Once again, the world of motorsport descends upon northern France for endurance racing's greatest event: The 24 Hours of Le Mans, where Porsche, Audi and Toyota will contend for the greatest title a manufacturer can earn in motor racing. Below is a full, car-by-car, guide to this year's event and its changes since 2013.
As ever, this year's 24 Hours of Le Mans features multiple classes, racing for both their class victories and an overall victory. Furthermore, about half of the grid is also entered in the FIA World Endurance Championship, in which the 24 Hours of Le Mans not only counts for championship points, but for twice the championship points of any other event on the calendar. Below is an annotated class-by-class, then car-by-car, look at that grid.
For each entry, the team's chassis, tire manufacturer and driver lineup is listed, as well as an engine supplier for the LMP category racers and notes (Some important, some... less so) on most entered cars. Each driver lineup includes the FIA's "Driver ratings" for the entered pilots. These ratings are incredibly inconsistent and say nothing about the ability of the driver, but they determine who can race what cars as follows:
"Platinum" rated drivers are professional drivers with either factory experience in sports car racing or top level experience in another form of racing, such as Formula 1 or the Verizon IndyCar Series. They can run in any series, but only one can run in each GTE-Am car, and only two can run in each LMP2 car.
"Gold" rated drivers are professional drivers with high end sports car experience, but no time with factory squads. They fall under the same class eligibility rules as "Platinum" drivers, meaning that the difference between the two is simply a name and a reason to argue over a driver's distinction.
"Silver" rated drivers, meanwhile, are amateur racers who have what the ACO and FIA deem to be significant experience, as well as some extremely inexperienced professionals. They can run in whatever class they like, even LMP1-H, and since they are considered amateurs, can fill out lineups in GTE-Am and LMP2 however they'd like.
"Bronze" rated drivers are amateur racers who have what the ACO and FIA deem to be insignificant experience. They, too, can run in GTE-Am and LMP2 in whatever numbers they'd like, but cannot run in LMP1 or GTE-Pro.
The new top class of international sports car racing, LMP1-H is an all-factory subcategory of the old LMP1 class that exclusively features hybrid aided racers. The regulations are slightly different than last year's LMP1 class, now featuring restrictions on tub design, visibility, and hybrid systems, but Toyota and Audi have both chosen to build newer versions of their 2013 cars that satisfy these new regulations instead of designing wholly new cars. The new split LMP1 regulations have, surprisingly, done their intended job, and for 2014, there are only factory teams in this category and none in the lower LMP1-L category.
1 - Audi Sport Team Joest
Lucas Di Grassi (Platinum) - Marc Gene (Platinum) - Tom Kristensen (Platinum)
Starting Position: 7th - Chassis: Audi R18 E-Tron Quattro (2014 re-design) - Engine: Audi (Diesel) - Tires: Michelin - Hybrid System: Flywheel (Front wheels)
Notes: This is your reigning champion, albeit with an entirely different lineup: Just two years ago, this was Audi's veteran car, driven by Audi stalwarts Tom "Mr. Le Mans" Kristensen, Allan McNish and Rinaldo "Dindo" Capello. Just two years later, McNish and Capello have retired, leaving Kristensen as the lone veteran in the car. He was to be paired with Loic Duval again this year, as he was in 2013, but Duval was injured in a practice crash on Wednesday and replaced by Audi reserve driver Marc Gene. Joining Kristensen and Gene will be perhaps Audi's weakest link, former Virgin Racing Formula 1 driver Lucas Di Grassi, who is being promoted from a run last year in the team's third car to a full season in the group's top entry.
The unfortunate truth for Audi is that, surprisingly, their new R18s have lacked pace of late compared to the Toyota and Porsche prototypes against which they now compete. Even more surprising is that Audi has not started 2014 with the bulletproof reliability the world has grown to expect from the Reinhold Joest lead operation. Thus, for the first time since the late 90s, Audi Sport Team Joest is not the odds-on favorite heading into this weekend's 24 hour classic.
2 - Audi Sport Team Joest
Marcel Fassler (Platinum) - Andre Lotterer (Platinum) - Benoit Treluyer (Platinum)
Starting Position: 6th - Chassis: Audi R18 E-Tron Quattro (2014 re-design) - Engine: Audi (Diesel) - Tires: Michelin - Hybrid System: Flywheel (Front wheels)
Notes: Audi's second car, in its fifth year in the all-"er" configuration that rolls off the tongue so well, has long been considered the younger lineup at Team Joest. However, this is not exactly true: Fassler is 38, Trelyuer is 37, and Lotterer is 32. While they may be young in comparison to the former Capello/Kristensen/McNish lineup, they are saved only by the injury of Loic Duval, and subsequent promotion of Marc Gene, from being the Audi squad with the oldest average age in this year's race. They won the event in 2011 and 2012. Leena Gade, star of Audi's Truth in 24 II, is again the race engineer on this car.
