Le Mans 24 Hours 2024 – Finish (5)

When one door won’t close perhaps it does not matter—or some other profound observation. As the final two hours unwound it was increasingly clear that four cars were left in the fight, two each from Ferrari and Toyota. There was an ever darker horse in the form of the No. 6 Porsche of Laurens Vanthoor further back.

The battles were close in the final hours with the No. 50 Ferrari nearly colliding with the No. 8 Toyota. Jose Maria Lopez had a slight spin in the Toyota while it was soon noted that the “passenger” door of the Ferrari was not properly closed. While it was not black flagged there was enough concern that race director Eduardo Freitas noted it to the team. It became part of the rationale for having Nicklas Nielsen make the first of the final stops for the leaders. The Dane stayed aboard No. 50, although it dropped behind Lopez, Alessandro Pier Guidi (No. 51 Ferrari) and Vanthoor.

Pier Guidi then ceded the spot to Nielsen while the Porsche made its stop as did Lopez. This cycled Nielsen back to the top. The question remained as to whether the No. 50 Ferrari stopped too early and would make it to the end on its allotted petrol-hybrid energy allotment. While the weather remained problematic with periodic strong deluges in various parts of the circuit, the slower speeds actually worked to Ferrari’s favour.

The LM P2 contest continued its pattern of near constant shifting during the closing hours  although it finally settled into Oliver Jarvis (No. 22 United Autosports) about 20 seconds clear of Clement Novalak (No. 34, Inter Europol) and Van Uitert in No. 28 (Idec). The long class leading No. 183 of AF Corse dropped just a bit but still claimed the Pro-Am trophy. There was a bit of drama near the end when Jarvis got rather sideways, nearly tossing away a sure victory.

Richard Lietz extended the lead of the No. 91 Porsche to take a nearly 30 second win in GT3. He was followed home by Augusto Farfus in the No. 31 BMW—their solid if unspectacular drive salvaging an otherwise bad weekend for the Bavarian brand. Dennis Olsen was next, handing the brand new Ford Mustang a fine podium spot.

During the last hour there remained some possibility of a final fight for both first and third overall. The No. 6 Porsche was within striking distance of the No. 51 Ferrari and the Toyota was clearly lapping faster than the leading Ferrari. But within minutes of each other the respective team managers of Vanthoor (Penske Porsche) and Lopez (Toyota Gazoo) ordered their drivers to stand down and hold position as there was too much to lose and no likely hope to continue the battle.

There would be no last minute heartbreaks such as late retirements. Indeed the long hibernating No. 20 BMW “Art Car” reemerged for a ceremonial finish although it was too far down to be classified. But there was lots of emotion. Co-drivers Miguel Molina and Antonio Fuoco were openly weeping in joy as the No. 50 passed the flag at 16:00 and there wasn’t a dry eye in the cockpit either as Niklas Nielsen pounded the wheel in joy. After 58 years without an overall victory at Le Mans, the most iconic name in sports cars has won the endurance classic twice in a row.

By Janos Wimpffen

Le Mans 24 Hours 2024 – Morning (4)

It was a dark and stormy night. So much so that at 03:45 the safety cars were scrambled and the race would be neutralized for over four hours. There had been an interval of racing of some three hours prior to that which had been preceded by the race’s first safety car period, which lasted for nearly two hours as barrier repairs were needed after the Ferrari – BMW crash.

A consequence of that event was that once the green fell the leading No. 83 Ferrari was called in to serve a penalty, Robert Kubica having been judged responsible for the incident. The general pattern that emerged during the green flag period was that 11 Hypercars remained in contention. Most notably, the No. 8 Toyota held a steady lead. The cohort group included both Toyotas, the No. 5 & 6 Penske Porsches, both Jota Porsches, the No. 2 and No. 3 Cadillacs, and despite their hand-slap delays, the No. 50 and 51 Ferraris. Apart from the BMWs and Alpines—all four retiring, all of the other Hypercars were still circulating, none being all that far down the order. The No. 311 Cadillac and No. 5 Porsche had a very up and down night, their fortunes based largely on making the wrong or right tyre choices in the mixed conditions.

