Le Mans 2016 promises to be a six-way fight at the front

Le Mans 24 Hours

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Nico Hulkenberg’s victory in last year’s Le Mans 24 Hours undoubtedly helped raise the profile of the great race. No active F1 driver had competed in the race for years, and decades had passed since one had won it.

However with both Porsche and Audi scrapping their third entries this year – a consequence of parent group Volkswagen’s losses due to ‘Dieselgate’ – neither Hulkenberg nor his co-drivers from last year Nick Tandy and Earl Bamber will defend their win at the wheel of an LMP1 car in this year’s race.

Toyota has built an all-new car in pursuit of its first Le Mans victory
Instead Porsche heads to Le Mans seeking to add to its record tally of 17 wins using the same regular squad from its World Endurance Championship outfit, including reigning champions Mark Webber, Brendon Hartley and Timo Bernhard.

They will face stiff opposition from Audi, 13-time winners, and Toyota, WEC title-winners as recently as 2014. The Japanese squad struggled all season long last year but they have raised their game after introducing a new TS050 chassis and switching from V8 to twin-turbo V6 power.

However after the six-hour races at Silverstone and Spa-Francorchamps which began the WEC season the prospects of all six manufacturer LMP1 cars still running at the end of 24 hours seems remote. The trio have been pushing each other very hard and their sophisticated hybrid machines have struggled to go the distance at times.

As a result privateer squad Rebellion has picked up a pair of podium finishes in the two rounds so far. Could this be the year the tortoise beats the hare?

Adding to the LMP1 drivers at Le Mans this year is the ever-present problem of traffic. A tangle with a backmarker claimed the champions’ Porsche at Silverstone and the challenge will be greater even by Le Mans’ standards this year.

This is because while the field has swelled from 56 cars to 60, the LMP1 entry has dwindled from fourteen to just nine. The quickest cars will find many more slow cars in the way during a race which could exceed 400 laps.

Part of the reason for the smaller LMP1 contingent is the disappearance of Nissan. The Japanese squad’s radical GT-R Nismo machines were disastrously un-competitive last year and the project was quietly canned during the Christmas lull to no great surprise.

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More to watch at Le Mans this year

  • Fords formidable GT squad
    Colin Kolles, the ex-F1 boss who briefly stepped in at ailing Caterham, returns with his own LMP1 team although the CLM-AR chassis hasn’t run well in the WEC so far. Oliver Webb steps up from LMP2 to join Simon Trummer and Pierre Kaffer.
  • The LMP2 category sees the Manor team run by Graeme Lowden and John Booth, formerly bosses of the Manor F1 team, running an ORECA piloted by former driver Roberto Merhi. Matt Rao and Tor Graves (briefly Lewis Hamilton’s team mate in F3) also share driving duties.
  • Olympic cycling champion Chris Hoy is making his debut in the race, sharing Algarve’s LMP2 Ligier with Andrea Pizzitola and Michael Munnermann.
  • Fabian Barthez, formerly the goalkeeper for the French national football team, is returning in a team run by ex-F1 driver Olivier Panis. He will share his car with Paul-loup Chatin and Timothe Buret.
  • In the GTE Pro class the long-awaited return of Ford with a four-car squad of their new GT racer pits them in head-to-head battle with arch-rivals Ferrari.
  • Last year’s outright winners Tandy and Bamber are in separate 911 RSRs alongside their usual team mates from IMSA.
  • Chevrolet and Aston Martin are likely to have a say in the fight for GTE Pro honours as well.
  • The ‘garage 56’ entry for a single car which does not conform to one of the four classes has gone to an LMP2 car which has been modified so that quadruple amputee Frederic Sausset can drive it. His special control system will be removed when team mates Christophe Tinseau and Jean-Bernard Bouvet get behind the wheel.

