Thursday, September 24, 2020

2020 MotoGP Midseason Review

Typically, September is the time championships are winding down. A few races are left. We have a clear idea who is in the championship hunt, who is out of it, and we are turning an eye to the next year. 

This autumn, that is further from the truth is nearly every championship, and MotoGP is no different. There are still seven races remaining in the 2020 MotoGP season and with seven rounds in the books there is no clear runaway with this championship. In fact, it is one of the most open championships in reason memory. 

We have had six different winners from seven races. Customer bikes have won over half the races. We have had four first-time winners this season. Only four factory riders currently occupy spots in the top ten of the championship. 

There are a lot of places we could start this midseason review, but we will start with the man who hasn't been there and whose absence significantly affects this year's champion. 

Is Marc Márquez out of it?
The eight-time world champion Márquez suffered a broken right arm in the season opener at Jerez and he has not started another race this season. 

Márquez tried to return to competition, but after practicing for the second round at Jerez, the injury forced him to withdraw. A further comeback was delayed when the titanium plate in his arm broke while he attempted to open a window. This additional operation at the end of August pushed any return back two months, meaning a late-October return at the earliest. However, this is Marc Márquez we are talking about. 

He isn't going to be ready for Barcelona this upcoming weekend, but what about Le Mans for October 11? That would be a little earlier than originally thought, but not impossible. 

With Márquez out, the championship is up for grabs with Andrea Dovizioso currently on top of the mountain with 84 points, one ahead of Fabio Quartararo and Maverick Viñales and four ahead of Joan Mir in fourth.

No rider has lit this season on fire with six different winners from seven races. 

At best, Márquez could be back for six races with 125 points left on the table. A sweep is asking a lot but let says he does it and picks up 125 out of 125 points, all Dovizioso would need is 42 points from the final seven races to claim the championship. Missing Barcelona means the top four are spotted another handful of points should they all stay on their bikes. 

Márquez is out of it, but he could make it interesting if he returns for France. Even if he is not back for Le Mans, we could get three or four stellar performances to remind us of his greatness. If Márquez does return, he will likely be competing at the front of the field and stealing points from championship-contenders. Even though he will not be going for the title himself, he surely could factor in deciding this year's champion.

Who is the title favorite with seven races to go?
Well, as stated above it is a four-horse race, but nobody looks spectacular. 

Dovizioso won the Austrian Grand Prix, but his only other podium finish was third in the Jerez season opener. Quartararo swept the Jerez races, but his fourth-place finish in the second Misano race last week was his first top five finish since his victory in round two. It would have been a podium finish for Quartararo had he not been handed a three-second penalty for exceeding track limits.

Viñales picked up his first victory of the season at Misano last week and he had finished runner-up to Quartararo in the first two races, but had finishes of 14th, tenth, a retirement and sixth in-between. Mir has not won this season, but he has three podium finishes in his last four starts and he has finished in the top five in every race outside of his retirements in the first Jerez race and Brno.

There is no favorite. We are halfway through the season and it is still too early to pick out a rider and yet it feels like we should have an idea of who will come out on top. That isn't the case this season. Everyone has been streaky and in two races, these four could be completely flipped and just as close together.

Who else will win a race this year?
There have been six different winners in the last six races and there are probably two or three other riders that could pick up a victory this season.

First, you have Mir, who has been on the cusp of victory a few times only to fall short. That would not be a surprise. 

Second, Jack Miller and Pol Espargaró are both kicking themselves for letting the Styrian Grand Prix at the Red Bull Ring slip from their grasps and into Miguel Oliveira's pocket. Either of those riders are an option and Espargaró had great shots at victory also slip away from him at Brno and the Austrian Grand Prix. 

Third, Francesco Bagnaia had two strong outings at Misano, only to be second to Franco Morbidelli in the first race and to fall while leading in the second race. 

Fourth, this season has already seen both Petronas SRT Yamaha riders, a factory KTM rider and a Tech3 KTM rider win races this season. We have had four first-time winners this season between Quartararo, Morbidelli, Oliveira and Brad Binder. The door is open to anybody breaking through. 

I think Mir can get a victory, but he will have to be flawless that day. If Márquez returns for at least three or four races he will get a victory and if Espargaró can keep his head straight and repeats his speed at Brno and Red Bull Ring, he could absolutely get a victory. Maybe Miller can get one but Dovizioso and Quartararo will likely each get at least one more victory this year. They have to if they want to be champion. 

Can anyone else enter the title fight?
Four points cover the top four but there is a 16-point gulf between Mir in fourth and Morbidelli and Miller tied for fifth. Takaaki Nakagami is a further point back in seventh and then you have Oliveira a further 21 points back of Mir in eighth. 

I am not going to say it is impossible for someone like Morbidelli or Miller to go on a run, win four of the final seven races, finish on the podium in the other three and steal the championship, but I will say that is unlikely. I think the gap is too great for either of those two or anyone else outside the top four to be a contender heading into November. 

I think this year's MotoGP champion is currently one of the riders in the top four.

Anything to say on Valentino Rossi?
Rossi has been good, as he sits ninth in the championship on 58 points, 26 points off Dovizioso. 

His only podium finish was a third in the second Jerez race and he lost his 200th premier class podium in the closing laps of the first Misano race. 

Rossi is fourth of the four Yamaha riders, but he is 41 years old and he is still ninth in the championship. There hasn't been a race this season where he has looked like a potential race winner though. He has had a bunch of solid rides, including a few from the back of the field, but I think ninth fits perfectly for how he has been this season. 

Can Rossi win a race? 

The Yamaha is good enough with four victories this season, but the only time Rossi has been the top Yamaha finisher was in the two races at the Red Bull Ring, a fifth and a ninth, arguably the toughest weekends for Yamaha. He was running third in the first Misano race and lost it in the closing laps. I don't see him running away with a victory. It would have to come from a close battle between the top three or four riders and him making the correct moves and coming out on top at the checkered flag.

Who is going to be the top KTM rider?
The Austrian manufacture is having a breakout season after Brad Binder picked up KTM's first premier class victory at Brno and Miguel Oliveira slipped through in the final corner to get a sensational victory in the Styrian Grand Prix, which was a 1-3 finish for KTM with Pol Espargaró in third. 

KTM has shown incredible pace, but it has the occasional off-race. 

Oliveira is the top KTM rider on 59 points with Espragaró two points back, Binder four points back and Iker Lecuona miles back on 15 points. Best in class will be between the Portuguese, the Spaniard and the South African. 

Oliveira and Binder might have the victories but Espargaró has shown more consistent pace throughout the season. The only problem is Espargaró had contact with Johann Zarco take him out at Brno. He was leading when the red flag came out during the Austrian Grand Prix for Morbidelli and Zarco's horrendous accident and lost his wits, showing visible frustration. When the race restarted, he lost ground immediately and he and Oliveira came together, taking both riders out. 

Espargaró went from first to third on the final lap of the Styrian Grand Prix, but I will not peg that too much on him. Sometimes you are on the losing end of those battles and it glosses over what otherwise was a terrific race. He was elevated to third last week at Misano after Quartararo's penalty. 

If Espargaró can keep his head straight, he can get at least one victory and he will be the top KTM rider. If he can't do that, then it is Oliveira's as Binder has not been able to put up as consistent results.

Is Honda doomed without Marc Márquez?
A little bit.

All credit to Takaaki Nakagama because the LCR Honda rider is seventh in the championship on 63 points and the only other rider to score points in every race this season is Dovizioso. 

The Honda is a difficult bike to ride and it fits Marc Márquez's style more than anyone else's. Márquez won the championship last year but the next best Honda rider was Cal Crutchlow in ninth and Crutchlow's three podium finishes were the only other podium results for Honda that Márquez was not responsible for. 

Nakagama's fourth in the second Jerez race is Honda's best finish this season. Álex Márquez is slowly getting a handle on the bike but has not shown to be factor yet. Crutchlow has been beat up this season and hurt himself after slipping in the paddock at Barcelona. There is a reason Stefan Bradl is a test rider and not a full-time rider. 

Honda is a little doomed. Nakagama has been a revelation this year, but he is not quite up to speed to run for victories. I don't see Álex getting there this year, but perhaps he could be equal to Nakagama before this year is out. 

If Honda hopes to be on the podium this year, let alone the top step, it has to get Marc Márquez back for a few rounds. 

What are the storylines to focus on for the remainder of this season?
Andrea Dovizioso currently leads the world championship and does not have a ride for 2021. He announced his departure from the team in-between races from Austria. Jack Miller will move up to the factory outfit, as Danilo Petrucci will head to Tech3 KTM next year. 

The problem for Dovizioso is all the factory rides are gone. Honda will reshuffle its lineup with Álex Márquez moving to LCR so Pol Espargaró can join the factory team. Quartararo is replacing Rossi at the factory Yamaha team alongside Viñales. KTM is all set with Binder and Oliveira in the factory team and Petrucci and Lecouna at Tech3.

Unless Dovizioso wants to join Aleix Espargaró at Aprilia, his options are a demotion to one of the two customer Ducati teams or he replaces Quartararo at Petronas SRT Yamaha, though that spot is likely going to be Rossi's. I guess the second LCR Honda ride is open but after seeing what Nakagama has done this season I would think Honda will retain him.

Petronas SRT would not be a bad choice if it somehow falls to Dovizioso. It does have the most victories through seven races this season. It does feel like Dovizioso played himself into a corner. He almost held out too long and was too old for another manufacture to take a shot at and he is ready to move on from Ducati. 

There is also the chance Dovizioso retires. He is 34 years old. This is his 13th season in the premier class. If he doesn't want to return to Ducati, then it really isn't worth taking a step back to run eighth or ninth for most of a season with perhaps one or two podium finishes falling his way. He has a chance to retire a champion and maybe that is the door he chooses to open come the end of November.

How will these final seven races play out?
Unlike Formula One, there are not many surprises in the final portion of the MotoGP schedule. 

Bracelona, Le Mans, Aragón and Valencia were all on the original schedule. Aragón and Valencia will now be doubleheaders. The only new addition is Portimão, which will host the season finale on November 22. This will be MotoGP's first trip to Portimão and MotoGP's first round in Portugal since 2012. 

We can actually forecast how these remaining races should play out. 

Before Marc Márquez won at Barcelona last year, Ducati had won the previous two races at the track and Yamaha won the two Barcelona races before that. Ducati has had a rider on the podium at Barcelona the last three years and Dovizioso won in 2017, but he has only one other podium finish at the track, a third in 2012. Quartararo was runner-up last year to Márquez and Barcelona was the site of his only Moto2 victory. Viñales' best MotoGP finish at Barcelona is fourth. Suzuki had two of its bikes in the top six last year. 

