The Le Mans 24 Hour race may still be some three weeks away, but the countdown to the World’s most iconic Sportscar race begins in earnest this weekend with the annual ACO test day at the famous circuit.
While Audi is expected to totally dominate the race with its twin pronged attack of the new Audi R18 e-tron quattro hybrid, and the more conventional R18 Ultra, most of the media attention at this year’s race will focus on Japanese manufacturers.
Toyota’s return to the track after more than a decade has raised more questions than answers.
The new TS030 is a Petrol Hybrid powered by a 3.4 litre normally aspirated V8.
The engine is a proven quantity serving time in the rear of the Rebellion team LMP1 Lolas, and the hybrid system is also well developed, as used in the Lexus LFA which took a class victory in this year’s Nurburgring 24 hour race.
But early season form has been hard to read, the car’s planned debut at Spa had to be cancelled following a crash during testing that destroyed the team’s only chassis.
Despite this the team were at Spa, but just for a photo opportunity, then it was straight on to Magny Cours for testing.
Alex Wurz and Nicolas Lapierre completed 81 laps of testing with the new car at Magny-Cours in mostly wet conditions.
“I mainly concentrated on the development side, both in rainy and dry conditions.” said Nicolas Laprirre. “Despite the bad weather, this testing on wet track has been constructive. It was important for us to see how the new aero package performed on these conditions. We made some good progress, both in terms of chassis and engine.”
Wurz and Lapierre will be joined at Le Mans by Japanese driver Kazuki Nakajima in car #7 with the experience team of former F1 drivers Anthony Davidson, Sebastian Buemi and Former Peugeot driver Stephan Sarrazin in #8.
The Frenchman replaces Hiroaki Ishiura, who withdrew from the race earlier this month due to a back complaint.
The other Japanese manufacturer to gather plenty of test day attention will be Nissan.
While Nissan engines provide the power for the majority of LMP2 cars competing at Le Mans, it will be the revolutionary new DeltaWing that will be the focus of race fans and sceptics around the world.
Originally conceived as a potential Indycar chassis the move by Le Mans promoters the Automobile Club d’l Ouest (ACO) was a master stroke of marketing.
The unique DeltaWing instantly become the subject of International media attention.
Nissan came on board early in 2012 as the supplier of the cars engine, a 1.6 litre turbo four putting out a fairly unremarkable 300 BHP.
Although footage of the car testing is widely available the team is still very coy on performance figures and there are some that believe that the car will not even make the race due to it being too slow.
The whole DeltaWing saga wouldn’t have been taken seriously at all apart from the fact that it was fronted by some of the most respected people in American Motorsport including Dan Gurney, Duncan Dayton and Dr Don Panoz.
Of course the real question is even if the concept proves competitive, the fact is the car doesn’t comply with any regulations for any race series anywhere in the World.
According to Dr Panoz the car’s long term future could well be a one make series, either as a sportscar or in it’s original openwheeler form.
“The DeltaWing was born as a single-seater racing car originally and we’d love to bring that configuration to the track as well.” said Panoz.
“There are a lot single seater one-make championships throughout the world that to the casual fan all look remarkably similar. The hard-core fans can obviously tell the difference but the man on the street really doesn’t know the difference between an IndyCar, World Series by Renault, AutoGP, GP2, Formula 2, GP3, Superleague Formula or even F1.
“If you lined up a grid full of DeltaWing single seater cars, you would certainly know the difference.”
Whether the concept has the potential to live beyond it’s invited Le Mans appearance we’ll only know after seeing it perform on the track.
This weekend, we’ll get our first real idea of just how feasible that is.
There is no live TV coverage of the Le Mans test day but as usual the team at Radio Le Mans has every step covered. You can listen here.
Remember that In Pit Lane will be at the 2012 Le Mans 24 hour so keep coming back here for our unique take on the World’s most famous Motor Race.