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24 Hours of Le Mans - The ultimate 2012 preview // Motorsport's most prestigious endurance race is back

Published by Pat W

So you think this year's edition of the 24 Hours is going to be boring? Audi will win? Well yes they will but never mind that - racing is about stories and there are 52 other stories to be played out at Le Mans this year. This is the perfect opportunity to dive into the other four races happening on the track - particularly the battle for 'best behind Audi/Toyota' which has plenty of F1 interest to follow. Keep an eye on the Delta Wing, too!

Delta Wing at Le Mans
Delta Wing at Le MansCredit: Bolchou / Creative Commons

This year my interest lies with the 'independent' LMP1, the top of LMP2, and the madcap GTE Pro. Here I'll briefly run through each class to explain just a few of the stories you should be looking out for this weekend.

LMP1 - Manufacturers

(Colour code: Red)

Okay, so this'll be a contest between the Audis. Fine, we all know that. The good news is there is a race within a race - there are two types of Audi!

  • R18 E-Tron Quattro, a quattro because the diesel drives the rear and the hybrid drives the front. Last year's winners are in car #1 and McNish, TK and Capello take car #2.
  • R18 Ultra, a revised version of the turbodiesels we saw at Sebring. Marc Gene hopped over from Peugeot to join Dumas and Duval in #3. If the Ultra proves faster than the E-Tron expect No.3 to go well. As backup there's also #4 with two new guys.

Interestingly Toyota are running a petrol hybrid which provides a boost to the rear wheels not the fronts, so they could suffer rear tyre wear. Peugeot refugees Wurz, Davidson and Sarrazin ended up here - along with Seb Buemi, Kaz Nakajima and Nic Lapierre. The team is run by ORECA who know what they are doing.

LMP1 - Tortoises v Hares

(Colour code: Red)

This is where it gets fun. Racing is good when it is unpredictable and this unofficial 'sub-class' for privateer teams running petrol engines is completely unpredictable. This lot may officially race in the same class as Audi but forget that, treat it as a different class. There are 7 cars gunning to pick up the pieces should the manufacturers falter. Some are fast. Some are reliable. This year none seem to have found the perfect blend of both.

The recent ex-F1 drivers are in the class of the field on speed.

The recent ex-F1 drivers are in what I think are the class of the field on speed. Up front are probably the Honda HPDs from Strakka and JRM, the latter featuring 24hr rookie Karun Chandhok alongside Brabham and Dumbreck. Close to them there are the Lotus-liveried Rebellion Lola-Toyotas with Nick Heidfeld, Nico Prost and a selection of other very quick guys. However the HPDs haven't proven to be reliable and Rebellion also struggle to finish races.

Franck Montagny, Bertrand Baguette, Dominik Kraihamer
Franck Montagny, Bertrand Baguette, Dominik KraihamerCredit: Laurent Cartalade / Creative Commons

Franck Montagny and 'Breadman' Baguette are in the Gulf-liveried OAK, while Pescarolo have two cars, a Dome for Bourdais, Minassian and Ara and their own design for Boullion, Collard and Hall. Regardless of their stellar driver line-ups this trio of cars are running Judd engines so lack a bit of speed, but that didn't matter at Sebring as the faster cars fell by the wayside.

A class to watch.

LMP2 - The Pro-Ams

(Colour code: Blue)

A year or two ago I told you to ignore LMP2. Well.. now ignore that advice! The class has changed beyond recognition, for the better. Good teams, good drivers and a big field of cars. Try picking a winner out of this lot!

Some highlights include: Martin Brundle with son Alex in the Greaves Zytek-Nissan; Brendon Hartley in the new Irish team Murphy Prototypes' ORECA; the Kolles organisation running Lotus-liveried Lolas; the GP3/A1GP team Status is here with a Lola; and we also have a horde of chassis built by Lola, by OAK (rebadged as Morgans) and by ORECA. In a different trend to LMP1, the HPDs in LMP2 are both fast ​and​ reliable so early favourites are Starworks and Level 5. In reality this field is wide open.

'Garage 56' - Delta Force

(Colour code: Black)

The innovative Delta Wing, first mooted as an IndyCar, finds itself converted into a sportscar for a shot at the 24 Hours. It has been running at LMP2 pace however it seems this has been mandated by the ACO. How fast can it really go? Will they let it go for speed? Will it last the distance or will it end up pitting so often we learn nothing? It's nice to see Nissan sign up and to see Marino Franchitti get the chance to be involved in a big project.

GTE Pro - Battle of the brands

(Colour code: Green)

In any sportscar race the battle between Ferrari, Corvette, Aston Martin and Porsche is often the best on the track, and certainly the longest-lasting. Sadly there is no BMW this year which is a real shame, however Aston Martin switched back from LMP to GT after the embarrassing AMR-One fiasco.

The biggest name for F1 fans is Giancarlo Fisichella in an AF Corse Ferrari, he's up against other good Ferraris plus the likes of Oliver Gavin and Jan Magnussen in Corvettes and two stellar line-ups in Porsches. My tip: watch that Aston.

GTE Am - At the back

(Colour code: Yellow)

For me this is the least interesting category, where rich 'gentleman drivers' race. They are allowed to hire one Pro driver, some just take a drive here because that's all that's left. In fairness to the Am's some of them are actually quite handy and obviously the Pros are very good, but talent levels here vary wildly! Some are team owners or sponsors paying for the team to race in the Pro class above, so fair enough.

By and large if you're not a sportscar nut you can ignore it but there are still interesting nuggets among the Pros. Pedro Lamy (ex-Peugeot) is in a Corvette, and NASCAR's Brian Vickers is in a Ferrari after Michael Waltrip wound up with TV commitments.

Saturday schedule

Warm up08:00
Group C support race09.05
Aston Martin support race10.15
Start procedure13.22
Green flag14:00
(all times GMT+01:00)

If in doubt I recommend tuning in from about 13.15pm!

Useful links

Radio - All sessions will, as always, be covered by the Radio Le Mans team.

TV/Online - In Europe all sessions will be live across Eurosport and Eurosport 2. Or you can watch online for a small fee, through the website or on the iPad app (note, buying one doesn't mean you have access to the other). Sadly there will be no Martin Haven for reasons I cannot fathom.

US TV - For those in North America the race will be live on SPEED.

AudiTV - Official Audi live stream featuring plenty of onboard video.

JRM - JRM will offer a feed live from their car.

Spotters Guides - Andy Blackmore's essential guides.

Preview - If you have time for a free e-magazine similar to GP+ read the LM24 preview edition of L'endurance.

Latest news - Excellent news and photo service from DailySportscar.com. Thanks to sponsorship you just need to click Headlines without logging in or paying the sub.

Live timing - ACO version

There may also be further live content at www.lemans.org and www.fiawec.com.