Acura Team Penske dominated the weekend at Mid Ohio, Helio Castroneves and Ricky Taylor taking the first win for the ARX-05 DPI, eight seconds up the road of the #6 car piloted by Juan Pablo Montoya and Dane Cameron.

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The two cars started the race on the front row and between them, led every lap of the race. It was Team Penske’s first win in the series in 10 years. Timo Bernhard and Romain Dumas took the teams last win at Utah Motorsports Campus in the Porsche RS Spyder way back in 2009. The Team Joest Mazda DPI squad put up a fight throughout the first half of the race but fell back towards the end. The #55 tangled with a GT car at the half way mark, damaging the suspension. The #77 came home third with the #5 Action Express Cadillac taking fourth and the #10 Konica Minolta Cadillac finishing fifth.

In GTLM, Nick Tandy took the lead on the opening lap, leading for the first hour or so before Earl Bamber took the lead in the #912. Bamber and Laurens Vanthoor took the win by 1.673 seconds. BMW Team RLL kept the pressure on, De Phillippi momentarily taking the lead in an out of sequence pit stop towards the end of the race before dropping back to second in the final pit window. All eight entries finished on the lead lap at the end of the 2 hour 40 minute race with the #3 Corvette taking third ahead of the #66 and #67 Fords which rounded out the top 5.

3GT took the win in GTD to give the Lexus GT3 its first win in the series. Jack Hawksworth put the #15 3GT Lexus RC F on pole on Saturday with the #14 Lexus qualifying second. The #14 car dominated the second half of the race giving Lexus their first win in North America. Alvaro Parente put up a fight in the #86 Meyer Shank Racing Acura NSX, closing the gap to a couple of tenths towards the end of the race. Bryan Sellers and Madison Snow took third in the #48 Paul Miller Lamborghini Huracan GT3, their third consecutive podium.

Fernando Alonso, Sebastien Buemi and Kazuki Nakajima won the first race of the World Endurance Championship super-season at Spa, despite a stunning comeback by their sister Toyota after a pit lane start following a qualifying infringement.

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The #8 Toyota TS050 triumphed after the #7 machine of Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and Jose Maria Lopez was excluded from qualifying having taken pole for an incorrect declaration of the fuel flow meter. It therefore started from the pit-lane a lap after the rest. A series of incidents got the #7 onto the leading Toyota’s tail. At mid-distance the #8 lost a minute when Nakajima had to return to the pits a lap after taking over from Alonso as his seatbelts were not done up correctly. Shortly afterwards Nakajima lost another 10 seconds by spinning at La Source.

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This left Kobayashi under a minute behind the leader. He had earlier got his car back onto the lead lap and soon after the #8 car’s dramas passed the Rebellion pair to claim second place. Then a safety car period with an hour to go after a heavy crash for Matevos Isaakyan in the #17 SMP Racing BR1-Gibson at Eau Rouge reduced the gap between the Toyotas to just 6s. Alonso driving the final stint kept his head however to hold off Conway by just 1.4s for the win.

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The non-hybrid LMP1 pack was headed by the #1 Rebellion of Neel Jani, Andre Lotterer and Bruno Senna, who took the final podium place despite repeated problems with the car’s data transmitting and being ordered to pit to change its transponder. The other Rebellion of Mathias Beche, Thomas Laurent and Gustavo Menezes finished fourth having run in close company of the #1 for much of the way. The #17 SMP Racing BR1-Gibson of Stephane Sarrazin, Egor Orudzhev and Isaakyan had also battled the Rebellions for the final podium place before Isaakyan’s crash, after starting from the back after not setting a qualifying time due to stopping on track with technical problems.The ByKolles Racing ENSO CLM P1/01 driven by Oliver Webb, Dominik Kraihamer and Tom Dillmann finished fifth followed home by the SMP Racing BR1-Gibson driven by Mikhail Aleshin and Vitaly Petrov to complete the LMP1 finishers.

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The G-Drive Racing Oreca 07-Gibson driven Formula E championship leader Jean-Eric Vergne, Andrea Pizzitola and Roman Rusinov were comfortable winners in LMP2, leading home the Jota Sport-run Jackie Chan DC Racing Oreca 07 driven by Ho-Pin Tung, Gabriel Aubry, Stephane Richelmi in second by 20s. The Signatech Alpine Matmut driven by Nicolas Lapierre, Pierre Thiriet and Andre Negrao in their Alpine A470-Gibson completed the LMP2 podium. The Racing Team Nederland Dallara P217-Gibson rose quickly to lead the LMP2 class early on with Giedo van der Garde at the wheel, but then had a lengthy stop in the second hour due to a gearbox problem which cost it 15 laps.

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The GTE Pro race was a close battle between the Fords and Porsches, which was won by the Ganassi-run Ford GT driven by Olivier Pla, Stefan Mucke and Billy Johnson. They were chased to the flag by the Porsche 911 RSR driven by Michael Christensen and Kevin Estre, 14s adrift. The Porsche had been delayed at two-thirds’ distance by a stop-go penalty for spinning their wheels when being released from the pits. The Ferrari 488 GTE of Davide Rigon and Sam Bird seized GTE Pro third place at the last, with Rigon elbowing past the #91 Porsche 911 of Richard Lietz at the Bus Stop chicane with a minute to go. The other Ganassi-run Ford GT crashed out an hour into the race when Harry Ticknell had a violent front-on smash in the Eau Rouge barriers, which he walked away from, caused apparently by a failure on the front-left of the car. The accident heralded a lengthy safety car period. Reigning GTE Pro champions James Calado and Alessandro Pier Guidi the#51 Ferrari 488 had ran off the Ford and Porsche pace and their chances ended when Pier Guidi collided with the Team Project 1 when exiting the pits with two hours to go. This meant lengthy repairs.

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Reigning champions Paul Dalla Lana, Pedro Lamy and Mathias Lauda took the GTE Am win in their Aston Martin Vantage, with Lamy holding off a late sustained attack from second-placed Euan Hankey in the TF Sport Aston Martin.

#7 Toyota disqualified from qualifying after failing to disclose the correct technical information.

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In a late turn of events last night, long after qualifying had finished, the #7 Toyota was called in front of the Stewards. Toyota had incorrectly declared the fuel flow meter. As a result of this, the qualifying times set by the #7 have been cancelled, promoting the #8 car of Fernando Alonso, Kazuki Nakajima and Sebastien Buemi to the front of the grid. The #7 “will start from the pit lane, and shall not join the race until the last car in the field has covered his first lap and following Race Director Instruction.”

Neel Jani, Andre Lotterer and Bruno Senna will now start alongside the #8 Toyota on the front row.

Following the decision, Toyota Gazoo Racing released a statement: “The team accepts full responsibility for the error, which had no impact whatsoever on car performance. The fuel flow meter which was used in the #7 was fully homologated and calibrated. Team processes and procedures will be strengthened immediately to avoid any repeat of this unfortunate error”

The #7 Toyota took the first pole of the new World Endurance Championship super-season for tomorrow’s Spa 6 Hours, as Toyota dominated the red flag-interrupted session.

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The #7 Toyota TS050 of Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and Jose Maria Lopez beat its sister #8 machine of Fernando Alonso, Kazuki Nakajima and Sebastien Buemi by just under four tenths on the average time. After the first runs Conway’s 1m54.679s mark beat Alonso’s effort by just under half a second. Then in the second efforts Kobayashi 1m 54.488s time was three tenths under that of Nakajima.

“Just tried to put two good laps together between me and Kamui,” said Conway, “we had a few poles last year we didn’t quite convert to wins, we’ll make sure we’ll convert some wins this year. It’s a good start anyway. It’ll still be tricky tomorrow with the amount of tyres we have, I’m sure the privateers will keep us on our toes.”

As anticipated Toyota were clearly the quickest of the LMP1 cars. The Rebellion-Gibson R-13s led the privateer non-hybrid LMP1 pack behind, with Neel Jani and Bruno Senna – who will be driving with Andre Lotterer tomorrow – starting third with an average 1.8s off the pole-time. Thomas Laurent and Gustavo Menezes got fourth in the other Rebellion with an average 2.4s off the pace. They will drive tomorrow with Mathias Beche.

The SMP Racing BR Engineering BR1 all-Russian #11 car of Mikhail Aleshin and Vitaly Petrov will start fifth, ahead of the ByKolles ENSO CLM P1/01 of Oliver Webb, Dominik Kraihamer and Tom Dillmann.

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Prototype qualifying was first interrupted in the early minutes by the #17 SMP Racing BR1 stopping on the Kemmel straight having lost the engine and gearbox with Stephane Sarrazin at the wheel, and had not set a time. Then around a third of the way into the session Pietro Fittipaldi caused a lengthy stoppage with a big front-on crash at Raidillon in his DragonSpeed-Gibson BR1.

