As you may have noticed we at Carwitter are nuts about sportscars, which means that this time of year is our Christmas.
Soon, the most advanced grid of 56 racing cars in the world will head to France for the 91st 24 Heures Du Mans – along with hundreds of thousands of fans from across the world.
This year’s great race stacks up to be a classic, with the dual draws of the return of Porsche and the star power of Mark Webber meaning that camping tickets are changing hands online for anything up to £1,000.
Porsche hold the record for most wins at Le Mans, but their tally of 16 victories has been closed since 2000 by Audi’s 12 victories in 14 years.
Now the VAG stablemates will go head to head with Toyota as three brand new cars battle it out on the 8.5miles of La Sarthe.
This is the third year of a programme which began at a rush in 2012 when the Japanese stepped in early to cover the sudden departure of Peugeot.
After building a stellar line up of Peugeot refugees and former F1 stars, the world’s biggest car maker has gone from strength to strength.
They have taken the fight to Audi in both of their first two seasons with the predecessor TS030, briefly leading in their first race before both cars retired and grabbing a podium spot last season.
Heading into the double-points race at Le Mans the #8 car’s trio of Anthony Davidson, Sebastian Buemi and Nicolas Lapierre leading the #7 of Alex Wurz, Stephane Sarrizan and Kaziki Nakajima in the driver’s championship.
This year they arrive in June with all the tools at their disposal to finally grab the victory they treasure so much.
Audi’s force may have faded slightly in the first two rounds, but never discount the 12 time winners.
The strong challenge from Toyota in 2012 only resulted in a stepped up effort last year, when the R18s turned up stronger than before and strolled to the WEC crown.
But the start to 2014 has not gone how Dr Wolfgang Ulrich and his men would expect.
A disaster at Silverstone, where both cars crashed in wet conditions, was followed up by a podium spot in Spa, as the #2 car of Kristensen, Duval and Di Grassi came to the fore as the Porsche challenge faded late in the race.
They will be hoping their choice of the lowest level of hybrid systems will be vindicated at Le Mans, but that decision seems damned by an unfavourable hand in the series’s equalisation process.
They bring a trio of R18 e-tron quattros including double winners Benoit Treluyer, Andre Lotterer and Marcel Fassler who will be hoping to regain their crown and Oliver Jarvis, Marco Bonanomi and Felipe Albuquerque who make their second appearance of the season in the #3 car.
Porsche meanwhile, arrive eager to regain their crown as the kings of Le Mans, a pair of 919 hybrids will be piloted by a mixture of experienced Porsche drivers and newcomers to the marque.
Their star lineup of former F1 tester Brendan Hartley, Timo Bernhard and some bloke called Webber snagged a podium at Silverstone, a massive boost for the programme.
While their #20 car ran into problems at Spa the sister #14 of Neel Jani, Romain Dumas and Marc Lieb showed much promise, leading during the first hour of the race before falling back behind the Toyotas.
All three manufacturers have brought completely different solutions to the brand new LMP1 regulations.
Audi’s silent diesels remain, joined by the screaming petrol V8 of Toyota and the low rumble of Porsche’s innovative V4.
They all compete in the top LMP1-H category, a group designed for manufactures to explore hybrid technology.
Toyota grabbed headlines at the start of the season with a stunning 1000 bhp figure when the petrol motor is joined by it’s pair of energy recovery systems to show that the new rules were producing some amazing machines.
Those seven P1 cars are joined by a pair from privateer stalwarts Rebellion – who have elected to build their own car for 2014, teaming up with Oreca to build the Toyota powered R1.
They will compete on their own (a Lotus badged effort from for HRT boss Colin Kolles failed to make the grid) in LMP-L, a class designed to allow privateers to compete in lighter cars that lack the hybrid systems of the manufacturers.
That’s all very well, but I thought you said 56 cars?
While LMP1 has gone from strength to strength this year the second prototype class has struggled to fill it’s grid.
A record number of withdrawals (nine from all categories) has left a grid of 14 LMp2 cars.