The No. 183 AF Corse Oreca led the LM P2 class through much of the actual racing as well as into and beyond the long caution gap. They also head the Pro-Am sub category. The P2 class order shuffled constantly as the pit stops cycled through. Four others in the class kept the No. 183 in sight throughout. These included No. 37 (Cool), No. 24 (Nielsen), No. 10 (Vector) and No. 22 (United).

It was a Porsche 1-2 in LM GT3 through the long slog of the night with No. 92 ahead of No. 91. Tenaciously, the No. 59 United McLaren hung to their tails. The pattern of diversity among marques in the GT3 leadership made it through the interruptions although there were retirements. The No. 46 BMW went off, causing a cooling leak that proved terminal. The No. 66 JMW Ferrari was delayed and in LM P2 both the No. 9 Proton and the No. 30 Duqueine team entries ended their quest—the latter with a spectacular fire out on the straight.

Brighter skies deeper into the morning brought renewed speed and competition, although it was interrupted by three incidents, two being quite significant. Felipe Nasr crashed the No. 4 Penske Porsche and then David Mancinelli inverted the No. 47 Heart of Racing Aston Martin after going wide at Indianapolis. Somewhat later Charlie Eastwood came toa stop with the No. 81 TF Sport Corette. Both incidents brought out the safety car and interrupted some very tight racing at the front of the field between the No. 50 Ferrari (Antonio Fuoco), No. 7 Toyota (Nyck de Vries), and the No. 83 Porsche (Robert Schwarzman).

The Toyotas had effectively swapped spots, No. 8 caught out by being in the wrong place during a safety car intervention and No. 7 recovering after having visibility problems back when spray was an issue. Another Hypercar dropped out of the running when Scott Dixon limped back to the pits with the No. 3 Cadillac losing oil. The first of the Peugeots also retired, No. 93 going off at Indianapolis.  The Cadillac party at Indianapolis continued when Pipo Derani joined the fun and crashed but the No. 311 did crawl back to the pits and may reemerge.

Manicelli had risen as high as third in GT3 before the accident and others in the class to hit woes were the No. 31 BMW (spin) and the formerly second place Porsche of Klaus Bachler (No. 92) with a gearbox issue. Michelle Gatting was rising steadily in the No. 85 Iron Dames Lamborghini and took a turn at the class lead. The P2 battle became ever tighter as the speeds increased following the extra safety car periods. The No. 10 Vector Racing entry now swapped the lead with the long time front running No. 183.

GT3 became ever more unsettled as Jack Hawksworth charged back into contention with the Akkodis ASP Lexus after having been caught in the back of a safety car queue. With 4-1/2 hours to go here are the contenders:

Hypercar / Overall

#2, Cadillac, Earl Bamber

#50, Ferrari, Antonio Fuoco

#83, Ferrari, Robert Schwartzman

#8, Toyota, Sebastien Buemi

#6, Porsche, Kevin Estre

#7, Toyota, Kazumi Kobayashi

further back but still on the lead lap

#51, Ferrari, James Calado

#5, Porsche, Fred Makowiecki

#12, Porsche, Will Stevens

#38, Porsche, Phil Hanson


#10, Vector Racing, Patrick Pilet

#28, IDEC Racing, Job van Uitert [strong recovery drive!]

#34, Inter Europol, Clement Novalak

#22, United, Norbert Siegel

#37, Cool, Ryo Miyata

#183 (Pro-Am), AF Corse, Nick Varrone


Now a ding-dong battle between rising rookie Morris Schuring’s No. 91 Porsche and cagey vet Augusto Farfus in the No. 31 BMW.

Others further back on the lead lap are:

#87, Lexus, Eric Masson

#88, Mustang, Mikkel Pedersen

#59, McLaren, George Saucy

#85, Lamborghini, Rahel Frey

#78, Lexus, Timur Boguslavskiy

#44, McLaren, Ben Tuck

By Janos Wimpffen

Le Mans 24 Hours 2024 – One Quarter Report (3)

Rain returned in force, though not universally around the course, for the second time during the first six hours. Eight cars were on the overall lead lap up until the fifth hour, which has gradually evolved into a classic Ferrari vs. Porsche struggle—not for the first time in sports car racing history. But there are far more than supporting players behind them.

