IT seemed that for years, LMP1 at the Le Mans 24 Hours was suffering from a degenerative sickness. It was on life support and no doctor or cure could be found to reassure the concerned motor racing family.
But now as practice for the 83rd edition of the Le Mans 24 Hours gets underway, there is an air of ubiquitous renaissance surrounding the Sarthe region. A cure has been found by those whose decisions threatened to kill it off. The manufacturers.
In an implicit sort of way, the lack of incentive to compete at Le Mans saw a plethora of manufacturers leave the top flight – Le Mans Prototypes – in search of other ventures. Toyota pursued an unsuccessful Formula One career from which it took a further four years to make their return to endurance racing in 2012. More recently, Peugeot abruptly pulled the plug on their endurance programme just before Toyota returned. During this time, it seemed the Audi juggernaut would continue their dominance in the face of mass and inexplicable resignations from the sport.
2015 sees all this change, for the better.
For the first time since 2011, there will be 14 cars competing together for LMP1 honours. What makes 2015 different? 2011 produced just four cars capable of taking overall victory. The lackluster Aston Martin LMP1 project hardly got off the ground and embarrassing unreliability anchored the car towards LMP2 times. The rest were largely made up of privateers with no where near the budget of the main teams.
The return of Porsche in 2014 and subsequent improvement in form and reliability has ensured it enters this year’s edition as one of the favourites for overall victory with at least two of its three entries. Toyota have the pace to challenge with two cars and Audi’s initial WEC form suggests they are the team to beat among the Hybrid class cars.
Behind the Hybrids, there is a ‘half class’ involving the Rebellion and Kolles entries. Despite its Hybrid status, Nissan’s Nissan GT-R LM Nismo may not have the race pace to compete with the three top manufacturers in 2015 and will likely remain best of the rest once it finds its form and pace.