The 2019 European Le Mans Series gets underway at Paul Ricard next weekend with a packed field of 41 cars set to open proceedings at the home of the French Grand Prix.
There’s plenty to savour too, not only in terms of the potential title contenders but in developing storylines in each of the three classes.
Track action gets underway on Monday with two days of Testing, 10 hours on Monday, a further 8 hours on Tuesday, before the Michelin Le Mans Cup cars take their testing turn midweek.
The ELMS teams return after a day at the seaside to prepare for racing proper and the 4 hour season opener next Sunday.
DSC will be on site throughout the week with the DSC Editor returning to the TV booth once again this season for the ELMS and Le Mans Cup alongside Jonny Palmer.
The entry list for the LMP2 class for Round 1 is confirmed as the full season 18 cars, and it includes, amongst other things the debut of G-Drive Racing’s Aurus 01 (rebadged and re-homologated ORECA 07 Gibson).
In the tyre war, it’s nine cars apiece for the Dunlop and Michelin tyre war!
Four of the teams in the class are making their debuts in LMP2, and one returns. The new teams are BHK, Carlin, Cool Racing and Inter Europol. The returnee is RLR Msport, the Nick Reynolds-led team fielded an ex-RML MG Lola EX265 in the latter part of 2010, and full season 2011 Le Mans Series!
Of the drivers on the list, Olivier Pla is listed to drive the Carlin Dallara as super sub for Harry Tincknell, busy with his Mazda Team Joest duties, making the flame-haired Frenchman, a winner last year in this race for the now absent Racing Engineering, the second driver known to have driven all four different 2017 spec LMP2 chassis (albeit one as a DPi only), the other being Ricky Taylor.
James Allen is a full season DragonSpeed LMP2 driver now, adding those duties to his WEC LMP1 berth, and with another new role added too as a part of DragonSpeed’s recently launched IndyCar program as development driver, testing at several circuits this season alongside regular pilot Ben Hanley with an eye to a future in the NTT IndyCar Series.
Norman Nato meanwhile, is confirmed at G-Drive Racing in place of the absent Jean-Eric Vergne who has a clash with Formula E.
LMP3’s list features 14 cars, 10 Ligiers and four Normas.
Nigel Moore, a previous Asian Le Mans LMP3 champion, and an ELMS LMP3 polesitter with Tockwith Motorsport have been added to the list, to race with Inter Europol with Martin Hippe in their #13 JS P3.
360 Racing meanwhile, has had its driver line-ups confirmed, with Aussie John Corbett, Greek racer Andreas Laskaratos and James Winslow crewing the team’s second car, the #5 Ligier – This entry has, we believe, replaced the planned Monza Garage entry in the Michelin Le Mans Cup.
Eurointernational brings BMW Junior Driver Mikkel Jensen together with Michelin Le Mans Cup reigning champion Jens Petersen in its solo P3 entry. This comes after an earlier attempt to pair Jensen with five times Le Mans winner Emanuele Pirro. The two-man crew featuring the 57-year-old (technically Bronze rated) was, DSC believes, refused by race organisers.
Of particular note, there is something of a driver swap between Porsche 911 RSR teams from 2018, into 2019.
The #56 Project 1 Porsche sees WEC GTE Am front-runner Egidio Perfetti add an ELMS programme, joined by 2018 Proton Competition man Giorgio Roda.
The #80 Ebimotors car meanwhile, sees only Fabio Babini carried over into the 2019 season, joined by Marco Frezza and Sebastien Fortuna.
The EbiMotors team’s 2018 Monza pole-setter Ricardo Pera meanwhile joins Dempsey Proton Racing in the #77 car, alongside Christian Reid and Matteo Cairoli. This is, incidentally, the first time that Proton Competition has entered a car in the ELMS under the Dempsey Proton banner.
Entered under the Proton Competition banner, the #88 sees Gulf Racing UK’s WEC driver, Porsche Junior Thomas Preining teamed with Marco Seefried and Horst Felbermayr Jnr, who returns to the ELMS for the first time since 2014. The now 48-year-old driver raced once that year, and once the year before, 2011 was his last full season in the Le Mans Series.