Le Mans preview

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Petrol teams seek priority

Top petrol prototype teams were still lobbying for rule changes to bring them closer to the all-conquering turbodiesels in the Le Mans 24 Hours as Motor Sport closed for press.

Aston Martin Racing and the French ORECA squad were seeking larger diameter air restrictors to boost the power of all petrol LMP1s in time for the June 13/14 race. They say that penalties imposed on the diesels in May – a 30kg weight penalty and a slower refuelling rate – did not go far enough to create the level playing field promised by the race organiser last summer.

Prodrive boss David Richards said: “Parity is the Automobile Club de l’Ouest’s declared intention, but right now there is a significant disparity that is not good for the sport.

“I understand why Audi and Peugeot are unhappy that there have been [rule] changes so late in the day. What I am saying is, don’t penalise them, but help us. I would like it if the ACO were to say to the petrol teams, ’if you want a bigger [diameter] restrictor, then you can have one’.”

A request by Richards and ORECA boss Hugues de Chaunac to talk to the ACO at the Spa Le Mans Series race in May was turned down.

“I’m not saying ‘change this’ or ‘change that’,” added Richards. “I’m saying, ‘please consider the issue’. The danger is that if the ACO doesn’t do anything, teams like AMR and ORECA may not be able to find the sponsorship [for 2010].

“Our problem could soon become the ACO’s problem. We need to make a decision on what we do next year in the next month. It is a relatively simple thing to address, even at this late stage.”

Audi and Peugeot have both criticised the rule changes for diesels, which were made after the opening rounds of the LMS and the American Le Mans Series. Audi Sport boss Dr Wolfgang Ullrich described their late nature as “unacceptable”.

A debate over the legality of the Audi R15 had yet to be settled as we closed for press. ACO director-general Remy Brouard said there was an ongoing dialogue between Audi and his organisation over two key aerodynamic areas on the German manufacturer’s all-new 2009 Le Mans contender.

“There is a dialogue between us,” said Brouard. “Modifications are being discussed which would be on the car in time for Le Mans.”

Rivals have questioned the front splitter arrangement and an air exit in the engine cover of the R15.

LMP2

Team Goh, outright winner at Le Mans in 2004 with Audi, has to be considered the favourite for LMP2 honours. It returns to La Sarthe with more or less the same team as five years ago and the ex-van Merksteijn Porsche RS Spyder. It has the best car and arguably the best driver line-up in Seiji Ara, Keisuke Kunimoto and Sascha Maassen in the secondary prototype division. The only thing that counts against it is a lack of experience with the RS Spyder – it arrives at Le Mans with only five days’ testing with the car.

GT1

The Corvette Racing GT1 programme will, barring an act of God, bow out with a class win. There’s no real opposition to the two Pratt & Miller-run Chevrolet C6.Rs in the wake of 2007-08 winner Aston Martin Racing’s move up to LMP1. That doesn’t mean there won’t be a GT1 battle. The two ’Vettes will be allowed to race each other and there’s little to choose between their line-ups, even with two new additions. Marcel Fassler joins Oliver Gavin/Olivier Beretta, while Antonio García teams up with Jan Magnussen/Johnny O’Connell.

GT2

Porsche should have the car advantage after a very vigorous winter development programme with the 911 GT3-RSR, but Ferrari has weight in numbers. The works-assisted Felbermayr-Proton Porsche, in which Wolf Henzler is set to join Mark Lieb/Richard Lietz, will shoulder the German marque’s hopes. There are at least four Ferrari 430 GTs – the lead Risi car, the British JMW entry, Scuderia Italia’s solo effort and the AF Corse car – that have line-ups capable of winning. The same can’t be said about the other three Porsches.