Say You Want a Revolution………..
There was more to the 'peace in our time' meeting in Paris than was obvious at
the time. The announcement of the four-race Le Mans Endurance Series hits the
right note, and the amalgam of Sports and GT categories will be hugely popular
with the spectators who recall the tremendous battles waged by Audi and Panoz
at Silverstone and the Nurburgring in 2000.
Round up the Usual Suspects
We are going to see full grids and hectic racing right through the fields led by
three Audis (two Audi UK Veloqx and one from Kazumichi Goh), two Racing for
Holland Domes, the Lister Storm LMP, Dallara, Lola B160 AER (formerly MG) and
B2K/10, DBA/Zytek, Courage, Reynard, Pescarolo Sport, Nasamax, Lucchini, WR,
I reckon there will be 20 cars and few absentees from the prototype class, in
marked contrast to the stricken and now deceased FIA Sportscar Championship.
Add, then, half a dozen Ferrari 550 and 575s in the GTS class, three or four
Saleens, a Chevrolet Corvette, the odd Viper and perhaps the Pagani Zonda, and
there is muscle in the midfield. Behind them, any number of Porsche GT3RS and
Ferrari 360 GTC, two improved TVRs and the Morgan Aero 8.
It's funny how these things develop, but few European teams will pay attention to
the American Le Mans Series once Sebring has been run. There is simply too
much going on at home.
Hat Check the Hatchets
Two hatchets were buried, where we do not know but without bloodshed, at the
Place de la Concorde, both wielded by Stephane Ratel. The long running feud
between the FIA and the Automobile Club de l'Ouest has been settled in a joint
effort by Ratel himself, Max Mosley and the ACO's outgoing president, Michel
Cosson "who was able to break the ice and to ally himself with someone who
many considered, erroneously, as an adversary of the ACO."
I'm glad to hear that, glad to know that Mosley's threat ("I will never forgive the
ACO) has been put to rest. That's what he said in June 1991, when he went to Le
Mans and gave a spiel in defence of the 3.5 litre Group C formula just prior to the
24-hour race which had, as I recall, 22 'proper' Group C cars and some
makeweight monopostos, the fore-runners of LMP675. Effectively, the FIA lashed
the ACO to the mast of a sinking ship, and the consequence was entirely
Straight after the race the ACO announced that it would withdraw from the FIA
Sportscar Championship, and FIA president Mosley took that very much to heart.
"They have stabbed me in the back" he said rather dramatically. The Group C
championship was on its death-bed anyway, and but for Jean Todt's insistence
on keeping the Peugeot team in being for another year it would have died there
That was a long time ago, and such matters should be dead and buried. I would
have liked to see Mosley up on the platform shaking hands with M. Cosson, and
with his successor Jean-Claude Plassart, but we don't live in a perfect world.
At the end of 1996 Ratel and Juergen Barth, the B and the R, had a big bust-up
with Patrick Peter, the P in BPR, and it has taken seven years for matters to be
patched up. Now, Peter is the LMES championship coordinator, with the
additional task of organising the Classic Endurance Racing support series.
Peter has always been in favour at Le Mans, indeed organised the highly
successful Classic 24-Hours in September 2002, but I doubted that Ratel would
want to work with Peter, or indeed that Peter would be acceptable to FIA president
Mosley after an unpleasant exchange of opinions in 1997, but miracles do
"We may not have always agreed on everything" said Ratel, "but we have kept, I
believe, a mutual esteem that has made our rapprochement within this new
At long last, it became clear how the new ACO categories are been structured,
both for the LMES and for the 24-Hours. There are two main categories, LMP1 and
LMP2, essentially catering for new and much safer prototypes which will, however,
have more drag on the bodywork and will therefore be slower.
There are not likely to be any new cars in the LMP1 category, and Lucchini might
be the shining example in LMP2 this season, so, existing LMP675 and LMP900
cars, also LM-GTP (closed cockpit) will be allowed in under certain conditions.
They are to have smaller inlet air restrictors, smaller fuel tanks and narrower rear
wings, and the carbon chassis LMP675s (Lola MG, DBA) have to move up to the
LMP900 class. The aluminium chassis LMP675 and SR2 refugees, say Lola
B2K/40, Lucchini and Pilbeam, will have better opportunities to win the class.
However, and this is a big proviso, a manufacturer could plonk a draggy LMP2
body on a Lola MG, or DBA, and have it reclassified as an LMP2.
Rear End Restrictions
And by the way, no more quick-change gearboxes! Audi's six-minute gearbox
swaps will simply not be allowed in future. If a gearbox develops a major fault we
will again be treated to the sight of a mechanic kneeling by an oily tray full of very
hot gear wheels, sorting out good from bad at three o'clock in the morning. "This
measure reinforces the notion of endurance and "Endurance is Le Mans"
trumpets the ACO.
Declaration of Independence
Americans, as you were! Don Panoz and Scott Atherton have broken the umbilical
cord and announced that IMSA will delay the implementation of the ACO's 2004
regulations, in accordance with promises made to competitors in 2003 that they
could continue to run their cars without alteration.
The agreement has been warmly welcomed by Rob Dyson, who stood to see his
Lola MG 675s rendered uncompetitive after a single season at the forefront. I can't
help feeling that if IMSA had been prepared to exercise itself a little more strongly
at the end of the end of the 2001 season, citing an agreement thrashed out with
BMW and Porsche, then BMW would not have been so penalised that withdrawal
of the M3 GTR from the ALMS became inevitable.
Saturday Night’s alright for Fighting
Two of the Le Mans Endurance Series races will be held on Saturday evenings, at
the Nurburgring on July 3 - the same weekend as the final of the European soccer
championship, and the Wimbledon tennis final - and at Silverstone on August 14.
All the races will be of 1,000 Kilometre distance, or 6-Hours duration, and the two
Saturday events will start at 4 pm, giving us time to get used to the Xenon
Supporting events will be the 1-hour classic sports car events for cars built
between 1966 and 1973 (Mike Jankowski, owner of the Creation Autosportif team,
will start at favourite, having bought the Ligier JS2 that Willie Green drove to victory
at Le Mans last June), rounds of the Formula Palmer Audi, and Formula X, a
budget price race series.
Van Diemen, the racing car constructor owned by Don Panoz's Elan group, has
produced a series of smart monopostos which may be equipped with single-
seater bodywork or enclosing the wheels, the latter bodywork chosen for the
LMES. The cars are powered by 2-litre Zetec engines developing 200 bhp, and
weigh just 455 kg.
Competitors will stump up 36,000 Euro, plus a 5,000 Euro damage indemnity,
and simply have to turn up at the four circuits in good time for practice, qualifying,
and a half share in each of two one-hour races.
There will also be a couple of national races on each programme, British GT and
Formula 3 selected for the Silverstone and Spa weekends, so it adds up to a very
busy, varied and colourful spectacle.
Some difficult questions remain about the Le Mans Endurance Series. There is
no series sponsor, no prize money (the American Le Mans Series is still unique
in that respect) and, as yet, there is no television coverage. Eurosport, with which
Ratel has very close ties, has a complete schedule for 2004, and this disappoints
Audi, to name but one manufacturer involved.
Ratel must know that he needs to secure good television exposure in 2004, and
land a top-notch television company in 2005, to make the LMES attractive to
manufacturers in the long-term. A series sponsor wealthy enough to endow a
prize fund would go down a treat with the private teams, too. These are major
tasks for all those involved in the organisation of the LMES.
Michael Cotton, January 2004