Ferrari 499P, La Sarthe, Le Mans 24 Hours test, 2023

Largest top class field for 12 years promises close fight for centenary Le Mans

World Endurance Championship

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A race 100 years in the making, this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans has been one of the most anticipated editions of the legendary ‘Grand Prix d’Endurance’ in some time.

Automobile Club de l’Ouest (ACO) President Pierre Fillon expects a crowd of over 300,000 spectators on hand with tickets having sold out in December. And it’s not just be because it’s the 100th anniversary of the inaugural race.

Out of the standard 62-car entry list, the 16 cars entered in this year’s Le Mans Hypercar class comprise the largest top-class grid for this event since 2011 – with world-renowned automakers like Cadillac, Ferrari, Peugeot, Porsche and Toyota all entering multiple iterations of their new prototype sports cars, several with a decent chance at victory.

None of them will feel more pressure to deliver from a narrative standpoint than Toyota Gazoo Racing with its two GR010 Hybrids. Toyota has won Le Mans for the last five years, but detractors will readily point out that it was only the product of their biggest competitors, Audi and Porsche, vacating the top class in the wake of the Dieselgate scandal.

Toyota remain the team to beat
However the start of the 2023 FIA World Endurance Championship suggests Toyota has become the new standard of excellence. The improved GR010 Hybrid won the first three races of the season at Sebring, Portimao, and Spa-Francorchamps. Only the new Ferrari 499Ps have revealed anything to suggest they could match the Toyotas for pace over a lap or a full stint.

In Sunday’s Test Day, however, the Hypercar field was closely matched. Enticingly so. By the end of the afternoon session the best times of the top seven cars from Toyota, Ferrari, Porsche, and Peugeot were within one second of one another over a three-and-a-half minute lap of the famed La Sarthe circuit.

On the surface, it seems the ACO and FIA’s latest adjustment to the Balance of Performance parameters, aimed primarily at kerbing Toyota’s stark advantage, have succeeded – despite the sanctioning bodies originally intending not to make BoP changes on a race-by-race basis during 2023.

But anyone who’s been to Le Mans a few times and seen how things develop from Test Day to Race Day knows that many of these cars still have more pace to find.

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Three works Porsches are joined by fourth customer car
Plus, of course, a race this long has always been about matching that speed to more important factors such as vehicular durability, strategic execution and error-free driving not only by one’s self or against the other cars in one’s class, but in sharing the road with drivers of all skill levels from two other classes, with their own races to run and trophies to contend for.

That said, it does seem like despite having an additional 36 kilograms of weight added on, the two Toyotas are right in the mix for a sixth win which would certainly silence the narratives of “empty victories”.

Still, it’s hard not to be impressed by the headline-grabbing top times of the two Ferrari 499Ps. And now that tyre warmers have been allowed once again for this race, one of the Scuderia’s biggest weaknesses is resolved for the race. Ferrari has the chance to win Le Mans outright for the first time since 1965 and it would be a famous victory given the marque’s overwhelming image and stature.

A record-extending 20th overall win for Porsche seems closer to grasp than it was before after some good showings for the Penske-entered Porsche 963s. This includes an additional entry from Penske, the number 75, to celebrate Porsche’s 75th anniversary. Porsche have the advantage of numbers, with a fourth 963 run by customers JOTA already up and running and ready for its first Le Mans outing.

Radical Peugeot has special livery for home race
Cadillac didn’t leap off the page with top times but its V-Series.Rs did log many laps. The Cadillac Racing team operated by Chip Ganassi enters two cars – the blue number two and yellow number three – and IMSA powerhouse Action Express Racing is also represented with the red number 311.

For the local audience, no manufacturer is getting as much attention as Peugeot and its radical but troubled 9X8 prototypes, which have finally made it to Le Mans. Peugeot showed flashes of real pace as expected with the ‘wingless’ design meant to take advantage of the long Mulsanne Straight. However, there were yet more reliability issues to go with it and the reality may be that finishing the 24 hours would be as great as a win, last achieved by the French marque in 2009.

There’s a hope that the race itself can live up to the hype – all the ingredients are in place for an all-time classic.

