After an epic battle that saw all three manufacturers lead overall for long stints in 2013, one of the most exciting 24 Hours of Le Mans in recent memory is just a day away. Learn all you need to know with Rennsport’s annual megaguide.
As ever, this year’s 24 hour classic takes place on the legendary Circuit de la Sarthe, an 8.5-mile semi-permanent road course in the Pays de la Loire region of western France. The circuit hasn’t undergone major layout changes in decades, but has seen increased runoff areas and more effective barriers across parts of the track over the past two years.
Also returning from last year are “Slow zone” local yellows, a step below a full safety car period similar to the “Code 60” slowdowns seen at the 24 Hours of Nurburgring and the “Virtual safety car” intrusions in some Formula 1 sessions, but active over only a short section of track where a recovery is taking place. Last year, this proved effective as a safety measure, but imbalanced for competition, as the slow zones often took less than the full length of a lap to clear up. This meant that entries that went through the “Slow zone” on one lap could lose as much as 15 seconds over competitors that wouldn’t come to that part of the track until the area was back under green conditions. A speed increase in these zones, from 60 KM/H to 80, should help. Issues aside, the safety measure is important, especially as most corner worker recoveries at the track are disorganized, at best.
(This foreword originally appeared in our 2014 edition)
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.
This is the top category of sports car racing in the world, all built with the intent of contending for an overall win. These cars can be driven by platinum, gold and silver rated drivers, though by the letter of the regulations all drivers in this category should technically be rated platinum by virtue of being factory drivers.
Anthony Davidson (Platinum) - Sebastien Buemi (Platinum) - Kazuki Nakajima (Platinum)
Starting Position: 8th - Chassis: Toyota TS040 - Engine: Toyota (Petrol) - Tires: Michelin - Hybrid System: Capacitors (All wheels)
Notes: The car that lead the vast majority of last year’s race before succumbing to a mechanical issue hasn’t shown the same pace in qualifying this year. Nearly six seconds behind the lead Porsches, the Toyotas have a clear issue with speed, and it’s only compounded by sitting two seconds a lap behind the fastest Audis. It’s not a big enough gap to give up hope for the two TS040s already, but it’s certainly not a good sign as Toyota attempts to win it’s first 24 hour classic.
This car is numbered 1 because it won the FIA WEC championship last year, skirting the tradition of numbers 1 through 3 going to the previous winner of the event. It makes sense for the championship as a whole, but it also ignores the obvious fact that Le Mans is bigger than anyone series. I am not a fan.
Alex Wurz (Platinum) - Stephane Sarrazin (Platinum) - Mike Conway (Platinum)
Starting Position: 7th - Chassis: Toyota TS040 - Engine: Toyota (Petrol) - Tires: Michelin - Hybrid System: Capacitors (All wheels)
Notes: Toyota’s second car may have a stronger driver lineup than the first. Mike Conway has finally arrived as a full-time factory ace after a few years as Toyota’s reserve driver, alongside part-time drives in LMP2 cars and lower-tier IndyCars. He won multiple races in the latter series for Ed Carpenter Racing and looks to apply that talent to an admittedly struggling TS040 this weekend.
Conway was signed to run the full Formula E season and half of the IndyCar season for 2015, but was told to drop both when Toyota came calling. Stephane Sarrazin is running Formula E full time, and for some reason, Toyota seems pretty much cool with that. Why? Who knows!
Marcel Fassler (Platinum) - Benoit Treluyer (Platinum) - Andre Lotterer (Platinum)
Starting Position: 5th - Chassis: Audi R18 E-Tron Quattro (2014 re-design) - Engine: Audi (Diesel) - Tires: Michelin - Hybrid System: Flywheel (Front wheels)
Notes: With Tom Kristensen’s retirement at the end of last year, the all-er lineup has finally taken it’s rightful place as Audi’s #1 team. After taking their third overall win in the last for years in 2014, they look to strike again in what is again an Audi that finds itself a few seconds slower than Porsche’s factory efforts. While they’ll have to contend with what are now three entries from the unoriginally-namer Porsche Team that all seem to have more pace than them, they’re certainly the favorites of the Audi side.
