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2006 24 Hours of Le Mans Preview
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Click here to save all images   2006 24 Hours of Le Mans Preview
Click here to open the slideshowThere is something mythical about the Le Mans track and the annual 24 Hours race that makes it the racing season’s highlight for anyone involved. Steeped in tradition, the 24 Hours of Le Mans is the ultimate endurance test for man and machine. The history of the track goes all the way back to 1906 when it was the host of the first ever French Grand Prix. This centenary will be celebrated in the hours before the race, which will start an hour late because of the World Cup. Another major change this year is the disappearance of the old ‘Welcome’ building at the end of the straight, as part of the renovation of the approach to the Dunlop chicane. There is also a new pitlane exit, which caused quite some commotion in the official test before the race, but all is well now.
To get a first sign of things to come and to warm you up we visited the official test weekend and have compiled our thoughts and shots in a class by class preview, a fully illustrated entry list and a 150 shot slideshow of the weekend’s proceedings.

In the build-up to this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans, the big question was how well will Audi’s new diesel engined R10 fare against the competition. The car’s debut victory earlier this year in the Sebring 12 Hours showed (to few people’s surprise) that there was plenty of pace in the oil burner, although there were still some bugs that needed ironing out. Thousands of testing miles later, Audi (together with Joest) arrived at Le Mans as a works team for the first time since completing a hattrick of wins in 2002. A quick look at Audi’s huge hospitality and paddock facilities shows that the German manufacturer takes the race more serious than ever. The very quiet R10 was immediately quick, although it is visibly a lot more difficult to drive than the R8, which looked like it was on rails in its heyday. At the end of the eight hour test, Audi was not quick enough to be at the top of the leaderbord. This place was reserved for Franck Montagny in his Pescarolo; two seconds ahead of the quickest Audi. The more economical diesel engine could give Audi an edge over petrol V10 of the Pescarolos. However when driven at the limit, the consumption of a diesel engine goes up rapidly, so we might see one or both Pescarolos going all out early on in the race. A troublefree run could give four time winner Henry Pescarolo his first win as an entrant. Even more historical and also more likely will be the first win for a diesel engined car. Hopefully the two top running teams will be as evenly matched as last year, which could keep things exciting at the top of the field the entire 24 hours.
Yes, there are eight other cars in this, the fastest of the four classes, but they are not quite able to match the top four for pace. Reliability is a big factor as well, so any problems in the German and/or French camp could see one of the other eight clinch at least a podium position. Most likely to do so will be the Swiss Spirit Courage LC70, which should very good form in the recent Spa 1000 km with a pole position and a second place finish. The all new LC70 is getting quicker with every outing, but the two Mugen engined Works cars don’t have the best reliability record and are unlikely to finish. For that reason Jan Lammers’ Racing for Holland made a last minute switch from Mugen to Judd and should also be able to go for a podium. Harder to predict is the result for the related Creation and Zytek hybrids. The Creation team saw ‘Quick’ Nic Minassian move to Pescarolo to replace the injured Jean Christophe Bouillon. He will be replaced by Creation regular Jamie-Campbell Walter, who should be almost as quick. His two team mates are not, but if they can keep the car out of trouble for a change, the ‘CA06/H’ could very be still around on Sunday at 5 pm. Zytek had a relatively trouble free run at its debut in the Spa 1000 km, but it is hard to say if the car will be able to endure the 24 hours of abuse.

The story thus far in LMP2 this season is that of the stunningly quick Radical. They showed good pace again in the test day and the Rollcentre team promised even quicker times in qualifying. What is worrying though is that a lot of time was lost fixing problems and the 24 Hours of Le Mans is not the type of event to achieve a racing car’s maiden finish. Radical and Rollcentre’s valiant efforts made them a lot of fans (us included) hoping they will complete the 24 hours, and if they do, a class win is a distinct possibility. Faster still at the test day was the RML MG Lola, which won this class last year despite spending well over three hours in the pits. The team did not have the best of luck in the season’s first race, but several long distance runs in testing have shown that reliability is not an issue this year. We tip the striking MG Lola for a back to back win. The Spa winning Chamberlain Synergy Lola had a very bad test day, ending early with a heavy crash in the ‘Tetre Rouge Esses’. Driver Miguel Burgueno was able to walk away unharmed, but he had not completed the mandatory ten laps on the track to qualify for the race. His place will be taken by Warren Hughes.