Honda and Yamaha have split the last 12 races at Le Mans, with Yamaha holding the advantage seven to five. Chris Vermeulen won at Le Mans in 2007 with Suzuki. Ducati has never won the French Grand Prix, let alone won at Le Mans. Ducati did take second, third and fourth last year with Dovizioso, Petrucci and Miller behind Márquez, and Petrucci and Miller were second and fourth respectively in 2018. Viñales won this race in 2017 but has finished seventh and retired the last two years. Viñales was third in 2016 with Suzuki and Aleix Espargaró was sixth that year, but outside of 2016, Suzuki has not finished better than ninth at Le Mans. 

Márquez has fourth consecutive victories at Aragón and Honda has seven victories, ahead of Yamaha's two and Ducati's one. Dovizioso has been runner-up the last two years and Ducati has had a bike on the podium the last three years at Aragón. Yamaha has not been on the podium in either of the last three years at Aragón. Suzuki did pick up a third and a fourth with Andrea Iannone and Álex Rins at Aragón in 2018.

Four different riders have won the last four Valencia races with Honda taking two of those victories with Márquez and Dani Pedrosa. Dovizioso won a shortened 2018 race ahead of Rins on the Suzuki and Pol Esparagaró on the KTM. Quartararo was runner-up to Márquez last year after winning pole position. Viñales' best finish at Valencia was fifth in 2016. 

Márquez sure tips the scales and history does not paint one clear favorite over the final seven races. Ducati should be happy Le Mans is not a doubleheader and Aragón is. Viñales has historically struggled at Barcelona, Aragón and Valencia and those tracks host five of the final seven races. Quartararo was second at Barcelona and Valencia last year and was on pole position in both races, fifth at Aragón and eighth at Le Mans. Mir's best finish at the remaining tracks was sixth at Barcelona, but like Quartararo, this is only his sophomore season. 

Adding to the difficulty of predicting the final seven races is the first seven races were held at four tracks. Jerez, Red Bull Ring and Misano all held doubleheaders. There is not much variety to go off of. KTM was strong at Red Bull Ring and won Brno but was less competitive at Jerez and had one good Misano race and one mediocre Misano race. Yamaha swept the Jerez and Misano races but struggled at Red Bull Ring and Morbidelli picked up a second-place finish at Brno. The factory Ducatis were off at Brno and Misano, but the customer Ducatis got podium finishes at those tracks.

It sounds crazy but Suzuki might be the most consistent of the top four manufactures, but it is only fourth best because Suzuki's high is not as high but its low is not as low. It is a perfectly centered bike. Suzuki has had a top five finisher in six of seven races. Yamaha is the only other bike that can say that. 

I would say the deck is stacked in Dovizioso's favor. Experience is on his side; past success is on his side and he has scored in every race this season. While Quartararo won the first two races and should put up a mighty challenge, his results have been too inconsistent to suggest he can win the title. He will have to raise his game over the final seven races. These are not Viñales' best tracks and his results have been streaky in 2020. Like Quartararo, Viñales has to find another level over these final seven races. Mir is too much of an unknown.

If you are as puzzled as I am about all this, don't worry, in two months, this will all be straightened out.  

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

2020 IMSA Midseason Review

IMSA has pieced together a 2020 season and we have reached the halfway point... well, we actually surpassed halfway through the 6 Hours of Atlanta over Labor Day weekend, but five races remain, and this is our chance to get a look at how the championship sits entering autumn. 

This is a much different season. Normally, at this time of year all that is left is the season finale at Petit Le Mans. However, there are two endurance races left in 2020, including the 12 Hours of Sebring. There are also two traditional sprint weekends left and an audible was made to allow a GT-only round to take place with a NASCAR weekend at a course North America's top sports car series has not used since 2000. 

We need to get a grasp of where we are, how did we get here and what is still to come in this 2020 IMSA season. 

How has IMSA kept this season on track?
By adding a second race at Daytona, Sebring and Road Atlanta among other things. 

With Long Beach, Belle Isle and Mosport first falling off the calendar, IMSA revived the Paul Revere 250 on Independence Day weekend at Daytona and added a traditional, two-hour and 40-minute race at Sebring in July. When Watkins Glen and Lime Rock Park were called off, Road Atlanta took over the six-hour endurance race and the Charlotte road course was called upon to take the GT-only round to run on Friday night of the NASCAR weekend. 

Mid-Ohio moved from May to the end of September. Laguna Seca moved from September to November 1. Petit Le Mans was shifted back a week and will no longer be the season finale. The 12 Hours of Sebring will close the season on November 14.

The season will be 11 rounds, down one from originally planned, but we should still have four endurance races, including the 24 Hours of Daytona and 12 Hours of Sebring. 

Where has the pandemic hit the hardest?
While Formula One, IndyCar and NASCAR have skated through 2020 without seeing much of a hit on grid size, IMSA and sports car racing as a whole has not been so fortunate. 

Paul Miller Racing won the 24 Hours of Daytona and missed the next three races due to financial constraints. Heart of Racing Team has also missed races and Alex Riberas has not been able to return to the country. GEAR Racing powered by GRT Grasser shutdown. 

The LMP2 class was due to see some growth in 2020, but Tower Motorsport by Starworks closed after the second round. Cameron Cassels ended his season due to quarantine concerns and Performance Tech Motorsports' season ended with Cassels pulling out. DragonSpeed is a part-time program after originally stating full-time aspirations. 

The 6 Hours of Road Atlanta had two LMP2 starters after opening 2020 with five cars.

Though not immediately felt, the Porsche GT North America program will cease operation after the 2020 season. Although, I guess we will immediately feel Porsche's absence, as it withdrew from the Mid-Ohio round due to positive covid-19 tests coming out of the Porsche camp at Le Mans and drivers have been quarantined.

Felipe Nasr tested positive for covid-19 prior to the Paul Revere 250 round at Daytona and missed the race. Nasr has since returned to competition, but IMSA has not been immune from the harsh realities of the current climate.

How does Acura Team Penske have the most victories and yet simultaneously is the most disappointed team?
For some reason the entire Acura Team Penske program was casted as a failure when the manufacture and team announced they would go in separate directions after 2020, though it won a championship last year!

The first few races were difficult for the team. The #7 Acura of Hélio Castroneves and Ricky Taylor was caught in an accident in the 24 Hours of Daytona and then had mechanically problems in the Paul Revere 250. The #6 Acura of Juan Pablo Montoya and Dane Cameron was fourth in both Daytona races. Both cars did not have a great day in the Sebring sprint race. 

The #7 Acura turned it around with impressive victories in the wet at Road America and a comeback drive at Road Atlanta. However, the decision has already been made between Acura and Penske to go separate ways in 2021. 

The #7 Acura has actually gotten itself back in the title fight, ten points off the championship leading #10 Wayne Taylor Racing Cadillac. The #7 Acura is actually ahead of the #6 Acura by 11 points despite starting the season with two last-place finishes. 

If Acura is not happy, then who is in Daytona Prototype international?
Wayne Taylor Racing? It started the season with a dominating victory in the 24 Hours of Daytona. It had two runner-up finishes and probably had a podium finish taken from the team when Ryan Briscoe was penalized for hitting Montoya entering the pit lane at Road Atlanta, although there was not much Briscoe could have done in that situation. Both cars were already at pit lane speed and Montoya abruptly decelerated. 

Briscoe and Renger van der Zande have not made many mistakes together and are a reliable duo to have leading the championship. 

Cadillac as a whole should be happy. 

The #5 Mustang Samplings Cadillac of João Barbosa and Sébastien Bourdais for JDC-Miller Motorsports is second in the championship, four points off the #10 Cadillac with finishes of third, third, third, fourth and fourth this season. The #31 Action Express Racing Cadillac has been on the podium in the last three races, including the Sebring sprint where Pipo Derani and Nasr scored victory in Nasr's first race back. 

Mazda should be pleased. Jonathan Bomarito and Harry Tincknell won the Paul Revere 250 in a Mazda 1-2. Bomarito and Tincknell were second at Road Atlanta. Oliver Jarvis and Tristan Nunez were runner-up in the first two races. The Mazdas are fourth and fifth in the championship.

Has Corvette's driver change worked out?
Jordan Taylor entered, and victories came with him. 

Taylor and Antonio García have won three races in the #3 Corvette. They have pulled away in the GT Le Mans championship with 191 points, 14 points clear in class. They could have had four consecutive victories if it were not for the #4 Corvette of Tommy Milner and Oliver Gavin leading a Corvette 1-2 at Sebring. 

Not all the credit can fall on Taylor, as the #4 Corvette has a runner-up finish at Road America and was second at Road Atlanta. Corvette has the top two spots in the championship. It ended a two-year victory drought. García got his first victory in almost three years! Corvette might be the one entity having a good 2020.

Is GT Le Mans Balance of Performance working?
Put the #3 Corvette aside for a second...

The #4 Corvette is on 177 points. The #25 BMW Team RLL BMW of Bruno Spengler and Connor De Phillippi is on 174 points and won at Road Atlanta. The #24 BMW Team RLL BMW of John Edwards and Jesse Krohn is on 171 points and won at the 24 Hours of Daytona. Both Porsches are on 171 points with the #912 Porsche ahead of the #911 Porsche because Earl Bamber and Laurens Vanthoor were runner-up in the first two races while Frédéric Makowiecki and Nick Tandy were third in both those races and has not finished better than third this season but does have three pole positions. 

The #3 Corvette aside, which caught a break at Virginia International Raceway and probably should have been third instead of first, six points cover five cars. All six cars have finished on the podium multiple times this year. 

We all acknowledge people hate Balance of Performance, but it is working in GTLM. Things are pretty balanced.

Who is standing out in GT Daytona?
Mario Farnbacher and Matt McMurry are leading the championship in the #86 Meyer Shank Racing Acura with a victory at Road Atlanta and four podium finishes, but the noticeable standout is Aaron Telitz, who is second in the championship, and Telitz was not supposed to be full-time this year.

Telitz was going to be an endurance race driver for AIM Vasser Sullivan Lexus, but when Parker Chase withdrew from the team due to financial woes the pandemic caused, Telitz was drafted in to be aside Jack Hawksworth and it has worked out. 

Telitz and Hawksworth won the Paul Revere 250 and Sebring sprint race and they were third at Road America. So how is Telitz ahead of Hawksworth in the championship? 

Originally, Hawksworth was ahead of Telitz because Hawksworth was ninth in the #14 Lexus in the 24 Hours of Daytona and Telitz was 12th in the #12 Lexus with Townsend Bell and Frankie Montecalvo. However, for Road Atlanta, Telitz moved back to the #12 Lexus and Chase and Michael de Quesada were back in the #14 Lexus with Hawksworth. 

The #12 Lexus was fifth at Road Atlanta, the #14 Lexus was tenth and Telitz is now two points ahead of Hawksworth, and 12 points off the #86 Acura. 

