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Preview: 24 Hours of Le Mans 2024

Updated: Jun 17


24 Hours of Le Mans 2024 Preview

The biggest race of the year is upon us. Ken Pearson looks ahead to this year’s race which looks set to be a classic.

The stage is set for the greatest race on earth, with 62 cars and 186 drivers looking to take top honours in four classes over the course of 24 hours of maximum attack racing. One of the pre-race favourites, the #6 Porsche will start on pole position, after setting a time of 3:24.634, beating the #2 and #3 Cadillacs to lead the 62-car field as the flag drops at 15:00 UK time on Saturday afternoon. I have been waiting for this since the chequered flag fell at Le Mans 12 months ago.

24 Hours of Le Mans 2024 - The race

The city of Le Mans has been host to a 24 hour race since 1923, running mostly on public roads around the 8.467 mile Circuit de la Sarthe. Often called the Grand Prix of Endurance, the aim is to complete as many laps as possible within 24 hours, rather than completing a set distance in the shortest amount of time as they do in the British Touring Car Championship, IndyCar and Formula 1.

It is a punishing race for cars and drivers, with the majority of the lap spent at full throttle through night and day, rain and shine. Cars are shared by three drivers who complete stints at the wheel, stopping to refuel and change tyres as they go. Only four people are permitted to work on the car at any one time, and you cannot change tyres while refuelling. If more substantial work is required like accident repairs, a turbocharger swap or even a hybrid change, the car will be pulled into the garage where there is no limit on how many people can get hands-on.

Crashes will happen, but nobody gives up at Le Mans. If a car loses time at the start of the race, you can bet that the teams will be working frantically to get it back out on track to work its way back through the field, however slim the chance of a win may be. That’s how important this race is.

24 Hours of Le Mans 2024 Preview

24 Hours of Le Mans 2024 - The cars

Four classes are on the entry list this year: Hypercar, LMP2, LMP2 Pro/Am and LMGT3. The Hypercar class is made up of two distinct categories of pure-bred hybrid prototypes that are performance-balanced and able to challenge for the overall win. LMP2 (Le Mans Prototype 2) is essentially a spec-class this year with all entrants running the ORECA 07 coupé and feature drivers of mixed abilities. The LMP2 Pro/Am class allows for “amateur” drivers (non-professional racers) to compete in identical machinery. 

The LMGT3 (Le Mans GT3) class sees road car-based entries from the likes of Aston Martin, Ferrari and Porsche. This year’s race will be one of the most varied in recent years with multiple manufacturers joining the World Endurance Championship (the series built around Le Mans) in the Hypercar and LMGT3 classes.

The cars: Hypercar

Prepare for some acronyms. The top class sees two sets of regulations coming together into one category, owing to a convergence agreement by the Automobile Club de l’Ouest (ACO, organiser of Le Mans and the WEC) and the International Motor Sports Association (IMSA). The ACO class is LMH (Le Mans Hypercar) where the manufacturers build their own car from scratch, including the engine, hybrid system and chassis.

The engines send their power to the rear wheels, with a maximum of 671 bhp allowed. The hybrid system can develop a maximum of 268 bhp being sent to the front wheels to give the cars part time all-wheel drive. When the hybrid system is active, the engine automatically reduces its power so as not to exceed the 671 bhp maximum.

Cars built to LMH specifications are the Ferrari 499P, Peugeot 9X8, Toyota GR010 Hybrid, and the privately funded Isotta Fraschini Tipo 6 Competizione which is yet to show its true potential in its first year of competition.

#94 Peugeot 9X8

The second regulation-set is LMDh (Le Mans Daytona h - nobody knows what the h stands for) which, rather than the bespoke nature of the LMH entries, are built around the chassis of LMP2 models from Dallara, Multimatic, Ligier and ORECA. These cars all feature a spec hybrid system that is mounted on the rear axle. The hybrid system only generates 68 bhp, a whole 200 less than on the LMH cars, but the peak system output remains the same at 671 bhp.

