Why the 24 Hours of Le Mans may soon stop existing as a shadow of its former self

Did you follow the 24 Hours of Le Mans at the weekend?

I would probably have answered no to that question had I not discovered it was on whilst browsing through what was on the sports channels.

Then I remembered why Le Mans had slipped under my radar in recent years.

Since Audi ended their World Endurance Championship programme in 2016 and Porsche left the following year, Toyota has been left as the last man standing in the LMP1 class.

With the LMP1 class featuring the fastest cars in the field, it is these cars that compete for the overall race win.

Whilst the battles for the class victories in LMP2 and the two GT classes, GTE Pro and GTE Am, were great to watch, it’s the battle for the overall win that matters the most.

And for the third year in a row that battle was non-existent.

This year’s running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans saw just five cars compete in the LMP1 class, compared to the fourteen cars that competed in the class five years ago.

The number 4 ByKolles car was way off the pace and suffered a rear wing failure in the race, which sent the car crashing into the barriers with over sixteen hours left to go. Their retirement from the race kept up the ByKolles Racing Team’s record of never finishing the Le Mans 24 Hours.

The two Rebellion Racing cars were just no match for the more powerful Toyota hybrids, which were more efficient all-round.

So it was more or less a given that one of the Toyotas would win.

In the end, it was the number 8 car driven by Sebastien Buemi, Brendon Hartley and Kazuki Nakajima which took the victory.

They had car troubles themselves in the early stages of the race but took the lead from the number 7 Toyota when that car had to come into the pits during the night for repairs, which took 30 minutes.

From there on in, it was the number 8 Toyota’s race to win.

It’s a great achievement to win once at Le Mans, let alone achieve a hat-trick of victories at Le Mans, as the number 8 Toyota has just done.

However, I couldn’t help but think whilst watching the race about what the battle for the overall win used to be like not so long ago.

To me, it felt like there was a piece of the puzzle missing this year with a lack of entries that could provide a legitimate challenge to the mighty Toyotas.

That’s why I was pleased to hear this week about the final confirmation of regulations for the new Hypercar class that will replace LMP1 next season.

This is going to breathe some new life into the race for the overall victory at Le Mans and there are reports that as many as a dozen manufacturers are interested in entering.

That’s great news because the more manufacturers there are, the more competition there is for the overall race victory.

Peugeot will return to Le Mans with their hypercar in 2022, joining Toyota, ByKolles and an entry from American entrepreneur James Glickenhaus.

There will be other entries from the American IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, which is introducing the Le Mans Daytona Hypercar category next season.

Aston Martin were planning an entry with their Valkyrie hypercar but decided to put it on hold after the announcement earlier this year that the Le Mans Daytona Hypercars would compete alongside the Le Mans Hypercars under the same regulations.

Nevertheless, the future is looking bright for the greatest endurance race in the world.


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