The eighty-eighth edition of the 24 Hours of Le Mans officially kicked off with the first free practice sessions. AF Corse’s Ferrari 488 GTE no. 51 will be defending the title won last year in the LMGTE Pro class.
Alessandro Pier Guidi, James Calado and Daniel Serra, who triumphed at the end of one of the most spectacular and competitive editions of recent years, will be among the 177 drivers lining up for the French marathon, with 59 cars competing for overall and class victories. Ferrari will field a record number of entries for recent editions, with sixteen 488 GTEs, four in the LMGTE Pro class and twelve in the LMGTE Am class, totalling just under 30% of those starting.
LMGTE Pro. All eyes will be focused on the AF Corse crew no. 51, with the three 2019 winners Pier Guidi-Calado-Serra seeking an encore that could give the first two a much-needed lift in the FIA WEC standings where they currently lie third on 95 points against 127 for the provisional leaders, Thiim-Sørensen. The trio of Davide Rigon, Miguel Molina and Sam Bird will be back at the wheel of the twin car, no. 71. They will be keen to erase last year’s disappointment when they were forced to retire in a race that had seen them consistently among the leaders. In addition to the two 488 GTEs usually involved in the FIA WEC, the Ferrari no. 82 of Risi Competizione, crewed by an all-French trio of Olivier Pla, Sébastien Bourdais and Jules Gounon, and the no. 63 of Weathertech Racing with IMSA series stars Cooper MacNeil, Toni Vilander and Jeffrey Segal will also take to the track.
LMGTE Am. With a record twenty-two crews starting in this class, Ferrari will field twelve cars. The Asian Le Mans Series champions, HubAuto Racing, will make its debut at the legendary 13,626-metre French circuit with Morris Chen, Tom Blomqvist and Marcos Gomes. Luzich Racing, the European Le Mans Series champion, will be present with a new line-up of Francesco Piovanetti, Oswaldo Negri and Come Ledogar. AF Corse will deploy three 488 GTEs, with the no. 83 of François Perrodo, Emmanuel Collard and Nicklas Nielsen currently 12 points clear in the FIA WEC LMGTE Am standings, the no. 54, as usual, crewed by Thomas Flohr, Francesco Castellacci and Giancarlo Fisichella, and the no. 52 of Christoph Ulrich, Steffen Görig and Alexander West, competing in the European Le Mans Series. The teams entered in the FIA WEC World Championship include Red River Sport, with Bonamy Grimes, Johnny Mowlem and Charles Hollings and MR Racing, this time represented by Takeshi Kimura, Kei Cozzolino and Vincent Abril. Spirit of Race will also take its place on the starting grid with the tried and tested trio of Duncan Cameron, Aaron Scott and Matthew Griffin, recent winners of the Le Castellet 240 in the ELMS. JMW Motorsport is among the series participants due to start at Le Mans, with an exciting mix of talent and experience in Richard Heistand, Maxwell Root and Jan Magnussen. Iron Lynx also presents a very good line-up with three 488 GTEs in the hands of crews who could play a leading role. An all-female trio will take turns at the wheel of no. 85, with Manuela Gostner, Rahel Frey and Michelle Gatting, none of whom finished the last edition. Car no. 75 will have an all-Italian crew of Rino Mastronardi, Matteo Cressoni and Andrea Piccini, while Claudio Schiavoni, Sergio Pianezzola and Paolo Ruberti will take turns in no. 60.
Interesting facts. For the first time in history, the French marathon will be held without any fans in the stands, while there were three other occasions when the race didn’t run in June. The first edition took place on the last weekend of May, while in 1956 it was postponed to July due to changes in the circuit. Then, the 1968 edition was held on the last weekend of September because of student and workers’ protests in France.
Moving the race to September will alter many of the parameters with which teams and drivers usually have to deal. The extra two hours of darkness will have a significant impact on air and asphalt temperatures, with side effects on speed that could make this the fastest edition ever.
Hyperpole. One this year’s new features is the introduction of the Hyperpole, which involves a contest between the six best-qualified drivers in their respective sessions, intending to increase the spectacle on the track. The latter will also be determined by an incredibly tight schedule that will leave little room for technicians and drivers either to repair or tune the cars.
Programme. Thursday will see the first free practice sessions, starting at 10am and the qualifying session, from 5:15pm to 6pm. On Friday, the fourth and final untimed race is scheduled from 10 am to 11am, before the Hyperpole which will take place from 11:30 am to 12 pm. Then, on Saturday morning, the fifteen-minute warm-up from 10:30am to 10:45am will precede the start of the race, brought forward to 2:30pm and set to end 24 hours later.