The greatest race in the world
14th Jun 2015 2:17 pm
On the cars, engines, technology, drivers and mad track that make the 24 Hours of Le Mans 2015.
It's called the greatest race in the world, and not for nothing. For starters, the circuit is just mad. A brilliant amalgamation of some of the finest corners anywhere, the Circuit la Sarthe truly has some breathtakingly fast corners, elevation changes and sections where driver skill makes a huge difference. Then there's the crazy, nearly 6km long Mulsanne straight, now punctuated by a couple of chicanes, and the fact that you are not just driving hard for 24 hours, but racing. What I love the most, however, is the tussle between the various technologies used by the cars; something missing in F1 today.
There's no better place to see this than out on the perimeter, as the cars scream by, punching a hole in the air so big, you can actually feel the wake. Is it any wonder; with their aerodynamic bodies designed to have crushing levels of downforce and the LMP1 cars putting out approximately 1000bhp when their internal combustion engines and electric drivetrains are taken together.
The Toyota looks the most conventional and racing car-like. There appears to be a sweet balance to how the car drives and V8 engine sounds the most thoroughbred of the lot. But Toyota engineers say it's losing out on electric boost. The diesel Audis make the most impact. Their aero package seems to be working the best and this allows the cars to carry a huge amount of speed into corners. It's so much quicker into corners, you get taken by surprise every time, as the Audi flashes past. Stability at that rear also seems massive. Power is only added late in the corner, probably due to that massive shot of diesel and electric torque, and the deep rumble from the exhaust when the Audis accelerate out sounds brilliant. The Porsches don't seem nearly as quick to get in, but the drivers add power earlier, and the the cars shoot out of the corners quicker on petrol turbo power and eight mega joules of electric boost; the highest. The front-wheel-drive, front-engine Nissans aren't using all their electric power this year and quite frankly, haven't found their feet yet. The noses seem to be bobbing around a bit too much and the cars only seem to be really hooking up and putting the power down, way after the exit of the corner.
So, the Audis feel effortlessly quick, but when driven hard, the Porsches are quicker. What a tussle, what a race! Then there's the pit stop strategies, the tyre wear, individual drivers and the insane on-track duelling between cars that sometimes goes on for twenty or more laps at a time. And that's just the LMP1 cars. The GT cars are just as intriguing: rear engine Porsche 911 RSRs vs mid engine Ferrari 458 Italias vs front engine Chevy Corvette CR7s, Aston Vantages and Dodge Vipers. 24 hours are not enough!