Le Mans: News, notes and how to watch pre-race round-up

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The beauty of 24 Hours of Le Mans week is that there’s a lot of news… and the occasional frustration of Le Mans week is that there’s a lot of news.

QUALIFYING TIMES, STARTING GRID

But with a week of on-track preparation in the bag, and all the pre-race events out of the way, it’s time to analyze where we are and round-up the key items from the time in France:

  • The LMP1 battle: Fuel. Economy. It’s the two words we’ll hear a bit and know for certain after the first two stints – so watch carefully to see how Audi, Toyota and Porsche get on in terms of lap count. Project it out, and that’s how you’ll be able to sort out the pit stop number the remaining 22 hours or so.
  • Mark Webber’s return: The highest profile new addition to the FIA World Endurance Championship, and Le Mans by default, makes his first start here in 15 years aboard the No. 20 Porsche 919 Hybrid he’ll share with Timo Bernhard and Brendon Hartley. I’m sure I’m not the first to write that here’s to landing and ending on all four wheels this time around, after his 1999 aerial excursion for Mercedes.
  • Slow zones: New for 2014 are the introduction of designated “slow zones,” where certain portions of the track are temporarily speed-restricted to 60 km/hr. There’s been some concern in the paddock about speed disparities as cars close up, and whether all drivers will note when the “slow zone” caution lights appear on the dash. Another case of “stay tuned while this gets sorted out early, and we’ll figure it out how it affects the race later.”
  • ‘Merica, on the team front: From the U.S. perspective, Corvette Racing and Dempsey Racing-Proton are the likely contenders in GTE-Pro and GTE-Am for hopeful podium finishes. One for Corvette would tie a nice wrap around its 15th anniversary at Le Mans and be the first for the new C7.R; one for Dempsey would be the first for Patrick Dempsey.
  • ‘Merica, on the driving front: There’s 18 U.S. drivers in this year’s race, although only a handful that are that well-known in the States. Brothers Jordan and Ricky Taylor, Greaves’ Chris Dyson and 16-year-old Matt McMurry and the all-American Dempsey lineup of Dempsey, Joe Foster and Patrick Long have some cache though.
  • GTE scrap: Only four manufacturers are entered but it’s hard to separate much of Ferrari, Corvette and Aston Martin, and oddly its defending double class champion Porsche that enters the race on the back foot with their Porsche 911 RSR and older Porsche 911 GT3 RSR models, respectively. LMP1 may be the show, but GTE-Pro and Am are not going to be lacking for action, either.
  • LMP2’s showdown: Chances are a Nissan engine’s going to win, as it powers 13 of the 17 cars entered. But the chassis showdown between the venerable Oreca 03, Zytek Z11SN and Morgan cars against the debuting Ligier JS P2 –which thus far has shown impressive pace – is the thing to watch.
  • “Stig green”: Krohn Racing is a cool and popular underdog team to watch this year; Tracy Krohn’s team having been able to make it on a tight schedule. Former “Top Gear” “Stig” Ben Collins is a late and valuable add to the driver lineup. “It reminds me of two days as a green stig, when we did the environmentally friendly, very badly executed car we made on Top Gear. It’s really useful on the track because the thing stands out by a mile,” Collins told MotorSportsTalk.
  • Pre-race war of attrition: Name a car at random and there’s a good chance it’s been involved in an incident this week. Most have been in GTE, but there’s been a number of LMP1 and LMP2 cars involved too. I’m guessing we haven’t heard the last of this theme song thus far, but I’m really hoping the frequency of carnage subsides.
  • Prayers for safety: From talking to some of those here last year (and I can’t say I was one of them), there’s the sense that the race carried on after Allan Simonsen’s fatal accident just because it had to. No one wants an encore and frankly, we’ve had too many scary accidents in practice this week – none of them on replay (Loic Duval’s, James Calado’s and Fernando Rees’ all at Porsche Curves) – that puts a freaky sense out there heading into Saturday’s race. Even if you’re not religious, pray for a safe, clean 24 hours where all 162 drivers, crews and fans come home in one piece.
  • How to watch: Saturday, June 14 – 8:30 AM to 4:00 PM (FOX Sports 1, LIVE),  4:00 PM to 5:00 PM (FOX Sports 2, LIVE),  6:30 PM to 1:00 AM (FOX Sports 2, LIVE), 1:00 AM to 7:30 AM (FOX Sports 1, LIVE), 7:30 AM to 9:30 AM (FOX Sports 2, LIVE); with the entire race streamed LIVE on FOX Sports GO. All times are ET.