The LMDh-spec cars in this year’s race are the Alpine A424, BMW M Hybrid V8 (any idea what that’s powered by?), Cadillac V-Series.R, Lamborghini SC63 and Porsche 963.

In both classes, the cars are designed around a target performance window, with a downforce to drag ratio of 4:1. As long as this is generated, the manufacturers are free to style the cars however they’d like. Look through the entries and you’ll see some familiar sights like the four-segment running lights on the Porsche 963, the clawmark lights of the Peugeot 9X8 and the kidney grilles of the BMW M Hybrid V8.

Within the category, there are a range of sounds to be heard from the turbocharged V6s, V8s and the fan-favourite 5.5 litre naturally aspirated V8 fitted to the Cadillacs. Most of the entries are factory backed efforts, but privateer teams are part of the category too. The Davids going up against the Goliaths are the #83 AF Corse Ferrari 499P, the #11 Isotta Fraschini Tipo 6 Competizione and the trio of privately-entered Porsche 963s: the #99 from Proton Competition, along with the #12 and #38 from Hertz Team Jota.

The cars: LMP2

Having been removed from the WEC grid owing to the growth of Hypercar and LMGT3 entries, the LMP2 category returns for Le Mans. Although four cars are available, the ORECA 07 quickly became the car to have with its mixture of outright pace and reliability, making LMP2 effectively a spec championship. The cars are all powered by the Derbyshire-built Gibson 4.2 litre naturally aspirated V8, sending 540 bhp to the rear wheels. These are a step down in terms of engine and aerodynamic performance compared to the Hypercar category, and are crewed by drivers of mixed abilities.

The FIA categorizes drivers with Platinum, Gold, Silver and Bronze ratings, with Platinum being the highest. LMP2 cars can have a maximum of one Platinum driver and I will make that the last time I mention the name of that metal until the LMGT3 segment. The Pro/Am subcategory is for cars with one Bronze-rated driver aboard. The one-make nature of the class means that the difference really is made in the driving, setup and pit stop performance of the teams, with some strong entrants coming from United Autosports, Algarve Pro Racing, COOL Racing and the team based closest to my part of the world, Nielsen Racing. There are 8 cars entered into each LMP2 class and the category always makes for exciting racing throughout the event.

24 Hours of Le Mans 2024 Preview
The cars: LMGT3

The production-based category features 23 cars built to the globally used GT3 regulations. This is another mixed-rating class for drivers, with each car featuring at least one Bronze and no more than one Platinum-rated driver in their lineup. As with the Hypercar class, the cars are all brought into the same pace ballpark with Balance of Performance (BoP), where some cars will be given larger air restrictors, smaller fuel tanks or weight changes to keep the field pretty even.

The 23 car field has the most engine and silhouette variety, with the Aston Martin Vantage AMR, BMW M4, Chevrolet Corvette Z06, Ferrari 296, Ford Mustang, Lamborghini Huracán EVO2, McLaren 720S EVO, Lexus RC F, and Porsche 911 all entered. As for the numbers game, there are five Ferraris, three Fords and three McLarens while all other manufacturers will have two cars on the grid.

24 Hours of Le Mans 2024 Preview
24 Hours of Le Mans 2024 Preview
The drivers.

There is a wealth of talent in the 186-strong driver list for this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans, with a few familiar names mixed in. Jenson Button, Romain Grosjean, Daniil Kvyat, Nyck de Vries, Mick Schumacher, Antonio Giovinazzi, Sebastian Buemi, Jean-Eric Verge, Paul di Resta, Stoffel Vandoorne, Brendon Hartley, Will Stevens and Robert Kubica are the drivers who were once best known for their endeavours in a popular open-wheel formula series that are entered in the Hypercar class. 