An official statement from the team and the FIA declared: “At 15:52 today, Friday 4 May 2018, the No.10 DragonSpeed BR Engineering BR1 left the track at high speed at Raidillon. The driver, who was conscious at all times, was attended immediately by the Circuit de Spa Francorchamps Medical Services and FIA Medical Delegate Jacques Tropenat, extracted from the car and taken by helicopter to the Centre Hospitalier de la Citadelle de Liege with suspected fractures to both legs. He is accompanied by the DragonSpeed Team Manager and his condition is not life threatening.”

The CEFC TRSM Racing Ginettas didn’t set a qualifying time, and it was announced shortly after qualifying that the team will take no further part in the weekend due to financial issues with sponsor TRS.

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Signatech Alpine Matmut took LMP2 pole after pipping the G-Drive Racing machine. The average time of Nicolas Lapierre and Pierre Thiriet in their Alpine A470-Gibson beat that of Formula E championship leader Jean-Eric Verge and Andrea Pizzitola in their Oreca 07-Gibson by just two hundredths of a second.

“Very tough weekend so far,” said Lapierre, “but we’ve improved the car a lot for the qualifying so we are very pleased, it was a very special qualifying as we didn’t have so much time to set a lap.”

The Jota Sport-run Jackie Chan DC Racing pair was next up, with Ho-Pin Tung and Gabriel Aubry starting third with an average time four tenths off the pace and beating team-mates Jazeman Jaafar and Nabil Jeffry’s average in fourth by two tenths. They were followed by the DragonSpeed Oreca 07-Gibson of Pastor Maldonado and Roberto Gonzalez in fifth.

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The Chip Ganassi-run Fords took the first two places in GTE Pro class, with the #67 car of Andy Priaulx, Harry Ticknell and Tony Kanaan pipping Olivier Pla, Stefan Mucke and Billy Johnson in the #66 by just 0.083s. Pla beat Priaulx by two tenths in their first runs but Ticknell’s best in the second runs beat Mucke’s by over three tenths to but him just ahead on average time.

“Had a good first banker lap,” said Priaulx, “and Harry did a great lap on the used tyre. So really super happy with the car. But the Porsche looked really strong and our team-mates were strong so I think this year the GTE Pro class is going to be a really tough battle.”

The Ford pair just beat the Porcshe 911 RSR of Richard Lietz and Gianmaria Bruni, whose average time was just four thousandths slower than the #66 Ford on the average time. The other Porsche 911 of Michael Christensen and Kevin Estre was fourth, four tenths off the top.

Reigning GTE Pro champions James Calado and Alessandro Pier Guidi in the Ferrari 488 GTE EVO were fifth quickest, 1.4s off the top, while the best of the BMW M8 GTEs making its championship debut was Andretti BMW Formula E duo Antonio Felix Da Costa and Tom Blomqvist in sixth, a tenth behind the Ferrari on the average time.

The quickest of the new Aston Martin Vantage AMRs was the #97 car of Maxime Martin and Alex Lynn in seventh.

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Dempsey-Proton Racing’s Porsche 911 RSR #77 took the GTE Am pole, for Christian Ried, Matt Campbell and Julien Andlauer. They beat reigning GTE Am champions Paul Dalla Lana, Pedro Lamy and Mathias Lauda in the Aston Martin Vantage #98 by a mere 0.002s on the average.

Team Project 1, new to the series from Porsche Supercup and Carrera Cup, took third in class with the #56 Porsche 911 RSR for Jorg Bergmeister, Patrick Lindsey and Egidio Perfetti.

Ginetta have confirmed that the pair of G60-LT-P1s will not be released to CEFC TRSM Racing for tomorrows FIA WEC 6 Hours of Spa due to the team missing payment deadlines.

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“It is with great disappointment that we have to announce that Ginetta will not be releasing the two LMP1 cars that successfully ran at the FIA WEC Prologue at Paul Ricard at the beginning of April. Unfortunately funds promised have not arrived from TRS to CEFC TRSM Racing. The required funds for Ginetta were due some time ago and whilst we understand that TRS has been working with its sponsors to sort the issue, without payment, Ginetta cannot allow the cars to race. Ginetta remains committed to working with CEFC TRSM Racing on this programme.

We are aware that CEFC TRSM Racing has visited TRS many times in China and can also confirm that TRS have visited Ginetta three times recently, the last time to attend a Royal visit. We have been informed by TRS that the current situation is a short term cash flow problem and that the main funds are in place for payment before Le Mans.”

Chairman of Ginetta, Lawrence Tomlinson said: “We’ve got to a situation where a UK-based team with excellent ability, kit and personnel, plus a pair of the latest LMP1 cars with confirmed and fully paid up entries for the 2018/19 FIA WEC (including two entries at Le Mans in both 2018 & 2019) are unable to race simply due to funds not flowing.”

The team are still aiming to get the cars out for the Le Mans 24 Hour next month with Ginettas Lawrence Tomlinson at Spa today, holding talks with senior officials from the ACO, WEC and FIA. A further statement will follow on the status of the programme and what future awaits it.

The #1 Rebellion Racing R13 topped the time sheets this morning, Neel Jani posting a time of 1:57.12, eight tenths up on Mike Conway in the #7 Toyota.

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Jani’s time was around two seconds faster than the previous best lap set by Rebellion but still a second off the pace of Toyota from FP2. Rebellion also claimed third spot in the session, the #3 car of Mathias Beche, Thomas Laurent and Gustavo Menezes clocking a 1:58.124 around Spa. Once again, the two CEFC TRSM Manor Ginettas only managed an installation lap before returning to the pit lane. We wait to see if they will take part in qualifying later this afternoon.

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In LMP2, Dragonspeed once again topped the session, again Pastor Maldonado going fastest in the #31 Oreca 07 with a time of 2:02.281. Jean Eric Vergne took second in class in the #26 G-Drive Racing Oreca with the #38 Jackie Chan DC Racing claiming third spot, Ho Pin-Tung posting a 2:03.35.7.

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Ford topped FP3 again in GTE Pro, the #67 topping the time sheets; Andy Priaulx posting a time of 2:13.693 8 laps into the session. BMW broke into the top three for the first time, Tom Blomqvist setting a time of 2:14.225 to split the two Fords. Olivier Pla brought the #66 Ford home in third, posting time of 2:14.249. Porsche took fourth and fifth in session with Aston Martin again struggling with the new Vantage AMR. The #97 posted a time of 2:15.457 whilst the #95 only managed a 2:18.493; slower than eight of the GTE-Am entries.

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The #77 Porsche 911 RSR went quickest in GTE-Am, Matt Campbell setting a time of 2:15.410. The #88 took second place with TF Sport rounding out the top 3, Euan Hankey setting a time of 2:15.778.

The #7 TSO50 topped the time sheets in FP2, Mike Conway setting the pace with a time of 1:56.172, a considerable margin over the non hybrid LMP1 entries.

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The #10 DragonSpeed BR1-Gibson fell over 2.5 seconds off the pace with a time of 1:58.835 in the hands of Pietro Fittipaldi. Once again, both the CEFC TRSM Racing Ginetta’s failed to run a competitive lap, both cars did one installation lap before returning to the pits. Speculation is rising in the paddock that the team are suffering financial problems with one of the Chinese backers under investigation. Whether this has any impact on the teams involvement with the rest of the season is unclear at this moment in time. SMP Racing were also having problems with the #17 BR1, the car came to a stop mid way through the session causing a red flag whilst the car was recovered.

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In LMP2, Pastor Maldonado continued to set the pace in the #31 Dragonspeed Oreca 07, posting a time of 2:02.901 ahead of the second place #37 Jackie Chan DC Racing Oreca 07; Nail Jeffri posting a time of 2:03.306. Roman Rusinov took third in a one off return to the championship in the #26 G-Drive Racing Oreca 07. Matthieu Vaxiviere caused the second red flag of the session, going off at Turn 14.

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In GTE-Pro, Ford returned to the top of the time sheets, the #66 car posting a time of 2:13.733 in the hands of Stefan Mucke. Gianmaria Bruni lead the session early on however in the #91 Porsche, the #66 Ford was late to the session after spending the first 40 minutes in the garage. The #67 Ford rounded out the top three. As per FP1, the new Aston Martin Vanatage AMR and the new BMW M8 GTE struggled for pace this session, the #82 BMW setting a time outside of the top three times in GTE-AM.

