Le Mans 24 Hours – A glorious 80th event

The Toyota Hybrids should keep the Audis honest

The start of the 80th Le Mans 24 hours will be given tomorrow at 15h00. It looks like the greatest endurance race in the world, the third round of the FIA World Endurance Championship, will be a cracking event. A quick roundup before the pack is unleashed in the wake of the pole sitter, the no. 1 Audi.

In February of this year the prestigious American Company, the National Geographic, again classified the Le Mans 24 Hours as the no.1 sporting event in the world which all sports lovers should attend at least once in their lives. The Sarthe classic was rated ahead of events like the Olympic Games, the Football World Cup and the Super Bowl. All those who flock to the Sarthe this weekend will live a unique experience.

From a sporting point of view the race looks very promising. Even though Audi put two of its four cars on the front row on Thursday evening, with pole going to a hybrid for the first time in the history of the event, its rivals also showed a fine turn of speed. The two Toyota TS030s set the third and fifth quickest times giving a glimpse of their potential as they both beat the 2011 pole time. Behind the six works cars the nos 21 and 22 Hondas and the nos 12 and 13 Lola-Toyotas entered by Rebellion Racing are waiting to pounce. The favorites with their technologically advanced cars and their thoroughbred driver line-ups will not be able to make any mistakes. In the top LM P1 category only the Pescarolo Team is not in an optimistic frame of mind after the accidents of the Pescarolo 03-Judd on Wednesday evening and the Dome S 102.5 on Thursday. Not only has this meant a huge amount of extra work for the team, but it seems very probable that Collard and Hall will have to tackle the 24 Hours as a 2-man team in no. 16 as Jean-Christophe Boullion injured his ribs in Wednesday’s shunt and is not fit to drive. It is another story to add to the very human saga of this famous team, totally in keeping with the feats that have marked the history of the Le Mans 24 Hours.

In the battle among the front-runners, the struggle between Audi and the challenger Toyota is also that between two of the three biggest car manufacturers in the world as the Japanese giant has recently taken back the no.1 spot, while the VAG Group to which Audi belongs is in third position.

Between these two heavyweights of the car industry comes General Motors, which has entered its works Corvettes for the Le Mans 24 Hours in the LM GTE Pro category in which it will defend the title won last year against great names like Ferrari, Porsche and Aston Martin. Pole in this category went to the no. 50 F458 Italia in the hands of Fred Makowiecki who got round in 3m 55.953s, only five-tenths of a second in front of an Aston Martin and a Corvette. This proves that the battle in this category will again be a no-holds-barred one.

It will be the same in LM P2, the category with the highest number of entries at the start (20). John Martin in the no. 25 ARD Delta Oreca 03-Nissan set pole in 3m 38.181s, but he is under threat from a pack of hungry rivals beginning with the no. 35 Morgan-Judd of Nicolet, Lahaye and Pla, the nos 33 and 44 Honda Performance Developments and the Zytek-Judds victorious in 2011.

In LM GTE Am, the second GTE category in which one-year-old cars must be entered with at least one gentlemen driver in the line-up, the Porsche 911 RSRs (997) eked out a slight advantage in qualifying with pole going to no. 79 of Neiman, Pilet and Pumpelly. But they will have to watch out for the Aston Martin, Corvettes and Ferraris.

The Nissan DeltaWing, another of the big attractions of the 2012 Le Mans 24 Hours, isn’t there just to make up the numbers. Its times have put it in the middle of the quickest LM P2s, and its top speed of over 303 km/h is higher than that of some of the LM P1s. Even though it is racing outside the overall classification (it has the ACO 56th pit invitation as an innovative machine) it will start from the fifteenth row thanks to Michael Krumm’s 3m 42.612s.

The Le Mans 24 Hours is the third round of the FIA World Endurance Championship and it is the blue riband event of the season in which double points are awarded compared to the other races.

However, the Le Mans 24-Hours race goes well beyond the bounds of a purely sporting phenomenon. This popular event (249 000 spectators in 2011) brings together all the social classes and ages. It provides a host of entertainment in addition to an exciting race with a starting procedure that gives you goose pimples, an exhibition by the Patrouille de France just before the cars are unleashed, concerts – with the Shaka Ponk Group on Saturday at 21h00 on the open-air stage – and the commemoration of Matra’s 40th anniversary win with four cars driven by Henri Pescarolo, Gérard Larrouse, Jean-Pierre Jabouille and Josh Hill.

On Saturday 16th June the start of the race will be given at 15h00 by Mr. Takeshi Uchiyamada, Vice-President and Director of the Toyota Motor Corporation who, when he was an engineer, looked after the development of the first-generation Prius in 1994. This homage places the 2012 Le Mans 24 Hour under the sign of technological innovation.

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