Shout out to Bell and Montecalvo, who won at Road America, and are fourth in the championship, 16 points off the #86 Acura. 

And Bill Auberlen deserves recognition for becoming the all-time leader in IMSA victory with his 61st triumph at VIR in the #96 Turner Motorsport BMW with Robby Foley.

Anything to say on LMP2?
The best story of the year is Patrick Kelly, who has won two of three starts in the #52 PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports Oreca. 

At the start of the 2010s, Kelly was a Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge competitor and he started in the 2010 12 Hours of Sebring in the GTC class, finishing third in class. Nine years ago, Kelly was hit head-on by a school bus driver in a traffic accident. Kelly suffered a significant brain injury and a crushed knee. He was about to start competing in the Prototype Challenge class at the time of the accident, but it sidelined him for the rest of the decade. 

After being told his motorsports career was over, his neurologist cleared him three years ago to return to competition. Last year, he won with Matt McMurry driving for PR1/Mathiasen at Road America, but this year Kelly is pursuing a full season and he leads the championship with 98 points. There are still three races to go. 

The #18 Era Motorsport Oreca of Dwight Merriman and Kyle Tilley are second in the championship with 92 points. DragonSpeed has crossed the finish line first in all three of its starts, but it was disqualified from the Sebring sprint because Henrik Hedman was two seconds shy of meeting minimum drive time. 

It is not clear if LMP2 will be a two-car class for the final three races between PR1/Mathiasen and Era Motorsports. DragonSpeed had two cars at Le Mans, is focused on the European Le Mans Series championship, but it could return for the final three races. 

LMP2 took a dip at the 6 Hours of Atlanta. This entire season hasn't gone as planned. Hopefully, LMP2 can end on a high note in the final three races.

Who can turn it around in the final four races?
The only DPi entries without a podium finish are the #6 Acura and the #85 JDC-Miller Motorsports Cadillac. I think Montoya and Cameron can pick up a victory or two. A successful championship defense could be over, but they should have a few respectable races. 

It is a six-horse race with four events to go in DPi. It is equal parts confusing and understandable Wayne Taylor Racing leads the championship. It is one of the best teams out there, but we have not seen the dominant speed out of the team in the four races succeeding the 24 Hours of Daytona. 

In my eyes, Mazda has been the best top to bottom, but rain and a poorly timed safety car forced Jarvis to sacrifice a victory at Road America. Mazda is winning but has yet to entirely shed the cruel defeats. 

GTLM feels partially sewed up. With only six cars, and only four for Mid-Ohio, I don't think the #3 Corvette is going to slip up in the final five races. If Porsche returns for the final four races, it will win at least once. It should have taken VIR. It will get one final victory before it steps away from IMSA, hopefully only for a brief hiatus. 

There isn't one GTD team that is doing more poorly than the rest, but Magnus Racing has not finished better than seventh in the last five races since finishing runner-up at Daytona. I think Andy Lally and John Potter are due for some good results in the #44 Lamborghini.

How is 2021 shaping up?
We have a schedule and a new class has been announced for the series. 

The LMP3 class will be added for the 2021 season, in hopes of keeping the grid size up with the impending departure of Porsche from GTLM and possibly more teams. There has already been one LMP3 entry announced. Riley Motorsports will field a Ligier for Jim Cox and Dylan Murry.

LMP3 will compete in six races, plus the 24 Hours of Daytona will only count toward the Endurance Cup. Sebring, Mid-Ohio, Watkins Glen, Mosport, Road America and Petit Le Mans make up the full schedule. 

Similar to LMP3, Daytona will only count toward the Endurance Cup in LMP2. Sebring, Laguna Seca, Belle Isle, Watkins Glen, Road America and Petit Le Mans make up the full LMP2 calendar. 

GTLM will run at every round but Mid-Ohio and Belle Isle. 

GTD wll compete at every event with Belle Isle and Mosport only counting toward the GTD Sprint Cup. 

DPi will run at every round but the GT-only events at Lime Rock Park and Virginia International Raceway.

IMSA decided to change the points system. Take the current system and multiple the points total for each position by ten. A victory is now worth 350 points. That's it. The system didn't change, they only made the points larger. What did change is qualifying will carry what are now race points. Pole position will pay 35 points, second-fastest will get 32 points and so on. 

There will also be a different qualifying format for the amateur classes. The amateur driver will qualify in the first half of the session to determine the starting position with the professional driver qualifying in the second half to determine the championship points that will be awarded to each entry.

The unanswered questions are what happens to the Acura program and does a team such as Meyer Shank Racing, Wayne Taylor Racing or Chip Ganassi Racing step into that role? 

Will GTLM consist of two Corvettes and two BMWs or could a full-time return of Risi Competizione or another privateer effort add some variety to the grid? 

How many LMP2 teams stick around? 

How many LMP3 teams are on the grid? Does LMP3 really help grid size or is it robbing Peter to pay Paul and sees LMP2 and/or GTD teams switch classes?

There will be driver movement. All four Acura drivers are up in the air. I would think Ricky Taylor and Dane Cameron land somewhere. Juan Pablo Montoya has expressed more interest at a shot at Le Mans and the Triple Crown. Hélio Castroneves has said he wants to return to IndyCar full-time. 

Sébastien Bourdais will be returning to IndyCar full-time with A.J. Foyt Racing in 2021 and that opens a prime seat next to João Barbosa in the Mustang Samplings Cadillac. Felipe Nasr had also planned on dipping his toes in IndyCar waters in 2020, but the pandemic prevented him from competing in any races. If Nasr does get a serious IndyCar opportunity in 2021 that could open up a co-driver role with Pipo Derani. 

Porsche's exit means Nick Tandy, Earl Bamber, Laurens Vanthoor and Frédéric Makowiecki are all free agents. I am sure some of those guys will stick with Porsche and be re-directed to other series. Perhaps some stay in IMSA and find roles with GTD teams, but there is a chance a few move on looking for other opportunities. 

The 2021 season will look a lot different from 2020. 

Monday, September 21, 2020

Musings From the Weekend: Nashville!

Toyota won Le Mans. United Autosports won Le Mans. Aston Martin won twice at Le Mans. And so far, nobody has been disqualified from Le Mans. Four points separate the top four riders in MotoGP through seven of 14 races. Andrea Locatelli's perfect season is over in World Supersport. Four drivers were eliminated from championship contention in the NASCAR Cup Series. Championship contenders clashed in Supercars action from Tailem Bend. Audi continues to beat the snot out of BMW in DTM. IndyCar announced a street race in Nashville for August 6-8, 2021 and that is where we will start this week. Here is a rundown of what got me thinking.

Well, the news is above but to repeat it a second time, IndyCar will run a street race around Nashville in early August next year. After being a lingering rumor for a few years, the Nashville streets will shut down next summer for the Music City Grand Prix. 

The 2.17-mile circuit will feature 11 corners and take place around Nissan Stadium, home of the Tennessee Titans, with the parking lots being used for paddock space. The first six corners will be around the stadium before the track crosses Korean Veterans Memorial Bridge and makes a left-hand turn into a tight section of corners on 1st Avenue South and turn 11 will be a right-handed corner back across the bridge. 

It is a semi-unique circuit. The start line will be on Korean Veterans Blvd before turn one, a left-hander onto Interstate Drive. Turn two is a left-hander from Interstate Drive on to Russell Street with turn three being another left-hander from Russell onto S 2nd Street, which runs parallel to the football stadium. 

Between turns three and four is where the finish line will be located. Turn four and five are a left-right section located in the parking lot next to S 2nd Street. After exiting turn five, the cars will rejoin S 2nd Street before the right-handed turn six onto Korean Veterans Blvd and toward the bridge. Pit entrances will be on Russell Street and it will exit on the outside of turn five.

Though IndyCar has history with the Nashville-area, having run at Nashville Superspeedway about 30 miles southeast of the city, this is IndyCar first new road course since Baltimore in 2011. Technically, Houston was added to the schedule in 2013, but the Reliant/NRG Park had been used in 2006 and 2007 when a fixture on the Champ Car calendar, so technically, Houston was not a new course, though many are referring to Houston as the most recent new street course added to the IndyCar calendar. 

But I digress... this will be truly be IndyCar's first new street course in nearly a decade when (or, because it is IndyCar, if) it occurs next year. 

Earlier this year, long before this announcement, an Indianapolis 500 in August and a lockdown that lasted for the better part of two months, I was starting to think it has been awhile since IndyCar visited a new city to use the public roads as a racetrack, especially when looking back at its 21st century history. 

Street races were quite common and not only common but constantly changing over the previous decades. Since 2000, American open-wheel racing has inaugurated street races in Monterrey, Denver, Miami, St. Petersburg, San Jose, Edmonton, Houston, Las Vegas, São Paulo and Baltimore. Of those ten street courses, only St. Petersburg remains. 

Monterrey came during the peak of Mexican competition in CART. Denver was a second iteration of something that failed in the 1990s. Miami was a second and third iteration of something that failed in the 1980s. San Jose was the alternative when Laguna Seca fell away. Edmonton... well that was an airport circuit, so not a street circuit, but still a temporary use of municipality property before the city decided the land would be better for housing. Houston was the second iteration of something that failed in a different part of the city with the dot-com bubble bursting and then it came back again in 2013 and failed again, partially because it was scheduled at the end of June. Las Vegas was an Easter mistake. São Paulo was successful in drawing a crowd, but after four editions it was not worth it for the Brazilian officials. Baltimore was more successful than São Paulo, but an equally big financial loser. 

Besides those nine street courses, we have had a few that failed to get off the ground. There were attempts for races in Calgary and Quebec City, Providence and Boston, Phoenix and Fort Lauderdale, Seoul, Dubai and Qingdao, China. 

For the first 15 years of the 21st century, whether its name was CART, Champ Car, Indy Racing League or IndyCar, American open-wheel series were testing every city circuit option. Boston was the most recent stillbirth, originally set for Labor Day weekend 2016, it was called off on April 29. It is impressive IndyCar didn't make another attempt in the last four years. 

I am generally against street course because... well, see above. They have a short-shelf life. However, I am willing to give Nashville a shot. It's been awhile since IndyCar tried a new city. For all the consternation over the number of street courses during the 2000s and into the 2010s, only four that were supposed to be on the 2020 calendar: St. Petersburg, Long Beach, Belle Isle and Toronto. 

Those have been the only four street courses since 2015. St. Petersburg is the youngest, with 2020 set to be its 17th race. Belle Isle is on its third stint on an IndyCar calendar. It hosted CART for ten years from 1992 to 2001. The IRL visited in 2007 and 2008 before the recession nixed the event. Roger Penske revived it in 2012 when Chevrolet return to the series and it has been around ever since with the last seven years being run as a doubleheader. All told, Belle Isle has been on 20 IndyCar schedules. Toronto has been on 33 schedules with two doubleheaders. Long Beach leads the way having been run for 45 years with the last 36 being an IndyCar race. 