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Key developments for the 2023 Le Mans 24 Hours

Privateer hypercar constructors

Vanwall (ByKolles) and Glickenhaus have a tall task in front of them to achieve results. Glickenhaus Racing adds a second car for Le Mans in addition to its full-season entry, while Vanwall Racing has dismissed 1997 Formula 1 world champion Jacques Villeneuve in favour of IMSA top class standout Tristan Vautier.

NASCAR in Garage 56

One-off NASCAR entry has all-star driving force

NASCAR and championship-winning team Hendrick Motorsports has entered a Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 race car, lightened and modified with high-downforce aerodynamics – but still based upon the stock car which regularly competes in the NASCAR Cup series. It is a crowd-pleaser and in the hands of Mike Rockenfeller, Jimmie Johnson, and Jenson Button has lapped than the customer cars in the GTE Am class.

The number 24 Hendrick Motorsports Camaro is entered in the Garage 56 class, an exhibition class reserved for innovative designs. While many concepts have been developed with sustainability in mind, this is also a test bed for other unique race car designs like the 2012 DeltaWing. It will not fight for class honours and, amazingly enough, will not be scored in the final overall classification.

Leading women in LMP2 and GTE Am

Five women will try and be the first to win their class at Le Mans since 1975: The most recent GTE Am winner Lilou Wadoux, the trio of Sarah Bovy, Michelle Gatting, and Rahel Frey from Iron Dames, and Doriane Pin in the LMP2 Prema Racing camp.

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Return of tyre warmers

Tyre warmers, banned for the stated goal of conserving energy, have been reintroduced for Le Mans after a rash of crashes on cold tyres that peaked in the recent Six Hours of Spa-Francorchamps.

New Le Mans Safety Car protocol

The Safety Car procedure has been revised for 2023

A new Safety Car protocol will be used for the first time at Le Mans. A lap of the 13.6km La Sarthe circuit is almost twice that of F1’s longest track, so three Safety Cars are used at the race. In the past this would have its drivers queue up behind one of three cars. This, however, lead to lower-class cars losing significant amounts of time if they picked up the “wrong” safety car.

For this year, the safety car procedure allows cars in LMP2 and GTE Am to pass around and drop back into a single safety car queue each. The new procedure was trialled during test day and the entire process took roughly 30 minutes.

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2023 Le Mans 24 Hours entry list

