INSIGHT: A nearly-full LM24 entry list means tough decisions for organizers
At the ELMS and Le Mans Cup finales at the end of last month, a further five automatic entries were handed out for the 2019 running of the Grand Prix d’Endurance.
As a result, more of the Le Mans entry list is locked in than ever before at this point in the calendar year, with most of the automatic entries having already been handed out, and the entire current 2018/19 WEC field due to take up their slots.
And for many potential entrants outside of the WEC grid, that’s a little concerning, as between 44-47 of the 60 allotted grid slots are all but taken at the time of writing.
It means two things: that the upcoming Asian Le Mans Series season over the winter will be more important than ever for some of the key players, and that any potential IMSA or ELMS teams looking to make a trip to Le Mans – outside of the allotted automatic entries – will be fighting over a very small allocation.
So, who’s already on the list?
Currently, the entire FIA WEC full-season 36-car field (though two of them, the CEFC TRSM Racing AER Ginettas, are a question mark at this point), plus all the automatic entries already spoken for.
G-Drive has booked its place at Le Mans through its success in the ELMS. Image by LAT
Those automatic entries are as follows:
Michelin Le Mans Cup – GT3 class winner: Kessel Racing (GTE-Am)
European Le Mans Series – LMP2 and overall winner: G-Drive Racing (LMP2)
European Le Mans Series – LMP3 class winner: RLR MSport (LMP2)
European Le Mans Series – GTE class winner: Proton Competition (GTE Am)
European Le Mans Series – GTE runner-up – JMW Motorsport (GTE Am)
IMSA – Bob Akin Trophy: Ben Keating (GTE-Am) Risi Competizione/ Keating Ferrari
IMSA – Jim Trueman Trophy: Misha Goikhberg (LMP2)
Le Mans 24 Hours – LMP1 winner: Toyota Gazoo Racing
Le Mans 24 Hours – LMP2 winner: Signatech Alpine
Le Mans 24 Hours – GTE Pro winner: Porsche
Le Mans 24 Hours – GTE Am winner: Dempsey Proton
Of those, we know that Toyota is unlikely to field a third car at Le Mans. Beyond that though, there’s are no apparent reason to doubt that the others will take up their entries, with the commercial potential for a lot of the private teams on the list too enticing to turn down.
That leaves just the Asian Le Mans automatic entries to complete the set. The final automatic entries will be handed out in LMP2 for the overall champions and for the winner in the LMP2 Gentleman’s Trophy (for crews with only Silver and Bronze rated driver line-ups), in GTE Am for the GT class winners, and in LMP3 for the class champions.
So, by the end of the Asian LMS season, between 48 and 51 of the 60 grid slots may already be taken.
This leaves very few spaces, and some big decisions to make. For instance, should Jackie Chan DC Racing win another two entries with its Asian Le Mans Series effort, the team will have the potential to enter four cars at Le Mans again, leaving around 10 spaces open if everyone else that’s already confirmed makes the trip.
Might some IMSA teams find themselves squeezed out of Le Mans next year? Image by LePage/LAT
And make no mistake, this sort of situation could very well catch out bigger teams outside of the WEC that haven’t yet made the cut. There is such a huge collection of prospective teams, and so many potential scenarios, but none of them result in everyone that’s looking to race at Le Mans receiving a place on the grid.
Just two years ago, almost the entire ELMS LMP2 field received a Le Mans entry. This time around, if all of the 17 full-season cars were put forward, it is unlikely that half of them will make the cut
With so few spaces left there are some difficult decisions needing to be made by the Selection Committee, which cannot please everyone. Does a set of IMSA teams, many of whom are likely to be factory cars from Corvette, Porsche, Ford and/or BMW, receive invitations? Or will those in charge favor the ELMS LMP2 and GTE teams based closer to the organizer’s home? Or will we see a selection from both camps?
When those questions are answered, and the full 60-car field is announced, we will get an understanding of where the ACO’s priorities lie, and how the balance is drawn between the commercial advantages of inviting more factory cars, and the perhaps more medium-term advantages of encouraging privateers from its own continental championships.
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ABOUT STEPHEN KILBEY
UK-based Stephen Kilbey is RACER.com's FIA World Endurance Championship correspondent, and is also Deputy Editor of Dailysportscar.com He has a first-class honours degree in Sports Journalism and is a previous winner of the UK Guild of Motoring Writers Sir William Lyons Award.