So you didn’t make it to Le Mans this year and you’re relegated to trying to keep up with the race online and on TV.
Here are a few things to watch this year in what should be a barn burner of a 100th running of the world’s greatest sports car race:
Americans could be represented on 3 stages
With competitive cars entered in each of the three classes, plus the innovative category where the Hendrick Motorsport Camaro in Garage 56 she will showcase NASCAR style racing – it is possible for an American team to be on each of the podiums.
The Cadillacs from Chip Ganassi Racing and Action Expressplus three of the German-American entries of Porsche Penske Motorsport have numbers. With their six cars, they have a good shot at an American team on the overall podium for the first time since last year.
Jim Glickenhaus’ eponymous 007 entries are back again this year, after a distant third place in 2022.
It’s easy to forget that United Autosports entries in LMP2 are co-owned by American McLaren CEO Zak Brown and British Richard Dean. The team won round 2 of the WEC in Portugal and came second in Sebring and Spa.
Corvette racing (pictured) is a good bet to win with the C8.R in its final appearance at Le Mans as a factory-backed team. The team won the first two rounds of the WEC in the GTE Am class.
Porsche from Dempsey-Proton Racingwhere Hollywood sensation Patrick Dempsey hangs out with his winning smile and a great passion for racing took second place in Sebring’s WEC round.
Opening hours more important than you think
The ACO’s 11th hour BOP rule change gave the front row to the Ferrari 499Ps by Antonio Fuoco and Alessandro Pier Guidi.
The Toyota Gazoo Racing GR010 Hybrid of Brandon Hartley, whose unpredictable handling with 37 kilos (81.5 pounds) of extra weight from BOP was evident during the Hyperpole session, was just over half a second behind.
But what about race pace? Will the Ferraris be able to maintain their qualifying advantage? Which other teams can emerge in the course of one or two fuel stops and double stint tires?
The Porsche 963s And Cadillac V-Series.R competitors have been consistent in free practice and qualifying, but do they have enough pace to stay in the lead with the Ferraris and Toyotas?
Was one of the teams sandbagging in LMP2 or GTE Am despite all the Hyperpole attention? If so, they can break out quickly.
Cadillac is back and on a mission
The last time Cadillac started trying to win Le Mans in 2000, it didn’t go well.
The company arrived with a $30 million dollar budget for its LMP1, just in time to take on Reinhold Joest’s factory Audi team and the Audi R8. It is often said that Audi’s annual budget was $100 million.
To make matters worse, a decision to split the budget between an American team and a French team didn’t sit well. One of the DAMS entries caught fire at the start and went up like a bonfire. A crash while warming up in the morning resulted in an electrical failure and the fire.
A brief fire at the rear of Sebastien Bourdais’s No. 3 Cadillac during Hyperpole must have been a bit eerie for the Cadillac camp until Thursday night’s blaze was quickly extinguished after Sebastien Bourdais parked it at marshalls.
“I managed to get on top of the tire for the first lap and I got a great first sector and it was a really solid lap,” he said. “Then I started losing some time and it just went away.”
The No. 3 car will start eighth. The car also caught fire at Sebring and had to stop. But you expect Chip Ganassi Racing to stay focused, as evidenced by his comeback at Laguna Seca in May and the sixth qualifying of the No. 2 car at Hyperpole.
This time, Cadillac hired another American team, Sebring winners Action Express Racing, to achieve a three-car entry.
Last call for Corvette Racing
GM will move to a customer program next season as it transitions to the new Z06 GT3.Rs. That means this is Corvette Racing’s last factory-backed appearance at Le Mans after 22 years and eight wins with three different generations of America’s premier sports car.
Two Z06 GT3.Rs from the customer are expected for the WEC in the future.
To say Corvette Racing’s current WEC team is excited to give the C8.R its maiden Le Mans victory would be an understatement. When Nico Varrone crashed in the first free practice, the team completely rebuilt the right side of the car and Nicky Catsburg got into qualifyi
ng on the “trick”. His lap took the team to the final lap of Hyperpole. The repairs included suspension pieces, brakes, front and rear fenders, door and rocker panels, plus the wing, rear panel and deck covers.
“It sounds strange now, but it was actually a nice boost for everyone,” said Catsburg. “It’s a good feeling to know we made it.”
Texan Ben Keating then won pole in the Hyperpole session by dragging a rival Ferrari down the Mulsanne straight.
“I passed him in Mulsanne (corner), and he didn’t slow me down. It was incredible and I thought that was as good as it gets.
Team manager Marc Maurini said the best time to see who’s fastest in the GTE Am race is around nightfall in France (or 4 p.m. EDT).
The Corvette team has something in its back pocket for the race, he said, but so do the other teams.
“Around 10 or 11 p.m. (4 to 5 p.m. EDT) you start to realize who you’re racing against. In terms of our car speed, that depends on how well prepared everyone is. But operationally we are at the top.”
New Safety Car, restart rules
Deprecated in some circles as American-style racing, the new safety car rules will bring the entire field together for restarts after being reorganized according to cars on the first lap in each class.
That is the same approach used in IMSA and a change from the previous use of three safety cars at Le Mans.
It could become “alerts that generate warnings.” But there will be a lot of house-to-house racing once the green drops after safety car periods.
All bets stand if there is a safety car in the final hours. Ironically, the Le Mans regulars will then go to “rub is race” NASCAR style, while the NASCAR Garage 56 entry drivers, if still racing, will try to steer clear to make it to the finish line!
All eyes on Garage 56
You can expect the NASCAR/Hendrick Motorsports Camaro to get quite a bit of Garage 56 TV coverage.
Watch it through the Porsche corners and then the final Ford corner leading into the front straight to assess its ability on the road.
The Porsche Curves are taken at a discouragingly high speed. Not long after, there’s a big left-to-right weight shift entering the Ford Curve, pretty much a chicane, leading into the front straight.
The target? Complete the match.
The envelope please… Time to choose the winners
Right. It’s a 24 hour. So, who knows?
Here are the picks for this year’s podium finishers:
hypercar: Ferrari AF Corse, Toyota Gazoo Racing, Porsche Penske Motorsports.
LMP2: United Autosports, WRT Racing, JOTA
GTE LM: AF Corse Ferrari, Corvette Racing, Richard Mille AF Corse Ferrari