Two weeks to go until the WEC opening race at Silverstone on 20 April and ten weeks until Le Mans 24H. Invariably around this time there are teams that had been invited to participate at Le Mans but who drop out for various reasons. One such disappointment is the SRT Viper team who performed so well at Le Mans in 2013, but there are always reserve teams waiting in the wings to take their place so the field remains at 55 cars, plus the Garage 56 entrant which this year is the Nissan ZEOD RC Prototype.
The trouble with the current setup of the LM P1 and P2, GTE Pro and Am classes, is that, in the opinion of this writer, there is little variety and inspiration for progression amongst the classes. It is traditional that the large-budget manufacturer teams occupy the top LM P1 category where budget hungry research and development is needed to ensure the best performing cars in that class. One might expect therefore, that entrants in the LM P2 class might after some years of participation in that class, have built up sufficient experience to move up a class, but the P2 class is so formulaic that it could be a stand-alone championship in its own right. The P1 class therefore must rely on manufacturers with deep pockets or very wealthy private teams to enter the class, but what this means is that it is extremely unlikely that a private entrant could ever win a round of the WEC or Le Mans because the gulf between the P1 and the other classes is calculated to be sufficiently wide so as to prevent this. This is a great pity because of the intense competition of the 1970s and 1980s between private and manufacturer teams, which produced some awesome races…remember the Kremer K3 win in 1979!
Moving to the GTE classes the situation is perhaps a little more dire, depending on how you look at it. The GTE Pro class is for manufacturers with professional drivers in their cars, and so here we see the likes of Ferrari, Porsche Aston Martin and Corvette. The GTE Am class is dependent on the previous year’s cars or hand-me-downs from the manufacturers but if the Pro class is not fed with new blood, the Am class will by default, suffer in time from a lack of newcomers filtering down from the Pro ranks. Take for example the withdrawal of the SRT Viper team in the Pro class in 2014, this has meant that two Ferrari 458s move in to fill the gap, boosting the number in the Am class to 18 cars. This means that a third of the 55 cars in the field are running 2013 technology in compliance with the regulations, ten of which are Ferrari 458s, four Aston Martins and four Porsches – I thought racing was about testing new technology and moving forward.
Anyway not to be negative, we move forward to look at the 2014 cars that have been unveiled recently, and there is much to look forward to here. Starting at the top of the game, Porsche, the most successful factory team to race at Le Mans, pulled the covers off their newcomer at the Geneva Motor Show in March, and VMP was there to witness the event. The new LM P1 contender from Stuttgart is, in accordance with Porsche’s tradition, innovative…even revolutionary, in that it is powered by a V4 engine of 2-litre capacity. At the time of the show, at the beginning of March, the car was undergoing testing at Sebring, and as this is being written at the end of the month, the teams were testing at Paul Ricard. Porsche experienced some technical problems on both occasions but these were obviously rectified because the 919 Hybrid set the fastest time at the final pre-season test session at Paul Ricard. The season is set for an exciting opening race at Silverstone on April 20.
Also revealed at the show was Porsche’s 2014 GTE Pro contender, an improved version of last year’s Le Mans winning car. Porsche of course have the advantage of having had a year to iron out any crinkles in the car that debuted last year, and as Hartmut Kristen revealed in an interview at Geneva, the 2014 car now features a better aerodynamic package. The #92 RSR of Holzer/Makowiecki/Lietz topped the time charts in the GTE Pro class during the final weekend of tests at the Paul Ricard circuit on Friday 30 March. This is significant because many of the cars were present in each class, giving them all a chance to flex their muscles in front of the opposition. However what is always a factor is that some teams may well be sandbagging ahead of the real event…only time will tell.
Geneva seemed to be the venue of choice to launch race cars, because Audi had their 2014 R18 e-tron quattro LM P1 car as well as the new RS5 DTM racer on the stand. Once the new Audi road cars had been unveiled at Geneva, they were whisked away and the race cars were wheeled out for the press to view, still dressed in black carbon fibre. With eleven wins out of thirteen Le Mans starts, the Audi will of course be the car to beat in the WEC once again. This year, thanks to a change in the rules, the capacity of the R18’s V6 diesel engine has been increased to 4-litre, up from 3.7-litres in 2013.
Across in the other corner of the show was the 2014 Chev Corvette C7.R, also a contender in the GTE Pro class this year. On hand was Oliver Gavin to talk with members of the media about the new car.
Launched away from the public at the Paul Ricard circuit on 27 March was the Toyota TS040 Hybrid for 2014. With two seasons behind them, the Toyota team will be out to prove their mettle this season and the TS040 looks to be a mean contender. New for the 2014 season on the TS040 is the fact that it now has a 4WD system making all three manufacturer entrants similar in this respect. The car is fitted with a 3.7-litre V8 petrol engine pushing out 520bhp, but when the energy from the hybrid system is dialled in, the total power output will be up around 1000bhp! For the 2014 season, the Toyota cars will again wear the numbers 7 and 8 on their flanks.
Table showing the different technical/mechanical configurations of the top three manufacturer LM P1 teams:
|Audi R18 e-tron quattro||Diesel||V6||4-litre||2 MJ|
|Toyota TS040 Hybrid||Petrol||V8||3.7-litre||6 MJ|
|Porsche 919 Hybrid||Petrol||V4||2-litre||6 MJ|
Written by: Glen Smale