As we build up to Le Mans 2017 RaceDepartment have a look at the LMP 1 class ahead of the big race. Prototype racing is going through something of a recession in recent years, however endurance racing’s most prestigious category continues to provide one of the most spectacular sights in motorsport as we head into the 2017 running of the Le Mans 24 Hours. Now with just five works cars scheduled to take part in the race following the withdrawal of championship mainstay Audi at the end of 2016, it has been left to the might of the Japanese giant that is Toyota and reigning champions Porsche to pick up the fight for honours at the sharp end of motorsports most prestigious race. Leading the pack during the build up to the big race would be something of a resurgent Toyota team in the wake of 2016’s late race heartbreak, with popular former Grand Prix drivers Kazuki Nakajima and Kamui Kobayashi both performing superbly in a car that looks to be something of a step above the latest incarnation of the previously dominant Porsche team. Adding to the mix across the three works Toyota cars will be an incredibly strong line-up of talented endurance race winners and Grand Prix drivers, not least of which will be the lead car of 2014 WEC drivers champion Anthony Davidson, Sebastien Buemi and Kazuki Nakajima in the #8 TS050 Hybrid. Coming off the back of a strong start to the main World Endurance Championship season, Davidson and Co. will have high hopes that this could finally be the year to bring home the most prestigious trophy in all of world motorsports. New for 2017 at Toyota will be former multiple World Touring Car Championship title winner Jose Maria Lopez, the Argentine will be driving alongside an all new driving strength of Nicolas Lapierre and Yuji Kunimio in the #9 car, and could well prove to be one of the surprise packages during the race. With such diverse experience and the undoubted speed of those in the #9 it is not beyond possibility that with a clean run to the flag this car could easily be one of the prime contenders for a big result on Sunday afternoon. With efforts redoubled back in Cologne, Toyota have brought three incredibly strong cars to Le Mans this year. Leading the #7 machine (who were quickest of all during the opening test session of this year’s event) has already proven to be early an pace setter, however former Sauber and Caterham Formula One driver Kamui Kobayashi, partnering with the experienced Stephane Sarrazin and Mike Conway the should give plenty of food for thought upon the Toyota pit wall as basically any of their three cars are in with a very strong shout at victory honours come race day. Heading over to reigning World Champions and Le Mans winners Porsche, the Inglestat marque have a reduced effort for this year with just the two 919 Hybrid prototypes entered for the event. Former World Champion Mark Webber is now no longer part of the team driving strength following his retirement from the sport at the end of last season, however Porsche have acted quickly to bolster their line up following the withdrawal of Audi last year and feature some of the best modern endurance racing drivers of the last 10 years at Le Mans. Multiple Le Mans winner and WEC champion Andre Lotterer makes the switch from Audi this season to head up the reigning champion car alongside Neal Jani and Nick Tandy, with Timo Bernhard once again running point in the 2016 Le Mans winning car of Earl Bamber and Brandon Hartley. The previously dominant Porsche 919 Hybrid is having something of a troubled season in 2017 by comparison to the usually high standards set since returning to prototype racing for the start of 2014, and the German team will be very keen to maximise the opportunity to score a strong result in Le Mans following the exit of Audi and a still developing Toyota outfit recovering from 2016's traumatic retirement right at the very end of the race. During pre-race testing the form book suggests Porsche still have a little way to go on outright pace over a single lap, however with such an incredible driving strength across both cars and some of the best engineers and strategists in the series sat upon the Porsche pit wall, it still remains incredibly open as to who holds the most cards heading into the race on Saturday afternoon. In stark contrast to the practiced and polished operations coming from Porsche and Toyota will be the occasionally embarrassing ByKolles Racing Team run by former Spyker Formula One Team Principle Colin Kolles. Making use of the privateer LMP1 regulations and sporting an attractive but rather slow ENSO CLM P1 normally aspirated Prototype machine, ByKolles are very much in a year of learning and remain considerably off the pace of their LMP 1 Prototype rivals. The beginning of the year has been at times shambolic for the new squad, with drivers signing then withdrawing from the squad on a seemingly weekly basis, and with a performance disadvantage from the works cars so great that the team have often found themselves in LMP2 lap time range, this seasons Le Mans will be the very definition of an endurance race for the team as a race finish is probably the maximum the team can hope to achieve this weekend. However with a field light on Prototype cars and in a race where quite literally anything can happen, it is not beyond possibility that with sensible driving and a pinch of luck this plucky underdog might snatch a decent result come the drop of the chequered flag at 3pm on Sunday afternoon. Despite the obvious negative impact following the loss of Audi for this season and with a somewhat depleted LMP 1 field taking to the track this weekend, the spectacle and on track action should be nothing less than spectacular within the Prototype class in 2017. All three Toyota cars remain separated by mere tenths of a second and only a fool would discount Porsche from the fight for honours, so with qualifying still to run and 24 hours of nonstop racing ahead, this seasons Le Mans 24 Hours is still quite literally anyone’s to win. LMP1 Spotter Guide: 2017 24 Hours du Mans Don't forget to check out our full Le Mans 2017 LIVE STREAM coverage of the big race. Join in and discuss the big event, share the experience with your fellow fans and sit back and relax for 24 hours of endurance sprint racing fun! Who do you think will win the main category at Le Mans this year? Any team or driver you particularly want to win on Sunday? Let us know in the comments section below!