Text: Rick Kiewiet
Images: Adam Prescott, Rick Kiewiet, NASCAR
No less than 62 cars will set out to take the start of the centennial 24 hours of Le Mans on the 10th of June. A record number. Never before have so many cars been on the grid of the circuit in La Sarthe. An astonishing number of 16 hypercars will lead the field, an incredible number compared to last years' drought of entries in the highest echelon of endurance racing. We'll run through the most eye catching entries below.
First of course is the dominating force over the last years, Toyota, who enters their WEC regulars the #7 and #8. The driver line up is the same as last year, with Conway, Kobayashi and Lopez piloting the #7 and Hartley, Hirakawa and Buemi taking control of the #8. Peugeot's #93 and #94 are also still present, also with the same line ups: Di Resta, Jensen and Vergne in the former and Duval, Menezes and Müller in the latter. Glickenhaus will field and additional entry at Le Mans from its regular WEC campaign, only Romain Dumas (#708) and Franck Mailleux (#709) are currently confirmed as drivers. Alpine is taking a one year sabbatical from the top class over 2023 and will field two Oreca's, the #35 and #36 in the LMP2 category.
The experienced crews will be challenged by 10 newcomers in the class. First up is Cadillac, which receives two additional entries besides its automatic WEC entry (#2, Bamber/Lynn/Westbrook), one for the #3 car (Bourdais, Van der Zande and one to be announced) and for the #311 Action Express car (Derani, Sims and Aitken).
If everything goes well, no less than 4 Porsche's 963 will be on the Le Mans grid, three factory cars and one fielded by JOTA. The WEC entries, #5 and #6 will be driven by Cameron/Christensen/Makowiecki and Estre/Lotterer/Vanthoor respectively. The extra factory entry will be driven by Felipe Nasr and two yet to be announced drivers. The #38 from JOTA will be in the hands of last years' LMP2 champions Antonio Felix da Costa and Will Stevens, supplemented by new to JOTA driver Yifei Ye from China.
Ferrari will only enter the two already confirmed factory 499P's, run by AF Corse and driven by Fuoco/Molina/Nielsen (#50) and Pier Guidi/Calado/Giovinazzi (#51).
The only privateer that made it to the list is Vanwall, which will be driven by Tom Dillmann, Esteban Guerrieri and former F1 World Champion Jacques Villeneuve.
24 cars will be competing for the LMP2 trophy, 8 of which in the ProAm class. All chassis are manufactured by Oreca and powered by Gibson, there will be no Ligiers or Dallara's on this year's grid. Many drivers are still to be announced, but lets take a look at the (many) expected front-runners.
Reigning world champions JOTA dial down their involvement in LMP2 from 2 entries to 1, the #28, which will be driven by Heinemeier Hansson/Rasmussen/ Fittipaldi. A completely new driver line up for the UK based team.
Their fellow countrymen from United Autosports continue their 2-car bid for top honors with the #22 (Hanson/Albuquerque/TBA) and #23 (Pierson/Blomqvist/Jarvis).
Alpine (Signatech) is back in the LMP2 category in which they achieved great successes in the past with world championship titles and Le Mans victories. Their #35 and #36 cars will be driven by regulars Negrão and Vaxivière respectively, the rest of their line up is still to be announced.
Other consistent front-runners are of course Team WRT, who field the #31 and #41 yeat again. Only confirmed drivers at the time of writing are Sean Galeal in the #31 and Rui Andrade in the #41.
Last but not least is Italian outfit Prema, who will run the #9 and #63. The #9 is somewhat 'F2-themed', with drivers Bent Viscaal, Juan Manuel Correa and Filip Ugran, the #63 is in the hands of former F1 driver Daniil Kvyat, Lamborghini's GT-ace Mirko Bortolotti and Doriane Pin.
Four different manufacturers will be on the GT grid at Le Mans this year, which will only feature Am-entries as the Pro category seized to exist a year early following the withdrawal of the Ferrari and Porsche entries. BMW regular Walkenhorst Motorsport, who earned an invitation following their Asian Le Mans Series championship, will (unfortunately?) bring a Ferrari 488 to the table instead of the BMW M8 GTE which turned out to be unavailable. As a result, the GT Am field will consist of 8 Porsches, 7 Ferraris, 5 Aston Martins and a Chevrolet.
The garage 56 entry, for innovative entries that do not compete within any of the regular classes, this year will be occupied by Hendrick Motorsports who'll field a modified new generation NASCAR, a Chevrolet Camaro ZL1. The car will be driven by an all-star line up consisting of Jimmie Johnson (NASCAR Champion), Jenson Button (F1 World Champion) and Mike Rockenfeller (24h Le Mans winner).