By Tarek Ramchani
And here we are, the long awaited Le Mans 24 Hours week has started.
The tension is rising among the brands, teams, drivers and the fans as well waiting the start of the race on Saturday afternoon.
The 2014 Le Mans field is the best in recent years and battles expected in all four classes with great teams and names ready to fight for 24 long hours.
Here we will focus on the upper LMP1 class with three elite brands taking part in the French classic. Audi, Porsche and Toyota with full factory teams and dream drivers line-ups ready to take the challenge and try to win the greatest race in the world.
The 2014 threeway battle makes this year edition the best since 1999. Remember the year when Audi arrived at La Sarthe, with Inglostadt brand facing works entries from Mercedes-Benz, Nissan, Toyota and the winners from BMW. That edition was always seen as the best field in the modern Le Mans era. Of course there were some great Le Mans races since then. The 2005 race when Audi with a much slower Audi R8 won beating the quicker Pescarolo. The Audi vs Peugeot duels will be forever remembered by sportscar enthusiasts and even by casual motorsport followers. Following Peugeot's retirement, Toyota jumped in with a serious factory effort trying to win at Le Mans for the very first time. The 2012 and 2013 Audi vs Toyota battles were great, Audi won twice but the Japanese brand have shown a very strong pace.
But here it's no longer a duel with only two brands fighting for the outright glory. They are three strong teams with very well prepared cars. Audi and Toyota are joined by the returning Porsche. The Stutgart brand is back to the upper class for the very first time since their overall win in 1998 with the Porsche 911 GT1 '98. Since then only 911 GT cars have competed in Grand Touring classes.
Toyota dominated the two opening rounds of the 2014 FIA World Endurance Championships with wins at Silverstone and Spa-Francorchamps. Audi struggled at Silverstone with both cars failing to finish the 6-hour race but recovered well in Belgium with a fine second in the Ardennes. Porsche meanwhile debuting with the brand new 919 Hybrid was immediately fast, challenging the much experienced Audi and Toyota teams in both events.
After two exciting FIA WEC races, many fans started to believe that the 2014 Le Mans race is going to be epic and emotional, they are absolutely right. At the traditional Le Mans Test Day all three brands were fast. Toyota again lead the field with the TS40 Hybrid but both Audi and Porsche were right behind.
Le Mans since the Audi vs Peugeot has turned from an endurance race into a true 24-hour sprint event. You have to push since the start of the race and keep a quick pace in order to win. And with a field of seven full factory cars in LMP1, any slight mistake on track or pitlane can be fatal for each car knocking it out from race contention. The three teams will be forced to give everything and for sure will give the fans some great battles on track with very fast drivers in each of the seven factory LMP1s.
Audi has an advantage of fielding three Audi R18 e-tron quattro, giving the Four Ring one extra chance. Audi has a great partner as well named Joest Racing, by far the most successful team at Le Mans with 14 overall wins. Toyota will start the race as a favorite given how they performed well in FIA WEC races and Le Mans test day. Porsche debuting in LMP1 with a fast 919 Hybrid and a returing Marc Webber to sportscar racing.
But Le Mans is Le Mans, the race is very long and in 24 hours anything can happen and no one can predict who will be victorious on Sunday afternoon.
Photo credit: Motorsport.com