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2011 Le Mans 24 Hours - The race // Get the caffeine going, it's time for endurance racing for drivers and fans

Published by Pat W

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So here it is, one of the real highlights of the motorsport year and the pinnacle of the sportscar calendar!

I'll put the useful information at the top for ease of use.

Useful links

Useful info

  • Race start: 2pm UK GMT+1 / 3pm CET local time.
  • Official 'start procedure' kicks off at 1.22pm UK.
  • Circuit length: 8.47 miles / 13.63 km
  • Entries: 56
  • Drivers: 168
  • Safety cars on the circuit at once during a full course yellow: 3
  • Honorary starter: Jean Todt
  • Weather forecast: it is Le Mans, anything can happen.
  • Stint length: about 40mins for a prototype, nearer an hour for a GT. Teams can double-stint tyres and drivers.
  • Pitstops: No work is allowed during refuelling apart from a driver change, the engine must be switched off.
  • When fuelling is finished tyres can be changed and repairs made. The car must then fire up on the button without help.

Pattern of the race

LMP1 and GT classes are like long sprints. Meanwhile the LMP2 class is more like 'old' Le Mans, cars breaking down and teams trying to coax them to the end. Whilst I'm usually all for tradition I very much prefer the flat-out approach though there's probably room for both.

In recent years in the top class it has been flat-out from the start and for the first couple of stints, before settling down (only just a bit though) until another full-on attack as darkness falls and continuing through the night into the small hours. By mid-morning things calm down and the focus is on reaching the chequered flag. After about 23 hours gone, teams get their cars circulating together for the PR photos as the race winds down. All the racing is done in the evening and overnight.

The last lap is the one in which the clock reaches zero, the flag being thrown the next time the leader passes the line. Le Mans tradition dictates hostilities cease as if the chequered is thrown a lap before it really is, the last lap is treated as a cooldown lap since there isn't one after the flag. Kind of an acknowledgement among the competitors that they've conquered the challenge for another year - this meant more when cars were less reliable than they are now.

If you aren't around much and need to pick good times to watch, the really hectic stuff is in the first couple of hours, and again from about 7 or 8pm to 4am. I'm sure there's more in the early morning but I'm usually asleep then so I don't know.

Coverage

In Europe there is extensive coverage of the main race on Eurosport and Eurosport 2. They switch between the two very often so keep an eye out for that.

If you are in Europe but do not have access to these channels you can use the Eurosport Player if you pay them £3.49 for a one-month subscription, there is also an iPad app version which is £2.49 for one month. I've tried both and they are far better than relying on an illicit stream.

Through Eurosport Player (but not the iPad version) you can gain access to a special dedicated live feed with no commentary, which will run for the duration of the race regardless of whether the main channels are live or not. Frankly that's worth three quid by itself, let alone the other options.

In the US (and presumably Canada), SpeedTV will have extensive coverage of the race as well as a live feed on their website. I don't know who they've brought along but their coverage I'm told is usually excellent.

No Le Mans coverage post is complete without mentioning Radio Le Mans. The difference in approach between Eurosport and RLM is similar to that between BBC1 and Radio 5Live. If Eurosport isn't detailed enough listen to RLM, and vice versa. RLM provide hourly updates of the positions which is useful and their pit reports are far more frequent.

My preference is to have the Eurosport feed on mute, or at least a low volume to monitor whilst listening to RLM, changing over when I feel the need for a break or if Martin Haven gets on to an interesting topic on Eurosport.

Classes

We've covered a few endurance races now so I hope you are getting to grips with the class system, but here is a short refresher and a guide for anybody joining us for the first time.

I personally tend to focus on two classes, LMP1 and GTE Pro and just keep an eye on the others. If you're looking to distill things down to make them easier to follow I recommend you focus on those two classes. The great thing about sportscar racing is that if there is a lull in one class there is bound to be something happening in one of the others, so as a general rule always be aware of at least two classes.

