The Le Mans test day was run last Sunday, and after the impressions have sunk in, we have chosen to dive a bit further into what happened on the track.
We will try to give a bit more info about the 4 different categories, and if there was something that was lost in the instant look, or if somebody was trying to hide something.
Le’ts start with
The 13 cars in the GTE Am category were split by 5,2 seconds. That might sound like a lot, but the slowest car, the Aston Martin Racing #98, only ran 27 laps, before they had an engine failure, after being pushed over a curb by an LMP2 car.
The second slowest was Ebimotors Porsche #80, which only did 25 laps, before it encountered technical issues on the car. The team worked on the car throughout most of the afternoon, and when Christina Nielsen finally got her turn, she only made it half around the lap, before the rear tire exploded, so she had to park the car, without doing a single lap herself.
The rest of the field was within 3,5 seconds, and that is close on a 13,6 kilometres track. The difference between the GTE Am cars last year in the qualifying was 5,4 seconds, so we are close to that again this year.
The fastest GTE Am car was the Dempsey-Proton Racing Porsche #77 who not only did the fastest time, but also had the theoretical fastest time. Ferrari wasn’t far away, while Aston Martin was running a bit before on the time – not on top speed, which the gold Vantage has also been know to have.
Our cautious analysis:
Everything is as it should be.
We are heading towards an exciting race between Porsche and Ferrari, Since Aston Martin is fastest on the straights, a BOP change won’t help them, since that only will give them even higher top speeds, so the other teams will complain about that.
The 17 cars were split by just under 5 seconds – we have chosen to discount Aston Martin Racing #95 from that, since they didn’t run in the afternoon, where the fastest times were set.
But the other AMR #97 was the slowest of the other. With 1,5 seconds up to the third slowest car, they are really in trouble. If you look at the top speed down the straight, they were slowest of all – also slower than all the GTE Am cars! They are lacking 16 kph to the fastest in class, the Ford Chip Ganassi.
BMW had one car towards the back of the field and in the middle of the field. They lacked top speed on both cars, but won the time through the corners instead. They were close to the others, especially in Sector 3. So there is a lot of potential in that car.
Corvette was in the middle of the field time-wise, but in top 5 on the top speeds. The ACO and the FIA have a tough job finding a fair BOP for Corvette, since they only race in this single race under their rules. The IMSA series runs a different BOP. But Corvette was handed exactly the same BOP as they had in the race in 2017 – where they almost won the race. And with the times they were able to do on the test day, it looks to be there or there about for 2018.
The whole GTE Pro field was split by just over a second between all cars in 2017. That will be tough to reach this year, since both BMW and Aston Martin have arrived with brand new cars, and the organizers wants to avoid anybody doing a “Ford 2016”, where a team show up with a new car, and smashes everybody else.
Ferrari has used a lot of the spring time moaning about the BOP on their cars. But being only 4 kph down on top speed compared to Ford, there isn’t much to do on the BOP, in our opinion.
Porsche and Ford are very close to each other, even though Ford has a slight advantage on the top speed.
Our cautious analysis:
Porsche, Ford, Ferrari, Corvette and BMW are exactly where they should be, while Aston Martin really needs a miracle – read BOP help. But the 5 other brands have all opportunities to fight for the victory and podium positions, with the current BOP.
The category with the biggest time difference between the fastest and slowest cars are LMP2. The first 18 cars are within 5,8 seconds, which isn’t so bad. But then the Jackie Chan DC Racing #33 and Larbre Competition #50 were way off with 11,4 and 13,6 seconds behind the fastest DragonSpeed #31 respectively. That is some dramatic differences, in a category, where all the cars have the same engine, but 3 different chassis’s.
And the chassis part has something to say again in 2018. Ligier, Dallara and Riley-Multimatic were allowed to update their car for this season, since they were way behind last year, and sometimes had to put risky settings on the car, to try and keep up – and still wasn’t able to do so. After the test day, we have to say, that this hasn’t worked out.
The first 5 cars were ORECA chassis’ while the best Ligier was on P6, just over 2 seconds from P1. The best Dallara was P8 – 2,7 seconds from P1. While all ORECA cars were in top 11 in the 20 car field, 7 of the slowest 8 cars were Ligier. Dallara was spread around in the midfield.
