The Daytona 24 Hours showed just how good this year’s Le Mans will be | Top Gear
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The Daytona 24 Hours showed just how good this year’s Le Mans will be

Record attendances, enthralling battles and intriguing new cars. Sports car racing is on the up

Published: 31 Jan 2023

The future of sports car racing looks strong. The 24 Hours of Daytona has served up a preview of what we can expect from the new Hypercar class at Le Mans, and as first glimpses go, the 61st running of the Rolex 24 was as enticing as they get.

On immediate glance little has changed, Acura scoring its third consecutive win with its new ARX-06. But the 06 had much more competition, its usual Cadillac foe joined in the race’s top GTP class by BMW and Porsche as both European carmakers debuted the cars targeting eventual glory closer to home soil. The M Hybrid V8 and 963 may have both struggled with technical issues and finished some way off their American rivals’ pace, but the results sheet only tells half the story.

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"It’s great to be here after the whole period of test and development," Thomas Laudenbach, VP of Porsche Motorsport, tells TG. "I’ve been in the business 25 years and it’s still great to be here seeing the car in action for the first time."

While only one of the pair of Porsche 963s finished at Daytona, both were dicing with their rivals before troubles hit. And both, for what it’s worth, looked utterly fantastic, particularly with their 911-esque taillight illuminated as darkness hit and Daytona’s iconic 10pm fireworks added a gratuitous flourish to the race beneath them.

"It’s great the competition is there," he adds, referring to the wealth of extra competitors – Peugeot, Toyota and Glickenhaus among them – who his team will be up against in the World Endurance Championship, and ergo Le Mans. "The challenge is extremely high. If you want to be up front, you can’t make any mistakes. Not with this many cars on the grid.

"We will not see a brand winning three or four times in a row, I believe that. And it’s great to race against the likes of Ferrari; we are really happy they took the decision to race again. I wouldn’t be surprised if our return was one of their reasons to come back in."

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Yep, we’ll see Porsche vs Ferrari at Le Mans this year. A completely sold out Le Mans, at that, and the Rolex 24 scored its highest ever attendance at the weekend too. Sports car racing really is back in force.

Nick Tandy is one of the more experienced names on Porsche’s driving roster having won Le Mans in the 919 Hybrid in 2015. So how does the new car, made to more prescriptive and financially streamlined regulations, compare?

The answer is obvious. We want to put on a show

"Ever since these regulations were announced they looked like a great idea to me. You can spend money efficiently to put a product out there, go racing and have the same chance as anyone else at these marquee events.

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"These new cars have less power, less downforce, less grip and more weight. But when I look at it as a racing car driver – and a fan of the sport – would I like to see two spaceships up front or 20 prototypes racing closely against each other? The answer is obvious. We want to put on a show."

BMW’s decision to race in the US in 2023 – ahead of an attack on the WEC and Le Mans in 2024 – was made much later than Porsche’s, giving its development team a tougher task. It’s no surprise the M Hybrid V8 (big grille an’ all) couldn’t truly push Acura and Cadillac, then. But both its cars finished and the team are optimistic about what’s to come.

"Considering the amount of mileage and performance testing we’ve done, we’re not so far away and we know how much we can unlock from the car," says British driver Nick Yelloly, who graduates from driving a BMW M4 here in 2022. "Once we’re able to get some good testing we should start coming to the front where we belong."

His feelings are echoed by BMW motorsport boss Andreas Roos. "To develop a car like this in 18 months is quite challenging and we’ve had some ups and downs," he says. "But we wanted to be here from the beginning.

"At Le Mans you can never be sure you will win. It’s a very special and hard race. But every 24-hour race is hard. The competition is higher now and it won’t be enough that if one manufacturer has a problem it’s enough for another win. You must fully concentrate on yourself."

Daytona finished with four of its top-level GTP cars separated by just 11 seconds, and jousting right until the end, including a deliciously unwise battle between two of the Cadillacs right at the death. And that’s with four different cars in the premier class. At Le Mans, with 13 hypercars courtesy of seven teams? We can’t wait.

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