Meyer Shank Racing wins second consecutive Rolex 24 at Daytona to begin GTP era

Rolex 24 Meyer Shank
James Gilbert/Getty Images
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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The Grand Touring Prototype era began just as the previous one ended as Meyer Shank Racing’s Acura captured its second consecutive Rolex 24 at Daytona with star Tom Blomqvist emphatically starting and finishing the race.

The No. 60 ARX-06 won the 24-hour endurance classic at Daytona International Speedway by 4.190 seconds over Filipe Albuquerque of Wayne Taylor Racing with Andretti Autosport, giving Acura a sweep of the top two spots.

The Chip Ganassi Racing Cadillac V-LMDh cars took the next two spots with Renger van der Zande (the No. 01) and Earl Bamber (No. 02) as four of the nine new GTP cars finished on the lead lap within 12 seconds of each other – quashing the prerace hand-wringing of mass failures for the highly technical cars in the debut of the hybrid prototype premier category.

There were major problems for the manufacturer newcomers Porsche Penske Motorsport and BMW M Team RLL, whose two pairs of cars all finished at least a dozen laps down or more because of major mechanical problems in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season opener.

But there were no such failures for Acura despite the manufacturer skipping any endurance testing with the new LMDh car.

It’s the third Rolex 24 at Daytona victory for co-owner Mike Shank, who won his first in 2012.

Just as he capped the 2022 season by winning the Petit Le Mans season finale in the No. 60 Acura to clinch the final championship of the DPi division for MSR, Blomqvist was behind the wheel again for his third overall victory in IMSA.

“That was crazy,” Blomqvist told NBC Sports’ Kevin Lee. “I knew we had a fantastic car. I’ve been working hard. Unbelievable. Massive, well done, everyone being part of this project and worked together on this project. What a car we’ve built.

“I was just a bit nervous. The 10 was definitely second fastest car, but we held them off.”

It was the second consecutive Rolex 24 victory for MSR’s trio of Blomqvist, Simon Pagenaud and Helio Castroneves, who were joined this year by Colin Braun (winning his first Rolex 24 overall).

Castroneves joined select company in winning the Rolex 24 in three consecutive years (his first win was with Wayne Taylor Racing in 2021). Castroneves and Pagenaud are entering their second consecutive year as teammates for Meyer Shank Racing’s Dallara-Hondas in the NTT IndyCar Series.

“Can you believe that?” Castroneves told Lee. “Big props to everyone. Everyone did an amazing job. Everybody worked so hard together. We got it! Another one. I can’t believe it. This is absolutely a dream come true.”

The four-time Indy 500 winner led the team in his signature fence-climbing celebration afterward — just as he had when he finished MSR’s victory in last year’s Rolex 24 and when he won the 2021 Indy 500 for the team.

“It’s always fun to climb the fence with Helio,” said Pagenaud, who drove the second-to-last stint before Blomqvist closed it out: “The competition as amazing. It was tough out there. So much fun. Hope you had as much fun as we had. I’m going to savor this one.”

Winners in other classes were the No. 55 ORECA 07 of Proton Competition (which triumphed on a last-lap pass by James Allen on Ben Hanley), WeatherTech Racing’s No. 79 Mercedes in GTD Pro, Heart of Racing’s No. 27 Aston Martin in GTD and AWA’s No. 17 in LMP3.