2022 24 Hours of Le Mans Guide: A Very Familiar Race

·9 min read
Photo credit: James Moy Photography - Getty Images
Photo credit: James Moy Photography - Getty Images

Despite all the excitement surrounding the future of the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 2023, this year's race is something of a pre-transitional moment. Porsche, Ferrari, Cadillac, Peugeot, Lamborghini, Alpine, and, potentially, expansion of Acura and BMW programs based in America are all still at least a year away from fighting for the overall win with all-new cars. GTE-Pro will eventually be replaced by GT3, but for now it's still the same three manufacturers racing in a class that currently includes two cars based on cars that have already been replaced on the road. The one-off NASCAR Camaro is still a year away, too. If all that sounds familiar, yes, this is almost exactly like the 2021 race.

But Saturday's race still counts in the history books as a 24 Hours of Le Mans, so there are still stakes. Here's what you need to know.

Photo credit: James Moy Photography - Getty Images
Photo credit: James Moy Photography - Getty Images

Toyota's going to win, right?

Almost certainly! As the only true factory entry in the race, Toyota's two GR010 Hypercars are the runaway favorites to take what would be the company's fifth straight win at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. They'll lock out the front row, too, thanks to a strong effort in today's "Hyperpole" qualifying. Alpine and Scuderia Cameron Glickenhaus are also racing in the top class, but neither car is a hybrid and Alpine's car is actually a grandfathered-in LMP1 car built by Rebellion Racing ahead of a factory effort by the manufacturer itself scheduled for 2024. Again, neither are hybrid, and neither have gone through as rigorous a development plan as the Toyota. As such, neither are expected to be as reliable.

What that means is, while the gaps behind the Toyotas may be smaller now than they were in the LMP1 era, anything but a win for Toyota would be a shocking upset. That's by design, as this race is ultimately built around factory-backed prototypes and the prestige that comes to a manufacturer with winning overall. It has been a long time since a fully private effort has won at Le Mans, though I'm sure all of you Rondeau fans are just itching for one.

Photo credit: James Moy Photography - Getty Images
Photo credit: James Moy Photography - Getty Images

So how does Toyota lose?

As the GR010 has no natural competitors right now, Toyota generally does not enter an additional car at Le Mans. In a race where anything can and will happen, that means they have very little margin for error even if their car is as dominant in race pace as most expect. Any single issue for one car, whether that's mechanical or related to an incident on track, would put one of those cars into catch-up mode. If the issue costs more than about 20 minutes, it might be an unrecoverable gap. Sometimes, even four-car entries from manufacturers aren't enough redundancy to overcome the chaos of Le Mans. So far, two has been more than enough for Toyota.

Last year, Toyota's margin of victory was four laps over the other Hypercar competitors. That comes out to some 14 minutes on track, but neither car was forced to push hard late in the race after the lead was built. In practice, the GR010s can probably build a bigger lead over 24 hours and can probably close a bigger on-track gap after any issue that sends them behind the wall. Without a significant improvement from their 2021 speed, Alpine and Glickenhaus would need more than a couple flat tires to fight the leading Toyotas. Not that anything bad ever happens to the Toyota Le Mans effort!

Photo credit: Eurasia Sport Images - Getty Images
Photo credit: Eurasia Sport Images - Getty Images

What about the other 27 prototypes?

In part because the top-level prototype field is so small, almost half of this year's 24 Hours of Le Mans grid is made up of LMP2 cars. This is not a spec class; there are four different legal chassis options available to LMP2 teams. The Oreca, however, has long proven to be the best of these chassis options at Le Mans, so 26 of the 27 cars in the class are Orecas. All are powered by the same spec Gibson engine, so there's no variation there, either.

There is, however, a good amount of talent, and a lot of that talent will be headed for factory teams next year. A couple of those teams, Team Penske and AF Corse, will actually be running Hypercar programs for factory outlets themselves. Two of Team Penske's drivers, Dane Cameron and Felipe Nasr, are already confirmed to be a part of that Porsche operation.

They aren't the only highlight names. With LMP2 being the best chance for a driver to prepare themselves for a run at an overall win next year, the field is full of pros targeting prospective prototype rides in an upcoming massive expansion of available Hypercar seats. Esteban Guttierez, Robert Kubica, and Will Stevens join Nasr as former F1 drivers looking for their shot at the overall title next year. Formula E's Robin Frijns and Antonio Felix da Costa are here, as are former IndyCar drivers Ed Jones and Sebastien Bourdais. Even WRC star Sebastian Ogier is in this class, part of what he hopes will be a ramp-up to a run in the Toyota GR010 in the future.

