Since the provenience of the Automobile Cosmos we have seen myriad of innovations and technological advancements. And at the medial of it lies Racing. If you think that racing is just a few cracked heads putting their bodies and life on the line to be the fastest; then you need to expand your horizon because it is much more than just fast and on-the-limit laps. It is the pinnacle of Research and Development which can be funnelled down to the normal production vehicles. There are many such racing championships (or R&D series as we like to call) going on, such as F1, MotoGP, WorldSBK, Formula E. One such like them is 24 Hours of Le Mans, similar but yet very different. The difference is that in others the focus is to find out how fast can one go, but here it is about how long can one last while going fast. Because it is not only a stint of numerous fast laps, it is an Endurance Race where you need to race for hours; 24 hours to be precise. 24 hours of non-stop racing. An amount of time period where not only the competitors and cars get pushed to the limits but also the crew which consists of technicians, data-loggers, mechanics, etc.
Racing for 24 hours is a colossal feat in itself but what makes it even tough are the rules and how the racing field is set. There are four main categories:
- Le Mans Prototype 1 (LMP1)
- Le Mans Prototype 2 (LMP2)
- Le Mans GTE Pro
- Le Mans GTE Amateur
These four categories have wide difference in performance and capabilities, so much wide difference that there is a 30-35 seconds difference in lap times which covers all four categories. Of course the circuit they use, Circuit De La Sarthe is 13.6 km long so that also is a factor when we see the difference in lap times. But what is astonishing, that all four categories race together. With 50-60 competitors participating in the event, the track and the pit lane is always busy. But the fact that cars with such huge difference in performance compete together amplifies the toughness of the whole event. A lot of times, the winning car overlaps almost every other car and there are instances where the winning car overlaps more than 30+ cars and it overlaps each and every of those cars at least 30 times, at the very least. Not to forget that the LMP1 cars which most of the times are the winners, race at an average speed of more than 250 km/h. With so much over lapping at high speeds and such big difference in performance, anyone can be caught out. And if that was not enough, there are always mechanical failures which prematurely ends so many competitors’ races. PHEW!! What more obstacles can one have, well, there is a fuel allotment limit and they only get limited number of tires. With Le Mans, you would never know what will happen till the very end. It is the ultimate test of reliability, the inferno that every new automobile technology must pass through to prove its mettle.
Le Mans as an event is absolutely brutal, but the strain it puts on the human body is so high that no single driver can finish the entire event. Thus, most of the manufacturers have a 3-driver team for each car to finish the race. So let us talk about the cars which go through this brutality and come out with flying colours.
Le Mans Prototype:
A Le Mans prototype is designed especially for endurance racing, primarily for the 24 Hours of Le Mans but also for the World Endurance Championship, the European Le Mans Series, the Asian Le Mans Series and the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. They are built to FIA specifications. Technologically they are a cut above the rest of the field.
There are two prototype classes:
- LM P1 – for manufacturers and privateers
- LM P2 – for privateers only
Le Mans Prototype 1:
The Le Mans Prototype 1 class has a sub-division:
- Le Mans Prototype 1 Hybrid with Energy Recovery System (ERS)
- Le Mans Prototype 1 Non-hybrid, with no ERS, for private teams only
The energy recovery systems consists of two technologies, KERS (Kinetic Energy Recovery System) which is used to store and use the energy lost in braking and TERS (Thermal Energy Recovery System) which is used to store and use the thermal energy from exhausts.
The engine manufacturer is open but the type is restricted.
- 4 stroke diesel (for LM P1 Hybrid) or petrol piston engine
- Engine capacity is not restricted
- 875 kg for LM P1 Hybrids (+ 3 kg for on-board camera equipment)
- 830 kg for LM P1 (+ 3 kg for on-board camera equipment)
Manufacturers opt for one of the four energy recovery system classifications (2, 4, 6 or 8 mega joules). The systems may retrieve mechanical (brakes) or heat-related (exhaust) energy. The fuel allowance depends on the classification chosen, with more usable power getting lesser fuel.
Tyres for use on a wet track are not restricted in number. However, the allowance for dry weather tyres, or slicks is 28 for the practice sessions and 48 for the race.
Le Mans Prototype 2:
An LM P2 is purpose-built for racing. The class is open to privateers. Until 2017 open- or closed-cockpit cars were accepted. However, the regulations introduced on 1 January, 2017 require closed-cockpit designs only. In theory, open-cockpit cars built before the regulations came into force would have been accepted this year, but in practice all entries for 2017 comply with new rules. The selling price of a complete LM P2 is capped at 483,000€. Dallara, Onroak Automotive (Ligier), Oreca and Riley are the four constructors selected to supply LM P2 chassis. Gibson is sole supplier of engines for the class.
All LM P2 cars are powered by the normally aspirated 4.2-litre V8 Gibson with baseline horsepower of around 600.
Fuel Tank Capacity:
Tyre manufacturer may declare up to three dry weather tyre specifications, one wet-weather and one intermediate for LM P2 cars. Tyres for use on a wet track are not restricted in number. However, the allowance for dry-weather tyres is 28 for the practice and qualifying sessions and 56 for the race.
Le Mans Grand Touring Endurance:
The Le Mans Grand Tourisme (LM GT) class is for two-door road-legal sports cars with at least two seats. They must have been produced in a series of at least 300 in the previous two years.
The class has two sub-categories:
- LM GTE Pro (aimed at professional drivers)
- LM GTE Am (targeting amateur drivers)
The LM GTE Am class only accepts cars that are at least a year old.
- Naturally aspirated petrol engine: 5,500 cc maximum
- Turbocharged petrol engine: 4,000 cc maximum
Fuel Tank Capacity:
- 120 litres for cars accepted from 2016
- 90 litres for cars accepted before 2016
Tyre manufacturers may declare up to three dry weather tyre specifications, which may be different for the Pro and Am categories. For the amateur class only, the tyre manufacturer may declare one wet-weather and one intermediate specification per model of car. Tyres for use on a wet track are not restricted in number. However, the allowance for dry weather tyres is 32 for the practice and qualifying sessions and 60 for the race. This rule applies to both LM GTE Pro and Am.
With such tough rules and such diverse field to compete in, it is definitely a huge achievement in the motorsports world to have won here in Le Mans. The prestige of this event is ‘mammoth-ly’ high because they compete for over 350 laps in one race, which is as good as the entire season of MotoGP. The grit, determination, focus, fitness and strength needed to compete in Le Mans is more than F1 and MotoGP combined. Le Mans is Le Mans. Something else entirely.