The 2018 24 Hours of Le Mans – Thoughts, Reflections and The Future (17.06.18)

Photo: Roger Jenkins

As the 2018 running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans draws to a close, EnduranceandGT would like to offer some thoughts and reflections on the Great Race as well as looking ahead, as indeed the ACO is with its announcements about regulations for future classes from 2020.

1) Alonso did it!

Fernando Alonso, double Formula One World Champion, driving the #8 Toyota Gazoo Racing TS050-Hybrid he shared with Sébastien Buemi and Kazuki Nakajima, won the 2018 24 Hours of Le Mans by a margin of two laps over the sister #7 car and 12 laps ahead of the nearest non-hybrid contender. Many people regarded that Alonso’s victory was a foregone conclusion, that the race win was gifted to him by Toyota, the series organisers the ACO and the FIA in order to generate interest in endurance racing and to allow the ‘halo’ effect to fall on the 2019 Indianapolis 500.

If Alonso can win the ‘jewel-in-the-crown’ of the US single-seater world, the Indy 500, he would secure the ‘Triple Crown’. (Incidentally, the Motorsport Triple Crown, as defined by Graham Hill, consists of the Formula One Drivers Championship, the 24 Hours of Le Mans and the Indianapolis 500 – not, as some commentators have suggested, the Monaco Grand Prix. It doesn’t matter as Alonso has won both.)

Even if all the above were true, it does not detract, in any way, from the achievement of winning at Circuit de la Sarthe. It is true that the pressure was off Toyota Gazoo Racing with no other manufacturer hybrid cars. However, to circulate around a busy track continuously for 24 hours, contending with traffic, with varying driving standards and with weather that can change in a heartbeat, is no mean feat. For the Spaniard to pull this off on his first attempt, ably supported , of course, by Buemi and Nakajima, is nothing short of incredible. Remember that, for decades now, Formula One drivers have lived within their own little bubble and the careers such as those enjoyed by Jacky Ickx, Derek Bell, Jackie Stewart and Brian Redman, where drivers mixed sportscar and Formula One events in the same season, are long gone. Until 2018, Alonso had enjoyed very limited running in a top-level prototype. We should enjoy the privilege of watching one of the greatest drivers of all time demonstrating his skills on the world’s finest circuit.

2) We Can’t Always Have Close Finishes.

The Le Mans crowd has been spoiled in recent years. In 2014 we had the JotaSport Gibson-Zytec carve its way through the LMP2 field to take the class win. In 2016 we had the heartbreak of the lead Toyota TS050 failing mechanically on the last lap. In 2017 we enjoyed the prospect of an LMP2 entry, the Jackie Chan DC Racing Jota entries again, in with a shout of an overall victory.

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Photo: Andy Lloyd

In 2018 we did not see that. Toyota had the LMP1 class locked up, the #26 G-Drive Racing entry took the lead near the start and held on to it until the chequered flag and the LMGTE Pro Porsches look bullet-proof from the start.

We can’t always have nail-biting finishes to endurance races and neither should the organisers be encouraged to create them.

There was much discussion about Balance of Performance tinkering on the eve of the race and whilst it undoubtedly helped create a slightly closer race, true enthusiasts are interested in seeing the best that manufacturers and engineers can produce and not an artificially-created contest where manufacturing excellence and race-craft are penalised by weight and air restrictions.

3) Endurance racing people are great company!

Over the course of a week at Le Mans, the EnduranceandGT team had the immense pleasure of bumping into, and talking to, some great people. We met James Allen (driver of the #40 G-Drive Racing entry), David Clark (partner at Jota Sport – Jackie Chan DC Racing), Hugh Chamberlain (team owner and manager for decades and fantastic character), Seb Delanney and his sister Chloe (one of the world’s biggest supercar vloggers on YouTube), Jenson Button (enough said)! and Gemma Hatton (Racecar Engineering Deputy Editor and Radio Le Mans commentator). All were happy to talk and share their love of fast cars and endurance racing.