Loic Duval (Platinum) - Oliver Jarvis (Platinum) - Lucas di Grassi (Platinum)
Starting Position: 4th - Chassis: Audi R18 E-Tron Quattro (2014 re-design) - Engine: Audi (Diesel) - Tires: Michelin - Hybrid System: Flywheel (Front wheels)
Notes: Just three short years ago, this was the legendary Kristensen-Capello-McNish car. Now, all three have retired, and it’s the car of three drivers that don’t exactly bring legends with them. It’s more or less an entire entry of Le Mans-only third drivers. That said, Lucas di Grassi’s been pretty good in Formula E, if that’s worth anything to you.
Filipe Albuquerque (Platinum) - Marco Bonanomi (Platinum) - Rene Rast (Platinum)
Starting Position: 6th - Chassis: Audi R18 E-Tron Quattro (2014 re-design) - Engine: Audi (Diesel) - Tires: Michelin - Hybrid System: Flywheel (Front wheels)
Notes: Two of the names on the door of this entry are very hard to spell, and one is very easy. With Olly Jarvis moving up to a full-time seat in replacement of the retired Tom Kristensen, Rene Rast joins Audi after a fairly successful career floating around any sports car seats he could find. The three-time Porsche Supercup champion is a great fit for the program and looks to prove he’s worthy of a full-time seat this weekend.
Timo Bernhard (Platinum) - Brendan Hartley (Platinum) - Mark Webber (Platinum)
Starting Position: 2nd - Chassis: Porsche 919 Hybrid - Engine: Porsche (Petrol) - Tires: Michelin - Hybrid System: Batteries (All wheels)
Notes: As the #1 car in Porsche’s wildly fast stables, this is your prohibitive race favorite. Webber Also, though all three 919 hybrids retain their straightforward “Porsche Intelligent Performance” liveries into 2015, this one’s red now, and red and white Porsches tend to do well here.
Romain Dumas (Platinum) - Neel Jani (Platinum) - Marc Lieb (Platinum)
Starting Position: 1st - Chassis: Porsche 919 Hybrid - Engine: Porsche (Petrol) - Tires: Michelin - Hybrid System: Batteries (All wheels)
Notes: And this one’s black! Porsche’s second full time car was slower throughout 2014 and is clearly less favored of the two, but won pole by nearly a second with a track configuration record lap of 3:16.88. For those of you keeping track at home, that is very fast.
Earl Bamber (Gold) - Nico Hulkenburg (Platinum) - Nick Tandy (Platinum)
Starting Position: 3rd - Chassis: Porsche 919 Hybrid - Engine: Porsche (Petrol) - Tires: Michelin - Hybrid System: Batteries (All wheels)
Notes: Porsche introduces a one-off third entry for this year’s race after only running two cars last year. All three drivers in this car have been fast in everything they’ve raced, but the obvious headline is Nico Hulkenburg, the first active Formula 1 driver to race at Le Mans in a competitive, top tier prototype in a very long time.
Don’t sleep on Earl Bamber, who was for some reason rated as silver for all of 2014 despite being a factory driver, either.
Tsugio Matsuda (Platinum) - Mark Shulzhitskiy (Silver) - Lucas Ordonez (Gold)
Starting position: 14th - Chassis: Nissan GT-R LM - Engine: Nissan (Petrol) - Tires: Michelin - Hybrid System: Flywheel (Front wheels(!!!))
With that out of the way, it’s also 20 seconds off the pace, which some experts will tell you is “A large amount of numbers off the pace”. Some of that has to do with a malfunctioning hybrid system, some of that has to do with a lack of qualifying-specific tires, but at some point you need to accept that some of the blame goes on the car being front wheel drive and having flow-through aero and never having been raced before. It’s like an even cooler version of the Mazda Diesel prototypes we saw at the Rolex and other IMSA races: Beautiful, awe-inspiring, not yet actually good as a race car.
Furthermore, this lineup is fairly weak, featuring two GT Academy graduates who were very good when they were professionals running as amateurs and aren’t spectacular as professionals running in a class they aren’t entirely qualified for and a SuperGT driver with no real prototype experience.
It’s got a cool-ass livery, though.
Harry Tincknell (Gold) - Michael Krumm (Gold) - Alex Buncombe (Gold)
Starting position: 12th - Chassis: Nissan GT-R LM - Engine: Nissan (Petrol) - Tires: Michelin - Hybrid System: Flywheel (Front wheels(!!!))