With that street course lineup, Nashville has to live up to high expectations. 

We have seen the dog-and-pony show before where city officials and IndyCar officials and a driver get together, take photos and talk about how this will be a long-term partnership, some quote inspiration of becoming the next Monaco, only for it to be gone after the first contract expires. Nashville has checked all those boxes. We all know the difference is Roger Penske. Nashville is the first street course under Roger Penske's leadership. Belle Isle is doing quite well under Penske's watch, albeit he is the promoter of that event. Penske is not promoting Nashville. 

The Music City Grand Prix will be led by former Nashville Predators executive Chris Park, FullCircle Ventures president Matt Crews, who was president and CEO of NASCAR team Brewco/Barker Curb Racing, which was based in the Nashville-area, and Jason Rittenberry, who was formerly vice president of Memphis Motorsports Park and Chief Strategy Officer of Circuit of the Americas.

Some wide-eyed dreamer is not leading the Music City Grand Prix group. These are men with years of experience in the city and/or in American motorsports. If this race fails, it is not because of some schmuck in charge. 

We have yet to hear any pushback on the Music City Grand Prix, though the event is being promoted as being privately financed. It is still going to use public roads and cause road closures and construction that will alter daily city life months before the race even happens. Citizens of Nashville might not have a clue what they are in for with this event but could get a bad taste in April and public perception could turn against it. Come August 2021, Nashvillians could be wanting the race gone after one edition and it is difficult for any street race to survive when the community largely rejects it. 

Winning over the people will decide how long this race stays on the schedule. All the current street course races have succeeded in winning community approval, though they still face some pushback, see Belle Isle. Boston was dead on arrival in 2016 because of community rejection. Though Baltimore drew massive crowds, it usurped daily life and when the organizer struggled to pay debt back to the city, it was an easy call to move on from the race. 

Street races are tough to turn a profit even when drawing tens of thousands of people all three days. They can divide a city and piss off plenty of locals, leading to their demise. There is also the chance the circuit is dismal, even if it looks good on paper, and that will turn off the spectators and participants. 

History points to the Music City Grand Prix lasting three or five years tops, but let's give it a go. It might work out, most likely it will not. IndyCar hasn't had a calamitous failure in a while. If Nashville is welcoming the series with open arms, let's give it three years and if (or when) it falls apart, we at least get to say we tried it... and then we move on to the next one.

Champions From the Weekend
You know about the championships that were settled at Le Mans, but did you know...

Michael Cooper clinched the GT4 America sprint championship with a sweep of the three races from Austin.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about what happened at Le Mans and Michael Cooper's success but did you know...

Maverick Viñales won MotoGP's Emilia-Romagna and Rimini Coast Grand Prix, his first victory of 2020. Enea Bastianini won the Moto2 race, his third victory of the season. Romano Fenati won the Moto3 race, his first victory of the season. Dominique Aegerter and Matteo Ferrari split the MotoE races. 

Kevin Harvick won the NASCAR Cup race from Bristol, his ninth victory of the season. Chase Briscoe won the Grand National Series race, his seventh victory of the season. Sam Meyer won the Truck race, his first career Truck victory and he is the second-youngest winner in series history.

Robin Frijns and Nico Müller split Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters races from the Nürburgring sprint circuit.

Fabian Coulthard, Shane van Gisbergen and Scott McLaughlin split the Supercars races from Tailem Bend.

Jonathan Rea, Michael van der Mark and Chaz Davies split the World Superbike races from Barcelona. Andy Verdoïa and Andrea Locatelli split the World Supersport races. It was Verdoïa's first career victory. Locatelli was fourth in the first race.

The #1 Squadra Corse Ferrari of Rodrigo Baptista and Martin Fuentes swept the GT World Challenge America races from Austin. 

The #51 Panoz of Roman De Angelis and Parker Chase and the #2 GMG Racing Porsche of Jason Bell and Andrew Davis split the GT4 America SprintX races from Austin. 

Coming Up This Weekend
Formula One treks to Sochi.
Another 24-hour race, the 24 Hours Nürburgring.
The World Touring Car Cup will have its doubleheader on the Nordschleife. 
NASCAR begins its second round of the playoffs in Las Vegas.
IMSA starts autumn at Mid-Ohio.
MotoGP will be in Barcelona.
Super Formula has its second round of 2020 at Okayama.
The World Rally Championship will run Rally Turkey.
Zandvoort hosts the penultimate GT World Challenge Europe Sprint Cup round.

Sunday, September 20, 2020

Toyota Completes Le Mans Hat Trick

The 88th 24 Hours of Le Mans lacked drama and felt procedural.

Everything followed the script. The only thing that was missing was the rain. 

Toyota was the fastest car and dominated the event. Rebellion remained in the mirrors of the TS050 Hybrid, a reminder they were ready to pounce should a mistake or error occur, but as long as Toyota kept all four wheels on the tarmac and heading forward, Rebellion would settle for the consolation of a podium finish.

The largest heart flutter came a little past the halfway point when the #7 Toyota of Kamui Kobayashi rolled into the pit lane after a turbo failure and was pushed into the garage for repairs. Brendon Hartley, in his first Le Mans with the Toyota, was ready to slip the #8 Toyota into the top position while the mechanics plugged away at the rear of the sister car in an effort to get it back in the race. 

Once the turbo was replaced, the #7 Toyota's goal was to run down the Rebellions and give Toyota two podium positions. It took 11 hours, but when Louis Delétraz had an off in the #3 Rebellion at Indianapolis and had to stop for repairs, the #7 Toyota moved into third.

It was another year where Kobayashi, Mike Conway and José María López had the legs over their teammate at Le Mans, but the glory goes to the other side of the garage. Last year, it was a tire puncture and a failure to replace the correct faulty ring of rubber on the first unscheduled pit stop, leading the car to limp around before needing a second unscheduled pit stop to correct the error and handing the #8 Toyota a victory. 

Sébastien Buemi suffered a tire puncture in the first hour this year, throwing the #8 Toyota off sequence and allowing the #7 Toyota to have a lap lead 12 hours into the race. As we have seen at Le Mans the previous two years, the #8 Toyota has run another faultless race. This year, it was not the blessing of Fernando Alonso's presence that saw Toyota's long-time lead car complete 24 hours without major hiccups. 

Buemi, Hartley and Kazuki Nakajima missed out on the heartache through a drama-less race. Other than the early puncture, the #8 Toyota did not have a massive off or get caught in another incident. A driver didn't have a spin while in traffic. The car stayed pointed in the right direction through the checkered flag. Nakajima's 2016 sputter from the lead in the final minutes, handing Porsche its 18th Le Mans victory while Toyota's painful wait for its initial triumph continued, might have been penance paid in advance, allowing the spoils of victory to shower over whoever enters this car. 

Four years ago, Nakajima and Buemi were sinking in one of Le Mans' most crushing defeats. At the end of the 2020 race, they are the ninth and tenth drivers to win Le Mans in three consecutive years, the first to do it since Marco Werner from 2005 to 2007. Hartley is now a two-time Le Mans winner, a co-driver in Porsche's most recent Le Mans victory, the final Le Mans victory for the Porsche 919 Hybrid, and now he will get the final victory in the LMP1-era at Le Mans.

Toyota lifts itself up to level with the French manufactures Matra-Simca and Peugeot on three Le Mans victories. Only seven manufactures have more overall victories than Toyota and Alfa Romeo and Ford are within striking distance for next year. 

This was Rebellion's swan song. The team is exiting sports car racing at the end of the 2019-20 FIA World Endurance Championship. The #1 Rebellion R13 took three checkered flags earlier this season with Gustavo Menezes, Norman Nato and Bruno Senna, but the team will have to settle for a runner-up result at Le Mans, five laps behind the #8 Toyota. 

Rebellion has long been one of the best privateer LMP1 entrants, experiencing the hardships that come with arm wrestling the mighty manufacture dollars and even stepping back to LMP2 for a year, however the team is ending on a high. It entered a competitive automobile that kept Toyota honest over 24 hours. The Swiss outfit deserves only praise.

United Autosports stuck to the LMP2 script and the pre-race favorite came out on top, though the final 15 minutes were more hectic than any other point over the first 23 hours and 45 minutes. With just over nine minutes to go, Phil Hanson had to pit for fuel in the #22 Oreca while having a 52-second lead over the #38 Jota Sport Oreca of Anthony Davidson. Needing only a splash of fuel, Hanson emerged from the pit lane just six-seconds clear of Davidson, though Davidson himself had to stop a lap later for his final splash of fuel, sealing a victory for United Autosports. 

Filipe Albuquerque and Phil Hanson continue a remarkable 2020 season and their Le Mans victory clinched them the Endurance Trophy for LMP2 Drivers championship. The Anglo-Portuguese pairing has won four consecutive WEC races, all with Paul di Resta as the third driver, three of which have come from pole position, including Le Mans. In the European Le Mans Series, Albuquerque and Hanson have won the last two races and lead that championship with two rounds to go, two rounds from a historic accomplishment.

Similar to Toyota, the spoils of victory might have spilt out of the cup of the sister #32 United Autosports Oreca, only to flow into the mouth of the #22 Oreca. With eight hours remaining, the #32 Oreca suffered an oil leak and fell out of the battle. 

Jota Sport was on United's coattails for most of this race, but Le Mans success continues to elude Davidson, who picked up his fourth Le Mans podium finish, none of which have seen him on the top step. António Félix da Costa and Roberto González each get their first bit of Le Mans hardware, though in the form of runner-up trophies. A messy final hour saw the #31 Panis Racing Oreca of Julien Canal, Nico Jamin and Matthieu Vaxivière inherit third position when the #26 G-Drive Racing Oreca of Jean-Éric Vergne went off at Indianapolis with broken suspension. 

Aston Martin's incredible 2019-20 season continued at Le Mans, taking victories in each GTE-Pro and GTE-Am. 

After four podium finishes from the first seven WEC races this season, but never finishing better than third, the #97 Aston Martin Vantage AMR of Alex Lynn, Maxime Martin and Harry Tincknell's first trip to the top step of the podium is in the most famous event on the calendar. Lynn and Martin had been co-drivers the previous two years, never finishing better than 12th in class. Tincknell was a refugee from the shuttered Ford GT program. Tincknell had won in the LMP2 class on his Le Mans debut six years ago. 