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Porsche once again led the way in GTE-AM, the #86 Gulf Racing UK Porsche topping the session with a time of 2:16.113 in the hands of Benjamin Barker. The #77 Dempsey Proton Porsche finished second, but it was the #98 Aston Martin that broke Porsche’s dominance, Pedro Lamy posting a time of 2:16.790.

Toyota Gazoo Racing finished FP1 at the top of the time sheets, Fernando Alonso leading the way.

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The FIA WEC debutant topped the time sheets in FP1 this morning at Spa; besting Mike Conway by just 2 tenths of a second with a time of 1:58.392 in the #8 Toyota TSO50. Rebellion were the best of the non-hybrid runners, the #3 Rebellion R13 Gibson of Menezes, Laurent and Beche was four tenths of the pace of Toyota. Championship new comers, CEFC TRSM Racing spent the session in the Garage after setting an installation lap at the beginning of the session in the Ginetta LMP1.

Fernando Alonso:

“I think its going to be an interesting season. Obviously we’ve done some tests already in Spain and Portimao. I missed the Prologue, I was racing in F1. Now is really the first time we meet with all the traffic and all the other cars, so definitely still a lot to learn, but step by step, I’m trying to learn this as much as I can with every single lap in the car. We’ve been training a lot in the simulator, this kind of traffic and these kind of situations, I hope I’m as prepared as I can be. We’ll see on Saturday. I’m not too worried about traffic management." Short Image Description

In LMP2, it was the #31 Dragonspeed Oreca in the hands of former F1 driver Pastor Maldonado which set the quickest time of the session, a 2:03.494. Alpine took second in class in the #36 Alpine A470, Andre Negrao setting a 2:04.134 with Jean Eric Vergne putting the #26 G-Drive Oreca third in class with a time of 2:04.198.

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Ford and Porsche pick up their 2017 rivalry where it left off, both demonstrating strong pace in the opening session. The #67 Ford topped the time sheets, Andy Priaulx, Harry Tincknell and Tony Kanaan piloting the car this weekend. The #66 Ford of Stefan Mucke, Oliver Pla and billy Johnson took second in the session, two tenths off the pace with a time of 2:15.273. Gianmaria Bruni rounded out the top three with a time of 2:15.631. Ferrari and BMW alternated between fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh whilst the two Aston Martin Vantage’s well a few seconds short of the pace, the #97 posting a time of 2:17.993 and the #95 posting a time of 2:18.227.

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And in GTE AM, the #88 Dempsey-Proton Racing Porsche 911 RSR posted a time of 2:16.601 with Matteo Cairoli behind the wheel. The #86 Gulf Racing Porsche 911 RSR took second thanks to a 2:17.552 lap from Ben Barker. The #77 Dempsey Proton Porsche took third in GTEAm.

Well, what a great surprise. Jenson Button racing a Jaguar XJR-9 at Le Mans Classic in July is exciting. But now the 2009 Formula 1 World Champion has chosen to bring his La Sarthe debut forward by a month: he’s going all-out for an attack on the 24 Hours itself. Fantastic news.

I must say, I was surprised. In his press statement, Jenson said “it’s always been a dream of mine to race at Le Mans”, but that didn’t seem to be the case during his Grand Prix career. Button enjoyed 17 eventful years in the F1 bubble and for most of that time showed little interest in anything else going on in the wider motor sport world. I recall times when he was asked specifically about Le Mans, especially in his later years at McLaren, and he tended to be a little dismissive.

But like many of his ilk, now that F1 bubble has burst he’s gained some perspective. Always a good chap and a pure racer at heart, he’s embracing what else motor racing has to offer away from the cauldron of intensity that is life in F1.

Jenson’s affinity for Japan led him to commit to the fantastic Super GT national series, in which he scored a second place in the first round of 2018 at Okayama a few weeks back, partnering Naoki Yamamoto in Team Kunimitsu’s Honda NSX-GT – and his taste buds for endurance racing have clearly been tantalised.

Now along with his Japanese commitment, the 38-year-old has signed up for the Le Mans 24 Hours and a subsequent World Endurance Championship campaign with SMP Racing. Button will drive the new Dallara-built BR1 LMP1 alongside rapid Russian duo Vitaly Petrov and Mikhail Aleshin. He knows the former from Petrov’s time in F1 with Renault, while Aleshin has history as a talented Indycar racer. All in all, a potent line-up.

SMP Racing at the Prologue 2018

The big questions are how competitive the BR1 will be at Le Mans – and will it really have any chance of going the distance?

We’ll know more about the genuine speed of the new non-hybrid LMP1 after this weekend’s WEC ‘Super Season’ kick-off, the Spa 6 Hours (which Button is missing). At the WEC Prologue test at Paul Ricard it was the best of the new breed of privateer prototypes and only slower than the hybrid Toyotas.

Reliability is entirely another matter for SMP, as it will be for all the teams running new cars. Lasting six hours untroubled would be an achievement in Belgium, never mind over 24 in France.

So why has Button committed to this unproven programme? He has spoken bullishly of going to Le Mans to win, but can that really be a goal this year?

His old McLaren team-mate Fernando Alonso is in an entirely different situation, of course. As a member of the only factory to compete in the top class, the Spaniard has a great chance of making a winning debut at the big race. That’s pressure.

Button? The pressure cannot be so great when he’s racing a brand new car. Expectations for Jenson will be nowhere near as high as they will be for Fernando – and that could play to the Briton’s advantage.

But again, can he really win? Well, Toyota has to be the hot favourite – but with its cursed record at Le Mans, nothing can be taken for granted. If the two hybrids falter, one of the privateers could pick up the pieces – and if that’s the case, it’s likely to be the one that has the least amount of trouble. In that case, why not SMP?

Then again, and rather bizarrely, Button’s best chance of a debut win might have actually been with a well-run LMP2 in the prototype second division. They might not have the pace of the top class, but they’re proven over this distance. Who can forget last year when the Jackie Chan DC Racing ORECA led overall and was only eventually beaten by a hybrid Porsche?

Whatever their fortunes, the addition of a pair of F1 world champions is a huge boost for the race, especially in the year following Porsche’s withdrawal. How they get on will be fascinating. All eyes will be on Button and Alonso on June 16/17.

Motor racing has a cruel side to it, but during the 24 Hours of Le Mans that cruel side seems to be appearing more often than anywhere else. For over a century the French endurance classic has pushed man and machine to their absolute limits, on many occasions breaking machinery and breaking dreams.

Toyota owns a special place in the history of the race. The Japanese automotive overlord has not only been trying to win Le Mans for more than three decades and earned an undesired record of most second-place finishes without a win, but, above all, Toyota became the protagonist of some of the most memorable heartbreaks in the history of the race.

Toyota LMP1 at FIA WEC Prologue 2018

It all started in a rather modest manner, nothing like the LMP1 effort of today. The Toyota name first appeared at Le Mans in 1975, as an engine supplier of Sigma Automotive. The Sigma MC75 powered by a turbocharged engine from Celica ran in the top 10 at some stage but failed to finish. A decade later came Toyota’s first official involvement at Le Mans, when the Toyota 85C-L become the first-ever Japanese car to finish the 24 Hours of Le Mans, crossing the line 12th overall. In 1987 TOM’S become a fully factory-backed team.

But it wasn’t until the ‘90s that Toyota became a contender and it also wasn’t until then that its litany of near misses started. Toyota’s ’92 challenger, the TS010 powered by a 3.5-litre V10, was a formidable force. The car shared by Masanori Sekiya, Pierre-Henri Raphanel and Kenny Acheson was fastest at the speed trap and set the fastest lap of the race but a series of repairs buried the chances of a victory and resulted in a second-place finish.

Two years Toyota’s only presence was in a form of privately entered, updated versions of the C2-class 94C-Vs. The #4 car (Steven Andskar, George Fouche, Bob Wollek) led for eight hours until it was hit by gearbox and differential problems. Later on the #1 car (Eddie Irvine, Mauro Martini, Jeff Krosnoff) was comfortably in the lead with only an hour and a half remaining when a gear linkage problem forced a 13-minute repair. The #1 car finished second, a lap behind the winners, with the #4 car crossing the line in fourth.

When Toyota returned to Le Mans in 1998 gone were the days of Group C. A new breed of cars ruled at Circuit de La Sarthe – the mighty GT1s. The rules required manufacturers to produce a low number of road-going versions, hence some of the world’s most extreme supercars were made during the era, with a beautiful Toyota GT-One among them.