Notes: The same pace issues that apply to #21 apply here, and like #21, this one carries a pretty weak driving lineup. Tincknell is a great, albeit inexperienced, selection, but Michael Krumm has been floating around Nissan entries without being impressive for what seems like 20 years. Buncombe, meanwhile, is a wonderful journeyman GT racer that was thrust into an LMP1 factory role seemingly out of a complete disinterest in hiring someone new more than anything else.
Olivier Pla (Platinum) - Jann Mardenborough (Platinum) - Max Chilton (Platinum)
Starting position: 13th - Chassis: Nissan GT-R LM - Engine: Nissan (Petrol) - Tires: Michelin - Hybrid System: Flywheel (Front wheels(!!!))
Notes: While the #21’s two GT Academy drivers aren’t all that inspiring, Jann Mardenborough deserves some serious praise for being a GT Academy driver who has crossed over from being pretty good for a representative of a marketing stunt to someone who could get rides on his own with just his talent and past record to guide him. He’s been running in GP3, a feeder series that is supposed to lead to Formula 1 but instead leads to an Indy Lights ride in 3 years or so.
Which brings us to Max Chilton, former Formula 1 driver whose claim to fame is “Finished a lot of races where he never once passed or was passed by another car while driving a very bad Marussia” and current Indy Lights driver whose claim to fame is “Somehow only being 5th of 11 full-time drivers despite having significant open wheel feeder experience and more talent than he’s given credit for”. His replacement in his Indy Lights drive for this weekend, Nelson Piquet, Jr., would probably be a better fit for this car, but there’s nothing really wrong with Chilton here.
Olivier Pla, meanwhile, is amazing, and given his success with OAK Racing and it’s affiliates over the past few years, long overdue of a chance in a true factory ride. If Nissan knows what they’re doing, he’s their ace for as long as they can keep him under contract.
Simon Trummer (Gold) - Tiago Montiero (Platinum) - Pierre Kaffer (Gold)
Starting position: 11th (3rd in LMP1-L) - Chassis: CLM P1/01- Engine: AER (Petrol) - Tires: Michelin
Notes: This was a Lotus-branded team last year. The car wasn’t all that fast then, either.
Colin Kolles is seemingly always either running a terrible Formula 1 team or trying to start a new one. This is what he does in his free time.
Nicolas Prost (Platinum) - Nick Heidfeld (Platinum) - Mathias Beche (Platinum)
Starting position: 9th (1st in LMP1-L) - Chassis: Rebellion R-One - Engine: AER (Petrol) - Tires: Michelin
Notes: Rebellion’s cars competed only against themselves last year, in part because of a late debut for ByKolles’s CLM P1/01 and in part because their new-for-2014 R-One was much quicker than the ByKolles entry and much slower than each of the factory LMP1 entries. Nonetheless, they were redesigned and rebuilt over the offseason, with a new engine and new hopes of... Still winning the privateer subcategory that didn’t have any other competitive cars in it?
Anyway, these cars are really fast, but really slow in comparison to the top three LMP1 entries, in case that wasn’t clear.
Also, Nick Heidfeld and Nicolas Prost should probably be kept as far away from each other as team mates can be kept.
Alexandre Imperatori (Gold) - Dominik Kraihamer (Gold) - Daniel Abt (Gold)
Starting position: 10th (2nd in LMP1-L) - Chassis: Rebellion R-One - Engine: AER (Petrol) - Tires: Michelin
Notes: Daniel Abt is also a Formula E driver, making five in the LMP1 class. The new-for-2014 open wheel category has successfully replaced Japan’s Super Formula as the official Thing Sports Car Drivers Do On Their Free Time, which certainly wasn’t the goal of the ambitious series, but is still something of note.
Rebellion Racing was also briefly a Lotus-backed team, making every privateer P1 entry just a few years removed from that weird era where noted former Red Bull Racing NASCAR executive Danny Bahar decided to throw away as much of Lotus’s money as he could before someone noticed.
This is a class exclusively for privateer teams, most of which pair an engine bought from a supplier with a chassis bought from a supplier. This is intended to be a pro-am class, with two professionals and one amateur driver in each car. However, a good number of these teams choose to either find a professional rated silver or bronze to fill the required amateur seat or simply run three amateurs in the same car. Anyone from any driver rating can run in this class, but each car requires at least one driver rated either bronze or silver.