The #51 AF Corse Ferrari fell just shy of successfully defending its GTE-Pro class victory. James Calado, Alessandro Pier Guidi and Daniel Serra mixed it up with the Aston Martins for majority of this race, but a runner-up finish will have to do in 2020. Calado and Pier Guidi will have the consolation of closing the gap to the #95 Aston Martin of Marco Sørensen and Nicki Thiim in the World Endurance GTE Drivers' Championship with one round to go. Sørensen and Thiim were third with Richard Westbrook. 

This victory and third-place finish clinched the World Endurance GTE Manufacture Championship for Aston Martin. 

In the amateur class, the #90 TF Sport Aston Martin and Jonny Adam, Charlie Eastwood and Salih Yoluç were victorious, the team's fourth victory this season, and TF Sport will lead the Endurance Trophy for GTE-Am Drivers championship heading into the Bahrain season finale in two months.

The story of LMP1 and LMP2 repeats itself for a third time in GTE-Am, a sister car benefitting from the misfortune from a stablemate. The #98 Aston Martin had been leading when Ross Gunn suffered a rear suspension failure and brought that car to the garage with a third of the race remaining. The #98 Aston Martin has become accustomed to victory slipping from its grasp. Paul Dalla Lana saw the car crash out from the lead in the final hour in 2015 and was not classified. Dalla Lana retired or had not been classed in five eight Le Mans start entering this race in the #98 Aston Martin, this is despite being one of the best GTE-Am teams for the better part of a decade, having won 15 of 34 races over a four-season period at one point.

The safety car period in the final hour led to a scrap for the final two GTE-Am podium positions. The #77 Dempsey-Proton Racing Porsche of Matt Campbell, Riccardo Pera and Christian Ried came home in second ahead of the #83 AF Corse Ferrari of Emmanuel Collard, François Perrodo and Niklas Nielsen. With the #90 TF Sport Aston Martin's victory, it leads the championship with 148 points, eight points ahead of the #83 Ferrari, which led the championship entering Le Mans. The #56 Team Project 1 Porsche of Egidio Perfetti, Matteo Cairoli and Larry Ten Voorde was fourth.

In the middle of the night, it didn't feel like Le Mans. It felt like another endurance race clicking along through the darkness with no end in sight.

But the specialness of Le Mans broke through. Cars flew at a blistering pace down Mulsanne. Cars spun off in the Porsche curves. Safety car periods dragged on. Leaders broke down. Mechanics wrenched in garages through sleep deprivation. It was everything we sell Le Mans as for 51 weeks of the year, and yet it felt underwhelming, though the final hour did its best to save the day. 

That is not to say this year would have been better off without the race taking place at all. We rather have had this Le Mans than no Le Mans at all in 2020. These feelings extend beyond the pandemic, which certainly left its fingerprints on this year's race, more for who was not on track than for who participated, but this Le Mans is a dull end to an otherwise strong chapter in sports car racing. 

This was the last race for the LMP1 class, which has been the premier class since 2004. Audi dominated the LMP1-era, though it last competed four years ago. In the last 16 years, Audi battled Pescarolo, Peugeot, Porsche and Toyota. Nissan and Aston Martin both even made brief attempts to compete in the top class. Peugoet, Porsche and Toyota each had their share of success, but Audi changed the game. 

Audi introduced diesel when everyone was sipping petrol. Though Pescarolo brought hybrid to the table, Audi elevated it to a higher level. Sixteen years ago, hybrid automobiles earned eye rolls from plenty of everyday drivers, casting it as a weak technology for the tree-huggers worried about the environment. Now, it is a reasonable option many motorists take into consideration when purchasing an automobile. 

We may never know how much motorsports contributed to the change in hybrids perception over the last two decades, but for the last eight years a hybrid won the 24 Hours of Le Mans, an accomplishment that speaks of everything but weakness in technology. 

Technological capabilities aside, hybrid technology is one of the reasons why LMP1 is ending and Le Mans Hypercar is beginning. While being necessary to succeed, the hybrid technology priced out manufactures. It became an unsustainable arms race. Audi had done it all by the end of 2016. There was no reason left to stay with that level of cost. Porsche won Le Mans three times and three championships, and on the heels of Volkswagen's emissions scandal, that program shuttered, leaving Toyota the last standing hybrid on the grid. 

The FIA and ACO could not afford Toyota to exit. Hypercar is an attempt to make the top class more affordable and make hybrids optional, hoping to attract manufactures that were otherwise dissatisfied with what LMP1 had to offer. 

Toyota will remain. Peugeot will return in 2022. The other Hypercar options lack global recognition. American hypercar manufacture Glickenhaus plans to enter in 2021. Long-time LMP1 privateer ByKolles stated its intent to build a hypercar. Alpine will run grandfathered and re-badged Rebellion R13s. Aston Martin was set to enter but has since postponed its Valkyrie program. 

Along with Hypercar, the trans-Atlantic Le Mans Daytona h class will allow the top cars from IMSA to compete in the top class in WEC and 24 Hours of Le Mans while using a spec hybrid system. LMDh is scheduled to debut in 2023 and it could allow manufactures to compete for Le Mans glory at a more affordable cost than Hypercar.  

I feel like we have been talking about uncertainty around Le Mans' future for the last five years. For two or three of those years it was general consternation, fear of losing what existed, knowing change would come but that change was not imminent. Now, change is here. Now, we don't know what is next. The cars will be new next year, but we are not certain if the competition will increase to a higher level.

There is a big difference between a Le Mans with Audi vs. Peugeot or Audi vs. Porsche vs. Toyota and the last few years at Le Mans when it was Toyota vs. reliability. It is still Le Mans, there is inherited excitement that comes with the event, but intensity lacks over the entire 24 hours. There are a few nervy moments when a turbo fails or a tire is punctured, but once those are rectified, the air is let out of the balloon. 

This was the 88th 24 Hours of Le Mans and there have not been 87 years of multiple-manufacture battles coming down to the final minutes to decide the winner like we saw with Audi vs. Porsche vs. Toyota. There were plenty of years when Porsche was the only contender. It was Audi vs. reliability for most of the German manufacture's time at Le Mans. Le Mans has survived worse than what the 2020 race had to offer, but the taste of something more delectable remains on our lips, while a less savory option is on our plates.

Our wait for what is next will be short. It is September. Our first glimpse at the future is only nine months away. 

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

2020 24 Hours of Le Mans GTE Preview

After previewing the 29 prototypes for the 88th 24 Hours of Le Mans, we will look over the 30 GT entries for this year's race. The field is split between eight GTE-Pro entries and 22 GTE-Am entries. 

This year's Le Mans was already planned to be without the Ford GT, but due to the covid-19 pandemic, this year's race will not feature Corvette Racing for the first time since 1999. The factory Porsche effort has been cut in half, with the two IMSA based teams not entered. 

Ferrari has the most entries in each class with four of the eight GTE-Pro cars hailing from Maranello and 12 Ferrari 488 GTE Evos populate the GTE-Am grid. There will be ten Porsches between the two classes. Aston Martin will field four cars. Five different manufactures have won the last five years in the GTE-Pro class. 

#51 AF Corse Ferrari 488 GTE Evo
Drivers: James Calado (5th), Alessandro Pier Guidi (5th), Daniel Serra (4th)
About This Team: Calado and Pier Guidi are currently third in the World Endurance GT Drivers' championship on 95 points. The #51 Ferrari's only victory was at Shanghai and this car has finished no worse than fourth this season. Its only other podium finish was third at Austin. This is the defending GTE-Pro Le Mans class winners. Calado ran nine of 11 Formula E races in the 2019-20 season with his best finish being seventh. Serra won his third consecutive Stock Car Brasil championship last year.

#63 WeatherTech Racing Ferrari 488 GTE Evo
Drivers: Cooper MacNeil (6th), Jeff Segal (5th), Toni Vilander (12th)
About This Team: This was going to be a GTE-Am entry, but the team moved up to GTE-Pro with the inclusion of Segal and Vilander. MacNeil and Vilander are co-drivers in the IMSA GT Daytona class and their best finish this season was second in the Sebring sprint race. MacNeil has finished third in GTE-Am two of the last three years. Vilander has two Le Mans class victories, most recently in 2014, and the Finn has stood on the podium six times. Segal has finished on the podium in three of his four Le Mans starts, including a GTE-Am victory in 2016. This is the first time Segal is not in the GTE-Am class.

#71 AF Corse Ferrari 488 GTE Evo
Drivers: Sam Bird (6th), Miguel Molina (4th), Davide Rigon (7th)
About This Team: Molina and Rigon have only stood on the podium after one race this season, a runner-up finish in Bahrain. Their next best finish is fifth. This is the fourth consecutive year Bird, Molina and Rigon have raced together. Their best finish was fifth in 2017. Rigon was runner-up in GTE-Pro in 2015. Bird was third in LMP2 that same year.

#82 Risi Competizione Ferrari 488 GTE Evo
Drivers: Sébastien Bourdais (14th), Jules Gounon (2nd), Olivier Pla (13th)
About This Team: The all-French lineup looks to get Risi Competizione its fourth Le Mans victory and first since 2009. Bourdais won in GTE-Pro in 2016 with Ford and he has five podium finishes at Le Mans. Pla was also with the Ford program, like Bourdais, for the last four years. Pla's only podium finish was runner-up in LMP2 in 2013. Gounon ran with Risi last year and was 11th in class. Gounon won the Bathurst 12 Hour earlier this year with Bentley.

#91 Porsche GT Team Porsche 911 RSR-19
Drivers: Gianmaria Bruni (12th), Richard Lietz (14th), Frédéric Makowiecki (10th)
About This Team: Bruni and Lietz won the 2019-20 season opener at Silverstone over a year ago. Their only other podium finish was third at Shanghai. Bruni, Lietz and Makowiecki have been GTE-Pro runners-up at Le Mans the last two years. Lietz has three Le Mans class victories, last coming in 2013. Bruni has three Le Mans class victories, last coming in 2014. Makowiecki has zero Le Mans class victories.

#92 Porsche GT Team Porsche 911 RSR-19
Drivers: Michael Christensen (6th), Kévin Estre (6th), Laurens Vanthoor (5th)
About This Team: The defending world champions Christensen and Estre are 19 points back in second. The #92 Porsche won the last race at Spa-Francorchamps and it has five runner-up finishes with a seventh in Bahrain. Vanthoor is currently second in the IMSA GT Le Mans championship. These three drivers won the GTE-Pro class at Le Mans two years ago. It is the only time each of these three drivers have stood on the Le Mans podium.

#95 Aston Martin Racing Aston Martin Vantage AMR
Drivers: Marco Sørensen (6th), Nicki Thiim (7th), Richard Westbrook (10th)
About This Team: The #95 Aston Martin leads the World Endurance GT Drivers' championship on 127 points. Sørensen and Thiim have won three of six races and finished second at Spa-Francorchamps. Sørensen has not been on the podium at Le Mans, while Thiim's only trip was on debut in 2014 with victory in the GTE-Am class. This is the sixth consecutive year the Danes have paired. Westbrook had run the last four years with the Ford GT progam. He has two podium finishes at Le Mans, both thirds, one on debut in GT2 in 2010 and in GTE-Pro in 2016.