The No. 51 Ferrari of Antonio Giovinazzi asserted its place ahead of the Laurens Vanthoor Porsche (No. 6) and the Sebastien Bourdais Cadillac (No. 3) on the opening lap.

Nicklas Nielsen soon powered through to second and then his No. 50 Ferrari swung past his teammate, holding a Ferrari 1-2 heading towards the first round of stops.

The No. 9 Proton Competition Oreca of Bent Viscaal made a dramatic leap to head the LM P2 class field, as there was a fair amount of elbow banging within the throaty Gibson V8 clique. He was followed by Mathias Beche in the No. 50 Panis Racing entry, which also led the Pro-Am sub-category. Oliver Jarvis was next up in the early going with the No. 23 United Autosports Oreca.

Frederik Schandorff in the No. 70 Inception Racing McLaren was the most unmolested of the three class pole starters, pulling out a strong lead in GT3. The LM P2 class was a bit scrambled because of several early pit callers, most notably the No. 47 Cool Racing of Matthew Belll which had to replace a punctured radiator. It continued but well down the order.

Nearly the entire Hypercar field made their first scheduled stop en masse as did the GT3 class. That somewhat scrambled the actual order but not the closeness of the contest. There was concern about the No. 50 Ferrari as it was leaving a sheen of oil. While it did not seem to be slowed, the drivers behind were complaining. The first real chink among the leaders came at about the hour mark when smoke appeared in the cockpit of the No. 99 Proton Porsche 963 and it had problems with the door assembly.

The first rain came about 90 minutes in, hitting hardest in the old Maison Blanche section. That period featured the first lead by the No. 6 Penske Porsche with the two Toyotas moving up the order. Most teams took on wet rubber but one of the Corvettes and an AF Corse Ferrari were caught out and suffered mild spins. A short time later the No. 54 Ferrari of Thomas Flohr hit hard into the barriers and became the first retirement.

Robin Frijns had a big spin on his own with the No. 20 BMW Hypercar. It was the start of a very bad afternoon and evening for the Bavarian marque’s hypercars. It was even worse at Alpine. Ferdinand Hapsburg went straight off, his engine having royally expired. About an hour later the other one, No. 36, pulled into the garage with a similar problem.

Just to show that you should never believe me, the much heralded Ben Keating made a mistake and beached the No. 23 United Autosports P2. They eventually continued but the gravel sucked into the interior damaged several components.

The third hour featured the first semi-settling down with the order in front No. 83 (AF Corse Hypercar Ferrari—Ex-F1 man Robert Kubica doing multiple stints). The No. 5 Penske Porsche rose to become the highest placed of the 963s and the No. 8 Toyota Gazoo was an almost anonymous third place.

Two GT3s, the United Autosports McLaren and the No. 60 Iron Lynx Lamborghini of Claudio Schiavoni, had spins and made subsequent repair stops The Mustang challenge frayed when Zach Robichon brought the No. 77 Proton entry in with a broken steering rack. The No. 99 Porsche again pulled into the garage, now with a broken splitter. Another early powerhouse, Sebastien Bourdais (No. 3 Cadillac) had a big off course excursion exiting the pits on cold tyres. The No. 20 BMW had chronic problems with vibration issues and loose bodywork. The No. 70 McLaren’s fine run ended with an overheating issue.

Another brief shower came at the six hour mark. Until that point the track was generally green apart from slow zones to attend to the various stopped cars. There were four brief full course yellows called to manage stranded cars and clear debris. Cumulatively these interruptions amounted to less than a lap of neutralization.

This pattern ended with the first significant incident coming later in the sixth hour when the long delayed No. 15 BMW of Dries Vanthoor had a huge hit with the overall leading Ferrari of Kubica. The 499 was unfazed but the M Hybrid V8 was rather askew and the accident scrambled the safety cars for the first time.

While not really a race of attrition (only three cars are officially retired, plus 3-4 likely to follow suit), there have been enough travails among the leaders to reduce the number of cars on the respective class lead laps. Hypercar and overall has the No. 83 Ferrari (Kubica) first, the No. 5 Porsche (Fred Makowiecki) next, and then Ryo Hirakawa in the No. 8 Toyota.