Roman Rusinov (Gold) - Julian Canal (Silver) - Sam Bird (Platinum)
Starting position: 2nd - Chassis: Ligier JS P2 - Engine: Nissan - Tires: Dunlop
Notes: G-Drive Racing is just OAK Racing but named after a Russian oil company. Sam Bird is also a Formula E driver, and when he proves himself as easily the fastest of anyone in any of OAK Racing’s four competitive cars, he might earn a chance to be much more.
Maurizio Mediani (Gold) - David Markozov (Silver) - Nicolas Minassian (Platinum)
Starting position: 12th - Chassis: BR Engineering BR01 - Engine: Nissan - Tires: Michelin
Notes: Like last year, SMP Racing is the LMP2 outlet of AF Corse, the Ferrari factory team. Unlike last year, SMP Racing has it’s own car designed by BR Engineering, a firm that rose from the ashes of the Peugeot 908 program. Given that proud bloodline and the ever-reliable Nissan powerplant inside the new car, there’s a lot of hope for this entry, even if it’s yet to show any real pace.
Gustavo Yacaman (Gold) - Luis Felipe Derani (Gold) - Ricardo Gonzalez (Silver)
Starting position: 9th - Chassis: Ligier JS P2 - Engine: Nissan - Tires: Dunlop
Notes: Gustavo Yacaman floated around Indy Lights for four years with only three race wins and a third place championship finish in 2012 to show for it. From there, he became a pay driver with Michael Shank Racing in the last year of the Grand-Am sports car series, where he wrecked a lot of cars. After that, he joined OAK Racing in the first year of IMSA’s united sports car championship, where he was a revelation. Now, he’s a full-fledged driver for that team, and a good one at that. With OAK looking to recover from Olivier Pla’s promotion to Nissan’s factory program, his speed will be invaluable, both this weekend and throughout the various sports car seasons OAK Racing will compete in this year.
Leo Roussel (Silver) - Ho-Pin Tung (Gold) - David Cheng (Silver)
Starting position: 11th - Chassis: OAK Morgan - Engine: Nissan - Tires: Michelin
Notes: Ho-Pin Tung was once a Formula E driver, to continue the theme of this year’s race, but was fired by China Racing early in the season. I don’t know what they were expecting, Ho-Pin Tung’s been floating around finishing 12th in things (Whether that’s 12th of 12, 12th of 20 or 12th of 56) since there have been things to finish 12th in.
Scott Sharp (Platinum) - Ryan Dalziel (Platinum) - David Heinemeier Hansson (Platinum)
Starting position: 15th - Chassis: Ligier JS P2 - Engine: Honda - Tires: Dunlop
Notes: ESM left IMSA for the WEC at the end of last year, with the goal of running two new-for-2015 HPD ARX-04bs racers in the full season as well as IMSA’s four biggest races. Then, after a fairly decent debut showing at Daytona, they abandoned that car and bought a Ligier off the shelf.
For some reason, both of their cars are sponsored by Rolling Stone (The magazine) this weekend, and not Tequila Patron as usual. In the Indianapolis 500, the Rolling Stones (The band) sponsored Justin Wilson’s Andretti Autosport entry. The entities share a name and developed an interest in motorsport sponsorship, after 50 years of existence, at the same time. Yet, they’re unrelated. The world is an odd place where people fail to name things differently enough from one another.
Ed Brown (Silver) - Johannes van Overbeek (Gold) - Jon Fogarty (Gold)
Starting position: 16th - Chassis: Ligier JS P2 - Engine: Honda - Tires: Dunlop
Notes: Jon Fogarty is still not in any way involved with Creedence Clearwater Revival.
Chris Cumming (Bronze) - Laurens Vanthoor (Platinum) - Kevin Estre (Platinum)
Starting position: 7th - Chassis: Ligier JS P2 - Engine: Honda - Tires: Dunlop
Notes: OAK is running four cars, three with Nissan power and one with Honda power. Why?
Oh, that’s not a setup for an answer. I’m just asking why.
