Audi is the main favorite to win the 24-hour race of Le Mans, but Toyota hopes to surprise through some advantages in an event that marks the return of the Alpine after 35 years.
In recent history, the 24 Hours race of Le Mans was synonymous with the great rivalry between Audi and Peugeot, so the announcement of withdrawal of the French manufacturer out of all the endurance competitions made in January 2012 seemed to leave a huge void.
Who else would have the courage to risk its reputation against the German manufacturer which, prior to last year, recorded no less than 10 wins in the last 12 races? Porsche already announced their return to competition in 2014, but the ray of hope was represented by Toyota, being drawn to the competition since early 2012 because of the possibility of using the hybrid technology.
The Japanese considered from the beginning that the 2012 edition is a simple training for the assault scheduled for 2013 to celebrate 90 years since the first edition of the famous endurance race. But is the Japanese manufacturer prepared to stop Audi’s supremacy in the LMP1 class?
The LMP1 class – Audi is a favorite, but Toyota has good assets
The German manufacturer will approach the 24h Le Mans with the same Audi R18 e-tron Quattro prototype equipped with a 3.7-liter V6 turbo diesel engine improved, however, compared to last year and now offers more power. Moreover, the difference in power between the prototype’s engine and the 3.4 liter petrol V8 from the Toyota TS030 Hybrid is about 80 hp compared to the “only” 60 hp that made the difference last year.
In addition to the modest performance of the two 6h races at Silverstone and Spa-Francorchamps during the World Championship of Endurance, this is one of the reasons why Toyota minimizes the chances of winning at Le Mans. ‘As things stand now, our chances at Le Mans are very, very small,” said Pascal Vasselon, technical director of Toyota, recently.
The Japanese, however, have at least two reasons to be optimistic. Firstly, with a full tank, Toyota TS030 Hybrid has a lower fuel consumption and it is anticipated that pilots will be able to go an extra lap of the 13.6259 km circuit at Le Mans. “If I can go another lap, than we have to be five to six tenths of a second per lap quicker to recover. If I can go two more laps, there are already 1.2 seconds,” warns Oliver Jarvis, one of the Audi pilots Audi.
The second advantage of those from Toyota relies on the KERS (Kinetic Energy Recovery System) that accompanies the gasoline engine, as it is positioned on the rear axle and can be used at any time. In contrast, those from Audi rely on a flywheel type of system developed by Williams mounted on the front axle. According to the regulation, such a system can only be used at speeds over 120 km / h if positioned on the front.
Besides the performance of the prototypes, the pilots also play an important role in the equation, and here Audi is also great.
Tom Kristensen broke all records after winning no less than eight races at Le Mans, including six in a row in 2000-2005. However, his last success dates back to 2008, and the last two years victories were adjudicated by the Audi crew consisting of Andre Lotterer, Marcel Fassler and Benoit Treluyer.
Thus, even though few expect that Toyota will try to win, the race should be driven by the internal rivalry between the two teams bearing the numbers 1 and 2, while number 3 crew consists of former F1 drivers Marc Gene and Lucas di Grassi, and DTM driver Oliver Jarvis.
Toyota will approach the race with only two teams, but each of them includes two former Formula 1 drivers. The first is No. 7 and consists of Alexander Wurz, Nicolas Lapierre and Kazuki Nakajima, while Anthony Davidson, Stephane Sarrazin and Sebastien Buemi will compete at the wheel of No. 8.
Toyota is the engines supplier for the Rebellion Racing team, which uses two crews and is the favorite to win the race with the rivals from Strakka Racing, the ones arriving at Le Mans with a single HPD ARX-03c prototype with a Honda engine.
The LMP2 class: The return of Alpine
The main piece of news for 2013 at the LMP2 class, where prototypes with up to 5 liter V8 engine or turbo V6 engines up to 3.2 liters compete, is the return of the Alpine brand.
Basically, the Oreca-Nissan 03 car with which the French have been participating in Le Mans since 2011 was renamed Alpine-450, but it keeps the technical characteristics: a Nissan 4.5-liter V8 engine that generates 480 hp. The only crew consists solely of French men: Pierre Ragues, Nelson Panciatici and Tristan Gommendy.
The main rivals will be the G-Drive Racing / Delta-ADR with Oreca-Nissan 03 prototypes, Level 5 Motorsports, which relies on one team with a Honda HPD-ARX-03b prototype and Jota Sport with the Zytek-Nissan Z11SN prototype.
Also competing in the LMP2 class are Jann Mardenborough and Lucas Ordonez, who became professional pilots after being raised in the Nissan GT Academy after their performances on a Playstation game – Gran Turismo. They will be perform on a Zytek-Nissan Z11SN of the Greaves Motorsport team alongside the experienced Michael Krumm.
Here we also find a female pilot from Japan. Her name is Keiko Ihara and she will drive a Lola B12/80-Nissan of the Gulf Racing Middle East team.
The GTE PRO and GTE AM Class
The other two classes from Le Mans are the GTE Pro and GTE Am, where we can find teams with easy recognizable cars such as the Ferrari 458 Italia, Porsche 911 RSR, Porsche 997 GT3-RSR, Aston Martin Vantage GTE or the Viper GTS-R. Since the technical regulation is identical for the two classes, the difference is made mainly by the pilots: pros competing in GTE Pro and amateurs in GTE Am.
AF Corse aligns two teams in the GTE Pro class and hopes to retain the title won last year by the crews consisting of Gianmaria Bruni, Giancarlo Fisichella, Matteo Malucelli, and Olivier Beretta, Kamui Kobayashi, Toni Vilander respectively. Khaled al Qubaisi, double winner of the 24h race in Dubai, will compete again with the Ferrari 458 Italia, but the anticipated main rivals to win in the GTE Pro class are Corvette Racing and Aston Martin Racing.