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Le Mans 2009 Preview

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Practice has begun – the 77th 24 Hours of Le Mans is almost here. It is probably my favourite motor racing event of the year. Nothing can match it – it’s always fascinating to see the story developing from the entry list coming together through to the end of the race. It is unpredictable, dramatic and 24 hours long. It is probably the last great top level motor race where a true privateer can compete on the same stage as the big names like Audi, Peugeot and Aston Martin

The 55 Entries

LMP1

1) Audi Sport Team Joest – Audi R15 – Tom Kristensen/Allan McNish/Rinaldo Capello
2) Audi Sport North America – Audi R15 – Lucas Luhr/Mike Rockenfeller/Marco Werner
3) Audi Sport Team Joest – Audi R15 – Timo Bernhard/Romain Dumas/Alexandre Premat

Audi come to Le Mans with a brand new car that has only ever been raced once and with a younger, fresher line-up. Bernhard and Dumas have come in from stablemates Porsche to replaced the retiring Pirro and departed Biela. The race-winning trio of Kristensen, McNish and Capello remains the same, though, and will be tough to beat, with 3 fast, experienced campaigners. McNish is currently just about the best sports car driver in the world.

4) Creation Autosportif – Creation-Judd – Jamie Campbell-Walter/Vanina Ickx/Romain Iannetta

Creation have been one of the many teams affected by the economic crisis, which has already claimed the likes of Embassy and Rollcentre. But they’ve soldiered on, switching back to Judd engines after losing the AIM deal they had last year and continue with the CA07. Jamie Campbell-Walter returns to Le Mans after missing the 2008 edition with a back injury. He is joined by lady racer Vanina Ickx, daughter of Le Mans legend Jacky. A Creation win would certainly be an achievement to match that of his – it’s that unlikely. They are just hoping for a finish, top 10 at best.

6) Team LNT – Ginetta-Zytek – Lawrence Tomlinson/Richard Dean/Nigel Moore

LNT are also back after a year out and this time move up from GT2, which they won in 2006 with the Panoz Esperante, to LMP1. Team owner Tomlinson is now the owner of Ginetta and a major shareholder of Zytek, and so new Zytek prototypes are now branded as Ginettas. This is thus effectively a works outfit, but hardly on the scale of Audi and Peugeot. The team boss and the managing director are joined by highly-rated teenage talent Moore, who is younger than me and is racing on British GT. He will be the youngest driver to take part in the race for 50 years, since a then 17 years old Ricardo Rodriguez.

7) Team Peugeot Total – Peugeot 908 – Nicolas Minassian/Pedro Lamy/Christian Klien
8) Team Peugeot Total – Peugeot 908 – Franck Montagny/Stephane Sarrizan/Sebastien Bourdais
9) Peugeot Sport Total – Peugeot 908 – Marc Gene/Alexander Wurz/David Brabham

Peugeot’s all star line-up is again refined. Bourdais returns despite his F1 commitments, which some say is a big risk on the F1 side, and his embarrassing mistake at the first chicane on the first lap of the race last time he drove here in 2007. Brabham is recruited after winning GT1 with Aston Martin for the last 2 years and has also been plying his trade in the States with Highcroft Racing. Villeneuve does not return, along with former BAR team mate Zonta. 3 evenly matched line-ups so I couldn’t pick a winning one – perhaps an advantage over Audi?

10) Team Oreca Matmut AIM – Oreca-AIM – Stephane Ortelli/Bruno Senna/Tiago Monteiro
11) Team Oreca Matmut AIM – Oreca-AIM – Olivier Panis/Nicolas Lapierre/Soheil Ayari

Perhaps you could criticise Oreca for going for big names rather than proven sports car talent, but they have a nice mix of both. Ortelli, a winner here in 1998 with Porsche, also missed last year’s race after his frightening crash at Le Mans and is a welcome returnee. Alongside him in the first car is Bruno, the Senna name appearing for the first time, and F1 backmarker-turned-touring car ace Monteiro appearing for his WTCC employees. In the second car, Ayari has considerable experience at this level, Panis returns for a second go, and Lapierre is back as well. This is the first Le Mans for Oreca as a full-blown constructor after taking over Courage.

