My name is Esben, I’m 29 years old, I’m from Norway. I was born in the wrong a) family b) country and c) part of the country, to have even the slightest chance of doing any real-life racing beyond the occasional session of hire go-karts. You are about to read my thoughts on this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans and how it will pan out. What sort of authority do I have on this subject, and who is this text meant for?
This is something I’ve been doing using the “Notes” functionality on Facebook ever since 2008, where I correctly predicted the stunning victory for McNish/Capello/Kristensen. I’ve mostly been getting it wrong ever since, but people seem to enjoy my musings, and this year Dave Ellis has asked me to do the same again here on tRL.
I’ve been closely following this race every year since catching the final moments of the 2005 edition. Incidentally, 2005 is the same year I first partook in various online endurance events (in the same team as Mr. Ellis, the amazing Vader Trophy Racing squad) having been a highly active sim-racer since 2002. I went on to log countless virtual hours around a multitude of circuits, and have formed a very clear idea of the ins and outs of racing a shared car for many hours at a time.
Sadly, both simulated and real racing have taken a back seat in recent years (I’m just about to complete my second full year as a secondary school teacher, English and P.E.) but Le Mans remains a priority. To hell with socialising and physical activity for this one week of the year, right? To give you an idea of my level of passion for Le Mans, here’s an example of me diligently keeping track of fuel/tyre stops for the leaders in 2015.
So if you’re an egg-headed boffin with an insane technical knowledge and understanding á la the optimum tyre pressures for any given car at any given time, or you’re thinking about tuning in to the LM24 for the first time this year: There might just be something within this text for anyone along that spectrum to enjoy. With all that out of the way, let’s get waffling!
With my rhythm of pretty much only watching the Le Mans week each year, all the hooplah surrounding regulations, EoT, and BoP largely fly under my radar. However, it doesn’t take a genius to see that Toyota do have a certain advantage in this respect. But why wouldn’t they?
As much as I’d love to see a bunch of scrappy privateers sticking it to the man, they ultimately aren’t spending huge amounts of money like Audi, Peugeot, Porsche and Toyota have done in recent years on development. These cars are so damn technologically advanced that you pretty much have to have the funds of a major manufacturer to get the most out of it; Kolles’ efforts in the Audi R10 a few years ago should be testament to this fact. Admittedly it does look a bit odd with Toyota being the only manufacturer in it this year, but that’s hardly their fault. Their advantage is pretty well deserved if you ask me.
Although Toyota have the upper hand regarding ultimate pace this year, they’ve shown an uncanny ability to suffer some sort of disastrous incident during past LM24s. Incidents that totally ruin their chances of winning; thank goodness Reinhold Joest and his Red Button of Doom™ won’t be present this time. Toyota always seem to be the Goliath that gets toppled by David; or are they the David that gets squashed by the secret Goliath? All I know is that I feel Toyota deserve to win, but the Racing Gods clearly don’t care about who “deserves” anything.
I must also say that I find the stint length limits for this year very silly, but ultimately helpful; I don’t feel the same need to keep track of anyone who happens to eke out an extra lap during the race like I’ve done previously. There’s also the case of the fuel flow limitations. This could be a huge issue for Toyota, as it is my understanding they struggled with this during qualifying for Spa, as well as they have done here at Le Mans. The penalty for getting nicked for surpassing these limits during the race will absolutely ruin anyone’s chance of victory and needs to be avoided at all costs.
Should one of the Toyotas manage to cross the line in 1st after all’s said and done, I think it’s going to be the #8. Buemi and Nakajima know one another very well, and the racing royalty that is Fernando Alonso ought to provide that most-recent-F1-driver X-factor that tends to be present in most top squads.
Consistently the best of the privateer field in LMP1, which is looking somewhat more healthy than in previous years, has been Rebellion Racing. Now’s their true moment to shine, provided they can keep things clean. Something they usually do. I’ve selected the #1 rather than the #3 in my notes, and I think it’s for much the same reason for choosing one Toyota over the other; Jani and Lotterer providing high quality and experience together, and Senna who’s finally up in the top class after two years in LMP2. What a cool story that’d be.
