As always, the 24 Hours of Le Mans features a “Who’s Who” of driving talent from around the world, with big names from North America, Europe, and Asia all convening on the Circuit de la Sarthe in hopes of securing one of the biggest crown jewels, and some say THE biggest crown jewel, on the calendar.
And the North American racing scene sports a particularly strong lineup in the 2018 Le Mans, with a host of drivers from the Verizon IndyCar Series and the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship featured.
The biggest collection from IndyCar can be found within Ford Chip Ganassi Racing, which features three current IndyCar drivers.
Scott Dixon joins Ryan Briscoe (himself a former IndyCar driver for Ganassi and Team Penske) and Richard Westbrook in the No. 68 Ford GT – the trio won the GT Le Mans class at the Rolex 24 at Daytona back in January.
Sebastien Bourdais returns to Le Mans after missing last year’s event and partners Dirk Mueller and Joey Hand in the No. 69 entry – this trio won the GTE-Pro class in 2016, the same year the Ford GT debuted at Le Mans.
Also of note: the Nos. 68 and 69 again represent the full-time IMSA entrants, making those entries an IndyCar/IMSA “hybrid” of sorts.
In the team’s entries from the FIA World Endurance Championship, Tony Kanaan joins Harry Tincknell and Andy Priaulx in the No. 67. Of note: Olivier Pla, Stefan Mucke, and Billy Johnson pilot the No. 66.
And former IndyCar driver Mikhail Aleshin will also be competing, with the No.11 SMP Racing BR1-AER entry in the LMP1 class – alongside former F1 driver Vitaly Petrov and 2009 Formula 1 world champion Jenson Button, who makes his Le Mans debut.
Not to be forgotten, IMSA is also well-represented with several of its own stars making the trip to France.
The two most prominent ones from the IMSA faction are likely Acura Team Penske drivers Juan Pablo Montoya and Ricky Taylor.
Taylor is a Le Mans veteran of sorts, as this will be his fifth try at the twice-around-the-clock French enduro. He joins an entry for he Jackie DC Racing team, class winners from last year, in the No. 34 Ligier JS P-217 Gibson alongside Come Ledogar and David Heinemeier Hannson.
Meanwhile, Montoya, the former CART champion and Indianapolis 500 winner, makes his Le Mans debut, piloting the No. 32 Ligier for United Autosports, joining Will Owen and Hugo de Sadeleer.
The most recent IMSA winner, Felipe Nasr, also makes his Le Mans debut, as he partners Roberto Lacorte and Giorgio Sernagiotto in a Dallara P217-Gibson for Cetilar Villorba Corse. Nasr’s Action Express teammate Filipe Albuquerque joins United Autosports in the No. 22 Ligier, partnering Phil Hanson and Paul Di Resta.
And Wayne Taylor Racing’s Renger van der Zande makes his Le Mans debut with DragonSpeed alongside Ben Hanley and Henrik Hedman.
In GTE-Pro, Corvette Racing, as usual, sends their entire fleet to the Circuit de la Sarthe. The American marque has dominated at Le Mans in the 21st century, winning eight times since 2001, the most recent coming in 2015.
Both the Nos. 63 and 64 Corvette C7.Rs expect to be among the favorites in GTE-Pro. Jan Magnussen, Antonio Garcia, and Mike Rockenfeller share the No. 63, while the No. 64 is shared by Oliver Gavin, Marcel Fassler, and Tommy Milner.
Porsche GT Team, in the hands of CORE Autosport, also has their IMSA team at Le Mans in the Nos. 93 and 94 efforts, and their driver lineup could be the best one ever assembled for a GT effort, with four overall Le Mans winners represented across both cars.
Nick Tandy, Patrick Pilet, and Earl Bamber will pilot the No. 93, with Timo Bernhard, Romain Dumas, and Sven Muller in the No. 94.
BMW Team RLL driver’s Alexander Sims also heads over with the BMW Team MTEK group, partnering Augusto Farfus and Antonio Felix da Costa in the No. 82 M8 GTE.
And Risi Competizione’s Toni Vilander, Alessandro Pier Guidi and James Calado will be competing as well with AF Corse. Vilander partners Antonio Giovinazzi and IMSA star Pipo Derani in the No. 52 488 GTE, while Calado and Pier Guidi join Daniel Serra in the No. 51.
