It’s been a long wait, but the 88th running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans is finally upon us. What can we look forward to in the LMP1 class? MotorsportWeek.com takea a closer look.
LMP1 as we know it has been the top class at Le Mans for nearly two decades. It first appeared in 2004 after LMGTP and LMP900 were merged to create a new top category. In the 16 years since its inception, it’s become an iconic category, spawning legendary cars like Audi’s all conquering diesel prototype, the Peugeot 908, Porsche 919 Hybrid and Toyota’s TS050 Hybrid.
Flash forward to 2020 and LMP1 has reached the end of its lifespan as a top class. LMP1 machinery will continue to race, but from 2021 onwards, its place will be taken by the hugely anticipated Le Mans Hypercars, to be joined by LMDh in the years to come.
Therefore, this edition of Le Mans is the proverbial last hurrah for LMP1 machinery. Five cars have been entered, with the class expectedly feeling the brunt of the COVID-19 pandemic. Both Team LNT Ginettas have been withdrawn, with the #6 withdrawn as late as Friday.
That leaves the two Toyota TS050 Hybrid as firm favorites. Should either of the two win, Toyota Gazoo Racing would take its third consecutive win at Le Mans, something that only factory teams from Bentley, Ferrari, Matra, Audi and Porsche were able to achieve before them.
With the Success Handicap system that has plagued Toyota throughout the season not in place at Le Mans, the road looks clear for the Japanese manufacturer to take win number three.
And yet the battle between the two Toyotas might not be as clear-cut as you might imagine. The #8 TS050 Hybrid has taken the last two wins courtesy of Kazuki Nakajima and Sebastien Buemi, who have seen their winning partner Fernando Alonso replaced by Brendon Hartley, a Le Mans winner in his own right. Their winning record would dictate them to be the favorites, but the sister the #7 car will likely be hell-bent on revenge after the 2019 win fell out of their hands.
Kamui Kobayashi, Jose Maria Lopez and Mike Conway looked to have the victory sealed in the #7 Toyota TS050 Hybrid last year until they lost the lead in the last hour after a pair of apparent punctures. After heartbreak in 2019, Kobayashi, Lopez and Conway come into Le Mans as championship favorites and a wave of momentum after winning at Spa.
While the battle for the lead will almost certainly be a Toyota affair, Rebellion and ByKolles will be hoping to pick up the scraps if anything goes wrong. Rebellion will be going into their final Le Mans with a pair of R13-Gibson. The #1 car, driven by full-season pairing Gustavo Menezes, Bruno Senna and Norman Nato, must be considered podium contenders. With multiple overall wins under their belt, the three-man crew is experienced and ready to go.
Don’t count out the sister car, however. The #3 car sees veteran Romain Dumas partner Nathanaël Berthon and F2 driver Louis Deletraz. There’s few drivers at Le Mans with more experience at Le Mans than Romain Dumas and Berthon has six previous starts under his belt too.
Deletraz will be going into his first-ever Le Mans, but should have a bit of an idea of what to expect, given the fact that he was one of the four drivers to win the first ever 24 Hours of Le Mans Virtual back in June. The real thing will always be different, but the virtual experience surely can’t hurt.
Finally, there’s ByKolles, back again with their #4 ENSO CLM P1/01-Gibson, this time driven by Tom Dillmann, Oliver James Webb and debutant Bruno Spengler. The Austrian team has had a rotten streak, with eight of their nine Le Mans starts ending in either disqualification or retirement. Could this finally be their year?