24 Hours of Le Mans

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WEC reveals eight-race winter calendar for 2018-19, Sebring returns

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The FIA World Endurance Championship will return to Sebring International Raceway in 2019 as part of a new winter calendar set to come into force next year.

Featuring eight races across 18 months, the 2018/19 WEC ‘super season’ will see the championship achieve its long-held goal of finishing at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, with two visits to the Circuit de la Sarthe scheduled in the campaign.

The six-hour race at the Circuit of The Americas in Austin, Texas has been cut, as have the Silverstone, Nürburgring, Mexico City and Bahrain events from the existing nine-race schedule.

Having hosted the inaugural WEC race back in 2012, Sebring returns to the calendar as part of a double-header weekend that will see a 12-hour event run directly after the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship’s own race.

2018-2019 FIA World Endurance Championship Provisional Calendar

1. 4-5 May – WEC 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps (BEL)
2. 16-17 June – 24 Hours of Le Mans (FRA)
3. 13-14 October – 6 Hours of Fuji (JPN)
4. 3-4 November – 6 Hours of Shanghai (CHN)
5. February 2019 – Place and event TBC
6. 15-16 March 2019 – 12 Hours of Sebring (USA)
7. 3-4 May 2019 – WEC 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps (BEL)
8. 15-16 June 2019 – 24 Hours of Le Mans (FRA)

In the same announcement, officials from the FIA and the ACO confirmed tweaks to the regulations for LMP1 from 2018 in reaction to Porsche’s shock decision to quit the class at the end of the season, the aim being to stimulate more interest from manufacturers to join Toyota in the category.

Here are the planned changes:

  • From 2018/2019, and in the future, there will only be one category (and consequently one classification) in LMP1.
  • To make it as accessible as possible to join this category from the 2018-2019 season onwards, the level of performance of the current non-hybrid LMP1 regulations managed via equivalence of technologies will be aligned with the current LMP1 hybrid regulations.
  • Each competitor entered in LMP1 will have the same potential of performance independent of the type engine power used. Very clearly there will always be a slight advantage for the hybrid engine in terms of autonomy related to lower fuel consumption.
  • There will be no changes made to the current chassis regulations (only LMP1 chassis will be eligible) but to facilitate the access to LMP1, more choice and engine power options will be offered. Depending on the selected criteria, an Equivalence of Technology will be implemented between turbo compressed and normally aspirated engines (as done in the past between petrol and diesel).
  • All these decisions will apply for the next two seasons.

“Other regulatory decisions, which are still being finalized, will be announced later on covering areas such as a reduction in the number of private tests and collective tests proposed,” the statement from the series adds.

“The 2020 LMP1 regulations will be substantially altered as compared to the model presented during the last 24 Hours of Le Mans.

“The ACO and the FIA remain wholeheartedly convinced that technology including Hybrid systems must keep its place of honor in Endurance racing, but not at any price.

“The budgets invested over these last years in LMP1 Hybrid are no longer sustainable and a return to reasonable budgets should allow all manufacturers to compete in this discipline.”

Bizarre 2017 Le Mans adds new twist: Driver mistaken as marshal

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The 2017 24 Hours of Le Mans ended two days ago but has had two post-script items that only add to the bizarre nature of this year’s race.

On Monday, it was the disqualification of Vaillante Rebellion’s No. 13 Oreca 07 Gibson from an overall podium (third place) and second in LMP2 following bodywork modification to address a starter issue.

On Tuesday, it’s the emergence of video to show a driver in a nearly identical firesuit to that of a pit lane or corner marshal giving a thumbs up to Kamui Kobayashi’s No. 7 Toyota TS050 Hybrid under a safety car period that may have led to the Toyota’s eventual clutch failure.

Via Eurosport, it shows Kobayashi’s car stopped at pit out with a pit lane marshal in the background. Meanwhile after a couple seconds, Vincent Capillaire, an LMP2 class driver in the So24! and FLEX-BOX backed No. 45 Algarve Pro Racing Ligier JS P217 Gibson, emerged from his pit garage to give Kobayashi a thumbs up.

However the Japanese driver appeared to mistake that sign of encouragement as an OK to leave the pit lane and return to the race course. The orange and black firesuit Capillaire had on was almost identical to the marshal’s, albeit with the FLEX-BOX black bar and branding a little lower on the suit.