Jacques Nicolet (Bronze) - Jean-Marc Merlin (Bronze) - Erik Maris (Bronze)
Starting position: 19th - Chassis: Ligier JS P2 - Engine: Nissan - Tires: Dunlop
Notes: Jacques Nicolet owns and runs both OAK Racing and OnRoak, the firm that manufactures the Ligier JS P2, making him the closest thing to an owner-driver-car builder in auto racing today.
Nelson Panciatici (Platinum) - Paul-Loup Chatin (Gold) - Vincent Capillaire (Silver)
Starting position: 5th - Chassis: Oreca 03 (As Alpine A450B) - Engine: Nissan - Tires: Dunlop
Notes: Signatech is still out here keeping the tradition of LMP2 teams branding their years-old tubs as the resurrections of grand racing traditions that haven’t been seen on a race track in decades. With that in mind, this is still what is now a fairly old Oreca with a fairly middling lineup.
Mikhail Aleshin (Platinum) - Kirill Ladygin (Gold) - Anton Ladygin (Silver)
Starting position: 14th - Chassis: BR Engineering BR01 - Engine: Nissan - Tires: Michelin
Notes: Mikhail Aleshin had a surprisingly great rookie IndyCar campaign in 2014, but lost his ability to bring SMP’s money into the US when sanctions dropped on Russia over the racing offseason. Thus, he finds himself here, anchoring AF Corse’s LMP2 effort. That he didn’t put this car in the top 10 in qualifying is a fairly good sign that the BR01 may need a little more development before it’s a competitive P2 chassis.
Simon Dolan (Silver) - Oliver Turvey (Platinum) - Mitch Evans (Gold)
Starting position: 4th - Chassis: Gibson 015S - Engine: Nissan - Tires: Dunlop
Notes: Last year, this chassis was a Zytek Z11SN. Now, it’s a Gibson 015S. It’s exactly the same tub, out of the same former Zytek shop, but now it’s numbered as if it were a 2015 model. The naming of prototype tubs continues to be fascinating.
Tracy Krohn (Bronze) - Nic Jonsson (Gold) - Joao Barbosa (Gold)
Starting position: 17th - Chassis: Ligier JS P2 - Engine: Judd - Tires: Dunlop
Notes: This is the only individual car outside of the GTE-Pro class that will run both the 24 Hours of Daytona and the 24 Hours of Le Mans this year, the first prototype to do so in a very long time. The car itself isn’t exceptional, nor is the driver lineup, but it’s representative of a return to normalcy for sports car racing that, in a world of constant negativity throughout motor racing, is worth celebrating.
Gary Hirsch (Silver) - Gaetan Paletou (Bronze) - Jon Lancaster (Gold)
Starting position: 3rd - Chassis: Gibson 015S - Engine: Nissan - Tires: Dunlop
Notes: Greaves was once Nissan’s de facto LMP2 factory outlet. With Nissan having moved on to bigger and better things, they’re left as nothing more than a privateer entry in an older car with an unexceptional lineup.
Nick Leventis (Silver) - Danny Watts (Platinum) - Johnny Kane (Platinum)
Starting position: 13th - Chassis: Dome S103 - Engine: Judd - Tires: Dunlop
Notes: Strakka Racing has been developing this Dome for a while, and the car’s Le Mans debut is long anticipated. The last Dome to race here carries the noteworthy distinction of being the final Henri Pescarolo racer at Le Mans, ending a decade of success for that fan favorite team.
Pierre Ragues (Silver) - Oliver Webb (Gold) - Zoel Amberg (Gold)
Starting position: 10th - Chassis: OAK Morgan - Engine: Judd - Tires: Dunlop
Notes: This team originally planned to host a reality show to decide to the third driver for this car, backed by a data company that specialized in cryptography. It should come as no surprise to you, the discerning sports car fan that can smell a clearly shaky deal a mile away, that this was definitely never going to happen.
Pierre Perret (Bronze) - Ivan Bellarosa (Silver) - Jose Ibanez (Bronze)
Starting position: 18th - Chassis: Oreca 03 - Engine: Nissan - Tires: Dunlop
Notes: “Pierre Perret” is kind of a funny name, I guess.
Pierre Thiriet (Silver) - Ludovic Badey (Silver) - Tristan Gommendy (Platinum)
Starting position: 6th - Chassis: Oreca 05 - Engine: Nissan - Tires: Dunlop
Notes: TDS Racing was the first customer to buy one of OAK’s Ligiers last year, and this year was the first customer to buy Oreca’s 05. They have a lot of money to spend on new cars, apparently.
