Le Mans 24 Hours pre­view

For­mer GP ri­vals But­ton, Alonso and Mon­toya are among the big names con­test­ing the leg­endary French 24-hour race this week­end

Auto Express - - CONTENTS - Stephen_er­rity@den­nis.co.uk Stephen Er­rity

Our guide to this week­end’s thrilling round-the-clock ac­tion

“I found it was an­other world – driv­ing around here in a car I don’t re­ally know” Jenson But­ton SMP Rac­ing

THE eyes of the motorsport world will be on Le Mans, France, this week­end as Fer­nando Alonso bids to win the 24-hour race with Toy­ota.

Shar­ing the #8 TS050 with his ex-f1 grid mates Se­bastien Buemi and Kazuki Naka­jima, the dou­ble F1 cham­pion will first and fore­most have to head off the chal­lenge posed by Jose Maria Lopez, Mike Con­way and Ka­mui Kobayashi in the sis­ter #7 Toy­ota en­try.

Alonso set the fastest time around the Cir­cuit de la Sarthe at the pre-le Mans test day held the week be­fore last, and is full of con­fi­dence head­ing into the race. “It was a very good day for us as a team,” he said af­ter­wards.

“We ob­vi­ously pre­pared for this test in the best way pos­si­ble be­fore the big race in two weeks’ time. The car felt good from the first lap and every­one was happy straight away. Then it was all about get­ting fa­mil­iar with the cir­cuit.

“I have been in the sim­u­la­tor and stud­ied on­board laps from pre­vi­ous years, but it’s al­ways dif­fer­ent on the real track, which feels per­fect for these cars. It was in­ter­est­ing and a lot of fun.”

Easy

The rest of the World En­durance Cham­pi­onship’s top-flight LMP1 class is made up of non-hy­brid pri­va­teer en­tries that, de­spite the or­gan­is­ers’ ef­forts to equalise their per­for­mance, have so far not been able to match the pace of the works Toy­otas, which romped home to an easy 1-2 re­sult at the WEC sea­son opener in May.

But the Ja­panese team is tak­ing noth­ing for granted, hav­ing seen vic­tory slip from its grasp sev­eral times at Le Mans in the past – most mem­o­rably in 2016, when its car heart­break­ingly ground to a halt at the start-fin­ish line with only min­utes re­main­ing.

Sin­gle cars from the Aus­trian team Bykolles and US out­fit Dragon­speed are joined by two-car ef­forts from the TVRbacked, Swiss-based Re­bel­lion Rac­ing squad (with ex-porsche LMP1 works aces Neel Jani and An­dre Lot­terer among the driv­ers), Bri­tish rac­ing-car con­struc­tor Ginetta and Rus­sian-backed SMP Rac­ing.

The lat­ter has se­cured the ser­vices of 2009 For­mula One World Cham­pion Jenson But­ton (mak­ing his Le Mans debut like Alonso), as well as an­other ex-f1 driver, Vi­taly Petrov. Speak­ing af­ter the pre-race test day, But­ton told the me­dia: “I was rea­son­ably happy, but in the morn­ing I foundnd it an­other world – I was driv­ing aroundound here in a car that I don’t re­al­lyy know. I found it quite dis­con­cert­ing. ert­ing.

“But we made some good changes over lunch and I was much hap­pier with the car in the af­ter­noon.rnoon. A lot of the cor­ners here are veryy tight and they come up on you very quickly,uickly, which is very dif­fer­ent from what I’m used to.”

The sec­ond-tier LMP2P2 class has a to­tal of 20 en­tries this year, in­clud­ing a two-car ef­fort from the An­glo-amer­i­can team am United Au­tosports. Each driver crew is headed by a big F1 name: Juan Pablo lo Mon­toya in the #32 and Scot Paul di Resta in the #22.

“I was sur­prised at howow good the track is and how chal­leng­ing al­leng­ing it is,” Mon­toya said af­terer turn­ing his first laps at the test day. “It’s not easy. There are so many bumps and lit­tle tricks to learn. It’s fun, I got quicker through the day, I was pretty happy. “The fast cor­ners are a lot of fun here; if you get it wrong, it’s go­ing to hurt! You dodon’t see any F1 cir­cuits like this; you go in in fifth gear and just hope it sticks. At some­where like Day­ton­day­tona, you can drive at 10 tenths every lap, but here you can’t. It’s invi­ti­invit­ing but you can get it wrong!” Elselse­where in LMP2, the Chi­nese DC Rarac­ing squad is back for more af­ter dra­mat­i­cally fin­ish­ing on the over­alover­all podium last year when many of the LMP1 run­ners hit trou­ble, while ex-f1 driver and the cur­rent For­mula E points leadleader Jean-eric Vergne turns out for G-drive Rac­ing, along­side An­drea

“The car felt good from the first lap” Fer­nando Alonso Toy­ota Ga­zoo Rac­ing

Pizzi­tola and Ro­man Rusi­nov. The for­mer Audi LMP1 driver Loic Du­val has found a berth with the TDS Rac­ing squad, while ex-f1 driver Giedo van der Gerde heads an all-dutch line-up at Rac­ing Team Ned­er­land,er­land, where vet­eran Jan Lam­mersmers is mak­ing his 24th Le Mans 24 Hours start, hav­ing won the race with Jaguar back in 1988.

An­other big nameme in LMP2 is Pas­tor Mal­don­ado, who’ss em­bark­ing on his first sea­son of rac­ingc­ing this year since his time in F1 ended in 2015. 5. The Venezue­lan is part of the crew for Dragon­speed’s LMP2 en­try.

“I’m sur­prised at how chal­leng­ing it is – it’s not easy” Juan Pablo Mon­toya United Au­tosports

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