#97 Aston Martin Racing Aston Martin Vantage AMR
Drivers: Alex Lynn (4th), Maxime Martin (6th), Harry Tincknell (7th)
About This Team: Lynn and Martin have not finished worse than fourth this year. The problem is they have not finished better than third either with four trips to the podium this season. Lynn has never finished better than 12th in class at Le Mans. Martin's best Le Mans finish was seventh in class in his first two Le Mans starts, first in LMP1 and then in LMP2. Tincknell won on debut at Le Mans in 2014 with Jota Sport in LMP2. He ran the last four years with Ford and was runner-up in GTE-Pro in 2017.

#52 AF Corse Ferrari 488 GTE Evo
Drivers: Steffan Görlig (1st), Christoph Ulrich (1st), Alexander West (1st)
About This Team: This lineup is competing full-time in European Le Mans Series this year and it has finishes of fifth, seventh and sixth through the first three races.

#54 AF Corse Ferrari 488 GTE Evo
Drivers: Francesco Castellacci (5th), Giancarlo Fisichella (11th), Thomas Flöhr (4th)
About This Team: The best finish for the #54 Ferrari this season was fifth at Bahrain. In ten Le Mans starts, Fisichella has two class victories, three runner-up finishes in class and a third in class. One of those runner-up finishes was with Castellacci and Flöhr in 2018.

#55 Spirit of Race Ferrari 488 GTE Evo
Drivers: Duncan Cameron (4th), Matt Griffin (9th), Aaron Scott (3rd)
About This Team: The #55 Ferrari is currently third in the GTE class in the European Le Mans Series and this car won the most recent race, the Le Castellet 240. This is the first time Cameron, Griffin and Scott have driven together at Le Mans since 2016.

#56 Team Project 1 Porsche 911 RSR
Drivers: Matteo Cairoli (4th), Egidio Perfetti (3rd), Larry Ten Voorde (1st)
About This Team: Perfetti was promoted to GTE-Am victory last year with Jörg Bergmeister and Patrick Lindsey after the #85 Keating Motorsports Ford GT was disqualified. Ten Vorde ran two races in the sister Team Project 1 Porsche and won at Bahrain. Cairoli and Perfetti's best finish was third at Austin from pole position. Ten Voorde won the Porsche Supercup championship with three victories, six poidum finishes and finishing in the top five of all eight races. 

#57 Team Project 1 Porsche 911 RSR
Drivers: Jeroen Bleekemolen (15th), Felipe Fraga (2nd), Ben Keating (6th)
About This Team: Last year, these three were disqualified after winning the GTE-Am class for exceeding the permitted fuel capacity. Bleekemolen and Keating did win at Bahrain with Larry Ten Voorde. Fraga missed two races due to Stock Car Brasil commitments. This is Bleekemolen and Keating's sixth consecutive Le Mans together. 

#60 Irox Lynx Ferrari 488 GTE Evo
Drivers: Sergio Pianezzola (2nd), Paolo Ruberti (8th), Claudio Schiavoni (2nd)
About This Team: Pianezzola and Schiavoni are competing full-time in ELMS this year, but they are currently last in that class championship. Ruberti was runner-up in the GT2 class in his first two Le Mans starts in 2008 and 2009. Last year, he drove with ByKolles Racing in LMP1. 

#61 Luzich Racing 488 GTE Evo
Drivers: Côme Ledogar (3rd), Oswaldo Negri, Jr. (2nd), Francesco Piovanetti (1st)
About This Team: Ledogar was fifth last year in class with Car Guy Racing. Negri, Jr.'s only Le Mans start was in 2016 with Michael Shank Racing in the LMP2 class. Negri, Jr. was ninth in class with Laurens Vanthoor and John Pew that year. Piovanetti and Negri, Jr. ran together in the Asian Le Mans Series and where fourth in the championship with three third-place finishes. 

#62 Red River Sport Ferrari 488 GTE Evo
Drivers: Bonamy Grimes (1st), Charles Hollings (1st), Johnny Mowlem (10th)
About This Team: Red River Sport has finished in eighth position four times this season and twice in tenth position. This is Mowlem's first Le Mans start since 2014. His only podium finish was on debut 20 years ago with David Murry and Sascha Maassen in the GT class.
#66 JMW Motorsport Ferrari 488 GTE Evo
Drivers: Richard Heistand (1st), Max Root (1st), Jan Magnussen (22nd)
About This Team: Heistand ran with AIM Vasser Sullivan Lexus in the GT Daytona class last year and picked up two victories with co-driver Jack Hawksworth at Mid-Ohio and Belle Isle before finishing sixth in the championship. Root is currently leading the GT World Challenge America Am class championship driving for Wright Motorsports. Magnussen will make his first Le Mans appearance without Corvette Racing since he was second in the LMP900 class driving for Audi Sport Japan Team Goh in 2003. The only other manufacture Magnussen has driven for at Le Mans was Panoz from 1999 to 2002. 

#70 MR Racing Ferrari 488 GTE Evo
Drivers: Kei Cozzolino (2nd), Takeshi Kimura (2nd), Vincent Abril (2nd)
About This Team: MR Racing missed the most recent WEC race at Spa-Francorchamps and Abril will replace Olivier Beretta, who contested the first five races with Cozzolino and Kimura. Super Formula and Super GT driver Yuhi Sekiguchi was unable to drive this year due to quarantine restrictions. This team was third in the 2019-20 WEC season opener at Silverstone. 

#72 HubAuto Corsa Ferrari 488 GTE Evo
Drivers: Morris Chen (1st), Marco Gomes (1st), Tom Blomqvist (1st)
About This Team: Gomes won the Asian Le Mans Series GT championship with two runner-up finishes and victory in the finale at Buriram. Blomqvist spent 2019 with BMW Team RLL in IMSA, where his best finish was third at Petit Le Mans. He ran the final two Formula E races this season in Berlin. Chen has not competed since the 2019-20 ALMS season opener at Shanghai in November. 

#75 Irox Lynx Ferrari 488 GTE Evo
Drivers: Matteo Cressoni (3rd), Rino Mastronardi (1st), Andrea Piccini (5th)
About This Team: Piccini is running full-time with Pianezzola and Schiavoni in ELMS. Cressoni was in ELMS last year with JMW Motorsport and was third in the championship. He ran with Clearwater Racing at Le Mans last year, where he finished seventh in the GTE-Am class.

#77 Dempsey-Proton Racing Porsche 911 RSR
Drivers: Matt Campbell (3rd), Riccardo Pera (1st), Christien Ried (11th)
About This Team: The #77 Porsche's best finish this season was second at Spa-Francorchamps. Last year, Campbell and Reid had five victories in class and were fourth in class at Le Mans. Pera made two starts last season, finishing third Shanghai and winning at Spa-Francorchamps with Campbell and Ried. Ried is currently tied for the championship lead in the ELMS GTE class with Michele Beretta and Alessio Picariello with a victory in the season opener at Circuit Paul Ricard and second in the Le Castellet 240.

#78 Proton Competition Porsche 911 RSR
Drivers: Michele Beretta (1st), Horst Felbermayr, Jr. (5th), Max van Splunteren (1st)
About This Team: Beretta is currently tied at the top of the ELMS GT championship with Christian Ried with a victory and a second in the two Circuit Paul Ricard races. Felbermayr, Jr. returns to Le Mans for the first time since 2011. He has only one finish in his first four Le Mans starts. Van Splunteren competed in Porsche Supercup and was sixth in the championship, top rookie, with a runner-up finish at Silverstone. He won the 2019 Porsche Carrera Cup Benelux championship. 

#83 AF Corse Ferrari 488 GTE Evo
Drivers: Emmanuel Collard (24th), François Perrodo (7th), Nicklas Nielsen (1st)
About This Team: After spending the last three years competing in the LMP2 class, Perrodo returns to GTE-Am and Collard returns to Le Mans for the first time since 2017. This car leads the Endurance Trophy fo GTE-Am Drivers' championship with 110 points after victories at Silverstone and Spa-Francorchamps. The #83 Ferrari has not finished worse than fourth this season. Nielsen won the ELMS GTE championship last year with Luzich Racing. Collard has two class victories at Le Mans, in 2003 with Alex Job Racing/Petersen Motorsports in GT and in 2009 with Team Essex and a Porsche RS Spyder in LMP2. Perrodo and Collard were second in this class with Rui Águas in 2016. Perrodo was third in LMP2 last year.

#85 Irox Lynx Ferrari 488 GTE Evo
Drivers: Rahel Frey (3rd), Manuela Gostner (2nd), Michelle Gatting (2nd)
About This Team: These three are full-time in ELMS and they have a pair of third place finishes this season and are currently fourth in the championship. Last year, Frey, Gostner and Gatting were ninth in class at Le Mans. 

#86 Gulf Racing Porsche 911 RSR
Drivers: Ben Barker (5th), Michael Wainwright (6th), Andrew Watson (1st)
About This Team: Gulf Racing was third in class at Bahrain, but the team's only other top five finish was fourth at Silverstone over a year ago. The best finish Barker and Wainwright have finished together at Le Mans was fifth in 2016.

#88 Dempsey-Proton Racing Porsche 911 RSR
Drivers: Dom Bastien (1st), Adrien de Leener (1st), Thomas Preining (2nd)
About This Team: Bastien could be set to take the record for oldest Le Mans competitor at 74 years and 295 days old. Jack Gerber is the current record-holder at 68 years and 110 days old. He has class victories in 24H Series races at Brno, Imola, Monza, Silverstone, Austin and the 24 Hours of Barcelona. Preining made five starts in WEC last year with Gulf Racing. De Leener has made three starts this year in the #88 Porsche with his best finish being ninth in class. He is also running in the GT World Challenge Europe Endurance Cup in the Silver Cup class with Dinamic Racing. Preining and de Leener raced together at Fuji, Bahrain and Austin.
#89 Team Project 1 Porsche 911 RSR
Drivers: "Steve Brooks" (1st), Andreas Laskaratos (1st), Julien Piguet (1st)
About This Team: Laskaratos has competed primarily in LMP3 machinery across multiple series. Last year, he was 13th in the ELMS LMP3 championship with 360 Racing. His best finish was sixth. Piguet has competed regularly in the FFSA GT Championship. "Steve Brooks" has competed almost exclusively in historic racing.