However, there is a vast array of young talent that has shone in the top class so far this year, with Julien Andlauer pulling off some of the bravest moves that I have ever seen through Eau Rouge and Raidillon at this year’s WEC 6 Hours of Spa. Huntingdon-born Callum Ilott has been impressing in the #12 Hertz Team Jota Porsche all season long, culminating in a fabulous overall win in Belgium with co-driver Will Stephens.

LMP2 has an impressive roster including 2017 winner Oliver Jarvis aboard the #22 United Autosports entry, and the #24 Nielsen Racing car being driven by Fabio Scherer who won last year’s race with a broken foot, after being run over by a Corvette in the pits during the first hour! Rising star Kyffin Simpson joins the experienced David Heinemeier Hanson to complete the trio. In Pro/Am, reigning LMGTE winner Ben Keating - arguably the best “amateur” driver on the planet - has joined United Autosports in the #23 car, while the highly successful yet highly underrated Colin Braun joins George Kurtz and Nicky Catsburg - winner of Le Mans and the Nurburgring 24 hours in 2023 - for the #45 Crowdstrike by APR effort.

More familiar names arrive in LMGT3 with Valentino Rossi - yes, that one - carrying his synonymous #46 on the side of a BMW M4. Drivers to watch are Daniel Juncadella in the #82 Corvette, Davide Rigon in the #54 Ferrari, IMSA GT champion Jack Hawksworth in the #87 Lexus and the all-female driver crew of Sarah Bovy, Michelle Gatting and Doriane Pin in the #85 Lamborghini.

#83 AF Corse Ferrari drivers
Any predictions?

Porsche have five 963s running in the Hypercar class with three from the Porsche Penske Motorsport factory effort, two from Hertz Team Jota and one from Proton Competition. Each one of these has a good shot of winning. That said, during last year’s race we witnessed a surprise closing of the field with cars that struggled at other circuits starting to come alive at the track they were designed for. I’m expecting the two Alpines to be in the mix, and the Cadillacs to convert their strong qualifying pace into a competitive showing in the race. However, with rain forecast on Sunday morning, the all-wheel drive LMH cars may have an advantage. 

Toyota and Ferrari may replay last year’s game of cat and mouse on moist asphalt, and the two striking Peugeot 9X8s may come alive - who knows? If the forecast is wrong and the race is mostly dry, it’s anyone’s game.

The LMP2 favourites have got to be United Autosports with the #22 and #23 Pro/Am entries, while I’m not sure who to put my money on in GT3. BMW have shown pace but lacked luck, and I have a feeling that the Corvettes will be in the right place at the right time come Sunday morning, provided that reliability is on their side.

It’s impossible to read too much into the test day, practice and qualifying sessions that set the starting order for the 92nd running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Anything can happen at the Circuit de la Sarthe and it usually does. What I can predict is that the most important 24 hours of motorsport will be dramatic, heartbreaking and enthralling in equal measure. Let’s see who gets written into the history books on Sunday afternoon…

24 Hours of Le Mans 2024 Preview

Fun facts:

All cars are powered by renewable fuel sourced from Total, made from byproducts of the winemaking industry. If you’re at the circuit and you think you smell a fruity aroma in the air, you’ve either walked past the campsites or got a whiff of the exhausts from the cars on track.

The distance record was set in 2010 by the victorious #9 Audi R15 TDI+ which completed 397 laps, covering 3,362.06 miles. 2010 was also my first time at Le Mans.

Porsche have won the race 19 times overall, making them the most successful manufacturer at Le Mans.

The outright lap record is held by Kamui Kobayashi, setting a blistering time of 3:14.791 during qualifying in 2017 in his #7 Toyota TS050. If you’ve not watched that lap, go and do it immediately. 

King Henry II of England was born in Le Mans.

The city is twinned with Suzuka and Bolton. I can understand Suzuka…

Useful info:

Race start: 15:00 BST (16:00 local), Saturday June 15th 

Race end: 15:00 BST (16:00 local), Sunday June 16th

How to watch: Eurosport, Le Mans 24 Hours app, Discovery+

How to listen: Radio Le Mans

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