Monday began with a mass of Corvettes, GM Racing and Luc Alphand Adventures were first to present their cars to the Le Mans fans and scrutineers. And so it began all the way through to the fan (and likely the race winning) favorites, Audi and Peugeot, going through the inspection process at the end of the day on Tuesday.
Of course the heavy battle of the week is the slugfest expected between Audi and Peugeot for overall victory. Peugeot has shown that is has the speed and was first and second during test days earlier this month. The number 1 Audi was third, followed by the last Peugeot and the number 3 Audi. The German car manufacturer and reigning champ has stated that they are not out for ultimate speed this event and are aiming to try to beat Peugeot using fuel economy, consistency and reliability.
Looking to get into the Audi/Peugeot mix will be a trio of Pescarolo Judds and a host of new closed top coupes from Dome, Epsilon Euskadi and Lola. The Dome and Epsilon will both be counting on Judd power to get the job done while the new Lola will look to Aston Martin power to make its mark. Lola was able to break into the top ten during the test weekend; the Dome was just outside it in eleventh position. The Pescarolos were able to also mix it up within the top ten and Oreca has returned as well with good showings in their Judd powered Courage chassis. Additionally, Greg Pickett and his Cytosport team will make their Le Mans debut, finally fulfilling Greg’s lifelong dream of being in this race. Using a Lola chassis powered by the popular Judd V-10, Greg and Klaus Graf will be joined by perennial favorite, Jan Lammers to take on the rest of the P1 class. Having good runs in the ALMS last season, with several podiums behind the powerful Audis, the Cytosport team is looking to have a strong and consistent run in France.
LMP1 will be a tight and interesting battle. Audi and Peugeot will look to take different paths to the same end, while a mix of very strong open and closed top prototypes will be looking to pounce if the big guys have any serious issues.
In LMP2, we’ll see the first of the Porsche RS Spyders to turn a wheel at Le Mans. Taking the top two P2 spots at test days, the Spyders look to be just as strong on this side of the ocean as they are in the United States. Zytek has a couple cars here to challenge the German machines and were not far behind at test days either, so the Porsches will have to be solid and reliable to take home a Porsche win. The Barazi Epsilon team that took second last year had good test days, as did the RML team in their AER Lola. Both will give the Porsches a good run for their money if they can stay reliable. Another Lola Coupe running a Judd power plant and fielded by Speedy Racing Team Sebbah will try to show its as fast as it looks and Mazda is back at Le Mans after a long hiatus in the form of the power plant driving the Lola chassis of the Kruse Shiller Motorsport team. This is the same combination that Mazda is using the ALMS and it will be interesting to see how it fairs on this endurance event. Word is that the Mazda execs are watching this one closely. Speaking of Mazda, it was good to see the US Mazda factory driver, Ben Devlin over here at the track. Though he is not wearing the Mazda banner for this event, he did secure a fairly last minute ride with the Bruichladdich Radical team along with Gunnar Jeanette. The Radical is a great car and should have a good showing under the guidance of a couple great young American drivers. As always, LMP2 is completely wide open and will likely depend on who can keep their cars running more than just outright speed.
GT1 may be the tightest race on the track this year, as it seems to be often. Corvette and Aston Martin will again clash, with the yellow Vettes going against Astons in newly blue in their Gulf Oil livery for '08. Both of these top tier teams are sure to be at each other’s throats all race long. As if that were not enough, there are also a pair of Corvettes from Luc Alphand who are sure to be in the mix, as well as the Saleen from Larbre Competition which had a very good second fastest time in the class at the test days behind the 009 Aston Martin. Team Modena and Vitaphone Racing both bring a second pair of Astons to the mix as well, giving us four Corvettes, four Astons a fast Saleen and a Lamborghini to the fabulous GT1 grid. This could be an epic battle this year.
Lastly GT2 will certainly not disappoint, as it never does. Risi Racing has brought its pair of Ferrari 430s to France again to join Ferraris from four other teams running the cars, making for a total of six cars from the Italian manufacturer. IMSA Performance will return to defend the title for Porsche in their GT3 RSR and will join their Porsche brethren from Flying Lizard Motorsports and Team Felbermayr Proton. Porsche is definitely at a disadvantage when it comes to numbers, but have a couple of the strongest teams on the grid and are sure to make Ferrari nervous. Lastly the Spykers have returned with new paint jobs this year, getting rid of their orange colors and going with a nice blue and yellow scheme. They may not be the fastest on track, but they are some of the best looking and sounding of the GT2 cars with their Audi V8s singing when at full throttle. IMSA didn’t have the strongest test day, but are sure to make their mark. Risi and Flying Lizard topped the charts as expected and are likely the two other favorites in addition to the IMSA team. GT2 is always a strong battle and this year looks to be nothing less.
So as Wednesday at the track rolls forward, we look to the first official testing and qualifying sessions of 2008. At 7 pm local time the cars will take to the track for the first time, the game faces will be on, the jovial and relaxed feelings from test day will be gone and it will all begin. The run to the 76th running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans will have officially begun and we’ll see just what everyone really has brought to the table this year. One thing we know for sure is it will not disappoint.
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