***A set of sweeping new technical regulations, aimed at fuel efficiency, has turned the LMP1 into a completely new game. Fuel flow meters now control power output, while hybrid systems, up to four times more powerful than last year, are mandatory for all factory teams. It equates up to a 30 percent reduction in fuel consumption over previous years.
***Porsche returns to top-level factory prototype racing at Le Mans for the first time since 1998. The German manufacturer’s two Porsche 919 Hybrids have been blisteringly quick in the opening two FIA World Endurance Championship rounds but have lacked reliability, posing questions over its bid for repeat glory.
***Toyota, on the other hand, has been the dominant force in the early season races, with its new TS040 Hybrid sweeping both six-hour rounds at Silverstone and Spa. With potentially the best overall package, the Japanese manufacturer could be in position to claim its long overdo first overall win.
***Twelve-time and defending winners Audi, on the other hand, has struggled for pace with its new R18 e-tron quattro, which runs with the smallest 2MJ hybrid system. However, the German manufacturer has experience and reliability on its side, which could very well play into the benefit for the three diesel-powered contenders.
***Rebellion Racing is the only LMP1 privateer in this year’s field (designated LMP1-L), due to the withdrawal of the Kodewa team with its Lotus T129 AER. The Anglo-Swiss squad’s Rebellion R-One Toyota, meanwhile, debuted at Spa but has yet to come close to the performance of the factory cars but received a late Balance of Performance adjustment that should help close the gap.
***While not competing in LMP1, Nissan unleashes its electric race car, the ZEOD RC, in quest of becoming the first car to complete an entire lap of the 8.5-mile Circuit de la Sarthe on electric power only. The car, running as this year’s Garage 56 entry, does not have high expectations of a finish, but with efforts on the history making run ahead of a two-car factory LMP1 program in 2015.
Teams to Watch:
Audi Sport Team Joest — While being the most successful prototype manufacturer in the modern era, Audi doesn’t necessarily come in as favorites for the overall win this year. Nine-time and defending winner Tom Kristensen is rejoined by Loic Duval and Lucas di Grassi, who fills the seat of the now-retired Allan McNish. Audi’s No. 2 lineup of Andre Lotterer, Benoit Treluyer and Marcel Fassler remains unchanged, while Filipe Albuquerque joins the factory roster in the No. 3 car alongside Oliver Jarvis and Marco Bononomi.
Toyota Racing — Unlike Audi, Toyota has gone for a two-car approach, with Stephane Sarrazin teaming with Alex Wurz and Kaz Nakajima in the No. 7 TS040 Hybrid. However, it’s been the No. 8 entry of Anthony Davidson, Sebastien Buemi and Nicolas Lapierre that’s swept the opening two FIA WEC rounds and will likely be a contender again.
Porsche Team — Porsche also has two 919 Hybrids in its maiden Le Mans appearance with hybrid power. While all eyes will be on the No. 20 car, driven by ex-F1 star Mark Webber, Brendon Hartley and Timo Bernhard, don’t discount the Romain Dumas, Neel Jani and Marc Lieb-driven No. 14 machine, which has, on average, been a tad quicker this season so far.