- Circuite de la Sarthe
- Le Mans, France
- 8.4 miles
- 38 turns
- 24 hours
- Start time: 2:30pm (Le Mans local time)
2020 is shaping up as a year of firsts, and not all of the good variety. On the plus side, Le Mans is being held this weekend so we’ve got premiere endurance racing, yay! That wasn’t a given in the early days during this pandemic. Ok now for the bad. Since its inception in 1923, only during WWII (’40-48) were there no fans or any races, but this year’s running of Le Mans will welcome no fans, and only a limited numbers of journalists to witness in person the field of 59 cars. And it should also be noted that this is only the 4th or 5th time the race has not been held on the traditional mid-June date.
Le Mans has long been considered the 3rd jewel of the motorsports triple crown, the others being the Indianapolis 500, and the Grand Prix of Monaco which are both usually held in May with Le Mans following in June. I think that is well justified considering 1) it’s held on a storied course, a hybrid of both purpose built circuit and public roads 2) this combination of track and public road brings unique challenges to racing, think different handling/grip profiles and levels of maintenance 3) the length of the circuit, at over 8 miles only the Nordschleife is longer, 4) multi class racing means there are 5 separate races going simultaneously and drivers have to contend with the different speed profiles that each class exhibits, meaning that once you master the characteristics of the cars in your class you also have to be aware of classes that are faster and slower than your class and then how that impacts your strategy in terms of overtaking and passing both during daylight hours and at nighttime when the difficulty factor increases, and not least of which 5) it’s a 24 hour race which will expose the cars and drivers to different weather patterns, drivers battling fatigue coupled with racing through the night not to mention the strain the cars and the various systems will face over the course of the race.
Now on to the plot lines shaping up for this years race. The first and oldest plot line is mother nature, what will the conditions be for the 24 hours of the race? In some ways this will be a completely different race because of the date. In 2019, the temperature at the 3pm start was 68 degrees Fahrenheit, and coldest temp was 59 degrees Fahrenheit around 3am. This weekend’s temperatures are predicted to be a high of 79 degrees, and low of 60 degrees Fahrenheit. Now, the ambient temperature is not what the drivers will be feeling in the cockpit as they are surrounded by 4 layers in their fire suite and nomex balaclava situated within a carbon sarcophagus of carbon fiber and titanium with no ac. Nor will the ambient temperatures accurately reflect the damage that the mixed surface of the Circuit de la Sarthe will exact on the car’s tires. Normally on asphalt surfaces on grand prix circuits track temperatures are anywhere between 40-50 degrees higher than the ambient temps. So last years adjusted hight temp was more like 108-118 while this weekend’s adjusted temp will be around 119-130 degrees Fahrenheit. This temperature adjustment is dependent on how much sun can break through the cloud cover. The weather was cloudy to overcast throughout the race which is ideal for drivers as there are no blind spots during the sunrise or sunset around the track/circuit. thunderstorms are predicted for Saturday. Additionally, if rain precedes the race it may impact the amount of rubber which will have been laid down on the previous qualifying days which would translate into less traction for the opening leg.
Another casualty of the later date in the year is daylight. Driving at night is only second to driving in the rain for the challenge presented to race car drivers. There is typically 16 hours of daylight in June versus an average of 12:20 hours in September. It will be interesting to see how each impacts the cars/drivers as both hazards will be out in force this weekend.
Now we come to the cars/teams. With Audi’s retirement from endurance racing followed a few years later by Porsche, Toyota remains the only manufacturer’s team competing in the elite LMP1 class, the other entrants are privateers with those cars not really on the same level of technical innovation or utilizing the potent hybrid systems that the factory teams have brought year after year. It should be noted that this will be the last year for the hybrid systems, as organizers revamp the fuel regulations for the future. LMP2 is still a solid class as usual with 24 entries. The biggest loss this year is in LM GTE Pro, for the first time in many many years this will be a Euro only field as the Ford retired their factory GT teams last year, and Corvette chose not to enter their C8’s due to the current pandemic conditions in France. This year we’ll be treated to a three way battle between Aston Martin, Ferrari, and Porsche, I think this will be the class to watch!
Check out the official spotter’s guide for the race at Andy Blackmore’s website, SpotterGuides.Com If you download a copy of this wonderful guide you might consider making a donation to Andy as his work is excellent, and as I mentioned earlier 2020 hasn’t been kind to us.
For those in the US, you’ll be able to watch the entire race on MotorTrend TV, and no matter where you’re located I recommend tuning into Radio LeMans for their excellent commentary and insight throughout the race.