Onto the third ACO entry list for 2017 and arguably the most important of all, The Le Mans 24 Hours.
This review is designed to be read in conjunction with our earlier reviews of the full season FIA WEC and ELMS grids. You can read them here and here. Here we review the remainder of the Le Mans entry and some general trends.
First thing first, the numbers on the list are at a level where there should be real concern for sustainability of a full grid, 62 cars in total, a current full grid plus just two reserves, though, it should be remembered, the grid has only just been expanded to 60 cars.
There’s no getting away from it, the six car LMP1 entry is the smallest top class prototype grid since 1993. The post Audi era biting coupled with the net effects of a Privateer sub-class too long overlooked for regulatory attention, a vertical hybrid development curve and the introduction for 2017 of a much faster LMP2 class.
Only the #1 Porsche can deliver a win featuring no new winning driver for Le Mans, ex Audi star and three time Le Mans winner Andre Lotterer joins 2015 winner Nick Tandy and 2016 winner Neel Jani on that crew!
Toyota boost the entry with a third TS050, anchored by the hugely experienced Stephane Sarrazin as the Japanese factory look to extend their 2016 form by around 4 minutes!
There is a healthy 25 car grid of Gibson V8 engined 2017 spec LMP2s with, what is likely at present to be the first time in Europe, all four chassis manufacturers represented.
Ten of the 25 are the full season WEC Orecas, a further 12 are full season ELMS entries (only the High Class Racing Dallara appears not to have entered).
The remaining trio are, highly unusually, currently not committed to any full season racing plans, Eurasia and ARC Bratislava field new Ligiers with plans to commit 2016 spec LMP2s to the 2017/18 Asian Le Mans Series. Keating Motorsports, believed to be collaborating with Troy Flis’s Visit Florida Racing outfit commit the sole Riley Multimatic on the list and whilst Visit Florida are racing their Riley in North America, Ben Keating campaigns a GTD AMG GT3, the Le Mans entry.
Add in too the sole LMP on the reserve list, RLR MSport’s Ligier, not currently committed to a full season in the ELMS, but, we believe, still potentially a race by race entry.
All of that adds up to an undeniable pair of truths. The emergence of the importance of the Asian marketplace, and, again, the lack of depth of available entries in 2017.
Amongst the other storylines should be the debut of the Michel Vaillante liveried Orecas for Rebellion, the first time that the cult French comic book character’s livery will have been seen on the grid for the Great Race since the (Vaillante) Lola and (Leader) Panoz in 2002.
The class sees the Le Mans 24 Hours debuts of no fewer than seven teams: IDEC Sport, United Autosports (below), Tockwith Motorsport, Racing Team Nederland, Cetilar Villorba Corse, ARC Bratislava and Keating Motorsport, though several elements of a number of these teams have raced before at Le Mans under different banners.
Graff Racing meanwhile make their return to Le Mans for the first time since 1993!
To nobody’s surprise Ford return with four cars, the IMSA and WEC pairs combining for maximum effect at defending their 2016 title at the biggest event of the year.
Returning too after acting as the blue oval’s major tormentor last year is Risi Competizione, their solo Ferrari joining forces with the full season AF Corse WEC pair as the second turbo-powered powerhouse entry.
Corvette Racing are back too for an 18th consecutive factory entry, matching the record of Audi Sport. Their two car entry together with the IMSA Ford pair and the Risi 488 makes it five GTE Pros from North America for this one.
And the new Porsche 911 RSR makes its Le Mans debut too alongside what might just be the final Le Mans appearance in factory hands of the current Aston Martin V8 Vantage.
A 16 car class, whilst welcome, seems more than anything necessary with little in reserve as an alternative.
The five full season WEC cars are joined by four from the ELMS (including JMW with what must surely be the final appearance of the glorious screaming Ferrari 458 GTE), a pair of Ferrari 488 GTEs from Scuderia Corsa, one as an auto entry after last year’s class win, the other as an IMSA nomination.
Asian Le Mans GT Champions DH Racing also field a 488 with WEC full season squad Clearwater Racing fielding a second Ferrari too.
Proton Competition get a third entry in addition to their full season WEC and ELMS Porsches, and they have a fourth as the second (and final) reserve.
Two teams, DH Racing, and Michelin GT3 Le Mans Cup Champions TF Sport are set to make their Le Mans debuts.
AF Corse field their GTE Am entries under their Spirit of Race sub-brand for the first time.
Larbre Competition meanwhile field their Corvette here once again with no other season plans yet announced, and certainly no WEC or ELMS full season entry posted, the multiple class winners rewarded for their loyalty in a year where fiscal adversity is biting hard.
Across the 60 car entry:
28 are the full season WEC participants.
17 come from the ELMS full season entry.
8 come from teams whose full season is with IMSA.
4 come from teams from the Asian Le Mans Series (9 from teams that contested the 2016/17 Asian LMS).