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Preparations for the 88th Le Mans 24 Hours underway

#57, Porsche 911 RSR, Team Project 1, drivers: Jeroen Bleekemolen, Felipe Fraga, Ben Keating, LM GTE Am, at the Le Mans 24H, 2020

The pit lane on Wednesday during the afternoon scrutineering process
Le Mans 24 Hours, 19/20 September 2020: The pit lane on Wednesday during the afternoon scrutineering process

Under unseasonably hot conditions for late September, the 88th running of the Le Mans 24 Hours is finally a reality. Postponed from its traditional mid-June date, the world famous endurance race fell victim to the global Corona virus pandemic, but at least we have a date for the race, and so its all systems go at Le Mans.

#89 Team Project 1 Porsche 911 RSR
Le Mans 24 Hours, 19/20 September 2020: The #89 Team Project 1 Porsche 911 RSR driven by Steve Brooks, Andreas Laskaratos and Julien Piguet stands in the pits

In many ways, this running of the 24-hour race will be like no other, as it is being held ‘behind closed doors’. The entire Le Mans campus is eerily quiet, and all entrances and exits are manned by officials wearing the obligatory facemasks. Every time you pass through a vehicle gate, you can expect a temperature gun to be thrust into your face, and upon entering the media centre, there is another one mounted atop a temporary transparent screen, just to be sure.

#57 Team Project 1 Porsche 911 RSR
Le Mans 24 Hours, 19/20 September 2020: The #57 Team Project 1 Porsche 911 RSR with drivers Jeroen Bleekemolen, Felipe Fraga and Ben Keating

All press conferences are held ‘virtually’ and instead of a mountain of promotional material and press releases greeting the press, there is not a piece of paper in site. All race results, press releases, communiqués and the like are to be distributed digitally by accessing innumerable websites.

#78 Proton Competition Porsche 911 RSR
Le Mans 24 Hours, 19/20 September 2020: Michele Beretta, Horst Felbermayr Jr. and Max Van Splunteren piloted the #78 Proton Competition Porsche 911 RSR

Scrutineering, which is normally a two-day event held with much fanfare in the city’s centre, has this year been held behind closed doors at Le Mans’ own scrutineering bays at the circuit – accès refusé. This year, the process was completed in a single day, and the Drivers’ Parade which is normally held on the Friday evening, has this year been dispensed with altogether.

#91 factory Porsche GT Team Porsche 911 RSR-19
Le Mans 24 Hours, 19/20 September 2020: The #91 factory Porsche GT Team Porsche 911 RSR-19 was piloted by works drivers Gianmaria Bruni, Richard Lietz and Frederic Makowiecki

By Thursday of race week, the whole circuit and surrounding area, is usually heaving with race goers with a carnival-type atmosphere. Instead, the roadways around the circuit and within the circuit itself are almost empty, the only vehicles being the usual quad bikes running around with race components or tyres. This year, members of the media are not allowed into the paddock area, and any interviews must be booked and then conducted with a microphone on a long pole and in special rooms reserved for this purpose. It’s all very different!

#86 Gulf Racing Porsche 911 RSR
Le Mans 24 Hours, 19/20 September 2020: The #86 Gulf Racing Porsche 911 RSR is piloted by Ben Barker, Michael Wainwright and Andrew Watson

On the track

While we are all feeling the effects of this unusual heat wave, the on-track action is similarly sizzling. Despite the fact that there are no spectators in the grand stands, the drivers and teams are nevertheless giving it their all. Three practice sessions were packed into Thursday’s programme, comprising two daytime sessions and one evening session, in addition to two Road To Le Mans practice sessions for that series.

#88 Dempsey-Proton Racing Porsche 911 RSR
Le Mans 24 Hours, 19/20 September 2020: Piloting the #88 Dempsey-Proton Racing Porsche 911 RSR is Dominique Bastien, Adrien De Leener and Thomas Preining

Friday has seen a similarly full programme with two Road To Le Mans qualifying sessions, as well as Race 1 for that series, together with two Porsche Carrera Cup practices and one qualifying session. The Le Mans 24 Hour competitors have had their fourth practice session and the Hyperpole, which has determined the final grid positions. The Hyperpole consists of two shoot-outs, the first one took place on Thursday night from 23h15 to midnight. The top six cars in each class then competed in a second 45-minute session at 11h30 today. These two sessions have been exciting, intense and action-packed!

#92 factory Porsche GT Team Porsche 911 RSR-19
Le Mans 24 Hours, 19/20 September 2020: The #92 factory Porsche GT Team Porsche 911 RSR-19 was piloted by works drivers Michael Christensen, Kévin Estre and Laurens Vanthoor

The starting grid will be divided in the four classes, with the top six cars in each class vying for their place at the top of the class. The four hyper-polesitters will be awarded a trophy in recognition of their performance. In today’s Hyperpole, the Italian Gianmaria Bruni turned the fastest lap at the wheel of the #91 Porsche 911 RSR GTE Pro class while his colleague Michael Christensen secured sixth place in the #92 sister car. In the GTE-Am class, Matt Campbell was the fastest Porsche driver, claiming second grid spot in his class with the #77 Dempsey-Proton Racing Porsche 911 RSR.

#99 Dempsey-Proton Racing Porsche 911 RSR
Le Mans 24 Hours, 19/20 September 2020: The #99 Dempsey-Proton Racing Porsche 911 RSR was driven by Julien Andlauer, Vutthikorn Inthraphuvasak and Lucas Legeret

This race will be remembered for a number of important milestones, not least of which is the absence of spectators, the earlier starting time of 14h30 (instead of 15h00), and the end of the LMP1 Hybrid class. 2021 will see the introduction of a new set of rules and this promises to be the start of a whole new and exciting chapter in the story of the Le Mans 24 Hours.

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