There are 56 cars in the race and this PDF shows the entry list. They are divided broadly into two categories: Le Mans Prototypes (LMP) and Le Mans Grand Touring Endurance (LM GTE).

Those categories are split again, LMP1 is the top class and LMP2 is a budget class for smaller teams. GTE Pro is for professional drivers and GTE Am is for amateurs (semi- or non-professionals) although Am can have one professional.

(This marks a change from previous years: there is no GT1/GT2 split as GT1 cars are no longer allowed at Le Mans).

LMP1

This is the F1 of sportscars, where all the top drivers and engineers are often found. This is where technical design is the most free and where a lot of development is done. Audi and Peugeot have been battling it out here for some years now with their diesel cars and that is the main focal point of the race.

'LMP1 Bis' is the French term for petrol-powered cars in LMP1. There are rules to equalise these to the diesels but they never work, but nor should they because Audi and Peugeot have huge factory budgets of car companies and the rest don't. This by default is an unofficial sub-class fought over by Aston Martin, Pescarolo, Oak and Rebellion.

LMP2

A category for smaller, cheaper prototypes for independents. Rules changes have hampered the class and reverted it back to the bad days of 10 years ago, expect a lot of unreliability. That's one of the reasons I pay less attention now. There are good teams and drivers and the troubles they encounter aren't their fault. Keep an eye out for Strakka and RML, as well as the pair of ORECAs. Oak have entered 2 more cars here.

GTE Pro (formerly GT2)

This is the other class I pay a lot of attention to and the reason for that is the factory involvement from Ferrari, Corvette, Porsche and BMW. Some entrants are official teams run by independents, others have behind-the-scenes help, others are self-built. Most have drivers provided for them by the manufacturer, and being drivers paid by a manufacturer you know they are good quality drivers many of whom are good enough for LMP1. Some have chosen to make a living from a manufacturer in GT even if they are good enough to run well in LMP where they would have to find a budget to bring to the team. I can't say I blame them and it makes GTEP a great class to watch.

Ferrari and Corvette have been on top with BMW improving all the way, and Porsche won't be on the ropes for long. This class is too close to call, all I'll say is, don't underestimate how close and how much fun this race will be. Now the slower 'gentlemen' drivers are out of the way and moved to their own class, the pro's could make this the closest GT race at Le Mans in years.

GTE Am

If you want to pick a class to ignore this is it. I do like the fact the 'gentlemen drivers' have been split away leaving the main GT fight to the professionals. That's not to say they are all bad drivers, far from it in fact. There are some very good drivers here, just that their team-mates aren't always the fastest in the world and that lets things down. The other thing is these cars have to be at least a year old whereas the Pro class can have up-to-the-minute machinery.

Let battle commence!

There is a lot of F1 interest spread across the field, including Ant Davidson, Alex Wurz, Anthony Davidson, Tom Kristensen, Sebastien Bourdais, Pedro Lamy, Giancarlo Fisichella, Gianmaria Bruni, Nicolas Prost, Tiago Monteiro, Christian Klien, Franck Montagny, Nic Minassian, Jan Magnussen and Shinji Nakano. All those and Ben Collins who was The Stig.

Apologies for the long guide but this is a big race with a lot of nuances, there is a lot to cover in a short space! The great thing about a 24-hour race is there is plenty of time to answer any questions.

The questions we won't know the answers to until Sunday are these:

Who will come out on top: Audi or Peugeot? Corvette, Ferrari, BMW, Porsche? How many LMP2s will finish? Will the new cars from Audi and Peugeot be as reliable as the old ones?

Bring it on!




So here it is, one of the real highlights of the motorsport year and the pinnacle of the sportscar calendar! This is your introduction and guide to the festival of racing that is the Le Mans 24 Hours.In the modern era the LMP1 and GT classes are more like long sprints. Meanwhile the LMP2 class is more like 'old' Le Mans, cars breaking down and teams trying to coax them to the end.Who will prevail: Audi or Peugeot? Ferrari, Corvette, BMW or Porsche?Bring it on!

Event start

14:00GMT +01:00

11 June 2011