#90 TF Sport Aston Martin Vantage AMR
Drivers: Jonny Adam (5th), Charlie Eastwood (3rd), Salih Yoluç (4th)
About This Team: With three victories this season, TF Sport is second in the championship on 98 points, 12 points behind the #83 Ferrari. TF Sport was third at Spa-Francorchamps last month. Adam won at Le Mans in the GTE-Pro class in 2017. Eastwood and Yoluç have retired and finished 11th the last two years. 

#98 Aston Martin Racing Aston Martin Vantage AMR
Drivers: Paul Dalla Lana (8th), Ross Gunn (2nd), Augusto Farfus (4th)
About This Team: Dalla Lana and Gunn have three runner-up finishes this season along with a third. Dalla Lana has yet to stand on the podium at Le Mans. This is his first 24 Hours of Le Mans without Mathias Lauda as one of his co-drivers since 2014 and this will be his first time without Pedro Lamy as one of his co-drivers in his Le Mans career. Farfus' four Le Mans starts all came with the factory BMW effort in GT2/GTE-Pro. Farfus has won the 24 Hours of Daytona in the GT Le Mans class the last two years.

#99 Dempsey-Proton Racing Porsche 911 RSR
Drivers: Vutthikorn Inthraphuvasak (1st), Lucas Légeret (1st), Julien Andlauer (3rd)
About This Team: Porsche junior driver Andlauer was third in Porsche Supercup last year and won the Porsche Carrera Cup Germany championship. He won in GTE-Am two years ago with Matt Campbell and Christian Ried. Inhraphuvasak won the Blancpain GT World Challenge Asia Pro-Am championship last year, where he picked up five class victories in 12 races. Légeret made his WEC debut at Spa-Francorchamps last month, where he finished fifth in class. Légeret has run in the European Le Mans Series LMP3 class the last three years. Last year, Légeret's team won three pole positions, but his best finish was fifth. He has one podium finish in three years.

Practice begins at 4:00 a.m. ET on Thursday September 17th with a three-hour session. After an hour break, another three-hour session will run from 8:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. The first qualifying session will be at 11:15 a.m. At 4:00 p.m. ET, Thursday practice will conclude with a two-hour session. 

Friday will begin with a one-hour practice at 4:00 a.m. ET before the HyperPole session at 5:30 a.m. ET. 

Saturday warm-up will be at 4:15 a.m. ET and run for 45 minutes. 

The 88th 24 Hours of Le Mans will begin at 8:30 a.m. ET, a 90-minute earlier start than normal Le Mans years.

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

2020 24 Hours of Le Mans Prototypes Preview

It is Le Mans week, though instead of falling on the cusp of spring's transition into summer, this year's race falls on the verge of the autumnal equinox. Instead of closing the 2019-20 FIA World Endurance Championship, it is the penultimate round, with the season finale scheduled for November in Bahrain. 

This year's race will have 59 entries, 29 prototypes and 30 GT cars, but it will have a different feel. A few notable names will not be in this year's race. There is no public scrutineering. The entire event will be held behind closed doors. Practice will not begin until Thursday and Friday will have a practice session and the new HyperPole qualifying session. Qualifying will be two parts. On Thursday, there will be a 45-minute session during the evening. The top six cars from each class will advance to the HyperPole session, a 30-minute session during the middle of the day on Friday. The fastest lap from the HyperPole session will earn a team pole position for each class.

Today's preview will focus on the prototypes, five in the LMP1 class and 24 in LMP2 with entries from WEC, the European Le Mans Series, Asian Le Mans Series and a few Le Mans one-offs sprinkled in. 

#1 Rebellion Racing Rebellion R13-Gibson
Drivers: Gustavo Menezes (5th), Norman Nato (3rd), Bruno Senna (8th)
About This Team: The #1 Rebellion won at Shanghai and Austin and it has won four consecutive pole positions. This car is 28 points off the World Endurance Drivers' Championship lead. This will be Nato's first Le Mans start in LMP1. Menezes was third overall two years ago and won the LMP2 class on debut in 2016. Senna has been fourth overall the last two years and he yet to be even be on a class podium at the event. The last American winner was Davy Jones in 1996. No Brazilian has ever won the 24 Hours of Le Mans overall. Rebellion Racing could become the first Swiss manufacture to win Le Mans since Sauber-Mercedes in 1989.

#3 Rebellion Racing Rebellion R13-Gibson
Drivers: Nathanaël Berthon (7th), Louis Delétraz (1st), Romain Dumas (20th)
About This Team: Rebellion is only running one car full-time in the FIA World Endurance Championship and the only other race the #3 Rebellion competed in was Silverstone, where the car finished third. Berthon was in the car that day but Delétraz and Dumas were not. Delétraz is currently running in the Formula Two championship. He is seventh in that championship and has four podium finishes, including two at Mugello last weekend. Louis' father Jean-Denis made nine Le Mans starts and won in the LMP675 class in 2001 and 2002. Jean-Denis last raced at Le Mans in 2012. This is Dumas' first Le Mans in the LMP1 class since he won overall in 2016, his second overall victory. There has not be a Le Mans winner with multiple French drivers since 1993 when Christophe Bouchut and Éric Hélary won with Peugeot and Geoff Brabham was the third driver. 

#4 ByKolles Racing Team ENSO CLM P1/01-Gibson
Drivers: Tom Dillmann (3rd), Bruno Spengler (1st), Oliver Webb (7th)
About This Team: Dillmann and Webb have run together the last two years at ByKolles. Webb has retired from Le Mans the last five years. Spengler is competing for BMW Team RLL in IMSA's GT Le Mans class this season and won in the 6 Hours of Atlanta earlier this month. ByKolles returned to competition for Spa-Francorchamps last month. The team competed 126 laps. ByKolles has not had a classified Le Mans finisher since 2009 when the team ran two Audi R10 TDIs and finished seventh and ninth. Spengler could join John Duff as the only Canadian winners. Duff won the second 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1924. ByKolles could become the first Austrian manufacture to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

#7 Toyota Gazoo Racing Toyota TS050 Hybrid
Drivers: Mike Conway (7th), Kamui Kobayashi (6th), José María López (4th)
About This Team: With three victories, the #7 Toyota leads the World Endurance Drivers' Championship with 137 points. It won at Silverstone, Bahrain and Spa-Francorchamps. Last year, the #7 Toyota had a commanding lead at Le Mans and was set for victory before a tire puncture and failure to change the correct tires on the first pit stop dropped the team to second. Conway and Kobayashi have finished runner-up three of the last four years at Le Mans with López apart of the last two efforts. Conway could be responsible for the 43rd Le Mans victory for a British driver and that would put the United Kingdom within one of tying France for most victories for a nation. López could join José Frolián González as the only Argentine drivers to win at Le Mans. Kobayashi could become the fourth Japanese driver to win Le Mans.

#8 Toyota Gazoo Racing Toyota TS050 Hybrid
Drivers: Sébastien Buemi (9th), Brendon Hartley (7th), Kazuki Nakajima (9th)
About This Team: The defending world champions are second in the championship, 12 points behind its sister car with a victory at Fuji and runner-up finishes in every other race. Buemi and Nakajima are looking for their third consecutive Le Mans victories. Eight drivers have won Le Mans in at least three consecutive years (Tom Kristensen, Woolf Barnato, Olivier Gendebien, Henri Pescarolo, Jacky Ickx, Emanuele Pirro, Frank Biela and Marco Werner). Hartley replaces Fernando Alonso and he is going for his second Le Mans victory having won in 2017 with Porsche. Toyota is going for its third consecutive victory. It would be the 13th time a manufacture has won three-consecutive Le Mans races. 

#11 Eurointernational Ligier JS P217-Gibson
Drivers: Adrien Tambay (1st), Erik Maris (5th), Christophe D'Ansembourg (1st)
About This Team: Tambay makes his first Le Mans start after making two starts last year in the European Le Mans Series. His father Patrick made four Le Mans starts with Patrick's best finish being fourth overall in 1989 with the Silk Cut Jaguar. Maris was 13th in LMP2 in 2017. D'Ansembourg comes from a historic racing background.

#16 G-Drive Racing with Algarve Oreca 07-Gibson
Drivers: Ryan Cullen (2nd), Oliver Jarvis (9th), Nick Tandy (8th)
About This Team: A late addition to the grid after Carlin pulled its LMP2 entry, Cullen moves over to this car after previously being signed on with DragonSpeed. Cullen drove for DragonSpeed in the European Le Mans Series earlier this season. Jarvis and Tandy have both been competing in IMSA, Jarvis with Mazda's DPi program and Tandy with Porsche's GTLM program. Jarvis won in the LMP2 class and finished second overall with Jackie Chan DC Racing in 2017. Tandy was originally entered for Le Mans with Porsche but was freed after Porsche North America withdrew its two-car effort. This is Tandy's first Le Mans start in the LMP2 class.

#17 IDEC Sport Oreca 07-Gibson
Drivers: Jonathan Kennard (2nd), Dwight Merriman (1st), Kyle Tilley (1st)
About This Team: Kennard has spent the last few years in historic racing and this will be his first Le Mans start since 2010. Kennard was a Williams F1 test driver in 2009. Merriman and Tilley are competing in the LMP2 class in IMSA with Era Motorsports. They have finished third in class of three IMSA races this season and were second of two cars at Road Atlanta two weeks ago. 

#21 DragonSpeed USA Oreca 07-Gibson
Drivers: Timothé Buret (4th), Juan Pablo Montoya (2nd), Memo Rojas (5th)
About This Team: Rojas is currently running in the European Le Mans Series and his best finish was eighth at the Circuit Paul Ricard season opener. Rojas' best finish in class at Le Mans is fifth. Rojas won the ELMS LMP2 championship last year with IDEC Sport. Montoya was a late substitute for Pipo Derani in this car. Montoya won the Daytona Prototype international championship last year in IMSA with Acura Team Penske. Montoya and Rojas won the 24 Hours of Daytona together at Chip Ganassi Racing in 2008 and 2013. Buret joined DragonSpeed for the second Circuit Paul Ricard ELMS race. This is Buret's first Le Mans with a team other than Panis-Barthez Racing. 

#22 United Autosports Oreca 07-Gibson
Drivers: Filipe Albuquerque (7th), Philip Hanson (3rd), Paul di Resta (3rd)
About This Team: Off three victories on the spin, these three drivers are at the top of the Endurance Trophy for LMP2 Drivers championship. Albuquerque and Hanson are on 120 points. Di Resta was not available for the Fuji round, so he is on 105 points. On top of the WEC program, Albuquerque and Hanson are on top of the European Le Mans Series LMP2 championship and won the last two races at Spa-Francorchamps and Circuit Paul Ricard.

