Le Mans 24hrs: preview

Equipes et pilotes

Only a provisional list of Le Mans entries, without any confirmed drivers, was available at the time of going to press, and some of the race numbers had yet to be allocated. Traditionally this is a time for wishful thinking for some teams (though these dreams have to be backed up by a hefty non-returnable entry fee), but Mike Cotton and Ian Briggs speculate as to which machines are likely to be front runners either in the race or in their class, and which hopefuls will drive them.

Just as Tom Walkinshaw expected, it took the Silk Cut Jaguar team three years to achieve its victory at Le Mans, though the Scottish team director did not doubt ultimate success for a moment. After that the Porsche factory team was disbanded, but that won't make this year's race any less difficult, or less satisfying, to win again.

Indeed, recent results suggest the task has got harder, rather than easier. Of the seven World Sports-Prototype Championship races held since Le Mans last year, Jaguar has won two (at Brands Hatch and Fuji) and Sauber Mercedes five. Until such time as the new Tony Southgate-designed XJR-10 is weaned into the programme, in whatever form, the Swiss-German team appears to holds significant advantage.

What Sauber does not have, though, is the benefit of experience of winning a 24-hour race. Jaguar won two of them last year, at Daytona and Le Mans, and defeat this year at Daytona has really put Walkinshaw on the offensive. The Kidlington-based team will run four XJRs on June 10-11 and, assuming they are all 9LM models, has the advantage of preparing each one to be better than last year's winner, which completed 394 laps in 2min 37sec less than it took the Stuck/Ludwig/Bell Porsche.

The Jaguar's weaknesses shown in the past three years should all have been eliminated, whereas the Sauber's weaknesses over anything beyond 1000 (racing) kilometres are unknown, simply because a miscalculation was made last year (there was more downforce on the Michelins than had been anticipated, resulting in a high-speed tyre failure in practice) which caused the team to pull out of the 24 Hours).

The C9/89 model has been subjected to a full 24-hour duration test at the Paul Ricard circuit, and although one car went down with engine-management problems the other was trouble-free, which suggests TWR would be ill-advised to anticipate that the Saubers will be unreliable (remember, too, that the Nissan GTP ran for 16 hours at Daytona, exceeding its previous best by 13)). Rather, Sauber's team could be let down by more human factors. Team leader Jean Louis Schlesser hates Le Mans for safety reasons, though he might be persuaded to take part; Jochen Mass refused to compete for Porsche in 1978 but had an apparent change of heart; Mauro Baldi and Klaus Ludwig are reluctant performers; while younger team members such as Manuel Reuter, Alain Cudini and Dany Snobeck (if, indeed, these Mercedes saloon car contractees are confirmed) lack experience. There is no doubt about Kenny Acheson's commitment to the whole programme, Le Mans included, but his enthusiasm alone might not be sufficient. Of course, the senior drivers are professional and will perform to the very best of their abilities, but should the cars become delicate they might not show the requisite sympathy.

Despite Mercedes' current form in the 480km races, the odds are distinctly in Jaguar's favour for a repeat success at Le Mans, and it is a success that is greatly needed at the moment to restore jaded morale. Things have not been going well either in the World Championship or in IMSA — not, at any rate, for a team that wants something better than a string of runner-up positions — and this is the time to swing the pendulum back again. A strong point in Jaguar's favour is the driver line-up: Jan Lammers and Andy Wallace won at Le Mans last year, John Nielsen at Daytona, and Price Cobb is a proven long-distance man with great car sympathy. They are all looking forward to the event.

Several team owners want to demonstrate that there is yet another 24-hour victory left in the Porsche 962, and the Jim Busby/BFG team proved that point at Daytona in February. The works car was beaten so narrowly last year, after losing a couple of laps on Saturday afternoon, that we simply cannot dismiss the chances of Reinhold Joest, Richard Lloyd or (a surprising selection, maybe) Vern Schuppan.

Joest's team won outright in 1984 and 1985, and usually finishes in the top three or four. Preparation of the ex-works cars leaves nothing to chance, and third place at Suzuka in April for Bob Wollek and Frank Jelinski, on the same lap as the Saubers, shows that the magic instill working. Perhaps they will be joined by Hans Stuck, if he can get a release from Audi, and then their chances might be rated even higher.

