Should you pay attention to the 89th running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans this weekend?
If you are a sports car fan, why wouldn’t you? With a very full field of 60 cars, there will be a degree of chaos — experienced driver Kevin Estre wrote off a factory Porsche in the opening lap of Hyperpole qualifying — but there will also be some compelling competition, in all four classes (five in Hypercar, 24 in LMP2, eight in GTE Pro, 23 in GT Am, plus one “innovative car,” an Oreca-Gibson LMP2 headed by Frederic Sausset, a quadruple amputee).
Perhaps the biggest single reason to watch Le Mans is for the pair of Chevrolet Corvette C8.Rs that will be making their debut this year, having missed last year. The mid-engined cars have big shoes to fill: Corvette has eight wins in the 20 years leading up to this weekend’s race.
And they are in the hunt: Nick Tandy, who drives with Tommy Milner and Alexander Sims, posted a best lap of 3:47.093 (134.216 mph) in the 30-minute Hyperpole session, good enough for third. The day before in the first round of qualifying, Tandy turned a 3:47.074 (134.217 mph) in No. 64 – the fastest lap for any Corvette Racing entry in its 21 years at Le Mans.
Antonio Garcia set the best combined practice time for the No. 63 Mobil 1/SiriusXM Corvette C8.R – a 3:49.603 (132.725 mph) effort in the fourth and final practice session of the week. He will team with Jordan Taylor and Nicky Catsburg as the No. 63 C8.R starts eighth Saturday.
Scheduling and COVID robbed the Corvette of an unbroken two decades of racing, but they are back this year, and that should be enough to make fans of the discipline pay attention.
Tandy said the Corvette has been good since it was unboxed.
“It validates all the development that went into the program before we got here,” Tandy said. “But it’s also how the car reacts to the setup changes that we are making to it. That means you can tune it to track conditions and however the circuit is. This is always a good thing and shows that the car is in a good working window.”
In the GT class, we’re also getting a preview of how GTD Pro and Am will work next year in IMSA – one car, two classes, based on the amount of factory support and experienced Pro racers. GT Daytona and GT Le Mans are gone, replaced by the same sort of class differentiation used by the ACO.
The race is expected to go overall to one of the two Gazoo Toyota Hypercars, for possibly the last time with so little competition, as the marque is definitely dominating – they are on the front row for the race. But as we’ve seen in sports car racing, it’s possible both could be taken out in lap one, or its possible they could drive to a convincing one-two finish. Something usually happens to one of the Toyotas – what will happen this year?
The best race, though, should be in LMP2, where the semi-spec cars – all have the same engine, and the chassis are similar – are expected to stage a dogfight based largely on the fact they’re technically capable of running together, but in the end the best team and drivers typically emerge up front.
With 24 entries, it should be a solid competition all race long.
There are a total of 10 American drivers listed.
In the healthy LMP2 class of 24 cars, there are several Americans, including Dwight Merriman in the IDEC Sport Oreca/Gibson, but that car was scratched. American Patrick Kelly will be in the PR1 Mathiasen Oreca-Gibson. American John Falb is down as a driver for the G-Drive Aurus/Gibson. Ricky Taylor will be in the High Class Racing entry.
Out of all the LMP2 drivers, those are all the Americans, though there are plenty of familiar names from U.S. racing such as Jan Magnussen and son Kevin Magnussen in the High Class Racing Oreca/Gibson; Juan Pablo Montoya in a Dragonspeed USA Oreca/Gibson and Renger van der Zande in the Inter Europol Oreca/Gibson.
A few more Americans are scattered through the LMGTE Pro class, including Jordan Taylor and Tommy Milner in the two Corvette Racing entries, which were absent in 2020 due to COVOD-19 and a scheduling conflict. Cooper MacNeil will head up the WeatherTech Racing Porsche 911 RSR, one of four 911 RSRs in the field. There is also a pair of Ferrari 488 GTE Evo entries.
Finally, in the LMGTE Am class, we had just one American, Le Mans veteran Ben Keating in the TF Sport Aston Martin Vantage AMR. Now there is Robbie Foley in the Team Project 1 Porsche, Rodrigo Sales in the JWW Ferrari; Brendan Iribe in the Inception Ferrari; and Dominique Bastien in the Dempsey-Proton Porsche.
HOW, WHERE TO WATCH
The 89th 24 Hours of Le Mans won’t be on any of the usual outlets for sports car racing, this year being hosted by Motor Trend magazine’s broadcast outlet. The Motor Trend App started airing Le Mans content on Wednesday, and still has a library of Le Mans features.
Here’s what Motor Trend wants you to know:
“MotorTrend, in partnership with Discovery owned Eurosport, is offering fans in the U.S. and Canada every angle and hour of the most exciting, most celebrated automotive race in the world, the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Starting Saturday, August 21 at 9 AM EDT / 6 AM PDT, the MotorTrend App, the only subscription streaming service dedicated entirely to the motoring world, will house every hour of the 24 Hours including traditional, live flag-to-flag coverage, and a customizable, multi-camera viewing experience that takes fans inside the race like never before with multiple feeds and eight selectable race car dash cameras.”
Radio coverage will also be offered on Radio Le Mans (radiolemans.co).