The TS020 GT-One was a favourite. The #28 car (Martin Brundle, Emmanuel Collard, Eric Helary) led in the early stages until it was forced to stop for a brake change. Then the #29 car (Thierry Boutsen, Ralf Kelleners, Geoff Lees) took over the lead and enjoyed it for a handful of hours until, with 80 minutes remaining, a transmission problem caused a lengthy pit stop. In the end, the #27 car (Ukyo Katayama, Toshio Suzuki, Keiichi Tsuchiya), classified ninth, was the only Toyota that finished the race.

In ’99 Toyota came back even stronger, starting out with locking out the front row. As the race went into the night two cars were lost due to crashes, with #27 (shared by Ukyo Katayama, Toshio Suzuki and Keiichi Tsuchiya) Toyota’s only remaining car. Katayama suffered a puncture at over 200mph while closing on the leading BMW. The wounded car limped to the pits, received a new set of tyres and went on to finish second.

In the 2000s Toyota turned its attention to Formula 1 and it wasn’t until 2012 when it finally started its latest chapter of Le Mans history. In 2013 Toyota with its TS030 HYBRID shared by Anthony Davidson, Stephane Sarrazin and Sebastien Buemi finished second, again only a lap down, but this time the team never threatened the winning Audi.

In 2014 Toyota had the edge over Audi during the night when a problem with an FIA sensor stranded Kazuki Nakajima (who shared the #7 car with Alexander Wurz and Stephane Sarrazin) out on the track.

Two years later Toyota suffered one of the biggest heartbreaks in the history of the race. The TS050HYBRID looked destined to win, running one-two for most of the distance. With five minutes to go the leading #5 car in the hands of Kazuki Nakajima suffered a power loss – result of a fractured connection in an airline between turbocharger and intercooler. Porsche snatched the win in the very last moment.

In 2017 Toyota was the car to beat once again, but only until a clutch problem. The issue was a result of a bizarre incident that occurred in the pit lane. Nine and a half hours into the race the #7 car of Kamui Kobayashi was parked at the end of pitlane during a safety car period. Kobayashi mistook an LMP2 driver giving him a thumbs up for a marshal giving him a sign to go, soon after the team told him to stop again, that in turn lead to a failure.

Toyota has endured a rotten luck at Le Mans in recent years, but some believe that there’s no such thing as bad luck, there is only bad planning. Is that indeed the case with Toyota? Difficult to say, but one thing is for sure – this year Toyota will return to Le Mans prepared better than ever before. At Motorland Aragon the team simulated a variety of issues in order to prepare themselves for different crisis situations. More than 20 different problems were simulated, including a turbo issue that cost them victory in the 2016 edition. Running on three wheels was also practised.

The team has lost a formidable competitor in the shape of Porsche and its biggest threat will come from privately entered LMP1 cars in what will look like a battle of a Goliath with a small army of Davids. It also secured services of one of the highest-rated drivers in the world, a certain Fernando Alonso. It’s simply now or never for Toyota.

It takes a lot to add to the attractions of a Le Mans 24 Hour race. But this year we have something over and above the event’s habitual charms. Two-time F1 champion, and McLaren driver, Fernando Alonso is taking part in Toyota’s LMP1 squad.

That an incumbent F1 pilot is taking part, moreover has a real chance of winning, feels exceptional. Granted we had Nico Hulkenberg taking part and winning for Porsche in 2015 but he was the first serving F1 driver to win the 24 Hours since 1991. And although many declared interest in Le Mans in Hulkenberg’s victory afterglow the expected rush of F1 stars hasn’t yet happened, though it didn’t help that the following year there was a clash with the ‘European Grand Prix’ in Baku.

Yet taking the full breadth of history F1 drivers participating in Le Mans and winning it is not all that exceptional. Time was that even the most decorated F1 drivers would race in a multitude of other categories as well. Sportscar racing and Le Mans itself were fully included.

When the F1 world championship came into being in 1950 right away Louis Rosier that year combined a Le Mans win with a full F1 campaign in a Talbot.

Four years later Ferrari took its first factory Le Mans victory and its two winning drivers, Jose Froilan Gonzalez and Maurice Trintignant, also completed F1 seasons that year for the Scuderia. Mike Hawthorn the following year won the tragic Le Mans race for Jaguar while also being a full-time F1 pilot.

The 1960s were the peak of the F1 driver triumphing at the Circuit de la Sarthe, and again it was down in part to Ferrari which won six times in a row at the start of that decade. In 1961 Phil Hill took a Le Mans win and an F1 world championship for Ferrari in the same year; Olivier Gendebien, Jochen Rindt and Lorenzo Bandini also won the 24 hours race for the Italian marque while full-time F1 drivers.

The trend continued as Ford took over the wins in the second half of the decade, indeed it accelerated. Dan Gurney, Pedro Rodriguez, Lucien Bianchi, Jacky Ickx and Jackie Oliver all took wins before the ‘60s were out, providing a clear peak of F1 driver success at Le Mans.

Graham Hill and Henri Pescarolo (more than once) joined them early the following decade, while by 1976 Ickx had taken a couple more Le Mans victories as a full-time F1 man.

But then it dried up. With Bernie Ecclestone’s F1 commercial rocket ship suddenly there was little scope for drivers to take part in Le Mans too. Well paid superstars had less financial need. More testing and commercial obligations left fewer spaces in diaries. Sponsor and manufacturer conflicts abounded too. Ultra-committed F1 pilots didn’t want distractions. Nervous teams didn’t like the idea of losing their precious driving assets to injuries.

So after Didier Pironi’s triumph in the resplendent yellow Renault Alpine in 1978 only in 1991 did a full-time F1 driver win Le Mans. Indeed two did so at once as Johnny Herbert and Bertrand Gachot formed part of the winning line-up for the rotary-engined Mazda. From then there was next to nothing; Eddie Irvine finishing second in 1994 in a Toyota and Sebastien Bourdais finishing in the same place for Peugeot in 2009 were rare exceptions.

That was until 2015 when Le Mans, and F1, went back to the future. By then testing restrictions freed up F1 drivers’ time, and the prestige of Le Mans remained. The talented but neglected Hulkenberg decided given his rut it was worth having a go in a Porsche (ironically, after Honda didn’t sanction Alonso getting the gig). And he won on his first attempt. How Alonso must hope to replicate the feat.

Images courtesy of lemansclassic.com

30 Hours of testing, 53,000km covered by all entries and it was Toyota Gazoo Racing who came out on top of the official pre-season test at Paul Ricard.

#8 Toyota

LMP1

Toyota covered 5872km across the two cars, Mike Conway, topping the timing screens with a time of 1:32.662, significantly quicker than the non-hybrid LMP1 cars. It was however confirmed that Toyota had been running an unrestricted set up to test a new cooling system. This will perhaps come as some kind of relief to the competition with the closest non-hybrid entry, the #11 SMP Racing BR1 falling 4.3 seconds shy of the quickest pace. However, this is only pre-season testing, how much are the teams willing to reveal at this stage? Qualifying at Spa in just a few weeks’ time will be the first time to see the cars being pushed to the maximum.

#1 Rebellion

The huge amount of change in LMP1 over the winter break has been a major point of discussion and speculation in the past few months. Rebellion Racing have returned to LMP1 with the Rebellion R-13 piloted by Neel Jani, Andre Lotterer and Bruno Senna, arguably one of the most experience trios in the class and certainly one to watch as the super season unfolds! A deal was announced prior to the Prologue between TVR and Rebellion which sees the brand return to Le Mans for the first time in over a decade. TVR will be present as an “automotive partner”.

It was a promising start for the LMP1 non-hybrid field with SMP Racing and Rebellion split by just 0.010 on the fastest lap, the #11 SMP besting the #1 Rebellion R-13 to take third and fourth respectively in the overall quickest lap time. An impressive start for Rebellion considering the lack of testing during the winter break. Unveiled to the world in Bahrain at the end of last season, the two SMP entered BR1s between them ran 515 laps.

It was a quiet but good weekend for ByKolles in the updated CLM P1/01. The team dropped out of the 2017 season after Nurburgring as planned to focus on developing the new car. The car managed to run 331 laps, a significant improvement on this time last year when at Monza, they ran just a handful of laps.

#6 CEFC TRSM

CEFC TRSM (Manor/Ginetta to you and I), step up to LMP1 this year with a pair of Ginetta G60-LT-P1s. They experienced a number of minor issues throughout the test, struggling to get anywhere near the competition in terms of lap times complete. The #6 car finished with 121 laps on the board whilst the #5 made a late debut on Friday after a water leak stopped the team from running early on Friday. It was a fantastic job from the Ginetta and Manor pit crew to get the car up and running considering it was still being built on Thursday. The #5 made an initial run around sunset on Friday evening but was forced back to the pits with a few teething problems. The car returned later that night with Mike Simpson at the wheel before getting some consistent running in early Saturday morning, managing to clock 138 laps as a result.

