We’re taking a look through the field ahead of this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans at the manufacturers and teams entered. First up is LMP1.
LMP1: The class has grown from nine cars last year to 14 this year, thanks to the addition of three Nissan GT-R LM NISMOs, a third car from Porsche and the CLM P1/01 AER to carryover from the three Audis, two Porsches, two Toyotas and two Rebellions from last year. Each of the four factory manufacturers has a different energy subclass and thus the level of energy they can restore, while also maximizing power and lap times, will be fascinating to watch throughout the week.
- Audi: Last year they weren’t the favorites and yet still emerged victorious. This year, they’re back to favorite mode after winning in both its standard configuration (Silverstone) and low-downforce configuration (Spa), the latter of which will be in use again at Le Mans. Have increased their energy subclass from 2 mJ last year to 4 this year. The Treluyer/Lotterer/Fassler trio in the No. 7 Audi R18 e-tron quattro are firmly all-time greats as they seek their now fourth win in five years at Le Mans; the other two cars (Oliver Jarvis, Loic Duval and Lucas di Grassi in the No. 8, Marco Bonanomi, Filipe Albuquerque and Rene Rast in the No. 9) are high on upside but low on collective experience as units.
- Porsche: Whereas their return in the race last year with the 919 Hybrid was about gaining experience and exceeding expectations (they did both, including seeing Porsche veteran and past Le Mans winner Timo Bernhard lead the race), this year there will be no substitute for victory for the cars in the highest energy subclass of 8 mJ. Bernhard, paired with an on-form Mark Webber and young charger Brendon Hartley provide the best win bet in the No. 17 Porsche 919 Hybrid. The steady and consistent trio of Romain Dumas, Neel Jani and Marc Lieb could win it on guile more than outright pace in the No. 18 car; the wild card is the third car, the No. 19 car of LMP1 rookies Earl Bamber, Nick Tandy and Nico Hulkenberg. Tandy, an ace-in-waiting, must learn from his mistake at Spa where he was too ambitious, too early in traffic and contacted Kevin Estre in the factory Porsche 911 RSR.
- Toyota: Toyota enter 2015 in the place Audi did last year – relative underdogs – which is strange considering this is the defending World Championship-winning team. They don’t seem to have the outright pace and also aren’t in the highest energy subclass; in the 6 mJ category, Toyota is trapped in-between Porsche and Audi. Defending series champions Anthony Davidson, Sebastien Buemi and a recovered Kaz Nakajima – the latter of whom won pole last year – will put up a fight, but it’s hard to see them contending for the overall win. The same is true for the second car of Alex Wurz, Stephane Sarrazin and Mike Conway, with this a perfect place for Conway to have a drive reminiscent of his effort in LMP2 two years ago with G-Drive.
- Nissan: No team or manufacturer will have entered Le Mans with as much of a buzz as does Nissan, with its daring and bold front-wheel drive, front-engined Nissan GT-R LM NISMO (2 mJ subclass). Unfortunately it’s “buzz” which they have in spades, more than performance, at least in dry conditions. In all honesty, a race finish for any of the three cars will be a fantastic effort considering the cars only ran for the first time last November. There are a lot of good people here involved with this program, and 2015 must be viewed as the first race chapter in a several-year process.
- Rebellion, ByKolles: Neither team in the LMP1 non-hybrid class will pose any sort of threat to the overall podium. Rebellion managed an impressive fourth last year but won’t match it this go-around. Considering this is the race debut for the now AER-engined Rebellion R-Ones, and the CLM P1/01 has had nothing but teething troubles since the start, the simple goal for all three of these cars is to finish, with anything beyond that a bonus.