The 71st Le Mans 24 Hours – LM GT Preview
Porsche To Remain Unbeaten?
Thanks to Johnny Mowlem
and Robin Liddell, we’ve had a fascinating insight from two
drivers into how this class of 15, the second largest in the race,
could pan out. ‘Could’ is the operative word: drivers
are eternal optimists, and Mowlem and Liddell – rightly –
looked at the GT class assuming reliable runs from the main contenders.
There is the prospect of a whole bunch of cars hammering on for
hour after hour, but as ever in racing, expect the unexpected…
Our Porsche-Ferrari pair
both went for Job-Petersen and Racers Group as the two most significant
entries, so there’s the possibility of almost a repeat of
the Freisinger and Racers Group battle of last year. But that assumes
that both of these brand new Porsches will run and run for 24 hours.
Will they? Of course, we just don’t know…..
Let’s take a look
at each of the 15, marque by marque.
Porsche Group (eight)
Perrier’s Perspective Racing didn’t
race here last year, but his Mosler is back in Europe (with ACO
ambitions), and the Frenchman’s Porsche is in the race this
time, driven by Ian Khan, Michel Neugarten and Nigel Smith.
likely to set the qualifying time, Smith and Khan will be steady
rather than spectacular, and #75 is likely to move up the order
as the race progresses. A potential podium, depending on the fortunes
of others? Dunlop tyres on this one.
Advan. The Japanese team has had some adventures over the
years, including rolling the car into a ball in Qualifying, then
winning the class. Last year’s third in GT could be the best
they can expect this year: if our pundits are right and the level
has been raised again in GT, that might be a top six for 2003. Yokohama
Sport. Robin Liddell wants a podium place, David Warnock
wants to stand on the podium, Piers Masarati would love to bring
that (almost the same spelling) name back to Le Mans with a top
three – and with the team heading off to the ALMS next, nothing
on earth would set up Team owner Mike Pickup for the future than
his drivers managing a top three. dailysportscar
will describe the team’s week at Le Mans from beginning to
end. It could be a great story. Pirelli rubber. The black and yellow
Porsche was running third last year……
Group. Kevin Buckler has enjoyed the most amazing success
recently. His Daytona plan was as cool and calculating as could
be, and his extraordinary team sorted out the best Europeans at
Le Mans last year. Can he continue his remarkable run of success?
Jorg Bermeister blitzed everyone at the Test Day with a 4:08 lap,
but Qualifying in GT should be much closer. Lucas Luhr has switched
to the Job-Petersen car this year. Buckler (and Bernhard) or Luhr
could enjoy consecutive victories….Michelin tyres of course.
Motorsport. Fourth last year, and this impressively run
team will ease through the GT ranks as the race progresses. David
Shep, Tony Burgess and John Lloyd may lack Le Mans experience (just
two starts for Burgess), but Peter Seikel doesn’t.
This group allegedly
take it in turns to occupy the annual Seikel entry at Le Mans. What
a sensible sytem. Yokohama provides the rubber. Top six? How many
cars can be squeezed into the top six?....er, six.
Motorsport. A debut at Sebring for Itoshi Kaneko’s
team, and now straight into Le Mans. Vanina Ickx is joined by Sebastien
Bourdais’ father Patrick, and Roland Berville. Probably an
outsider, possibly a top six contender – depending on what
the others get up to.
A second appearance at Le Mans, and the 2002 experience will have
set up this team for a potential win. Their attention to detail
is staggering, their professionalism unquestioned. Marc Lieb and
Peter Baron will share the bulk of the driving, and Leo Hindery
could end up as a partner helping to achieve the ultimate result.
How hard will they chase Racers and Job-Petersen? The strategy should
be fascinating. All three use the same rubber.