12) Signature Plus – Courage-Judd – Pierre Ragues/Franck Mailleux/Didier Andre

This French team is perhaps best known for being winners in F3 but this year have made the move to sports cars, following the likes of DAMS, Oreca and Epsilon Euskadi. This is going to be a learning year for them with their former Oreca Courage chassis. They’ll be looking for a decent finish in their first attempt.

13) Speedy Racing Team Sebah – Lola-Aston Martin – Andrea Belicchi/Neel Jani/Nicolas Prost

SRTS have picked up the former Prodrive/Charouz Lola-Aston and have a strong line-up for their first attempt at LMP1 after debuting in LMP2 last year. Jani and Prost are the big names, with the former A1 GP champion debuting and Prost returning after making his first start with Larbre in GT1 last year. They will be looking to get in amongst the top petrol cars this week.

14) Kolles – Audi R10 – Narain Karthikeyan/Charles Zwolsman/Andre Lotterer
15) Kolles – Audi R10 – Christian Bakkerud/Christijan Albers/Giorgio Mondini

Former Jordan/Midland/Spyker/Force India team principal Colin Kolles has become the first man to run private Audi R10s, a car that is unbeaten here at Le Mans. However, a repeat win is looking unlikely as the Kolles team is hardly on the same scale as Team Joest. The line-up is mainly made up of half-decent (but rookie) pay drivers, including Karthikeyan and Albers who raced under Kolles in F1 and former Midland tester Mondini. Formula Nippon ace Lotterer replaces Briton Andy Meyrick despite impressive performances from the youngster.

16) Pescarolo Sport – Pescarolo-Judd – Bruce Jouanny/Joao Barbosa/Christophe Tinseau
17) Pescarolo Sport – Peugeot 908 – Simon Pagenaud/Benoit Treluyer/Jean-Christophe Boullion

Henri Pescarolo has finally yielded to the diesel bandwagon and picked up a Pug. Into it will go veteran JCB, former Champ Car racer Pagenaud who has impressed driving for Gil de Ferran in the ALMS, and former Formula Nippon champ (and current championship leader there) Benoit Treluyer, so a strong line-up. The Pesca itself is actually quite quick, but the line-up is slightly weaker. Nonetheless, they’re still expected to be battling for “LMP1 Petrol class” honours.

23) Strakka Racing – Ginetta-Zytek – Peter Hardman/Nick Leventis/Danny Watts

Strakka took a surprise pole at Barcelona in the LMS race courtesy of former British F3 racer Danny Watts, proving the car and team is pretty decent. But Hardman and Leventis, who drove a Strakka-run Vitaphone-branded Aston Martin DBR9 last year, aren’t quite up to his level, so they’ll be looking more at endurance rather than speed in the race. Plus the Ginetta-Zytek isn’t going to be as strong at high speed Le Mans. So a top 10 would be a good result for them.

007) AMR Eastern Europe – Lola-Aston Martin – Jan Charouz/Tomas Enge/Stefan Mucke
008) Aston Martin Racing – Lola-Aston Martin – Darren Turner/Anthony Davidson/Jos Verstappen
009) Aston Martin Racing – Lola-Aston Martin – Stuart Hall/Harold Primat/Peter Kox

Aston are going to be the British fans’ favourite this year, but overall victory is probably a step too far first time out for AMR. It is a strong driver line-up, with big names such as Verstappen, Davidson and Enge mixing with the less well-known but experienced names like Kox, Primat and Mucke. A “Petrol class” win is a definite possibility but they are still a step behind the top diesel cars in terms of outright pace. But with Lola and Prodrive’s records, who would bet against them stealing it?