Richard Lloyd's outfit finished a close second in 1985, and now includes Derek Bell — whose personal record includes eight 24-hour victories — along wish Tiff Needell. Bell's eighth was at Daytona in February, and we shouldn't need reminding that each time he wins the Floridian race he goes on to win at Le Mans!

Vern Schuppan, winner at Le Mans in 1983 as a works driver, has put together a most impressive Porsche team in Japan and has brought the ex-works Omron-sponsored car to Europe. He will share it with Eje Elgh, running under the Team Davey banner, and they will do a very competent job.

Although Kremer Porsche Racing won the 24 hours in 1979, and Brun Motorsport finished second in 1986, I cannot fancy either of these for victory.

Spice Engineering, sixth overall as recently as 1987 and 13th last year, is likely to be even stronger this time with Cosworth 31/2-litre engines installed in the two cars. Even so, lack of cubic inches will prevent the Silverstone team from being a strong challenger, and a place in the top six again would probably delight Gordon Spice and manager Jeff Hazell.

The Japanese manufacturers, and especially Nissan and Toyota, will be very strong at Le Mans in years to come, perhaps as soon as next year. It does not seem likely, though, that they will go the full distance at full speed this time around.

Nissan started testing a brand-new car in April, almost certainly too late to claim a leading result on June 11, and Toyota still has a way to go in developing the promising new 89CV, though two examples are devastatingly fast in qualifying: it is said that the drivers are drawing lots not to do the qualifying, when the 3.1-litre twin-turbo V8s yield an alleged 1200 bhp!

Mazda will spend 1989 and 1990 marking time with the four-rotor, Wankel type engine which is short of about 80 bhp, at 620 bhp, and cannot be regarded as an outright contender.

All these cars are exciting enough, but still there is one more, rather special newcomer, the Aston Martin AMR-1 which will be driven by David Leslie, Brian Redman and Ray Matlock. This will only just have made its race debut at Dijon, and it would be best to expect nothing of the new team but to applaud whatever it can achieve. Even a good placing on the grid will be something for Peter Livanos and Victor Gaunlett to celebrate from their exclusive viewpoint at Teeter Rouge, where everything will be done with style.

1 2 3 4 Silk Cut Jaguar/TWR

Four cars entered, one fewer than last year. Still using the same basic composite tub designed by Tony Southgate at the end of 1985, uprated and redesignated every year since. Expect to see at least three "old" XJR-9s in largely 1988 spec, but with uprated suspension and brakes and larger rubber — 18in Dunlops instead of 17in. Some engine tweaks have been effected, but these remain largely the same as before. One of the cars might well be the rumoured V6 twin-turbo 48-valve XJR-10. Suzuka was probably just a glitch, but the Jags will have their work cut out to repeat last year's performance.

61 62 63 AEG Sauber Mercedes

Still the dark horses. Quick and apparently economical with the new M119 5-litre V8 32-valve turbo engine, but a question-mark over this for the all-day distance. All three entries are likely to appear the same C9 sheet-aluminium monocoques Peter Sauber has been using since 1987. Now clad in magnificent silver coachwork. If the cars hang together they will be near the front.

23 24 25 Nissan Motorsports International

Three cars currently posted, all likely to be the new Lola-built carbon-fibre R89Cs. Four cars are actually rumoured to make an appearance; the remainder and/or any of the above might appear in the colours of Tom Hanawa's Le Mans Co of Japan and be based on March-constructed 86/87G aluminium honeycomb chassis. The newer cars will be propelled by the latest 3.5-litre 32-valve V8 twin-IHI Turbo VRH35 engine, and managed by Keith Greene from Howard Marsden's Milton Keynes base, whereas the Le Mans Co cars will probably sport the proven Electramotive-developed VG30 V6 twin-turbo mill. Nissan is still on a long learning curve at the Sarthe, but could spring a surprise if its traditional "softly-softly" approach pays off and the favourites run into trouble.

