Its an unusual build up to Le Mans this year. For the first time in nearly two decades, Audi will not be at Le Mans, leaving just Porsche and Toyota to battle it out in the Hybrid LMP1 class. The sole entry from ByKolles will make it six cars in LMP1 this year. Go back to 2015 and we had 14 cars in LMP1 with three entries from both Porsche, Audi and Nissan.
Nick Tandy and Earl Bamber make their first return to Le Mans in LMP1 after a poor outing for both drivers in the 2016 factory GT program. The pair lost the chance to defend their title in 2016 in the aftermath of Dieselgate which resulted in Audi pulling out of the championship after the end of the race in Bahrain last November. This year will see Andre Lotterer return to Le Mans without Audi but alongside Jani and Tandy.
The 2017 running will also see former Audi LMP1 driver Marco Bonanomi returning to LMP1, replacing James Rossiter at ByKolles. Bonanomi joined ByKolles at Spa Francorchamps for testing. The team will be looking forward to Le Mans after a promising outing at Spa in early May.
Toyota will bring three cars to Le Mans this year having tested the #9 at Spa, Yuji Kunimoto and Jose-Maria Lopez experiencing the event for the first time.
Neel Jani took the lap record back in 2015 with a time of 3:16.887, it will be interesting to see how the cars compare this time round with the new regulations in place.
LMP2 this year sees a record high entry list of 25 cars, all of them new cars for 2017. This will be the first time this season all four approved chassis manufactures will be represented with entries from Riley, Oreca, Ligier and Dallara. This will be the first time we have seen a fair representation of which chassis is the strongest contender. There will be one Riley Mk. 30, 14 Oreca 07s seven Ligier JSP217s and three Dallara P217s With around an extra 100 horsepower, will the current LMP2 cars break the lap record set by Jos Verstappen back in 2008? Verstappen set a time of 3:32.301 in the Van Merksteijn Motorsport Porsche RS Spyder, the question would appear to be, not if the record can be broken, but by how much?
All indicators point towards the LMP2 cars having higher top speeds than the LMP1 contenders this year. Having spoken with Brendon Hartley back in Monza, he is anticipating attacking corners such as Mulsanne three abreast with LMP1, LMP2 and GTE. In previous years the LMP2 cars have not had much more speed in a straight line than a GTE car but they have benefited under braking and through the corners. Now though however, the LMP2 cars are going to be passing the GTE cars just as easily as the LMP1 entrants. The LMP1 drivers will have to be extra cautious as they fly down the long straights of Le Mans at well over 200MPH.
As always reliability will play at key part at Le Mans with all of the LMP2 teams suffering various issues. Ligier suffer from issues with the Hewland gear box whilst Riley, Dallara and Oreca each use X-Trac boxes which have proven to be much more reliable. Oreca and Dallara have however suffered with electronics issues from the Cosworth package, often losing functionality on the steering wheel set up.
As always, there are a number of rookie drivers contesting this years event including Formula One star Rubens Barrichello in the Racing Team Nederland Dallara.
The #21 DragonSpeed Oreca 07 and #49 ARC Bratislava Ligier will race with an all rookie line up. Ben Hanley, Henrik Hedman and Felix Rosenqvist will partner up in the DragonSpeed car whilst Miro Konopka, Konstantins Calko and Rik Breukers team up in the ARC car.
United Autosports make their first appearance at Le Mans with Filipe Albuquerque at the wheel alongside Will Owen and Hugo de Sadeleer.
Francois Perrodo makes his P2 debut at Le Mans along with Romain Dumas, the reigning LMP1 World Champion returning to take on the 24 Hour with Signatech Alpine, subbing in for Nicolas Lapierre who makes the move up to Toyota for the event. This will be Dumas 17th consecutive start at Le Mans .
The new “Automated” BOP system in place in GTE Pro will not be used for Le Mans, this event has its own BOP set up. Following on from last year, Ford have gained 15Kgs and reduced turbo pressure compared to the first two rounds of the season. Aston Martin gain 10Kg and a slightly larger air restrictor with Corvette also getting an increase on the air restrictor by 0.7mm. Ferrari gain 10Kg. The ACO reserve the right to make any further changes should they see fit before the start of the race.
2016 British GT Champions TF Sport make their Le Mans debut this year, Salih Yoluc becomes the first Turkish driver to compete at the legendary event which shows just how much he has improved as a driver over the past couple of years. He will be joined by Euan Hankey and Rob Bell, on loan from Mclaren. Bell will not make the test due to competing at Zolder. Being a platinum driver, Bell is not required to set laps during test.
DH Racing run by AF Corse make the move over to Europe having won an invite from the Asian Le Mans Series having won the GT championship. Spirit of Race will join them in the GTE Am class for the first time. Miguel Molina and Allesandro Pier Guidi will race in the GTE Pro AF Corse cars whilst Pipo Derani also makes his GT debut at Le Mans.
Former Audi factory GT driver Laurens Vanthoor will make an appearance this weekend testing the GTE 911 RSR alongside the #26 G-Drive Oreca. Vanthoor will complete 10 laps ahead of his appearance with the G-Drive in Germany next month, Australian John Martin will not travel to Germany, Vanthoor instead stepping in to cover for Alex Lynn who will be on Formula E duty.
Porsche’s new mid-engined 911 will make its Le Mans debut this weekend having completed its debut 24 hour race at the Rolex 24 At Daytona earlier in the year.
Clearwater have two GTE Ferrari 488 cars entered for the 24 hour. Richard Wee, Hiroki Katoh and Alvaro Parente piloting the car for the big event. Parente absent from this weekend and on driving duties for Strakka in the Blancpain Sprint Cup at Zolder.
JMW will be debuting their brand new Ferrari 488 GTE at Circuit de la Sarthe having upgraded from the Ferrari 458 they have been campaigning so far this season in the European Le Mans Series. This test will be an important weekend for the team as they get to grips with the new car. Will Stevens and Dries Vanthoor, younger brother of Laurens on double duty testing the car and competing at Zolder in the Blancpain Sprint Cup.
Tracy Krohn makes a return to GTE having contested in LMP2 for the past two years. Krohn will drive the new Ferrari 488 GTE alongside Nic Jonsson.
You will all have seen the horrific crash at Indy by now which has resulted in Sebastien Bourdais withdrawing from Le Mans as he recovers from the injuries he sustained. Tony Kanaan steps into the team having already done one 24 hour race with Ford this year, the Rolex 24 At Daytona back in January.