The highlight of the entry is the brand new Onroak built Ligier cars, the closed top cars will be run by three teams, two from Oak and the Thiriet by TDS effort.
This is the first of the next generation of LMP2 cars that would have included the Strakka Dome, but after a testing smash they were forced to withdraw.
They will take on returning established P2 cars from Jota, Greaves and Delta-ADR , under the banner of Millennium racing, as well as new entries including former GTE Am winners Labre, Russian team SMP, who field cars in both P2 and GTE.
What if I want to see more road-style cars?
In GTE expect the usual non-stop battle that goes to the wire, last season Porsche and Aston hit the last hour barely half a lap apart before a sudden deluge decided the result in Weissach’s favour.
Aston Martin have been granted an extra five litres of fuel in their tank after a BoP test at Paul Ricard.
That should make their four Vantages much more competitive than their lackluster performances in the WEC have so far suggested.
They, Ferrari and Porsche will be joined in France by the American might of Corvette, but unfortunately, due to struggling sales for the road car, no SRT Viper.
The Vette boys will bring their brand new C7.R racer, a much needed upgrade from the much-loved, but now completely outclassed C6.
A fan favourite, Corvette must overcome the additional challenge of facing their rivals having only raced to GTLM regulations in the states.
How that will affect them when they take on Porsche and Ferrari will be a key decider in who takes the GT crown.
In the Am class the big draw will be the same as last year, McDreamy himself is back. After a monumental funding effort to get to Le Mans last year Patrick Dempsey and Joe Foster, with the help of Porsche, have again found the funds to travel across the pond.
They again team up with Porsche factory racer Patrick Long, and the trio will have high hopes, having lead last year’s race before a clash with an unidentified prototype car left Dempsey stranded at the side of the track struggling to get the reluctant 911 to refire.
Their biggest rivals in the class must come from a fleet of factory backed cars, including AF Corse, who run cars under their own banner and for Enzo Potolicchio’s 8-Star crew, and Aston Martin.
Oh, and don’t forget Nissan who a year before their return to the top class, arrive with their Delta Wing derived ZEOD-RC, a car which, all things being well, should be able to run every twelfth lap on entirely electric power.
What else is new?
With the sad passing of Allan Simonsen following a crash in the early stages of last year’s race changes have been made to the circuit to improve safety.
The principle change has seen the barriers at Tetre Rouge – where the crash happened – move away from the iconic line of trees it protects.
Those trees are believed to have stopped the barrier from flexing enough to absorb the energy of the impact.
In front of them a line tyres four deep has been placed to provide extra protection, and as a result the inside of the track has been moved back to keep the same width of tarmac.
Elsewhere the exit of the Porsche Curves now has a new gravel trap where there used to be the pits for a kart track, and the Ford Chicanes have sprung new, bigger, curbs in an attempt to stop cars, especially the GTE drivers, from cutting the second part.
This may be the last year that the run around Indianapolis and Arnage is public road, with the local authority considering bypassing the section and building a new roundabout behind the current campsite.
With the FIA pushing for changes it could also be the final time the fastest section of the circuit between Mulsanne corner and Indianapolis snakes between two grass verges. Those could be replaced with tarmac in the style of the edges of the Mulsanne straight if it goes the FIA’s way.
When should I tune in?
Cars will hit the track for the first time on Wednesday, a free practice session in the afternoon will be followed by the first night time qualifying session. A second session on Thursday will see the grid set, unlike qualifying for the WEC all the cars will be on track at the same time.
Friday is a rest day, although for those who have made the trip the pits will be open to all and the traditional drivers parade will wind it’s way through the city.
The race itself kicks off at 3pm local time on Saturday ready to go twice through the clock.
Only if you are at the track, the main race will be supported by a grid of Group C monsters from the 1980s and early 90s.
This year the iconic Jaguar XJR-14 will join the race as well as a screaming Mazda 767.
I’m not going, how do I watch?
Eurosport have the rights to coverage, if you don’t have access to that on your TV they do run a subscription online service.