► 86th Le Mans 24 Hours
► Toyota going for maiden victory
► No Audi, no Porsche – but Alonso
The Le Mans 24 Hours is back for the 86th time, and this year’s event could be the most unusual yet. Audi and Porsche are out, but Toyota is back and more determined than ever to win – and it's even hired double-world champion and extra-curricular racer Fernando Alonso to do the job.
Jenson Button is also taking part in this year’s race and will be driving for the SMP team.
How to watch the 2018 Le Mans 24hrs race
The GTE classes will see a brand new BMW M8 GTE, new racing Aston Martin Vantage and the return of the Ford GT as well as the incredible-sounding 911 RSR. To celebrate its 70-year sports car anniversary, Porsche is also racing two cars in iconic liveries – Pink Pig and the classic Rothmans paint job.
So what else do you need to know about this year’s Le Mans race? We’ll be driving a limited-edition GT86 down there and reporting trackside, but before that here’s everything you need to know about Le Mans 2018. Keep reading for a whistle-stop tour of this year’s event at the Circuit de la Sarthe.
What’s the Super Season anyway?
This year’s WEC season will take place over 14 months, so we’ll get two races each at Spa and Le Mans, with the other in 2019. Two 24hrs Le Mans in one championship (this being the first), with the season decider at the Circuit de la Sarthe? We’ll take that.
Teams: where is everyone?
This year, Porsche and Audi’s exit means Toyota is the sole factory team in the LMP1 class. So where did the VW Group go?
Thanks to the Dieselgate emissions scandal, the all-conquering, diesel-powered Audi R18 wasn’t the PR gift it used to be. Before, Audi’s oil-burning race car displayed its mastery of the diesel engine. Since the emission crisis, it became a dirty reminder that needed sweeping under the carpet, it seems.
While Porsche’s entrant to Le Mans was the petrol-powered 919 Hybrid, the VW Group’s huge fines meant costly race programmes such as Porsche’s had to go. It’s why Audi has left DTM, too.
Plus there was the pull of Formula E. Where better to repair your brand’s tarnished image than in a clean, futuristic electric racing series? It's not just Porsche and Audi that have seen the appeal of Formula E; Mercedes and Nissan are set to join soon, too.
Le Mans 2018: won't LMP1 be a hollow victory with only one factory team?
Toyota is looking good for pace, and with Porsche and Audi out of the equation, the Gazoo squad is understandably dead-on favourite. But it isn't after a hollow maiden victory: the Japanese firm is gunning for the distance record, too.
If you can’t beat Porsche or Audi in 2018, why not the history books?
Toyota’s near misses
With their main rivals gone, Toyota’s first win should be a formality, but the history books warn otherwise; the Japanese team know better than anyone how cruel the Circuit de la Sarthe can be. Le Mans is as much about surviving for 24 hours as it is the racing. Find the worst near misses below.
2016: Kazuki Nakajima is cruising to Toyota’s maiden Le Mans win when he reports a loss of power with less than seven minutes of the 24 hour race left. The TS050’s hybrid powertrain totally gives up just a few minutes later. Porsche wins
2017: Kamui Kobayashi sets fastest pole lap ever, but retires from the lead 10 hours in with a clutch failure. The second Toyota retires after a collision, while the third car finishes 8th
Who else could win Le Mans 2018?
If both Toyota cars run into trouble, we could see the first overall privateer victory. Going with the Spa 6hr result as a guide, we’d expect Rebellion Racing to pull off the feat – providing something doesn’t happen to them, too.
Is Aston Martin again on to win the GTE Pro class?
Aston took a famous victory in 2017, but this year brings a new Vantage GTE car, and with it new challenges. And at Spa, the WEC’s Balance of Performance, the rules that keep the GTE class cars evenly matched, shuffled the team’s new car back to third fastest. If Aston wants to make it two wins on the trot at Circuit de la Sarthe, it’ll hope the BoP gets a pre Le Mans tweak.
What’s it like for drivers?
‘During the race weekend, I’m expecting to drive for around eight hours, consume 8000 calories and sleep for about 30-60 minutes,' says Alexander Sims, who is driving the new BMW M8 GTE this year.
Throw in the fact drivers actually have to race during that time too, and to say Le Mans is physically draining is a bit of an understatement.
Explain the WEC classes at Le Mans...
LMP essentially means Le Mans Prototype, and within that you have LMP1 Hybrid, which is the Toyota, and then LMP1 and LMP2 – neither of which are based on road cars. After that, LM GTE cars are based on road cars like the 911 (sort of), the new Vantage and the BMW M8 – but the GTE comes in two forms. GTE Pro is for works teams with professional drivers, while gentleman drivers can race in the GTE Am class.
The GTE Pro class can often include drivers that have taken part in the N24, where they’re the fastest cars on the road. But Le Mans the roles are reversed, and they’re lapped constantly by the Prototype cars.
How to watch Le Mans 2018 24hr race
‘The characteristics of the circuit, particularly in the Porsche Curves and first sector, mean that some fairly risky overtaking manoeuvres can be made on you,’ explains Sims. ‘You go through certain corners minding your own business with nothing in your mirrors and then there’s someone shooting around the outside.
You’ve got to stay that bit more alert. And they can go past you pretty quickly.’