The featured LM P2 leaders are Cool Racing (No. 37, Malthe Jakobsen), United Autosports (No. 22, Bijoy Garg) and No. 10 Vector Racing (Stephane Richelmi). The two LM P2 Pro-Am sub-class leaders are a tad further back with Louis Deletraz (No. 14 AO by TF) just clear of Francois Perrodo in the No. 183 AF Corse Oreca.

The GT3 fight is living up to its billing as an inter-marque battle. The No. 92 Manthey Porsche (Joel Sturm) narrowly leads the No. 46 BMW of Ahmad Al Harthy, while all the pundits are pleasantly surprised with a good third place by Jack Hawksworth in the No. 37 ASP Lexus. There is only a narrow gap to the next batch of GT3s, headed by Michelle Gatting in the No. 85 Iron Dames Lamborghini. The pattern of no two of the same marque among the leaders continues with Larry ten Voorde fifth in the JMW Ferrari, then Dennis Olsen in the best of the Mustangs (No. 88) and finally James Cottingham on the recovering United McLaren. Only Aston Martin (9th) and Corvette (15th ) are languishing.

By Janos Wimpffen

Le Mans 24 Hours 2024 – Pre-Race Handicapper (2)

In the spirit of your favourite TV presenter ranting and raving about what is to transpire in the main event, here are my post test / practice / qualifying views about the 24 Hours. (minus the rant).

The lap times and thus the qualifying grid positions are inherently meaningless in a 24 hour race without the context of how they were developed. Certainly there are a great deal of bragging rights to being fastest and conversely, concern about being slow. But that is only part of the story.


In reviewing the top class, Hypercar, it is worth noting the travails of Toyota. The perennial champions did well in the opening salvo, last Sunday’s Test Sessions, but have struggled since, including a session ending spin. They managed to miss the top eight cut which determined the cars in each class that matriculated to the Hyperpole session. They remain a force as when they were out on track their speeds and their physical bearing on the course was smooth. They are also known for good rain work and that is what we have in store. Sadly, the team has taken to the “this election is rigged against us” tack by complaining, without evidence, that Porsche has been warming their tyres—Tyre warming is strictly verboten at Le Mans.

Porsche has the numbers with three works (Penske) entries and the two customer cars (Hertz Jota). No. 12’s shunt and replaced chassis has dented the ascendancy that Team Jota has enjoyed since their win at the previous WEC round at Spa. They proved to have the speed and have otherwise had a good pre-race week. Perhaps the slightest edge goes to them.

Defending Le Mans champions Ferrari has been fast, but mostly when the coast is clear. The 499’s great strength is straight line speed as shown in every WEC round in which they have participated. Le Mans is the fastest course used all season and that should work to their advantage, but rain is not likely to be the Prancing Horse’s friend as it requires far more agility than they have demonstrated.

Cadillac and BMW have both surprised the international scene. The American team nearly took pole and has been consistently strong all week. Anyone who follows the team’s home series, IMSA, would not be as surprised. They have been dominant stateside. I am predicting a hard Cadillac-Porsche fight and this could be the Cadillac of Cadillac victories for the luxury marque. While BMW has done very well (fastest in the opening practice session) they have been reliability challenged.

Alpine certainly deserves the most improved award. They are using two brand new chassis specifically built for this race and the development shows. Alpine has been hounding the bigger names all week. They have not only been getting better on a seasonal basis but also noticeably during each session. Alpine can be a breakout star—perhaps a podium finish. By contrast, the other French brand, Peugeot, seems stuck in a cycle of trying new tweaks to their aero setup and seemingly going backwards each step.

Lamborghini is being realistic. Their goal is a strong finish leading to bigger and better in 2025. Being competitive at Le Mans takes more than one year and Lamborghini is taking the correct approach. No Le Mans grid is complete without some oddball colour and this year’s character entry is the Isotta Fraschini. The revival of this truly ancient automotive name is commendable but it is hard to keep from nominating them as the first retirement.

In summary, the Hypercar field is excellent. After several years where the winning marque is a foregone conclusion we are again in a “golden period” where the outcome is truly wide open. At least five and possibly six marques have a reasonable shot at the overall win.


