Le Mans: Grid, pre-race thoughts and story lines to watch

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Here are some quick final thoughts heading into Saturday’s 24 Hours of Le Mans:

STARTING GRID AFTER CHANGES

At least seven cars have been moved to the rear of the field for Saturday’s race – five LMP2 cars plus the No. 4 ByKolles CLM P1/o1 AER and the No. 63 Corvette C7.R.

No reason was listed on the provisional starting grid for the move, although in the past, it’s been a case where if one or more drivers didn’t complete their requisite night laps, that would trigger a penalty.

Here’s the provisional starting grid, which differs a bit from the qualifying times:

HOW MUCH IS IT GONNA RAIN? 

Rain has interrupted much of the week’s activity and it’d be a shock if it didn’t interrupt at least a portion of the race itself. Rain is forecast… quite for how long it does remains to be seen.

WHAT’S THE BOP NET EFFECT?

The unprecedented changes that saw the ACO peg back the Fords and Ferraris by adding weight to both cars in GTE-Pro, as well as make air restrictor changes to the Corvettes and Aston Martins, were the talk of the day.

A statement from Corvette Racing about the changes is below:

“We respect the additional review of data and performance by the FIA and ACO for this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans,” said Jim Campbell, Chevrolet U.S. Vice President, Performance Vehicles and Motorsports. “The GTE Pro race has, from the beginning, promised to be one of the highlights of the event. We will continue to prepare ourselves for this immense challenge and compete with the same never-give-up attitude we have displayed each of our 17 years here.”

Meanwhile, this Sportscar365 report has good takes from all five manufacturers represented in GTE-Pro.

The changes come after qualifying produced a skewed and wide gap between the new built for 2016 GTE regulations car to the older but updated cars. Arguably, BoP has overshadowed what was meant to be a classic duel in the class – but the hope is that these changes will at least make it a competitive race.

There’s still a lot to be decided here.

ADDITIONAL STORY LINES TO MONITOR

We’ll just put these in simple one-line bullet points here, by class:

LMP1

  • What’s the reliability situation going to be in LMP1?
  • Will Porsche repeat, will Audi go a second consecutive year without winning Le Mans for the first time since its entry into the top class in 1999 (Audi’s only defeats since 2000 were 2003, Bentley, 2009, Peugeot and 2015, Porsche), or will Toyota finally break through and become the first Japanese manufacturer other than Mazda (which did so 25 years ago this year) to win this race?
  • Will Rebellion Racing score an overall podium?

LMP2

  • Can Pipo Derani complete his Daytona/Sebring/Le Mans Triple Crown attempt?
  • Can the Oreca 05/Alpine A460 package – the class pacesetters – be toppled?
  • Does Nissan score a likely victory with one of its 20 entered cars or could Judd or Honda shock with an upset?
  • Can KCMG repeat in its one-off appearance?
  • What is the fate of the open-top cars (the Gibson 015S, Morgan, Oreca 03R) in their likely final Le Mans bow?
  • How does British cycling legend Sir Chris Hoy fare in his race debut?
  • What surprise stars emerge?
  • Who ends ahead after the “musical chairs” round robin at G-Drive, Manor and Greaves?
  • American teams Tequila Patron ESM and Michael Shank Racing – how will they do? Shank enters with a five-minute in-race penalty looming following an engine change.
  • Does Mikhail Aleshin do something typically exciting, crazy or mind-blowing in his No. 27 SMP Racing BR01 Nissan?

GTE-Pro

  • How does Ford respond to the BoP changes? Does Ford have the reliability to last? What’s the reaction if Ford does pull off the win 50 years after 1966?
  • Can Corvette complete its second consecutive Triple Crown sweep, and secure its 100th win for its program?
  • Is there any Ford on Corvette violence? Ford on Ferrari? Any contact of note?
  • Does the new Ferrari 488 GTE win its third FIA WEC race in as many races?
  • Can Porsche or Aston Martin spring a surprise of sorts?
  • How do Nick Tandy and Earl Bamber fare as they race in GTE-Pro after scoring the overall win last year?
  • Verizon IndyCar Series stars Scott Dixon and Sebastien Bourdais drive separate Fords. How does Dixon fare in his race debut and Bourdais in his return?

GTE-Am

  • Does Aston Martin Racing atone for its near miss last year?
  • Can Scuderia Corsa break through with the trio of Jeff Segal, Bill Sweedler and Townsend Bell in their Ferrari F458 Italia?
  • How does the second all-American trio (Marc Miller, Leh Keen, Cooper MacNeil) do in the WeatherTech Proton Porsche 911 RSR?
  • How does Johnny O’Connell do in his return to Le Mans?
  • Same with Christina Nielsen in her Le Mans debut?

WHEN TO WATCH/HOW TO LISTEN

Best way to do so is via Radio Le Mans, live for all 24 hours with pre- and post-race coverage, live and online at radiolemans.com.  There’s also the FIA WEC app, which can be purchased and provides comprehensive video, stats and additional up-to-date information.

Meanwhile here is the U.S. TV breakdown across FOX Sports:

NEOM McLaren Racing Formula E and Ian James set to race ahead of electric motorsports’ curve

James McLaren Formula E
McLaren Racing
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As Formula E enters their ninth season and McLaren Racing is set to compete in last year’s championship winning car, Ian James is passionate about pushing electric motorsports forward at a critical stage as race technology begins surpassing that of the street cars.

Midseason, McLaren acquired the assets of the Mercedes-EQ team as they were already on their way to winning a second consecutive championship. With those assets in place and coming off a successful debut in the Extreme E series, James is set to usher in a new era in electric car racing.

