I’ve never been as excited for a race as I am for this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans. Well, that’s not entirely true. The 2008 Brazilian Grand Prix had me shaking with anticipation and I don’t think I’ve fully recovered from the 2021 Abu Dhabi GP. This year’s LM24, however, has me all sorts of excited. A Hypercar class brimming with manufacturers, the final outing of the glorious LMGTE cars, the first NASCAR entry in over 40 years and much, much more all make up the 100th anniversary of the legendary endurance event. Heading to Le Sarthe this weekend? Here’s what to expect...
Hypercar has arrived – finally
The Hypercar class has been a bit of a mess since it first appeared as the successor to the ballistic LMP1 category back in 2021. Initially devised as a road car-based formula that looked set to bring back the GT1 homologation specials of the late 1990s, Hypercar has now morphed back into a prototype class with production models no longer mandated. Boo.
Making things more complicated is the fact that the class is split into two sub-categories: LMH and LMDh (or Le Mans Daytona hybrid). I'd be here all day if I went over the baffling technical differences between the two rulesets, but the crux of it is that LMH cars are given greater freedom of aerodynamics and electrified powertrains, while LMDh machines are essentially adapted LMP2 cars with a standardised hybrid unit. An LMH car has an advantage on paper, but balance of performance and technologies ensures the two rulesets can compete for outright victory.
Still with me? Good. Toyota has been dominating the LMH class since its introduction two years ago, with Glickenhaus and an old Alpine LMP1 car making up a rather thin premier category at the previous two LM24s. This year, however, sees a Ferrari return to top-tier endurance racing with the radical 499P and, judging by the first couple of test sessions, is the current pacesetter. Peugeot’s equally radical 9X8 makes its Le Mans debut, too, where the hope is its wingless prototype will be untouchable down the Mulsanne straight. Glickenhaus returns with two SCG007s after nabbing its first podium at last year’s event, though Alpine is solely focusing on LMP2 this time around before running an LMDh car at next year’s race. In its place is the ByKolles-run Vanwall (yes, that Vanwall) team, which hasn’t proven all that competitive this year, but its Gibson V8 sure makes one hell of a racket.
On the subject of noise, I’m particularly excited about the new Cadillac V-Series R. One of the new LMDh machines, it’s powered by a naturally aspirated 5.5-litre V8 that sounds more NASCAR than Le Mans prototype. Cadillac has bought three of them to Le Mans, while four Porsche 963s make up the rest of the LMDh contingency – including the gloriously gold, privately-run Hertz Jota entry.
That makes up 16-car field Hypercars, up from a measly five in 2022, all of which have a real chance of taking outright victory. The grid is set to grow exponentially in 2024, with BMW, Lamborghini and Alpine all set to enter LMDh machines.
This one’s a tough pill to swallow. Though not dissimilar to a GT3 on the surface, LMGTE was the closest thing we’ve had to a GT1 class since the mid-2000s. The past decade or so has seen some wild entries loosely based on their road-going counterparts, such as the Ford GT LM, thunderous Chevrolet Corvette C7.R and Prodrive's Aston Martin Vantage GTE.
Losing Porsche’s latest 911 RSR, however, is the hardest pill of all. ‘It’s not a proper 911!’, the keyboard warriors moaned when Porsche announced that its 991.2 RSR would be mid-engined, allowing for a larger rear diffuser - because racing cars need to go fast above all else. Those cries were quite literally drowned out when the car debuted with an ear-piercing exhaust note at Le Mans in 2017. It was subdued somewhat when a refreshed RSR with side-exit exhausts was introduced in 2019, though some of the magic was brought back when reverting back to a central exit two years later. I saw the original cars at Silverstone several years ago; every time one of them exited the pitlane, a family sat on the inside of the track would stand up and cheer. And they say nobody cares about noise...
Anyway, I digress. Le Mans 2023 will be GTE’s final outing, though it’s purely an Am-based category this time around. The manufacturer-backed Pro class wound up last year, although Corvette is supporting a sole C8.R entry while AF Corse – the squad running Ferrari’s 499P Hypercar – is also fielding a handful of 488 GTEs in full works liveries.
Don’t let GTE’s demise get you down, though. The class will be replaced with a new GT3 category next year, and there’s talk of teams employing special aero kits specifically for Le Mans. The return of Porsche’s Moby Dick, anyone?
... Hello NASCAR
I’ll admit, this is the car that gets me most excited about this year’s LM24. Running under the Garage 56 banner, which is typically reserved for hydrogen-powered oddities and the old DeltaWing, NASCAR legends Hendrick Motorsports have adapted a Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 stock car to rub shoulders with some of the most advanced prototypes and GT racers on the planet.
The best bit? It’s flippin’ rapid. We’re two tests in at the time of writing, and it’s several seconds faster around Le Sarthe than the quickest LMGTE car. It’s even funnier when you see how massive it is compared to the rest of the field, and that it looks like a brick with a few canards glued to it. Hendrick is keen to retain the spirit of NASCAR with its LM-adapted Camaro, so it does without the massive wings you’ll find on the back of the GTE runners. The team did, however, have to fit front and rear lights. The original car’s sticker lights weren’t up to snuff, apparently.
The drivers certainly are, though. Hendrick has employed the services of Le Mans winner Mike Rockenfeller, 2009 Formula 1 World Champion Jenson Button and seven-time NASCAR Cup champion (that’s the top stockcar tier and, yes, I did have to Google it) Jimmie Johnson. Unfortunately, the car will not be classified at the end of the event – even if it finishes – as it doesn’t fall into one of the three main categories. But Hendrick hasn’t come to Le Mans to bag a result, it’s there to put on a show. More of this in the future, please.
Friday Service at Classic British Welcome
It’d be remiss of me to not mention our Friday Service at the Classic British Welcome for PHers heading to Le Mans. It’s the perfect way to kickstart the centenary weekend, with over 1,000 classic and sports cars descending on the Val de Vray centre in Saint-Saturnin on 9th June. Doors open at 9am and entry is completely free. However, the centre will only allow classic and sports cars into the venue, but there’s a park and ride if you, like Ben, are bringing a Dacia Duster to Le Mans.
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