Formula One drivers in the 2016 Le Mans 24 Hours

Driver Team Car # Notes
Mark Webber Porsche 919 1 Finally grabbed a motor racing title last year, now it’s time to conquer the race that bit him hard in 1999.
Anthony Davidson Toyota TS050 5 After two visits to the Le Mans podium this could be his best chance yet to take a victory.
Sebastien Buemi Toyota TS050 5 Ex-Toro Rosso driver is also in the hunt for the Formula E title with Renault.
Kazuki Nakajima Toyota TS050 5 Has taken a pair of titles in Japan’s Super Formula series since leaving F1.
Stephane Sarrazin Toyota TS050 6 One-off Minardi driver won the Le Mans Series twice but has a best of second (three times) in the 24 hours.
Kamui Kobayashi Toyota TS050 6 The ex-Sauber driver has been promoted in place of the retired Alexander Wurz.
Andre Lotterer Audi R18 7 Single F1 start with Caterham in 2014 for three-times Le Mans winner and 2012 WEC champion
Lucas di Grassi Audi R18 8 Leads Buemi by one point in Formula E. Di Grassi finished all three of his Le Mans starts in the top four.
Nick Heidfeld Rebellion R-One 12 Never a winner in Formula One but his experience could help Rebellion pull off a shock.
Nelson Piquet Jnr Rebellion R-One 12 The Formula E champion and Crashgate culprit is making his second Le Mans start after a ten-year absence.
Will Stevens G-Drive ORECA 05 26 The former Manor driver is making his Le Mans debut after a switch from Manor’s WEC team.
Shinji Nakano Race Performance ORECA 03R 34 Two wins in the Asian Le Mans series last year helped Nakano return after missing last year’s race.
Vitaly Petrov SMP Racing BR01 37 The ex-Lotus driver returns after his single Le Mans start in 2007, now in an all-Russian team.
Giedo van der Garde G-Drive Gibson 015S 38 Last year’s Sauber row ended his F1 career, he’s now switched to sports cars.
Bruno Senna RGR Sport Ligier JS P2 43 Back in a prototype, albeit an LMP2, after two GT drives for Aston Martin.
Roberto Merhi Manor ORECA 05 44 Another former Manor F1 driver, Merhi steps into the seat vacated by Stevens.
Gianmaria Bruni Ferrari 488 51 Still looking for his first Le Mans at his ninth attempt but Ferrari arrive in very good shape.
Jan Magnussen Corvette C7.R 63 Has taken class wins four times at Le Mans but the GT category will be tougher than ever this year.
Sebastien Bourdais Ford GT 68 The Le Mans native returns home for the first time since 2012, the year after he took a best of second.
Giancarlo Fisichella Risi Ferrari 488 82 Has driven for Ferrari ever since finishing his 14-year F1 career with five races for them in 2009
Pedro Lamy Aston Martin V8 Vantage 98 Returns with regular team mates Mathias Lauda and Paul Dalla Lana.

How to watch the Le Mans 24 Hours

In the UK, Eurosport 1 is broadcasting the entire race live from start to finish. The programme begins at 1:15pm and the race starts at 2pm. The Quest channel will also show the start and finish of the race live.

As usual we’ll be following the whole thing on F1 Fanatic Live so join us from half an hour before the start of the race.

Over to you

Who is your tip for outright victory in this year’s Le Mans 24 Hours? How will Ford fare on their return to GT competition at La Sarthe?

Have your say in the comments.

Author information

Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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12 comments on “Le Mans 2016 promises to be a six-way fight at the front”

  1. I genuinely believe that we could see Rebellion spring a surprise, but it does appear nice and close at the front, which should be fantastic. What a race this promises to be, and that is before we even mention the other three classes! P2 produces amazing racing, we have loads of manufacturers in GT (although BoP controversies are leaving a bit of a bad taste) and we have 180 drivers all taking part. Cannot wait!

    1. You’re right that the BoP controversies are hanging over the race, and in particular the debate over the performance of the Ford GT. There were quite a few who felt that Ford had too much of a performance advantage when they first launched the cars in Daytona, though unreliability rendered the complaints there moot, and that controversy really hasn’t quietened down.

      The test day at Le Mans has kicked off quite a few conspiracy theories too – in the first session, the timing transponders on all four of Ford’s cars failed simultaneously, so no lap times and no speed trap data could be recorded, whilst the second session saw only partial results from all of their cars. Whilst others had issues as well – Porsche had one unit fail on one of their LMP1 cars – only Ford seemed to be having such consistent issues all the time.

      Now, it has to be said that the actions of the ACO haven’t helped dispel any of the theories either, and I can see why some would be cynical enough to believe that would be the case. The fact that they brought forward their plans to enlarge the field to 60 cars by a year specifically so Ford could enter four cars – giving them a disproportionately high representation within the GT Pro class – has certainly made some wonder if they are trying to help Ford win, given that it would create the perfect headlines for Ford on the 50th anniversary of their original victory in 1966.

