The next three days GTspirit will visit and cover the 24 Hours of Le Mans 2014 with Audi Motorsport. The 24H race of Le Mans is one of the most prestigious races in the world. For some, a win here is even more important than winning a championship. Audi has dominated in the last few years, but the race will be much closer this year.
Le Mans is a very special race. The first race was held in 1923, so Le Mans hosts one of the oldest races in the world. The second thing is that Le Mans does not have a permanent racetrack. The 24H race is hold on actual public roads. Just minutes after the last car finishes the race, the police open the roads for the normal traffic. This and the enormous speeds of the cars make Le Mans one of the most dangerous tracks in the world. It has claimed many lives including Alan Simonsen, who died last year.
The 8.5 mile long track is well known for the Mulsanne or “Hunaudières” straight. Until 1990, it was 3.7-miles long. Because the top speeds exceeded over 250 mph (again, on normal roads), the Mulsanne straight was cut into three sections. Despite this, the cars continue to reach over 200 mph on the short straights to both chicanes.
While the Mulsanne straight and the not much shorter back straight (Indianapolis) are relatively easy to drive, the last part of the track is quite tricky. The “Porsche Curves” are a very quick right/left combination, where cars can reach about 160 mph and more. How dangerous these corners are, was shown on Wednesday, when Loic Duval destroyed his Audi R18 e-tron LMP1. Duval was very lucky that he was able to escape that accident unhurt, but the impact was so heavy, the doctors have refused to let him drive on the weekend. Veteran Marc Gene will replace him.
There are four different classes which will start in Le Mans. The quickest and most advanced cars are starting in the LMP1 category (Le Mans Prototype 1). This class features prototypes, which are only built to reach one goal: to win in Le Mans. The aerodynamics are very complicated like in Formula One and far more advanced compared to IndyCar in the US or the Super Formula in Japan. In fact, the teams are spending more time on the track for testing than a F1 team spends for all races and testing in one year.
Audi has dominated the LMP1 in the last 14 years. They only lost one race against Peugeot (2009) and didn’t start in 2003, when Bentley won the race (with a chassis made by Audi). But this year will be different. Toyota want to win the race and this year, Porsche will be making a comeback. They won nearly every race in the 70s and 80s and everyone has welcomed their return.
The organizers gave the class new rules today. They basically said: “You can do what you want. Just don’t exceed 5 liter cylinder capacity, have 4 vales per cylinder and use a hybrid system.” The rules for the hybrid system are very complicated, a mixture of how much energy you use per lap and how long you want to drive with one tank of fuel. In the end, the three manufactures came up with these three concepts
Audi: V6, 4.0l, using 2 MJ Hybrid-System, Diesel
Toyota: V8, 3,7l. using 6 MJ Hybrid-System, Petrol
Porsche: V4, 2.0l, using 6 MJ Hybrid-System, Petrol
The rules are made so that you can decide to use more hybrid (electro) power, or more power from the ICU. Using more ICU power means, that you burn more fuel, but in the end all engines should be one the same level. Using more fuel gives you a power advantage, but shortens the length of the stint. And staying out on the track as long as you can while still driving fast is the key to success in Le Mans.
The cars are using the latest technology in the motorsport world. Hybrid, active suspension and much more. On one hand, the technology gives certain advantages; on the other hand, using complicated technologies in a 24H race brings about the potential of faults and failures.
Audi and Toyota opted out for a less complicated car while Porsche has gone the other way. This is the reason, that most experts don’t see the Porsches as a favorite. But it will be a close race between between all cars throughout the whole 24 hours. It will be a sprint race, right from the start to the finish. Nobody can afford even having a slight technical glitch. If one team has to spent 30 seconds or longer in the pits, it will be hard for them to win the race. It is that close.
Another car in the LMP1 is the private Rebellion R-One car. It starts in the “private” class and will not have chance to win against the three manufactures.
The second class of prototypes is called “LMP2”. Basically, it is a class for privateers using prototypes with a very strict set of rules. They run normally aspirated engines from Nissan or Judd. Chassis are made by Oreca, Ligier or Zytek, but because of the strict rules, they are nearly the same. It is very hard to to see a favorite, but look out for the following teams: Jota, G-Drive, Thiriet and Newblood by Morand. The special thing in this class is that all the teams have to use am “amateur” driver, which makes the team a bit slower. Those “amateur” drivers are not really amateurs, but they don’t have that much experience compared to a professional. There are three keys to win this class.
1. Have the quickest amateur driver available
2. Don’t have any technical problems
3. Just drive flat out
GT-Cars play a big part in Le Mans. There two classes: the GTE-Pro and the GTE-Am. The GTE formula is like the old GT2 cars. They a lot more advanced compared to the better known GT3 cars and much quicker. The difference between the “Pro” and the “Am” class is easy to explain, but not so easy to see on the track.
Pro: Using the latest (2014) Version of a GT-car. Only professional drivers in the works teams.
Am: Using the 2013 version, two drivers must be amateurs
Because a 458 in the “Pro” class will look nearly exactly like an “Am” car, the only way to separate the two is the start number. The “Pro” have green numbers, the “Am” are yellow/orange.
There are four manufactures competing in the GTE: Porsche, Ferrari, Chevrolet and Aston Martin. Porsche has a works team with two new 991 RSR in the “Pro” category. Ferrari uses the well known 458. Chevrolet has the new Corvette C7 in France and Aston Martin uses the Vantage. The Corvette will not start in the “Am” category, because the C7 was introduced only this year. The competition in both classes is very hard. There have been races in the past where the winning has been decided on the final lap.
The close race between the cars is ensured through the “balance of performance” rules. The performance of all cars is monitored very closely and the technical regulations can even change a day before the race to ensure that all cars are on the same level of performance. To win here has lot to do with luck. Like in the LMP1, nobody can afford to make a mistake. A longish stop, a spin or flat tire will ruin the chances of winning the race.
Le Mans 2014 Preview Links
Racingblog contributor FloausN made an excel file that includes all technical data and allows you to calculate which team would make it how far. You can change the data to calculate your own scenarios: Excel Performance List LMP1 2014 Download (xls)
Twitter Hashtags: #LM24 #LeMans24 #FIAWEC #WEC
Entry-List Le Mans 2014
Circuit de la Sarthe
Tracklength: 13,6 km
Number of corners: 38
Average speed: (LMP1 ca. 240 km/h), (LMP2 ca. 220 km/h), (GTE ca. 205 km/h)
Topspeed: (LMP1 ca. 338 km/h), (LMP2 ca. 305 km/h), (GTE ca. 295 km/h)
Fastest lap (LMP1): 3:18.7, Stéphane Sarrazin (Peugeot 908 HDi FAP 2008)
Le Mans 24H Winners 2013
LMP1: Audi Sport Team Joest – Tom Kristensen/Loic Duval/Allan McNish
LMP2: Morgan-Nissan Oak Racing – Bertrand Baguette/Martin Plowman/Ricardo Gonzalez
GTE-PRO: Porsche AG Team Manthey – Marc Lieb/Richard Lietz/Romain Dumas
GTE-AM: Porsche IMSA Performance Matmut – Raymond Narac/Christophe Bourret/Jean-Karl Vernay
Le Mans Documentaries