LMP2

5) NAVI Team Goh – Porsche RS Spyder – Sascha Maassen/Seiji Ara/Keisuke Kunimoto
31) Team Essex – Porsche RS Spyder – Emmanuel Collard/Casper Elgaard/Kristian Poulsen

The two Porsche teams are pretty much inseparable as far as who the favourite is. Goh won overall in 2004 with Audi and are back in France for another go with one of their drivers that year, Ara, along with Porsche veteran Maassen and 2009 Macau GP winner Kunimoto. They probably just edge Danish team Essex, who also have an experienced works driver in Collard alongside experienced Elgaard. Poulsen is a Le Mans rookie but has plenty of touring car experience. They also have the experience of doing it last year when they came 2nd in LMP2 to departed Van Merksteijn, whose car is now in the hands of…Goh!

24) OAK Racing – Pescarolo-Mazda – Jacques Nicolet/Richard Hein/Jean-Francois Yvon
35) OAK Racing – Pescarolo-Mazda – Mathieu Lahaye/Karim Aljani/Guillaume Moreau

The team formerly known as Saulnier returns again with modifield Pescarolos to fit the LMP2 rules. It’s a decent team but not a fantastic line-up, although Moreau and Lahaye are decent peddlers and could help the “second” car to a decent result.

25) RML – Lola-Mazda – Mike Newton/Tommy Erdos/Chris Dyson
30) Racing Box – Lola-Judd – Matteo Bobbi/Andrea Piccini/Thomas Biagi
33) Speedy Racing Team Sebah – Lola-Judd – Jonny Kane/Benjamin Leuenberger/Xavier Pompidou
39) Kruse Schiller Motorsport – Lola-Mazda – Matthew Marsh/Hideki Noda/Jean de Pourtales

Lola have a 4 car LMP2 attack this year to take the fight to the Porsches with decent teams amongst them. RML won LMP2 back-to-back in 2005 and 2006 but haven’t done as well in the last couple of years due to an out-of-date car. Now they have the latest Lola and a Mazda engine, so should be back on song. They have the same chassis as Racing Box, who have switched from the poor Lucchini that failed scrutineering last year. They also have a top driver line-up. SRTS continue with the 2008 car which should give them an advantage in terms of experience, and some decent drivers too. KSM nearly didn’t make the race last year after Noda suffered a frightening crash in qualifying, and finished despite having to rebuild their car. They have the same car, a 2007 chassis formerly run by Fernandez Racing that is probably too old to challenge for class honours but proven to have the reliability to get to the finish.

26) Bruichladdich Bruneau – Radical-AER – Pierre Bruneau/Marc Rostan/Tim Greaves

The Radical works team has merged with Pierre Bruneau’s team for this year’s event. The car itself isn’t going to match the Porsches and Lolas, and neither will the line-up, but after the last couple of years, they’ll just be hoping for a decent finish.

32) Barazi Epsilon – Zytek – Juan Barazi/Stuart Moseley/Phil Bennett
40) Quifel-ASM Team – Ginetta-Zytek – Miguel Pais do Amaral/Olivier Pla/Guy Smith
41) GAC Racing Team – Zytek – Karim Ojjeh/Claude-Yves Gosselin/Philipp Peter

The Zyteks are the outsiders for LMP2, particularly Barazi Epsilon, who have declined from their favourites status and LMP2 pole-winning pace of 2007, and GAC, the team formerly known as Trading Performances led by former Barazi driver Karim Ojjeh. Portuguese outfit Quifel-ASM were also contenders in 2007 but lost out, and after a year continuing with the old Lola have moved to a new Ginetta-Zytek. They could cause a few surprises with their decent car and strong line-up that includes 2003 overall winner Smith and former GP2 race winner Pla.

GT1

63) Corvette Racing – Chevrolet Corvette C6.R – Johnny O’Connell/Jan Magnussen/Antonio Garcia
64) Corvette Racing – Chevrolet Corvette C6.R – Oliver Gavin/Olivier Beretta/Marcel Fassler

After AMR’s switch to LMP1, Corvette are the overwhelming favourites to reclaim their crown in GT1 having been beaten for the last 2 years. This is the C6.R’s farewell so they will be looking to end its spell with another win at the great race. Garcia and Fassler are additions to the line-up, replacing Ron Fellows (who has finally retired) and NASCAR convert Max Papis, but these are by no means negative changes.