DragonSpeed split their efforts between LMP1 and LMP2 this year, running a Gibson BR1 in LMP1. This was one of the first outings for the car with the team focused on trialling different set ups and getting track time for Henrik Hedman. They completed the session with 145 laps on the clock.

LMP2

#38 Jackie Chan Racing

Its the same old faces but with additional variety this year in LMP2. Jackie Chan DC Racing return to the championship with their two Gibson powered Oreca 07s alongside TDS Racing and Signatech Alpine. Championship regulars and 2016 champions G-Drive have stepped back from a full season campaign and were absent at The Prologue but will join the grid at Spa in preparation for Le Mans. Team Nederland join the championship running the Dallara P217 whilst Larbre return to the WEC but this time in the Ligier JSP217, not the GTEAm Corvette of recent years. Along with multiple chassis this year, the teams are also running different rubber, split between Michelin and Dunlop tyres.

#31 Dragon Speed

It was a pretty quiet event for LMP2 with none of the teams signed up to run the full 30-hour session, all of them pulling into the pits before the sun set and re-joining the following morning. The DragonSpeed Oreca will be driven this season by Roberto Gonzalez, Ben Hanley and Pastor Maldonado, looking to relaunch his career after a few years out of F1. Maldonado was the quickest driver of the class, the only one to lap.

GTE Pro

#91 Porsche

Porsche took a 1-2 finish at the top of the time sheets looking dominant throughout the weekend, the #91 leading the way in the hands of Richard Lietz and Gianmaria Bruni with a time of 1:51.332, half a second ahead of the #92 which posted a time of 1:51.837. Ford were the only real challengers of the weekend, the four cars completing over 200 laps and split by less than a second.

The latest generation of the Ferrari 488 GTE struggled all weekend. The #71 caught fire during re-fuelling early on Saturday and didn’t run again that day whilst the #51 struggled with tyre wear.

#95 Aston Martin

Aston Martin Racing debuted the new Vantage this weekend, not going for outright pace but favouring long distance running. The #95 completed 852 laps with all six drivers behind the wheel at one point or another, some of them splitting time between the #95 and #97 which got a further 235 laps under its belt.

It was the championship debut for the new BMW M8 GTE (which had its official race debut at The Rolex 24 At Daytona back in January), the #82 car clocked up 682 laps whilst the #81 only completed a six-hour run.

GTE Am

#86 Porsche

Paul Dalla Lana, Pedro Lamy and Mathias Lauda return as defending champions in the #98 Aston Martin. They will once again face up against Dempsey Proton, who this year field a two-car line up, Gulf Racing back once again with the #86 Porsche, Spirit of Race Ferrari and Clearwater, each of whom have entered one car for the season. The class regulars will be joined by Team Project 1 (911 RSR), MR Racing (Ferrari 488) and TF Sport (Aston Martin).

As in GTEPro, Porsche led the way in GTE AM, each team for the first time running the 911 RSR. Gulf Racing UK and Dempsey Proton were the ones to watch, the #88 of Matteo Cairoli eventually taking and holding the top spot with a time of 1:52.936. What was interesting about GTEAm however this year was how, on one lap pace, they mixed times with the GTEPro category. Will some of the faster Am drivers be able to fight with the back runners in GTE Pro?

The Class of 2018

17 Prototypes and 19 GTE cars lined up at Paul Ricard. There is clearly still a lot to learn and no one is really giving away their true performance just yet, however, it is going to be an incredible season. The championship new comers will hopefully shake the championship up this year, the privateer LMP1 teams challenging Toyota, the new LMP2 chassis with varying tire choices adds another variable to the competition who will have the advantage this year after an Oreca chassis lock out in LMP2 in 2017?

Can BMW and the new Aston Martin Vantage look to challenge Porsche and Ford who have both enjoyed successes in the past couple of years?

And with a number of championship new comers joining the fight in GTE Am, will it be the experienced WEC veterans who come out on top or the new challengers?

Join us at Spa Francorchamps in May when the season truly begins.

Taking place at Paul Ricard this weekend is the official pre-season test for the World Endurance Championship. The cars were unveiled to the global media on Thursday in the south of France with the 30 hour test session kicking off Friday morning, the first time in 2018 that all the competitors will run together on track.

In total there will be 35 cars from across LMP1, LMP2 and the LMGTE Pro and Am categories preparing frantically for the curtain-raiser 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps in May and then the big one of the 24 Hours of Le Mans in June. The session will run straight through the night, beginning 10:00 local time and finishing at 16:00 Saturday Afternoon.

“FIA

There will be particular interest in this Prologue as much is different this WEC season. First off it will be an eight-race ‘Super Season’ that stretches across the calendar year of 2018 and the first half of ’19, as WEC transitions to a winter-series format for 2019/20.Therefore this campaign will contain the next two Le Mans 24 Hours – the Super Season will conclude at the 2019 race, and subsequent seasons will end with Le Mans also. Also Silverstone returns to the calendar in August and the 1000 miles of Sebring in Florida is added next March. Other races from 2017 – Austin, Bahrain, Mexico City and the Nurburgring – are dropped.

There also will be a new look among the LMP1 frontrunners. Champion Porsche has pulled out, leaving Toyota as the only manufacturer. But if you think that means a Toyota walkover, not so fast. Toyota is challenged by five other privateer LMP1 teams. Last year only a single ByKolles Racing Team entrant joined Toyota and Porsche in LMP1 and only for the opening four rounds of nine. And performance parity between Toyota’s hybrid technology and the privateers running non-hybrid P1 machinery – via a system of regulations and penalties – is promised. Toyota has expressed worry too, particularly for Le Mans. The Prologue will be our first chance to see how the rest actually measure up against Toyota; Toyota intends to run its Le Mans-spec car in The Prologue’s night running.

LMP2 champion Rebellion returns to LMP1 after a year away and has a tie-up with the iconic British sportscar manufacturer TVR. It also boasts a strong driver line-up including former Porsche LMP1 pilots Neel Jani and Andre Lotterer.

Manor Ginetta, racing under the CEFC TRSM Racing banner, also steps up from LMP2 to LMP1 and has just added Alex Brundle to its driving roster, as well as former GP3 runner-up Dean Stoneman for the opening two rounds.

And of course this season we’ll have two-time Formula 1 world champion Fernando Alonso joining Toyota’s driver line-up, alongside Sebastien Buemi and Kazuki Nakajima. Alonso isn’t at The Prologue however, as he’s competing in the Bahrain Grand Prix, neither is Nakajima or Kamui Kobayashi, due also to calendar clashes. Anthony Davidson and Alex Wurz therefore join its Prologue line-up.

Graham Kielloh is a member of the Autosport Academy and contributor to Speed Chills View

At 38, Jenson Button is still more than young enough to race at the Le Mans 24 Hours for the first time. But the fact he is choosing to make his debut at La Sarthe this summer in a Group C Jaguar at Le Mans Classic, rather than the contemporary race itself, tells you much about where his head is at right now.

The 2009 world champion stepped away from the pressure cooker of Formula 1 at the end of 2016, and although he made a return with McLaren at Monaco last year as a ‘super-sub’ for Indy 500-bound Fernando Alonso, it was very much a one-off. Button subsequently confirmed he is now officially a retired F1 champ.

Jenson Button

Image courtesy of lemansclassic.com

Since then, his racing focus has switched to the fantastic Super GT series for high-powered and spectacular endurance racers in Japan, a country for which he holds a deep affection and affinity. He made his series debut for Honda last August in the Suzuka 1000Kms and is about to embark on his first full season in an NSX GT for Team Kunimitsu, starting at Okayama this weekend (April 6/7).

Le Mans? He’s never shown much enthusiasm for the place when asked about it – which he was on occasion during his F1 sunset years at McLaren. In fact, you would have been forgiven for interpreting his coolness as a surprisingly dismissive attitude to the great race.

But should we be surprised he’s been enticed to come out to play at the fabulous Classic meeting on July 6-8? Actually, no.

For one thing, his mates have clearly talked him into it. Jenson will be driving for JD Classics, the Essex-based historics emporium for whom his friend Alex Buncombe regularly races. For another, Button is enough of a blue-blooded racing enthusiast to be curious about sampling the glorious 8.4-mile circuit, but without having to face the mass attention an entry in the 24 Hours proper would clearly inspire.

Then also consider that age once again: Button is a true child of the 1980s.

As a kid, he and his beloved old man (the late and much missed John Button) were avid Alain Prost fans. F1 was all they could think about back then. Still, Jenson couldn’t have missed the super-powered Silk Cut TWR Jaguars – especially when a sister chassis to the XJR-9 he’ll drive in July famously won the 24 Hours to national acclaim exactly 30 years ago. In 1988, Jenson was a racing-mad, impressionable eight-year-old.