36 37 38 Team Toyota Tom's

Three cars from this highly professional outfit run in Europe for the factory by Glen Waters' subsidiary Tom's Great Britain, at Hingham near Snetterton. All the entries are down to be new 89CVs, based on the Massahiro Ohkuni-penned Dome/TRDbuilt composite chassis, with 3.2-litre V8 R32V twin-turbo power-plants reputedly giving in excess of 1100 bhp in qualifying trim. If not, expect at least one older 88C chassis to make an appearance, probably with a 2.1-litre four-in-line single-turbo engine. Drivers John Watson, Geoff Lees and Paolo Barilla will almost certainly be going for a repeat of last year's high grid position.

18 19 Aston Martin

Two AMR-1s have been promised by Victor Gauntlett's Proteus Technology team, but as the car has still to turn a wheel in anger, and the first version was extensively damaged in a testing accident at Donington (leading to a no-show at Suzuka and a $250,000 FISA fine), this remains in doubt. 1989 must be regarded anyway as a learning year for the team. it will be nice to see Astons back at the Sarthe, and it is worth pointing out that this will be the first time since the tragic 1955 race that Aston, Mercedes and Jaguar will have met there. AMR-1 is based around a carbon-fibre tub designed by Max Boxstrom, built in Ray Mallock's workshops in Northamptonshire and powered by a stock-block 6-litre 32-valve V8 developed in the United States by Reeves Callaway. Team manager will be Richard Williams, operating under the Ecurie Ecosse banner with David Leslie, Brian Redman, Costas Los, David Sears, Michael Roe and Bernard Santal likely to be on the driving strength.

29 Mussato Action Car

After Lancia's return to the race last year, and an indifferent showing in the hands of Swiss businessman Jean-Pierre Frey, the man from whom he bought the car, Gianni Mussato, has decided to have a go on his own account. Mussato has had a brand-new LC2 chassis built for him by Dallara, which will be powered by the familiar Lancia-Ferrari 3-litre V8 32-valve Abarth-prepared turbo unit. Certain to be gorgeous to look at, the performance of this machine is likely to be entirely dependent on the skill of the nominated drivers. LC2s have been quick but desperately fragile at the Sarthe in the past.

21 22 Spice Engineering

Having dominated the Group C2 World Championship and Le Mans for the last couple of years, Spice has taken the plunge into the am 750kg/3.5-litre "no fuel limit" C1 category, and for this year will probably find things a little less comfortable while the teams running on stock-block-based cars are still able to make the pace under interim regulations, albeit at a premium on fuel. Spice's preparation is second to none, and his driver line-up including regulars Wayne Taylor and Thorkild Thyrring joined by Tim Harvey in one car, while Lyn St James will join Ray Bellm and Gordon Spice in the other. A third car for Jean-Philippe Grand will be entered in C2. The sweet-looking honeycomb and carbonfibre SE89C should be as good as its predecessors, but how will the highly-stressed Fl Cosworth powerplants fare over such a distance?

31 32 Courage Competition

Yves Courage gets more ambitious by the year, having taken over Jean Rondeau's mantle of Le Mans' favourite son. Three cars are promised this time, two powered by the Porsche flat-6 and the third Nissan-engined. Drivers are likely to be Jean Denis Deletraz, Pascal Faber, Denis Morin, Alessandro Santin and maybe Jean Louis Bousquet, plus Anders Olofsson and Takao Wada in the intriguing Cougar-Nissan. A fourth car for Philippe Farina will be entered under the Courage Competition banner and will run in C2 with a "detuned" 2.8 litre Porsche engine.

201 202 203 Mazdaspeed

The friendliest of the Japanese teams, run in Europe out of Silverstone-based Alan Docking Engineering. Three 767Bs are entered with 13J quad-rotor Wankel powerplants, the FIA equivalency of 4.7-litres giving a claimed 600 bhp to the Nigel Stroud-penned honeycomb chassis. Two of the tubs will be these (767-001 and 002) which ran at the Sarthe last year in GTP, a class which they will have to themselves again this time. Expect no dramatics: the team will be going for a three-car finish, hopefully ahead of the other Japanese manufacturers, and the driver line-up will be a strong combined European/Japanese one, featuring David Kennedy and Yojiro Terada.

