This year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans is set to offer a treat for British racing fans with the debut of Formula One world champion Nigel Mansell in the top-tier LMP1 class.
Mansell, 56, will be racing alongside his sons Greg and Leo for Buckinghamshire-based Beechdean Motorsport in a factory-supported Ginetta-Zytek Z09R. Leo is an experienced sportscar racer while Greg is working to make his name in open-wheel series.
Mansell senior’s entry raises an intriguing if perhaps not very likely prospect. As a winner of both the F1 and the US CART championships (and the only man ever to hold them in the same season, 1992/93) Mansell has already fulfilled two of three required qualifications for one variant of the prestigious Triple Crown of Motorsport.
The third? A Le Mans win. While unlikely that he and Beechdean will be able to knock both Audi and Peugeot off their perches it is a great reason for fans to cheer him on.
Mansell raced alongside Greg and Ginetta boss Lawrence Tomlinson in last year’s 1000km of Silverstone. He was also reputedly paid £10,000 by his then-F1 team boss Colin Chapman of Lotus to forego the race in 1982, as Chapman thought it offered an unnecessary risk. The sum was equal to the appearance fee he would have earned.
Speaking about his partnership with Beechdean earlier this year, he said: “The team comes fresh to the Le Mans Series with an impeccable pedigree and with full support from Zytek Engineering and I’m looking forward to working closely with Andrew [Howard, team principal] and his team. I am very excited about 2010 and the prospect of racing with both my sons for the first time.”
Howard added: “It has been an ambition of mine to race a Le Mans Prototype ever since we started racing GTs and competing at the Le Mans 24 Hours is the ultimate goal. It’s a dream come true for our young team to enter into a partnership with one of the sports most famous names in the first year at this level.
“Nigel brings a huge wealth of knowledge and experience to the team, with Leo and Greg, already established as accomplished race drivers in their own right, forming an integral part of the intensive development programme we are now setting in motion with Zytek.” He said the team would begin testing early in 2010.
Also providing British interest are the return of Allan McNish with Audi for a crack at a third victory, as well as Aston Martin returning with Darren Turner at the wheel. Speedy Sebah enters rebranded as Rebellion Racing and Dome Motorsport also reappears.
Drayson Racing is pushing on with its dramatic jump from the GT2 class to LMP1 with its new biofuel-powered Lola B09-60 Coupé, powered by a Judd V10 engine. And the team, true to form, is aiming for nothing less than a win.
Team boss Paul Drayson, who will be driving alongside the team’s longstanding pilot Jonny Cocker, said: “In my head I’ve imagined what it’s going to be like racing down the Mulsanne at night – and probably in the wet – at top speed in an LMP1 and now I’m going to be doing it for real; totally, totally incredible. Brilliant news!”
Team manager Dale White added: “It’s a dream come true to receive an invitation to compete at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in the LMP1 class.
“We’re a small team but we have assembled what we think is the best crew and car package for a privateer to challenge for the overall win at Le Mans against the top factory and privateer teams in the world.
“It will be a massive test but one we are approaching with a level head and high expectations. We are going to do everything we can to be the ‘David’ to their ‘Goliath’.”
In LMP2 Strakka Racing will field Danny Watts and Nick Leventis, with Jonny Kane provisionally named as their third driver, while defending champion David Brabham and Marino Franchitti are listed for Highcroft racing.
And manufacturers Jaguar and BMW are both entered in the GT2 class with the former running a Jaguar XKR GT2 driven by Paul Gentilozzi, Scott Pruett and Marc Goossens. Jorg Muller and Andy Priaulx are listed for the latter driving a BMW E92 M3.