When the green flag drops to start the 2017 24 Hours of Le Mans, all eyes will be focused at the head of the grid. Leading the charge of the field around the Circuit de la Sarthe are some of the finest pieces of machinery on the planet. The class is LMP1, and the cars built within the class specifications are remarkable. Despite the absence of Audi after nearly two decades of competition, the struggle for top honors is as fierce as ever. Let’s take a look at the teams making up LMP1 at this year’s race.
TOYOTA (TS050 Hybrid) _
Toyota Gazoo Racing return after experiencing heartbreak at last year’s Le Mans race, where a mechanical failure in the final five minutes of the race turned the lead over to Porsche on the final lap. The resolve of Toyota after last year’s catastrophe has been nothing short of amazing. Declaring they would return as the “sore losers,” Toyota are on an absolute mission to win at Le Mans and are bringing a Juggernaut of an attack to the race.
The team have taken two straight wins to start the WEC season in 2017. After battling Porsche at Silverstone to a narrow win, Toyota controlled Spa comfortably from flag to flag and appear to have the advantage in LMP1 at the moment. Its three-car effort with cars No. 7-9 marks the first-time Toyota have entered three cars in Le Mans since entering three GT-ONE’s in the 1999 race.
At the Le Mans test day, Toyota set the pace with its fastest times three seconds faster than that of Porsche. With the ultimate pace of the car still not on display, one wonders just how fast the trio of TS050’s can go.
At the head of the three car Toyota attack is the Championship leading No. 8 car driven by former F1 trio Kazuki Nakajima, Sebastian Buemi, and Anthony Davidson. The other full season WEC entered No. 7 car lineup consists of Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi, and Stephane Sarrazin. With no full season responsibilities, the trio of Nicolas Lapierre, Yuji Kunimoto, and Jose Maria Lopez will be keen for a solid result in the No. 9 car.
Porsche (919 Hybrid) _
Winners of the last two Le Mans, the German marque has been struggling to match the pace of Toyota of late. The general assumption after Audi’s withdrawal from the sport was Porsche would take up the mantle left before them for the Volkswagen group. Instead, the team have been noticeably second best.
Despite leading both races at points in the WEC season thus far, and having a competitive race pace, Porsche’s recent results have frustrated the team.
Touting the No. 1 and No. 2 number panels after last season’s Championship, the driver lineup for Porsche is headlined by lighting quick Kiwi, Brenden Hartley in the No. 2 car while former Audi man Andre Lotterer fronts the No. 1 car effort. Hartley teams up with veteran Porsche LMP1 driver Timo Bernard and Earl Bamber in the No 2. While in Lotterer’s No. 1, Neel Jani and Nick Tandy complete Porsches driver lineup.
ByKOLLES (CLM P1/01 – NISMO) _
The lone Privateer entry in LMP1, ByKOLLES hopes to keep the hybrid cars honest and pickup any scraps from its manufacturer funded counterparts. The team have been uncompetitive in the previous two WEC seasons and Le Mans has been no exception. Suffering from reliability woes, and an engine with a propensity for bursting into flames, ByKOLLES switched to NISMO power for 2017.
With the new lump from the former Nissan LMP1 car, ByKOLLES have shown some encouraging pace and reliability in the pair of WEC races this season. Finishing ahead of the LMP2 cars and/or claiming an outright podium at Le Mans would be considered a massive achievement for the outfit. Oliver Webb, Dominick Kraihamer, and Marco Bonanomi are tasked with driving the CLM P1/01 and will look to be on the positive end of the storyline spectrum at Le Mans in 2017.
What to watch for _
Toyota will be keen to exercise the demons that have haunted their Le Mans history. Expect the No. 7 car to set the pace early with the No. 8 taking a more measured approach, as the car and its Drivers lead the WEC Championship in points now. It will be interesting to see which strategy Toyota Gazoo Racing employ for their No. 9 car. Most likely, it will hang around acting as the tortoise with pace in hand should the other Toyota’s encounter troubles.
Porsche must hope their race pace can match the Toyotas lap times to stay within striking distance. Based on their competitors’ recent form, the pair of 919’s will most likely need the gremlins surrounding La Sarthe to find their way once again into the Toyota TS050’s to have any realistic chance of winning the race. However, this is Porsche, one of the most storied marques in motorsport. To fully discount their chances is foolish _
Race Resources _