Matt Howson (Silver) - Richard Bradley (Gold) - Nicolas Lapierre (Platinum)
Starting position: 1st - Chassis: Oreca 05 - Engine: Nissan - Tires: Dunlop
Notes: KCMG is a Hong Kong-based LMP2 team and not, as you may initially think, a subsidiary of big four accounting firm KPMG.
Karun Chandok (Gold) - Mark Patterson (Bronze) - Nathaniel Berthon (Gold)
Starting position: 8th - Chassis: Oreca 03 - Engine: Nissan - Tires: Dunlop
Notes: Karun Chandok is another Formula E driver. It’s an epidemic!
For another year, both GT categories are based on the most recent evolution of what started as the GT2 category. GTE-Pro is the higher of those classes, designed for new cars run by factories and driven by fully professional sports car drivers. Anybody can drive in this category, regardless of driver rating.
Gianmaria Bruni (Platinum) - Toni Vilander (Platinum) - Giancarlo Fisichella (Platinum)
Starting position: 2nd - Car: Ferrari 458 Italia GT2 - Tires: Michelin
Notes: AF Corse’s #1 car is still the gold standard of GT Ferraris, and it’s the gold standard for a reason. Bruni and Fisichella are the best Ferrari-contracted drivers not named Sebastian.
Jan Magnussen (Platinum) - Antonio Garcia (Platinum) - Ryan Briscoe (Platinum)
Notes: Withdrawn after a practice crash on Thursday.
Oliver Gavin (Platinum) - Tommy Milner (Platinum) - Jordan Taylor (Platinum)
Starting position: 8th - Car: Chevrolet Corvette C7.R - Tires: Michelin
Notes: Now the only Corvette Racing factory car entered, the hopes and dreams of millions rest upon it’s fiberglass shoulders. Unfortunately, Jordan Taylor’s mullet is not along for the ride this year.
Davide Rigon (Platinum) - James Calado (Platinum) - Olivier Beretta (Platinum)
Starting position: 4th - Car: Ferrari 458 Italia GT2 - Tires: Michelin
Notes: Ferrari factory driver and open wheel feeder series veteran Davide Rigon is not to be confused with NASCAR driver David Ragan, who thinks the problem with country music today is that there’s too much rapping and not that you can only write so many songs about going to the lake before you’re just covering yourself.
Richard Lietz (Platinum) - Michael Christensen (Platinum) - Jorg Bergemeiester (Platinum)
Starting position: 6th - Car: Porsche 911 GT3 RSR (991) - Tires: Michelin
Notes: With Nick Tandy running in the one-off #19 919 Hybrid, Christensen is promoted from the American Porsche factory GTE team to appear with that team’s European cousin. These factory-sponsored, Manthey-run cars are still very fast, but don’t carry as unblemished a record of success as they did coming into this race in 2014.
Patrick Pilet (Platinum) - Frederic Makowiecki (Platinum) - Wolf Henzler (Platinum)
Starting position: 7th - Car: Porsche 911 GT3 RSR (991) - Tires: Michelin
Notes: Wolf Henzler races a 991-generation 911 GT3 RSR in the US full time, but he runs the only car in sports car racing running on Falken tires, so the transition to the Michelin tires that just about every other team in sports car racing uses may be an issue for him.
Marco Sorenson (Gold) - Christoffer Nygaard (Gold) - Nicki Thiim (Gold)
Starting position: 5th - Car: Aston Martin Vantage GTE - Tires: Michelin
Notes: Aston Martin’s GTE cars have gotten faster and faster each year, and this year they take three of the top five positions on the starting grid. None of their driver lineups compare to AF Corse, Porsche Team Manthey and Corvette Racing’s best, but the cars could be fast enough to keep all three in contention.
Darren Turner (Platinum) - Stefan Mucke (Platinum) - Rob Bell (Platinum)
Starting position: 3rd - Car: Aston Martin Vantage GTE - Tires: Michelin
Notes: Bruno Senna raced in this car last year, but he was too busy being the only Formula E driver not also racing sports cars full time to run this year. In his place, Rob Bell joins the anchor Aston Martin Racing lineup of Darren Turner and Stefan Mucke in what is the only self-described art car in this year’s field.
