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Le Mans 24 Hours 2012: the ones to watch

  1. You’ve clicked on the wrong link if you’re searching for the eleventh round of the 24 hours of LeMons that takes place this weekend; the endurance race for $500 cars that is “a breeding ground for morons”. No, you’ve come here because you remember the legends. Henri Pescarolo, Graham Hill, Jacky Ickx, Tom Kristensen; Audi, Alfa Romeo, Bentley, Jaguar. You want to see new legends.

    Fittingly, this year promises to be quite a cracker. It’s the 80th year Le Mans is running, and thus qualifies it as rather old. Yes, you’ve heard the tragic prognosis that Peugeot’s exit will leave the Audi cars with no real competition and thus make the race boring, but you’re more intelligent than that. Because you know Toyota has laced up its gloves to battle Audi, and Nissan is running that rather revolutionary DeltaWing experimental racer. And at Spa - the ‘testing ground’ for Le Mans - a brace of LMP2 cars were separated by mere fractions.

    So, of the 56 cars contesting this year’s battle on the Circuit de la Sarthe, TopGear.com has picked out a few motors worth keeping an eye on. Because there’s 24 hours of racing, and you might need something to focus on…

    We will of course, be heading down to France for the third jewel in the so-called ‘Triple Crown of Motorsport’, and thus urge you to maintain a keen and trained eye on our corner of the Internet, where you will hopefully find your thirst for endurance racing refreshed.

    Commencez!

  2. Team: Audi Sport Team Joest
    Car: Audi R18 E-Tron Quattro
    Drivers: Allan McNish, Rinaldo Capello, Tom Kristensen

    Kristensen is an eight-time winner at Le Mans. McNish had that terrible, race-ending accident last year. Their new Audi is a diesel hybrid that uses an additional motor for added boost; a car that qualified on pole at Spa a few months ago. This should be, ahem, electric.

  3. Team: Audi Sport Team Joest
    Car: Audi R18 Ultra
    Drivers: Andre Lotterer, Marcel Fassler, Benoit Treluyer

    This was the last R18 standing after McNish and Rockenfeller’s cars were taken out in eye-watering accidents last year. Despite the pressure, Lotterer brought his motor in on the top spot after a titanic battle with Peugeot - after 24 hours, there were just 18 seconds between the Audi and Pug. Expect fast things from this trio this year.

  4. Team: Toyota Racing
    Car: Toyota TS030 Hybrid
    Drivers: Antony Davidson, Sebastien Buemi, Stephane Sarrazin

    Lots of pressure on Toyota’s shoulders to perform well this year, but, as McNish told us, they are taking it very seriously indeed. Former Toro Rosso helmsmith Buemi joins Sky F1’s Davidson alongside Sarrazin, riding in the V8 petrol hybrid. The team also has one rather advantageous vantage point: the TS030 sounds like the world’s biggest light sabre being switched on. Surely that counts for something?

  5. Team: Rebellion Racing
    Car: Lola B12/60 Coupe-Toyota
    Drivers: Nicolas Prost, Neel Jani, Nick Heidfeld

    You read that correctly: the son of Formula One legend Alain Prost is racing a black and gold Lotus-liveried LMP1 car. The team - which includes former Lotus-Renault driver Nick Heidfeld - is currently at the top of the standings for Privateer Teams in the FIA WEC, so you can expect much fastness from this car.

  6. Team: JRM
    Car: HPD ARX 03a-Honda
    Drivers: David Brabham, Karun Chandhok, Peter Dumbreck

    At the Le Mans test day, the team clocked the 11th quickest time in the afternoon session, and will be dog-fighting with the Lotus cars of Rebellion. Oh, and does Karun sound familiar? The former HRT driver makes his Le Mans debut as a rookie, and also makes history by being the first ever Indian to compete at the race.

  7. Team: Signatech Nissan
    Car: Oreca 03-Nissan
    Drivers: Jordan Tresson, Franck Mallieux, Olivier Lombard

    Tresson, another Nissan GT Academy graduate, made a bit of a rookie’s mistake at Spa a few months back, ruining team-mate Lombard’s fine work to get from 14th to 5th. He accidentally hit the traction control button instead of the reserve tank, and went off into the grass and crashed into a wall. This is something he “feels sick about”, and needs to make sure it doesn’t happen at Le Mans. Crashing into walls isn’t recommended.