After Hypercar, most attention will be focused on the new for Le Mans Grand Touring class, GT3. An almost magical total of eight manufacturers are represented. I would argue that apart from Lexus and Corvette, all have a reasonable chance at victory. I discount Lexus only because it is the marque’s first run at Le Mans and while Corvette has a long history here, TF Racing entries are customers (albeit with some works engineers seen in the paddock) and the GT3 class effort is still young.

Porsche is at the sharp end of the class with two 992 GT3 Rs run by close friends of the works, Manthey Racing. The only weakness for Porsche is that these are the only two in the field. The talk of the field have been the three Ford Mustangs. While new to Le Mans the Proton Competition run team has been very fast but reliability being a big question mark.

There are two very, very strong Aston Martin teams, both of which have done very well all week—look for the No. 777 D’Station entry to be particularly good. McLaren won overall in 1995 and have been absent since, but GT3 gives their 720S GT3 Evo a chance to make good again. All three present have been fast, especially the No. 70 Inception Racing entry, but there is a bit of flattering to deceive, as each have had either a minor off or some mechanical maladies—not a good omen. The BMW M4 GT3s have been steady but not stellar but should not be discounted. Much attention will be on No. 46 with ex-Moto GP World Champion Valentino Rossi on the roster. Similarly there will be much attention on the all-women No. 85 Iron Dames Lamborghini, one of two Huracan GT3 Evo2s at the start. By sheer numbers the class may swing to Ferrari. While AF Corse has the most experience, their three cars are more the domain of pro-am drivers than true threats. In a like vein the No. 86 GR Racing 296 has been among the most troubled of all in the field. However, rising above all is the No. 66 JMW Motorsport Ferrari, which is not only a past winner but has transitioned very well from the quite different 488 model of old and the current 296.


The all Oreca-Gibson class is a finely balanced group of true enthusiasts. It includes a sub-class for Pro-Am teams. Indeed, choosing among them often involves close looks at the driver lineups. Driving rosters are of course critical in all classes but in P2 where the margins are tight, a good stint by an emerging star or a mistake by a less experienced driver can make all the difference.

The pole sitting No. 14 of AO TF Sport has one of the most consistent drivers, Louis Deletraz. This is promising for seeing through the team to a good result at the other end. Next up, the No. 28 IDEC Sport Racing team is happy on home ground and has good balance with no standouts in their leineup. By contrast, the always strong United Autosports team has long-time WEC “ringer” Filipe Albuquerque leading the charge. Similarly, Panis Racing has Mathias Beche. Indeed, United has perhaps the best overall driving lineup in the class but the team seems to often hit bad luck at Le Mans. If they avoid that, they will win. Especially watch Ben Keating in No. 23, quite possibly the best true Am driver in the field.

Among the mid-field starters in P2 it will be worth watching ex-Porsche works driver Patrick Pilet in the No. 10 Vector Racing Oreca. There are four teams that had quiet but steady runs during practice and qualifying, a facet which bodes very well for being in good shape come Sunday afternoon. They are No. 24 (Nielsen), No. 47 (Cool), No. 33 (DKR) and No. 34, Poland’s Inter Europol Competition.

Somewhat surprisingly, the two cars managed by Stewart & Samantha Cox’s Algarve Pro Racing Team have languished at the back. However with North America stars Roman DeAngelis (No. 25) and Colin Braun (No. 45) they should not be discounted.

Le Mans 24 Hours 2024 – Introduction (1)

le mans 24 hours

The Role of the Great Race

le mans 24 hours

For over a century the 24 Hours of Le Mans has been the center of the sports car racing universe. While it is nominally just round four of eight in the 2024 World Endurance Championship (WEC) it is by far the most important in terms of points and prestige.

Those familiar with forms of motor racing such as F1, NASCAR, or IndyCar, will find sports car racing to be a completely different endeavor in terms of length, the number of drivers and the conduct of the competition. Most races run to time rather than a set number of laps. WEC races range from 6 to 24 hours. There are multiple drivers per car, a team of three being the standard at Le Mans.