5 6 16 Repsol Brun Motorsport

No fewer than four entries here, and Walter Brun is better equipped than most of the Porsche privateers to deliver as promised. All should run with fairly standard long-tail low-drag Le Mans configuration, though the chassis will be drawn from the various parts of Brun's current WSC/IMSA/Supercup racing empire and will probably feature factory-built sheet-aluminium and TC Prototypes-built honeycomb tubs. All will sport Bosch 1.7 Motronic-managed 3-litre Porsche flat-6 engines. With a driver roll-call of Larrauri, Dickens, Schafer, Huysman, Pareja, and Stuck if he can be wrested away from his contract with Joest, don't be surprised if one of these machines puts one over on the factory teams.

7 8 9 Joest Racing

Definitely the private team which all the others will be watching. Two straight wins in 1984-85, mainly on the basis of enhanced fuel-consumption, have never been properly explained. Stuck is under contract to Joest for this race, and if he remains so it should be a very formidable combination, though his flamboyant driving style may wreck Joest's fuel figures! As there is no official factory presence in the championship this year, the team is the most likely recipient of one of the latest build of Porsche's new-specification 962 chassis, which should feature a number of stiffer aluminium-honeycomb panels in the construction. If not, all three entries will be drawn from Joest's stock of factory constructed sheet-aluminium chassis, powered by the latest 1.7 engine package. Hans Stuck, Bob Wollek and Frank Jelinski are likely to crew the lead car.

10 11 Porsche Kremer Cologne

The third of the regular Porsche private outfits had also originally put forward three entries, but is now down to two. The cars are likely to be Kremer's own honeycomb "clones" built by TC Prototypes in Northampton but the new carbon-fibre CK6/89-1 might be brought along. Like Brun and Joest, they will utilise 1.7 Motronic-equipped Porsche power-units. Standard low-drag body and underbody configurations can be expected, but the Cologne-based team will probably experiment again with a central dorsal fin designed with the Mulsanne Straight in mind. Kremer has had reliable runs to the finish in recent years but has never really been high in the order — so a change of luck is due, and with old-stager Bruno Giacomelli leading the driver line-up, 1989 could be the year.

14 15 Richard Lloyd Racing

Two cars from the hardest-trying of the Porsche teams which is perennially short of sponsors. This year the team has at least secured the services of Derek Bell and Tiff Needell. One entry will be based on Lloyd's own newly-constructed 962 honeycomb clone chassis, dressed in the special aerodynamics package which looks almost nothing like a Porsche now but owes a lot to Jaguar thinking (at the rear end anyway), and the latest engine. The other will probably be the older GTI car, as run last year but updated to similar trim. RLR has a fine record here and has come close to victory before.

101 102 Chamberlain Engineering

For the last two years Hugh Chamberlain's team has produced some startling performances in practice here, due in no small part to the heroic antics of Nick Adams but also by virtue of being equipped with a blown Hart 418T powerplant on 1.4-bar boost. Race performance has not yet lived up to this promise though. If the two cars can hang together, they must be the leading contenders for C2 honours. Two Spice-Cosworths are promised, but at least one may end up being "old nail" SE86C-002 with its Hart in the rear. The other Spice should be a brand new car fresh from the factory. Fermin Velez will co-drive the lead car with Adams.

20 33 55 Team Davey

Having had his efforts to gain a foothold in endurance racing with a Tiga-Cosworth turbo come to a fiery end, Tim Lee-Davey purchased a brand new factory-built Porsche (962-138) at the end of last year and joined the "mainstream". An entry of three cars has been posted, two of which are for Vern Schuppan, in return for which Lee-Davey will receive one of Schuppan's own carbon-fibre tubs with the 1.7 Motronic package. Schuppan's driver line-up will comprise Schuppan himself, Eje Elgh, Will Hoy, CART driver Dominic Dobson and possibly Jean Alesi. Lee-Davey is negotiating for Peter Oberndorf to join his team.