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The Golden Season of Classic Sports: Le Mans 2018
The 2018 edition of The 24 Hours of Le Mans is on now. If you’re new to FIA/WEC sports car racing (Le Mans is the centerpiece race, but they run an entire schedule of races throughout the year), here’s a compact breakdown of the classes that will be competing this year at The 24.
The big dogs run in LMP1 (although some very sharp big dogs have entered LMP2–see below–in years past and challenged for the win). LMP1 cars are pure racing vehicles, with no road-going pretensions whatsoever. The rules for the class are complex, but there are two divisions within the class: hybrid and non-hybrid. The hybrid cars are the most powerful cars in the race; this year’s top hybrids include the favored Toyota TSo50 Hybrid. Porsche and Audi have left the class to concentrate on other areas of interest and Peugeot, another top contender, exited in 2012. But–despite racing against only privateer cars (no other manufacturer is entered in the class), Toyota will have its hands full trying to bring home a victory. You can read about Toyota’s “curse” in this fine article from the New York Times.
This is a pros only category, in every area from management to driving. The eams take the race very seriously; Toyota has two time F1 world champion Fernando Alonso driving for the team.
If you want to race at Le Mans in a prototype, but don’t want to spend hundreds of millions to do so, you can run in LMP2. LMP2 is like one-design racing in sailboat competition; there are only four chassis manufacturers (Oreca, Onroak Automotive, Dallara, and Riley-Multimatic and one engine producer (Gibson). The objective is to reduce the cost of racing and provide a level playing field for all the contests. There are both pro and amateur drivers in this category.
You will recognize the competitors in this class: Aston Martin, Porsche, Corvette, BMW, Ford and Ferrari. The cars are, of course, heavily modified from stock, but they are built on production models and you could–with the right factory connections–buy one and race it yourself. Not an inexpensive pursuit (allocate $1.5 to $2.2 million to bring a one car team to Le Mans for the race) but LMGTE Pro is now where the factories meet and battle it out. Both Porsche and Ford have entered four cars for this year’s race (strength in numbers is not a bad strategy in a race built on attrition) but there are always surprises–last year, Aston edged out Corvette for the class win on the last lap. One other important point: the drivers in this category are all pros.
This is a GT-spec class primarily populated by amateur drivers (at least one, and typically two) and one pro driver. Again, you will recognize the brands. The teams are privateers, although you can be assured they receive ( and pay for ) lots of help from the factory group that produced their race car. This is the category for “gentlemen drivers”, a phrase that reminds some of the less professional, more relaxed years of motor racing, when it did not cost hundreds of millions of dollars to contend for the overall win at Le Mans. Two new models will debut at Le Mans in this class, the new Aston Martin Vantage and BMW’s new M8. A very interesting class for the casual Le Mans fan to follow.
For a more precise definition of the four classes at Le Mans, click this link to the organizers explanation.
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