3 - Audi Sport Team Joest
Filipe Albuquerque (Platinum) - Marco Bonanomi (Platinum) - Oliver Jarvis (Platinum)
Starting Position: 5th - Chassis: Audi R18 E-Tron Quattro (2014 re-design) - Engine: Audi (Diesel) - Tires: Michelin - Hybrid System: Flywheel (Front wheels)
Notes: Audi's third car is, for the first time in a while, quite clearly an extra entry by Team Joest. Albuquerque is a recent graduate from Audi's DTM program, and perhaps the only top level motor racing driver who shares a name with a city in New Mexico, while Jarvis is another former DTM driver for the team who has acted as an extra driver for Le Mans since 2012 and Bonanomi is Audi's development driver, having done the majority of the team's testing of late and having run the race for the team in 2012. Interestingly, it is the least favored of the three Audis entered in this year's race, but the top qualifier for the team.
7 - Toyota Racing
Alexander Wurz (Platinum) - Stephane Sarrazin (Platinum) - Kazuki Nakajima (Platinum)
Starting Position: 1st - Chassis: Toyota TS040 - Engine: Toyota (Petrol) - Tires: Michelin - Hybrid System: Capacitors (All wheels)
Notes: If Audi isn't this year's favorite, who is? Toyota would like you to think that their TS040s are the answer to that question, and it certainly seems to be the case. This new LMP1-H category has been run exactly twice, and in both of those races, Toyota took a victory and a double podium. Those races were at Spa and Silverstone, two tracks that require a higher downforce package, but the TS040s have had no trouble translating their pace to the higher speed Circuit de la Sarthe, showing significant speed in practice and locking out the race's front row.
A victory for This #7 Toyota would be the end of a long redemption story for Kazuki Nakajima, the former Williams driver whose Formula 1 career disappointed massively and ended with a season where he scored no points despite his team mate Nico Rosberg scoring points in all but six Grands Prix. This weekend, he becomes the first Japanese man to ever start on pole for the 24 hour classic, and if he wins, he will be the first Japanese man to take victory in the event.
8 - Toyota Racing
Antony Davidson (Platinum) - Nicolas Lapierre (Platinum) - Sebastien Buemi (Platinum)
Starting Position: 3rd - Chassis: Toyota TS040 - Engine: Toyota (Petrol) - Tires: Michelin - Hybrid System: Capacitors (All wheels)
Notes: The #8 Toyota TS040 is undefeated since it's inception, with victories in both of this season's FIA World Endurance Championship races. If it wins the 24 hour classic, the victory here will certainly be the most significant thing possible for Toyota, but a perfect season could also very well be a possibility for the #8 Toyota. Furthermore, if either Toyota wins, they will take away Mazda's sole unique motorsports bragging point: Being Asia's lone Le Mans winning marque.
Just as with Nakajima in the #7, the #8 also features a Formula 1 redemption story in the form of Sebastien Buemi, victim of a Red Bull driver development system that seemingly just grabbed up every Sebastian and Sebastien it could in the late 2000s. It also features Antony Davidson, who is missing the "H" in "Anthony" instead of the "D" in "Davidson" as the Australian Davison racing family does, and is best known for that time an amateur in a Ferrari turned into him at 200 miles an hour and broke his back. He's also pretty well known for that time he turned into a GTE-Pro leading Corvette in a Peugeot, though. What he should be known for, however, is his incredible pace in a sport prototype.
14 - Porsche Team
Romain Dumas (Platinum) - Neel Jani (Platinum) - Marc Lieb (Platinum)
Starting Position: 2nd - Chassis: Porsche 919 Hybrid - Engine: Porsche (Petrol) - Tires: Michelin - Hybrid System: Batteries (All wheels)
Notes: Porsche's triumphant return to the Circuit de la Sarthe to defend their Le Mans record 16 wins, now in threat for the first time since the 1980s thanks to 12 almost uninterrupted Audi wins, is certainly the story of this year's 24 hour classic. Thankfully for Porsche fans, the 919 Hybrid has already proven competitive, enough so that fans have already forgiven a name that features the word "Hybrid", a feature previously exclusive to hybrid GM SUVs.
It hasn't yet won a race, but one of the new cars finished second at Sebring on debut, and despite a relatively slow run and reliability troubles at Spa, the car has been incredibly quick in low downforce trim at Le Mans. This 14 car sat on the provisional pole through the first two of three two-hour qualifying sessions, and still maintained a front row start despite what many consider to be a clear pace advantage by Toyota. Surprisingly, if anyone is expected to challenge Toyota's German-Japanese TS040 beasts, practice pace and previous WEC races have lead to the conclusion that it will be Porsche doing so, not Audi.
This car features drivers from three very different backgrounds: Dumas has been an LMP driver with Volkswagen related brands for a good while, from being a star in Penske's Porsche RS Spyders to a successful stint as an on-loan Audi pilot that ended in 2012, which included an overall win in 2010. Neel Jani, meanwhile, has fought through the top tier motor racing equivalent of obscurity: His top shelf pro career has seen him race multiple full seasons in A1GP, run the entirety of the notoriously odd 2007 ChampCar World Series season and spend five full years with Rebellion Racing, the longtime LMP1 privateer with no real hopes of victory. Marc Lieb, finally, is a rare transfer from GT cars to LMPs, shattering what is often seen as a solid wall between sports car racing disciplines.
