The usual flurry of telephone activity prior to and following the announcement of the final entries for the Le Mans 24 Hours has died down just a little so now I can get stuck in on some analysis of the talking points behind this year’s selections.
So why was the selection so tough this year?
In major part because of the numerical strength of the 2018/19 FIA WEC entry – that accounted for more than half of the entry, some five more than in 2017, three more than in 2018 (the two Ginetta’s made up the difference last year – and the wider ‘numbers game’ outlined below most certainly played a part in their rejection).
Add to that the fact that 12 of the Auto entries took up the opportunity this year, in contrast to the eight that did so in 2018, and nine the previous year and you can see that some precious ‘wriggle room’ was removed.
Put all of that together and you are left with a tough decision: stack the GTE Pro class or reward the ACO continental series from the remaining 14 available entries. This year the GTE Pro class won that selection committee debate with a pair of additional GTE Am further boosting the GT numbers at the expense of the LMP2s.
With all said and done the Selection Committee added just five additional LMP2s today, all of them ELMS regulars, leaving a further sextet on the reserve list together with the Meyer Shank ORECA from IMSA.
Will it get better next year?
Almost certainly! With GTE Pro numbers in FIA WEC looking set to take a hit with the predicted end of the Ford, and possibly/ probably BMW programmes, and the subsequent drop too in likely IMSA GTE Pro requests, the number of available places for others in ELMS, Asian LMS (and for that matter in IMSA) are likely to increase.
For an illustration of what that might look like, look at the top six in the Reserve list – with no Fords or BMWs they would be in the race.
Much will depend beyond that on the strength of the other classes in the WEC and on who wins the Auto entries this year at Le Mans. There is an additional auto entry currently planned for the 2020 race, for the second-placed LMP2 team in the ELMS, taking the total maximum to 16.
Is this, as some have suggested, a slap in the face to IMSA?
Hardly! Ten cars from IMSA applied – two via Auto entries, seven GTLMS and the MSR ORECA. Only the ORECA was unsuccessful – a better proportional hit-rate than any other Series aside from the WEC (and two of their initial season entrants were refused – the Ginettas).
But why has the all-female crewed ORECA been rejected?
Only the Selection Committee know for sure but the likely explanation is that they are unlucky to be in the mix this year, with so many ELMS regulars already disappointed, and with another all-female crew in the mix and indeed now in the race.
The MSR entry ticked several boxes – the all-female crew (Legge/ Nielsen/ Figueiredo), allianced with an ELMS/ Asian LMS entrant (Algarve Pro Racing) and with a ‘proper’ commercial sponsor (Caterpillar). Their lowly listing at the bottom of the reserve list though is an unfortunate message!
Their immediate rivals had the advantage of being full-season entrants in the ELMS too.
My guess is that had the #44 car been a full season IMSA LMP2 entrant it still wouldn’t quite have made it if they apply again in 2020 things could be rather different. Here’s hoping they do just that.
How about Risi Competizione?
A beloved entry wherever and whenever they race – but the fact remains that they do not currently fulfil an important aspect of the baseline rules – that an entrant must contest a full season of ACO-affiliated, or IMSA competition.
As always there is a regulatory catch-all that effectively says that the Selection Committee can ignore that rule if they please.
This is likely around two things, to increase the depth of the GTE Pro field and add more calibre to the Ferrari attack and a further chapter in the increasingly mysterious moves around the future of both LMP1 and GTE Pro, put simply the ACO is trying to keep the major factories onside!
On United Autosports and the other notable LMP2 teams?
In the announcement today of the final slots to be awarded ACO President Pierre Fillon said the following:
“For LMP2, the first decision was to field as many different teams as possible before considering any second cars. We wanted to reward teams that have been loyal to the race. All selection processes entail rejections.”
That is a fair reflection both of the end result, and of actually having a policy and following it, however, it does raise other questions:
Loyal to the race is a reflection of the LMP2 teams selected today, there are no first-timers included in the final five.
But since those are teams that were selected last year that seems an odd determinant?
It means that, for instance, High Class Racing lose out again, as do Duqueine Engineering, about to start their second season in the ELMS after podium form in 2018.
Those are clear and regularly seen, ‘on the cusp’ issues, though it’s worth saying that both, and in particular Duqueine, outperformed the selected Cetilar Villorba Corse Dallara last season. The Italian team’s selling points seeming to include a commitment to the 2019/20 WEC and the fact that they campaign the increasingly rare Dallara chassis.
It’s the decision to restrict United Autosports to a single entry though that raises most eyebrows -and correctly so.
Frankly, this is not the Selection Committees finest moment, it sends unfortunate messages to others about commitment and reward.
All selection decisions are tough, but this one seems, to almost every even non-aligned observer, to be just plain wrong.
It sends unfortunate messages too about a lack of longer-term thinking around future confidence amongst the private teams that remain the ACO’s numerically dominant entrants.
The numbers game this year has not helped those responsible for boosting interest amongst the existing teams in adding an additional Series to their plans. That too needs addressing, immediately, or rejecting a single car might prove to have far-reaching implications.