Fernando Rees (Gold) - Alex MacDowall (Silver) - Richie Stanaway (Gold)
Starting position: 1st - Car: Aston Martin Vantage GTE - Tires: Michelin
Notes: This is the only car in the GTE-Pro class with an amateur driver in it. Richie Stanaway joins him, one of two full time GP2 drivers in this year’s field. Last year, that would have been a pretty cool connection to Formula 1, but Hulkenburg’s feat renders it less impressive in comparison.
This is a category for year-old and older GTE cars that are run by private teams for lineups consisting of at least two amateurs. Or, it’s supposed to be. Mostly, it’s an outlet for factory teams run out of the same garage as GTE-Pro cars to sell a bunch of seats to pay for those pro cars. It’s a good time! Every car in this category must have at least two silver or bronze rated drivers.
Gianluca Roda (Bronze) - Paolo Ruberti (Gold) - Kristian Poulsen (Silver)
Starting position: 10th - Car: Chevrolet Corvette C7.R - Tires: Michelin
Notes: After years of campaigning the only Corvette C6.R GTs in Europe, Larbre upgrades to a C7.R for 2015. The livery is a little busy for my tastes, but clearly unique in comparison to the factory car’s now-traditional yellow designs.
Marc Miller (Bronze) - Ben Keating (Silver) - Jeroen Bleekemolen (Platinum)
Starting position: 4th - Car: SRT Viper GTS-R - Tires: Michelin
Notes: Last year, this was Dodge’s factory team in IMSA. In that time, they won a championship and proved the strength of their Vipers, themselves only two years old. Then, the program was unceremoniously shut down. Riley Motorsports, which ran the factory effort, scaled down into a customer-based team running GT3 Vipers they had designed while still Fiat-Chrysler’s factory operation in a myriad of series, but for Le Mans only they return to running their old GTLM/GTE car. They do so with their full-season IMSA GTD lineup of Jeroen Bleekemolen and Ben Keating, and are joined by Marc Miller, a very talented young American professional rated as an amateur.
Duncan Cameron (Bronze) - Matt Griffin (Gold) - Alex Mortimer (Silver)
Starting position: 7th - Car: Ferrari 458 Italia GT2 - Tires: Michelin
Notes: This is as good a time as ever to point out that AF Corse is running seven cars in this year’s race, which by their standards is a pretty small number.
Peter Mann (Bronze) - Raffaele Giammaria (Gold) - Matteo Cressoni (Silver)
Starting position: 8th - Car: Ferrari 458 Italia GT2 - Tires: Michelin
Notes: Some drivers entered in this year’s race have trouble walking down a busy street anywhere in the world without being recognized. I can assure you that none of the drivers in this car have that issue.
Bill Sweedler (Bronze) - Townsend Bell (Gold) - Jeff Segal (Silver)
Starting position: 9th - Car: Ferrari 458 Italia GT2 - Tires: Michelin
Notes: This is the only car racing in this year’s 24 hour classic with the blessing of IMSA and the auto-invite that comes with it. However, it isn’t an actual IMSA-registered car, as Scuderia Corsa’s GT3-based GTD competitor is not eligible for competition here.
You may recognize Townsend Bell as the guy who runs 8th in a one-off for a small team with 20 laps to go at the Indianapolis 500 every year.
Abdulaziz Turki Al Faisal (Silver) - Jakub Giermaziak (Gold) - Michael Avenatti (Bronze)
Starting position: 11th - Car: Ferrari 458 Italia GT2 - Tires: Michelin
Notes: Just as the JMW car was run in conjunction with Flying Lizard Motorsport last year, this year’s entry is run in partnership with the GB Autosport IMSA team, thus the additions of Avenatti and Giermaziak.
Traditionally, Giermaziak is entered as “Kuba”, but for Le Mans he shows up as “Jakub”. Is this just a more formal entry list, or is he attempting to pull a classic Mike-to-Giancarlo Stanton swap that’ll lead him to suddenly become the best power hitter in all of sports car racing?
Jun-San Chen (Bronze) - Alex Kapadia (Silver) - Xander Maassen (Gold)
Starting position: 14th - Car: Porsche 911 GT3 RSR (997) - Tires: Michelin
Notes: Team AAI made this race by virtue of the two auto-invites given to the teams that finish first and second in the GT category in the Asian Le Mans Series.
