Le Mans 2016 - The News So Far: LMP

After the exhilarating end to the 2015 World Endurance Championship most of us already have our attention set forward to the start of the new season and the star event of the calendar: the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

The 2015 season gave us race after race of unstoppable action where the point was proved that nothing is set in stone until the chequered flag drops. But even before the season has started there is a lot happening in the WEC paddock as everyone builds up to the main event in June. Speed Chills' new recruit Alice Holloway fills us in on the latest news in the LMP categories

One of the biggest pieces of news is that both Porsche and Audi are only running two cars in the legendary 24-hour race. The decision to downscale the programmes comes from the Volkswagen group; Audi has stated that it is glad the motorsport programme could continue running but it was made clear to them that they could save money.

This appears to have been done in a reduction of LMP1 cars for both Audi and Porsche. This could also be reflected in Porsche’s choice to step back from the GTE programme, opting not to run in the full championship this year.

This means that overall Le Mans winners Nick Tandy, Earl Bamber and Nico Hulkenberg have been stripped of their chance to defend their title, though the chance had already been taken away from Hulkenberg (and any other Formula One driver who wished to follow in his footsteps) when Formula 1 placed the inaugural European Grand Prix - being held in Baku, Azerbaijan - on the same weekend as the 24.

Nothing has been said officially from Formula One supremoes but WEC boss Gerard Neveu has claimed that the calendar clash is an attack from Formula One on his series’ ever-growing popularity.

The news does mean that drivers who completed the rookie test back in November for Porsche, including Kevin Magnussen and Juan Pablo Montoya, and who were hoping to score the seat that had been involuntarily vacated by Hulkenberg, have no hope of getting a Porsche LMP1 drive for this year as all six current LMP1 drivers have been confirmed for the 2016 season.

Audi has also retained their six works drivers from 2015, stating that the three who would have taken the wheel of the third Le Mans car are also still part of the Audi team and their services will be enlisted elsewhere in the programme.

Meanwhile Toyota, who dominated the 2014 season before being left in the wake of their German competitors last year, are poised to unveil their brand new endurance challenger - the TS050. The Japanese marque have kept details close to their chest, but expect a smaller petrol engine and a lot more hybrid power to hit the track at the Prologue testing session in March.

One team who won’t be at Paul Ricard, however, is Nissan Motorsports. Despite all the hype, media attention and masses of money thrown at the project, the self-proclaimed ‘bad boys’ went out with a whimper by announcing their withdrawal late last year.

It’s a real shame that the bonkers GT-R LM Nismo was never really given a chance to compete - it only went to Le Mans, and even then didn’t even have its much vaunted hybrid system - but perhaps the front engined, aero-focussed monster was a little too much for even Nissan to handle.

In more recent news last year’s LMP2 runners up and Le Mans winners in class KCMG have stepped back from the WEC. After two and a half seasons the program’s owners have pulled the team, dropping down to the GTE ranks instead - though also saying that the LMP2 programme has not been finished with and there is still a chance that they could return up the field in 2017.

The Hong Kong based outfit are dropping back into the GTE Am class where it’s speculated that they will run a Porsche 911. The owners gave no specific reason as to why they were changing disciplines, stating that they just felt like a change.

Whether or not the decision to leave the LMP2 class has anything to do with the contentious incident involving the #28 G-Drive car during the Fuji race last October is unknown, even if owner Paul Ip claims it not to be the case.

Meanwhile, last year’s Le Mans LMP2 runners up Jota Sport have taken the progressive steps of becoming a full time entrant to the World Endurance Championship, running the full season with a new ORECA Nissan 05 coupe. The British based outfit have confirmed ex-Formula One driver Giedo van de Garde and rising star Jake Dennis for Le Mans.

The rest of the LMP2 field is still shaping up, with a predicted high turnover of entrants from the 2015 WEC - with new chassis and engine regulations coming into effect the Pro-Am prototype class will be one to watch in the coming months.

It’s looking to be yet another thrilling year of racing with Audi and Porsche’s programmes seeming to have taken a bit of a hit in the aftermath of Volkswagen’s torrid few years.

But that won’t be affecting reigning World Champions Mark Webber, Timo Bernard and Brendon Hartley as they’ll have their full attention on retaining their world champion status and be hoping to add ‘Le Mans winner’ to their already glowing resumes.

The battle tightened with Audi at the end of last season, so can Porsche hold the advantage over them and take another clean sweep of pole positions? Or will Toyota return back to the form they had in 2014 and take the crown back from the German outfit? All will become clear as we move closer to the 2016 24 Hours of Le Mans.