Job Racing. The ALMS Champions come to Le Mans - with an
interesting Petersen association. May 4 didn’t go to plan,
Michael Petersen unfortunately crashing the brand new car. Luhr,
Massen and Collard drive in the race: does it get any stronger than
this? Pick any one to qualify, then get them to follow each other,
in and out of the car, for 24 hours. Simple. Ensure that the 911
can be driven almost flat out for 24 hours, put Alex Job in charge,
add Michelin tyres, and here’s a (the?) potential winner.
Ferrari Group (four)
Three 360s and a 550….
Racing. de Simone and Bertolini have been almost rampant
at times in the FIA N-GT Championship: for the big one, the French
team has installed David Terrien and Fabio Babini, with Fabrizio
de Simone. JMB had a very different 24 hours last year, but has
learnt the lesson well. One car and three top notch drivers (plus
Pirelli tyres) gives them a very good chance of competing with the
best – although as with the other 360s, the Ferrari isn’t
perfectly suited to the Le Mans straights (five of them, in effect).
There’s the prospect of a furious race between the 360s, probably
just off best 911 pace.
Competizione. Michelin rubber for Ralf Kelleners / Terry
Borcheller / Anthony Lazzaro, as the massively experienced Risi
team takes on Le Mans. A 4:13 at the Test Day was Kelleners’
best, but race pace could be closer to the best Porsches. Some of
the driver combinations in the GT class are frighteningly competent
– here’s another one. Can Ferrari challenge as strongly
in GT as in GTS? Probably not. Could a 360 win the GT class? In
the right circumstances, maybe….
/ ACEMCO. Another trio of drivers ranking with the best
– Mowlem / Leitzinger / Lewis. Mowlem seems like to qualify
the silver 360, and is looking to run sixth early on. The ultimate
target is a podium – and a very realistic one too.
need more Porsche (irony) Curves type corners, and fewer straights.
Yokohamas on this one.
Racing. The French GT Championship 550 is an outsider
for any kind of good finish. It ought to be bombproof as a GT (rather
than GTS) car, but probably won’t be. A 4:28 at the Test
Day was disappointing. Michel Ferte makes a comeback though! Pirellis
adorn this one.
The Others (two TVRs, one Spyker)
No Morgan, no Corvette…..and
conceivably we could, all right in dreamland, have had a Panoz,
Lamborghini or BMW. The last two are not serious, but the point
is that there isn’t a great deal of variety in the class.
But if you were a member of the ACO’s Selection Committee,
wouldn’t you have gone for largely 911s and 360s?
The TVRs and the Spyker
are the eccentric elements in LM GT…and very welcome too.
Eccentric? Unusual then
– because all three entries seem likely to suffer some sort
of weight / restrictor penalty, owing to insufficient production
T400R. Two of them – apart from Risi, the only two
car team – with six very capable drivers, but the Test Day
went awry for the Blackpool beasts. Over optimistic straight line
speeds suggested a lack of Le Mans experience (Hugh Chamberlain
is on the team though) or an odd choice of gearing. The straight
sixes didn’t like the rev band on the straights, and pistons
went pop. Sebring showed that almost anything is possible with a
T400R – prepare to be surprised, probably in ways that we
can’t even imagine. Jordan / Sugden / Caine and Barff / Hay
/ Stanton drive, Dunlop provides the rubber.
C8 Double 12-R. Spyker for short. Norman Simon and Tom
Coronel are the quick pair, Hans Hugenholtz the gentleman. Spyker
can’t seem to ‘do a TVR’ and secure two entries,
but they are back for a second try. Orange sponsorship seems very
appropriate, and if the engine holds together, we could be in for
a surprising finish from the unusual Dutch (Dunlop-tyred) car.
So there we are: we’ve glanced at all 50 entries. Logic suggests
Bentley, Ferrari or Corvette and Porsche to take three of the class
wins, with 675 totally unpredictable. Had you gone for Audi-Reynard-Corvette-Porsche
last year, you’d have had a clean sweep. Somehow, it’s
not nearly as straightforward this time – is it?