After looking at qualifying for the 2015 running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the LMP1 category has distinct lines drawn between the three veteran manufacturers with Porsche on top of Audi on top of Toyota.
Porsche has secured the top three grid positions for the twice ‘round the clock classic and it’s time for predictions for the LMP1 class.
Winner: Number 18 Porsche
I think Audi might have finally met its match in this race and Dumas, Jani and Lieb will be looking to get to the winner’s podium after finishing second in the first two rounds of the FIA World Endurance Championship to the 2011, 2012 and 2014 Le Mans winners.
Dark horse: Number 1 Toyota
Last year’s fastest qualifying lineup had the race well in hand last year before electrical gremlins stopped them and Toyota have said all along that they were strictly working on race pace. They weren’t putting an ounce of thought into qualifying since the acclaim comes from winning the race instead of setting the fastest qualifying lap.
Long shot: Number 9 Audi
Two out of the three drivers in this car drove together last year and were involved in the early accident between them, a Toyota and a Ferrari on the Mulsanne straight. They’re the slowest Audi with the least experienced lineup, so they’re my LMP1 longshot.
LMP2 is a difficult class to predict, especially since it is the largest class at the 2015 24 Hours of Le Mans. However, there will have to be a winner, and here are my picks.
Winner: Number 26 G-Drive Racing
The car and driver line-up for this entry is one of the best in LMP2. Sam Bird has had numerous amounts of success in various European open-wheel ladder series. Julien Canal has won his class at Le Mans for three years running in 2010, 2011 and 2012. Roman Rusinov finished second in the 2014 FIA WEC standings and third in the 2013 FIA WEC standings. The trip qualified second in class but given their experience, they will be hard to beat.
Dark horse: Number 46 Thiriet by TDS Racing
An all French team with a former Champ Car driver in Tristan Gommendy and a pair of drivers who finished 2nd in LMP2 last year in Pierre Thiriet and Ludovic Badey, this team will be a dark horse in my opinion after G-Drive and KCMG.
Long shot: Number 30 Extreme Speed Motorsports
This is ESM’s first trip to La Sarthe after they forfeited their past entries when they were in the GT category. Team co-owner Scott Sharp has a lot of sports car and open wheel experience in the US and Ryan Dalziel drove a fantastic stint in Austin in 2014 to get the ESM car to a podium position. The wild card for this team will be David Heinemeier Hansson since this will be his first run at Le Mans in an LMP2 car, moving up from the GTE-Am ranks.
GTE-Pro is the smallest class at the 2015 24 Hours of Le Mans with only nine entries, but the class is a very competitive one, so a winner might be hard to predict, especially with the competition between Ferrari and Aston Martin.
Winner: Number 51 AF Corse Ferrari 458 Italia
With the recent announcement of the Ferrari 488 GTB, this could be the last year for the Ferrari 458 Italia, so former F1 drivers Gianmaria Bruni and Giancarlo Fisichella will be looking to give their home marque a victory, especially with ace Ferrari pilot Toni Vilander driving with them. All three have numerous miles of experience in Ferrari cars and know how to win with them.
Dark Horse: Number 97 Aston Martin Racing
Aston Martin has the GTE-Pro pole position with the number 99 car, but the 97 will be the dark horse for the class given its driver lineup. Darren Turner has two wins at Le Mans with five other podiums, Stefan Mucke, who has driven with Turner to two of those podiums, and Robert Bell, whose best finish at Le Mans was fourth in 2009.
Long Shot: Number 64 Corvette Racing C7.R
Corvette Racing were already a bit off from the top step of the podium, but their efforts were hamstrung further with the withdrawal of the number 63 car after Jan Magnussen had a stuck throttle in the Porsche curves. This leaves Oliver Gavin, Tommy Milner and Jordan Taylor as the three drivers that will have to fly the American flag in the GTE-Pro category. Gavin has won Le Mans four times and finished second three times, all with Corvette Racing. Milner won the race for Corvette Racing in 2011 while Taylor finished second last year with Magnussen and Antonio Garcia.
In the GTE-Am category for the 2015 24 Hours of Le Mans, there are a few wild card entries from across the pond, with two GTD teams from the Tudor United Sports Car championship entering cars in the amateur-based division of the GT category at Le Mans. However, the class win more than likely won’t head their way.
Winner: Number 98 Aston Martin Racing
The 98 Aston Martin entry qualified third of ALL GT cars entered this year. They qualified higher than nearly every single GTE-Pro car, which is fantastic considering that the car doesn’t have any 2015 performance modifications on it. Then again, with Paul Dalla Lana, Pedro Lamy and Mathias Lauda behind the wheel, the car will be very hard to beat.
Dark Horse: Number 53 Riley Motorsports-Ti Auto Dodge Viper
The SRT Viper is being driven by Jeroen Bleekemolen and two Americans in Ben Keating and Marc Miller. Keating was a class winner at the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona this year and Miller hasn’t had as much experience in the car as Keating and Bleekemolen have had, but the Tudor regulars will more than likely carry this car to a possible podium.
Long Shot: Number 50 Larbre Competition Corvette
Larbre Competition have won in the GTE class at Le Mans twice with Corvettes in 2011 and 2012 and once with the Saleen in 2010, but success has eluded Larbre recently. Their driver lineup might not be what you’d expect from a French team with no French drivers, but they know how to win, and can do it again if enough luck goes their way.