Reliability issues have headlined the story for the three factory teams, Porsche, Toyota and Audi, thus far this year in the FIA World Endurance Championship. Porsche and Toyota run in the 8 MJ class, Audi the 6 MJ class.
With the reduction in class size from 14 LMP1 cars down to nine this year – with each of the factory entries only at two cars apiece – there’s the potential of a surprise result.
Here’s quick car-by-car previews:
1-Bernhard/Webber/Hartley, Porsche Team, Porsche 919 Hybrid (M)
Much to prove for the defending World Champion trio at Le Mans who look to go one better after a hard-luck runner-up finish here last year. Hartley’s mistake at Silverstone was regrettable but one he atoned for. Still though after that retirement and the barely finish at Spa it’s been a tough start to the season. Battery change to revert back to 2015 package is an interesting element for Porsche.
2-Dumas/Jani/Lieb, Porsche Team, Porsche 919 Hybrid (M)
It’s been a better start for the No. 2 crew this year having inherited the win in Silverstone, and then ending second at Spa despite running largely without a functioning hybrid system. Jani enters as the track record holder after his blistering pole last year. Currently have the upper hand in the inter-team Porsche battle and a good result here, with double points, could confirm that for the rest of the year.
4-Trummer/Webb/Kaffer, ByKolles Racing Team, CLM P1/01 AER (D)
Not a ton to forecast here for what is likely to be a race of its own, down on outright pace compared to fellow LMP1 privateers Rebellion Racing and ahead of the LMP2 runners. Kaffer, in his first start in this car this year, is the likely pace standard-bearer with Webb and Trummer hoping to impress in their stints. A finish is the first goal here.
5-Davidson/Buemi/Nakajima, Toyota Gazoo Racing, Toyota TS050 Hybrid (M)
The leading Toyota has a likeable trio with two past World Champions in Davidson and Buemi, plus a past Le Mans polesitter in Nakajima. The new Toyota has borne a brunt of reliability issues this year though and sixth and eighth place finishes – the latter one at Spa seeing the car only just be classified – but looks to turn their season around this week.
6-Sarrazin/Conway/Kobayashi, Toyota Gazoo Racing, Toyota TS050 Hybrid (M)
Perhaps down a very slight notch to the sister No. 5 car in terms of driver talent – Sarrazin’s the leading star here and few would begrudge him a first Le Mans victory – the No. 6 car has had the slightly better start to the season with a second in Silverstone before a DNF in Spa. Conway continues to adapt to LMP1 in his second full season while Kobayashi, the F1 veteran, has past Le Mans experience in GTE-Pro.
7-Fassler/Lotterer/Treluyer, Audi Sport Team Joest, Audi R18 (M)
The three-time Le Mans-winning trio won on the road in Silverstone before their exclusion for the skid plank issue there. And with a litany of issues in Spa, they still don’t have a result of note in their pocket heading into this race. The car figures to be a rocket and the trio knows how to win here more than anyone else in the LMP1 field; that being said, reliability will be the telltale sign for the car now in the 6 MJ class.
8-Di Grassi/Duval/Jarvis, Audi Sport Team Joest, Audi R18 (M)
Audi’s new breed – who entered in as replacements for Capello, McNish and Kristensen in successive years – appears ready to win now. They got the first win for the new R18 at Spa and the trio has bonded as a unit. Like their sister car, how they go at Le Mans will more dictated by reliability instead of outright pace, because that’s not in question.
12-Prost/Heidfeld/Piquet, Rebellion Racing, Rebellion R-One AER (D)
Bart Hayden’s squad is a scrappy one and Nicolas Prost and Nick Heidfeld have the reputation of punching above their weight at Le Mans. With potential reliability gremlins looming for the LMP1 contenders, this is the most experienced lineup of two that Rebellion fields to score an upset podium this weekend.
13-Tuscher/Imperatori/Kraihamer, Rebellion Racing, Rebellion R-One AER (D)
Like the sister car, the No. 13 Rebellion car boasts the potential to punch above its weight if the reliability is there. Though you wonder if with podiums in Silverstone and Spa, the former coming after the No. 7 Audi’s exclusion, the No. 13 car’s luck has already run out? In Tuscher, Imperatori and Kraihamer here’s a young but determined trio of drivers, albeit a bit down on relative Le Mans experience.