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.