Porsche has confirmed that it will not be contesting the Le Mans 24-hour race in June, further depleting the number of mainstream manufacturers looking likely to attend the event. This despite Porsche actively pursuing a development programme on a Le Mans-type prototype.
Porsche’s non-appearance removes from the scene the last of the big, traditional works teams to whom victory would most likely fall. After two disastrous years, Mercedes is staying away as is Toyota after coming agonisingly close to outright victory in ’98 and ’99. BMW, winners in ’99, has nothing further to prove and altogether bigger fish to fry in Formula One and Nissan, whose years of efforts have yet to be rewarded with victory, are also confirmed as stay-aways.
In the main prototype category, that leaves only Audi and Cadillac as representative of mainstream production car manufacturers. These are likely to encounter severe competition from not only the works Panoz team but also from privateers running ex-works BMW prototypes. A Chrysler powered Reynard is also slated to take the start. In lesser categories there is sure to be competition aplenty between Chrysler Vipers and Chevrolet Corvettes mixed in with an array of private Porsches.
Le Mans has always had a cyclical nature and interest in the race had been growing ever since its lowest ebb at the end of the Group C era in 1993; to that end, the withdrawal of so many headline marques is perhaps more inevitable than surprising. Also, as those who enjoyed the races in the mid ’90s before the big manufacturers became involved will tell you, a lack of big names in no way precludes decent racing. What Le Mans in 2000 might well provide is closer competition and a new winning marque without the crowds usually attracted by the big guns. Either way, expect Le Mans to regenerate again over the next 2-3 years and the charge to be led by Britain, with Aston Martin and Bentley leading the way. AF