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Photo: Roger Jenkins

This list doesn’t include the dozens of other enthusiasts, characters, fans and team personnel who are all at Le Mans to enjoy a week of camaraderie, fast cars, great racing and for some, a little business as well.

I have never failed to enjoy the company of racing people and the more you understand the sport, its rules and regulations and its history, the more those relationships deepen and grow.

4) The weather has a part to play.

The weather at Le Mans is always a huge variable. In 2017 we were blessed with almost unbroken sunshine from the day we arrived to the moment we left. That was not the case this year.

Heavy rain greeted participants from Scrutineering Sunday onwards and a large area of the Pays de Loire, north of the City of Le Mans, was hit with flooding from Tuesday after onwards and this included the EnduranceandGT team.

As it was, the race was largely unaffected by rain but the risk was always there. If you come to Le Sarthe, make sure you pack plenty of wet-weather gear!

5) The ACO is thinking ahead.

The outlines of new regulations due to come in to effect from 2020 onwards were announced during Race Week. The regulations, at this stage, have probably sparked more questions than commitments from manufacturers but the concept of cars that look like ‘hypercars’ (as the ACO calls them), much reduced costs and hydrogen fuel cell power some years down the line shows that the ACO is thinking very hard about what the future of endurance racing will look like.

6) We’ll be back next year!

Was it a comfortable experience? Not all the time. Was the racing ‘edge of the seat’ stuff? Not especially. Did we bask in golden sunshine? For the most part, no. Did we see history being made? Possibly.

Will we be back in 2019? Definitely!

“I Would Like To See The Chequered Flag” – G-Drive’s Rusinov Is Cautious As Race Enters Eighth Hour (16.06.18)

Photo: gdriveracing.com

After qualifying third in the LMP2 class for the 2018 running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the #26 G-Drive Racin ORECA 07, driven by Andrea Pizzitola, Roman Rusinov and Jean-Eric Vergne has led the huge class field for much of the first eight hours of the French classic.

Despite a string start to the race, Rusinov is not looking at the podium just yet. Speaking in the pit-lane, Rusinov is focused on getting to the finish and seeing where the team are in the closing stages.

“There are still may hours to go,” said Rusinov. “It’s not a bad start so we will try to keep pushing in the same way and we will see what happens.”

“I would like to see the chequered flag,” continued Rusinov.

The pace of the #26 entry is testament to the work that has been put in by the team over the off-season.

“We have worked hard during the past winter and the job which we did during the winter, finally we can show it here. We are happy to see that and to lead the class but it is a hard race so let’s keep everything crossed so that we can see the chequered flag,” said Rusinov.

The chequered flag falls at 15:00 local time on Sunday June 16.

 

Toyota Pair Lead After Five Hours (16.06.18 At 20:55)

As the 2018 running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans moved through its sixth hour, it was the Toyotas who led from the front, with the #8 TS050-Hybrid at the head of the field, driven by Kazuki Nakajima in the car he shares with Fernando Alonso and Sébastien Buemi.

As was expected, and designed, when Toyota Gazoo Racing entered the 2018-19 ‘Super Season’ , the only two hybrids in the premier class were controlling the race from the front and, barring disasters, should be able run the remainder of the race at a pace of their choice.

The best of the non-hybrids, as the race moved through its sixth hour, was the #17 BR Engineering BR1, piloted by Matevos Isaakyan, Egor Orudzhev and Stéphane Sarrazin.

The LMP2 category is being led by the #26 G-Drive Racing ORECA 07, Roman Rusinov at the wheel in the car he shares with Andrea Pizzitola and Jean-Éric Vergne.

The battle at the head of the LM GTE Pro category is capturing a lot of attention with the #92, £93 and #91 Porsche GT Team 911 RSRs leading the field in a race that celebrates 70 years of the Stuttgart brand.

Porsche also hold on to the top two positions in the LM GTE Am category with the #77 Dempsey-Proton Racing 911 RSR leading the Team Project 1 911 RSR in second place in class with Jörg Bergmeister at the wheel.