Make no mistake: with more time on his hands now he’s done with F1, the chance to drive a Group C Jaguar will certainly be pushing his, er, buttons (sorry…). Whether he’ll ever be tempted to try the 24 Hours for real is another matter – and might well hinge on what he makes of the place in July.

But if he ever does to decide to make a commitment to the 24 Hours – and as an ex-F1 champion he’d surely be a welcome addition – it wouldn’t technically be his first entry into a big international twice-around-the-clock classic. Back in 1999, Button was a budding star in British Formula 3 when a sponsor diverted his F1 focus for a weekend to make a cameo appearance at… the Spa 24 Hours.

Back then, Belgium’s own version of Le Mans was still run for saloons rather than GTs as it is today and admittedly wasn’t exactly in the midst of its greatest era. But even if it was only run for underpowered ‘Superproduction’/Group N 2-litre hot-hatches and rep-mobiles, it was still a loud and clear bleep on the radar for sponsors and car manufacturers.

Fuel company FINA had a proud history at the Spa 24 Hours, and with a new campaign backing Renault’s Promatecme-run British F3 campaign for which Button was racing, made sure his contract included a three-line whip for the Spa enduro.

A pair of BMW 320is were entered under the FINA banner by Italian Gabriele Rafanelli, a true Italian racing gent best known for previously running BMWs in Europe under the respected Bigazzi banner. Rafanelli was now running his own FINA-backed team in Formula 3000, but was more than happy to return to more familiar territory for one weekend.

His F3000 aces were gregarious Belgian David Saelens (very quick and very funny, especially after a beer or three) and highly likeable Czech and future Aston Martin Le Mans regular Tomas Enge (who would sadly earn infamy in 2002 for losing his F3000 title after testing positive for marijuana). Button would join the pair at Spa to form a junior trio in one of the smart looking 320is.

Experience was clearly lacking for such a race, but this was a potent line-up. And when they qualified 12th, hopes must have been raised at FINA that their investment in young talent was about to pay off. Sadly, Button wouldn’t even get to turn a wheel in the race itself.

A fuel leak not only forced Saelens to retire the car early on, it almost gassed him. Fumes in the cockpit left him physically sick, leaving Enge and Button facing an early trip home. From what I remember, Jenson wasn’t exactly overcome with disappointment.

I happened to be at that race working on a story for a magazine and knew Jenson quite well having followed him to his British Formula Ford and Festival double in 1998. He was a pleasant, uncomplicated lad back then. Yes, hype already surrounded him, but Dad John was always there to keep him grounded. I experienced their natural father-son bond that weekend in a hospitality tent when John quietly rebuked his boy for an uncharacteristic moment of arrogance. Still only 19, Jenson clearly had some growing up to do – and John wasn’t about to let him forget it.

Earlier on, I’d caught up with Jenson sitting on a wall at the end of the pitlane before a practice session. He was on his own, looked a bit lost and seemed genuinely pleased to see a familiar face. During our brief chat he made it clear that while he loved Spa, driving what amounted to little more than a lightly tuned road car held little interest for him.

Funny to think that within a year, he would have concluded an unremarkable F3 season with Renault and FINA – then be handed a dream test for his old hero Alain Prost, who was grappling with the unhappy challenge of running his own F1 team as the century turned.

Prost’s car was uncompetitive, but Alain saw enough of Jenson to be deeply impressed. He made a recommendation to Frank Williams, who was running out of options in his search for a replacement for the disappointing Alex Zanardi – and the rest is history…

The cameo in a saloon at Spa was soon forgotten, and a torrent of time and racing has now passed since that weekend nearly 20 years ago.

Now with the perspective of an F1 life well lived, Button might be about to soften his attitude to 24-hour races. If anything can change his mind, it will surely be that Jaguar on the greatest circuit of them all.

Damien Smith, former Editor of Motor Sport Magazine

This year we’re happy. Why? Because we get a double dose of Le Mans thanks to it being a Le Mans Classic year. That’s right two doses of that “Le Mans vibe” that cannot be replicated anywhere else.

Of course there'll be the likes of Alonso (at the 24 Hours) and Bell (at the Classic) to look forward to. But there's more. There's waking to the sound of the engines speeding around the infamous circuit, the chatter of fellow racing enthusiasts absorbed by the events unfolding before them, the smell of petrol fumes mixed with frites and crepes and, as dusk approaches, it's sitting outside with a beer and a burger - slightly weather-beaten (be it from rain or shine) - feeling relaxed and content in a world far away from the banalities of home.

Private Camping at Le Mans

Okay, here at Speed Chills we may be a little bit biased. But we’re part of those lucky few who absolutely love our job, and here’s seven good reasons why we think you’d love private camping at Le Mans, too.

1. The Clubhouse

This will be your home from home over the race weekend. And what a home it is. A well-stocked bar, the best food and drink at Le Mans served by our English speaking team, 24 hour racing coverage on our large screens and plenty of places to sit and relax with your friends and fellow campsite companions. And, at the Le Mans 24 Hours, the party really gets going with our excellent live entertainment on Friday and Sunday nights at our Beausejour campsite.

2. The best of both worlds (Le Mans 24 Hours)

We have two private camping sites for Le Mans 24 Hours, one at Bleu Sud and one at Beausejour and each have their different qualities. Bleu Sud is closer to the circuit being immediately opposite Maison Blanche. Conveniently close to the start / finish line this a smaller, more laid back tree-lined site, which gets booked up quickly due to its size. N.B This site is now full for 2018 but book ahead for 2019 to secure a space next time.

Beausejour is our bigger site based in the middle of the circuit, where you get a 360 degree soundtrack to the race (easily muffled with earplugs when you do need to get a bit of kip). It has the same excellent facilities as Blue Sud with the added extra of being the host for our Friday & Sunday night live entertainment.

Dressing up for the Classic

3. Good Vibrations (Le Mans Classic)

The feedback we always get for Le Mans Classic is how relaxed and friendly the atmosphere is at our Private Campsite in Bleu Sud. All those who book private camping for Le Mans Classic will stay at the conveniently positioned Bleu Sud, which Speed Chills has exclusive use of. It’s an excellent spot, with shaded areas and a comfortable clubhouse. It’s a wonderful place to sit back, relax and take in the sights, sounds and uniqueness of the Le Mans Classic.

4. Bring your pride and joy

The drive down to Le Mans is part of the whole experience, whether it’s for the 24 Hours or the Classic. Car spotting becomes a full time sport; locals adorn the bridges over the motorways looking for friendly honks of the horns as we pass underneath them. And it doesn’t stop when you get to the campsite. We encourage you and your friends to bring your pride and joys, whether they’re modern, classic, retro or vintage. There’s nothing better than seeing a line of interesting looking motors parked alongside the tents. And don’t forget we also have the infield eligible car display area at the Le Mans Classic. And Car Club Members also get an exclusive private camping group discount.

5. Excellent security and facilities

Did you know around 260,000 people (a large proportion of which are Brits) descend on Le Mans at the 24 Hour race? With this in mind our private campsites have secured fencing and are guarded 24 hours a day by our surveillance team, at both the 24 Hours and the Classic.

We also provide extremely clean separate male and female toilet and hot shower facilities with little or no queues. Making the whole camping experience much more enjoyable and civilised.

6. In safe hands

Booking with Speed Chills isn’t just the most fun, reliable, clean, tasty, relaxed, enjoyable, secure, best-priced, convenient and easy option. It’s also the safest. Being an ABTA member you’re in safe hands. Being a member means we can guarantee you’ll receive a high standard of service, fair terms of trading and accurate information.

7. And Finally (although not technically about Private Camping)………Tickets, tickets, tickets

While we’d love for you to stay with us on site at our Private Campsites for both the Le Mans 24 Hours and the Le Mans Classic, we understand that sometimes people just like to make their own arrangements. With this in mind, we’d like to bring to your attention that as a UK official agency of both events we have a license from the ACO to sell every public campsite and event ticket. So whether you need a grandstand ticket, or a public camping pitch we can help you too.

To book your private camping package at Le Mans call us on 01494 211024 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and we can give you a tailored quote depending on your party-size, your travel requirements and the sort of ticket you’d like.

For Private Camping at Le Mans 24 Hours prices start from £279pp - based on 4 people sharing a C35 pitch on 'Speed Chills - Beausejour' via Dover/Calais. Price INCLUDES General Admission.

For Private Camping at Le Mans Classic prices start from £243 per person - based on 4 people sharing a C35 pitch on 'Speed Chills - Bleu Sud' via Dover/Calais. Price INCLUDES General Admission and Paddock Pass.

The Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring got off to a hectic start. Pole sitter, Tristan Vautier, lost the drag race down to turn one to Olivier Pla who took the Tequila Patron ESM down the inside of Vautier but contact between the two saw Pla spin into the gravel. Vautier continued but the #2 ESM re-joined at the back of the grid and retired shortly after. The #3 Corvette and #51 Spirit of Race Ferrari also made contact in the opening stages, the Ferrari picking up a left rear puncture.

In GTLM, BMW found themselves in a 1-2 position at the end of the first lap, James Calado had fallen like a stone and the #62 Risi Competizione Ferrari was running in seventh place.

It wasn’t long into the race when the first Full Course Yellow was called. The #52 Mathiasen Motorsport Ligier LMP2 lost control through the final corner, collecting the #64 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari and sending the GT car in to a low speed barrel role, which ended in the crash barriers. Frankie Montecalvo escaped the incident unharmed while Sebastian Saavedra managed to limp the damaged Ligier back to the pits. There were further incidents up and down the grid as the race reached the first pit window, Jordan Taylor made contact with one of the Audi GTD cars when exiting the pits and the two Ford GTs collided as they both left their respective boxes at the same time.

As the race closed in on the end of the second hour, Felipe Nasr had extended his lead, running up the front in clean air. But into the 120-minute mark, Graham Rahal had made some ground, reeling in the Brazilian former F1 driver as his tyres began to wear. Neither car would hold the lead by the end of hour three. But, with both drivers coming into the pits, the Rahal Acura dropped to fourth as the Cadillacs took up a one-two position with the Curran leading Taylor in the #31.

Closing in on the half way point and it was Pipo Derani who was setting the pace in the #22 ESM Tequila Patron Ligier Nissan. Ricky Taylor was running in second in the #7 Team Penske Acura - having established a 17 second lead before the latest FCY period.

Derani managed to take advantage of a number of slow Penske pit stops and a drive-thru penalty for Mike Conway in the #31 to pull a gap on the rest of the field. Spencer Pigot held third at this point in time, demonstrating the Mazda’s efficient fuel economy to undercut the front runners and despite a drive-thru penalty for Harry Tincknell (for running into the back of the #99 JDC Miller Motorsport), it was an impressive performance from the Team Joest Mazda. That said, the sister car lost eight laps due to rear brake issues for Tristan Nunez.

In the fifth hour of the race - in a rather bizarre turn of events - a spectator gazebo was blown over the trackside fence and landed on the circuit! Perfect timing for Ricky Taylor and the Acura squad who had just completed their pit stop before the caution, allowing them to emerge ahead of Pipo Derani and Mike Conway at the restart.

Alex Brundle span the #32 United Autosports Ligier at the restart, running off line at the final corner to overtake the GT field. Race Control called another caution as a result before restarting the race.

The safety car was called out again not long after Brundle’s spin to allow marshals to recover debris from the #99 car on the front straight and to clear up the collision between the #24 BMW of Jonathon Edwards and the #66 Ford GT of Dirk Muller.

Christina Nielsen spun the #58 Porsche at the restart in the process of attempting to overtake Jorg Bergmeister. Nielsen ended up facing backwards, the on coming back splitting to avoid the stricken Porsche, she spun the car around and got back into the race. It was this period of running that saw Derani begin to draw out his 17 second advantage and with a string of cautions and pit stops, the penalties previously awarded to the #55 and #31 cars were effectively written off, the two cars now occupied third and fourth respectively.

The race would be green for around 90 minutes before Dominik Baumann’s front end came lose on the #14 Lexus, blocking his view. He left the track at turn 1 and 2, taking an advertising board with him before re-joining the track, leaving the advertising board on the circuit. The safety car was called to allow the marshals to safely collect the advertising board as Baumann came into the pits.

The #25 BMW and #62 Ferrari dominated the early stages of the race in GTLM with the #25 holding the lead at the half way point.

Former Porsche LMP1 driver and Le Mans winner Nick Tandy sat third in the #911 Porsche while in GTD, a three-way battle raged between the #48 Paul Miller Racing Lamborghini, the #86 Michael Shank Racing Acura and the #29 Monaplast by Land Motorsport Audi.

Luca Stolz lead the field at the half way point in the #33 Riley Motorsports AMG Mercedes with Bryan Sellers tucked in behind him in the #48 Lamborghini.

With nine hours on the clock, the race was really heating up. Six Prototypes were running on the lead lap with the #55 Mazda leading the way. Battles up and down the pack were intensifying as darkness fell over Florida, all eyes were on the fight between the #31 Whelen Engineering Racing Cadillac of Mike Conway and the #22 Tequila Patron ESM Nissan Onroak DPI of Nicolas Lapierre whilst the #90 Spirit of Daytona Racing Cadillac kept an eye on the battle from a safe distance waiting to pounce.

The #55 Mazda was running a different strategy at this point, jumping to the front before falling back again through the pit stop windows. The car was in the hands of Jonathan Bomarito who had taken over from Harry Tincknell.

The #31 Whelen Cadillac was lucky to be in contention having escaped any punishment for spinning the #5 Mustang Sampling Racing Cadillac of Christian Fittipaldi at the start of the seventh hour. The #5 Cadillac, in the hands of Joao Barbosa collided with the #32 Performance Tech Motorsports Oreca at the final corner in the eighth hour of the racing, forcing both cars into the pits with significant damage to both. The #90 Spirit of Daytona Cadillac, now up in fourth place had Alex Brundle hot on his heels in the #32 United Autosports Ligier. The #10 Wayne Taylor Racing Cadillac completed the six-car line up in the lead lap of the race.

The third quarter of the race proved to be the end of the road for the Acura Team Penske squad. The #7 of Ricky Taylor was the first to fall with mechanical failures while the #6 of Juan Pablo Montoya also suffered mechanical difficulties stopping out on track before being recovered to the pits.

Fred Makoweicki held the lead in GTLM in the #911, with all five manufacturers still represented on the lead lap and in contention for the win. With 246 laps on the clock, the Porsche GT Team held an advantage of just two-tenths over the Risi Competizione Ferrari of James Calado. While the #3 Corvette C7.R of Tommy Milner was less than nine seconds further back in third place. The #912 Porsche, in 4th placem was lucky to have escaped a penalty earlier on in the hands of Nick Tandy after losing a rear bumper running across a kerb resulting in a FCY to allow the body work to be recovered.

In GTD, the top 10 cars were all still running on the lead lap. The #93 Michael Shank Racing Acura NSX GT3 of Lawson Aschenbach was leading the way from the #48 Paul Miller Racing Lamborghini Huracan of Madison Snow.

After nine hours of running, the top eight were covered by just 13 seconds! The #86 Acura holds third with the #33 Mercedes AMG Team Riley Motorsports and #63 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari rounding out the top five. The #29 Montaplast by Land Motorsport Audi, #58 Wright Motorsports Porsche and #75 SunEnergy1 Racing Mercedes were all arguably still in contention in this incredibly close class.

The Tequila Patron ESM Nissan Onroak DPI of Luis Felipe Derani, Nicholas Lapierre and Johannes van Overbeek took the win for the 2018 Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring with Porsche GT and Paul Miller Racing taking the GTLM and GTD category wins.

Derani took the final stint, climbing to the front of the field as the #55 Mazda Team Joest fell out of contention due to a slow pit stop, losing two minutes and a lap to the leaders. What made this worse for the team is that they had only been six seconds behind when they came into the pits! So when the clock hit 12, Derani had a 12.427 second advantage on the #10 Wayne Taylor Cadillac of Renger van der Zande, Jordan Taylor and Ryan Hunter-Reay.

The #31 Whelen Engineering Racing Cadillac took third place in the hands of Felipe Nasr, Mike Conway and Eric Curran although the #32 United Autosports Ligier gave them a run for their money. The final podium position was decided in the dying moments as Paul di Resta was forced in to the pits for a splash and dash. The additional pit stops resulted in the #38 Core Autosport Oreca leaping ahead of the #32 Ligier to claim fourth place ahead of the #55 Mazda which finished fifth.

Six laps off the pace in seventh was the #99 JDC-Miller Motorsports Oreca of Mikhail Goikhberg, Chris Miller and Stephen Simpson, while the second Mazda, delayed earlier in the race, was eighth, with the #77 of Oliver Jarvis, Tristan Nunez and Rene Rast ten laps behind the race winning Nissan.

