The countdown to the 2013 Le Mans 24-Hour race has begun! It seems that just the other day we were bringing you news of the 2011 and then the 2012 events, and here we are talking about the 2013 race. This year’s event will be somewhat special though as the legendary endurance race celebrates its 90th anniversary, and the organizers, the Automobile Club de l’Ouest (ACO), have promised an action-packed programme in the week leading up to the race itself but apparently these details will only be revealed as we get nearer the time.
At the 2012 race, the writer interviewed those clever guys behind the GreenGT H2 prototype, a hydrogen-powered race car that looks like no other. Now that the Garage 56 contender has been confirmed as the GreenGT H2, we will be bringing you excerpts from that interview in the weeks and months that follow.
But back to the present, as of midnight on 16th January, no fewer than 71 entries for this year’s race had been received. On 1st February the ACO announced that they were well pleased with the 56 confirmed entries, and the ten reserves in the event of any withdrawals. The 56 cars invited for scrutineering and admin checks break down as follows: 8 in the LM P1 category, 22 in LM P2, 11 in LM GTE Pro and 14 in LM GTE Am, plus one in the 56th garage. The Le Mans 24-Hour will be the third round of the 2013 WEC, the first two rounds being the Silverstone 6-Hours (14th April) and the Spa 6-Hours (4 May).
Vincent Beaumesnil, Sports Manager of the Automobile Club de l’Ouest said, “…Thanks to the evolution of the regulations decided by the ACO, the LM P1 privateers will be in a position to take the fight to the works teams at the front of the field. In the LM P2 category, the most heavily subscribed for this year’s race, the vast majority of the entrants can win. And we’re very happy to see a Chinese team getting involved in the battle just when we’re launching the Asian Le Mans Series this year…”
Undoubtedly the main battle will be between the Audis (3x e-tron quattro Hybrids) and Toyotas (2x TS030 Hybrids) in the LM P1 class, with the Japanese manufacturer having proved in 2012 that they have what it takes to beat the might of the Ingolstadt juggernaut. Far from the top class being a two-horse race, the ACO have ensured that the playing field is quite even with the other three entrants in this eight-car class being brought closer to the performance of the works cars through revised regulations, making the racing very tight indeed.
In order to give the privateers every chance of taking the fight to the works cars, the ACO has endeavoured to increase the performance of the petrol-powered cars by increasing the air restrictor diameter, while the works cars will carry an extra 15kg of ballast. In addition, the refuelling flow of the latter will be reduced so they will spend an additional eight to ten seconds at their pit during refuelling stops compared to 2012.
The LM P2 class will be a hotbed of competition comprising no less than five manufacturers covering the 22 cars. Ex-rally world champion Sébastien Loeb will be managing his own team represented by a single Oreca 03 Nissan in LM P2. The class will be contended by the likes of Oreca, Lola, Zytek and Morgan, while Nissan will be even more strongly represented than in the past with 16 cars in the LM P2 class being powered by the Japanese manufacturer.
In 2012, the Lotus Racing team entered a Lola chassis with a V8-Judd engine rebadged Lotus for the Le Mans 24 Hours. Lotus last raced officially at Le Mans ‘strictly speaking in 1962’, but the factory supported a number of teams in the 1990s, the last one being the Elise GT1 campaigned by GTi Racing in 1997. This year, however, the Bavarian-based squad managed by Colin Kolles is back with two brand-new cars bearing the famous Lotus name.
Eleven cars will make the start in the GTE Pro category and Ferrari will be back to repeat its 2012 victory through the AF Corse team who will field two F458 Italias. Opposition will come from two Corvettes out for revenge after their disappointing showing in 2012, and two Aston Martins flying the colours of the make that is celebrating its centenary this year, plus two Porsches and two Vipers. Porsche’s last official factory entry was back in 1998 with the 911 GT1, in which Aiello/McNish/Ortelli took overall honours, but this year the Stuttgart manufacturer has entrusted a pair of works 911 RSRs (Type 991) to the Porsche AG/Team Manthey, which will run them on an exclusive basis in 2013. Viper marks its comeback to the Sarthe with two cars (last seen at Le Mans in 2003), evolutions of those entered by the manufacturer in the ALMS last year.
LM GTE Am has also attracted a full field with fourteen cars led by the two Larbre Competition Corvettes who will be up against four Porsche GT3 RSRs and two Aston Martins, and no less than six Ferrari 458 Italias. And it is not just the cars that will be the attraction as American actor Patrick Dempsey will be at the wheel of a Porsche 911 GT3 RSR in this class.
Once again, the Le Mans 24-Hour week programme will kick off with scrutineering on Sunday 16th at 14h30 till 19h00 and will continue on Monday between 10h00 and 18h00. This is followed by Drivers’ autograph session on Tuesday 18th at 17h00; Practice sessions on Wednesday 19th with free practice from 16h00 to 20h00 and qualifying from 22h00 till midnight. On Thursday 20th Qualifying is from 19h00 to 21h00 and then between 22h00 and midnight. This is topped off with Drivers’ Parade which moves through the centre of Le Mans on Friday 21st from 17h30 to 19h00.
On Saturday there will be a 45-minute Le Mans Legends race followed by a similar length Ferrari Challenge Trofeo Pirelli supporting race. The start of the 81st Le Mans 24-Hours is scheduled for 15h00 on Saturday 22nd June. Be there!!