66) JetAlliance Racing – Aston Martin DBR9 – Lukas Lichtner-Hoyer/Thomas Gruber/Alex Muller
68) JLOC Isao Noritake – Lamborghini Murcielago – Atsushi Yogo/Yutaka Yamagishi/Marco Apicella

There are only 2 non-‘Vette GT1 entries for the final Le Mans under the current regulations. JetAlliance won a number of races in the FIA GT Championship last year with Karl Wendlinger and Ryan Sharp, but this year, they have scaled back their efforts and just focus on Le Mans. Team boss LLH and GT3 amateur Gruber’s inclusions in the line-up limited their prospects, although Muller’s a pretty decent young driver. As for JLOC, they return after a nightmare race in 2007 when they lost their main car and main driver Apicella in a qualifying crash and then retired on the first lap. Hopefully it’ll go a bit better than that this time.

72) Luc Alphand Aventures – Chevrolet Corvette C6.R – Luc Alphand/Patrice Goueslard/Stephan Gregoire
73) Luc Alphand Aventures – Chevrolet Corvette C6.R – Julien Jousse/Xavier Maassen/Yann Clairay

Skiier and Dakar Rally winner Luc Alphand’s team will be the nearest challengers to the works Corvettes and they’ve assembled a reasonably strong line-up, with Maassen the only non-Frenchman. If the works cars have problems, they will be the favourites to snatch what would be a shock first victory at Le Mans. They should be almost certainly guaranteed a podium, though.

GT2

70) IMSA Performance Matmut – Porsche 911 GT3 RSR – Michel Lecourt/Horst Felbermayr Jr/Horst Felbermayr Sr
75) Endurance Asia Team – Porsche 911 GT3 RSR – Darryl O’Young/Philippe Hesnault/Plamen Kralev
76) IMSA Performance Matmut – Porsche 911 GT3 RSR – Raymond Narac/Patrick Pilet/Patrick Long
77) Team Felbermayr-Proton – Porsche 911 GT3 RSR – Marc Lieb/Richard Lietz/Wolf Henzler
80) Flying Lizard Motorsport – Porsche 911 GT3 RSR – Jorg Bergmeister/Darren Law/Seth Neiman

There is a reasonably strong Porsche GT2 attack this year, with an improved car and a few strong line-ups, including that of the Felbermayr-Proton car. The fams favourites, the Lizards, should also be a contender as well, whilst IMSA were the last Porsche winner of the class in 2007. The Asian team is run by French veteran entrant Thierry Perrier with a car loaned from Felbermayr. They will be looking to avoid a scenario such as the collision that took both leading Porsches out last year.

78) AF Corse – Ferrari F430 GT – Gianmaria Bruni/Luis Perez Companc/Matias Russo
81) Team Seattle Advanced Engineering – Ferrari F430 GT – Joe Foster/Patrick Dempsey/Don Kitch Jr

Despite the name on the second car, both these Ferraris are entered by AF Corse, one of the top GT2 teams. Former Minardi F1 driver Bruni is joined by Argentinean drivers Russo and ex-WRC driver Perez Companc, who won in the FIA GT Championship last year. This line-up finished on the podium at Sebring earlier this year. The main name on the second car is not necessarily known for his racing – the Grey’s Anatomy star Dempsey enters his first Le Mans but has been racing in Grand Am in the US.

82) Risi Competizione – Ferrari F430 GT – Jaime Melo Jr/Pierre Kaffer/Mika Salo
83) Risi Competizione – Ferrari F430 GT – Tracy Krohn/Nic Jonsson/Eric van de Poele

American team Risi won the class last year after the self-destruction of the Porsche attack, but that’s not to discredit this team who have been front-runners in the class for a long time. The first car has the usual pairing of Brazilian Melo and Finnish ex-F1 ace Salo, with former DTM driver Kaffer onboard full time in the team’s ALMS line-up this year. The second car is the Krohn-badged entry in the distinctive luminous green livery. They have been on the podium in the past but aren’t expected to be contenders for class victory.

