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WEC Preview: 24 Hours of Le Mans

Written by Evan Veer, Edited by Meghana Sree

image: Hendrick Motorsports

The biggest endurance event of the year is finally upon us: The 24 Hours of Le Mans. As one of the three jewels of the motorsport triple crown, it has always been among the most popular and prestigious races in the world. Now, with the return of the likes of Ferrari and Porsche to the top class of endurance racing, it already looks like this edition will be even more exciting.


Even before taking into account the massive increase of top class entries, this edition is already a special one, as the race celebrates its centenary edition this year– 100 years after its first running in 1923. This special occasion also means that whoever ends up winning will be guaranteed to make history, thus making the victory more valuable to teams and drivers. Aside from the prestige, there are also double championship points on the table, so a good result here can go a long way towards taking the title later this season.


The Circuit de la Sarthe stretches up to 13.6 kilometres (8.5 miles) and still runs on the largely unlit French public highway for the most part, though several sections like those around the start-finish straight have been replaced by a permanent track layout. The long straights mean that top speed will be an essential factor for good lap times, though more intricate sections like the Porsche curves at the end of the lap mean that teams can’t go full throttle with top speeds, at the cost of downforce.

image: James Moy Photography/Getty Images

Tyre warmers will make a somewhat controversial return for this race, after having been outlawed from the start of the 2023 season. The change was decided upon after a number of incidents related to problems with tyre temperatures, with a long string of problems during The 6 Hours of Spa causing most of the controversy that led to this change.


Due to its long length, the Circuit de La Sarthe uses a caution system unique to the World Endurance Championship wherein the track is divided into a number of sections which can individually be marked as a ‘slow zone’, effectively creating a Virtual Safety Car on that section of the circuit alone while the rest stays green. In case of a safety car three pace cars will be deployed to bunch up the cars, whereas in previous years the race would restart with three separate cues. A rule change this year means that all of the cues will be put together under one safety car before the restart.


In the event a driver finds themselves stranded with mechanical problems without being able to make it back to the pits, they have the opportunity to make repairs to the car themselves with the tools often placed in the car in case of an emergency. However, if the driver receives any outside help or gets too far from their car, they will not be allowed to continue.


To make it easier to follow the race you can follow Divebomb’s live coverage of the event, as well as other useful resources such as the (unofficial) spotter’s guide including all car numbers, teams, liveries, and drivers in an easy overview: https://spotters.guide/.

image: James Moy Photography/Getty Images

On top of the already stacked 13 car grid at Spa, the Hypercar class will see three additional entries for Le Mans only, with one new car each for Cadillac, Porsche, and Glickenhaus.


Just days before the start of on-track action the FIA (Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile) and ACO (Automobile Club de l'Ouest) shockingly announced unexpected changes in the BoP (Balance of Performance) including the addition of 37 kilograms of ballast to the Toyota GR010 as well as 24 kilograms added for Ferrari, while Cadillac and Porsche were hit with smaller increases of 11 and 3 kilograms respectively. In return for the weight increase these cars were granted a slight increase in the maximum energy they could use per stint to ensure they would be able to achieve the same stint lengths as before. Peugeot, Glickenhaus, and Vanwall have all remained unchanged, meaning they should be closer to the front of the field than before.


Despite the unexpectedness of the adjustment, the feeling among the manufacturers seems to be generally positive, as many of them are looking forward to the race with the feeling they could end up in the fight for victory.


Having taken home the win the past five consecutive years, Toyota looks like the obvious favourite, but this year’s enormous influx of top class competition combined with this major weight increase will certainly make things a lot more difficult than in years past. Ferrari especially looked to be at or above Toyota’s outright pace at Spa but troubles with tyre temperatures and strategy as well as a crash for the #50 meant that the prancing horse fell short of beating Toyota yet again.

image: Toyota Gazoo Racing

The Porsche Penske Motorsports team has been steadily improving as the season progresses, and with a third car in the field, the chances of Porsche taking home their 20th ever overall victory at Le Mans are looking good. To commemorate the 100 year anniversary of the race, the three factory Porsches are running a special livery with their usual red stripes each replaced by a colour connecting to Porsche’s iconic liveries of the past.


