Before flopping onto your couch this Saturday afternoon to watch the 80th running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, there are a few important details you need to know.
Firstly, all Peugeot cars, whether factory-supported efforts or privateer entries, have withdrawn from the event so the five-year old rivalry between the French team and defending champions Audi will no longer spearhead proceedings.
The good news is that the gap left by the Peugeots’ absence will be filled by Toyota, who return to the iconic endurance race after a 13-year sabbatical.
CAN ANYONE BEAT AUDI?
As ambitious as Toyota’s effort may be, with only two cars and little testing behind them, it’s expected to provide the biggest competition to the four-car Audi powerhouse. In line with the Japanese brand’s road-going philosophy of hybrid power, the two TS 030 racers will also be assisted by electric motors running in parallel to normal petrol-powered 3.4-litre V8s.
The Audi team, with ten overall wins in the past 12 Le Mans races, will also field a pair of hybrids called R18 E-Tron Quattros, that similarly harvest energy to power electric motors – but here positioned at the front wheels making the cars all-wheel drive. The two other Audis will be more traditionally powered by diesel, just as in last year’s overall winning car.
The rest of the LMP1 (Le Mans Prototype) contingent, which can be identified by white headlights and white numbers on a red background, will be filled by seven other cars from Rebellion, Oak, Pescarolo, Strakka and JRM Racing teams. Rules in this top category state a minimum weight of 900kg, and a maximum engine capacity of 3.4-litres for petrol and no limit for diesels. If turbocharging is added, these reduce to 2-litres and 3.7 respectively.
Next up is the LMP2 category identified by white headlights and white numbers on blue backgrounds. Here there’s a strict budget cap of R4.3-million per car, and each team must have at least one amateur driver entered. Engines are limited to 5-litre naturally-aspirated V8s or 3.2-litre turbo V6s with no diesels allowed. There are 20 LMP2 cars entered this year.
The remaining two classes (GTE Pro and Am) are where you’ll see more recognisable cars in the shape of Porsche 911s, Ferrari 458s, Chevy Corvettes, and Aston Martin Vantages. The GTE (Grand Touring) cars can be spotted at night by yellow headlights and white numbers on green or orange backgrounds respectively. The Pro and Am suffixes refer to the driver’s experience.
The most interesting car on the grid, however, and one that will bear the number “0” because of its experimental status, will be Nissan’s revolutionary new Deltawing project. Looking more like a jet fighter’s fuselage with two front wheels positioned close together up in its nose cone, and two rear wheels spaced far apart, the Deltawing is expected to lap with times between top LMP1 and second-tier LMP2 cars, but needs only a 1.6-litre turbocharged petrol engine thanks to slippery aerodynamics.
Catch the entire race on Super Sport channel 6 starting at 2.30pm on Saturday afternoon. -Mercury Motoring