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Bumper grid for Le Mans

Expanded pits will allow the 24 Hours field to hit 60 cars this year, for the first time since 1955 | By Gary Watkins

The grid for the Le Mans 24 Hours will hit 60 cars this year, for the first time since 1955.

Race organiser the Automobile Club de l’Ouest had planned to expand the entry capacity from 56 to 60 cars in two stages over the 2016 and 2017 seasons, but the date was brought forward due to the high number of quality entries for this year’s 84th running of the race.
Le Mans takes place on June 18/19. 

“When we saw the size and quality of the entry, we knew we had to find a solution,” said ACO president Pierre Fillon when the entry list was announced early in February. He revealed that 73 applications had been received for the big race.

Four additional garages are under construction at the end of the pitlane, but the plan had been for only two of them to house additional cars in 2016. The other pair would have been used for technical checks ahead of further remodelling of the pit complex for 2017, which will result in both scrutineering and parc fermé moving to a new site under race control. 

The scrutineers have now been given what is being described as a temporary home prior to the next phase of redevelopment, which will include relocation of the medical centre. 

The grid for the 24 Hours reached the 60-car mark on four occasions in the 1950s: 1950, 1951, 1953 and 1955. The entry was then cut to 55 after completion of a new pits structure and a realignment of the start/finish straight for the 1956 race, in the wake of the ’55 disaster in which more than 80 spectators and driver Pierre Levegh died. 

Prior to the 1991 event, replacement of the ageing pits cut the entry to 48 cars. This crept up with the addition of new garages through the 2000s, reaching 56 cars in 2010. The ACO has stressed that there are no plans to increase the size of the grid beyond 60. 

 

The entry in detail

The 60-car field is headed by the six manufacturer LMP1 entries from Porsche, Audi and Toyota, which will contest the full WEC. This is a reduction on the 11 factory cars that took the start last year. That follows Nissan’s withdrawal and the joint decision by Porsche and Audi against fielding additional cars at Le Mans – a cost-cutting measure in the wake of the ‘dieselgate’ emissions scandal that engulfed parent company Volkswagen. 

The GTE Pro field is boosted from nine to 14 cars with the addition of four Ford GTs. The British-based WEC squad will run under the Ford Chip Ganassi Team UK banner and the IMSA SportsCar Championship operation will race as Ford Chip Ganassi Team USA. 

Ford Performance director Dave Pericak said: “This is a big deal for us. We are proud to be represented with four cars. There always had to be a doubt about getting four when you look at the quality of previous entry lists.” 

Three Porsche 911 RSRs are on the GTE Pro list. The German manufacturer has gained two entries for its Manthey squad, despite opting against mounting a full-factory defence of its 2015 WEC titles. Porsche is also represented by a factory-supported car to be run under the flag of Dempsey-Proton Racing, in which Richard Lietz will attempt to retain his crown in the full WEC. 

The US Risi Competizione Ferrari team, which claimed class honours in the 24 Hours in 2008-09, has also boosted the GTE Pro field with its first Le Mans entry since 2010. It will run the Ferrari 488 GTE that made its debut at the Daytona 24 Hours in January. 

Corvette Racing is back with two cars, as is Aston Martin. The British team, which is swapping from Michelin to Dunlop tyres, has downscaled from three to two Pro entries for 2016.

The LMP2 prototype field has increased from the 19 cars that started last year’s race to 22. These include a Ligier-Honda JSP2 fielded by the IMSA regular Michael Shank Racing, winner of the 2012 Daytona 24 Hours, and an ORECA-Nissan 05 fielded by British single-seater team Manor Motorsport, which is entering the sports car arena for the first time. 

The field is completed by 14 GTE Am cars and the entry for an ‘innovative car’ in the slot that previously went by the ‘Garage 56’ name. The ACO has also announced a list of 10 reserves.  

A total of 32 entries has been received for the WEC. That’s down from the 35 registered ahead of the start of 2015, but represents an increase given a series of withdrawals ahead of that season. 

 

Track to remain shut

The public road sections of the Circuit de la Sarthe will remain closed between Wednesday and Thursday qualifying in what is believed to be a first. The Mulsanne Straight and the run from Mulsanne Corner to the Porsche Curves will not reopen to traffic on Thursday to allow more track time for the support races, in particular the Michelin-sponsored Le Mans GT3 Cup event. 

ACO sporting manager Vincent Beaumesnil said: “This will allow us to have more free practice for the GT3 Le Mans Cup and also to give a little bit more track time to the Ferrari Challenge [the second support race scheduled for Saturday morning]. We also have plans for some other interesting on-track activities.”

The public roads will reopen as usual following the completion of qualifying at midnight on Thursday. 

The safety upgrade of the Porsche Curves is ongoing. US-style SAFER (steel and foam energy reduction) barriers will be placed in front of the concrete wall at the exit of the first half of the double-left that follows the right-hander leading into the section.  

Changes to the public roads in the vicinity of Indianapolis and Arnage corners will not affect the circuit, with the exception of effectively turning a short section from the left-hander at Indianapolis to the sharp right at Arnage into part of the permanent circuit. A new link road and a roundabout to the south of Arnage are being built to eradicate a local accident black spot.