The GTE-Am class is also populated with IMSA standouts. Cooper MacNeil and Jeff Segal share the No. 84 Ferrari 488 GTE for JMW Motorsport with Liam Griffin. Keating Motorsports heads over with IMSA commodities Ben Keating and Jeroen Bleekemolen alongside Luca Stolz.
And Proton Competition might be the biggest sleeper in the GTE-Am class, with two-time class winner Patrick Long anchoring a lineup with Spencer Pumpelly, a Porsche stalwart himself, and Tim Pappas.
And don’t forget about Fernando Alonso’s exploits with Toyota Gazoo Racing in the LMP1 category – he shares the No. 8 TS050 Hybrid with Sebastien Buemi and Kaz Nakajima, while Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi, and Jose Maria Lopez pilot the No. 7 entry.
It all adds up to a genuinely star-studded field across LMP1, LMP2, GTE-Pro, and GTE-Am.
Other notables include: Andre Lotterer and Neel Jani, former overall Le Mans winners, in the No. 1 Rebellion Racing R13-Gibson with Bruno Senna. Nicolas Lapierre, who won the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring with Tequila Patron ESM, partners Andre Negrao and Pierre Thiriet in the Signatech Alpine A470-Gibson.
And other American hopefuls include Tracy Krohn (No. 44 Eurasia Motorsport Ligier, with Nic Jonsson and Andrea Bertolini) and 2016 LMP2 class winner Gustavo Menezes (No. 3 Rebellion Racing R13, with Thomas Laurent and Mathias Beche).
Texas Motor Speedway president Eddie Gossage wants an early Christmas present: a new agreement that keeps the Verizon IndyCar Series racing at the 1.5-mile Fort Worth track for many more years to come.
This past Saturday night’s race marked the end of the most recent agreement between the racing series and TMS, which has hosted IndyCar for the last 22 years (since 1997).
According to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, both IndyCar and TMS officials are expected to begin negotiations on a new multi-year agreement in the next month or so.
Gossage hopes to get his early Christmas present signed, sealed and delivered by the end of August, when the track traditionally begins selling tickets for the following year’s race.
“I would certainly hope we could reach a business deal,” Gossage told the S-T. “They’ve been here for 22 years, so I don’t know why that’s going to change.”
IndyCar has been on an upswing in terms of popularity and attention over the last few years, something that’s not lost on Gossage. There’s no question he wants the open-wheel series to keep returning to TMS year after year.
But Gossage would like to see one significant change in a new agreement, to return the annual race to its former place on the IndyCar schedule: the week after the Indianapolis 500.
It had been that way from 1997 through 2005, before the former IndyCar administration chose to insert another venue into the schedule the weekend after the 500.
In 2006, Watkins Glen followed the 500, while Texas was next.
The Milwaukee Mile followed the 500 from 2007 through 2009.
TMS returned to its former spot on the IndyCar schedule the weekend after the Indy 500 in 2010 and 2011, before the temporary road course at Belle Isle in downtown Detroit, Michigan, took over that spot and has continued in that slot ever since.
Although IndyCar officials are still working on race slots for the 2019 schedule, Gossage told the Star-Telegram he had a gentleman’s agreement with a prior IndyCar administration that TMS would always be the first race after the Indy 500.
“Hopefully that’ll happen again,” Gossage told the S-T. “This race should be the race after Indy. If you’re trying to capture fans who enjoy the Indy 500 and want to watch the next race, do you want them to see Detroit’s temporary street course?
“Or do you want them to see racing on one of the grand ovals for IndyCar? I would certainly fix that. It’d be good for IndyCar; it’d be good for Texas Motor Speedway.”
IndyCar has been a welcome guest to TMS, not to mention being one of the more popular races on the series’ schedule. That included two races per year at TMS from 1998 through 2004, as well as in the 2011 season, for a total of 30 visits by the series over the years.
While returning a second race to the schedule doesn’t seem to be in the cards, at least for the near future, if TMS can get IndyCar to return its race date to the weekend after the Indy 500, Gossage would be a happy man.
Scott Dixon, who won Saturday night’s race, says racing at TMS is one of his favorite – not to mention successful (three wins, 8 podium finishes in 19 starts) – venues.
“It’s always been a special place,” Dixon told the Star-Telegram. “I think Eddie and his whole team just do a fantastic job. I love coming here.”