With a little more than a month to go until the Le Mans 24H race, news has been flying back and forth across the wires. We have had the second round of the WEC at Spa in Belgium in which Audi romped home in a 1-2-3 finish with all three cars finishing on the same lap, a minute apart from each other. The only surviving Toyota (#8) finished a lap down in fourth place with the fastest Toyota lap being put in by the retired #7 car, and that was ominously a second and a half down on the fastest Audi race lap.
Watching the race at Spa, and in particular the battle between the #7 Toyota which led for a good chunk of the first half from the Longtail Audi, it appeared that the Toyota of Wurz/Lapierre/Nakajima was on the limit much of the time while the Audi was biding its time. The Toyota retired just short of the 3 hour 40 minute mark, a little more than half distance, citing problems with its energy-retrieval system, which basically stopped recovering energy and caused the rear brakes to overheat.
The situation was such that Toyota Technical director Pascal Vasselon took issue in an Autosport feature where he called upon the ACO and the FIA to change the rules before the Le Mans 24H race, as the Japanese car stood no chance against the might of Audi. The Audis enjoyed a 70-80 bhp power advantage over the Toyotas, and that showed on the track when the two makes were doing battle for the lead. The Audi was baulked by a backmarker that the Toyota had just passed, but the German car was back on the Toyota’s tail in no time at all. Of course the Audi team boss denied that there was any bias in the rules and that the Toyota team had got its strategy wrong in only fielding its 2013 car for the first time at Spa, but Toyota countered that Audi was sandbagging at Spa – strong words indeed…
And so the rumblings will no doubt continue, but there can be no uncertainty that the Balance of Performance (BoP) formulae applied across all classes to different teams is fraught with imperfections. The same BoP muddle is threatening to unravel a few tempers in the GTE class where the waivers allocated to some contenders has led to significant unhappiness and if anything, has now created an uneven playing field, the opposite of what was intended by the regulators. Many of the teams are so unhappy with this method of treating cars differently even within the same class, that some state that BoP has no place in the world of professional motorsport. The writer could not agree more strongly with this sentiment.
So what is happening in the lead-up to the week of the Le Mans 24H race?
Friday 31st May:
During a private evening event, homage will be paid to the men who, by their talent and their courage, have written the history of the Le Mans 24H race. During this special ‘by invitation only’ evening, Tom Kristensen, Jacky Ickx, Derek Bell, Frank Biela, Emanuele Pirro, Yannick Dalmas and Henri Pescarolo will be inducted into the Le Mans 24-Hours Drivers Hall of Fame. Qualification for membership into this rather elite club is, as you can imagine, quite stringent because all of these drivers have won the Le Mans 24-Hours at least four times. This induction will take place in the presence of the ‘90-years’ jury who elected the 11 cars of the legend of Le Mans, plus people from the world of art, show business and sport, in addition to teams, partners of the event and representatives of the media. The only name missing from those listed above is that of the late Olivier Gendebien, who passed away in 1998.
Sunday 9th June:
Cars, drivers and teams taking part in this year’s Le Mans 24 Hours will be at the circuit in the Sarthe for a day’s testing. The aim of the free test day is to enable entrants to come and test their cars on the Le Mans 24-Hours circuit, as well as allowing some teams which will not race in the event, to discover the layout. 76 cars maximum will be authorized to take part in the test day.
Sunday and Monday 16th and 17th June:
Scrutineering and administration checks will take place on the Place de la République which will be decorated in the colours of the 90th anniversary of the race. The town of Le Mans will put on an exhibition of the history of scrutineering linked to the different places where this function has taken place since 1923.
Tuesday 18th June:
The Pontlieue hairpin, which brought the race into the centre of the town of Le Mans in 1923, will be recreated exactly as it was with the advertising hoardings of the era, fencing, footbridge, etc, including the café that still exists redecorated in the 20s’ style!
Wednesday 19th – Sunday 23rd June:
Homage will be paid to the 11 cars that have written the history of the race. This group of cars was chosen by a special jury presided over by Pierre Fillon, President of the Automobile Club de l’Ouest, and a display of these cars, brought to Le Mans from all over the world, will be open to the public in the Le Mans 24-Hours village from Wednesday 19th to Sunday 23rd June.
Friday 21st June:
During the pitwalk on Friday 21st these ‘legend’ cars will be lined up on the track on the slope leading up to the Dunlop Footbridge. At the top of this symbolic climb the Trophy will be displayed in its new case made by Louis Vuitton. On Saturday 22nd June at 12h35, these 11 cars will do a full lap of the Le Mans 24-Hours circuit: they will then set off again at 13h15 for a second parade, bringing the Trophy to the President of the ACO who will hold it symbolically until Sunday afternoon.
We will be bringing you an update of events and happenings on the Le Mans scene each Friday between now and the race itself.
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