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Toyota Hybrids Have Le Mans Field To Selves

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Thursday, June 14 2018

A Toyota Hybrid is the heavy favorite to win this year’s overall championship at Le Mans.

The bet here is that, barring major mechanical issues or race-day/night shunts,  a Toyota TS050 LMP1 will win this weekend’s 24 Hours of Le Mans. That’s not premonition or extraordinary expertise talking. It’s mathematics.

The LMP1 Hybrid category at Le Mans has thinned down to one marque; Toyota. Gone are the wonderful Audi and Porsche hybrids which made the world’s centerpiece sports car event such a marvel to watch in the 21st Century.

Audi and Porsche have moved and will move, in that order, to Formula E.

Also moving to that series are top-notch former WEC drivers like Lucas de Grasi, Neel Jani, Sebastien Buemi, Andre Lotterer and Nick Heidfeld.

So where does that leave Le Mans? Quite a bit poorer, but not destitute.

First, the Toyota LMP1 Hybrids – two of them will start this weekend’s 24 – are beasts. They were the virtual equals of the Porsche 919s and Audi R 18s a couple years back. On Wednesday at the Circuit de la Sarthe, they were fastest in first qualifying and won the provisional pole.

The Porsche 919 Hybrids are Le Mans history. Toyota is a favorite to win its first LMP1 championship this weekend.

The adding of Formula 1 champion Fernando Alonso adds some flavoring to the Toyota run as the popular Spaniard looks to add a Le Mans victory to his basket as co-driver of the No. 8 car.

While the Toyota’s have been the fastest – by far – this week, they are not the only LMP1 cars on the track as they will be joined by non-hybrids in class.

The next fastest car in the class has been the non-hybrid No. 17 SMP Racing BR Engineering BR1 Gibson. But that car was over two seconds off the Toyotas’ pace Wednesday. And yes, two seconds is significant – if all goes without incident for the Toyotas.

The problem has been that the Equivalence of Technology adjustment in place to try to make the factory hybrids and non-hybrid privateers in the class – there are at least eight of them – run reasonably similar lap times have not proven to be sufficient.

That could change before race day, however.

The fastest of a large contingent of LMP2 cars on Thursday was the No. 48 Idec Sport Oreca Gibson, but that car was seven seconds off the Toyota’s pace.

Which brings us to the class that may provide the best racing overall – LMGTE Pro.

Fastest there on Wednesday were the Nos. 91 and 92 factory Porsche 911 RSRs. They were closely followed by the Nos. 66 and 68 Chip Ganassi Team Ford GTs. Following the Fords was the No. 51 AF Corse Ferarri 488 GT Evo.

Porsche’s hope this week is that more entrants will mean better results.

Dr. Frank-Steffen Walliser, President Motorsport and GT Cars for Porsche, said this week, “With the changes to our strategy announced last year and the withdrawal from the LMP1 program, we’ve also promised to expand our involvement in GT racing.

“This year’s Le Mans is definitely the highlight, which is obvious by the number of vehicles competing. With a total of 10 Porsche 911 RSRs, we’re witnessing one of the largest GT line-ups ever.

“Our cars represent 30 percent of the entire GT field, and we’re very proud of this. We’re anticipating a very exciting race, particularly in the GTE-Pro category. Seventeen vehicles from six manufacturers with top drivers will go head-to-head at Le Mans.”

Showing more than enough speed to make LMGTE exciting were more RSRs, Ford GTs, 488s, BMW M6s and Chevrolet Corvette C7.Rs.

Now in the third year of its successful Ford GT race program, which has seen Ford Chip Ganassi Racing win at Le Mans in 2016 and finish as runner-up in 2017, the team says it will face major challenges and challengers this weekend.

“It’s rewarding to see all four cars come together as one team every year at Le Mans,” said Mark Rushbrook, global director of Ford Performance Motorsport. “It shows the scale of the global effort we launched in 2016 and have been building on since.

“Le Mans is always the ultimate challenge but this year it has gone up a level through the sheer size of the opposition. We’re going up against the best that Ferrari, Porsche, Aston Martin, Corvette and BMW have to offer and we can’t wait. This is why we race.”

Despite falling behind, Corvette drivers expressed confidence about challenge for another class win.

“Everything is still going to our predetermined plan,” Antonio Garcia, who was the fastest Corvette driver on Wednesday. “The various slow zones in the beginning of the qualifying session didn’t help, of course. We’re quite a bit off the pole position time, but we’re not too far off the second group of cars. We’ll just try to be as fast as we can again tomorrow. There’s still more in the car. The good thing is we get faster the more we run.”

Significant Balance of Performance adjustments were made for five of the six marques in GTE Pro early this week. More could be made after the final of three rounds of qualifying by FIA and ACO, as has been done the last two years.

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EVENT SCHEDULE:

Wednesday, June 13

4 p.m. – 8 p.m. local: Practice 1 (10 a.m. – 2 p.m. ET / 7 a.m. – 11 a.m. PT)
10 p.m. – Midnight local: Qualifying 1 (4 p.m. – 6 p.m. ET / 1 p.m. – 3 p.m. PT)
Thursday, June 14

7 p.m. – 9 p.m. local: Qualifying 2 (1 p.m. – 3 p.m. ET / 10 a.m. – Noon PT)
10 p.m. – Midnight local: Qualifying 3 (4 p.m. – 6 p.m. ET / 1 p.m. – 3 p.m. PT)
Friday, June 15 (no on-track activity)

Drivers parade
Saturday, June 16

9:00 a.m. – 9:45 a.m. local: Warm-up (3 a.m. – 3:45 a.m. ET / Midnight – 12:45 a.m. PT)
3 p.m. local: Race Start (9 a.m. ET / 6 a.m. PT)
Sunday, June 17

3 p.m. local: Race Finish (9 a.m. ET / 6 a.m. PT)

TV SCHEDULE:
The entire race will be aired live in the USA and Canada on the Velocity Channel. Live streaming, featuring on-board cameras (but not the live broadcast) is available via the Motor Trend App.

 

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Thursday, June 14 2018
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