2012 Le Mans Race Guide

One of the best, possibly THE best, weekends of the summer is finally upon us.  If you're anything like me, you've banished the wife and kids and got all your food stuffs prepared to gorge yourself on race coverage until your eyeballs fail to see.   Maybe you are one of the lucky few to have made the pilgrimage to the Circuit de la Sarthe, and smelled the rubber and gasoline wafting through the air as the race melts from day to night and back today again. Whatever your participation or interest in the 24 hours of Le Mans, here are all the facts you need to know and the stories you must watch unfold.

2012 Le Mans Race Guide

[Photo credit: ACO/NIKON]

Here's the fast facts: Race Time: Saturday, June 16th at 9AM EST/6AM EST thru Sunday, June 17th 9AM EST/6AM PST Where to watch (or listen): SPEED TV coverage is being broken into broadcast and internet playback: (all times EST) Speed TV: 8:30am-1pm Speed.com: 1pm - 2:30pm Speed TV: 2:30pm - 7pm Speed.com: 7:00pm-7:30pm Speed TV: 7:30pm-9:00am Bonus: Speed TV is showing Toyota's "Road to Le Mans" tonight, 6/15, at 10pm EST You can also listen or watch internet streams from the following: Radio Le Mans - 24 hour coverage Flying Lizards - blog and team radio during the race JRM Racing - live team race coverage Audi on-board - live on-board video from the Audi Sport race team (isn't technology awesome?) 2012 Le Mans Spotter's Guide - courtesy of our good friends at Simraceway! Follow SPEED TV's Le Mans coverage on Twitter as well.  #LM24onSPEED.  Let's get this trending!

2012 Le Mans Race Guide

LMP1 (Le Mans Prototype 1) Lightweight, purpose-built prototype racers (open and closed cockpit) powered by petrol (regular gas), diesel, and hybrid drivetrains. Insane amounts of speed, cornering abilities and aerodynamic downforce. These are the big dogs, consider them the Sprint Cup class of the race. This year, the big rivalry is between the tried and true Audi R18 squad and the new upstart, Toyota. Audi has decided to bring four cars to Le Mans this year, two R18 ultras and two new R18 e-tron quattros, to face off against two Toyota TS 030 hybrid racers. While the Toyotas are relatively untested, they did manage to qualify one of their cars in the third place, definitely making the Audi team raise an eyebrow. While undoubtably one of these teams will take the win, never count out a smaller team like Strakka Racing with their Honda-powered HPD ARX 03a. They'll never win a race car naming contest, but if weather, other team's mistakes and a little luck play into their hands, who knows what could happen!

2012 Le Mans Race Guide

LMP2 (Le Mans Prototype 2) Lightweight, purpose-built prototype racers that have stricter regulations governing car and engine costs. There are six different chassis and three engines available to be used in these open and closed cockpit cars. Each team must field at least one driver this is only of the "silver" or "bronze" level qualification. Consider this a very competitive feeder series for entry into LMP1, kinda like the Nationwide Series here in the states. Nissan is the name of the game for this class in 2012. There are no less than six Oreca-Nissan cars that have basically swept the qualifying in the LMP2, except for one pesky Morgan-Judd. In fact, 13 out of 20 cars in this class are powered by Nissan. They must be doing something right. Maybe most interestingly in this class, is the experimental run of the Nissan DeltaWing race car that was developed by endurance racing kingpin, Don Panoz and driving legend Dan Gurney. The crazy batmobile-esque car looks somewhat out-of-place and unwieldy when mixed with all the other cars, but the amazing low drag design and lightweight construction may point to the inevitable future of racing. Now, if we could only get them to make a road going version!

2012 Le Mans Race Guide

GTE-PRO This is the height of sports car racing, the professional class of GT (E)ndurance. Featuring brands like Ferrari, Corvette, Aston Martin, and Porsche, these are production based cars that are required to retain the main body shape and engine configuration of actual road cars. Kinda like what stock cars used to be. Killer competition and excellent international drivers make this class very exciting to watch. The GT-PRO field is silly with amazing race drivers and will surely contain some epic battles between the Ferrari 458 Italias, Corvette C6 ZR1's and Aston Martin Vantage V8's. Luxury Racing skunked them all and put it Ferrari on pole in GTE-PRO, keeping everyone else on the back foot from the start. My guess is it will probably come down to a battle of Ferrari vs. Team Corvette, who's past performance has been nearly as dominant as the goliath Audi team in LMP1. The underdog is surely Porsche, who's top runner was actually out qualified by the GTE-AM class 911 RSR of Flying Lizard Motorsports.

2012 Le Mans Race Guide

GTE-AM A nearly identical classification as GTE-PRO, this class features the same Porsches, Ferraris, Astons and 'Vettes with the caveat that they all have to be one year old. Basically, this keeps them from having the very latest racing developments and makes them slightly slower. Also, teams are required to field to "silver" or "bronze" level drivers and only one "gold" or "platinum" professional race driver. You get a lot of grassroots and small team efforts in this class whose passion for racing and grit and determination are barely ever outshined, even by the flashy manufacturer teams. In GTE-AM, the race for the win goes hand-in-hand with the race to finish. A lot of these drivers are seeing Le Mans for the first time and will be drinking in the euphoric experience of walking the footsteps of some of racing's giants. As a flip-flop from GTE-PRO, Porsche is always very strong in this class, usually beating out the Ferraris and 'Vettes due to reliability, ease of driving and comfort. The drama really unfolds in the late hours of the race where fatigue and unsurmountable odds wage mortal combat with the desire to keep pushing, even if it is just to see the checkered flag welcome you home and vindicate the blood, sweat and tears you've poured into the race. Heady stuff for the automotive soul. http://youtu.be/27F26UA1i6M?hd=1 If you need further evidence of the awesome drama and passion that this race brings out of its competitors, look no further than the excellent "Truth in 24 II" (downloadable on iTunes, viewable above) that documents Audi Sport's tragedy and triumph in the 2011 24 hours of Le Mans (their first Truth in 24 is located here). It's is definitely a must watch, and a great way to get pumped up for this year's race.

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