Two cars entered all four Asian Le Mans Series races. Both were entered by Team AAI.
Han-Chen Chen (Bronze) - Gilles Vannelet (Bronze) - Mike Parisy (Gold)
Starting position: 13th - Car: Porsche 911 GT3 RSR (991) - Tires: Michelin
Notes: I’m not entirely sure any of these people are real.
Or that the car and team are, for that matter. I mean, I’ve seen pictures, but I’ve seen how good people have gotten at photoshop now. I don’t believe it until I see video.
Victor Shaytar (Silver) - Andrea Bertolini (Platinum) - Aleksey Basov (Bronze)
Starting position: 3rd - Car: Ferrari 458 Italia GT2 - Tires: Michelin
Notes: It’s a Ferrari with two amateurs and a professional driving. Pretty good.
Patrick Dempsey (Bronze) - Patrick Long (Platinum) - Marco Seefried (Silver)
Starting position: 5th - Car: Porsche 911 GT3 RSR (991) - Tires: Michelin
Notes: We all talk about Patrick Dempsey like he’s an A-List star, but the #3 “Known for” on his IMDB page is Transformers 3 and the #4 is 2008 RomCom “Made of Honor”. It might be time to demote him back down to the “TV actor” tier.
Francois Perrodo (Bronze) - Rui Aguas (Silver) - Emmanuel Collard (Platinum)
Starting position: 2nd - Car: Ferrari 458 Italia GT2 - Tires: Michelin
Notes: The drivers in this car were selected by picking names from the category “Drivers who seem to be in every sports car race” out of a hat, from the looks of it.
Christian Reed (Bronze) - Khaled Al Qubaisi (Bronze) - Klaus Bachler (Gold)
Starting position: 6th - Car: Porsche 911 GT3 RSR (991) - Tires: Michelin
Notes: It’s like Patrick Dempsey’s car, but without Patrick Dempsey. So, it’s the 2015 Grey’s Anatomy of race cars.
Roald Goethe (Bronze) - Stuart Hall (Gold) - Francesco Castellacci (Silver)
Starting position: 12th - Car: Aston Martin Vantage GTE - Tires: Michelin
Notes: The 98 Aston Martin is an amazing GTE-Am entry. The 96 Aston Martin is also a GTE-Am entry.
Paul Dalla Lana (Bronze) - Mathias Lauda (Silver) - Pedro Lamy (Platinum)
Starting position: 1st - Car: Aston Martin Vantage GTE - Tires: Michelin
Notes: One of these amateurs is a DTM driver and the professional was the overall runner-up here as recently as 2011. That makes for a pretty spectacular GTE-Am entry.
There... There isn’t one? Driver’s rankings aren’t as much of an issue here as they are in the US, there’s four separate factory LMP1 teams that are all running unique cars, and event organizers have actually done a pretty good job fixing the majority of the obvious safety issues along the Circuit de la Sarthe. Hooray for competency!
As with the past few years, the race will be broadcast on Fox Sports 1 (A channel you likely have if you subscribe to a cable or satellite program) and 2 (A channel that only your weird neighbor with an off-brand satellite subscription has) in the US and the Eurosport family of networks in Europe. In addition, the entire race will be streamed online in the US on Fox Sports Go and in Australia by Channel Ten. Audio streaming will again be provided by Radio Le Mans through both SiriusXM (Sirius 94 and XM 201, I believe) and internet streaming. The schedule for the televised portions of Fox’s coverage are as follows, all in eastern time:
8:30 AM-12:00 PM (Fox Sports 2)
7:00 PM-8:00 PM (Fox Sports 1)
11:00 PM-12:30 AM (Fox Sports 2)
3:30 AM-7:30 AM (Fox Sports 1)
7:30 AM-9:00 AM (Fox Sports 2)
9:00 AM-9:30 AM (Fox Sports 1)
Yes, only five hours of the race are broadcast on a widely available network in the US, and yes, that’s an issue for everyone involved. Neither the finish nor the start will be broadcast widely either, yet for some reason Fox Sports 1 will air the post-race show.
Check back throughout the day here at Rennsport for another live blog, ideal for catching up on what you missed between broadcast segments and the ever-important mid-race naps.
(All photos via team PR)