Wednesday, June 19, 2013

2013 24 Hours of Le Mans Preview

The top sports car teams from around the world have made their annual voyage to Circuit de la Sarthe for the twice around the clock classic known as the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Defending overall winners Audi return looking for their twelfth victory at Le Mans, all coming since the turn of the millennium. Marcel Fässler, André Lotterer and Benoît Tréluyer look to win their third consecutive Le Mans title. From 2000 to 2002, Tom Kristensen, Frank Biela and Emanuele Pirro won three consecutive 24 Hours of Le Mans for Audi. Kristensen and Allan McNish have a new teammate after the retirement of Rinaldo Capello. Loïc Duval joins the senior line-up. Marc Gené, Oliver Jarvis and Lucas di Grassi are the pilots of the third Audi.

Toyota returns to Le Mans for their second year with two TS030's. The same driver line-ups return for each car. Two-time Le Mans winner Alexander Wurz leads the #7 Toyota with Nicolas Lapierre and Kazuki Nakajima while Anthony Davidson, Stéphane Sarrazin and Sébastien Buemi pilot the #8 Toyota. Rebellion Racing's lead team of Nicolas Prost, Neel Jani and Nick Heidfeld look to surprise the two major powers and steal one for the privateer, petrol-powered teams.

The defending LMP2-class winning Starworks Motorsport did not return to defend their title but all three Starworks drivers from 2012 do return to Le Mans. Tom Kimber-Smith is the only one defending the LMP2 title driving for Greaves Motorsport with Americans Alexander Rossi and Eric Lux. Kimber-Smith has three class victories in his four Le Mans appearances including winning in LMP2 in 2011 for Greaves Motorsport. The other two LMP2 class winners from 2012 are at Le Mans but in other classes. Ryan Dalziel is one of the drivers for the SRT Vipers in their return to Le Mans in the GTE-Pro class while Enzo Potolicchio will drive a Ferrari 458 in GTE-Am for his own 8Star Motorsports. The #24 OAK Racing Nissan of Olivier Pla, Alex Brundle and David Heinemeier Hansson were the fastest LMP2 car at the Le Mans test day ahead of the Signatech Alpine Nissan of Pierre Ragues, Nelson Panciatici and Tristan Gommendy. Recent IndyCar winner Mike Conway, along with his G-Drive Racing teammates Romain Rusnov and John Martin were next on the timesheet.

Other LMP2 teams to keep an eye on are Level 5 Motorsports of Scott Tucker, Marino Franchitti and Ryan Briscoe, the #35 OAK Racing Nissan of Bertrand Baguette, Martin Plowman and Ricardo González and the #46 Thiriet by TDS Racing Nissan of Pierre Thiriet, Ludovic Badey and Maxime Martin.

GTE-Pro features what should be another 24 hour battle royal between Corvette, Aston Martin, Porsche, SRT and Ferrari. The #51 AF Corse returns to Le Mans with two of their three winning drivers from last year. Gianmaria Bruni and Giancarlo Fisichella return but will be joined by Matteo Malucelli in place of Toni Vilander. Vilander moves to the #71 Ferrari joining six-time Le Mans class winner Olivier Beretta and Le Mans rookie Kamui Kobayashi. Corvette Racing returns with the same line-ups from last year. Antonio Garcia, Jan Magnussen and Jordan Taylor will pilot the #73 Corvette with Oliver Gavin, Tommy Milner and Richard Westbrook piloting the #74 Corvette. Aston Martin had the two fastest times on the test day. The #97 Aston Martin of Stefan Mücke, Darren Turner and Peter Dumbreck led the #99 Aston Martin of Frédéric Makowiecki, Bruno Senna and Rob Bell. The third Aston Martin will be driven by Pedro Lamy, Paul Dalla Lana and Bill Auberlen. Five of the six Porsche drivers in GTE-Pro have class wins at Le Mans. Jörg Bergmeister, Patrick Pilet and Timo Bernard will drive the #91 Porsche. Marc Lieb, Richard Lietz and Romain Dumas will drive the #92 Porsche. Viper returns with two cars. Dominik Farnbacher, Marc Goossens and Ryan Dalziel will pilot the #53 Viper. Farnbacher has finished runner-up in class three times at Le Mans, including last year in GTE-Pro. Goossens and Dalziel team up for the second time at Le Mans. They teamed with Paul Gentilozzi in 2010 driving a Jaguar XKR. Their race ended however after only four laps. The #93 Viper features three North American drivers. Kuno Wittmer and Jonathan Bomarito will be making their Le Mans debut. Bomarito won in the GT class in the 2010 24 Hours of Daytona driving for SpeedSource. They are joined by Tommy Kendall who makes his first trip to Le Mans since his one and only start in 2000.

Aston Martin had the fastest two times in GTE-Am at the test day as well. The #96 Aston Martin of Jamie Campbell-Walker, Stuart Hall and Roald Goethe led the #95 Aston Martin, an all Danish line-up of Allan Simonsen, Kristian Poulsen and Christoffer Nygaard. The #77 Dempsey Del Piero-Proton  Porsche of Patrick Dempsey, Joe Foster and Patrick Long were third in class on the test day. Ricky Taylor, brother of Corvette facotry driver Jordan Taylor, will make his Le Mans debut driving for the defending GTE-Am class winner Labre Compétition. He joins the defending winners Patrick Bornhauser and Julien Canal.

Practice begins today for the 24 Hours of Le Mans with three qualifying sessions taking place over the next two days.