The Le Mans Series has confirmed that its 2010 season will kick off with an eight-hour race at Paul Ricard.
The new calendar also sees the championship make its Hungaroring debut. The Hungarian Grand Prix venue will host an evening race in mid-August, while the preceding round at Portimao will also finish in darkness again. Ricard and the Hungaroring replace Catalunya and the Nurburgring on the schedule.
The eight-hour Ricard race, scheduled for April 11, is designed to reflect the series' "spirit of endurance," according to LMS boss Patrick Peter. It will be the first time that an LMS race has been longer than 1000km or six hours since its inception in 2004.
"We want to start the year with a big test for our teams before Le Mans," said Peter. "That is why we will have an eight-hour race at Paul Ricard.
"This idea is in the spirit of endurance. In the past, the World Sportscar Championship had races of many different race lengths – 24 hours, nine races, six hours, 1000km and 500km. This is an idea we are trying for 2010. After that we will see for the future."
The longer Paul Ricard race is a likely candidate for inclusion in the Intercontinental Cup for prototypes planned by the Automobile Club de l'Ouest. It wants to unite the prestigious races in the Le Mans rules series it sanctions in Europe and Asia, and in America in association with IMSA, into a championship of about half a dozen events. Aston Martin Racing team principal George Howard-Chappell came out in support of the idea.
"It will present a good opportunity to test before Le Mans, especially if, as the LMS is saying, there will be the opportunity to run at Ricard the week after the race," he said. "That could make for a good endurance simulation."
Peter explained that the series organization needed to ensure that the longer race does not lead to a significant increase in costs. He stressed that the rule that limits teams to three engines over the course of the LMS season will remain in place.
Normal points will be awarded for the Ricard race. The LMS has abandoned the Formula 1 style points system in favor of awarding 15 points for a win, 13 for second, down to 1 for 12th. All classified finishers will also receive a point.
2010 Le Mans Series schedule:
March 7-8 Official Tests - Paul Ricard Circuit
April 9-11 8 Hours of the Castellet - Paul Ricard Circuit
May 7-9 1000 Km of Spa-Francorchamps
July 15-17 1000 Km of Algarve (night race)
Aug. 21-22 1000 Km of Hungaroring (night race)
Sept. 10-12 1000 Km of Silverstone