In the opinion of season-hardened Le Mans observers and the entrants
themselves never has such a magnificent field of cars been seen in the
BMW : The works V12 LMRs set the ball rolling at scrutineering
on Monday morning. The Schnitzer Team put in a fair number of kilometres
testing on the Monza and Silverstone circuits developing the aerodynamic
and mechanical sides of the car while trying to make it easier to handle.
The rear wing mounting has been strengthened following Dalmas's scare at
the beginning of May and the car which he is sharing with Winkelhock and
Martini is the only one to have power assisted steering : "lt's a choice
between comfort or feeling," as the drivers explained.
AUDI : Audi's Le Mans debut is the talking point of the year and the team manager has put his apples in two baskets (Prototypes and LM GTP). The two R8R prototypes are in the capable hands of Joest Racing and are now equipped with steering wheel mounted gearchange. Following Yvan Muller's withdrawal the Belgian Didier Theys was called in as a last-minute replacement by a team that he drove for in 1996.
PANOZ : The Panoz, now baptised LMP-1 Roadster S after a road-going car sold by Panoz, blew off all the fancied contenders except Toyota during prequalifying and then went on to do some long-distance testing on the Paul Ricard circuit. It managed over 20 hours before being stopped by a blown cylinderhead gasket. Coolling and aerodynamics have been modified and the V8 Ford engine is no longer prepared by Roush as in the past but by Robert Yates, one the best-known NASCAR specialists. It puts out around 600 bhp.
COURAGE : The C52 Courage-Nissan has been entrusted to 3 Italian drivers already seen in F1. They are in the Sarthe under the watchful eye of Mario Cugnola whose team, R.C. Motorsport, is eying up the North American scene with Courage. The C50 Courage in the colours of Le Mans and "Eléphant Bleu" is powered by a Porsche 962 engine tuned by Joest. Its entrant is French veteran, Henri Pescarolo back for his 33rd Le Mans race which he has won 4 times. The car is looked after by Daniel Vergnes's Promotion Racing Team, a local outfit which prepared the Terada-La Filière Courage in 1998. Since prequalifying the Courage-Porsche has swapped its Koni dampers for Dynamic ones, also mounted on the other Courages and the Nissans. The works Courages are shod by Bridgestone (like Nissan) while Pescarolo's mount is fitted with Pirellis.
NISSAN : No. 21 is a Courage C52 almost exactly the same as no.13
apart from some detail modifications such as the air intakes mounted on
the rear bonnet. It is looked after by Yves Courage himself with the help
of Japanese engineers.
LOLA : This event marks the come-back of the famous English make to Le Mans where it was last seen in 1992. The B98/10 has been designed by a team of engineers directed by Frank Dernie of F1 fame. The DAMS car is powered by a 4 litre V10 Judd engine as opposed to the Kremer and Konrad entries which have opted for a 6 litre Ford unit, Kremer's being prepared by Jack Roush while Konrad's comes from Panoz. The Kremer is the only prototype with steel brakes.
FERRARI : The only Ferrari in the field has a new chassis and long-tail bodywork designed by JabouilleBouresche. Testing on the Paul Ricard circuit has improved the overall set-up and road-holding.
RILEY & SCOTT EUROPE : Philippe Gache is the European importer for the American make and this year he has entered two cars one of which he shares with Gary Formato from South Africa and Olivier Thévenin. The Ford V8 engines are looked after by Solution F, a tuning shop in Aix-en-Provence. Team manager is Thierry Lecourt and the technical side is in the hands of Hugues Lardy who usually works for ROC.
AUTOEXE : This car bears the name of Yojiro Terada's company
but is little different to the Riley & Scott entered by Philippe Gache.
Like Pescarolo's Courage it has been prepared in the workshops of Promotion
Racing Team, a local outfit. The team includes 3 American mechanics and
the V8 Ford is tuned by Solution F.
The LM GTPs are the former GT1s running under virtually the same rules as the prototypes. ABS and traction control are forbidden and they have the same weight and fuel tank capacity as the protos (900 kgs and 90 litres).
TOYOTA : Toyota Team Europe has done an enormous amount of testing in their pursuit of a Le Mans victory. Over 15000 kilometres have bean covered on different circuits, in particular Paul Ricard and Spa. The car has not undergone any major modifications apart from adopting a steering wheel mounted gearchange like both Mercedes-Benz and the Joest-entered Audis.
MERCEDES-BENZ : Probably no constructor has ever covered as many kilometres in testing in view of Le Mans as Mercedes-Benz but of course, the German team is out of efface the memory of last year's setback. Although similar in appearance the CLR is very different from the 1998 CLK-LM and has a much lower profile. Its engine is a normally aspirated V8 derived from a series production block. British hope Daren Tumer is reserve driver.
AUDI : The Audi R8Cs from the pen of Tony Southgate have been
entered by Audi U.K. The former BTCC team is looked after by Richard Lloyd
back at Le Mans after a long absence. Pre-race testing at Paul Ricard saw
the car over 5 seconds quicker per lap as compared to the times set in
April. The engine, gearbox and rear suspension are the same as on the Audi
prototypes. Chief engineer on Andy Wallace's car is Eddie Hinckly who looked
after the latter's winning Jaguar here in 1988.
CHRYSLER : The 3 Oreca cars are the only ones fitted with carbon
brakes. The Cica entry is a 98 model with steel brakes and has been prepared
at Le Mans by Graff Racing.
PORSCHE : Pierre Yver, back for the 22nd time, is in a 3.8 litre
Porsche looked after by Jack Leconte and his co-drivers are Jean-Luc Chereau
and Patrice Goueslard. The other Larbre Competition entry has a 3.6 litre
factory prepared unit. Its driver line-up is composed of Jean-Pierre Jarier,
Pierre De Thoisy and a debutant, Stéphane Bourdais, Patrick's son,
who won the Le Mans 24 Hour Karting race two years ago. The Estoril Racing
3.6 litre unit is also factory prepared while that of Freisinger Motorsport
is home-tuned. Roock Racing and Konrad have entrusted the preparation of
their 3.8 litre engines to Thielert who has also supplied the engine managements
PORSCHE : The two 911 GT3s (Type 996) entered by Champion and
Manthey are works cars closely followed by Roland Kussmaul. Their 3.6 litre
water-cooled atmospheric engine with four valves per cylinder comes from
the GT1 block. Tyres are supplied by Pirelli. They have no ABS which is
forbidden in the LM GTS Categories.