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2007 24 Hours of Le Mans Preview
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In 2006 the Automobile Club d'Ouest celebrated the 100th anniversary of the first French Grand Prix and this year there is another reason to celebrate; the legendary 24 Hours of Le Mans will be held for the 75th time on June 16th and 17th. On the list of 74 winners there are many big name manufacturers like Alfa Romeo, Bentley, Bugatti, Ferrari, Jaguar, Porsche and most recently Audi. The last time a French car won this very French race is almost fifteen years ago when the Peugeot 905 was piloted to victory. The 'Lions' are back and look set to be the only ones capable of keeping Audi from a seventh in eight years. The expected big battle is also the subject of the official poster, which shows the R10 and 908 HDi FAP side by side gunning towards the Dunlop bridge. Down the order there will be more high profile fights with six Astons taking on five Corvettes in GT1 and five Ferraris and four Porsches going for GT2 glory.
A major step forward for the spectators will be the adoption of the ALMS' Leader Light system on the cars, which makes a lot easier to follow the race from the trackside. The top three of each class are indicated with one light for the leader, two for the second and three for third placed car. The colours of the lights differ from class to class. The track has been reworked as well most noticeable at Tertre Rouge and the section between the Arnage and the Porsche curves. Another improvement is the addition of five pitboxes, which has bumped maximum entrants from 50 to 55. A quick glance at the entry list shows that these extra five certainly are not just here to make up the numbers. Two weeks before the race the teams got their first and only chance to test their machines on the full 13.6 km track and it is also gives debutants the opportunity to qualify for the race by covering ten laps.
To get a first impression 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.

It would take a miracle and torrential conditions for the race not be won by one of the sixteen cars in the LMP1 class. There are five cars in this class that are the hot favourites; the diesel engined Audis and Peugeots. This is not the place to get into the diesel advantage situation in detail, but the performance difference really make LMP1 a two class class. Fortunately there are two very different and potent machines to dice it out in the 'LMP1D' class. At the test Audi and Peugeot were never far apart and gradually worked their times down to end the day with a very quick 3:26 for Champcar ace Sebastien Bourdais. Whether the 908 HDi FAP is in fact the fastest car remains to be seen, but we still expect the R10 to be more frugal and reliable than the new kid on the block. Missing during the test was seven-time winner Tom Kristensen, who was still recovering from his massive accident during a DTM race earlier this year. After a brief test in DTM car at Brands Hatch, he was deemed fit enough to race, which means reserve-driver and former DTM champion Mattias Ekstrom will not race. It will be particularly interesting to see who will dictate the pace and whether all cars will run at the same speed, or whether we will see the classic scenario where one car will serve as a hare to force the competition's hand and wear them out. This second option might not be in the diesel engined machines' best interest as it might show just how big the advantage is and force the ACO to take drastic measures to slow them down or bring the petrols up to speed.
Speaking of the LMP1P class; the #16 Pescarolo was the fastest by quite a margin, but that was the only car to go out on qualifying rubber. Thanks to the extra sticky Michelins it was less than two seconds off the diesels' pace and over five seconds fastest than the next best 'P1P' machine. That was the Dome of Jan Lammers' Racing for Holland, once again confirming the S101's great potential on low drag tracks. It looks like the small team have solved the problems that dogged them in the first races of the season. The Judd engined machines was followed closely by the second 'Pesca', the brand new Creation and the Zytek. The two Lolas that had impressed at Valencia have not found their way around the 13.6 km track just yet. Yves Courage's 25th Le Mans entry came to the worst of starts as the fastest of his two LC70s hit the wall at the exit of the Porsche curves. The violent accident destroyed the #13 car and injured its driver. A few hours later one of the LMP2 Courages hit the wall at the exact same spot. Fortunately, the Courage factory is located inside the track and a brand new LC70 and a repaired LC75 should be ready for qualifying.

In the last few years outright speed was not needed to win this class; spending the least amount of time in the pit box usually did the trick. It seems to be impossible to built a car to the LMP2 regulations that is strong enough to run strongly for 24 Hours, or six hours for that matter. None of the cars entered for this year's race have had a trouble free build up, so it is very difficult to pick a favourite. Looking at the test-day results, it looks like the Zyteks have the edge; both Michael Vergers in the #32 07S/2 and Adrian Fernandez in the #33 clocked the exact same time. It has to be said that Vergers was on his way to a considerably fater lap right at the end, but was slowed down by traffic. The modest Dutchman is rarely mentioned, but especially over one lap there only very few that can match him and bar accidents he will put the Gulf livered Zytek on the class-pole. The fastest non-Zytek was the Iberian Lola, that was just over 1.5 seconds slower. 'Never change a winning team' is what the 2005 and 2006 winners RML must have thought as they returned to the track with the same car, engine and drivers as last year.
The T2M Dome has not been improved much since its poor showing at Valencia last month. It has been painted, but it was the slowest car on track by far with a best lap almost a minute slower than Bourdais' 3:26.