2Cadillac RacingCadillac V-Series.REarl BamberAlex LynnRichard Westbrook
3Cadillac RacingCadillac V-Series.RSebastien BourdaisRenger Van Der ZandeScott Dixon
4Floyd Vanwall Racing TeamVanwall Vandervell 680Tom DillmannEsteban GuerrieriTristan Vautier
5Porsche Penske MotorsportPorsche 963Dane CameronMichael ChristensenFrederic Makowiecki
6Porsche Penske MotorsportPorsche 963Kevin EstreAndre LottererLaurens Vanthoor
7Toyota Gazoo RacingToyota GR010Mike ConwayKamui KobayashiJose Maria Lopez
8Toyota Gazoo RacingToyota GR010Sebastien BuemiBrendon HartleyRyo Hirakawa
38Hertz Team JOTAPorsche 963Antonio Felix Da CostaWill StevensYifei Ye
50Ferrari AF CorseFerrari 499PAntonio FuocoMiguel MolinaNicklas Nielsen
51Ferrari AF CorseFerrari 499PAlessandro Pier GuidiJames CaladoAntonio Giovinazzi
75Porsche Penske MotorsportPorsche 963Felipe NasrMathieu JaminetNicholas Tandy
93Peugeot TotalenergiesPeugeot 9X8Paul di RestaMikkel JensenJean-Eric Vergne
94Peugeot TotalenergiesPeugeot 9X8Loic DuvalGustavo MenezesNico Mueller
311Action Express RacingCadillac V-Series.RLuis Felipe DeraniAlexander SimsJack Aitken
708Glickenhaus RacingGlickenhaus 007Romain DumasOlivier PlaRyan Briscoe
709Glickenhaus RacingGlickenhaus 007Franck MailleuxNathanael BerthonEsteban Gutierrez
9Prema RacingOreca 07 – GibsonBent ViscaalJuan Manuel CorreaFilip Ugran
10Vector SportOreca 07 – GibsonRyan CullenGabriel AubryMatthias Kaiser
13Tower MotorsportsOreca 07 – GibsonSteven ThomasRicky TaylorRene Rast
14Nielsen RacingOreca 07 – GibsonRodrigo SalesMathias BecheBen Hanley
22UnitedosportsOreca 07 – GibsonPhilip HansonFilipe AlbuquerqueFrederick Lubin
23UnitedosportsOreca 07 – GibsonJoshua PiersonTom BlomqvistOliver Jarvis
28JOTAOreca 07 – GibsonDavid Heinemeier HanssonOliver RasmussenPietro Fittipaldi
30Duqueine TeamOreca 07 – GibsonNeel JaniRene BinderNicolas Pino
31Team WRTOreca 07 – GibsonSean GelaelFerdinand HabsburgRobin Frijns
32Inter Europol CompetitionOreca 07 – GibsonMark KvammeJan MagnussenAnders Fjordbach
34Inter Europol CompetitionOreca 07 – GibsonJakub SmiechowskiAlbert CostaFabio Scherer
35Alpine Elf TeamOreca 07 – GibsonAndre NegraoOlli CaldwellMemo Rojas
36Alpine Elf TeamOreca 07 – GibsonMatthieu VaxiviereCharles MilesiJulienal Canal
37Cool RacingOreca 07 – GibsonNicolas LapierreAlexandre CoignyMalthe Jakobsen
39Graff RacingOreca 07 – GibsonRoberto LacorteGiedo van der GardePatrick Pilet
41Team WRTOreca 07 – GibsonRui AndradeLouis DeletrazRobert Kubica
43DKR EngineeringOreca 07 – GibsonTom Van RompuyUgo de WildeMaxime Martin
45Algarve Pro RacingOreca 07 – GibsonGeorge KurtzJames AllenColin Braun
47Cool RacingOreca 07 – GibsonReshad de GerusVladislav LomkoSimon Pagenaud
48Idec SportOreca 07 – GibsonPaul LafarguePaul Loup ChatinLaurents Horr
63Prema RacingOreca 07 – GibsonDoriane PinDaniil KvyatMirko Bortolotti
65Panis RacingOreca 07 – GibsonManuel MaldonadoTijmen van der HelmJob van Uitert
80AF CorseOreca 07 – GibsonFrancois PerrodoBen BarnicoatNorman Nato
923Racing Team TurkeyOreca 07 – GibsonSalih YolucTom GambleDries Vanthoor
16Proton CompetitionPorsche 911 RSR-19Ryan HardwickZacharie RobichonJan Heylen
21AF CorseFerrari 488 GTE EvoSimon MannJulien PiguetUlysse de Pauw
25ORT by TFAston Martin Vantage AMRAhmad Al HarthyMichael DinanCharlie Eastwood
33Corvette RacingChevrolet Corvette C8.RNicky CatsburgBen KeatingNicolas Varrone
54AF CorseFerrari 488 GTE EvoThomas FlohrFrancesco CastellacciDavide Rigon
55GMB MotorsportAston Martin Vantage AMRGustav Dahlmann BirchMarco SorensenJens Reno Moller
56Project 1 – AOPorsche 911 RSR-19PJ HyettGunnar JeannetteMatteo Cairoli
57Kessel RacingFerrari 488 GTE EvoTakeshi KimuraScott HuffakerDaniel Serra
60Iron LynxPorsche 911 RSR-19Claudio SchiavoniMatteo CressoniAlessio Picariello
66JMW MotorsportFerrari 488 GTE EvoThomas NeubauerLouis PretteGiacomo Petrobelli
72TF SportAston Martin Vantage AMRArnold RobinMaxime RobinValentin Hasse-Clot
74Kessel RacingFerrari 488 GTE EvoKei CozzolinoYorikatsu TsujikoNaoki Yokomizo
77Dempsey-Proton RacingPorsche 911 RSR-19Christian RiedMikkel PedersenJulien Andlauer
83Richard Mille AF CorseFerrari 488 GTE EvoLuis Perez CompancAlessio RoveraLilou Wadoux
85Iron DamesPorsche 911 RSR-19Sarah BovyMichelle GattingRahel Frey
86GR RacingPorsche 911 RSR-19Michael WainwrightBenjamin BarkerRiccardo Pera
88Proton CompetitionPorsche 911 RSR-19Harry TincknellDonald YountJonas Ried
98Northwest AMRAston Martin Vantage AMRIan JamesDaniel MancinelliAlex Riberas
100Walkenhorst MotorsportFerrari 488 GTE EvoChandler HullAndrew HaryantoJeffrey Segal
777D’Station RacingAston Martin Vantage AMRSatoshi HoshinoCasper StevensonTomonobu Fujii
911Proton CompetitionPorsche 911 RSR-19Michael FassbenderMartin RumpRichard Lietz
Innovative Car
24Hendrick MotorsportsChevrolet Camaro ZL1Jimmie JohnsonMike RockenfellerJenson Button

