Countdown to Le Mans Ep1: 5 reasons why you should watch Le Mans this year
Have never watched Le Mans before? Well, make this your first Le Mans!
Welcome to our first episode of Countdown to Le Mans! Whether Le Mans is an annual celebration for you or this is your first Le Mans, 24 hours of Le Mans will surely deliver amazing entertainment and racing this year as well. Here are some 5 reasons, why you would especially need to watch Le Mans this year.
1. Packed 60 car grid over 4 classes
Due to the worldwide pandemic, the motorsport world is dying. Of course, it is not the only industry that has been hit hard, but due to the high-budget, low-return characteristics of motor racing, countless teams and drivers threw the towel this year. Ever since the return to racing, it was not an uncommon sight to see a smaller grid and downscaled events. But thankfully, 24 hours of Le Mans, still being the epitome of endurance racing, will feature a healthy grid of 60 cars with plenty of racing between them.
Of course, these 60 cars do not belong in a single class but are split into four different classes depending on the car. The top class, known as LMP1, is the lightest and the most powerful among the prototypes, while LMP2 weighs a bit more, is less powerful, and has less downforce. Among the GT cars, GTE Pro consists of professional drivers, while GTE Am has gentlemen and young drivers mixed in the lineup.
Image from FIA
2. Swansong for the LMP1s
Racing formulas come and go, and for the last two decades, LMP1 was the sole top-class formula. The only reason LMP1 could stay for so long was thanks to the interest from manufacturers: Audi, Toyota, Peugeot, Porsche, Acura, Aston Martin, and Nissan were all involved in LMP1 at some point, while many other small chassis manufacturers took part as well. LMP1 racing was the testbed for automotive technology as well, with Audi and Peugeot experimenting with diesel engines, while Toyota and Porsche developed their hybrid technology, which all made into production vehicles.
Image from ACO
Although LMP1 was both beloved by manufacturers and fans, due to the ever-rising development costs, many teams pulled out, increasing the need for a new affordable top-class racing formula. The result was the brand new LMH(Le Mans Hypercar) class, which will be able to race from the 2021 season. Teams will still be able to campaign LMP1 cars in 2021, yet this will be the last year where we will be able to see the LMP1s going for an outright victory at Le Mans. So enjoy them while you can; this might actually be your last year seeing LMP1s zooming down the Mulsanne straight.
Image from Toyota
3. Hybrid vs NA battle
While we are on the topic of LMP1s, the Hybrid vs NA battle has been the hot potato all season. The Toyota TS050s use a complex hybrid system mated with a twin-turbocharged V6, the Rebellion R13s use the good old fashioned 5.0L naturally aspirated Gibson V8. While the Toyota has the upper hand exiting corners and accelerating, the Rebellion has a higher top speed enabling it to stay in contention with the more complex factory Toyotas.
Rebellion Racing was able to score two victories over the Toyota this year, each at Shanghai and especially COTA. While the TS050s had the better acceleration before the long back straight on COTA, the R13s were able to catch the TS050s once the hybrid boost ran out. Considering La Sarthe is a very fast track with long straights, along with the revised BoP(Balance of Performance) and EoT(Equivalence of Technology) at Le Mans, the battle between the Toyotas and the Rebellions will not be boring anymore.
Image from ACO
4. Possible record-breaking year
This year, 24 hours of Le Mans will be held from September 18th to 19th, which is more than three months later than the usual Le Mans weekend in June. One might be thinking, “So what is the point then?”, but racing in September means that teams are racing in cooler weather. Cooler weather indicates cars are generally faster thanks to both the engine output and the tire temperatures as well.
Image from Audi
Of course, for the cars to beat the current record distance of 397 laps achieved by the Audi R15+ back in 2010, there is a factor of luck and weather involved as well. Rain and fog slow the overall pace in general, while long safety car periods or full course yellows also does the same. Since this year will be the last year of LMP1s at Le Mans, this will also be the last chance to break the distance record as the Le Mans Hypercar will be around 10~15 seconds slower than LMP1 cars per lap.
Image from Ford Media Center
5. The quirks of Le Mans that we love
As much as this sounds too cliché, Le Mans has its very own quirks that endurance racing fans enjoy. One of them is the ‘happy hour’, which sounds like a discount hour at McDonald's, but much better in every way. Happy hour is the time when the sun comes up again on Sunday morning, shining the survivors with warm golden rays of sunshine. This is not only the time when you get amazing photographs of the cars, but also tired mechanics sleeping in bizarre positions. From the drivers’ perspective, this is the time to hit your fastest times, thanks to cool temperatures, laid down rubber, and good visibility after the night stints.
Image from Radio Le Mans
Another quirk that we love is the banter between the Radio Le Mans commentators, especially during the late night hours. Since there is not a lot of action to commentate during the night hours, commentators often bring up fun stories from the past as well. John Hindhaugh, for example, has been commentating for the last 30 years at RLM, while Allan McNish has raced 14 24 hours of Le Mans himself. The stories and banter these commentators tell will definitely help you stay awake throughout the long night.