The famously gruelling 24 Hours of Le Mans race gets under way on Saturday with a total of 60 cars tackling the 8.5-mile Circuit de la Sarthe. 

Many of the premier endurance events of yesteryear, such as the Mille Miglia in Italy and the Nurburgring 1000km, have either been significantly altered or permanently shut down over safety concerns. Motor racing is dangerous, after all. 

The 24 Hours of Le Mans has continued to run since its inception in 1923, although a number of safety improvements and circuit tweaks over the years have kept the race up to date. 

This year’s event kicks off on Saturday 16 June at 2.30pm local time (1.30pm UK) and will come to a finish the same time the next day. 

With so many cars competing in the race, it can be difficult to follow. So here are the different categories of racing cars and which teams to look out for: 

LMP1

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The premier category of car in the 24 Hours of Le Mans is LMP1 (Le Mans Prototype 1), which features some of the fastest and most technologically advanced racing cars on the planet. The sophisticated powertrains and aerodynamics mean an LMP1 machine is almost guaranteed to win the event outright, unless mechanical gremlins play a part in the race.

Porsche has won the past three runnings of the event with its 919 Hybrid, but the German car giant has stepped away from top-tier endurance racing in 2018 to focus on the electric single-seater series, Formula E.

That leaves Toyota [pictured above] as the sole hybrid-powered LMP1 manufacturer this year, making it the favourite team to take outright victory. The company is entering two cars into the event, one of which will be co-driven by two-time Formula 1 champion Fernando Alonso, who will share his car with two other drivers during the race.

But Toyota isn’t alone in the LMP1 category, as it will be competing against a number of non-hybrid prototypes entered by privateer teams. These include series veterans Rebellion, the US-based Dragon team and a pair of Russian SMP Racing cars, one of which will be driven by former F1 world champion Jenson Button.

While non-hybrid cars are slightly slower than their electrified competitors, they could pose a threat to Toyota if the Japanese squad either crashes out or encounters mechanical problems. And considering Toyota has been denied almost certain victory over the past two years because of vehicle faults, the privateer teams may well have a chance at winning. 

LMP2

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Cars with LMP2 (Le Mans Prototype 2) stickers on them are slightly slower than their LMP1 rivals, even though they look almost identical to the top-tier cars. Around 20 LMP2 cars have been entered into this weekend’s race, which is almost double that of the LMP1 class.

They may lack grunt on the circuit’s massive Mulsanne straight, but LMP2 cars have proven to be competitive in the past. 

Last year, after Toyota’s mechanical problems dropped the team out of contention for victory, a Jackie Chan Racing LMP2 car [pictured above], owned by the martial artist, was leading the race for several hours until it was passed by a Porsche LMP1 car in the closing stages of the race. Still, the car won the LMP2 class and finished second overall. 

Jackie Chan Racing will once again be a team to look out for during the race, as will the United Autosport and G-Drive teams. United Autosport has recruited multiple grand prix winner Juan Pablo Montoya, while one of the G-Drive cars will be driven by Formula E race winner Jean-Eric Vergne.

GTE

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Last, but certainly not least, is the GTE (Grand Touring Endurance) class. These machines will be far more familiar to car fans, as they all take the form of supercars that can be bought in showrooms. 

They are not identical to their road car counterparts, though, as each car is fitted with specially developed engines and an assortment of wings to help them generate grip at high speeds. 

This year’s running will include the Ferrari 488 GTE, the Chevrolet Corvette C7.R, a pair of retro-looking Porsche 911 RSRs and the Ford GT. Aston Martin will run its all-new Aston Martin Vantage AMR racing for the first time at Le Mans, as will BMW with its M8 GTE. 

The GTE category is arguably the most competitive group on the grid and there’s a good chance any of these cars could win the class. For example, Ford’s advanced GT supercar took victory on its debut in 2016, only to be beaten by Aston Martin’s older Vantage GTE the following year.

Top image credit: Damien Meyer/AFP/Getty Images



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