There was major disappointment for the ByKolles Racing Team when, after issues at the start line for Enso CLM P1/01 when it failed to fire up, Domink Kraihamer had a huge accident in the car after four hours, leading to a long safety car period.

“If We Can Finish In The Top Fifteen, That Would Be Like A Win For Me” – Algarve Pro Racing’s Ate De Jong Speaks To EnduranceandGT. (15.06.18).

  • Photo: Roger Jenkins.

Ate de Jong,  member of the driver line-up of the #25 Algarve Pro Racing Ligier JSP217 with teammates Mark Patterson and Taksung Kim, is feeling relaxed and confident as the countdown to the start of the 2018 running of the 25 Hours of Le Mans continues.

For De Jong, who started his motorsport journey in January 2016, joining the grid at Le Mans is the culmination of a dream that started in childhood.

The Philippines-based driver took time out of his busy pre-race schedule to share some thoughts on the race with EnduranceandGT editor Andy Lloyd.

The Test Day, practice and qualifying are now behind us. How do you feel now that the race is approaching?

“I feel very confident. We didn’t run a lot of laps in Q3 because there were a lot of slow zones and red flags. It’s crazy compared to last year, so the drivers tell me but I’m happy with the balance of the car and the set-up.”

“We have put a new engine and gear-box in – race ready- so that gives us a little bit more power so I am very confident for the race. We are going to try to keep out of trouble. We are an amateur team with three bronze drivers so as long as we can keep out of trouble and keep on running, keep out of the pits and not make any mistakes I think we can move up the ladder bit by bit. That’s the plan.”

The weather at the Test Day, practice and qualifying has not been wet exactly but you’ve had various kind of mixed, greasy conditions to contend with.

“Yesterday during the night session, because qualifying was shut down half an hour early because of the shunt, we had two and half hours in Q3. During the last hour it started drizzling which turned in to light rain and then it rained more heavily. It was not worth taking a risk with the car and running in those conditions. If it happens in the race you have to, but we didn’t want to take the risk in Q3 to shunt or spin and make it even more problematic for the team because they already have to work already to fit the engine and the gearbox. I’m very happy with where we are.”

You have achieved your goal of racing at Le Mans. Have you started to look ahead to other plans or is it too early to think about 2019?

“I started racing in January 2016 and I began with testing at Sepang in a Formula Renault. I then bought my own LMP3 in which I competed in the Asian Le Mans Sprint Cup and the Asain Le Mans Endurance Series. Last year I did some testing in the LMP2 – the old spec as well as the new spec and the goal was to go to Le Mans so, yes, it’s a dream come true from when I was a little boy watching the Group C cars.”

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“Now the goal is to finish and then we will see during the race how it falls. I want to finish in overall top fifteen and I expect a number of professional teams will run on the edge and that will cause some accidents. I think, with retirements, we can slowly move up the ladder. If we can finish in the top fifteen that would be a win for me!”

The lights go out for the 2018 running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans at 15:00 local time on Saturday June 16.

“The Car Was Good And We Feel Ready” – Nakajima Puts Toyota In Pole (15.06.18)

Photo: Roger Jenkins

Kazuki Nakajima, driving the #8 Toyota Gazoo Racing TSO050-Hybrid he shares with Sébastien Buemi and Fernando Alonso, took pole position at the Circuit de la Sarthe with 3:15.377 in a Q3 session that was lengthened by 30 minutes and was also interrupted with numerous yellow flags and slow zones.

Joining the #8 on the front row for the 2018 running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans will be the sister #8 entry in which Kamui Kobayashi had already set a 3:17.377 in the first qualifying session on Wednesday evening.

Quickest of the non-hybrids and third on the grid for Saturday’s race was the #1 Rebellion Racing Rebellion R13 in which Bruno Senna lapped in 3:19.449 in the third session.

