Given all the, er, hiccups that we’ve come to expect in the wake of Brexit, not to mention a pandemic that’s still making travel somewhat of a chore, catching the 8am train from Folkstone to Calais ahead of the 2022 24 Hours of Le Mans was as simple as it used to be in the good ol’ days.
As it turns out, we weren’t the only ones returning to Le Mans after the whole covid thing. The French toll routes were peppered with cars covered in LM stickers, though the track’s campsites are the place to be for spotting something interesting. A jacked-up Safari inspired 911 with a tent on its roof and a pair of orange Lamborghini Diablo VTs all caught our eye – though we had to do a double take at the Volvo 940 hearse with a PH smiley on the back window.
Friday Service kicks off our Le Mans weekend at the Classic British Welcome. To celebrate its 20th anniversary, the event highlighted some of the headline marques from previous runnings. Which means there were hundreds (if not, thousands) of cars from all eras and backgrounds. WRC legends were represented by a Renault 5 Turbo 2 and several Lancia Deltas, while Mustangs and Trans Ams added some American flair. Also, a quick shoutout to the Renault 5 Gordini – which has become something of a Gran Turismo hero.
With our Friday Service wrapped up by midday, it was back to the circuit for the pit walk. It's open to everyone so expect a bit of shoulder barging, but there aren’t many top tier motorsport events that allow just about anybody to get up close to the cars a day before the race kicks off. After missing the morning’s Ligier Euro Series (damn it!), the track was open to spectators to wonder around the 8.5-mile course – a great way to warm up for the PH pub quiz. A massive congratulations to the winning team and thanks to all those who participated (we can only apologies for the ‘black horse on badge’ question).
Having missed the Ligier Euro Series once more on the Saturday morning (damn it again!), we were able to catch the other support race of the weekend – the spectacularly named ‘Road to Le Mans’. Taking place a few hours before the start, the series predominantly features LMP3 machines powered by 5.6-litre naturally aspirated V8s from Nissan. Throw some GT3 cars into the mix and you’ve got the loudest grid of the weekend.
Getting a good vantage point for the 4pm start is tricky, given that everyone descends on the pit straight and first chicane. Arnage would be our base camp for the opening few hours, where you can track the cars braking into Indianapolis before flying off towards the Porsche curves. The sheer agility of the Hypercars through this complex is a sight to behold – you’d never notice they’re nearly ten seconds slower than the old LMP1s.
As expected, at race start the two hybrid Toyota GR010 Hypercars run off into the distance, leaving the two Glickenhaus cars to fight it out with Signatech Alpine for the non-hybrid honours. Unfortunately, that battle would be short lived with Alpine spending a fair chunk of the race in the pits with mechanical issues. Behind the Hypercar field were a sea of LMP2 cars, many of which were running nose to tail hours into the race while other classes were spread across the circuit. It’s a tricky battle to follow, given there’s no easy way to identify manufacturers, but it provides some spectacular racing – if you put the groundwork in to learn the teams and numbers.
GTE Pro was a little thin on the ground this year, with a pair of Corvette C8.Rs, Porsche 911 RSR-19s and a trio of Ferrari 488s running in close succession into the night. The GTE Am field was far busier and will be the only GT field at next year’s running, with GTE Pro scrapped for 2023 ahead of the arrival of a GT3-based class the following year. Sure it’s disappointing, but at least the ludicrously loud 911 RSRs will give your ears a bit of a kicking for one more year yet.
The early hours of Sunday morning are usually the most difficult at Le Mans. Some drivers aren’t as razor sharp as they normally would be after 15 hours of racing and mechanical problems often creep in. The leading #7 Toyota suffered an issue with its electric motor, promoting the #8 car to the head of the pack – where it would stay until the flag. But the biggest heartbreak came for the #94 Corvette, which held the lead of GTE Pro in the early hours of the morning before a slight tap from an LMP2 car on the Mulsanne led to a violent whack into the barrier and out of the race, allowing the #91 Porsche to sail into the lead and claim another Porsche class victory at the 24.
A surprisingly exciting race, then, and next year is set to be a belter. Not only will it be the 100th anniversary of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, but we’ll also see the new LMDh class arrive with Porsche, Cadillac and maybe BMW all building prototypes. Plus, there’ll be two new Hypercar entries with Peugeot and (finally!) Ferrari joining the fray. There may also be a certain website celebrating its 25th anniversary too…
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