Under a safety car period at Le Mans, any car that pits is held at pit out with a red light, until a green light flashes to be released. This is different from the slow zones that have become a recent staple of this race, which help prevent full safety car periods where the full 8.4-mile Circuit de la Sarthe is slowed. Unless a slow zone is present on the front straight, there are no pit lane restrictions and drivers can enter and exit pit lane in a normal manner.

Capillaire attempted to explain his action on his Facebook page.

“Saturday evening, during the race, I was waiting for my relay, helmet on the head at my box,” Capillaire said, with the French translated to English.

“I wanted to show my encouragement to the leader car, stopped at red light a few meters in front of my box. .
It was a spontaneous encouragement mark as it happens between pilots.

“I was fined by Stewards for this gesture and I admit it was inopportune. I regret that.”

Kobayashi had started and stopped his car multiple times as a result; the clutch issue that followed came as an apparent result of this issue.

“The problem is that he was at the pit exit, so he was in pit mode where we started in electric, which is like the car was, he was in a mode which normally should not be used, so he has done several restarts with the clutch and the combustion engine,” Toyota technical director Pascal Vasselon told Sportscar365, and later expanded that this burned up the clutch.

Capillaire, one of the youngest drivers in the field in American teenager Matt McMurry (19; turns 20 in November) and the oldest driver in the field in U.S.-based South African Mark Patterson (65), finished 16th in the 25-car LMP2 class and 33rd on the road of the 49 cars that finished and 60 that started, though will move up one position as a result of the Rebellion disqualification from Monday.

Toyota, meanwhile, could only feel regret after yet another lost opportunity.

“We will analyze what went wrong because we cannot accept a double retirement like that during the night,” team president Toshio Sato said in the team’s post-race release.

“We will come back stronger and more determined than ever; our Le Mans challenge will continue.”

Rebellion bounced from second in LMP2, third overall at Le Mans

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Vaillante Rebellion’s No. 13 Oreca 07 Gibson has been disqualified following post-race technical inspection at this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans.

The car was found to have modified bodywork on the engine cover in the form of a hole cut, which could help aid mechanics in restarting the car after pit stops and with starter issues having popped up earlier.

Here’s the formal release from the ACO:

During the post-race technical checks, certain irregularities were detected on the Vaillante Rebellion team’s #13 Oreca 07-Gibson, resulting in the car’s disqualification from the 2017 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Two infractions were noted by the technical marshals:

  • Modification to the body, found to be in technical non-compliance (decision of the stewards #58)
  • Unauthorized intervention in the closed park after the race (decision of the stewards #59)

The Vaillante Rebellion has confirmed its intention to file an appeal with the officials.

This disqualification causes a change to the overall classification for the 2017 24 Hours of Le Mans. Jackie Chan DC Racing’s second car, the #37 driven by Cheng-Gommendy-Brundle, now claims the third step on the podium just behind its sister car, the #38, and the #2 Porsche 919 Hybrid.

With the car in breach of regulations, the No. 13 car shared by Nelson Piquet Jr., Mathias Beche and David Heinemeier Hansson has now lost second place in LMP2 and third place overall.

DHH posted a couple tweets below; the team added it would have more to say once the investigation was complete.

Jackie Chan DC Racing now finishes 1-2 in LMP2 and 2-3 overall, the No. 37 Oreca of David Cheng, Tristan Gommendy and Alex Brundle the beneficiary, while Signatech Alpine’s No. 35 Alpine A470 of Nelson Panciatici, Pierre Ragues and Andre Negrao gets an LMP2 podium after all despite Negrao’s late off-course excursion at Arnage corner.

2018 Le Mans date set; 258,500 attended this year’s race

(Photo by Dean Treml/Red Bull via Getty Images)
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The 24 Hours of Le Mans continues in the same weekend and the same dates (basically) as it did in 2017, with the 2018 date confirmed for June 16-17 of next year.

This marks the first FIA World Endurance Championship race date revealed for next season, with others to follow.

The releases of the first draft of the Formula 1 and Formula E 2018 schedules offer a good glimpse into potential conflict weekends though.

