Le Mans Test Day
Le Mans Test Day - May 6
May 6. Le Mans Test Day. Now it starts to get very interesting. Ignore for the moment the fact that the four Audis are the odds on favourites to win the race, but look instead at the breadth of new machinery that is on show in the two Prototype classes at Sunday's Test Day. It's a stunning collection, with the bulk of them brand new cars, and the oldest only in existence for a year.

In truth, it wasn't much different a year ago (in terms of the age of the Prototypes), but we did have a Debora, a '98 Bscher BMW and a Courage C52 'cluttering up' the grid; a tongue in cheek remark, because two of those were tipped to excel, and although the BMW struck problems, the Courage had an almost faultfree run and secured a brilliant fourth place. Did Henri Pescarolo consider running this car again? Whether he considered it or not, he hasn't done it. He's perhaps been forced by the level of the competition into going for two C60s.

So what we don't have is an old reliable to come through to a fine finish. What we do have is a brilliant collection of Ps, but a large question mark over reliability for some of them. Do we need to pick them out here? Won't their current level of potential endurance be all too obvious on Sunday? For several car / engine combinations, this will be their first test on a car / engine / chassis tester such as the eight miles of the Le Mans track. Expect some glum faces by Sunday evening.

Look at the new for 2001 list: Joest Audi, DAMS Cadillac, both Domes, Panoz, the Chryslers, the Courages (OK, Gache ran his last year), Bentley, WR, Roock-KnightHawk, MG, Rowan Racing and Dick Barbour's Reynards. What an amazing list. Who among these might wish they'd already got one Le Mans under their belts with their current cars?

Audi? With the exception of that dreadful day in Germany recently, they were looking at least as strong as a year ago. The new chassis are only subtly different, and reliability ought to be excellent. Expect all four R8s (a balanced mix of 2000 and 2001 chassis) to dominate this weeekend. It almost seems that Audi want to test themselves by winning Le Mans at the fastest possible pace, not the slowest possible. They waited a long time before backing off last year - they truly had given their three R8s a remorseless test, and the three cars came through to give enormous credit to all involved in the project. Spending the most doesn’t necessarily guarantee success…..it did last year. And now they have now built a better car still. Truly, the best sportscar team that has ever been.

So what would you choose to challenge them with? A brand new car or something like an Ascari, that is now approaching its peak? A Bentley perhaps? Autosport are reporting a “rear end failure” on an EXP Speed 8 last week - on the second race chassis, which was undergoing its shakedown. Surely Bentley are better prepared than a number of runners? A Cadillac (below)? How did that 24 hour test go? Last year’s was a 20 hour car, even though off the ultimate pace by a margin. Can this one take the Courage C52 role? A better bet than a ???? or a ????.

The Chryslers are potential stars in waiting, but will they have to wait another 12 months? The Domes are even fresher out of the box, but the Judds are out in numbers (five in LMP900). Panoz were aiming to have their LMP07s ready for Le Mans, but was that too tall an order?

For some of the 900s, it will be a case of run strongly all day on Sunday and impress the ACO, get the car settled and in tune with the eight miles if possible, check the consumption of consumables – and pray like hell that the car holds together.

More convincing prayers might be needed for some of the LMP675s. The most tried and tested entry here is the ROC Reynard. Every other chassis is new to Le Mans, if you accept that the Roock-Knighthawk Lola is a considerable development of last year’s class winner. The WR is another development of an existing car, so if the French team can find some reliability, perhaps this is a good bet at last. The Barbour Reynards? Not so very different from the 2000 tubs, but their unknown is the new Judd V8. MG? All new, late out, huge potential. Rowan Racing have a 3.4 litre Nissan for the first time, and if that performs well, perhaps the little Pilbeam will rise above the rest. This class will spring surprises from now until June 17.

The ‘Porsche plus one Callaway’ class is wide open. No Barbour-equivalents this year, so one team is going to have the race of their lives. No heroics are needed on Sunday, nor probably in Qualifying. Or the race. Race pace, race reliability, fuel consumption, keep out of the way of the Prototypes…….simple. It’s not rocket science.

And then there’s GTS. Four Vipers vs. four Saleens vs. two Corvettes has become four vs. three vs. two. Corvette perceived the Viper as a more than worthy opponent last year, but they’ll be looking to dominate the V10s this time.

The Corvette is a 24 hour car and has been for a year or more. The Belmondo Vipers may be looking to secure a podium spot in this company, Christophe Bouchut will take on the Corvettes single handed if he chooses…and then there’s the Saleens. They would walk all over the FIA GT cars if allowed into that series, and they’re still very early into their development cycle. 1:28.000 around Donington was blinding pace. What does that equate to at Le Mans? How urgently will the drivers of the S7Rs be told to back off at the Test Day? Corvette developed the Goodyears that Saleen are exploiting to the full. How must that seem?

No 911 GT2s. How will that seem?

It’s the greatest 24 hour race by far, and despite the lateness (because of the lateness?) of a relatively high number of cars, this year’s race is potentially one of the most mouth-watering. The Test Day has lost that urgency of stragglers scraping into the race field, but Bentley and MG are back. They may not beat Audi – no one may beat Audi – but the festival will still be unmissable for those who love the best sportscars in the world, many of whom will remember those who sadly won’t be part of it this time, or ever again.

Official website of the Le Mans 24 Hours
Official website of the Le Mans 24 Hours

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