Le Mans 24 2014: Predictions and Race Preview

Brian Mazique@@UniqueMaziqueCorrespondent IIIJune 14, 2014

The world's most famous automobile endurance race is set for its 82nd running beginning on Saturday in Le Mans, France.

The 24 hours of Le Mans grabs the attention of racing enthusiasts all over the world each year. Drivers and their cars must endure a literal day of racing to claim the title.

Here's the schedule for Saturday and Sunday.

DateTime (ET)Event
Saturday, 14 June3 a.m.Warm-up
9 a.m.Race start
Sunday, 15 June9 a.m.Race finish

The event will feature 55 drivers on the grid this year, and there will be five different categories of vehicles.

The highest is the LMP1-H, which will include the most high-powered and aerodynamically sophisticated cars in the event. We'll concentrate on that class, but to see details on the other categories, click here.

A slew of new safety regulations were implemented for this year's race. Many of them are in place to make the race safer after the death of Allan Simonsen during the 2013 event.

Safety changes aren't the only new things to talk about. Fuel efficiency was also on the docket for the event's rule-makers.

John Dagys of Fox Sports breaks down what the new changes are, and how it affects competition. Dagys writes:

A set of sweeping new technical regulations, aimed at fuel efficiency, has turned the LMP1 into a completely new game. Fuel flow meters now control power output, while hybrid systems, up to four times more powerful than last year, are mandatory for all factory teams. It equates up to a 30 percent reduction in fuel consumption over previous years.

Through qualifying, it hasn't seemed to impact teams too much. Brian Laban of The Telegraph says engineers have handled the changes well:

Motor sport engineers are every bit as clever as rule-makers are provocative so when the new cars ran at Le Mans for the first time during Test Day on June 1, they not only satisfied the new fuel regulations, they did it while sacrificing less than six tenths of a second on an 8.5-mile lap compared with last year’s pole position.

One look at what Team Toyota has done in proof.


Team Toyota Makes a Qualifying Statement

Talk about throwing down the gauntlet. 

Behind Kazuki Nakajima's No. 7 car, Team Toyota set the pace at the qualifying runs. The team claimed the pole position thanks to the efforts of the 29-year-old, former Formula One driver.

Nakajima became the first Japanese driver to record the fastest qualifying time at Le Mans. His time of three minutes, 21.789 seconds stood up through Friday, and he will be in the first grid position.

To augment Toyota's chances of coming out on top, Sebastien Buemi's Toyota No. 8 car will be in the third spot.


Porsche Push

Team Toyota's top competition could come from Porsche. That team will start from second and fourth with Romain Dumas coming through with the second-fastest qualifying time. 

You can see all of the qualifying results here.

Both Porsche drivers are driving the 919 hybrid. Per Motorsport.com, Dumas seemed pleased but cautious about the performance of his car.

He said: "My teammates have shown that the car was a lot better in qualifying than it had been in free practice – quicker in all three sectors. Of course we cannot judge our competitors yet, but we are making progress with our car. Overall it was a difficult day with accidents and red flags."

This is new ground for the Porsche team. We'll have to wait and see if the vehicle proves to be superior to its competition.


Will Team Audi Joest Wake Up?

The 12-time and defending champion Audi Joest team has struggled mightily in qualifying. Their R18 E-tron Quattro has produced nada.

Loic Duval crashed the No. 1 car in one of the aforementioned accidents during qualifying. The wreck was a scary one and can be seen in the video below.

Remarkably, Duval escaped with just minor scrapes and bruises. The car was rebuilt, but Duval has not been cleared to race, per The Independent.

On the grid, the team will have the fifth, sixth and seventh spots. It's certainly not ideal beginnings for a team looking to keep its dominant streak alive. But don't underestimate their ability to rise to the occasion. 


Who Wins?

There's something special about the 919 Hybrids. And you get the feeling that the team senses it but prefers to be cautious for now. As impressive as they were in qualifying, the best is yet to come. Dumas is on his way to a huge performance over the next 24 hours.

Team Porsche will pull off the win.