#24 Nielsen Racing Oreca 07-Gibson
Drivers: Tony Wells (1st), Garett Grist (1st), Alex Kapadia (2nd)
About This Team: Wells won the Asian Le Mans Series LMP3 championship earlier this year with a victory at The Bend Motorsports Park and runner-up finishes at Shanghai and Buriram. Grist was fifth in that championship. Grist competed in the Road to Indy, where he won six races and was third in the 2013 U.S. F2000 championship and third in the 2015 Pro Mazda championship. Kapadia has competed in the ELMS LMP3 class the last three years.

#25 Algarve Pro Racing Oreca 07-Gibson
Drivers: John Falb (2nd), Simon Trummer (4th), Matt McMurry (3rd)
About This Team: Falb and Trummer are full-time in ELMS, but their best finish in 2020 is ninth. McMurry returns to Le Mans for the first time since 2017. He won the IMSA LMP2 championship last year and he is running in GT Daytona with Meyer Shank Racing Acura this year. McMurry picked up a class victory at Road Atlanta and leads the championship with co-driver Mario Farnbacher. 

#26 G-Drive Racing Aurus 01-Gibson
Drivers: Romain Rusinov (10th), Jean-Éric Vergne (4th), Mikkel Jensen (1st)
About This Team: Rusinov is looking for that elusive Le Mans class victory. He was disqualified in 2018 after being first on the road due to illegally modified refueling equipment. Rusinov is coming off the Asian Le Mans Series LMP2 title. Jensen and Rusinov were runner-up in the ELMS season opener at Circuit Paul Ricard. Jensen was the ELMS LMP3 champion last year with Eurointernational. Vergne was third in this year's Formula E championship with one victory at Berlin. 

#27 DragonSpeed USA Oreca 07-Gibson
Drivers: Ben Hanley (4th), Henrik Hedman (4th), Renger van der Zande (3rd)
About This Team: Hanley and Hedman are back together. They won the LMP2 class at 24 Hours of Daytona this year and won at Road America last month. Van der Zande is back for his third consecutive Le Mans with Hanley and Hedman. IndyCar driver Felix Rosenqvist was originally scheduled to be in this car, but schedule conflicts took him out of the seat. Van der Zande won the 24 Hours of Daytona for the second consecutive year back in January and he currently leads the DPi championship with co-driver Ryan Briscoe.

#28 IDEC Sport Oreca 07-Gibson
Drivers: Richard Bradley (5th), Paul-Loup Chatin (6th), Paul Lafargue (4th)
About This Team: Chatin and Lafargue won the ELMS LMP2 championship last year but they are currently 11th in this year's championship with seven-place finishes in the last two races. Bradley won at Le Mans in LMP2 five years ago with KCMG. This is his first Le Mans appearance since 2017.

#29 Racing Team Nederland Oreca 07-Gibson
Drivers: Fritz van Eerd (4th), Giedo van der Garde (4th), Nyck de Vries (2nd)
About This Team: van der Garde and van Eerd are on 91 points and won at Fuji. The team has been in the top five of every WEC race this season. De Vries missed Silverstone and Spa-Francorchamps due to Formula Two and Formula E responsibilities. De Vries is the reigning Formula Two championship and he closed his Formula E rookie season with a runner-up finish in Berlin. 

#30 Duqueine Engineering Oreca 07-Gibson
Drivers: Tristan Gommendy (11th), Jonathan Hirschi (8th), Konstantin Tereschchenko (2nd)
About This Team: Duqueine is currently tenth in the ELMS LMP2 championship. Gommendy has three runner-up finish at Le Mans in LMP2, including in 2018 with Hirschi. Tereschchenko debuted at Le Mans last year with ARC Bratislava and the car retired after 160 laps.

#31 Panis Racing Oreca 07-Gibson
Drivers: Julien Canal (11th), Nico Jamin (2nd), Matthew Vaxivière (4th)
About This Team: Canal and Jamin were third in the ELMS race at Spa-Francorchamps last month. Canal won his first three Le Mans starts from 2010 to 2012 with Larbre Compétition in GT1 and GTE-Am. He has run in LMP2 the last six years and he was third in 2015. Jamin debuted at Le Mans last year, finishing seventh in LMP2. Vaxivière was third in LMP2 last year with TDS Racing. Vaxivière was disqualified two years ago due to illegal refueling equipment.

#32 United Autosports Oreca 07-Gibson
Drivers: Alex Brundle (7th), Will Owen (4th), Job van Uitert (2nd)
About This Team: The #32 Oreca competes full-time in the ELMS and these drivers won the season opener at Circuit Paul Ricard. They are second in the ELMS championship. Brundle has twice finished runner-up in LMP2 at Le Mans. Owen was a part of United Autosports' only Le Mans podium finish two years ago when he was third, though that came after the disqualification of the class winning G-Drive Racing entry. Van Uitert was runner-up in the ELMS LMP2 championship last year with G-Drive Racing.

#33 High Class Racing Oreca 07-Gibson
Drivers: Anders Fjordbach (2nd), Mark Patterson (6th), Kenta Yamashita (1st)
About This Team: High Class Racing has finished seventh in three of six WEC rounds this season. Its best finish was fourth at Fuji. Fjordbach is competing with High Class Racing in ELMS with Dennis Andersen. The team's best finish in that series is 13th. Yamashita won the Super GT GT500 championship in 2019.

#34 Inter Europol Competition Ligier JS P217-Gibson
Drivers: René Binder (2nd), Jakub Smiechowski (2nd), Matevos Isaakyan (2nd)
About This Team: This team is competing full-time in ELMS and its best finish was sixth at the Le Castellet 240. Binder and Smiechowski made their Le Mans debut last year, Binder with Pants Barthez Competition and Smiechowski with Inter Europol. Isaakyan's lone Le Mans start was in 2018 with SMP Racing's LMP1 program, but the car only lasted 123 laps. 

#35 Eurasia Motorsport Ligier JS P217-Gibson
Drivers: Nick Foster (2nd), Roberto Mehri (2nd), Nobuya Yamanaka (1st)
About This Team: Foster and Mehri ran together in the Asian Le Mans Series. They were second overall in the first three races before finishing third in the championship. Mehri returns to Le Mans for the first time since 2016 and Foster for the first time since 2017. Yamanaka was in the sister Eurasia Motorsport car in ALMS for two races. His best finish was fourth at Buriram with Daniel Gaunt and Nick Cassidy as his co-drivers.

#36 Signatech Alpine Elf Alpine A470-Gibson
Drivers: Thomas Laurent (4th), André Negrão (4th), Pierre Ragues (13th)
About This Team: Negrão and Signatech Alpine has won in the LMP2 class the last two years, but Negrão is the only driver returning from those teams. Negrão has been on the podium every year he has been to Le Mans. Ragues was third in LMP2 in 2017 with Negrão. Laurent won in LMP2 in 2017 with Jackie Chan DC Racing and was second overall. He was third overall with Rebellion in 2018 and fifth overall last year. This trio was runner-up at Silverstone but has not been on the podium since.

#37 Jackie Chan DC Racing Oreca 07-Gibson
Drivers: Gabriel Aubry (3rd), Will Stevens (5th), Ho-Pin Tung (8th)
About This Team: Stevens and Tung are second in the championship, but the #37 Oreca has not won a race this season with runner-up finishes at Fuji, Shanghai and Austin. Aubry missed the Spa-Francorchamps round due to contracting covid-19. Tung won the LMP2 class in 2017 when the team finished second overall. Stevens won in the GTE-Am class in 2017 and he was second in LMP2 on debut in 2016.

#38 Jota Sport Oreca 07-Gibson
Drivers: António Félix da Costa (3rd), Anthony Davidson (12th), Roberto González (4th)
About This Team: Jota Sport sits on 89 points in the championship with a victory at Shanghai, second at Bahrain, third at Austin and fourth at Spa-Francorchamps. Da Costa is fresh off the Formula E championship, where he won three races. His first two Le Mans starts were with BMW in the GTE-Pro class. Davidson and González ran Le Mans last year with DragonSpeed. Davidson has never scored a Le Mans class victory. González has yet to be on a Le Mans class podium.

#39 SO24-HAS by Graff Oreca 07-Gibson
Drivers: James Allen (3rd), Vincent Capillaire (7th), Charles Milesi (1st)
About This Team: Graff is currently third in the ELMS LMP2 championship with its best finish being second at Spa-Francorchamps and Graff was third in the Le Castellet 240. However, Allen is the only driver from the ELM2 team in this car. Thomas Laurent is with Signatech and Alexandre Cougnard is not entered. Capillaire is running in the LMP3 class this year in the ELMS. Milesi was supposed to race in Super Formula this year but has been unable to travel to Japan. Milesi has not competed in any series this year.

#42 Cool Racing Oreca 07-Gibson
Drivers: Antonin Borga (1st), Alexandre Coigny (1st), Nicolas Lapierre (13th)
About This Team: We should call Lapierre "Mr. LMP2" because Lapierre has won the LMP2 class at Le Mans in his last four starts in class. In 2015, he won with KCMG, and in 2016, 2018 and 2019 he won with Signatech Alpine. In 2017, he ran in LMP1 with Toyota. Cool Racing won the season opener at Silverstone with Borga and Lapierre. Coigny missed the race after an accident in the ELMS race the day before. 

#47 Cetilar Racing Dallara P217-Gibson
Drivers: Andrea Belicchi (11th), Roberto Lacorte (4th), Giogio Sernagiotto (4th)
About This Team: Cetilar Racing is coming off its best finish at Spa-Francorchamps, fifth in class. Belicchi has never finished better than seventh in class at Le Mans, though these three were ninth overall in 2017. Lacorte and Sernagiotto have never finished better than eighth in class at Le Mans.

#50 Richard Mille Racing Team Alpine A470-Gibson
Drivers: Tatiana Calderón (1st), Sophia Flörsch (1st), Beistke Visser (1st)
About This Team: Katherine Legge suffered a broken leg after a testing crash ahead of the ELMS season opener at Circuit Paul Ricard and Visser will replace her. Visser was second in the W Series last year with a victory at Zolder and podium finishes at Misano, Norising and Brands Hatch. Flörsch is splitting this season between the ELMS program and Formula Three. Flörsch did not score a point in Formula Three. Calderón ran in Formula Two last year and her best finish was 11th. She is in Super Formula this year and was 12th on debut at Motegi.

Practice begins at 4:00 a.m. ET on Thursday September 17th with a three-hour session. After an hour break, another three-hour session will run from 8:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. ET. The first qualifying session will be at 11:15 a.m. At 2:00 p.m. ET, Thursday practice will conclude with a four-hour session. 

Friday will begin with a one-hour practice at 4:00 a.m. ET before the HyperPole session at 5:30 a.m. ET. 

Saturday's warm-up will be at 4:15 a.m. ET and run for 45 minutes. 

The 88th 24 Hours of Le Mans will begin at 8:30 a.m. ET, a 90-minute earlier start than normal Le Mans years.