While there is no clear definition of “sports car”, the underlying philosophy is that they have some vestigial connection to high performance roadworthy machines. This spiritual link is kept in place by requiring them to be full-bodied and to maintain a location for a theoretical passenger seat. Unlike other forms of racing, most sports car races feature several different classes. A given class comprises cars with comparable performance characteristics and while the overall winner garners the most attention, there are awards given to each of the class winners as well. There are two broad categories of sports cars, Prototypes and GTs (Grand Touring). The former are not prototypes in the industrial sense of the word, i.e., presaging production, but rather are pure thoroughbred sports cars built purely for racing. GT, on the other hand, are racing versions of production cars found in the showroom.

There are two classes of Prototypes at Le Mans, Hypercar and P2 (Prototype 2). Hypercar represents the apogee of sports car tech. Power output and minimum weight are regulated but beyond that designers have relatively free reign. The engine size and architecture and most aerodynamic features are open to interpretation. Electric motor-internal combustion engine hybrids are now used on all the Hypercars. Some deliver the electric power to all four wheels, others only to the rear. The difference is based on slight rules variations as to whether a car is built to Le Mans specs or those used in the North American series, IMSA.

P2 is a far more restricted class. The 4.2 litre 440 bhp V8 built by Gibson Tech is mandated. While there are several chassis manufacturers to choose from, in practice all of the recent entries have been built by the French specialist, Oreca. P2 is home to an important mainstay of Le Mans through the years, the well-appointed enthusiast.

This will be the first year for GT3 representing Grand Touring at Le Mans. GT3 offers slightly less performance than did the GTE (GT Endurance) class of previous years. However, GT3 is more of a global standard and results in there being a greater variety of brands present. GT3 rules incorporate the concept of balance of performance (BOP) which governs power output, fuel flow, weight, and aerodynamics in insuring that no single manufacturer exerts undue dominance.

The 186 drivers expected to start this year are divided into four “precious metals” groups; platinum, gold, silver, and bronze. The most highly ranked, similar to those found in F1, are platinum. Gold connotes professional full-time drivers. Silver includes pros who are on the ascent or are not full-time, highly accomplished amateurs, and drivers previously ranked gold who have ‘aged’ out. Bronze are predominantly the amateur cohort. The term (as used here) does not imply lower skill level, but rather the classic sense of the amateur being a person who engages in an endeavor for passion and not for livelihood.  The driver classifications are important insofar as there are minimum and maximum time limits for stint times according to ranking.

The 2024 Edition

Le Mans 24 Hours

The entry list includes 23 Hypercars divided amongst eight manufacturers. Whilst all are represented by factory associated teams, Porsche has notably begun to expand by offering cars to private teams and the Hertz Team Jota Porsche 963 enjoyed the first victory by a customer effort in the Hypercar era at the most recent round, Spa-Francorchamps. Le Mans is tough climb from there but look for a good intra-brand fight between them and the very formidable Porsche factory team overseen by one of the all-time greats in all motor sport, Roger Penske.

Defending champions Ferrari AF Corse have proven fast but fragile this season so everyone will cast a wary eye as to whether they have solved their issues. Perennial champions Toyota may be nearing the end of the development cycle on their current model but will be looking for a defiant last hurrah. The BMW has yet to emerge on top but is looking for a breakthrough. The two French manufacturers, Peugeot and Alpine have been chasing issues with their new 2024 models. Lamborghini is still at an early state of development while the revival of an ancient marque name, Isotta-Fraschini, adds a hint of Italian spice.

Most of the Hypercar (and GT3) entries are WEC regulars but there are invitees from other series. In the Hypercar class this comes from the IMSA based Cadillacs and an expanded Porsche effort. The Chip Ganassi run Cadillac V-Series R has been very successful in North America and may be poised to transfer that to Europe.

There also 23 starters in GT3. They are customer teams representing nine manufacturers. Porsche, Aston Martin, BMW, and Lamborghini have all recorded podium spots in the three rounds thus far this season. BMW, Lamborghini, along with McLaren were all absent during the GTE era but each have been successful in global GT3 racing and it remains to be seen whether they can transfer that formula to the WEC. Thus far the Belgian based WRT team BMWs and the two separate Manthey Racing run Porsche operations have the best start.

