The 71st Le Mans 24 Hours – LMP900 (>P) Preview
Anything Could Happen
midday, Le Mans, Sunday, 2000. “It’s like watching
traffic go by on the autoroute,” said Janos Wimpffen. Audi
were most of the way to blitzing the opposition, and the Pescarolo
Courage had sealed fourth place. Those who’d been awake
all night in the press room were as tired as almost anyone at
the track, and cynicism was creeping in, understandably. The
R8 [R] was creating its reputation as the greatest prototype,
of the modern era at least, and no one else could get near them.
Racing, or a demolition job?
to 2002: there’s a fantastic race going on for fifth place.
Oreca Dallaras, the Goh Audi, Racing for Holland Dome, one of
the Cadillacs and one of the Pescarolo Courages. It’s unfortunately
overshadowed by the Audi one-two-three-Bentley group ahead.
another twelve months: uncertainty is back.
disagree of course. Some observers believe that the win is destined
for Crewe (or at least Crewe am Rhein), and that a Bentley will
take the honours at the third time of asking. It’s VW’s
will that a Speed 8 wins, therefore it will.
Others go for
one of the rock solid Audis. A small minority go for something
else again – and this year, at last, there is the chance
that something powered by other than a twin turbo V8 could win
this thing. A romantic dream? Maybe, we’ll see.
put them in three groups – Should Win, Could
Win and Competitors, the last comprising
those present just for the hell of giving it their best shot,
aiming first of all to cross the line at 16.00 on Sunday June
Bentley and Audi. Who are you going for? Tom Kristensen
made it absolutely clear to us on May 4. The Speed 8s have
to be faster over a lap – every lap – than the Audis, because they’re
likely to stop more often, use up their tyres more quickly and take longer
to change drivers.
How much faster
over a lap? A second was the David Brabham estimate, which over
360 laps would give them a buffer of six minutes. That assumes
of course that a Bentley or an Audi can go through the race absolutely
trouble free. Can you imagine a situation where an Audi does
so, but a Bentley has a slight delay? Kristensen or Herbert on
a charge to the front – wouldn’t that be fun? The
gap see-sawing as an Audi drones on, the Bentley edging closer,
falling back after each stop, edging closer again. But hang on,
what about the white lines issue? Won’t absolute pace introduce
dangers of penalties?
minds have presumably been pondering this issue. Will Team Bentley
set their own agenda (lap times), or will they balance their
pace according to that of the Audis? What is race pace going
to be? The Test Day didn’t really resolve that question.
Have the Bentleys
had their Test Day problems entirely eradicated? What’s
been going on behind the scenes to make the latest Speed 8 into
a supremely reliable Le Mans car? Can you imagine the resources
being thrown at the Bentleys to turn them from Sebring hard chargers
into Le Mans winners? How many components will have been improved
in the last few weeks? A couple of separate suspension problems
cropped up on May 4, but it’s hard to imagine that area
being a problem again. Conservatively, the four litre, 2003 spec.
V8 is producing 50 (perhaps 60) bhp more than the 2002 spec.
3.6 V8 in the R8s. Can Bentley win this time? Everything that
has gone before seems to have been preparation for 2003. Will
the programme stop on June 15, at 16.00? In glorious victory?
Will the three
customer Audis have a fair crack at the win? Some would argue
that Bentley never did (when the Audis were supposed to win).
of the three R8s is run by the most capable team? Why hasn’t Champion won
a race yet? It would just sum up racing fortunes if they won
this one, as their first. Kazumichi Goh and
his squad got through their nightmare last year (Dalmas’ Qualifying
crash) and finished well. Mike Earle’s Arena Motorsport
ran the Gulf Audi in 2001, so there’s a similar level of
R8-at-Le-Mans experience with the Audi Sport UK car
(as with the Goh Audi), but Champion - here in 2001 too – are
the ones with most R8 racing experience, by far. Add Johansson,
Lehto, Pirro, plus the fact that they should have triumphed at
Sebring……but hang on, Frank Biela is in the Audi
Sport UK entry, and like Pirro, he hasn't lost here for three
years. But Johansson and Lehto are former winners, Salo and McCarthy
and forth we go....
are top R8 dog, a Bentley is supposed to win, any one of the
five could win, and there’s the potential for a five car
dust up at the front. Is there a plan in place to prevent the
V8 turbo cars thrashing themselves into oblivion (is that possible?)…leaving
someone else to pick up the pieces? Or is confidence so high
that five teams will go at it hammer and tongs, sure in the knowledge
that at least four of them will finish? It’s unpredictable,
R&S, Panoz, Courage
Competition, Racing for Holland, Pescarolo
If one of these eight entries wins, it will be a turn up for the books. Stranger
things have happened though. Three Mercedes in ’91, Schumacher thrashed
one to near extinction, and not even Mass and Schlesser could make the class
of the field for 21 hours last for 24, even though it had a performance advantage
over all other marques. Herbert and Mazda screamed their way home with an outsider,
in a race that saw the formerly front-running Jaguars just too old (and too
heavy)….a pointer to 2003’s race?
Could one of
these eight outsiders run trouble free for 24 hours? No, don’t
believe it? Did you give Mazda a dog’s chance 12 years
ago? What about 15 years ago? Jaguar won because #2 (the only
one of the five) had a perfect run, even finishing with a gearbox
ready to fall apart as soon as the rear plate was removed. That
run was the stuff of legends, a greater feat than the 1990 win.
Who fancies one of the eight above to mimic the Lammers / Wallace
/ Dumfries run to glory? If it happened, it wouldn’t be
from the front of course, but then the plan wasn’t for
Lammers to take off like a hare 15 years ago. The car was so
quick, he couldn’t hold it back.
