24 Hours of Le Mans Preview: Porsche, Audi or Toyota?

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The 82nd running of the French classic takes place this weekend, June 14th and 15th, at the Circuit de la Sarthe, a high speed track nearly 8.5 miles in length. Fifty-six cars are entered across four classes of prototype race cars and production-based GT cars.

One surprising fact: Fully half of the entries are powered by Ferrari and Nissan (14 cars each). However, it is unlikely either will take the overall win since the top LMP-1 class is composed primarily of seven manufacturer-backed hybrid-electric prototypes from Audi, Porsche and Toyota.

The LMP-2 class has largely privateer teams running prototypes (17 cars), while the GTE Pro class has nine cars entered and the GTE Amateur class has 19 entries. However, some of those entries are really stretching the definition of  “amateur” with several ex-F1 drivers and Ben Collins (formerly The Stig on BBC’s Top Gear) in their line ups.

Several subplots such as the intra-company battle between Volkswagen brands Audi and Porsche, both leading contenders for the overall victory, the return of an experimental “Garage 56” competitor to the fifty-sixth spot on the grid, and competition between two tire manufacturers promise to make this year’s race one for the ages.

The Garage 56 entry is the Nissan ZEOD RC (Zero Emissions On Demand Race Car), a closed cockpit, hybrid-electric variant of the Deltawing that raced there in 2012. Nissan also dominates the LMP-2 class, albeit somewhat incognito, with 13 of the 17 prototypes powered by its engines.

In the GTE classes Ferrari has built a strong presence with no less than 14 of the Italian marque’s 458 race cars entered. Meanwhile, Porsche has eight 911 RSRs (four 991 and four 997 models) on the grid. Four Aston-Martin Vantage V8s and two new Chevrolet Corvette C7R race cars are entered as well.

Lastly, tire manufacturers Dunlop and Michelin will be battling it out in the LMP2 class, the only one in which Dunlop is represented.

Unfortunately, the SRT Vipers were withdrawn so we can only wonder if there would have been another intense American duel between them and the Corvettes as in years past.

Besides the official event site there are apps for both iOS and Android that will provide full streaming pay-per-view style (search respective app stores for Le Mans), in the U.S. the race will be broadcast on Fox Sports. Fans can also catch the action via Radio Le Mans, and through the lens of Audi and Nissan, with both companies streaming live action via their respective web sites.

Will Audi, Porsche or Toyota triumph? Or will there be a major upset with a dark horse emerging victorious on Sunday? Time will tell.

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