20 - Porsche Team
Timo Bernhard (Platinum) - Mark Webber (Platinum) - Brendon Hartley (Platinum)
Starting Position: 4th - Chassis: Porsche 919 Hybrid - Engine: Porsche (Petrol) - Tires: Michelin - Hybrid System: Batteries (All wheels)
Notes: This car, too, is incredibly notable for it's driver lineup. Mark Webber, the long time Formula 1 driver who retired from the top European Open Wheel championship at the end of last year, is the car's star, quite clearly. His co-driver Brendon Hartley, meanwhile, had a long road to a factory P1 seat, which started with what most viewed as a disappointing run in European development classes as a Mercedes affiliated driver, then saw him appear as a Daytona Prototype driver for Starworks Motorsports, which finally lead to his promotion to Porsche's LMP1 program this year.
LMP1-L is the privateer equivalent of LMP1-H, which features similar regulations, save a removal of hybrid systems and a mandate for only privateer teams. This year, primarily thanks to delays in the construction of a Lotus-branded car, only Rebellion Racing has entered class, and they have done so with their new Oreca-built R-One, which is not to be confused with Aston Martin's ill fated AMR-One. They've already got a 1-2 in the class if either car finishes, so congratulations Rebellion Racing!
12 - Rebellion Racing
Nicolas Prost (Platinum) - Nick Heidfeld (Platinum) - Mathias Beche (Platinum)
Starting Position: 8th (1st in class) - Chassis: Rebellion R-One - Engine: Toyota (Petrol) - Tires: Michelin
Notes: The new R-One, Rebellion's first bespoke car, is a beautiful machine, but it's clearly in its own class: The fastest R-One was three seconds slower than the fastest factory LMP1 car and eight seconds faster than the fastest LMP2 car. If it is reliable, it has almost no chance of finishing anywhere but ahead of all of the LMP2 cars and behind all of the LMP1-H cars.
Driving this car, as in years past, is Nicolas Prost, son of legendary F1 driver Alain Prost. His father has recently bought into a Formula E team run in conjunction with DAMS and he has already tested for that program, so look for him to potentially race for that team later in the year.
13 - Rebellion Racing
Dominik Kraihamer (Gold) - Andrea Belicchi (Platinum) - Fabio Leimer (Platinum)
Starting Position: 9th (2nd in class) - Chassis: Rebellion R-One - Engine: Toyota (Petrol) - Tires: Michelin
Notes: The most notable thing about this entry is the third driver: Fabio Leimer. Just last year, he beat Sam Bird to take a championship in GP2, the series that supposedly exists to lead drivers directly into Formula 1. While heavily funded driver Marcus Ericsson moves up into F1 despite a mediocre GP2 career, Leimer (Who as reigning champion is not allowed to run GP2 any more) was forced to take a seat with a team that is in competition only with itself. In other words, he as an individual is concrete proof of the failings of the current Formula 1 development system. He should be racing for a Caterham or a Marussia, but now, his best hope for career progress is to be promoted to a factory LMP1-H team like the Swiss driver he replaces, Neel Jani.
LMP2 started as a category for private professional teams to compete among themselves for their own wins while not being eliminated from the race for overall wins, essentially what LMP1-L has become. Now, it is nothing of the sort. Instead, it is now a category for "Cost capped" cars generally built from the combination of off-the-shelf cars and off-the-shelf engines. They are supposed to be raced with pro-am groupings of two professionals and one amateur in every car, but the wonky FIA driver rating system has instead lead to many all-pro driver lineups in this year's race.
24 - Sebastian Loeb Racing
Rene Rast (Platinum) - Jan Charouz (Gold) - Vincent Capillaire (Silver)
Starting Position: 11th - Chassis: Oreca O3R - Engine: Nissan - Tires: Michelin
Notes: Yes, this team is owned by French WRC superstar Sebastian Loeb. No, he's not racing in it. Rene Rast is, though, and he's pretty damn fast.
26 - G-Drive Racing
Roman Rusinov (Gold) - Olivier Pla (Platinum) - Julien Canal (Silver)
Starting Position: 4th - Chassis: OAK Morgan Pescarolo - Engine: Nissan - Tires: Dunlop
Notes: Companies throwing their names on teams that they aren't is the new companies throwing their names on cars that they aren't making this year. This G-Drive team is not actually run by the Russian oil company, but instead OAK Racing. They've put their best driver, Olivier Pla, in this car, but it is also their only factory affiliated Morgan Pescarolo car still being raced, which shows a lack of confidence in the new Ligiers they are racing with their other teams. Still, any team with Pla is worth considering for the class win.
27 - SMP Racing
Sergey Zlobin (Bronze) - Mika Salo (Platinum) - Anton Ladygin (Silver)
Starting Position: 12th - Chassis: Oreca O3R - Engine: Nissan - Tires: Michelin
Notes: Two important things about Sergey Zlobin: He tested a Formula 1 car in 2003 and is somehow still a bronze (It was a Minardi, so it doesn't really count, but still...) and he survived a car bombing in 2007. Yes, he was driving a Mercedes Gelandewagen at the time. You do not want to anger Sergey Zlobin.
Also, this team is actually AF Corse, but that's not nearly as fun a fact after you find out that Sergey Zlobin brings with him the greatest, but most frightening, fun fact of all.
