After weeks of rumours and talks behind the scenes the Le Mans Series full season entries were announced today. One year ago the organisers were able to announce 50 cars and despite the financial crisis sweeping world markets and forcing manufacturers to reconsider their commitment the list is only one down on 49 for 2009.
Teams come and go every year and 2009 will not be anything different. Let’s take a closer look at the different classes and analyze the entries for the sixth Le Mans Series season.
Last year the big names on the LMP1 season list were Audi Sport Team Joest and Team Peugeot Total. A total of 16 cars was on the last back then. This season starts with 12 teams registered as full season entrants. Peugeot and Audi are gone, with Peugeot likely to enter selected rounds of the season. The top class will have a works team though, as Aston Martin Racing announced their entry yesterday with no less than two brand new Aston Martin coupes (for Charouz-Enge-Mücke and Primat-Turner-TBA). Even though the Aston Martin will be considered as an outright candidate for the title, there are several other teams that will do everything to prevent that from happening. Colin Kolles has entered two Audi R10 TDI cars, the first privateer R10s ever, while Team Oreca will enter two Courage-Oreca LC70s again. Speedy Racing Team Sebah has entered a Lola-Aston (for Belicchi-Fässler-Prost) and should not be ruled out either. Other new entries are the Signature Plus team with a Courage-Oreca LC70, two Pescarolo Sport cars and two Ginetta-Zyteks, one for Strakka Racing and one for Team LNT. For these last cars a lot will depend on who is driving.
Who is missing: Audi Sport Team Joest, Team Peugeot Total (no full season), Epsilon-Euskadi (likely to return after Le Mans), Creation (gone to the US?), Charouz Racing System and Scuderia Lavaggi.
Unlike the top class the LMP2 category has got the same number of full season entries as
in 2008. The Van Merksteijn Motorsport and Team Essex Porsche RS Spyders, first and second in 2008, are gone. The third Spyder, the Horag Racing entry, is on the list but is far from confirmed. A potential Spyder-free championship could be very interesting as there isn’t a single car that can be named favourite. 2009 will see five Lola’s on the grid, with the cars from Speedy Racing Team Sebah (Kane-Leuenberger-Pompidou) and Racing Box (Bobbi-Piccini-Hezemans) as the cars with the best known crews. RML will again enter its Lola Coupé (for Newton-Erdos) and there will be two all-Italian Lola’s, one at Racing Box and one at KSM. Three Zyteks (Barazi-Epsilon, Quifel-ASM and GAC Racing Team) will fight the Lola’s. Two Pescarolo’s (OAK Racing), one Radical SR9, two Lucchini’s, a Courage LC75 and the WR-Zytek complete the field. LMP2 could return to its pre-Porsche RS Spyder status which means every finish of a race could be rewarded at the end of the season. Too close to call…although Speedy Racing Team Sebah has a one year advantage with the Lola B08/80 Coupé.
Who is missing: the Porsche RS Spyders (although they could return during the season in another disguise), Embassy Racing 28(race team disbanded).
What can be said about GT1. In 2008 the season started with five entries and ended with only four cars, including an entry that did not compete the entire season. From last season only IPB Spartak Racing has been included on the 2009 full season list. The Lamborghini Murcielago R-GT (Rusinov-Kox) will be joined by two Saleen S7Rs (ARC Bratislava-Kaneko and Full Speed Racing) and a Noel del Bello Racing entered Ferrari 550 Maranello. In the final year of the current GT1 regulations teams have either opted to move over to other classes or championships, leaving the Le Mans Series with four ‘older’ models. If the Saleen S7Rs are modern spec cars, one of them is said to be the car winning the final FIA GT round of 2008, there could be a nice fight in GT1. If not the Lamborghini should be able to win.
Who is missing: Luc Alphand Aventures (gone to FIA GT), Team Modena (see below) and Strakka Racing (moved up to LMP1).
Fourteen cars were on the list when was revealed in 2008 and seventeen are on it for 2009. Five manufacturers will be fighting for the LM GT2 titles. Some cars have very strong lineups, some have less stronger lineups and some cars only have TBA’s at the moment, so it is hard to say who will win it. What is certain is that the Team Felbermayr Proton Porsche (Lieb-Lietz), IMSA Performance Matmut Porsche (Narac-Pilet) and ‘newcomer’ JMW Motorsport (Bell-Bruni) have very strong lineups, capable of winning the championship. Nine Ferrari F430 GT2s are entered, with the JMW Motorsport car the strongest car so far. Farnbacher will enter THREE Ferrari’s, one on Hankook tyres, one on Michelins and one on Dunlops. Their only problem seems to be that Kaffer, Farnbacher and Simonsen aren’t teamed up in one car but split in three cars with other drivers. This could affect the chances of team. Team Modena (Garcia-Mansell) has moved into GT2 from GT1 while JMB Racing is planning a two-car entry and Virgo Motorsport (McInerney-McInerney) and new Italian squad Easyrace completing the Ferrari teams. Three Aston Martin Vantages will be entered, one by Drayson Racing (Drayson-Cocker) and two by James Watt Automotive (all TBA). A possible outsider for a top position in between the F430 and Porsche 997s would be the SNORAS Spyker Squadron Spyker C8 Laviolette GT2R. The factory team can fully focus on running (and improving) their own race car after Speedy Racing decided to concentrate on their LMP programme. A strong line-up is expected in the Dutch car. A brand new entry for GT2 is the Reiter Engineering run Lamborghini Gallardo (Von Thurn und Taxis-Haase), with little known from this car it remains to be seen what it can do. Completing the GT2 field is the second of the Team Felbermayr-Proton Porsches (Felbermayr Jr-Ried)
Who is missing: Speedy Racing (focus on LMP), a second IMSA Porsche (off to GT Open).
As mentioned before, despite the economic downturn and the departure of the Audi and Peugeot squads the Le Mans Series will once again have a great field. Thanks to this it might have lost some media attention, but it still promises to become a great season, from LMP1 all the way down to LM GT2. And with extra race-by-race entries expected throughout the season it can only get better…