Following the Jan. 18 entry deadline for the 80th 24 Hours of Le Mans and FIA World Endurance Championship, entry lists for both the series and its marquee race were revealed Thursday morning in Paris.
The 30 cars confirmed for full season WEC entries represent more than half of the 24 Hours of Le Mans field, with 25 additional entries and the unclassified DeltaWing set to comprise the 56-car field for this year's running. A total of nine reserves (five LMP, four GTE) were selected to take the place of any withdrawn entries. Here are some news, notes and observations from the cars selected:
FRANCHITTI FIRST DRIVER AT DELTAWING – The second-to-last major puzzle piece of the DeltaWing project fit into place on Thursday, when the ACO broke the news that Marino Franchitti will be the car's first nominated driver. Franchitti, whose time with DeltaWing project team Highcroft Racing dates to the 2010 ALMS season, became available once his deal to race with Peugeot fell through when the manufacturer announced its pullout from the WEC on Jan. 18. Franchitti later expanded on the opportunity.
The team has received its special tires from Michelin, completed CFD development and simulation and wind tunnel work at Dan Gurney's All American Racers, and will head to the Windshear facility in Charlotte, N.C., for its first scale testing. The team has an engine contract in place with an OEM, but that is the last item to be revealed.
DYSON DEBUT LEADS U.S. CONTINGENT – Dyson Racing has taken up its automatic invite to run this year's 24 Hours of Le Mans. The Poughkeepsie, N.Y.-based team will run two new Lola B12/60 Mazda coupes for its Le Mans debut, in partnership with European-based Status Grand Prix. The team's regular season American Le Mans Series co-drivers Guy Smith and Chris Dyson were named to the two entries, but should be driving in one of them for the race itself. Smith is a former Le Mans overall winner with Bentley in 2003, while Dyson last competed in the race in 2009 with RML in LMP2.
“This is a natural extension of the momentum from last year's winning season,” Dyson said. “Even with our long-term history in endurance racing, entering Le Mans propels our team to its next native level. It is the greatest endurance race in the world. All of our partners have been hugely supportive of this step and we look forward to having a strong run in the race.”
Other ALMS squads making the continental voyage include Corvette Racing (two cars in GTE Pro) to defend its class title, Flying Lizard Motorsports (two Porsches, a new 911 GT3 RSR in GTE Pro and a 2011-spec 911 in GTE Am) and Level 5 Motorsports (HPD ARX-03b in LMP2). Krohn Racing and Starworks Motorsport represent the two American teams running a full WEC schedule, Krohn having already confirmed its plans to run a Ferrari 458 in GTE Am and Peter Baron's Starworks squad announcing its leap into the category with a sister HPD in LMP2.
HYBRID POWER – Audi's quest to extend its level of innovation at Le Mans continues with the race debut of two of its new hybrid R18s as part of an expanded four-car effort. The German manufacturer, which has yet to unveil its full 2012 program, will run two full-season WEC entries (although a third was indicated on the Le Mans entry list) with the hybrid technology and two more of its standard R18 TDI diesels that debuted this past year. Andre Lotterer and Allan McNish were named to the Le Mans-entered hybrids, with Timo Bernhard and Oliver Jarvis listed in cars 3 and 4.
Toyota confirmed it will enter the full WEC with its new hybrid, and therefore allow the new championship two manufacturers entered for the full season. Although the car will miss Sebring, it will debut at Spa, and have two hybrids entered at Le Mans.
P2 UP, GTE DOWN – The largest entry at Le Mans comes in the cost-capped LMP2 class with some 18 entries, and a further four reserves. Ten of those 18 will run the full WEC schedule. Signatech Nissan, Greaves Motorsport, Oak Racing and Gulf Racing Middle East will all run two cars in class at Le Mans, with Greaves and Oak downsizing to one for the remainder of the WEC. Ten other teams complete the rest of the P2 class at Le Mans.
In contrast, GTE has a combined 22 cars from its two classes – Pro and Am – with only nine Pro cars and 13 Ams. The Pro field is limited to four Ferrari 458 Italias, two Chevy Corvettes and Porsche 911s, and a single Aston Martin Vantage from the factory AMR squad – making its return back to GTE this year. Only five of those will run the entire WEC.
OTHER TIDBITS – Henri Pescarolo's team will run two cars in LMP1, neither with the same Pescarolo 01 chassis that took the team to the Le Mans Series championship a year ago. The French legend will run an AMR-One-tub based Pescarolo 03 for its trademark No. 16 entry, and will run the second car in conjunction with Dome. The second car includes Peugeot refugees Nicolas Minassian and Sebastien Bourdais.
The manufacturer with the greatest number of entries isn't what one might expect – it's Nissan, who provides 11 engines to P2 teams. Japanese engine manufacturers are represented in bulk with the 11 Nissans, four Toyotas (two factory, two with Rebellion), four HPDs (two in P1, two P2) and two Mazdas (Dyson) in the prototype classes. Ferrari leads the GTE numbers with nine of the 22 cars.
A full entry list breakdown can be found on the next page.