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Le Mans 24 Hours of Le Mans

Could Le Mans 24 Hours safety car rule changes prompt an LMP2 upset?

LMP2 drivers are split on the prospects of pro-am crews challenging for overall class victory at the Le Mans 24 Hours following the change in safety car regulations for 2023.

Safety car

For this year’s centenary edition of the endurance racing blue ribband, the previous system of splitting the field behind three safety cars spaced around the 8.467-mile circuit has been dropped and a single pace car will be used in the event of a serious incident.

This will allow cars that are almost a full lap behind their class leader to make up the deficit as Le Mans adopts the wave-by rule used in the World Endurance Championship.

The change, which Toyota believes risks devaluing a Le Mans victory and “does not seem to us to correspond to the spirit of Le Mans”, could also have significant ramifications on the LMP2 battle and raises the prospect of a crew from the pro-am subdivision getting in amongst the lead fight in the closing stages.

Nine of the 24 LMP2 entries are entered in pro-am because they have a bronze driver that must complete at least six hours of driving, and United Autosports driver Oliver Jarvis believes an upset is “absolutely” a possibility due to the new rules.

“That’s something we’ve absolutely discussed on the drive into the track,” the 2017 Le Mans LMP2 winner told Autosport.

“With the safety cars you’ve got now, depending on where they fall, I don’t see why a pro-am car can’t win it.

“If the safety cars do come, as they normally do, and there’s normally at least two or three I believe, then everyone is on a level footing. It’s going to be pro versus pro for the last six hours of the race.”

Asked by Autosport if it would be a shock if a pro-am car won the LMP2 class outright, Cool Racing’s Simon Pagenaud said: “No, I don’t think so.

Ricky Taylor is in a pro-am car, sure we talked about it, we’re going to be fighting at some point.

“I think some pro-am cars are going to be very good, very fast when they have the pro drivers in it. There’s going to be some battles for sure.”

#47 Cool Racing Oreca 07 - Gibson of Reshad De Gerus, Vladislav Lomko, Simon Pagenaud

#47 Cool Racing Oreca 07 - Gibson of Reshad De Gerus, Vladislav Lomko, Simon Pagenaud

Photo by: JEP / Motorsport Images

The TDS car that Taylor will share with Rene Rast and Steven Thomas has a three-minute stop-go penalty to serve after bronze driver Thomas clattered into Casper Stevenson’s crashed Aston Martin during opening practice on Wednesday.

The delay means TDS will likely have to rely on the assistance of safety cars to get back into the mix, but three-time DTM champion Rast says the priority of race control is to avoid using them where possible.

“Once we’re a lap back, there is a possibility to get the lap back with the new rules,” the BMW works driver told Autosport.

“But from what I understood from the race director, these safety cars are very unlikely to be used, he prefers to use slow zones and full course yellows.

“So we need to wait and see what he’s going to do. But obviously if he’s calling a lot of safety cars, there might be a chance for us to always get the disadvantage back.”

Rast’s BMW factory colleague Dries Vanthoor agrees that pro-am crews can’t rely on safety cars to bring them into play as race control “don’t want to get the safety cars more and more into the race, they want to really work on slow zones to not ruin the race”.

As a result, the 2017 GTE Am class winner says an overall LMP2 victory for the TF Sport run Racing Team Turkey entry he shares with Salih Yoluc and Tom Gamble isn’t a priority.

“I think we should focus on our own goal, and that is to try and win the pro-am category,” he told Autosport.

“To win a race here is in general already very difficult, so to try and win pro-am is one thing and everything extra will come as a bonus.

“You never know, with the safety car things that can happen, but it’s not our main goal at the moment.”

The Barcelona European Le Mans Series opener was won outright by Yoluc, Louis Deletraz and Charlie Eastwood’s pro-am entry, while AF Corse’s similarly designated entry finished third in the hands of Ben Barnicoat, Francois Perrodo and Matthieu Vaxiviere.

#80 AF Corse Oreca 07 - Gibson of Francois Perrodo, Ben Barnicoat, Norman Nato

#80 AF Corse Oreca 07 - Gibson of Francois Perrodo, Ben Barnicoat, Norman Nato

Photo by: Marc Fleury

Barnicoat told Autosport that the Italian team, which has brought in Norman Nato to replace Vaxiviere while the latter is on duty for Signatech Alpine, is planning to use the bulk of Perrodo’s six-hour driving time before nightfall to maximise the chances of profiting from a safety car wave-by.

“If that happens for us once Francois has finished his six hours of drive time, and we’re still there or there abouts and that puts us back on the lead lap, then absolutely we’re in the mix and of course we’re going to go for the best result that we can overall,” he said.

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“We are here to try and win pro-am first and foremost, but if there’s an opportunity to get an overall podium in LMP2 or go for the LMP2 win then that would be epic.

“The objective already is to use [his drive time] as early as we can, so it’s myself and Norman hammering it at the end when it’s hopefully going to matter most.

“We’ll be keeping our fingers crossed for that wave-by procedure to happen, so it puts us right back in the mix.”

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