Among the non-WEC regulars in GT3 are several additional Ferraris. That gives the 296 GT3 a numerical boost to match Porsche. French team ASP is debuting Lexus to Le Mans, the marque having done well in IMSA. There is much excitement about the two American GTs, the Corvette and the Mustang. Both models are new to GT3, and the TF Sport entry is particularly noteworthy as it is the first time in decades that a privateer Corvette is on the scene. The GT3 class has a particularly rich mixture of teams and drivers that have done well in other series. One of those is the Michelin Le Mans Cup which is part of the support schedule this weekend. Winners and champions from the Road to Le Mans races will be invited to the 24 Hours in 2025.

The P2 class is not contested in other WEC rounds but is a major part of the North American, European, and Asian regional series. The entries emanate from those sources. They may all be spec Oreca-Gibsons, but the inter-team competition among the 16 teams is fierce. Nine of the cars also compete in a subsidiary class for Pro-Am awards. Nearly all of the teams have tasted some form of success in the past 18 months. Jumping into the WEC fray for all will be a challenge and team and driver preparedness will be the key.

Crowdstrike Racing by APR may be a favourite, coming off being Asian champion and 2023 runner-up in IMSA. Their sister team, Algarve Pro Racing, is a powerhouse at Le Mans. Other key teams in the class are Cool Racing, Inter Europol Competition, and AF Corse. United Autosports is a bit of dark horse, having been dominant in the past but stumbled of late.

A Primer to Following Le Mans

Those who may have followed Le Mans in the past and are returning in 2024 would find one facet the most surprising. And no, it is not technical advancement. While that is significant, especially in Hypercar, such progress is the natural order. Most astonishing is the reliability of the field. For the past decade well over 70% of the starters have still been circulating on Sunday afternoon. Last year, attrition was anomalously high – but the finishing rate was still better than that found through most of the 1990s and especially the 1980s. Moreover, the margins of victory and the gaps between all the top finishers in each class has dramatically shrunk. It has become more of a 24-hour sprint rather than an endurance test. In the “good old days” even the winner could be expected to make at least one lengthy stop and still maintain a multi-lap margin. Today, multiple cars on the lead lap to the very end are commonplace. This has altered the strategy within the race – and has turned following the event from tedium into a dramatic cliff-hanger.

Le Mans 24 Hours

The long series of test, practice, and qualifying sessions before the race may at first glance appear superfluous, but keen observation helps reveal which teams are well prepared. Some cars may coast through to the grid with few issues. Others encounter problems but then iron them out, whilst there is concern if a car spends undue time in the pits and then doesn’t markedly improve their track performance. It is helpful to spot check the lap times of the three different drivers on the roster. Are the margins between the fastest and slowest narrow? If not, they may strain both the skills and allotted time of the quicker members.

Practice and qualifying offer opportunities to observe garage and paddock operations. Does the crew descend on the car in a well-managed choreographed analog to a hospital operating theater, or is it a mad slapstick dash to find tools and argue over the issues? The old adage “an army marches on its stomach” applies here. Are the crew well catered for? Do they enjoy ample breaks – plus nutritious meals and snacks? Are the drivers (and frequently crew) attended to by physio care and consultation? The winners always score high on these criteria. Overall, is there good communication between managers, engineers, strategists, pit crew, and the drivers? While much of this is behind the scenes, it becomes as enjoyable as watching film noir to look for subtle clues.

As the contest unfolds, reassess the observations from the pre-race period. The opening hours will inevitably feature a taut fight to see which teams emerge as the “rabbit.” The first stops begin to reveal each team’s unique strategy. Are they double stinting their fastest drivers or are they opting to hold back? Somewhere around evening time the initial patterns will become apparent. Through to the morning there will be a fight to gain incremental advantage, often by trying to outwit opponents over the pit stop patterns and tyre changes. The obvious principal objective being to minimize the time that the car is stationary. Above all, stay out of trouble. With technical failure becoming less common, most retirements now emanate from damage. The circuit and its rules are unforgiving. The long Le Mans lap means that a miscalculation on fuel or damage early on jeopardizes the driver’s ability to bring the car home. A stranded car is deemed abandoned and may not return to the race.

Enjoy witnessing another chapter of drama being added to the lore of Le Mans. From the technical wonders of the Hypercar, to the colourful array of brands and liveries, to the tense nature of the close racing, we are truly enjoying a Golden Age of Sports Car Racing.

By Janos Wimpffen