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.

The Porsche Group (eight)

dailysportscar.comThierry 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.

Neugarten is 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.

dailysportscar.comTaisan 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 rubber.

 

dailysportscar.comPK 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……

dailysportscar.comRacers 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.

dailysportscar.comSeikel 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.

dailysportscar.comT2M 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.

Michelin tyres.

 

dailysportscar.comOrbit. 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.

dailysportscar.comAlex 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.

The Ferrari Group (four)

Three 360s and a 550….

dailysportscar.comJMB 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.

dailysportscar.comRisi 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….

dailysportscar.comRisi / 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.

The Ferraris need more Porsche (irony) Curves type corners, and fewer straights. Yokohamas on this one.


dailysportscar.comXL 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 numbers.

dailysportscar.comTVR 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.

dailysportscar.comSpyker 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?

 

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