    2. I bet Nick comes second!

  2. ColdFly F1 (@)
    15th June 2016, 13:41

    21 F1 drivers on track during the same race in Europe.
    That will be a unique experience this weekend at Le mans.

  3. I’m missing out on watching this year’s race live on TV because I’m heading to the BTCC at Croft, but I’ll be keeping up with it and watching it ‘as-live’ when I get back on Monday. It promises to be another brilliant year, and with two Rebellion podiums in the six hour events, I have put £1 on each of the Rebellions to win because it wouldn’t take too much this year now the factories are all running with two entries.

  4. I watched almost all the 24 hours last year, so I’m going to try to do the same!

    It’s incredible fun every year!

  5. Duncan Snowden
    15th June 2016, 18:23

    “The Quest channel will also show the start and finish of the race live.”

    Plus a couple of one-hour shows during the race on Saturday evening and Sunday morning, and they also have highlights on Monday. Not the most comprehensive coverage, but better than nothing for those of us who don’t have Eurosport. I assume the ACO will be running their own live stream on DailyMotion again, too, although you never know. It seemed a bit more limited last year than previously, so maybe they’re having second thoughts.

    Anyone else remember Channel 4 in 2001? They carried live pictures overnight with audio from Radio Le Mans. It was my introduction to the RLM guys, and I’ve listened on t’internet every year since. (And on Sunday afternoon, I always tell myself I’m going to start following the whole WEC season… and never do. Maybe this time…)

  6. “There is no luck in Le Mans! There is only skill!”

  7. I’ve always been envious of Le Mans/WEC fans’ ability to stay eternally positive about their series… F1 could do with some of that. I went to the WEC Silverstone race and it was a great experience, so I’ll be very interested to see how it goes down this weekend!

    1. I think the single biggest reason for that is the WEC doesn’t have entrenched interests that repeatedly obstruct doing what is good for the sport.

      The WEC rules makers don’t always get it right, but since I started following it I have never seen them make a change that is based on furthering someone’s agenda or benefiting a specific team. I’ve never seen teams block the adoption of rule changes based on their own narrow interests. And I’ve never seen the concerns of fans dismissed out of hand as “they’re not sophisticated enough to understand it” or “they don’t buy Rolexes so they don’t matter.”

      I’m not going to say there is no politics in the WEC, but when political problems come up they are resolved quickly and without lingering controversy. As a result, the only stories that are really worth talking about are the competitions on the track, not the power struggles off it. If F1 could say the same, a lot more fans would be a lot more positive about it.

      And to be clear, F1 does have a lot of strengths and a lot of things we should be positive about — it just keeps insisting on shooting itself in the left foot, carefully reloading and aiming, then shooting itself in the right foot.

  8. WilliamB (@william-brierty)
    16th June 2016, 12:58

    I think this is something of a frustrating Le Mans. Frustrating because, due to internal FIA politics, an engineered F1/Le Mans clash is preventing Hulkenberg’s return, and due to Porsche’s blinkered preference for experience, the extraordinary talent of Nick Tandy is being wasted in an uncompetitive GT car. It wasn’t Jani, or Bernhard, or even Lotterer that was markedly the fastest LMP1 driver at Le Mans last year, but Tandy. So why, given that Leib and Dumas are dead-weight in the #2, is that speed not being exploited?

    That said, LMP1 this year won’t be about speed, but reliability. Whoever spends the least amount of time in the garage will win Le Mans. Meh…

    …elsewhere Ford are looking set to do a demolition job on GTE-PRO, with a bespoke Le Mans racer (the GTE car was designed before the roadcar – the new roadcar will be an adaptation of the racing car) and an awesome roster of drivers. And that leaves an awesome battle in prospect in LMP2, which, all on its own, promises to steal my attention away from Baku…

    1. @william-brierty, even without the prospective clash, for whom could Hulkenberg have raced?

      For all the fuss that Porsche made at the time, they later admitted that they were never going to offer him a seat as they had been instructed not to run a third car (due to budget constraints) months before the official calendar was announced. Audi, meanwhile, were also ordered to cut back to two cars because of the cost, whilst Toyota is out of the question given they have never run a third car.

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