Kazuki Nakajima was delighted with the result but is focused on the race ahead:

“I am quite happy with the result but, more importantly, the car was good and we did a lot of preparation for the race so we feel ready.”

“We could have maybe matched last year’s lap time but still I think it was a good lap time and a good boost for the team.”

IDEC Sport took pole in the LMP2 category with a 3:24.842 set by Paul Loup Chatin in Q3 in the #48 Gibson-powered ORECA 07 car he shares with Paul Lafargue and Memo Rojas. There was some confusion as the session drew to a close as to who had pole after lap times for the #28 TDS Racing ORECA 07 were disallowed due to an infringement that caught a number of other cars out, namely not reporting to post-qualifying scrutineering.

The #31 DragonSpeed ORECA starts alongside the #48 entry after Nathanaël Berthon put in a 3:24.883. Jean-Eric Verge completed the top three in the LMP2 class with a 3:25.160 in the #26 G-Drive Racing entry .

In the LM GTE Pro category, times set in the Wednesday session were not bettered throughout Thursday. Gianmaria Bruni, therefore, took pole in the class with a 3:47.504 in the #91 Porsche 911 RSR he shares with Richard Leitz and Frederic Makowiecki.

The sister #92 entry will join the front row of the class grid with the 3:49.07 set by Michael Christensen.

Bruni was very happy to have taken pole for Porsche in his first Le Mans for the Stuttgart manufacturer and took advantage of ideal track conditions in Q1 with fresh tyres.

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Photo: Roger Jenkins

“I know that we have a very good car,” said Bruni. “It was my first set of new tyres at Le Mans because I didn’t put any new tyres on at the pre-test or in free practice before qualy so I felt that the car was very good on the out-lap. So I said ‘It’s now or never’ so I pushed a lot and put everything together. On the second lap I tried to go faster but it didn’t work so it was better yesterday than today or Saturday (for the Test). “

“Le Mans is amazing. I have loved this track since the first attempt here with Risi Competizione. They brought me here in 2008 and straight away we got the GT class win so I have a good feeling about 2008 which I remember like to was yesterday. Now with Porsche it’s a different emotion – I am lucky to have this amazing livery – the Rothmans colours – and it feels good. I am so happy for the guys in Weissach and for all the people that have helped me to reach this. Obviously this is a small thing because it is the 24 Hours of Le Mans but it’s a small brick and in two days we will think about the race.”

Quickest times in the LM GTE Am category were also set on the Wednesday session with Matteo Cairoli’s time of 3:50.728 securing pole for the #88 Dempsey-Proton Racing Porsche 911 RSR.

The light go out for the 2018 running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans at 15:00 local time on Saturday June 16.

Toyota / Nakajima On Provisional Pole At La Sarthe (14.06.18)

Photo: fiawec.com

Kazuki Nakajima set provisional pole for the 2018 running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans after lapping the Circuit de la Sarthe in 3:17.270, just .1 second quicker than the sister #7 entry in which Kamui Kobayashi set a 3:17.377.

Third quickest in the two-hour session which began at 22:00 local time was the #3 Rebellion Racing Rebellion R13 in which Thomas Laurent lapped in 3:19.426.

Quickest of the LMP2 grid was the #48 IDEC Sport ORECA 07, Paul-Loup Chatin setting a 3:24.926 ahead of Loïc Duval in #28 TDS Racing ORECA who lapped in 3:25.249.

The Porsche GT Team continued to dominate the LMGTE Pro category with Gianmaria Bruni taking provision pole in the class with a 3:47.504 in the #91 Porsche RSR 911 with teammate Michael Christensen second quickest with a 3:49.097.

Porsche again led the LM GTE Am class after Matteo Cairoli set a 3:50.728 in the #88 Dempse-Proton Racing 911 RSR.

The weather throughout the 120-minute session was warm and dry which could be in contrast for Thursdays forecast for the remaining two qualifying sessions for which the forecast is variable. Certainly the day has dawned cooler and greyer than Wednesday.

The second qualifying session gets underway at 19:00 local time.