So, you didn't make it to Le Mans this year, and you're relegated to trying to keep up with the race online and on TV.
Here's a few things to keep an eye on this year in what should be a barn-burner of a 100th edition of the world's greatest sports car race:
Americans Could Be Represented On 3 Podiums
With competitive cars entered in each of the three classes—plus the innovative category where the Hendrick Motorsports Camaro in Garage 56 will show ’em some NASCAR-style racing—it’s possible an American team stands on each of the podiums.
The Cadillacs of Chip Ganassi Racing and Action Express, plus three of the German-American entries of Porsche Penske Motorsport have numbers. Their six cars give them a good shot at an American team on the overall podium for the first time since, well, last year.
Jim Glickenhaus’s eponymous 007 entries are back again this year, too, after finishing a distant third in 2022.
It’s easy to forget that United Autosports’ entries in LMP2 are co-owned by American Zak Brown, CEO at McLaren, and Brit Richard Dean. The team won in Round 2 of the WEC in Portugal and took second at Sebring and Spa.
Corvette Racing (pictured) is a good bet to win with the C8.R in its last appearance at Le Mans as a factory-backed team. The team won the first two rounds of the WEC in the GTE Am class.
Dempsey-Proton Racing’s Porsche, where Hollywood sensation Patrick Dempsey hangs with his winning smile and a major passion for racing, earned a second place in Sebring’s WEC round.
Opening Hour More Important Than You Think
The ACO’s 11th hour BOP rule change handed the front row to the Ferrari 499Ps of Antonio Fuoco and Alessandro Pier Guidi.
The Toyota Gazoo Racing GR010 Hybrid of Brandon Hartley, whose dicey handling with 37 kilos (81.5 pounds) of additional weight from BOP was apparent during the Hyperpole session, was just over a half a second behind.
But what about race pace? Will the Ferraris be able to maintain their qualifying advantage? Which other teams may step up over the course of one or two fuel stops and double-stinted tires?
The Porsche 963s and Cadillac V-Series.R entries were consistent in free practice and qualifying, but do they have enough pace to stay on the lead lap with the Ferraris and Toyotas?
In LMP2 or GTE Am, were any of the teams sandbagging despite all of the attention paid to Hyperpole? If so, they might break out quickly.
Cadillac Is Back and on a Mission
The last time Cadillac embarked on trying to win Le Mans in 2000, it did not go well.
The company arrived with a $30 million dollar budget for its LMP1 just in time to do battle with Reinhold Joest’s factory Audi team and the Audi R8. It’s often said Audi’s annual budget was $100 million.
To make matters worse, a decision to split the budget between an American team and a French team did not go well. One of the DAMS entries caught fire at the start and went up like a bonfire. A crash in morning warm-up resulted in an electrical failure and the fire.
A brief fire at the rear of Sebastien Bourdais’s No. 3 Cadillac during Hyperpole must have been a bit eerie for the Cadillac camp until Thursday night’s fire was quickly extinguished after Sebastien Bourdais parked it near marshalls.
“Managed to do lap one on the peak of the tire and I got an amazing first sector and it was a really solid lap,” he said. “Then I started losing some time and it just went away.’’
The No. 3 car will start eighth. The car also caught fire at Sebring and had to retire. But one expects the Chip Ganassi Racing to remain focused as evidenced by its comeback at Laguna Seca in May and the sixth place qualifying of the No. 2 car during Hyperpole.
This time Cadillac hired another American team, Sebring winners Action Express Racing, to achieve a three-car entry.
Last Call for Corvette Racing
GM will switch to a customer program next season as it transitions to the new Z06 GT3.Rs. That means this is the last factory-backed appearance of Corvette Racing at Le Mans after 22 years and eight victories with three different generations of America’s premier sports car.
In the future, two customer-owned Z06 GT3.Rs are anticipated for the WEC.
To say the current Corvette Racing WEC team is fired up about bringing the C8.R its first victory at Le Mans would be an understatement. When Nico Varrone crashed in the first free practice, the team completely rebuilt the right side of the car and got Nicky Catsburg out into qualifying in the “nick” of time. His lap advanced the team to the final round of Hyperpole. The repairs included suspension pieces, brakes, front and rear fenders, door and rocker panels, plus the wing, rear facia and decklids, among other items.
“It sounds weird now, but it was a nice boost actually for everyone,” said Catsburg. “It’s a good feeling to know we have made it.”
Texan Ben Keating then won the pole in the Hyperpole session by getting a tow from a rival Ferrari down the Mulsanne straight.
“I passed him into Mulsanne (corner), and he didn't slow me down any. It was incredible and I thought that was as good as it gets.”
Team manager Marc Maurini said the best time to see who is quickest in the GTE Am race is around nightfall in France (or 4 p.m. EDT).
The Corvette team has something in it’s back pocket for the race, he said, but so do the other teams.
“About 10 or 11 o’clock at night, (4 to 5 p.m. EDT) you start to realize who you’re racing against. In terms of our car speed, that depends on how well everybody else is prepared. But in operational terms, we’re at the top of our game.”
New Safety Car, Restart Rules
Lambasted in some quarters as American-style racing, the new safety car rules will bunch the entire field for restarts after being reorganized according to cars on the lead lap in each class.
That’s the same approach as used in IMSA and a change from the previous use of three safety cars at Le Mans.
It might become “cautions breeding cautions.” But there will be a lot of door-to-door racing once the green falls following safety car periods.
All bets are on if there’s a safety car in the final hours. Ironically, that’s when the Le Mans regulars might go to NASCAR-style “rubbing is racing” while the NASCAR Garage 56 entry drivers, if still racing, will be trying to steer clear in order to make the finish!
All Eyes on Garage 56
One can expect the NASCAR/Hendrick Motorsports Camaro to get a fair amount of TV coverage coming out of Garage 56.
Watch it through the Porsche Curves and then the final Ford Curve leading to the front straight to judge its road-racing ability.
The Porsche Curves are taken at daunting high speed. Not long afterward, there’s a major side-to-side weight shift entering the Ford Curve, virtually a chicane, leading to the front straight.
The goal? Finish the race.
The Envelope Please ... Time to Pick the Winners
Right. It’s a 24-hour. So, who knows?
Here's the picks for this year's podium finishers:
Hypercar: Ferrari AF Corse, Toyota Gazoo Racing, Porsche Penske Motorsports.
LMP2: United Autosports, WRT Racing, JOTA
GTE LM: AF Corse Ferrari, Corvette Racing, Richard Mille AF Corse Ferrari