29 - Pegasus Racing
Julien Schell (Silver) - Nicolas Leutwiler (Silver) - Leo Roussel (Silver)
Starting Position: 14th - Chassis: OAK Morgan Pescarolo - Engine: Nissan - Tires: Michelin
Notes: An actual all-amateur lineup here for an actual small team, a rarity on both ends in a class made up mostly of massive teams in disguise as Russian companies employing super quick professionals in disguise as amateurs. Unfortunately, their car was punted off track in free qualifying 2 by a limping Lucas Di Grassi. It is unclear if they will make the grid.
33 - OAK Racing Team Asia
David Cheng (Silver) - Ho-Pin Tung (Gold) - Adderly Fong (Silver)
Starting Position: 15th - Chassis: OAK Ligier JS P2 - Engine: Honda - Tires: Michelin
Notes: There are a few wonderful things about this car. First of all, this car represents the Asian Le Mans Series. To do so, it is traveling all the way from its shop in the distant land of Le Mans, France. Moreover, it is advertised as being driven by three Chinese drivers, but none are: Cheng lives in Washington, Tung was born in the Netherlands and has lived there most of his life, and Fong hails from Canada. All three are traditionally entered as Chinese despite their lack of real connection to China, but perhaps out of spite for this bit of trickery, the ACO have listed all three as hailing from the countries they actually do.
In short, this car is the pride of Chinese racing: A French car from a French team driven by a Canadian, an American and a man from the Netherlands. It, too, is ultimately just an OAK Racing car.
34 - Race Performance
Michel Frey (Silver) - Franck Mallieux (Gold) - Jon Lancaster (Gold)
Starting Position: 9th - Chassis: Oreca O3R - Engine: Judd - Tires: Michelin
Notes: Another refreshingly correct LMP2 entry, featuring two journeyman pros and one talented amateur. It is also one of just three cars still using the old BMW-based Judd engine, which has since fallen out of favor against competition from Nissan among privateer teams.
35 - OAK Racing
Alex Brundle (Gold) - Jann Mardenborough (Gold) - Mark Shulzhitskiy (Silver)
Starting Position: 3rd - Chassis: OAK Ligier JS P2 - Engine: Nissan - Tires: Dunlop
Notes: This is the LMP2 loophole special. Brundle was notable at the start of his career as being listed as an amateur despite actively competing in GP3, a series that sits just two steps below Formula 1, while Mardenborough and Shulzhitskiy represent the GT Academy program that has produced young professional racers who go directly into LMP2 from other sports car series, thereby skirting what most would consider a path to professional racing so as to be listed as an amateur. Also, their names are hard to spell.
This car is one of OAK's three new Ligier JS P2s, an LMP2 coupe that features a flow-through aerodynamic system similar to Audi's R15. Hopefully it works better here.
36 - Signatech Alpine
Paul-Loup Chatin (Silver) - Nelson Pantciatci (Platinum) - Oliver Webb (Gold)
Starting Position: 5th - Chassis: Alpine A450b (That's how they say "Oreca 03R" in French. Yes, I get that Oreca is also French and this joke makes no sense.) - Engine: Nissan - Tires: Dunlop
Notes: No, this is not actually an Alpine.
Signature Plus, now called Signatech, was once Nissan's factory LMP2 team. Now, they are Renault's factory LMP2 team. Yes, having a factory team in a pro-am class is silly. No, neither manufacturer ever helped develop the team's cars.
37 - SMP Racing
Kirill Ladygin (Gold) - Nicolas Minassian (Platinum) - Maurizio Mediani (Silver)
Starting Position: 12th - Chassis: Oreca 03R - Engine: Nissan - Tires: Michelin
Notes: Since nobody on this team has survived a car bomb (To this author's knowledge), we can focus on what is important here: AF Corse, a Ferrari GTE team, is running two LMP2 cars under a Russian flag and the name of a Russian bank. They are racing a redesigned Courage chassis branded as an Oreca. They are using an Oreca-built engine badged as a Nissan. They could only be more LMP2 if their amateur was actually an F1 veteran and they individually sold naming rights to their chassis.
Sports car racing: It's easy to follow!
38 - Jota Sport
Simon Dolan (Silver) - Oliver Turvey (Platinum) - Harry Tincknell (Gold)
Starting Position: 2nd - Chassis: Zytek Z11SN - Engine: Nissan - Tires: Dunlop
Notes: Originally, Audi reserve driver Marc Gene was going to anchor this car, but Duval's injury has instead pushed Turvey, who was freed to race by the mysterious vanishing of the Millennium Racing team he was signed to race for, into the seat. The Jota team is perhaps the fastest Zytek team and thus is the primary hope for the incredibly quick but increasingly rare British LMP2 chassis.
41 - Greaves Motorsport
Michael Munemann (Bronze) - Allessandro Latif (Silver) - James Winslow (Silver)
Starting Position: 17th - Chassis: Zytek Z11SN - Engine: Nissan - Tires: Dunlop
Notes: Greaves has been strong at Le Mans since the inception of the current cost capped LMP2 regulations, but this year their only Greaves-branded car features all amateurs and is only here for the ride of the endurance classic.