The final hours of the GTLM battle was solely between Nick Tandy and Alexander Sims, the #911 Porsche of Tandy narrowly beating the #25 BMW Team RLL M8 GTLM by just 6.23 seconds at the end of the 12 hours. The sister #912 Porsche took third place 11 seconds behind Sims whilst the #67 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing GT recovered to fourth place, passing the #62 Risi Competizione Ferrari with just 15 minutes left on the clock.

In the final moments of GT Daytona, Bryan Sellers made a move on Jeroen Bleekemolen to take the win for Paul Miller Racing by 8.169 seconds. Sellers, alongside Madison Snow and Corey Lewis were fighting hard for much of the final quarter with the Riley Motorsports AMG GT3. The Mercedes crew were forced to defend from the #63 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari allowing the Paul Miller crew to pull ahead just out of reach.

Christopher Mies, Sheldon van der Linde and Alessio Picariello ended off the podium in fourth in the Montaplast by Land-Motorsport Audi, with the #15 3GT Racing Lexus RC F GT3 of Jack Hawksworth, David Heinemeier Hansson and Dominik Farnbacher fifth.

The top ten in the GT Daytona class all finished on the lead lap, with the #58 Wright Motorsports Porsche, the #93 and #86 Michael Shank Racing Acuras, the #73 Park Place Motorsports Porsche and the #75 SunEnergy1 Racing Mercedes all completing the same number of laps as the class victors.

Images courtesy of imsaphoto.com

Action Express Cadillac held the early advantage in the 15 minute qualifying session with 16 cars vying for poll position at the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring. Juan Pablo Montoya temporarily held pole position in the Penske Acura before Tristan Vautier, in the #90 Spirit of Daytona Cadillac took the qualifying lap record twice, first of all with a 1:47.71 and then shortly after, he posted a time of 1:47.432 to cement pole position for the Florida team.

All 10 DPIs were ahead of the P2 entries with ESM in the mix as well for the front positions on the grid, Olivier Pla took second place despite power sliding through turn 17 in the #2 ESM.  The #7 Acura took third position ahead of the #22 ESM with a time of 1:47.834. It was positive news from the Mazda Team Joest camp, Rene Rast qualified in seventh place ahead of the Mustang Sampling and Konica Minolta Cadillacs. The 10 DPI entries were split by just 9 tenths of a second whilst seven tenths split the P2 runners, the quickest of which, the #99 JDC Miller/Gainsco Oreca was about 1.4 seconds off the pace of the #90 SDR Cadillac. Oreca hold the advantage in LMP2, all four chassis ahead of the two Ligier entries.

Headlines in GTLM also this weekend as the BMW M8 GTE took its first pole position, Connor de Phillippi beating the 2017 lap record by a tenth with a time of 1:55.839. It was by no means an easy pole for the BMW however, James Calado in the Risi Competizione Ferrari came within just 0.058 of the pole time whilst Joey Hand also challenged the #25 BMW but to no aveil. By the end of the session, the top six were split by just 0.412s, the #24 BMW rounded out the top three whilst Ford Chip Ganassi Racing took fourth and fifth and the 912 Porsche 911 RSR took sixth position.

The #51 Spirit of Race Ferrari took pole position in GTD in the hands of Daniel Serra who has teamed up the Aston Martin GTE Am factory line up of Paul Dalla Lana, Pedro Lamy and Mathias Lauda.

Gunnar Jeannette took an early lead in the #63 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari, posting a time of 1:59.609 early on in the session. Serra was quickly up to speed, going just over a tenth slower on his first flying lap, Jack Hawksworth the same behind Serra in the #15 Lexus before both Christopher Mies and Jack Hawksworth briefly each topped the time charts. Serra continued to push hard though and made it four provisional pole sitters in just a matter of minutes, five GTD cars under the previous lap record. The battle went down to the closing minutes, Serra taking a further few tenths out of his lap time was now 1 second below the previous record and half a second clear of Christopher Mies in the Montaplast by Land-Motorsport Audi.

Images courtesy of imsaphoto.com

The 6 hours of Spa Francorchamps kicks off a new era for the FIA World Endurance Championship on May 5th as the premier series for long-distance sports car racing launches its unique ‘super-season’ – and you can be there to witness it with Speed Chills.

As you may have seen, your favourite motor racing travel operator has some great offers for the race at Belgium’s majestic Spa-Francorchamps circuit – and it got us thinking: what exactly is it about this place that makes it a mecca for motorheads?

Having fun at Spa Francorchamps

So here it is: our six-point guide to the jewel of European motor racing. If you haven’t been, it’s a must for any bucket list. And if you have, well, treat this as a reminder why a return is long overdue.

1. Spectators’ paradise

From Les Combes to Rivage, down to No Name and Pouhon, sweeping through the Les Fagnes esses to Stavelot and on to Blanchimont… there’s no finer strip of race track anywhere in the world. The elegant pines of the Ardennes forests make for a stunning setting as the circuit climbs through the epic Eau Rouge and Raidillon, then along the Kemmel straight before swooping and diving back through the valley over 4.3 magnificent miles. Our tip: take a decent pair of walking boots and stroll all the way up to the inside of Rivage. The views all the way back to the paddock are stunning, and there’s nowhere better to watch (and listen) to the world’s finest racing cars.

2. The adorable Ardennes

There’s something in the air around these parts – and we don’t just mean the odd drop of rain… Even away from the circuit, you can almost taste the motor racing history that has seeped into this ancient woodland over the past near-century. Francorchamps village, just a wander up the hill from La Source and the prime location for the Speed Chills guest houses, is quite charming – the perfect place to relax with a glass of something good after a day at the races. And a visit to the town of Spa itself, connected by superb Belgian country roads, is worth a visit too – especially if you’re looking for somewhere with a touch of class to eat. Fine restaurants are plentiful.

Porsche 911 GTE-Pro at Spa Francorchamps

3. frites and mayonnaise: magnifique!

But in truth, who needs haute cuisine when you can indulge in the pride of Belgian fare. After a long hike around the circuit’s sweeps, the sustenance from a portion of local frites topped with a dollop of mayo will be the best thing you’ve ever tasted – and that’s a cast-iron promise. We know: you’re thinking ‘they’re only chips’. But think again. In these parts, they are a genuine delicacy that are an essential side order to a weekend feast of motor racing.

4. Belgian beer (hic!)

And what better way to wash them down than with a glug of the area’s famous local mineral water… Only joking! Belgium is quite correctly famous for its range of dark and blond beers. Our next vital tip: tuck the car up for the night and take a table at L’Acqua Rossa or Le Relais de Pommard in Francorchamps. The food is good; a quaffed beer or three even better.

5. The awesome old circuit

‘If you love the new circuit, you should have seen the old one…’ It’s something of a cliché for old timers to rave about the ‘old’ Spa – but clichés usually only enter the lexicon because of a fundamental truth, and that’s certainly the case here. Brian Redman, veteran of fearsome Porsche 917s and Ford GT40s and one of the finest sports car races ever, admits he used to cry himself to sleep the night before a race, such was his white fear for the flat out 8.7-mile triangle. Where the modern track turns right at Les Combes, the original circuit ploughed straight on downhill to Burnenville, sweeping right and on to Masta before turning again at Stavelot for the tree-lined blast back to Blanchimont. A true road course, it’s all still there to experience – albeit at a somewhat more modest pace than Henri Pescarolo’s all-time lap record set in 1973 (in a Matra sports car, not a Formula 1) of 163mph… Do not even consider visiting Spa without a drive around the old track, ideally after digging out some old photos to understand just how crazy it used to be. You’ll be mesmerised.

6. Be a part of history

A trip this year to the 6 Hours will stand out in the memory for one more significant reason: the birth of the exciting ‘super-season’. In a bid to break with tradition and end a world championship season at Le Mans in June, WEC’s organisers have chosen a new format for their series. Starting at Spa, the championship will then head for the famous 24 Hours at Le Mans, before three more six-hour rounds at Silverstone, Fuji and Shanghai complete the schedule for 2018. But the season won’t stop with the calendar year. In March 2019 it continues with a new 1500-mile race at Sebring in Florida, before returning to Spa for another 6 Hours and finishing at Le Mans. So yes, two 6 hours of Spa Francorchamps and two Le Mans 24 Hours counting for one, single season. It will surely live up to its ‘super’ status.

Oh, and if this isn’t all reason enough for a visit, there’s also the small matter of a certain Spaniard making his WEC debut at Spa this year. Some bloke from F1. Fernando Alonso, we believe he’s called. In a Toyota LMP1.

Toyota LMP1 at Spa Francorchamps

You won’t want to miss that, will you? Come on: what are you waiting for? More on the WEC 6 hours of Spa-Francorchamps

Damien Smith, former Editor of Motor Sport Magazine

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