Official scrutineering launches Le Mans week

The build-up toward the Le Mans 24 Hours got underway today in the city center, with just over half of the field passing through the traditional scrutineering route in front of the public. Held in bright sunshine and in front of a sizeable crowd, day one of scrutineering saw many key teams and drivers get a first taste of the pre-race atmosphere.

Team WRT attracted the most attention in the opening hours, as its quartet of BMWs paraded through town, three of them in new-for-Le Mans liveries, including the No. 20 M Hybrid V8 “art car.”

In the Hypercar ranks, just three of the team’s full-season WEC drivers were present — Rafaelle Marciello, Robin Frijns and Dries Vanthoor — due to the clash with the DTM round at Zandvoort this weekend.


That scheduling conflict will be tricky to manage, with Marco Wittmann, Sheldon van der Linde and Rene Rast set to make the 435-mile journey to Le Mans on Sunday directly after the second race of the weekend which is due to finish at 2:30pm.

Nevertheless, all three here in France were keen to speak ahead of what is a hugely significant week for the Bavarian brand at La Sarthe, which is celebrating 25 years since it took its famous win in 1999 with the V12 LMR.

For Marciello, the initial goal is to finish well and get points on the board for the first time this season. The former Mercedes-AMG factory driver, who made a high-profile move to BMW in the off-season, is yet to hit his stride in Hypercar since his debut at the start of the season in Qatar, and is hopeful that things will turn around soon.

“We are going to try to ensure the car can handle 24 hours,” he told RACER. “It’s difficult to predict the level of performance because Ferrari, Porsche, Toyota and Cadillac are very strong. But we have a new (two-stage) BoP here (which provides the rule-makers with two levels of power control, below and above 250 kph) so you never know what will happen.”

In general, the entire team is expecting to take a step forward in performance terms for Le Mans. WRT boss Vincent Vosse told RACER that its pre-Le Mans test at Paul Ricard was successful. He also hinted that minor upgrades on the software and systems side of the M Hybrid V8 should see it emerge more in the fight.

“We were not happy with Qatar, but the step was quite big in Imola. We made another step in Spa too but we didn’t put that on paper with the result of the race,” he said. “We qualified P6 with Robin, which is good.

“To me, the season is starting now we are at Le Mans. We are expecting to have made a good step, but we don’t know what the others have done or if they have been hiding things. We won’t know until Thursday night.

“We tested recently at Ricard, then did a roll-out in Spa and both went well. We had some rain like we have at I think every test so far, but we expect to be stronger now. It will be a different challenge here for the car compared to Rolex, but progress has been made. We have updates here and we will have to see where we are after Le Mans.”

WRT’s pair of M4 LMGT3s were also present today in their new color schemes. After a disastrous outing at Spa — where both cars retired as victims of multi-car incidents not of their making — the team is looking to secure a strong result at Le Mans and regain ground in the title battle.

For MotoGP legend Valentino Rossi, who shares the No. 46 M4 with Ahmad Al Harthy and Maxime Martin in the WEC, a podium is the target for his Le Mans 24 Hours debut. It wouldn’t be his first trip to the podium on the full Circuit de la Sarthe though, as last year he scored a famous victory with WRT in the Road to Le Mans support races.

“I’m very excited because the atmosphere is so special,” he said. “Last year’s drive was very important, so for me, this year is not the first time (on the Circuit de la Sarthe) and last year I really enjoyed it.

“It’s difficult to (have expectations) because the class is different from track to track. This season we have been quite competitive though so hope to fight for the podium, we hope to be fast and after we will see.”

WRT wasn’t the only LMGT3 team that generated buzz during the morning, as the Aston Martins were present and TF Sport passed through with its pair of Corvettes. Tom Ferrier, the TF Sport team owner, is hoping that the team will be in the mix during the race after a successful recent test at Silverstone.

“Speed-wise we are getting there,” he said. “At Silverstone, we completed engine development stuff which everyone was positive about. It concerned torque controls and software.”

While TF is still waiting for its first standout result since its partnership with Corvette began, Ferrier made it clear to RACER that his team has been extremely impressed with the factory support it has received so far.