42 - Caterham Racing
Tom Kimber-Smith (Gold) - Matt McMurry (Silver) - Chris Dyson (Silver)
Starting Position: 10th - Chassis: Zytek Z11SN - Engine: Nissan - Tires: Dunlop
Notes: However, all hope is not lost for Greaves, beacues Caterham's sports car racing effort is actually just the second Greaves-Zytek. This car features one of the superstars of the cost capped LMP2 era, Tom Kimber-Smith, as well as 16 year old American Rookie Matt McMurray, who will become the race's youngest ever competitor when his car takes the grid on Saturday. Chris Dyson, who raced in LMP1 in the ALMS with his family team for years, surfaces for the first time all year as the third driver here. Stateside, look for him in a Bentley in Pirelli World Challenge later this year. Or don't look for that, those Bentleys are big enough that you will see them whether you want to or not.
43 - Newblood by Morand Racing
Christian Klien (Platinum) - Gary Hirsch (Silver) - Romain Blandela (Bronze)
Starting Position: 8th - Chassis: Morgan - Engine: Judd - Tires: Dunlop
Notes: A team named "Newblood" that employs former HRT F1 driver Christian Klien. How can you not love this program?
46 - Thiriet by TDS Racing
Pierre Thiriet (Silver) - Ludovic Badey (Silver) - Tristan Gommendy (Platinum)
Starting Position: 1st - Chassis: OAK Ligier JS P2 - Engine: Nissan - Tires: Dunlop
Notes: This is the only Ligier not being raced by the OAK Racing group that built the new LMP2 coupes. It will start on pole thanks to a massively quick lap by Tristan Gommendy, formerly known as "The guy who ran the Pay By Touch sponsored KV Racing car in ChampCar in 2007". Despite two amateurs, it should still be a fast car on race day.
47 - KC Motorsports Group
Matthew Howson (Silver) - Richard Bradley (Gold) - Alexandre Imperatori (Gold)
Starting Position: 7th - Chassis: Oreca 03R - Engine: Nissan - Tires: Dunlop
Notes: Unlike OAK Racing Team Asia, this Asian Le Mans Series team actually traveled from Asia for this weekend's race. Despite employing the legendarily well named Alexandre Imperatori, little is expected from KCMG this weekend.
48 - Murphy Prototypes
Nathaniel Berthon (Gold) - Rodolfo Gonzalez (Silver) - Karun Chandok (Gold)
Starting Position: 6th - Chassis: Oreca 03R - Engine: Nissan - Tires: Dunlop
Notes: Rodolfo "Speedy" Gonzalez has run three full seasons of GP2. He also tested for Maarussia in about half of last year's Formula 1 Grands Prix. Yet, his lack of pace is so apparent to the FIA that they've still listed him as an amateur, the best thing to happen to his career since Venezuela started paying their drivers to race anything they want, anywhere they want. Karun Chandok, the likable Indian driver who has just signed a deal to race in Formula E for Mahindra, will also race in this entry.
Their Oreca is sponsored by Hertz second hand car sales, so you can't quite trust it's build quality. Who knows what all those renters did to it before you had a chance to buy it.
50 - Larbre Competition
Pierre Ragues (Silver) - Ricky Taylor (Gold) - Keiko Ihara (Bronze)
Starting Position: 16th - Chassis: OAK Morgan Pescarolo - Engine: Judd - Tires: Dunlop
Notes: Keiko Ihara is the only woman entered in this year's 24 hour classic. In her time with Gulf Racing the past few years, she has not been competitive. Ricky Taylor, brother of mulleted Corvette Racing star Jordan Taylor, is coming off an overall win in the Tudor United Sports Car Championship race in Detroit.
The GT grid in this year's 24 hour classic is, as in recent years, split into two classes that run the same (Formerly GT2) cars. The first of these classes, GTE-Pro, is for all-professional driving lineups and intended primarily for factory teams.
51 - AF Corse
Gianmaria Bruni (Platinum) - Toni Vilander (Platinum) - Giancarlo Fisichella (Platinum)
Starting Position: 1st - Car: Ferrari 458 Italia GT2 - Tires: Michelin
Notes: AF Corse has nine cars entered into this year's race (Under three team names, no less!). Though you'd expect some lineup dilution with that many cars entered, this 51 maintains what many believe is the strongest lineup Ferrari can possibly build. Their pole is not unexpected, and even in a field as tight as this, they are the favorites.
52 - RAM Racing
Matt Griffin (Platinum) - Federico Leo (Gold) - Alvaro Parente (Platinum)
Starting Position: 5th - Car: Ferrari 458 Italia GT2 - Tires: Michelin
Notes: RAM Racing has a tough task ahead of them, as they are the only non-factory team in this year's GTE-Pro class. If they can take victory, it will be an incredible underdog victory. Also, two of their driver names combine to form the name of /DRIVE contributor Leo Parente.
71 - AF Corse
Davide Rigon (Platinum) - Pierre Kaffer (Platinum) - Olivier Beretta (Platinum)
Starting Position: 8th - Car: Ferrari 458 Italia GT2 - Tires: Michelin
Notes: Originally, this was supposed to be AF Corse's fast-but-not-steady lineup, with very recent open wheel drivers Rigon and James Calado (Third place finisher in last year's GP2 championship!) joined by the notoriously risk-prone Beretta. However, Calado was injured in a practice wreck that totaled the team's original 71 car, leading the team to re-enter with a back-up car and the addition of steadier hand Pierre Kaffer to the team. The hastily re-assembled entry was the slowest qualifier in GTE-Pro, but in this class, no car can be counted out.