It’s 2005 all over again with Corvette Racing and Aston Martin Racing dabbling for class honours. With the exception of the 2005 Sebring 12 Hours, the American team has won at every occasion. The immaculately prepared yellow Corvettes are real endurance racers that might not be the quickest, but are quick enough to pick up to pieces when the competition breaks down. Despite, sporting the numbers 007 and 009 (the first three digit numbers in Le Mans history) there is not much covert about the Aston Martin’s goals this year. As expected, the Aston Martins dominated the test day, lapping considerably faster than last year, but the Corvettes were not far behind. With twelve highly experienced and skilled drivers, there is not much that will separate the four cars in the race and if the DBR9s can match the C6.Rs’ reliability, this one could also go down well into Sunday afternoon. Outsiders in this class is ACEMCO Motorsport Saleen, which is of a similar specification to the S7Rs that recently took convincing wins in the Spa 1000 km and the Brno round of the FIA GT championship. Sadly the steering rack was damaged in transport, which saw the car go straight into the gravel pit after start finish early on in the test session. Remarkably the driver managed to keep the car out of any serious problems, but the repairs to the rack lasted most of the morning. At the end of the day, the laptimes gradually went down, but we expect there is quite a bit more in the car, which should also be very reliable. A debutant at Le Mans is the Japanese Murcielago. The recent outings of similar cars in the Le Mans Series and FIA GT have not been very convincing, but we were told this is a brand new car, so the problems of old might have been cured. It is not likely to be a top contender, but the howling V12 produces the nicest sounds of all fifty cars entered.

Welcome to Porsche territory. With nine examples present, there are twice as many 911s in this class than the competition combined. Together with the Porsche’s reliability, this could make the difference once more for the German legend. In the last season and a half cracks have appeared in the old 911’s stronghold; the Panoz Esperante and the new F430 GTC have beaten the Porsches at more than one occasion. Sadly the Icer Brakes F430 was withdrawn a few days before the test as a result of the damage caused by the first lap mayhem at Spa. This leaves just the Scuderia Ecosse example to defend the Italian manufacturer’s honours and it did so in style with a fastest lap time in the test. The two Panoz Esperantes suffered from uncharacteristic engine problems and were not able to show their full potential just yet. Lighter, more powerful and more aerodynamic thanks to the addition of roofs, the two Spykers are the class’ dark horses. Neither car was really pushed as the team concentrated on the all important race pace. All six drivers are quick and experienced, which might give the Dutch team an edge over the competition. A Porsche win is still likely, but not as much as in years past.

2 Zytek Engineering
Zytek 06S
John Nielsen
Casper Elgard
Philip Andersen
5 Swiss Spirit
Courage LC70 Judd
Harold Primat
Marcel Fassler
Pilipp Peter
6 Lister Storm Racing
Lister Storm LMP Hybrid
Nicalos Kiesa
Jens Moller
Gavin Pickering

7 Audi Sport Team Joest
Audi R10
Rinaldo Capello
Tom Kristensen
Allan McNish
8 Audi Sport Team Joest
Audi R10
Frank Biela
Emanuele Pirro
Marco Werner
9 Creation Autosport ltd
Creation CA06/H Judd
Felipe Ortiz
Beppe Gabbiani
Jamie Campbell Walter

12 Courage Competition
Courage LC70 Mugen
Sam Hancock
Gregor Fisken
Alexander Frei
13 Courage Competition
Courage LC70 Mugen
Shinji Nakano
Haruki Kurosawa
Jean-Marc Gounon
14 Racing for Holland
Dome S101Hb Judd
Jan Lammers
Alex Yoong
Stefan Johansson

16 Pescarolo Sport
Pescarolo Courage C60 Hybrid
Emmanuel Collard
Erik Comas
Nic Minassian
17 Pescarolo Sport
Pescarolo Courage C60 Hybrid
Franck Montagny
Eric Helary
Sebastien Loeb
19 Chamberlain Synergy
Lola B06/10 AER
Bob Berridge
Gareth Evans
Peter Owen

20 Pierre Bruneau
Pilbeam MP93 Judd
Chris MacAllister
Marc Rostan
Simon Pullan
22 Rollcentre Racing
Radical SR9 Judd
Martin Short
Jaoa Barbosa
Stuart Moseley
24 Binnie Motorsports
Lola B05/42 Zytek
Yojira Terada
Allen Timpany
Bill Binnie

25 RML
MG Lola EX264 AER
Mike Newton
Tommy Erdos
Andy Wallace
27 Miracle Motorsports
Courage C65 AER
John Macaluso
Andy Lally
Ian James
30 Gerard Welter
WR Peugeot
Patrice Roussel
Frederic Hauchard
Julien Briche

