24 Hours of Le Mans news roundup: 16-year-old in field

The crowd makes their way onto the Circuit de la Sarthe during podium celebrations after the 2013 24 Hours of Le Mans.

JEAN-MICHEL LE MEUR/JEAN-MICHEL LE MEUR / DPPI

With just one month until the start of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, there’s been a flurry of activity in the build-up to the twice-around-the-clock French endurance classic, which will be seen live on the FOX Sports family of networks. 

A total of 56 cars are set to take part in this year’s race, headlined by factory efforts from Audi, Porsche and Toyota in LMP1 and Corvette, Porsche, Ferrari and Aston Martin in GTE-Pro.

While all of the works squads have finalized their driving squads months ago, prior to the start of the FIA World Endurance Championship season, here’s a rundown of the notable driver additions and updates from the past few weeks.

***Despite having yet to turn a wheel, the new Lotus T129 is still expected to make its race debut next month, with ex-F1 driver Christijan Albers being joined by endurance racing veterans Christophe Bouchut and Pierre Kaffer. The German-built LMP1 car, competing in the privateer sub-class, has faced delays due to a late engine switch from an Audi DTM-based V8 to an AER-tuned V6 twin-turbo. 

***The new Strakka-Dome S103 Nissan is also scheduled to debut at Le Mans, despite multiple teething issues with the new Japanese LMP2 car, which prevented it from taking part in the opening two FIA WEC races. The car is believed to resume testing next week, with Strakka Racing team principal Nick Leventis and fellow Brits Danny Watts and Jonny Kane set to handle driving duties. 

***There will be three of the new Ligier JS P2 cars on the grid, following confirmation Tuesday of OAK Racing’s No. 35 entry for Nissan GT Academy drivers Jann Mardenborough and Mark Shulzhitskiy, who will join second-generation racer Alex Brundle at the wheel of the Nissan-powered LMP2 car. Remarkably, the trio add up to a combined age of 72, making for what’s likely to be the youngest driver lineup in this year’s race.

***In addition to the previously announced Thiriet by TDS Racing Ligier-Nissan, OAK Racing Team Asia took the wraps off its Honda-powered Ligier in Shanghai this week, which will be led by reigning Asian Le Mans Series champion David Cheng and Ho-Pin Tung. The effort, carrying the backing of TOTAL and Michelin, will feature the first all-Chinese driver lineup in race history. 

***History could also be made with 16-year-old Matt McMurry, who is vying to become the youngest-ever starter at Le Mans. The second-generation racer from Arizona is provisionally listed to drive the No. 41 Greaves Motorsport Zytek Z11SN Nissan with Chris Dyson and Tom Kimber-Smith. McMurry, who finished fourth in his European Le Mans Series debut at Silverstone last month, would break Ricardo Rodriguez’s longstanding record. Rodriguez was 17 years, 4 months and 4 days old when he took part in the race in 1959.

***TUDOR United SportsCar Championship star Ricky Taylor is set for his LMP2 debut and second consecutive Le Mans start, having inked a deal to drive Larbre Competition’s Morgan-Judd. Taylor will co-drive the Michelin-shod car with Keiko Ihara and Pierre Ragues, with his brother, Jordan, returning to the wheel of a Corvette Racing entry in GTE-Pro.

***A case of shingles has forced Tor Graves out of the cockpit of the No. 48 Murphy Prototypes Oreca 03 Nissan, with GP2 front-runner Nathanael Berthon set to take his place alongside Rodolfo Gonzlaez and Indian ex-F1 driver Karun Chandhok in the Irish LMP2 entry. 

***While predominately featuring factory efforts from Corvette, Porsche, Aston Martin and AF Corse (Ferrari), the GTE-Pro class also sees a privately funded program from Ram Racing, which will field a Ferrari F458 Italia for Matt Griffin, Alvaro Parente and the recently announced Frederico Leo. The reigning ELMS champions, which were forced to skip the FIA WEC Six Hours of Spa due to a budget shortfall, will also enter a GTE-Am Ferrari led by Johnny Mowlem and Ben Collins.

***AF Corse’s two GTE-Pro Ferraris, meanwhile, will be bolstered by Giancarlo Fisichella and Olivier Beretta. Fisichella, who is competing full-time in the TUDOR Championship this year, joins defending FIA WEC class champion Gianmaria Bruni and Toni Vilander in the No. 51 car, while Beretta takes the third seat in the No. 71 car alongside open-wheel standouts Davide Rigon and James Calado. 

***The majority of the U.S. entries are in GTE-Am this year. Dempsey Racing-Proton will field a brand-new Porsche 911 RSR for Hollywood actor/racer Patrick Dempsey, Joe Foster and the recently confirmed Patrick Long, reuniting the same lineup that nearly pulled off a class podium in 2013. 

***8Star Motorsports, the only American-backed effort competing full-time in the FIA WEC this year, sees team owner Enzo Potolicchio being joined by Italians Paolo Ruberti and Gianluca Roda, while further U.S. interest comes in the ProSpeed Competition and JMW Motorsport camps, which have joined forces with WeatherTech Racing and Flying Lizard Motorsports, respectively, for a crack at class honors.

***Cooper MacNeil, Jeroen Bleekemolen and Bret Curtis will team up in the No. 79 ProSpeed Porsche 911 GT3 RSR, while the Lizard’s Seth Neiman and Spencer Pumpelly are joined by Saudi driver Abdulaziz Alfaisal in the No. 66 JMW Ferrari F458 Italia GT.

***Development, meanwhile, continues for the new Nissan ZEOD RC, which will take up Garage 56 this year. The experimental prototype, which is targeting to become the first car to complete a lap of Le Mans entirely on electric power, will be driven by Nissan GT Academy drivers Lucas Ordonez and Wolfgang Reip, plus Japanese ace Satoshi Motoyama.