  8. Team: Oak Racing
    Car: Morgan-Judd
    Drivers: Jacques Nicolet, Matthieu Lahaye, Olivier Pla

    “LMP2 now represents the premier class”, opines team-owner and driver Nicolet. “We are determined to fight for overall victories from the outset,” he added. And they’ve got form: in 2010 Oak finished in the top five in the LMP2 class and had podium finishes at Spa, Paul Ricard, Hungaroring and Silverstone.

  9. Team: Greaves Motorsport
    Car: Zytek Z11SN-Nissan
    Drivers: Alex Brundle, Martin Brundle, Lucas Ordonez

    Father and son duo Alex and Martin - yes, the Martin Brundle - will race alongside GT Academy graduate and affable Spaniard Lucas Ordonez in the Nissan-powered Zytek racer. Last year, Lucas felt first hand what the LMP2 podium felt like; with former F1 driver Brundle on board, this should be a mighty competitive car.

  10. Team: AF Corse
    Car: Ferrari 458 Italia
    Drivers: Giancarlo Fisichella, Gianmaria Bruni, Toni Vilander

    If you’re bored of the dominance of Audi in LMP1, make sure you keep up on the ultra-competitive LM GTE Pro class. Ferrari won it in 2009, Porsche in 2010 and Corvette in 2011…

    And AF Corse is the “only team representing Italian colours in the 24 Hours of Le Mans”, apparently. Former Ferrari F1 man Fisichella will hope to improve on the team’s 2nd placed GTE Pro finish at Spa, with AF Corse fielding no less than four 458 Italias in the Pro and AM ranks of the GTE classes.

  11. Team: JMW Motorsport
    Car: Ferrari 458 Italia
    Drivers: Jonny Cocker, James Walker, Roger Wills

    Don’t forget, this car nearly destroyed our eardrums when we saw it at the Silverstone six hour race, having spent some decent time behind the scenes of the Jim McWhirter-owned team. Says Roger Wills: “Last year I was in a LM GTE AM car so running in GTE Pro and having the benefit of two professional drivers in the car with me is something I am sure will help me greatly.”

    Oh, and that livery is courtesy of Egidijus Guzauskas from Lithuania - a man who won the 2012 Dunlop Art Car competition.

  12. Team: JWA-AVILA
    Car: Porsche 911 RSR (997)
    Drivers: Paul Daniels, Markus Palttala, Joel Camathias

    If you’re a fan of tyres, make sure you’ve packed your binoculars. You’ll need them to spot the Pirellis on JWA-AVILA’s number 55 Porsche 911 RSR that’s racing in LM GTE Am. They’re the only team running Pirellis out of the whole 56 car grid.

    A quick bit of Top Gear maths has shown that 92 per cent of the LMP1 grid are running Michelins, while the whole LMP2 grid are sitting on Dunlops.

  13. Team: Larbre Competition
    Car: Chevrolet Corvette C6-ZR1
    Drivers: Patrick Bornhauser, Julien Canal, Pedro Lamy

    This trio of drivers controlled the GTE AM class during the 12 hours of Sebring but were denied victory following a broken gearbox 15 minutes before the end. But the 2nd and 3rd positions - a double podium - means this ‘Vette has serious pace. Also, it sounds positively glorious.

  14. Team: Highcroft Racing
    Car: DeltaWing Nissan
    Drivers: Marino Franchitti, Michael Krumm, Satoshi Motoyama

    How could we forget the DeltaWing? After getting a sneak peek of it at last year’s race where we chatted with designer Ben Bowlby, it’s finally here.

    It’s the first year of L’Automobile Club de l’Ouest’s ‘Garage 56’ category, which is reserved for a car that falls outside normal racing regulations but gets a spot to run in the name of showcasing innovation. This year it’s occupied by the DeltaWing. We got so excited, we even built our own version, which you’ll see more of soon…

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