It’s June so it must be time for the annual pilgrimage to La Sarthe, the highpoint of the season for any endurance racing fan (apart from me who left it too late, again! Next year, though…
Let’s take a look at the runners & riders who will be competing in the 85th Grand Prix d’Endurance:
LMP1 – is 3 better than 2?
The smallest category, with only 6 cars only one of which is not a hybrid. However, it’s from this class that the overall winner is likely to emerge, barring some freak result. This will be the first 24 hours without Audi since 1998 and their absence is likely to be felt not only on the track but also in the paddock, the huge hospitality units looking oddly empty. This should drive home to the ACO & FIA that a third manufacturer is urgently needed to fill the void.
Porsche are sticking with just two cars over the season, a decision which might or might not be the best. On the one hand, they can concentrate on the regular drivers and pit crews, but on the other, and as we have seen in the past, strength in numbers counts for so much. If the test day times are anything to go by, they have an uphill struggle to match Toyota’s pace, therefore their attention will be focussed on getting more speed from the 919 during qualifying whilst Toyota can simply get on with fine-tuning and finding a rhythm. Porsche were a full three seconds off Toyota’s 3:18.132 test day pace, if this was intentional sandbagging or the sign of a fundamental lack of speed from the car only the Stuttgart marque will know. However, it’s not all doom and gloom, Porsche do have lots of strong cards to play, not least in experience. Five of the six drivers have won the race previously and this will tell during the night, if they run their own race and not get into any unnecessary fights with Toyota.
ByKolles 'have the will', but as they have no opposition in the non-hybrid class then it’s just a case of ensuring a trouble-free run to the finish. The team will not contest the fly-away races to concentrate on testing for 2018, potentially with two of the Nissan-powered CLM-P1/01s on the grid. The engine is not short of power by any means, placing ahead at the test of all bar one of the P2s, and a clean run at Spa will only add to the confidence. Ex-Audi man Marco Bonanomi will replace Super GT-committed James Rossiter for this race only.
Toyota Gazoo Racing (7/8/9)
Toyota are pulling out all the stops this year by entering three cars for the first time, with the regular cars 7 & 8 joined by the number 9 TS050. After dominating the opening rounds at Silverstone & Spa with the full-season entries, the Cologne-based team has shuffled the driver line-up for the #9, after what might be seen by a lacklustre performance from the third-string car in Belgium. Originally Juan-Maria López was entered in the #7, but following his race shunt at Silverstone and subsequent non-appearance at Spa, he has been moved to the #9 which will be anchored by returnee Nicolas Lapierre. In his place, Stéphane Sarrazin will move to the #7 (although it’s not clear if this will be a permanent change), Toyota feeling that his experience will be more beneficial to the full-season car. After last year’s 23rd hour disappointment, this is a make-or-break year for Toyota, but filling the top 3 positions at the test day shows that they have the speed, and trouble-free runs in the two preceding events the reliability. If this is enough to give us the first Japanese win since Mazda in 1991 remains to be seen.
My prediction: speed and numbers point to Toyota to win, the #8 looking the strongest. Porsche might regret not having a third car to prevent a potential podium lockout, especially if it stays dry as predicted. ByKolles just want a finish…