32 Barazi Epsilon
Courage C65 AER
Juan Barazi
Micheal Vergers
Neil Cunningham
33 Intersport Racing
Lola B05/40 AER
Clint Field
Liz Halliday
Duncan Dayton
35 G-Force Racing
Courage C65 Judd
Frank Hahn
Ed Morris
Jean-Francois Leroch

36 Paul Belmondo Racing
Courage C65 'Ford'
Claude-Yves Gosselin
Karim Ojjeh
Pierre Ragues
37 Paul Belmondo Racing
Courage C65 'Ford'
Didier Andre
Yann Clairay
Jean-Bernard Bouvet
39 Chamberlain Synergy
Lola B05/40 AER
Miguel Amaral
Miguel Angel de Castro
Warren Hughes

007 Aston Martin Racing
Aston Martin DBR9
Tomas Enge
Darren Turner
Andrea Piccini
009 Aston Martin Racing
Aston Martin DBR9
Stephane Sarrazin
Pedro Lamy
Stephane Ortelli
50 Larbre Competition
Ferrari 550 GTS Maranello
Gabriele Gardel
Patrick Bornhauser
Jean-Luc Belchemain

53 JLOC Isao Noritake
Lamborghini Murcielago R-GT
Marco Apicella
Yasutaka Hinoi
Koji Yamanishi
61 Russian Age Racing
Ferrari 550 GTS Maranello
Tim Sugden
Christian Vann
Nigel Smith
62 Russian Age Racing
Aston Martin DBR9
Nelson Piquet Jr.
Antonio Garcia
David Brabham

63 Corvette Racing
Chevrolet Corvette C6.R
Ron Fellows
Johnny O'Connell
Max Papis
64 Corvette Racing
Chevrolet Corvette C6.R
Oliver Gavin
Olivier Berettta
Jan Magnussen
66 Acemco Motorsports
Saleen S7R
Johnny Mowlem
Terry Borcheller
Christian Fittipaldi

67 Convers Team Menx
Ferrari 550 GTS Maranello
Robert Pergl
Peter Kox
Alexei Vasiliev
69 BMS Scuderia Italia
Aston Martin DBR9
Fabio Babini
Fabrizio Gollin
Christian Pescatori
72 Luc Alphand Adventures
Chevrolet Corvette C5-R
Jerome Policand
Patrice Gouselard
Luc Alphand

73 Gordon Racing Team
Porsche 996 GT3 RSR
Yves Lambert
Christian Lefort
Roman Iannetta
76 IMSA Performance
Porsche 996 GT3 RSR
Raymond Narac
Romain Dumas
Luca Riccitelli
77 Multimatac Motorsport
Panoz Esperante GT-LM
Scott Maxwell
Gunnar Jeannette
Tom Milner

80 Flying Lizard Motorsports
Porsche 996 GT3 RSR
Johannes van Overbeek
Seth Neiman
Patrick Long
81 Team LNT
Panoz Esperante GT-LM
Lawrence Tomlinson
Richard Dean
Tom Kimber-Smith
83 Seikel Motorsport
Porsche 996 GT3 RSR
Lars Erik Nielsen
Dominik Farnbacher
Pierre Ehret

85 Spyker Squadron
Spyker C8 Spyder GT2R
Donny Crevels
Peter Dumbreck
Tom Coronel
86 Spyker Squadron
Spyker C8 Spyder GT2R
Jeroen Bleekemolen
Mike Hezemans
Johny Kane
87 Scuderia Ecoss
Ferrari F430 GTC
Chris Niarchos
Andrew Kirkaldy
Tim Mullen

89 Sebah Automotive
Porsche 996 GT3 RSR
Xavier Pompidou
Throrkild Thyrring
Christian Ried
90 White Lightning Racing
Porsche 996 GT3 RSR'
Jorg Bergmeister
Nic Jonsson
Tracy Kohn
91 T2M Motorsport
Porsche 996 GT3 RSR
Yutaka Yamagishi
Miro Konopka
Jean-Rene de Fournoux

93 Team Taisan Advan
Porsche 996 GT3 RS
Philip Collin
Kazuyuki Nishizawa
98 Noel del Bello
Porsche 996 GT3 RSR'
Patrick Bourdais
Tom Cloet
Adam Sharpe

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Report and images by Wouter Melissen for Ultimatecarpage.com. More information can be found on the following website: 24 Hours of Le Mans official website.