And Lammers is
in a tip top Dome, a developed Dome, a third time (like Jaguar
in ‘88) at Le Mans Dome, with old mate Wallace, and John
Bosch as the steady, but quick enough, third driver. There’s
revised aerodynamics, a new paddle shift system (kinder to the
gearbox?), a trusty Judd – and a car now so good that A.
Wallace set a 3:45 on his first flying lap on May 4, even though
he finished the lap with a puncture. Little Racing for Holland
taking on mighty Bentley? Lammers did ‘sort out’ the
2002 Bentley in Qualifying…. but may choose to just concentrate
on the race this year. Or he may not.
RfH Dome isn’t a potential winner, but it could be a strong
finisher, as long as incidents are kept to a minimum.
Riley: a man with a point to prove. A man who arrived
at Sebring a week behind the game: a man who knew how close
his car was to the ultimate pace, but who knew he wouldn’t
find that pace in the few days available to him. This time
he’ll be ready. And he builds a tough car.
got faith in that Yates V8. His car can survive the tough old
grind that is Sebring. A car that may not be tailor made for
Le Mans, but one that can be hauled out of a gravel trap – and
can carry on regardless. Goossens and Tinseau – two talented
Europeans to partner Jim Matthews. Watch this one.
Team Panoz. They did it for John McLoughlin at Sebring,
and Panoz the team deserves a very good run at Le Mans. Beretta
might cause a surprise in Qualifying, and the Stump-Puller
Type ll – like the R&S, not a natural car for Le
Mans these days, may cause a turn up (on its last visit?).
The seventh (OK sixth) year for the GTR-1 and its derivatives.
Competition. Yves Courage lives for this race. He’s
had more than his fair share of shortened races, often through
pure ill fortune. Cochet, Gregoire and Derichebourg could be
one of those unfancied trios that come through all the same.
His C60 is still a visual and aural delight. He deserves a
great finish. He deserves to have a manufacturer boosting his
2004 efforts. Come on French industrialists, get behind this
Sport. The driving line ups are very strong (Boullion
/ Lagorce / Sarrazin, Ayari / Helary / Minassian) – and
very French. Henri’s two cars could both have steady
races and be close enough at the end to emulate that fourth
place in 2000 – or better. It all depends on what the
others get up to. Pescarolo will set his own pace, not the
quickest, but hopefully the steadiest. Perhaps still short
of a top notch engine, but working wonders with what he has.
If the retirement rate is high……
Lister, Kondo Racing, Team
Nasamax, Durango, Norma
He may not
believe it, but the pressure could be off Laurence Pearce.
He’s not expected to be at the front of the field in year
one, development time has been short, the GT programme has been
intensive recently, and he’s only scratching at the surface
of what his car could achieve. Sebring was a disaster, but one
that developed owing to an error hardly of the team’s making.
Now if they could just have a good, reliable Wednesday, the same
again on Thursday, the same again on Saturday and Sunday. The
Lister-developed V8 should be one for the future – and
its reputation could start building this month. JC-W is undoubtedly
a prototype star in the making, but he doesn’t need to
set the world alight this week. Just run and run. Nathan Kinch
should be steady, Vincent Vosse takes over from Jean-Denis Deletraz.
It could finish well.
Dome. Ukyo Katayama in anything can be spectacular,
and this car could literally be a dark horse. A 3:44 suddenly
popped up on the screens at the Test Day. Wasn’t the
2002 version of the Mugen short on revs. And power? Have the
Japanese quietly developed the perfect 24 hour engine here?
The Kondo Dome at the Test Day didn’t have the 2003 bodywork
fitted, but perhaps it will this month. And without the chequer
board pattern, we might be able to focus on what the curves
do…..camouflage, Dutch style, gives a very different
look to black and red, Kondo style.
Nasamax. The track will smell nicer with the green
Reynard in the field. John McNeil’s adventurous team
has put two dramas behind it already – an early retirement
at Sebring, after running reliably for a week, and Bryan Herta’s
big Mulsanne Corner moment at the Test Day – so they’re
set up to run and smell sweetly for 32 Hours (two x four plus
24). Werner Lupberger is a great team man, as are Robbie Stirling
and Romain Dumas. Pit stops are going to feature very regularly,
to the extent that a good long run will see the mechanics up
and down like yo yos, but if they can keep it running for 24
hours, a good finish is beckoning. The engine – any engine – might
drink the bio-ethanol like a glutton, but it should enjoy the
experience, and go roaring round hour after hour demanding
more. There’s a rear end change all ready if necessary.
and Norma. Norma’s sister Debora is too
old for the party now, so younger, hardly more attractive, sister
Norma (right) joins the fun for the first time. Will she behave
and be invited back again? Will she be sick over the carpet (tarmac?).
She’s a welcome addition, but she’s under pressure
to perform strongly. Durango comes to party in France for the
first time too, this one an infant of a few weeks, taking over
from her similarly named, three year old twin. She won’t
be racing with the big boys at the front, but she will be trying
hard to be there at the end.
who are you going for? Let’s finish with another potential
scenario. The two Bentleys perform faultlessly throughout Qualifying
and the 24 Hours, and the Audis all hit problems, mainly minor,
of one sort or another. And why will the Bentleys perform faultlessly?
Because Reinhold Joest says so, of course. He’s unbeaten
in years beginning with a 2, and so is Tom Kristensen…..but
so are Frank Biela in #10 and Emanuele Pirro in #6!
You choose the winner. What a shame Taurus aren't present though.