But, even with 27 cars, LMP2 is not always a great battle. Two or three are generally left over to fight for the win at the end, but the combination of uneven lineups (ten of the 27 are pro-am teams with two amateur drivers rather than one) and surprising unreliability generally leaves this class as the one hit hardest by attrition overnight. If we get a good LMP2 fight, savor it.

Photo credit: James Moy Photography - Getty Images
Photo credit: James Moy Photography - Getty Images

What about those GT cars?

GTE-Pro is being phased out after next year, so none of the remaining manufacturers in the class are actively developing new cars. That means we're frozen in place in the 2020 season, when Corvette had just introduced the C8.R and both Ferrari and Porsche were racing the ultimate evolutions of their 488 and 991-generation 911 GT3, respectively. Two of those cars may now be out of production, but at least it means a few more races with Porsche's unreal mid-engined 911 GT3 RSR.

There are just seven cars in the class, two from each factory plus an extra Ferrari from American constructor and team operator Riley Motorsports. The Ferrari factory program is run by AF Corse, as it has been for the past decade.

The biggest names in the class are the stars of these factory GT programs: Kevin Estre, James Calado, Antonio Garcia. But the most exciting name is Shane van Gisbergen, an Australian Supercars champion making his long-awaited Le Mans debut after half a decade as one of the best part-time sports car racers in the world. If he nails this audition, the offer next year could be a Hypercar.

Photo credit: James Moy Photography - Getty Images
Photo credit: James Moy Photography - Getty Images

No, what about those other 23 GT cars?

That's GTE-Am, a pro-am class where two gentleman drivers partner with one pro in older GTE cars. As the class allows these older cars to compete, the highlight is that three Aston Martins left over from the company's past life as a factory GT program. Mostly, though, GTE-Am is about getting more pro-am entries on the grid to fill a 60-plus car race in a year with only 12 entries in the fully-professional classes.

You don't really need to pay attention to GTE-Am.

Photo credit: Cadillac
Photo credit: Cadillac

So what's next?

By now, you may have put together that year's Le Mans is not the most exciting. Fortunately, next year's race is the most exciting in decades. Three decades, arguably.

At the top, the LMDh rule set arrives to provide a second option for the Hypercar class. Porsche and Cadillac are already confirmed for full World Endurance Championship programs, which means both will be bringing what should be many cars to Le Mans. BMW's new M Hybrid V8 is only confirmed for IMSA competition next year, but a WEC program could still be on the table for that manufacturer, too.

Then there are the new cars being built to the existing LMH ruleset. Peugeot's 9X8, originally scheduled to debut for this year's race, will start racing in the World Endurance Championship next month ahead of a Le Mans charge next year. Ferrari has not yet teased their Hypercar entry, but the company previously announced that their longtime GTE-Pro factory partners AF Corse will run a Ferrari Hypercar in 2023, too. That means the class is going from one manufacturer to at least five overnight. Even if the U.S.-based Acura and BMW programs never join, that still grows to seven when confirmed LMDh programs from Lamborghini and Alpine join the fray in 2024.

Then there's Garage56. Although the entry has not yet been confirmed, a strong partnership between NASCAR and the Le Mans-sanctioning ACO in IMSA suggests that an official invitation should soon be extended to Hendrick Motorsports to run a NASCAR stock car in next year's race. It'll be an odd thing, faster on the straights and slower in every corner than a traditional GT car, but it'll be a NASCAR stock car racing at Le Mans for the full 24 hours. If it makes it that far, at least.

GT3 racing isn't coming to the 24 hour classic until 2024, which may mean an early end for GTE-Pro in next year's race. While that's not ideal, it leaves all the more room for additional entries from factory operations in Hypercar. When GT3 cars are eligible to race at Le Mans in 2024, it will immediately open opportunities for entries representing just about every manufacturer that currently builds race cars.

But, until then, we have the 2022 race. 24 hours that count in the record books exactly as much as 2023. In the U.S., you can watch all 24 hours on either the Motortrend cable network or the equivalent streaming app.

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