The privateer Hertz Team JOTA’s Porsche learned a lot from their relatively unprepared debut at Spa, but it remains to be seen if they are ready to face the enormous challenge that is surviving the full 24 hours at Le Mans.


Proton Competition will not be entering the race as they are still awaiting delivery of their first Porsche 963 customer car.


Cadillac is pulling up to the Circuit de la Sarthe ready to fight with triple its usual car count. The full-time #2 will again be joined by fellow Chip Ganassi Racing run #3 after its violent crash at Eau Rouge last month, and on top of that, this year’s winners of the IMSA 12 Hours of Sebring in the #311 Whelen Engineering Cadillac are crossing the Atlantic to fight alongside their sister cars.


The radical wingless design of the Peugeot 9X8 will finally get its long awaited opportunity to show its strength at Le Mans, a track which in theory should favour its design if the car’s reliability holds up all the way to the flag. Regardless of its pace, the Peugeots will definitely be hard to miss with their new special white livery covered in a wild splash of colour complementing the 9X8’s unique design.

image: Stellantis Media

Even though Glickenhaus is unlikely to be on top of the Hypercar field on pace, they can certainly still make a difference. Coming back to the French countryside for a third time with a 100% finish rate so far and a second car entered for the race, there should be nothing stopping them from achieving another impressive result when other manufacturers run into problems throughout the 24 hours of the race.


An already controversy-laced season for Vanwall has produced yet another strange storyline as its 1997 F1 World Championship winning driver Jaqcues Villeneuve has been replaced by Tristan Vautier for the remainder of the season. The story behind this move is still unclear, as Vanwall claim that Villeneuve decided to leave of his own volition, while the Canadian in turn stated that he first heard about the replacement when it was announced on Vanwall’s social media while he was in hospital for the birth of his daughter.


Pace-wise, Vanwall wasn’t turning heads at Spa and the team’s track record at Le Mans over the past decade does not bode well for them, though this new era with a new car might give them the break they need to finally take home the result they’ve been waiting for.


All in all it’s impossible to predict what the exact running order will be come race day, as there is a case to be made in favour of almost any of the manufacturers being on top pace-wise. Like any 24 hour race, reliability problems are always lurking around the corner ready to take out any of the cars regardless of their position or pace, and race leaders have retired in the closing stages of the race plenty of times before.

image: Hendrick Motorsports

Traditionally one spot on the grid is always reserved to make room for an innovative one-off entry to compete in its own class named ‘Garage 56’. Following in the footsteps of cars like the Nissan Deltawing, this year’s unique entry is a next-gen Chevrolet Camaro Nascar heavily modified to be able to run the full 24 hour distance, though the car’s large posture and loud engine have been preserved in full glory.


The effort is run by Hendrick Motorsports and features quite a notable lineup with 7 time Nascar Cup Series Champion Jimmie Johnson, 2009 F1 World Champion Jenson Button, and 2010 overall Le Mans winner Mike Rockenfeller. Despite the team not officially fighting for any class positions it will still be interesting to see if this American muscle car will be able to stay ahead of its similarly paced GTE rivals.


After the Hypercars class we find LMP2, which this year only features a single make of car with the dominant Oreca 07. The 24 car field is rich with top tier teams and highly talented drivers, and previous years have shown that the category always provides a good show throughout the 24 hours.The class also contains a separate subclass called LMP2 PRO/AM in which each car features a bronze amateur driver instead of the usual silver ranked driver.


Last of the usual three classes is the 21 car GTE-AM field which like LMP2 always proves chaotic and exciting, and the fact that this year will be the last edition featuring GTE machinery will make a class win extra special. The field features four different manufacturers, with a majority of teams using Porsche 911 or Ferrari 488 machinery while a couple of teams chose the Aston Martin Vantage. Corvette returns with just a single car after their double heartbreak last year, but going off the season so far they are looking to be one of the big favourites heading into the week.


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