Finally the biggest, fastest and most aggressive category at Le Mans - LMP1.
Before we get into more detail, let's have a quick look at some of the facts about those who are set to drive in LMP1 at Le Mans this year:
- Eight drivers with Formula One race experience
- Two Former Grand Prix World Champions with three Drivers World Championship victories between them
- 47 Formula One Grand Prix wins
- 148 Podiums
- 30 Pole Positions
- 31 Fastest Laps
Although the Formula One brigade will no doubt attract plenty of attention at Le Sarthe this weekend, it should not be forgotten that much of the LMP1 grid this year is packed full of racing talent, many of whom have been successful in a wide array of different categories as diverse as Touring Cars, Formula E, World Endurance Championship and of course former Le Mans race winners as well.
Heading up the works factory involvement is the Toyota team, pretty much the dominant force in terms of outright speed at Le Mans for the last two years, the Japanese outfit return for another try in 2018 with a near unchanged line up of talent, and a progressively improved TS050 Hybrid car. Biggest change for this year is the inclusion of McLaren driver Fernando Alonso, in for not just Le Mans but the full World Endurance Championship season, the Spanish star taking the seat of former WEC Champion Anthony Davison, who finds himself demoted to a reserve role ahead of the big race this weekend.
Both Toyota cars look to be the odds on favourites at Le Mans, with the Japanese outfit benefitting from a significant pace advantage over their privateer rivals. However Toyota have made throwing away victory something of an art form in recent seasons, so don't bet to heavily on the Japanese brand to remain error free for a full 24 hour event.
Should Toyota falter come race day, then it is likely to be the Rebellion squad who are close at hand to pick up the victory spoils, the on and off again prototype team returning to LMP1 this season with an all new car and some serious driving talent. In the #1 R13 Gibson comes former outright race winners André Lotterer and Neel Jani, partnered by reigning LMP2 World Champion Bruno Senna in what is likely to be a very powerful combination throughout the week long activities.
Not as strong as their team leading drivers, the #3 car could still be a dark horse for a solid result thanks to a talented if slightly inexperienced squad of drivers, no doubt using the race this weekend to build on their combined experience and to provide solid support to the leading #1 machine.
Other strong contenders could well be the Russian SMP Racing outfit, headed by Super GT driver and former Grand Prix World Champion Jenson Button. The Englishman will be taking control of the #11 machine alongside former Renault driver Vitaly Petrov and the highly talented and quick Mikhail Aleshin. SMP haven't had the best starts to the year following the terrifying accident for one of their cars at Spa, resulting in a flip at the top of Eau Rouge that could easily have been so much worse, but with strong drivers and a solid amount of running during practice at Le Mans, the two car team may well surprise a few people if they manage to hold it together for a full race distance starting this Saturday afternoon.
Dragonspeed could be another car to watch during the race, the BR-Engineering Gibson squad having run strongly in pre event testing in the hands of Henrik Hedman, Ben Hanley and Renger van der Zande, however it will have to be a perfect race execution if the outfit have any hopes of challenging the might Toyota team come race end.
Ok so LMP1 has far less manufacturer involvement than previous years, and marks the penultimate Le Mans under the current Prototype regulations, but with Le Mans offering up a race where anything could happen, the fight at the very front of the field should still produce a spectacular race of skill, grit, speed and determination...
I can't wait.
Le Mans 2018 LMP1 Entry List:
#1. Rebellion Racing - Rebellion R13-Gibson - André Lotterer, Neel Jani, Bruno Senna
#3. Rebellion Racing - Rebellion R13-Gibson - Mathias Beche, Gustavo Menezes, Thomas Laurent
#4. ByKolles Racing Team - ENSO CLM P1/01-Nismo - Oliver Webb, Dominik Kraihamer, Tom Dillman
#5. CEFC TRSM Racing - Ginetta G60-LT-P1-Mecachrome - Charlie Robertson, Mike Simpson, Léo Roussel
#6. CEFC TRSM Racing - Ginetta G60-LT-P1-Mecachrome - Oliver Rowland, Alex Brundle, Oliver Turvey
#7. Toyota Gazoo Racing - Toyota TS050 Hybrid - Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi, José María López
#8. Toyota Gazoo Racing - Toyota TS050 Hybrid - Sébastien Buemi, Kazuki Nakajima, Fernando Alonso
#10. DragonSpeed - BR Engineering BR1-Gibson - Henrik Hedman, Ben Hanley, Renger van der Zande
#11. SMP Racing - BR Engineering BR1-AER - Mikhail Aleshin, Jenson Button, Vitaly Petrov
#17. SMP Racing - BR Engineering BR1-AER - Matevos Isaakyan, Egor Orudzhev, Stéphane Sarrazin
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Who do you think will take top honours in LMP1? Can Alonso win the big race on his first attempt? Will the privateer teams challenge the works Toyota's? Let us know in the comments section below!