Undoubtedly, a new era is beginning this year in Endurance, with the return to the premier Hypercar category of prestigious brands such as Ferrari and Porsche, among others. And with the highlight of the season being an exceptional event, the centenary of the 24 Hours of Le Mans! Ready for departure?
While the 2023 Formula 1 season has just been launched in Bahrain *, the WEC (World Endurance Championship) will also kick off this weekend (March 11-12) with the prologue at Sebring (States -United). These are two days of testing, pre-tests like in F1, in the run-up to the first event on the calendar, the 1,000 Miles of Sebring, the race for which will take place on Friday 17 March. And it already promises! Imagine: no less than eleven Hypercars (there were four last year) are expected to do battle on this 6.019 km long track, for almost eight hours (1,000 miles, or 1,609.34 km)! If, in 2022, it was the Alpine n ° 36 of Negrão, Lapierre and Vaxivière which had won, impossible this year to make any prediction. And for good reason, an agreement was concluded between the WEC (through the ACO, the Automobile Club de l’Ouest, which is the promoter) and the IMSA (International Motor Sports Association), the championship of Endurance in the United States. To put it simply, this consists of bringing together the regulations (called “convergence”) of these two championships to allow cars with different technical definitions to compete together on both sides of the Atlantic. Thus, in the queen Hypercar category, two types of vehicles will be able to cohabit, LMH (Le Mans Hypercars), with an “in-house” chassis – as for Toyotas, Peugeots or Glickenhaus – and LMD h (Le Mans Daytona hybrids ), less expensive, with chassis supplied by one of the four approved manufacturers (Dallara, Ligier, Multimatic and Oreca). This decision resulted in the return of historical players, and we can only be delighted.
Because if, at certain times, we have been able to identify among the entrants big names such as Aston Martin, Ferrari, Ford, Jaguar, Matra, Mercedes, Porsche, etc., the discipline has known many lean periods, which has even led to some disinterest. We also remember the sudden stop of the Peugeot program in January 2012, the withdrawal of Audi at the end of 2016 followed by Porsche in 2017, with Toyota as the only survivor. A loneliness that the Japanese may well regret with the arrival for the 2023 season of Cadillac, Ferrari, Porsche and Vanwall, in addition to Peugeot and Glickenhaus already present last year (but episodically). To date, this represents 13 Hypercars entered in the championship (two will be absent at Se-bring and Portimão). All of these manufacturers will be joined in 2024 by BMW, Lamborghini and also Alpine, which has “downgraded” temporarily this year to LMP2. This promises a serious level of competitiveness! Of course, we are eagerly awaiting the Peugeot 9X8 (LMH, V6 biturbo), which skipped the first three races last year (including Le Mans) and which is returning full time. But the spotlight will be mainly on Ferrari, back in Endurance (LMH, V6 biturbo) after… fifty years of absence! Porsche, which has chosen the LMD h (Multimatic chassis, V8 biturbo) and which will take part in the two championships (WEC and IMSA), will of course be observed very closely and will do everything to round up its record of victories to twenty in the 24 Hours of Le Mans… We will also be curious to see what Cadillac (LMD h, Dallara chassis, V8 atmo), which will also evolve on the two continents, will be able to achieve in particular at the Le Mans event, where the American firm could entrust one of his cars to Sébastien Bourdais… Finally, the biggest surprise will come from the Vanwall team (LMH, V8 atmo), and especially from one of its drivers, the Formula 1 world champion Jacques Villeneuve! The Canadian, who will turn 52 on April 9, has not taken part in a full championship since 2005, even though he has done everything (Nascar, Andros Trophy, rally-cross, etc.), including the 24 Hours. Le Mans on the Peugeot 908 in 2007 (retirement) and 2008 (2). Will he be able to meet this new challenge?
In Endurance, there is certainly an FIA world championship title, awarded at the end of the season, but above all there is the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the ultimate Grail that any competitor – driver or manufacturer – wishes to achieve. And this year even more so, as the competition will be fierce given the opposing forces mentioned above. Especially since they will go all out, some even fielding more cars than during the rest of the season. Thus, four Porsche 963, three Cadillac V Series R and two Glickenhaus 007 will bring the total number of Hypercars to 16, for an exceptional race which, icing on the cake, will celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Sarthe event! On this occasion, the names of the winners will remain engraved in the history of motorsport, but also on the unique Trophy (in bronze, 1.50 m high) produced for the event by the Monnaie de Paris. This exceptional edition will not be missed under any circumstances. Moreover, the public was not mistaken: it will be sold out, all tickets having been sold since December…
March 11-12: Prologue (tests) Sebring (USA)
March 17: 1,000 Miles of Sebring (United States)
16 avril : 6 Heures from Portimão (Portugal)
April 29: 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps (Belgium)
June 10-11: 24 Hours of Le Mans (France)
July 9: 6 Hours of Monza (Italy)
September 10: 6 Hours of Fuji (Japan)
November 4: 8 Hours of Bahrain
Definitely, it happens even to the best. After the Audi drivers Peterhansel and Sainz went off the track on the Dakar, it was up to Nasser Al-Attiyah (Toyota) to make a mistake in the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge. While his main rival Sébastien Loeb had seen his chances of winning disappear from the first stage (mechanical breakdown), the Qatari was forced to retire after having rolled over on the third day. Although the driver and his teammate Mathieu Baumel came out unscathed, their Hilux – which was still able to reach the finish – was deemed unfit to continue.
Alpine recruits new female talent
As part of its Rac(H)er program, launched last summer, and which aims to strengthen equal opportunities in motorsport (but also in industry), Alpine has announced the integration into its Academy by the German pilot Sophia Floersch. Aged 22, she will take part in the FIA Formula 3 championship. Alpine for young hopefuls. Between the different nationalities (Australian, Swiss, Italian, etc.), there are two French women, Lisa Billard and Angelina Proenca, both 13 years old. These six young drivers will benefit from a tailor-made sports program to become the champions of tomorrow.
* At the time of writing, the Bahrain Grand Prix has not yet taken place.
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