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Earl Bamber (NZL) / Alex Lynn (GBR) / Richard Westbrook (GBR) #02 Cadillac Racing Cadillac V-Series.R.
02-04.06.2023. FIA World Endurance Championship, Le Mans Test, Le Mans, France.
-, EMail: © Copyright: Moy / XPB Images
The 100th anniversary Le Mans 24 Hours starts at 3pm BST on Saturday

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Author information

RJ O'Connell
Motorsport has been a lifelong interest for RJ, both virtual and ‘in the carbon’, since childhood. RJ picked up motorsports writing as a hobby...

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11 comments on “Largest top class field for 12 years promises close fight for centenary Le Mans”

  1. Let’s hope Toyota hasn’t been sandbagging.
    And that there will actually be a competition.

  2. As if BoP wasn’t bad enough on its own, just willy-nilly breaking procedures and adjusting it on the eve of the only event of any relevance on the calendar taints whatever “competition” people might be treated to this weekend.

    1. What’s the “BoP”??

      Anyway, the true size of LMP cars has always been the most confusing and misunderstood thing. Them being so much smaller than a Nascar is blowing me head.

      1. “Balance of Performance” or how to make bad designs “competitive” in a non-sport.

    2. Announcing pre-season that they wouldn’t do BoP changes was always silly; with so many new cars it was bound to happen.

      Nothing wrong with BoP either, it just prioritizes other variables. No racing series lets the competitors do everything on their own; there are always limits on where competitors can differentiate themselves.

  3. We’ve had an entertaining Monaco Grand Prix and an exciting Indy 500 so far this year so here’s hoping for a competitive Le Mans.

  4. This is the second time in three years that a driver smashes into a stationary car with yellows being waved and the red flag already being called. The Canadian Tower Motorsports #13 rammed the crashed #777 after multiple cars had already gone past. Luckily it wasn’t at a high speed part of the track – like in 2021 – but race control needs to straighten these guys out. Not ignore it like in 2021.

  5. Hoping for Toyota/Ferrari battle at the front but if everything goes as plannes Toyota will win by handfull of laps

  6. I hate to say it, but even with this incredible field, I fear the new safety car rules are going to ruin the actual race. The cars that are slower will keep automatically catching up every time there is a yellow because now they are waved through to catch up their lap every time. This is so against the spirit of endurance racing. We don’t need a last lap finish in a 24 hour race – what we want is an endurance race when drivers race hard all night and all morning. This is the whole point of a 24 hour race.

    1. @gitanes Preventing the multiple safety cars from splitting the pack is a good idea in theory. That split did play a huge role in deciding the races in previous years, and because strategy in the lower classes is so hard to vary (because of all the regulations on tyres, fuel, etc.) it was almost impossible to turn those huge gaps the two SCs created back around. So while safety cars are always somewhat unfair, it’s no less so to turn a 20 second gap into a 5 second gap than, as it was previously, turn it into a 90 second gap.

      Wave-by’s to gift people free laps is indeed silly, and should not be done. It’s weird enough in F1 (why give 90 seconds of free time to a guy in P15 but not to, say, the guy in P2? It doesn’t make any sense) but completely pointless in the WEC, and seems designed only to get a battle for positions straight out of a restart. But the safety car shouldn’t be to spice up the race.

  7. The first Ferrari pole for 50 years! And they’re on a hat-trick, as they’ve been away for 49…
    But too much track-limits nonsense, with hundreds of practice and qualifying laps being deleted. Surely, just like F1, there’s too many kerbs and lines in the wrong place. Can’t be the driver every time.

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