84) Team Modena – Ferrari F430 GT – Leo Mansell/Pierre Ehret/Roman Rusinov
89) Hankook-Team Farnbacher – Ferrari F430 GT – Dominik Farnbacher/Allan Simonsen/Christian Montanari
92) JMW Motorsport – Ferrari F430 GT – Rob Bell/Tim Sugden/Andrew Kirkaldy
96) Virgo Motorsport – Ferrari F430 GT – Sean McInerney/Michael McInerney/Michael Vergers
97) BMS Scuderia Italia – Ferrari F430 GT – Paolo Ruberti/Matteo Malucelli/Fabio Babini
99) JMB Racing – Ferrari F430 GT – Manuel Rodrigues/Yvan Lebon/Christophe Bouchut

There are 10 F430s looking to take the fight to Porsche once again, with the Italian marque, whose controversial boss Luca di Montezemolo will start the race on Saturday, adopting a safety in numbers approach. Virgo were perhaps the second best Ferrari team last year, but the main parts of their success, including backer Jim McWhirter and lead driver Rob Bell, have moved on to form a new team, JMW. JMB have veteran Bouchut onboard. Modena move over from running an Aston in GT1, whilst former F1 team Scuderia Italia are back with a strong line-up. Farnbacher could be contenders too.

85) Snoras Spyker Squadron – Spyker C8 Laviolette – Tom Coronel/Jarek Janis/Jeroen Bleekemolen
87) Drayson Racing – Aston Martin V8 Vantage – Paul Drayson/Jonny Cocker/Marino Franchitti

The two smaller outfits probably won’t be contenders for victory and will be hoping for a finish. Spyker have been getting faster and have a strong line-up but the car has been notoriously unreliable in recent years here. Meanwhile, the sole GT2 Vantage is run by the team of British politician Lord Drayson, but that’s not to say the team isn’t serious. The car has pace but the car is still in a development period.

Handy Links

Andy Blackmore’s Le Mans Spotters Guide

Planet Le Mans Spotters Guide

Radio Le Mans

Weather

Live Timing

Track Map

Schedule (page 2)