Probably the most closely disputed class will be GT1 with three very competitive teams/manufacturers going head to head. Corvette Racing is the defending champ and are present again with their two meticulously prepared C6.Rs. The two factory cars are backed up by three privateer Corvettes, including two C6s. They are outnumbered by the Aston Martin DBR9s of which six will line up. Three of them will be of the very latest specification with air-conditioning. To keep the cabin cool without having to run the air-con too much, the Aston Martins sport a white roof. The performance of the Corvettes and Astons are a pretty known quantity, unlike that of the Oreca prepped Saleens. The French have spent the last year and a half to turn the quick, but unreliable S7 in a genuine endurance racer and both the Corvette and Aston team principals have expressed that they believe the Saleens are the favourites for the class win.
At the test, the Works Corvettes were among the first cars out on track and covered over 160 laps between them and the #63 'Vette set the fastest lap. The 007 Aston was second, over 1.5 seconds in arrears. The fastest of the 'favourites' was the #55 Saleen, which clocked the fourth time in the class. GT1 also houses the best sounding machine of the 55 car grid; the JLOC Lamborghini Murcielago. It could do no better than fourteenth, ten seconds off the #63 pace.

This used to be Porsche territory with other marques just adding a little flavour to the mix. The German's stronghold seven year was broken in 2006 with the Panoz of Team LNT taking the win. This was an exception though as the season was dominated by the Ferrari F430 GTC. Porsche's answer to this new competition was the 997 GT3 RSR, but that has failed to live up to its predecessor's legacy. The most dominant car so far this season was the Risi Competizione Ferrari, which won four ALMS races in a row, including at Sebring. As one of the very few ALMS teams, they travelled to France to claim the first win for the Italians in GT2 at Le Mans. Among the four Porsches is also an American team; Le Mans regulars Flying Lizard. They were both outpaced by two European teams though with Imsa Performance clocking the fastest time. In the race this could be a very exciting battle between the fastest three Porsches and the fastest two Ferraris. Risi might have the edge with its all-star line-up.
Panoz' win last year was a case of the 'last man standing' and it looks like a similar situation would be required for another Esperante victory. It looks less likely as with the 2007 spec of the V8 engine, the orange racers seem to have lost the reliability that came in so useful in 2006. The other manufacturer in this class is Spyker with their quirky C8 Spyders. The deep roar and big flames makes them an aural and visual delight, but the lack of speed and reliability this season and at the test does not bode well for them.

Final thought
Change is not always for the better, but the modifications carried through on the track and paddock over the Winter are a welcome improvement. The stunning times are caused by the revised Tertre Rouge section that sends the cars onto the Mulsanne at a much higher pace. The drivers were also very happy with the new bumpfree run up to the Porsche curves. For the fans the arrival of Peugeot and the Leader Lights should make this one of the most exciting Le Mans of recent years.
1 Audi Sport North America
Audi R10
Frank Biela
Emanuele Pirro
Marco Werner
2 Audi Sport North America
Audi R10
Rinaldo Capello
Tom Kristensen
Allan McNish
3 Audi Sport Team Joest
Audi R10
Lucas Luhr
Mike Rockenfeller
Alexandre Premat
5 Swiss Spirit
Lola B07/10 Audi
Jean-Deniz Deletraz
Marcel Fassler
Iradj Alexander
7 Team Peugeot Total
Peugeot 908 HDi FAP
Marc Gene
Nicolas Minassian
Jacques Villeneuve
8 Team Peugeot Total
Peugeot 908 HDi FAP
Pedro Lamy
Stephane Sarrazin
Sebastien Bourdais
9 Creation Autosportif
Creation CA07 Judd
Jamie Campbell-Walter
Felipe Ortiz
Sjinji Nakano
10 Arena International*
Zytek 07S
Stefan Johansson
Hayanari Shimoda
12 Courage Competition
Courage LC70 AER
Alexander Frei
Jonathan Cochet
Bruno Besson
13 Courage Competition
Courage LC70 AER
Jean March Gounon
Guillaume Moreau
Stefan Johansson
14 Racing for Holland
Dome S101.5 Judd
Jan Lammers
David Hart
Jeroen Bleekemolen
15 Charouz Racing System
Lola B07/10 Judd
Alex Yoong
Stephan Mucke
Jan Charouz
16 Pescarolo Sport
Pescarolo 01 LMP1 Judd
Emmanuel Collard
Jean Christophe Bouillon
Romain Dumas
17 Pescarolo Sport
Pescarolo 01 LMP1 Judd
Harold Primat
Christophe Tinseau
Benoit Treluyer
18 Rollcentre Racing
Pescarolo 01 LMP1 Judd
Jaoa Barbosa
Stuart Hall
Martin Short
19 Chamberlain-Synergie
Lola B06/10 AER
Gareth Evans
Bob Berridge
Peter Owen