73 - Corvette Racing
Jan Magnussen (Platinum) - Antonio Garcia (Platinum) - Jordan Taylor (Gold)
Starting Position: 2nd - Car: Corvette C7.R - Tires: Michelin
Notes: Even among the fan favorite teams that are Corvette Racing, this is the fan favorite. Jordan Taylor is the only man at the track this weekend with a mullet, while Jan Magnussen is the only man in the race whose son is racing in Formula 1. Jordan Taylor is in his third year as a factory driver and is still considered "Gold", not "Platinum", even though he also won a Grand-Am DP championship last year.
74 - Corvette Racing
Oliver Gavin (Platinum) - Tommy Milner (Platinum) - Richard Westbrook (Platinum)
Starting Position: 4th - Car: Corvette C7.R - Tires: Michelin
Notes: Corvette Racing's new C7.R was immediately quick in IMSA competition, and is immediately quick in Europe as well. If Corvette Racing fails to win the 24 hour classic in GTE this year, it will not be because their new car did not have the pace.
91 - Porsche Team Manthey
Patrick Pilet (Platinum) - Jorg Bergmeister (Platinum) - Nick Tandy (Gold)
Starting Position: 7th - Car: Porsche 911 GT3 RSR (991) - Tires: Michelin
Notes: Porsche's 991-generation GT3 RSR racer hasn't yet shown the pace to blow away any competition in practice at any race, but it is undefeated in races longer than 6 hours, mostly because these cars simply do not seem to lose pace as a race goes on. Nick Tandy is another factory driver listed as "Gold" for some reason.
92 - Porsche Team Manthey
Marco Holzer (Platinum) - Frederic Makowiecki (Platinum) - Richard Lietz (Platinum)
Starting Position: 6th - Car: Porsche 911 GT3 RSR (991) - Tires: Michelin
Notes: Both of these Team Manthey cars have lost some of their luster with Porsche's return to LMP1, but they are still essentially a factory team, making Porsche the only manufacturer with two factory teams in this year's race. This car features an intriguing addition in the form of Frederic Makowiecki, who Porsche had to fight Aston Martin to hire.
97 - Aston Martin Racing
Darren Turner (Platinum) - Stefan Mucke (Platinum) - Bruno Senna (Platinum)
Starting Position: 3rd - Car: Aston Martin Vantage GTE - Tires: Michelin
Notes: Originally, AMR had entered two GTE-Pro cars in this year's race, but their 99 was scratched early in the week after an accident in practice. Turner and Mucke are the only stalwarts of an Aston Martin program that has gone through about five different iterations since it's beginnings with DBR9 GT1 racers, while Senna came to AMR from Williams Formula 1 just one year ago.
The second GT class in this year's race, and the second GT2-based class, is again GTE-Am. This category uses the same cars as GTE-Pro, but mandates that all cars be at least one year old and that each car features at least two amateur racers. Both mandates, however, are extremely exploitable, and thus new cars driven by two professionals are not uncommon.
53 - RAM Racing
Johnny Mowlem (Platinum) - Mark Patterson (Bronze) - Archie Hamilton (Silver)
Starting Position: 11th - Car: Ferrari 458 Italia GT2 - Tires: Michelin
Notes: Just as in GTE-Pro, RAM is a small team among giants in GTE-Am. However, their GTE-Am car is surprisingly less competitive than their GTE-Pro entry, though a win here is not out of the question either.
57 - Krohn Racing
Tracy Krohn (Silver) - Niclas Jonsson (Gold) - Ben Collins (Silver)
Starting Position: 16th - Car: Ferrari 458 Italia GT2 - Tires: Michelin
Notes: This was a last minute entry to fill a spot on the grid left by the (Second) withdrawal of Millenium Racing. Yes, the Stig is driving this car, and yes, he is listed as an amateur even though he has been paid to race for over a decade.
58 - Team Sofrev ASP
Fabien Barthez (Bronze) - Anthony Ponz (Bronze) - Soheil Ayari (Gold)
Starting Position: 16th - Car: Ferrari 458 Italia GT2 - Tires: Michelin
Notes: At Le Mans, random French Ferraris are the new random French Porsches, and nothing screams "Random French Porsche at Le Mans" like two inexperienced amateurs running with Soheil Ayari.
60 - AF Corse
Peter Ashley Mann (Bronze) - Lorenzo Case (Silver) - Raffaele Giammaria (Gold)
Starting Position: 9th - Car: Ferrari 458 Italia GT2 - Tires: Michelin
Notes: This is the year that AF Corse officially crosses over into the TRG-circa-2008 business model of running a car for seemingly anyone that asks.
61 - AF Corse
Luis Perez Companc (Bronze) - Marco Cioci (Gold) - Mirko Venturi (Silver)
Starting Position: 4th - Car: Ferrari 458 Italia GT2 - Tires: Michelin
Notes: This is a car entered by AF Corse in GTE-Am.
