The Automobile Club de l'Ouest (ACO), organisers of the Le Mans 24 Hours every June have released the list of the lucky 55 entries who can look forward to racing round the Circuit de la Sarthe, along with the 10 reserve teams who will look to take advantage of any ill fortune for the 55.
Earlier this month the ACO publically announced they had received 82 entries from which to pick the field for the 77th running of the world's premier sports car race.
Unfortunately this "long list" is never released to the public, so we have no way of knowing what teams have not had their entries taken up. However, of the 65 entries that have been named there are plenty of stories to follow in the four months until the race.
The biggest story is arguable the very make-up of the field. Over half the 55 first choice entries are prototypes. 33 to be exact. This is nothing short of phenomenal, especially given the dwindling fields in the P1 and P2 classes that have blighted ACO regulated race series of recent years.
Take the ALMS for example, last year only a handful of teams were found in P1, and this year only three teams are lodged as P2 entries.
Within the prototype classes there are several stories. The ACO's press release focuses on the number of works entries in the P1 class. There are three of the new Audi R15's, tow run under the Joest banner and a third under the Team North America name, a reverse of what has been the case in previous years.
They are joined by three works Peugeot 908 cars, as was confirmed by the manufacturer a few weeks ago.
These diesel goliaths are joined by not one, not two, but three of the brand new Aston Martin P1 cars. This is despite only having five drivers confirmed for its two full time European Le Mans Series, leaving at least four drives up for grabs. It is also noteworthy that the third Aston is officially entered by a team named "AMR Eastern Europe."
Believe none of this, this is going to be a works entry in all but name. The Czech flag next to the entry points to the presence of Jan Charouz, already a confirmed LMS driver and the man behind the team than ran the Lola-Aston coupe at Le Mans last year. That was not a completely private team, neither will this be.
On the other hand the fourth Aston Martin, entered by Speedy Racing Team Sebah is likely to be a private entry, infact I doubt they will be running one of the brand new models, more likely something closer to the coupe Charouz campaigned last years.
However, perhaps the biggest news is the fourth Peugeot. Henri Pescarolo, a man so French he probably bleeds bleu, blanc and rouge and snores in the tune of Le Marseillaise has brought himself a 908! In doing so he looks to become the first customer team to run on of the French diesels.
The 908 will form half of the Pescarolo Sport, alongside one of the familiar Pescarolo chassised cars. The reason for this choice is unknown. However, it is widely known that the number of Pescarolo chassis the team has at it's disposal is dwindling, despite the fact that the team has entered two of the in the LMS this year.
And yet more P1 stories. The class also sees two Kolles run Audi R10s, making 2009 (to my mind) the first year when two models of Audi have competed at Le Mans. It is widely expected that this team will run in the LMS as a thinly veiled works entry, with mechanical help from Audi themselves, possibly testing some things for the new R15.
However, will this co-operation disappear when the R15 and the R10 are against each other (how embarrasing would it be for the old car to win?)
The ORECA team are also back with two cars, opening the door to Petter Solberg for Le Mans, and as I predicted the Spanish Epsilon Euskadi team are back, with one firmly accepted car in the field and a second on the reserve list, the same situation the team was in last year.
I myself am a little disappointed that both teams are not on the confirmed list as they represent a team doing everything themselves (engine aside) rather than buying other's chassis.
P2 is a much less grand looking affair. Last year's winner Van Merksteijn are absent (I have a copy of Autosport magazine with their RS Spyder for sale in it), but three of the Porsche prototypes are present. The first is run by last year's runners up Team Essex, the second by Japanese "Navi Team GOH"—they obviously saw the Autosport advery as they are the new owners of Van Merksteijn mahine—and the third by Team Vitaphone.
This is the same Team Vitaphone that are probably best know for their Maserati MC12s in the FIA GT series, and who ran a GT1 Aston Martin at Le Mans last year.
Otherwise all the normal P2 names are represented. RML have a new Lola-Mazda coupe, Quifel ASM have a P2 version of the Ginetta Zytek and Bruichladdich Radical, renamed Bruichladdich Bruneau after a new investor return with a AER engine—the only AER badged engine in the field.
The big unknown are two entries by a new name - Oak Racing. However, they are a new name only, being basically the same outfit that ran two Pescarolos (one in P1 and one P2) as Saulnier Racing.
However, they have moved to a completely P2 based entry and have switched powerplant to the newly popular Mazda unit. Rather worrying is the return of Racing Box, who's 2008 Lucchini entry was unsafe to the point of being laughable. However, this year they come with a more recognised combination of Lola chassis and Judd engine.
The only really sad news from today's announcement is the state of GT1. With pull out of the works Astons the way is clear for Corvette domination, with two factory C6.Rs alongside what is becoming a standard entry from Luc Alpand consisting of another two of the latest generation Corvette.
Again, as I predicted in an earlier article the pull out of Aston Martin is not complete. Two customer teams have found their way in. The better known, Jet Alliance, have been running in the FIA GT series for a number of years with Aston, finishing third in the class standings last year.
Just behing them in those standing where British based Gigawave, who are backing the second Aston on the list.
For the final two entries in GT1 you have to look to Lamboghini and look east. Firstly to Russia and the IPB Spartak outfit, who ran last year in the same car, narrowly falling into the black hole of finishers but not classified.
The second Lamboghini comes from further east—Japan and the JLOC (Japanese Lamboghini Owner's Club). They too have history at Le Mans, running in 2007. Unfortunately they faired worse than their Russian counterparts, completing only one lap after a huge crash forced them to change chassis.
GT2 looks like it will be the normal Porsche v Ferrari battle with all the big names we have grown to expect represented. IMSA Performance, Felbermayer-Proton and Flying Lizard for the Porsches, Farnbacher, AF Corse, Virgo, and two Risi Ferraris are joined by Team Modena who have dropped a class from their Aston GT1 effort last year.
However, there is some variety. A single Spyker C8 (with another deep in the reserves) along with the Drayson Racing Aston. However, I think they're main aim is finishing.
There are even stories in the reserves. First reserve is yet another GT2 Ferrari, entered by Team Seattle Advanced Engineering, curiously labelled Italian and counting actor Patrick Dempsey among it's driving staff. Second reserve is a Chinese Porsche 997, which if in the final field could be the first competitor from the country.
Disappointing is the position of Barazi Epsilon as fourth reserve. Given their history and commitment to ACO racing I expected them to be in the confirmed list and against such a strong list their chances of the necessary four withdrawls is limited.
Of course there are also stories of what is not there. Perhaps most suprisingly there are no Domes. None at all. However, given that the new Dome proved to be a bit of a mobile chicane last year, and the Japanese entered RS Spyder, this is one case where I can forgive the ACO if they thought twice about accepting a different car.
There are also very few American teams. This may be purely down to economics, but there is no Autocon, who made the race last year, no Intersport and neither the new Acura or BMW are in the race.
We have also lost Embassy, Chamberlain Synergy and Rollcentre from last year's list. Embassy are casualties of economic times. Rollcentre have sold their Pescarolo to an American team. The only real unaccounted for team is Chamberlain, and sadly we will never know whether they tendered an entry for the race.
There are also unlikely to be any Saleens in the race. The only one on the entire list, resides as reserve number nine, run by Larbre Competition, another team with history at Le Mans who can count themselves unlikely to be so low on the list.
I make it only 107 days until the tricolore drops.