20 Pierre Bruneau
Pilbeam MP93 Judd
Marc Rostan
Gary Pickering
Chris MacAllister
21 Team Bruichladdich Radical
Radical SR9 AER
Tim Greaves
Stuart Moseley
Robbin Liddell
24 Noel del Bello
Courage LC75 AER
Liz Halliday
Romain Ianetta
25 RML
MG Lola EX264 AER
Mike Newton
Tommy Erdos
Andy Wallace
29 T2M Motorsport
Dome S101.5 Mader
Robin Longechal
Yutaka Yamagishi
Yojiro Terada
31 Binnie Motorsports
Lola B05/40 Zytek
Bill Binnie
Allan Timpany
Chris Buncombe
32 Barazi Epsilon
Zytek 07S/2
Juan Barazi
Micheal Vergers
Karim Ojjeh
33 Barazi Epsilon
Zytek 07S/2
Adrian Ferandez
Haruki Kurosawa
Robbie Kerr
35 Saulnier Racing
Courage LC75 AER
Bruce Jouanny
Jacques Nicolet
Alain Filhol
40 Quiffel - ASM Team
Lola B05/40 AER
Miguel Amaral
Miguel de Castro
Warren Hughes
44 Kruse Motorsport
Pescarolo 01 LMP2 Judd
Tony Burgess
Jean de Pourtales
Norbert Siedler

006 Aston Martin Racing Larbre
Aston Martin DBR9
Patrick Bornhauser
Roland Berville
Gregor Fisken
007 Aston Martin Racing
Aston Martin DBR9
Tomas Enge
Johnny Herbert
Peter Kox
008 Aston Martin Racing Larbre
Aston Martin DBR9
Christophe Bouchut
Fabrizio Gollin
Casper Elgaard
009 Aston Martin Racing
Aston Martin DBR9
David Brabham
Ricard Rydell
Darren Turner
100 Aston Martin Racing BMS
Aston Martin DBR9
Fabio Babini
Jamie Davies
Matteo Malucelli
53 JLOC Isao Noritake
Lamborghini Murcielago R-GT
Marco Apicella
Koji Yamanishi
Atsushi Yogo
54 Team Oreca
Saleen S7R
Laurent Groppi
Nicolas Prost
Jean-Phillipe Belloc
55 Team Oreca
Saleen S7R
Stephane Ortelli
Soheil Ayari
Nicolas Lapierre
59 Team Modena
Aston Martin DBR9
Antonio Garcia
Jos Menten
Christian Fittipaldi
63 Corvette Racing
Chevrolet Corvette C6.R
Ron Fellows
Johnny O'Connell
Jan Magnussen
64 Corvette Racing
Chevrolet Corvette C6.R
Oliver Gavin
Olivier Berettta
Max Papis
67 Convers Menx Team
Ferrari 550 Maranello
Robert Pergl
Alexei Vasiliev
Tomas Kostka
70 PSI Experience
Chevrolet Corvette C6.R
David Hallyday
Claude Yves Gosselin
Philip Peter
72 Luc Alphand Adventures
Chevrolet Corvette C6.R
Jerome Policand
Patrice Gouselard
Luc Alphand
73 Luc Alphand Adventures
Chevrolet Corvette C5-R
Jean Luc Blanchemain
Vincent Vosse
Sebastien Dumez

71 Seikel Motorsport
Porsche 997 GT3 RSR
Philip Collin
Horst Felbermayer Snr
Horst Felbermayer Jnr
76 IMSA Performance
Porsche 997 GT3 RSR
Raymond Narac
Richard Lietz
Pat Long
78 AF Corse
Ferrari F430 GTC
Joe Macari
Ben Aucott
Adrian Newey
80 Flying Lizard Motorsports
Porsche 997 GT3 RSR
Johannes van Overbeek
Jorg Bergmeister
Seth Neiman
81 Team LNT
Panoz Esperante GT-LM
Tom Kimber-Smith
Danny Watts
Tom Milner
82 Team LNT
Panoz Esperante GT-LM
Lawrence Tomlinson
Richard Dean
Robert Bell
83 GPC Sport
Ferrari F430 GTC
Matthew Marsh
Jesus-Diaz Villarroel
Carl Rosenblad
85 Spyker Squadron
Spyker C8 Spyder GT2R
Andrea Belicchi
Alex Caffi
Andrea Chiesa
86 Spyker Squadron
Spyker C8 Spyder GT2R
Jarek Janis
Mike Hezemans
Jonny Kane
87 Scuderia Ecosse
Ferrari F430 GTC
Chris Niarchos
Andrew Kirkaldy
Tim Mullen
93 Autorlando Sport
Porsche 997 GT3 RSR'
Lars Erik Nielsen
Pierre Ehret
Allan Simonsen
97 Risi Competizione
Ferrari F430 GTC
Mika Salo
Jaime Melo
Johnny Mowlem
99 Risi Competizione
Ferrari F430 GTC
Tracy Krohn
Nic Jonsson
Colin Braun
*Withdrawn after an accident and the subsequent fire damaged the car too extensive to be repaired in time for scruteneering.

Report and images by Wouter Melissen for Ultimatecarpage.com.