62 - AF Corse
Yannick Mallegol (Bronze) - Jean-Marc Bachelir (Bronze) - Howard Blank (Bronze)
Starting Position: 19th - Car: Ferrari 458 Italia GT2 - Tires: Michelin
Notes: Some AF Corse trivia: Their Tudor United Sports Car Championship team is called "Spirit of Race", which is not a good name for a racing team. Some more AF Corse trivia: This is a car with a bad, pro-free driving lineup and no real hope of doing more than finishing.
66 - JMW Motorsport
Abdulaziz Alfaisal (Silver) - Seth Neiman (Bronze) - Spencer Pumpelly (Gold)
Starting Position: 10th - Car: Ferrari 458 Italia GT2 - Tires: Michelin
Notes: This car is being run in conjunction with popular American team Flying Lizard Motorsports, thus drivers Neiman and Pumpelly. Seeing the famous Porsche team running a Ferrari is certainly strange, but stranger still is the other driver on this team: Abdulaziz Alfaisal, who is an actual Saudi prince.
67 - IMSA Performance Matmut
Erik Maris (Bronze) - Jean Marc Merlin (Bronze) - Eric Helary (Platinum)
Starting Position: 18th - Car: Porsche 911 GT3 RSR (997) - Tires: Michelin
Notes: Eric Helary won the 24 Hours of Le Mans overall on debut, driving a Peugeot 905C with Christophe Bouchut and Geoff Brabham. This is not likely to happen this year.
70 - Team Taisan
Shinji Nakano (Platinum) - Pierre Ehret (Bronze) - Martin Rich (Bronze)
Starting Position: 17th - Car: Ferrari 458 Italia GT2 - Tires: Michelin
Notes: This team's professional driver, Shinji Nakano, ran five seasons between Formula 1 and CART in the late 90s and early 2000s. He has a best championship finish of 17th in that time.
72 - SMP Racing
Andrea Bertolini (Platinum) - Victor Shaitar (Silver) - Aleksey Basov (Bronze)
Starting Position: 5th - Car: Ferrari 458 Italia GT2 - Tires: Michelin
Notes: This is a GTE-Am Ferrari that shares its name with an LMP2 team that is actually AF Corse. However, this car is not being run by AF Corse.
Some trivia on SMP Racing: They also sponsor an IndyCar driven by Mikhail Aleshin. It is run by SPM Racing, a completely unrelated organization.
75 - Prospeed Competition
Francois Perrodo (Bronze) - Emmanuel Collard (Platinum) - Markus Palttala (Silver)
Starting Position: 15th - Car: Porsche 911 GT3 RSR (997) - Tires: Michelin
Notes: Palttala may be listed as an amateur, but he is a star for BMW, and Collard is no slouch either. This car could surprise some come race's end.
76 - IMSA Performance Matmut
Raymond Narac (Silver) - Nicolas Armindo (Gold) - David Hallyday (Bronze)
Starting Position: 12th - Car: Porsche 911 GT3 RSR (997) - Tires: Michelin
Notes: Their two cars may look unimpressive today, but by about hour 18, IMSA Performance Matmut could easily be holding a 1-2 in GTE-Am. They are the sort of steady team greatly benefited by attrition, and GTE-Am will certainly be a race of attrition.
77 - Dempsey Racing - Proton
Patrick Dempsey (Bronze) - Joe Foster (Bronze) - Patrick Long (Platinum)
Starting Position: 7th - Car: Porsche 911 GT3 RSR (991) - Tires: Michelin
Notes: Dempsey is a movie star and Long is the only Porsche factory driver in GTE-Am. You'll be hearing quite a bit from this car on race day.
79 - Prospeed Competition
Cooper MacNeil (Silver) - Jeroen Bleekemolen (Platinum) - Sebastien Crubile (Bronze)
Starting position: 13th - Car: Porsxche 911 GT3 RSR (997) - Tires: Michelin
Notes: Originally, this car was to be run with American Bret Curtis in place of Crubile, but Curtis was injured in an incident in practice. The collision also totaled the original #79 car, so Crubile brings his own to the team.
81 - AF Corse
Sam Bird (Platinum) - Stephen Wyatt (Bronze) - Michele Rugolo (Silver)
Starting Position: 1st (2nd among GT entries) - Car: Ferrari 458 Italia GT2 - Tires: Michelin
Notes: Bird was an absolute star in GP2 last year, a championship he finished second in. Instead of going up to Formula 1 like he should have, or up to IndyCar like he wanted to, he is racing in a class most notable for including the guy from a network medical drama. He showcased why this is silly by qualifying ahead of all but one GTE-Pro car on Thursday. If his co-drivers can keep up, Le Mans will be where he shows the world how fast he is.
88 - Proton Competition
Christian Ried (Bronze) - Klaus Bachler (Gold) - Khaled Al Qubaisi (Bronze)
Starting Position: 6th (1st among GT entries) - Car: Porsche 911 GT3 RSR (991) - Tires: Michelin
Notes: Proton Competition (Who is running the Dempsey Racing car) are the only squad who have chosen to run Porsche's new 991-generation 911 GT3 RSR in GTE-Am. Notably, they qualified fifth and sixth, two very impressive results for an independent team.
