A little over a week remains until the start of this year’s 24 Heures du Mans. Last weekend’s test day on the 13.629km Circuit de la Sarthe enabled most of the 56 competing teams to hone their preparations for motor sport’s most famous endurance race.No 24 Heures du Mans is ever banal, but this year’s 82nd edition promises to be particularly engrossing. First and foremost, the quest for supremacy in LM P1 has reached fever pitch with a wide open three way battle forecast.
Defending champion Audi, despite an impressive three car roster including Loïc Duval, Marcel Fässler and record nine-time winner, Rolex Testimonee Tom Kristensen, will face a stringent title defence owing to the determined challenges of rival manufacturers and drivers.
Toyota has made an impressive start to the 2014 FIA World Endurance Championship (winning both races in the lead up to Le Mans). During last weekend’s test day, Toyota also recorded the fastest lap time (set by Swiss driver Sébastien Buemi in 3:23.014) and its two cars topped the time sheets. The signs are encouraging for a first win in LM P1 by the Japanese manufacturer. The return of Porsche, after a 16-year absence from the prototype class, has also grabbed its share of headlines. At the test day, Porsche’s best-placed car finished fifth – behind the two Toyotas and Audi cars #1 and #3.
Each of the three manufacturers has selected a different technical approach for the 2014 race from choice of engine and fuel to aerodynamic package. Engineers have been given a creative licence to find the winning solution, taking into account the nature of the race which includes moments of dense traffic, changeable weather conditions and seven hours of night-time driving.
One factor all nine LM P1 teams face is the new regulations governing fuel efficiency. Teams are required to consume 30% less fuel than in the past, a measure which adds a new layer of intrigue to the race and has been embraced by engineers and drivers alike. “30 per cent is a big gain we have to achieve so we try to find a little bit everywhere: on our driving, the engine and the aerodynamics,” explained Toyota driver Nicolas Lapierre, part of the fastest team on test day. “We have to look at all of the data and try and understand where we can save a little bit more fuel.”
Eighteen cars will contest the LM P2 class, 28 in the GTE classes; nine in Pro, 19 in Amateur. 168 drivers from nearly 30 countries will take part. France is the most represented country (37 drivers), followed by the United Kingdom (27) and the United States (18). The LM P1 class contains eight former race winners.
The 15:00 CEST start on Saturday 14 June will be conducted by two legends of the sport. Recently retired Allan McNish, three-time winner of the race, will serve as Grand Marshal while Fernando Alonso, two-time Formula 1 world champion, will have the honour of unfurling the tricolour start flag.
The 24 Hours of Le Mans was founded and is organised by the Automobile Club de l’Ouest (ACO). Rolex has been Official Timepiece since 2001.