Le Mans lure for Maserati

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Maserati is on course to return to the Le Mans 24 Hours after an absence of 45 years, with its controversial MC12.

The German Vitaphone Racing team, winner of nine FIA GT Championship titles in five seasons, is planning to exploit a decision by the Automobile Club de l’Ouest to allow new-rules GT1 machinery to race in the 24 Hours next season. Its accord with the FIA on GT rules means that any car eligible for the new FIA GT1 World Championship in 2010 will be allowed at Le Mans.

That decision has opened the door to the Maserati supercar (above), which has been unable to participate at Le Mans under the previous ACO GT1 rules. The MC12 has been given a year’s grace to race in the World Championship, albeit in modified form.

Vitaphone boss Michael Bartels has revealed that he wants to take up the two guaranteed entries his team has gained for the 24 Hours by virtue of winning the teams’ and manufacturers’ FIA GT titles. He has stopped short of confirming the programme for next year’s race.

“We have been trying to go to Le Mans since 2005 [when Vitaphone Racing was established] and the Maserati board is very supportive of the idea,” said Bartels.

“I would like to be there, but we have to see what we can put together.” The last Maserati to race at Le Mans was in 1965 when Jo Siffert and Jochen Neerpasch shared a privately-entered Tipo 65. Maserati-engined Ligier coupes subsequently raced at La Sarthe in the mid-1970s. Nissan is also set to end a much shorter hiatus at Le Mans. The Gigawave Motorsport squad, its development partner in FIA GTs (left), has stated its intention to be on the grid next June with a pair of GTRs built to the new GT1 rules. Nissan, a regular at La Sarthe through the 1980s and ’90s, last competed in the 24 Hours in 1999 with the Britishbuilt R391 prototype.