90 - 8Star Motorsports
Frank Montecalvo (Silver) - Gianluca Roda (Bronze) - Paolo Ruberti (Gold)
Starting Position: 8th - Car: Ferrari 458 Italia GT2 - Tires: Michelin
Notes: Italian squad AF Corse is running this car, which is part of Enzo Potolicchio's American 8Star Motorsports, a team named for Venezuela. Potolicchio was scratched from the car's entry last month, and Frank Montecalvo will race in his place.
95 - Aston Martin Racing
Kristian Poulsen (Bronze) - David Heinemeier Hansson (Silver) - Nicki Thiim (Gold)
Starting Position: 3rd - Car: Aston Martin Vantage GTE - Tires: Michelin
Notes: This all-Dane car features perhaps the most talented amateur racer on earth, David Heinemeier Hansson. Fascinatingly, he made his fortune by creating the web development tool Ruby on Rails.
98 - Aston Martin Racing
Paul Dalla Lana (Bronze) - Pedro Lamy (Platinum) - Christoffer Nygaard (Silver)
Starting Position: 2nd - Car: Aston Martin Vantage GTE - Tires: Michelin
Notes: This year, Dalla Lana is the only amateur racer attempting to run both the full FIA World Endurance Championship schedule and all possible IMSA Tudor United Sports Car Championship races. He is running for a factory team in a pro-am category, which definitely seems like something that should not be allowed to happen.
As in 2012, this year's race features an extra experimental "Garage56" entry that is not classified by race organizers. This year's car is the Nissan ZEOD RC, a gas-electric hybrid that intends to run a full lap on electric power during the race. It hasn't yet proven that it can do this, but it has reached its other goal: Going 300 kilometers an hour on the Mulsanne straight.
0 - Nissan Motorsports Global
Lucas Ordonez (Gold) - Wolfgang Reip (Silver) - Satoshi Motoyama (Platinum)
Starting position: 27th Overall - Car: Nissan ZEOD RC - Tires: Michelin
Notes: The ZEOD RC, nicknamed "Zedric" by Eurosport commentators, isn't making all that many advancements of its own, but is combining a series of innovative ideas into one package for the first time. It uses a design many consider eerily similar to that of the Deltawing project, which has resulted in at least one lawsuit, and unfortunately isn't proving to be as mechanically sound as 2012's Garage56 entry. Nissan still hopes to finish the race and achieve their all-electric lap, but their sights are firmly set on their LMP1-H debut in 2015.
The Circuit de la Sarthe is, as ever, the last great grand circuit. In a world where even the Nurburgring now features a modernized section that holds most professional competition (And, too, a section of it's 24 hour race), the half-streets circuit is still faster, narrower and, unfortunately, more dangerous than the rest.
The track's layout remains essentially unchanged since the addition of chicanes on the circuit's legendary Mulsanne straight, still featuring the signature Tetre Rouge, Mulsanne, Indianapolis and Arnage corners, as well as the similarly legendary Porsche Curves and Ford Chicanes sections.
Most striking about the circuit is that just over half of the 8 mile track is still built around public roads in the towns of Le Mans, Mulsanne and Arnage. This half of the track is particularly narrow, significantly more worn than the permanent sections of the track, and features most of the circuit's legendary corners. However, the permanent section of the track possesses it's own challenges, in particular extremely steep kerbs that wear cars heavily over the course of the race.
While discussing the beautiful circuit, it is important to note it's darker side: Last year's race, for the first time in a very long time, took a life. Thankfully, the corner that took Allan Simonsen, Tetre Rouge, now features taller fences and more significant barriers than it has in the past. In related track changes, there are now beefier barriers at the Porsche Curves and large "Baguette" kerbs to prevent corner cutting installed in the Ford Chicanes. Even with these improvements, the track has proven worryingly dangerous over the course of the week, with multiple drivers so shaken up in practice and qualifying that they are unable to race and multiple GTE cars already scrapped from the race. Hopefully, the race will be safe and further injuries can be avoided, but it is clear already that permanent and more modern barriers are needed all the way around the track, not just in specific corners.
As anyone who's seen Truth in 24 knows, "It always rains at Le Mans". This of course makes no sense whatsoever given that the race takes place in France in June, but nonetheless continues to be oddly true, and it's looking like 2014 will yet again bring rain to the Circuit de la Sarthe during the legendary motor race. Preliminary forecasts show early rain to be a possibility, but it is expected to dry up by the evening hours, and to remain away come Sunday morning.
This year's race again features a three safety car system, meaning there are three separate safety cars around the track during those periods. However, it also introduces a new kink: Slow zones.
These "Slow Zones", one step below a full safety car, can be implemented in certain sections of the race track where marshals are working and require drivers within them to slow to just 60 kilometers per hour. The goal is to decrease the number of safety car periods required within the race itself , but it hasn't yet been tested in race conditions.
How To Follow
In the United States, the race will be aired on a combination of Fox Sports 1 and 2, the networks that replaced SPEED at the end of 2013. It can also be streamed via the Fox Sports GO app. In Europe, Eurosport retains television rights.
If you prefer text-based coverage for some reason, or just want something to follow when you can't be watching, we at Rennsport will provide a live blog for the entirety of the race. In addition, Radio Le Mans will again produce full-race live audio.
(All photos via team PR)