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The 24 Hours of Le Mans is probably one of the most unpredictable sporting events of the year. In 2010 Peugeot filled the first two rows of the starting grid with four cars which looked formidably fast, however at the end of the day (literally) not a single Peugeot crossed the line, handing victory to the slower but more reliable Audis.
The main contenders this year will again be Audi and Peugeot; they will be the fastest cars on the grid with their super-efficient turbo diesel models. Filling the rest of LMP1 (the fastest class at Le Mans) will be Aston Martin’s controversial open-cockpit AMR-One and a clutch of smaller racing teams who will be running petrol driven machines.
The new ACO regulations have sought to increase the lap times around the Circuit de la Sarthe to around 3 minutes and 30 seconds, this means that the diesel cars have been limited to 3.7-litre engines this year (down from 5.5) and the petrol cars have been limited to 2.0 for turbo and 3.4 for naturally aspirated engines.
Efficiency is therefore the name of the game. Both manufacturers have reduced the number of cylinders from what they ran last year, Audi will be running a V6 and Peugeot a V8. As the differences in engines suggest, the cars have been constructed from difference approaches, it will be interesting to see whether the lighter Audi can overcome the straight-line pace of the Peugeots.
Peugeot’s car looks very similar to the 908 HDI FAP from last year but the designers have built the car from the ground up to make a brand new design for 2011 and despite the new regulations, the new 908 has clocked speeds even faster than its predecessor. The question remains whether Peugeot will avoid the technical problems that ruined their chances in 2010.
Audi have abandoned the open-cockpit design and have put a lid on the R18. The change comes in response to new pit lane rules which only allow two mechanics to change the tyres. The fewer mechanics mean that putting on new tyres will take longer than the driver change; it will no longer be advantageous to have an open-cockpit which made driver changing easier.
Despite the rule change, Aston Martin have moved to an open-cockpit design, which has baffled many. Their engine choice as well, a 2-litre turbo straight six, has raised many eyebrows in the pits of other teams too – the AMR-One will be a very interesting entrant in this year’s race.
The perceived weaknesses in Aston Martin’s car has led to talk of the privateers in LMP1 being in contention to claim the title of fastest petrol team. Pescarolo return this year with a restricted 5.0-litre Judd chassis and Rebellion Racing will be running a new set of Toyota V8s in their Lola LMP1 cars. Hope Racing will be trying to emulate the Oreca 01’s excellent 4th place behind the 3 Audis last year with a modified version of the same car.
GT1 and GT2 become GTE Pro and GTE Am, with a few new models present for 2011. The Ferrari 458 Italia will make a debut appearance, so will Lotus’ Evora alongside the stalwart Porsche 997s and Ferrari F430s.
This year is also the first year that the Le Mans 24 Hours will be part of a race series. It is the third meeting in the 2011 Intercontinental Le Mans Cup – not only is this one of the most prestigious races in the world but now it shall carry championship points.
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