars getting out on track.
***Pascal Zurlinden was elated at privateer HubAuto Racing taking the GTE-Pro pole against factory teams: “For us, it was an achievement because it proved to the world that we always give the best support and parts to our customers, and there is no difference in factory and customer teams,” he said. “It’s a Porsche, and we are really delighted.”
***Kevin Estre’s accident in Hyperpole ended a four-race pole streak for the Frenchman dating back to the 2019-20 season-ending round in Bahrain. Porsche, however, was able to maintain its pole record dating back to Spa 2020.
***Callum Ilott said one of the biggest challenges of his Le Mans debut has been setting up a car that is also driven by a Bronze-rated driver. The FIA Formula 2 runner-up has only previously raced in all-pro Ferrari GT3 lineups. “The one thing I’m always cautious of is the car balance,” he said. “Because what I’m happy with might not be what they’re happy with.”
***While absent from the 2022 FIA World Endurance Championship calendar, Fillon confirmed that the Le Mans test day will take place on June 5 next year, again one week prior to the 24 Hours of Le Mans. It will fall on the same weekend as the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship race in Detroit, which has traditionally clashed with the test day.
***As part of the ACO and IMSA’s ten-year partnership extension, IMSA will have a third automatic invite to utilize beginning in 2022. These invites will be provided for one GT entry, one LMP2 entry and starting in 2023, one LMDh/LMH entry. For next year only, IMSA may select a LMP3 team to receive the third entry.
***Fillon confirmed that IMSA-based LMDh manufacturers wishing to compete in the 24 Hours of Le Mans will be required to compete in at least one WEC race prior to the race, similar to its arrangement with Corvette Racing in GTE-Pro. “For sure we need to have seen the car before to be able to make the BoP,” he told Sportscar365.
***The ACO President said they have no plans to introduce LMH or LMDh in the European or Asian Le Mans Series, despite pressure from some LMDh manufacturers. “Clearly P2 is the main category in the ELMS and Asia,” Fillon said.
***Additionally, Fillon clarified that there is no restriction on Bronze-rated drivers wanting to compete in Hypercar, either with LMH cars or soon-to-be LMDh machinery. It’s understood there has been a strong amount of interest among gentlemen drivers looking to purchase and potentially race with the platform.
***With the GTE-Pro class extended through the end of 2023, Corvette Racing is expecting to continue its current program with the Chevrolet Corvette C8.R at Le Mans according to GM sports car racing program manager Laura Wontrop Klauser.
“We take those decisions year by year but I’d say directionally yes, we’d like to continue on,” she told Sportscar365. “The cars are designed and built. It’s a matter of getting the team over here and running. Obviously we have to get an invitation each year; it’s not guaranteed. But that would be the desire to look towards that.”
***Fillon revealed that his daily driver is a Toyota Mirai hydrogen fuel cell car that he fills up at an ACO-financed refueling station at the adjacent airport. He explained that it takes six minutes to fill the tank full with 6 kg of hydrogen, with the car having a range of 600 kms.
***The fan pit walk, initially scheduled for Friday, was canceled by the ACO due to increased COVID-19 protocols. It was to be the only opportunity for the public to get an up-close view of the cars and stars with scrutineering having been moved behind closed doors and the annual parade in downtown Le Mans also canceled. A maximum of 50,000 fans are on-site this weekend, spread around the track.
***Era Motorsport revealed that Thomas Laurent wasn’t its first choice to replace Kyle Tilley, as the initial driver it had secured tested positive for COVID-19. Sportscar365 understands that Gustavo Menezes was also considered, with the American having been on-site in his Glickenhaus reserve driver role.
***The IDEC Sport-entered LMP2 car was withdrawn on Friday morning following its second crash of the week, which will result in a 61-car starting field for the French endurance classic.
***The WEC has clarified that it was the Chinese ASN, and not the ACO, that has forced Absolute Racing to change its team’s registration from China to Germany. “Due to COVID, they are not encouraging teams to race abroad,” a WEC spokesperson told Sportscar365.
***The change resulted in Absolute having to register as a German entrant at the last minute and secure a license through the German ASN. Incidentally, the team is still flying the Chinese flag over its transporter.
***The GTE-Pro pole-sitting HubAuto Racing entry is not affected as it had been running under Chinese Taipei on the entry list per international sporting rules. The team is, however, flying a Taiwanese flag in the paddock.
***It appears that Glickenhaus Racing will not be eligible to compete in the WeatherTech Championship, per IMSA’s rule of having a minimum 2,500-unit volume requirement for each manufacturer. “It’s IMSA’s intent to maintain that [rule] for all of the manufacturers competing in IMSA competition,” series president John Doonan said.
***While currently producing road cars, it’s understood the American manufacturer has not yet reached the numbers that IMSA requires, nor is it interested in completing IMSA’s marketing agreement, which is another requirement for entry.
***Doonan told Sportscar365 that he’s been “very clear” in his hope of 15-year-old Josh Pierson making his WeatherTech Championship debut later this year in a PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports Oreca 07 Gibson, should his licensing get sorted out. IMSA rules currently do not permit anyone under the age of 16 from racing. Doonan said he’s currently “working through it” with ACCUS and the FIA.
Daniel Lloyd contributed to this report