Official Website

List of Winners

2008: Kristensen/McNish/Capello – Audi R10
2007: Biela/Pirro/Werner – Audi R10
2006: Biela/Pirro/Werner – Audi R10
2005: Lehto/Werner/Kristensen – Audi R8
2004: Ara/Kristensen/Capello – Audi R8
2003: Kristensen/Capello/Smith – Bentley Speed 8
2002: Biela/Kristensen/Pirro – Audi R8
2001: Biela/Kristensen/Pirro – Audi R8
2000: Biela/Kristensen/Pirro – Audi R8
1999: Martini/Dalmas/Winkelhock – BMW V12 LMR
1998: Aiello/McNish/Ortelli – Porsche 911 GT1
1997: Alboreto/Johansson/Kristensen – TWR-Porsche WSC-95
1996: Reuter/Jones/Wurz – TWR-Porsche WSC-95
1995: Dalmas/Lehto/Sekiya – McLaren F1 GTR
1994: Dalmas/Haywood/Baldi – Dauer 962
1993: Geoff Brabham/Bouchut/Helary – Peugeot 905
1992: Warwick/Dalmas/Blundell – Peugeot 905
1991: Weidler/Herbert/Gachot – Mazda 787B
1990: Nielsen/Cobb/Brundle – Jaguar XJR-12
1989: Mass/Reuter/Dickens – Sauber-Mercedes C9
1988: Lammers/Dumfries/Wallace – Jaguar XJR-9
1987: Bell/Stuck/Holbert – Porsche 962
1986: Bell/Stuck/Holbert – Porsche 962
1985: Ludwig/Barilla/Krages – Porsche 956
1984: Ludwig/Pescarolo – Porsche 956
1983: Schuppan/Holbert/Haywood – Porsche 956
1982: Ickx/Bell – Porsche 956
1981: Ickx/Bell – Porsche 936
1980: Rondeau/Jaussaud – Rondeau-Ford M379
1979: Ludwig/B Whittington/D Whittington – Porsche 935
1978: Jaussaud/Pironi – Renault Alpine A442
1977: Ickx/Haywood/Barth – Porsche 936
1976: Ickx/van Lennep – Porsche 936
1975: Ickx/Bell – Mirage-Ford GR8
1974: Pescarolo/Larrousse – Matra Simca MS670
1973: Pescarolo/Larrousse – Matra Simca MS670
1972: Pescarolo/G Hill – Matra Simca MS670
1971: Marko/van Lennep – Porsche 917
1970: Herrmann/Attwood – Porsche 917
1969: Ickx/Oliver – Ford GT40
1968: Rodriguez/Bianchi – Ford GT40
1967: Gurney/Foyt – Ford GT40
1966: McLaren/Amon – Ford GT40
1965: Rindt/Gregory – Ferrari 250LM
1964: Guichet/Vaccarella – Ferrari 275P
1963: Scarfiotti/Bandini – Ferrari 250P
1962: Gendebien/P Hill – Ferrari 330
1961: Gendebien/P Hill – Ferrari 250
1960: Gendebien/Frere – Ferrari 250
1959: Shelby/Salvadori – Aston Martin DBR1
1958: Gendebien/P Hill – Ferrari 250
1957: Flockhart/Bueb – Jaguar D-Type
1956: Flockhart/Sanderson – Jaguar D-Type
1955: Hawthorn/Bueb – Jaguar D-Type
1954: Gonzalez/Trintignant – Ferrari 375
1953: Rolt/Hamilton – Jaguar C-Type
1952: Lang/Riess – Mercedes Benz 300SL
1951: Walker/Whitehead – Jaguar XK-120
1950: L Rosier/J-L Rosier – Talbot-Lago T26
1949: Chinetti/Mitchell-Thomson – Ferrari 166MM
1939: Wimille/Veyron – Bugatti Type 57
1938: Chaboud/Tremoulet – Delahaye 135CS
1937: Wimile/Benoist – Bugatti Type 57
1935: Hindmarsh/Fontes – Lagonda M45R
1934: Chinetti/Etancelin – Alfa Romeo 8C
1933: Sommer/Nuvolari – Alfa Romeo 8C
1932: Sommer/Chinetti – Alfa Romeo 8C
1931: Howe/Birkin – Alfa Romeo 8C
1930: Barnato/Kidston – Bentley Speed Six
1929: Barnato/Birkin – Bentley Speed Six
1928: Barnato/Rubin -Bentley 4 1/2 Litre
1927: Benjafield/Davis – Bentley 3 Litre
1926: Bloch/Rossignol – Lorraine-Dietrich B3-6
1925: de Courcelles/Rossignol – Lorraine-Dietrich B3-6
1924: Duff/Clement – Bentley 3 Litre
1923: Lagache/Leonard – Chenard et Walcker

Wins per Driver

8 – Tom Kristensen
6 – Jacky Ickx
5 – Derek Bell, Frank Biela, Emanuele Pirro
4 – Olivier Gendebien, Henri Pescarolo, Yannick Dalmas

Wins per Constructor

13 – Porsche
9 – Ferrari
8 – Audi
7 – Jaguar
6 – Bentley
4 – Alfa Romeo, Ford
3 – Matra Simca
2 – Lorraine-Dietrich, Bugatti, Peugeot, TWR**
1 – Chenard et Walcker, Lagonda, Delahaye, Talbot-Lago, Aston Martin, Mirage, Renault Alpine, Rondeau, Sauber*, Mazda, Dauer**, McLaren, BMW

* – backed/powered by Mercedes
** – based on Porsche

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Written by James Bennett

June 10, 2009 at 18:51

Posted in Sports cars/GTs

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