Last week’s announcement that Jake Hughes will join Rene Rast behind the wheel of the NEOM McLaren Formula E team was the last piece of the puzzle.

McLaren’s electric portfolio is building with the Formula E team coming one year after they entered the Extreme E rally series in 2022 with Tanner Foust and Emma Gilmour. There were a lot of lessons to learn in that series with growing pains during the first three of five rounds. Rounds 4 and 5 were a completely different matter with the team crossing the finish line first in Chile before being assessed a time penalty.

In the final round in Uruguay, they scored an elusive podium.

“McLaren kicked off the season in Extreme E at the beginning of this year, so our first [electric] race took place Neom, actually out in Saudi,” NEOM McLaren Racing Team Principal James told NBC Sports. “At the time, we were in very early discussions about opportunities with the Formula E team. I actually went out there to meet with Zak [Brown, CEO McLaren Racing] and that was my first taste of Extreme E.

“Since the transition, I joined them in Chile in Atacama Desert, and then Uruguay last weekend. [The second-place finish was] a lovely way to round out the season. The fact that they got that podium. It was very well deserved. It’s a great team and a great series actually. It’s just so very different from anything else. The team’s done a great job in getting set up, and it’s nice now to, we’re trying to use that momentum that we’ve got from Uruguay to get us into next season when it kicks off next year, which will be great. I think we’re mid-March is looking like the first race, so a little bit of time to get things prepped for that.”

 

James McLaren Formula E
The NEOM Mclaren Racing Formula E team was created through the acquisition of last year’s championship car from Mercedes-EQ. – McLaren Racing

Synergies exist between the single seater and rally series. Lessons learned about battery power and sustainability in the electric SUV carry over so long as one is mindful of keeping focus on the individual needs and nuances of each series.

Especially now that electric racing technology has caught up, and is ready to surpass, the existing technology that has gone into building street cars.

When internal combustion engines gained the upper hand soon after automobiles were invented, racing paced alongside. The pressure of competition pushed the development of their commercial equivalents. The same has not necessarily been true of electric cars. Street cars were not designed to undergo the same stress as racecars – and that vulnerability showed up on the racetrack.

“Formula E has come along a long way,” James said. “I think one of the most notable developments is in the battery technology. In Gen 1, you had the drivers jumping from one car to another car midrace because the battery technology and capacity simply wasn’t where it needed to be to do the full distance. That obviously changed in Gen 2 and we saw a power increase as well to the 250 kilowatts.

“Now going to Gen 3, we have 350 kilowatts in a smaller battery. But that means that we’re relying on the regeneration of energy and for that reason, we’ve got also the opportunity to regenerate on the front axle as well as the rear axle now. So, there’s all sorts of things that are developing in the right direction.

“In terms of throttle response, actually, we’re now in a situation with electric racing and the motors that it’s instantaneous. And one of the advantages of electric over combustion engine is that the torque is instantaneous as well, so that gives you a lot more room to play with.”

No matter the power source, racing has always been about resource management. Drivers and teams select tire strategies they believe produce the fastest elapsed time and fuel conservation comes into play.

On one hand, electric racing is the same, but there is a critical difference. With the battery as both the power source and an integral part of the engine, there are multiple reasons to manage it.

In electric racing, the brain of the car is the software – and that is where James sees the greatest room for advancement.

“As we are working with our drivers and engineers – and start to look at functionality to improve our efficiency and our performance, that’s something we’ll continue to push because that development is open throughout the season,” James said. “That’s going to be our focus going forward and provides enough of a challenge for us to get our teeth into.

“What’s going to be fascinating is as Formula E continues, is to really look at which areas of development on the car are going to be the most relevant and ensuring that we can focus on those together with the manufacturers so we continue and use the series as a platform for technical development that can then feed back into the road car side of things as well.

“At the end of the day, that’s what motorsports always been, a very powerful tool for, and I see Formula E as no exception.”

James McLaren Formula E
Jake Hughes and Rene Rast were chosen for their ability to drive fast and execute the necessary strategy for energy management. – McLaren Racing

Selecting Rast and Hughes as McLaren’s Formula E drivers was not simply because they know how to drive fast. James believes both drivers have the mental aptitude to execute energy management strategies throughout the race and squeeze maximum performance.

“As with many other motorsports, you’ve got a certain amount of energy that you’re able to deploy during the race and the management of that energy is absolutely crucial,” James said. “What we’re seeing typically in electric motorsports now is the hardware side of things. The efficiencies that we’re seeing in the powertrain as a whole, they’re getting up to the sort of 96%, 97%, 98% efficiency, so the gains that you get through that further and further become more marginal.”

With much more room for improvement, software is a different matter. To make the best decisions, the drivers need data, and that is where James believes McLaren Formula E will make their greatest impact.

“And then you really switch that focus to the software and that’s where you’re going to see the most the most improvement and the most gains,” James continued. “It’s then using that software to ensure that you’re deploying the energy in the most efficient manner during race, and thereby giving the driver the most performance. And that’s something which is incredibly complicated, but I find it a fascinating area to work in.

“The benefit of being involved in racing is you can really push the envelope in a way that you can’t do on road cars. And I think that that’s where that value comes in. It means that you accelerate the development a lot quicker. We will get ahead of the curve – and we are getting ahead of the curve now – and that will mean that the electric motorsports remain part of the overall development process.

“The key to that is also making sure that the racing’s exciting and fun for the fans. If we can, we can tick both of those boxes, then it’s got a very bright future ahead of it.”