Speaking of LMP2, I don’t think I have a snowball’s chance in hell of making an informed prediction in the yearly lottery this year. As is tradition! But we must choose some favourites because the best way to enjoy this class is to be at least somewhat invested in the fate of at least one of the entries. In terms of their fastest laps, there are eight cars within two seconds of each other; plenty to choose from and somewhat hard to separate.
I like the look of the #28 TDS car, not just because they are on class pole, but all three drivers strike me as a really quick bunch of Frenchmen. Pretty straightforward, really. An alternate choice is the #36 Signatech squad, who I’ve often chosen in previous years for a variety of reasons, for the simple fact that I’ve done just that.
I have a soft spot in my heart for Jan Lammers and the old Racing for Holland outfit. Therefore the #29 Racing Team Nederland ticks a lot of boxes for me; all except for the fact that they don’t have the same brilliant paint job that the RFH cars used to run. Incidentally, my old simracing team’s greatest rivals mimicked this scheme under the name Simracing For Holland, who are still going strong. Based on the times posted in practice and qualifying, ultimate pace doesn’t seem to be good enough for the Dutchies in #29 this year. But that can always change once the green flag flies.
Porsche and Ford seem to be the name of the game; with Ferrari, Corvette and Aston Martin being at a relative disadvantage by only fielding two cars each rather than four. Even though I was unspeakably gutted over the overall result at Le Mans in 2016 (Nakajima’s Toyota grinding to a halt within farting distance of victory) I am a massive Porsche fanboy at heart. I feel that the #91 not only has the tastiest retro livery but also the strongest lineup of Porsche drivers. My second Porsche nomination is the #93. Bish bash bosh.
But how many Porsches have gone spinning off the circuit so far this week? The answer is quite a lot. Is this car too twitchy and fast for its own good? Or are the drivers simply pushing just that hard? Either way, it’s safe to say that literally (in the truest sense of the word) almost every single car in the class has the potential to pick up the pieces. Don’t believe me? The fastest laps of 2nd place through 13th are within 1.5 seconds of each other, and five out of six manufacturers are there. Crazier still, 2nd through 6th (Porsche, Ford, Ferrari, Ford, Porsche) are separated by only half a second. Aston Martin haven’t lapped quite as fast so far, and probably won’t be as much of a threat if their performance at Spa is anything to go by.
Whatever way you slice it, I think it’s safe to say that the race for GTE Pro is going to be good, and long may it remain so. GT endurance racing is bloody good stuff and rightly deserves a lot more coverage. Sadly that’s the downside to having so many competitive classes, but you’d be doing yourself a grave disservice if you neglect to follow the GT action at Le Mans. Quite often it turns into a proper street fight, and epic battles can occur deep into the race.
I’m going to be a bit blunt here: I don’t care, and I don’t think many others do either.
There are a lot of cool drivers, and I realise some of these teams bring in the big bucks in the form of purchasing cars from the manufacturers and running them. But it’s just so hard to invest oneself in this class. I don’t know what it is, but it is what it is.
…and with that, we’re finished! I hope I’ve at least piqued your interest by waffling a bit about what I know; and if you know more than me, I hope that my waffling at least makes some sense.
Post comments, chat on forums, talk to your friends. Le Mans is an event that makes me feel like an enthusiastic little boy again, and I love to share the joy with anyone who’ll listen. Join me in spreading the word. This is a brilliant race.
Thank you to Esben on his thoughts approaching Le Mans. Something we wanted to try with theRACINGLINE.net was having a few voices that aren’t beating the same drum as everyone else. It’s easy to find sportscar news, but opinion pieces a little less so.
If you have an idea for a piece you’d like to write and feel it deserves more than a Facebook post to display it, get in touch and we’ll see what we can do.