He also revealed that the team has taken delivery of its third car from Corvette, which is on-site at the circuit in France and will be on display in the fan village. After this event, the team is looking to put that car to use in an expansion of its Corvette effort, with programs in both the Asian Le Mans Series over the winter and the European LMS next season both under evaluation.

Later in the day, two of the key French factories made their way through Le Pesage – Alpine Endurance Team and Peugeot TotalEnergies.

For Alpine, it’s almost a year to the day since it launched the A424 in public at the circuit on the eve of the centenary race. Reflecting on the journey the Signatech team that operates the program has been on, boss Phillipe Sinault told RACER that he feels a huge amount of pride to bring Alpine’s new challenger to the bumper Hypercar class.

As for expectations, they are modest at this stage. “Getting to the finish with both cars is the number one priority — it has to be — then we will see where we are,” he said. “It’s crucial to the project. We have to focus on reliability.

“The Sunday test will be crucial to evaluate the car, as it will be the first time we will run the car with a low-downforce profile.”

One of the storylines within that effort to follow this week is the performance of the returning Ferdinand Habsburg. The Austrian is back in the lineup after missing Imola and Spa due to injuries suffered in an accident during testing.

Jules Gounon, who filled in for Habsburg, is listed for the Test Day on Sunday but according to Sinault will not drive.

“Ferdi is here because he is ready, no doubt. It’s our responsibility and his responsibility to make sure he is OK,” Sinault said. “We have made a common decision that he is ready and we are focused on getting him laps here.”

It appears that Gounon will not be the only driver listed against a Hypercar he will not drive on the Test Day, as when COOL Racing passed through Scrutineering, 20-year-old Peugeot reserve Malthe Jakobsen explained to RACER that he is unlikely to drive either 9X8.

“The plan at the moment is to focus on LMP3 and COOL Racing, which makes sense,” he said. “I feel confident going into this race, more than last year because I have so much more experience.”

Jakobsen expects to be fighting for overall honors in LMP2 this year with Ritomo Miyata and Lorenzo Fluxa, who he competes with full-time in the ELMS this year. He is one of a number of ELMS contenders in the LMP2 ranks hoping to impress at the biggest race of the year.

Another is IMSA GTP racer Louis Deletraz, who is driving the beautifully presented AO by TF ORECA dressed in “Spike the LMP2 Dragon” colors. With no WTRAndretti or Acura/Honda at Le Mans, he is gunning for the LMP2 Pro/Am victory with PJ Hyett and Alex Quinn.

“To be able to do this and the six ELMS races alongside my IMSA program is very important,” said Deletraz. “The level in P2 Am is so high now because the quality of Bronze drivers is the same and we have factory drivers from IMSA like Filipe (Albuquerque) in the class too.

“The dream program, though, is to do WEC and IMSA together. I hope there are no clashes next year because I’d love to do both. The more races you do, the better — imagine doing all the IMSA and WEC races in the same car!”

Towards the end of the day, it was Cadillac’s turn to pass through the tunnel, the pair of Ganassi V-Series.Rs and the single example from Action Express. They generated, as expected, plenty of attention from V8-loving locals.

While Alex Palou (who is a guest driver in the No. 2 WEC entry alongside Earl Bamber and Alex Lynn) was unable to take part in today’s festivities due to his IndyCar commitments this weekend, newly-minted reserve driver Tristan Vautier was on site, as was Action Express’ new third driver Felipe Drugovich.

Aston Martin F1 reserve Drugovich, who has been honing his prototype racing skills this year in the ELMS with Vector Sport, heads into Le Mans with a test at Laguna Seca under his belt with Cadillac. At the California circuit, his performance was evaluated after a run of some 30 laps in the car.

“There were not many laps because it was really a test for Pipo (Derani) and Jack (Aitken), but I think I did well in my two outings,” related Drugovich. “I was good enough to fill in for this race. It wasn’t good enough to get fully up to speed, but it was enough to show what I could do.”

Scrutineering continues tomorrow when the remaining cars will complete their inspections ahead of Test Day. Porsche Penske Motorsport, Ferrari AF Corse and Toyota Gazoo Racing are among the teams that will be present.

Story originally appeared on Racer