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24H Le Mans

Le Mans Saturday Notebook

John Dagys’ Saturday notebook from Le Mans ahead of Test Day…

Photo: Olivier Beroud Images

***All 60 cars for this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans assembled Saturday afternoon for the traditional group photo, including DragonSpeed’s newly built BR Engineering BR1 Gibson, which was assembled in the days leading up to the test.

***The American team has sourced a freshly built spare tub and parts to replace those destroyed in Pietro Fittipaldi’s Spa crash. Final cosmetic changes have yet to be made to the front bodywork, which was seen in bare carbon in the photo.

***Ex-Jordan, Midland and Force India F1 commercial chief Ian Phillips has joined ByKolles Racing as a special advisor. Phillips, who makes his return to Le Mans for the first time since 1986, has been drafted into the German squad via team principal Manfredi Ravetto, who worked with Phillips at Force India.

***Jenson Button arrived at Le Mans fresh off his mandatory ACO simulator session at AOTech in Paris on Thursday, which is required for all rookies to the race. The 2009 F1 world champion completed photo shoots and a seat fitting on Saturday.

***At least one LMP1 team has questioned the aero kit modifications made to the BR1s, as it was made after the April 18 deadline for Le Mans bodywork homologations. However, Sportscar365 understands the safety-related changes are on the grounds of force majeure. 

***Remarkably, the tub from Matevos Issakyan’s crash has been re-used for the No. 17 car this weekend. A BR Engineering spokesperson told Sportscar365 that no damage was sustained to the tub, engine, gearbox and bellhousing in the high-flying airborne shunt.

***In addition to the nearly 20 drivers making the trip from this evening’s Blancpain GT Series Endurance Cup round at Paul Ricard, several crew members from Jota Sport, who are operating the R-Motorsport Aston Martin V12 Vantage GT3s, are also traveling overnight to Le Mans to crew the Nos. 37 and 38 Jackie Chan DC Racing Oreca 07 Gibsons.

***The late-race gearbox temperature issues for the No. 8 Toyota TS050 Hybrid in last month’s FIA World Endurance Championship season-opening Total Six Hours of Spa was due to marble pickup on the front of the car, according to technical director Pascal Vasselon. Fernando Alonso was ordered to short-shift for the remainder of the race due to the increased temperatures.

***Vasselon said there are no concerns for a repeat occurrence this month. “Le Mans is a different situation because you have a lot less tire wear and a lot less marbles,” he told Sportscar365. “We don’t expect to suffer like Spa, Shanghai, Nürburgring where you collect marbles. It’s less than those tracks.”

***Toyota appears set to continue with team orders, after electing to freeze the running order following the final round of pit stops at Spa, which ensured victory for the No. 8 crew. “At any time, we do whatever is best for the team,” Vasselon said. “Mainly, we prepare those things and we usually do follow agreements with drivers. At Spa, we have just followed what had been agreed with the drivers.”

***The concept of retro liveries for Porsche’s pair of Manthey-run 911 RSRs came about in January, according to Head of Porsche Motorsport Dr. Frank-Steffen Walliser. The Rothmans and “Pink Pig” designs were arguably the hits of the day in the paddock, as well as on social media. “The feedback has been unbelievable. People like it,” Walliser told Sportscar365.

***The cars, which initially appeared in the paddock in traditional colors, were transformed overnight by swapping bodywork, along with wrapping the roof and a-pillar with the new graphics.

***Walliser said they had considered additional designs, including a Martini-inspired livery and one resembling the 1998 Le Mans-winning Porsche GT1-98, although were unable to outfit the two CORE autosport-run Porsches for logistical reasons. 

***United Autosports co-owner and managing director Richard Dean is hopeful that Onroak Automotive’s updated Le Mans aero kit for the Ligier JS P217 will produce favorable results, having run it in a test at Paul Ricard in April. The Ligiers, along with the Dallara P217, fought issues with its Le Mans kits here last year.

“It was a positive step but Le Mans is so unique,” Dean told Sportscar365. “Everything is multiplied here, whatever advantage or deficiency you’ve got, it really shows up here.”

***Initial details of the WEC’s 2020-21 prototype regulations will be revealed on Thursday by the FIA World Motor Sport Council, which meets in Manila, Philippines. Sportscar365 understands that only limited information will be communicated prior to the ACO’s annual press conference on race week at Le Mans.

***Rolex signage has gone up on the new start stand, which is located 475 feet forward from the original location on the pit straight. The stand stretches the entire width of the circuit and will be only used for the start of the race, with the finish line remaining in its traditional position.

***DragonSpeed team principal Elton Julian said Pietro Fittipaldi has still been offered the drive in the team’s BR1 Gibson for the Six Hours of Fuji, as the sub for Renger van der Zande. The 21-year-old Brazilian is targeting a return to racing in August. “He’s been impressive from the moment we ran him. We felt he was quite strong mentally and he’s proven to be,” Julian told Sportscar365.

***Patrick Dempsey has joined the FIA’s #3500LIVES road safety campaign, becoming the latest celebrity to help raise awareness on risk factors when driving. “This campaign is crucial,” said the American actor and four-time Le Mans starter. “It can really make a difference if more people know the facts and are aware of the road safety issue.  It is easy to slow down in high risk areas and it can save lives.”

***Several teams, including Toyota and United Autosports, will participate in an optional test on the Bugatti circuit on Tuesday, which is generally used for the purpose of shakedown and installation laps following the official test.

***Sunday’s on-track action kicks off at 9 a.m. local time, with the first session running through 1 p.m. and Session 2 from 2-6 p.m.

Daniel Lloyd contributed to this report

John Dagys is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of Sportscar365 as well as the recently launched e-racing365 Web site for electric racing. Dagys spent eight years as a motorsports correspondent for FOXSports.com/SPEED Channel, and contributes to other publications worldwide. Contact John

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