The top speeds were 11 kph from each other from top to bottom, but a good mix between the chassis’. That could point towards some of the teams removing some downforce, to try and keep up – without luck.
Our cautions analysis:
You need an ORECA to be able to fight for the podium at this years Le Mans. With 9 of their cars in the cars in the field, including a lot of FIA WEC teams, all of them are unlikely to get into troubles. But it is a 24 hours race, so a lot can happen. But Dallara and Ligier has to hope for something special, if they want to finish on the podium.
With 10 cars in the LMP1 category, there are really some tough battling going to happen regarding this years Le Mans victory – or?
Toyota Gazoo Racing #8 did the fastest lap time ahead of Rebellion Racing #3 and Toyota #7. SMP Racing was also OK in the test, and showed that the BR1 Engineering chassis also had good pace.
CEFC TRSM Racing with their new Ginetta G60-LT-P1 cars can’t keep up. But they are the ones with the fest test kilometres of all, and if they can finish the 24 hours race, it would like a victory for them.
ByKolles Racing Team is already doing fastest laptimes than they did last year, and have shown good reliability at times. They can possibly be this year’s dark horse, and who knows – perhaps even a podium position.
SMP Racing was only 5th and 6th on the results, but if you put their fastest sectors together, they actually did the third fastest lap of all. And in the top speeds, they were up there too. It’s going to be very interesting to follow. But their weakest link could be their drivers. The two young Russian drivers Matevos Isaakyan and Egor Orudzhev in the #17 are lightning fast, but they take quite a few risks in traffic. There were quite a few close encounters at Spa Francorchamps, and Isaakyan ended up flying through the air, although that wasn’t his fault but a fault on the car officially. But the fact is, he tried to overtake other drivers on the grass and the run-off areas. Vitaly Petrov, Jenson Button and Mikael Aleshin in the #11 should be some safe drivers on paper, but their Le Mans experience is limited – and especially Button, having his LMP1 race debut at this race, since he couldn’t participate at the 6 Hours of Spa Francorchamps.
Rebellion Racing are the main opposition for Toyota Gazoo Racing. They have done far less kilometres than Toyota and SMP, but they hit the track running. They finished on the podium at Spa one month ago. They don’t have the fastest top speeds on the straights, but they were the fastest in Sector 1 of all, and second fastest in Sector 3, which points towards a car with good aerodynamics. If you look at smaller sectors, it shows that they were 10 kph faster than Toyota through the Porsche curves! You simply don’t do that, without having a car that is glued to the tarmac.
Toyota Gazoo Racing did the fastest lap of the day, marginally faster than Rebellion Racing. They were fastest in both Sector 2 and 3, but lost time in Sector 1. They posted the best top speed of the day, which appeared a bit strange, since their hybrid part should round out down the straight. The team has the option to control were and how much hybrid is deployed, so they have the chance of saving some power in Sector 1 and then boost for longer down the straights, before the battery runs dry. This is only guesswork from our side, since Toyota won’t reveal such things to the public.
We can’t help but look a bit on this years EOT. Toyota Gazoo Racing has exactly the same as last year -and they were able to do a 3:14 in the qualifying. So of course they can do that again this year, if not even faster. There are some rumours, that Rebellion Racing would be able to do a 3:13 – but that is just theories until now. No doubt, the track will be faster the more rubber are laid, and as long as it stays dry, Thursday evening should be the ideal time to post a fast lap.
Our cautions analysis:
The other teams have to be absolutely perfect to beat Toyota Gazoo Racing this year – not only in qualifying, but also during the race. The non-hybrid teams can hope that Toyota will have issues once again. Toyota should have just over two laps advantage after 24 hours, if they do the perfect race, with perfect fuel stops, no punctures, no technical issues. But Le Mans is 24 hours, and there are 58 other non-Toyota cars out there, so plenty of things can happen.
Our guess for the winners of the 24 Hours of Le Mans this year – we don’t dare to bet about it! The field is so close this year in all 4 categories, so there are no obvious favourites – perhaps except Toyota Gazoo Racing in LMP1.
But the big, classic race keeps surprising us, and we are really excited for this year’s race, and whatever unexpected things that will appear in the 2018 edition – because both positive and negative surprises are guaranteed during the 24 hours.