Alas, Le Mans is non-conflicting with either championship, and with the return of the French Grand Prix a week later, June 23-24 at Paul Ricard, there could be a two-week double dip in France if any active F1 driver can take on Le Mans next season.

The Automobile Club de l’Ouest (ACO) announced Sunday that 258,500 spectators had taken in this year’s Le Mans, continuing its stronghold as the marquee endurance race in the world from a spectator standpoint.

Toyoda on Le Mans agony: ‘Sorry we weren’t able to let you drive all out’

Akio Toyoda (JPN) TOYOTA GAZOO Racing. Photo: Toyota
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Toyota’s realistic chances of victory at this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans went away in the overnight hours with the Nos. 7 and 9 Toyota TS050 Hybrids retiring within half an hour of each other with a clutch problem and accident damage, respectively. The remaining Toyota Gazoo Racing entry, the No. 8 car, rallied from its own front motor issues to finish nine laps back of the winning Porsche.

Here are the entire words of Akio Toyoda, President, Toyota Motor Corporation, presented to the team after this latest gut-wrenching loss at a race Toyota is still yet to win.

TOYOTA GAZOO Racing.
Le Mans 24 Hours Race, 12th to 18th June 2017
Circuit de la Sarthe, Le Mans, France. Photo: Toyota

“Sorry we weren’t able to let you drive all out.”

Normally, it would be proper to start off with words of appreciation for the support provided to us by our fans. However, for this time at Le Mans, I think I must first direct my opening words to our drivers.

To me, at Le Mans for the first time, our drivers said, “We want you up together with us at the center of the podium”, “For that, we definitely don’t want to lose”, and “So fight together with us.”

In return, I said: “Drive all out. Trust the cars the mechanics readied for you. Enjoy Le Mans.”

Despite telling them such, I was not able to allow them to drive all out. This, I truly regret. Even though our drivers drove believing in our cars, I can only say how sorry and how full of regret I am.

TOYOTA GAZOO Racing.
Le Mans 24 Hours Race, 12th to 18th June 2017
Circuit de la Sarthe, Le Mans, France.

I believe that the Toyota engineers, mechanics and parts suppliers, who built our cars for this battle, all feel the same.

Therefore, bearing the burden as a representative of all such people, please let me say once again: “Sorry we weren’t able to let you drive all out.”

Also, to all the people related to the Toyota team, including our nine drivers, I would like to share two things on my mind at this moment.

The first is for our fans.

To all the fans who supported us believing in victory for Toyota, I am truly sorry that we were not able to meet your expectations.

And for believing in us and giving us your passionate support for 24 hours all the way to the end, I want to express my deepest appreciation. Thank you. Thank you all so very much.

Once again, Toyota will strive for the day on which we can, together, have smiles on our faces.

Dr. Wolfgang Porsche, chairman of Porsche Supervisory Board, and Akyo Toyoda, President, Toyota Motor Corporation. Photo: Porsche

The second is for the Porsche team.

After last year’s battle, I happily received many comments from people at Porsche recognizing us as a rival.

To live up to having been called a “rival”, I had thought that what we needed to do this year was to again put up a brilliant fight that would captivate the fans.

That is why the team was able to take up bold challenges that resulted in new technologies and skills.

To the Porsche team, I say congratulations. And I also say thank you very much.

In the end, however, Toyota was not able to put up the kind of fight that could captivate the fans, like it did last year.

This time, both Porsche and we, Toyota, were not able to complete without incident 24 hours of driving in the hybrid cars that we put to the challenge on the roads of Le Mans.

Both even winning car No. 2 and our car No. 8, which completed the race, were forced to undergo time-consuming, trouble-caused repairs, before struggling to cross the finish line.

While the hybrid technology that has advanced through competition in the FIA World Endurance Championship puts its abilities on display in six-hour races, it might be that it is not yet ready for the long distance of the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

The power of electricity is absolutely necessary for cars take on a more-emotional presence.

Le Mans is a precious laboratory in which we can continue to take up the challenges related to the technologies involved, putting such technologies to the test in an extreme environment.

We will hone our technologies even further and ripen them to provide our customers with technologies that will truly make them smile. And we, Toyota, will go on making effort after effort so that we can continue making ever-better cars.

We invite you to look forward to what we will be able to achieve. Thank you.

Akio Toyoda

President

Toyota Motor Corporation