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Featured Image by Andrea Volpato on Flickr

Are you new to Sports Cars Racing? Curious about the differences between LMP2 & LMP3? No worries, we’ve got you covered. Ahead of the resumption of motorsport worldwide, we’ve decided to produce articles introducing Sports Car Racing to our readers. Part 7 is an in-depth introduction to the ACO’s long running European Le Mans Series, discussing it’s origins, rich history and the categories.

The European Le Mans Series, better known as the ELMS in short, is an endurance racing championship organized by the Automobile Club L’ouest (ACO).

The championship had its inaugural season in 2004, as the Le Mans Endurance Series, or the LMES, with a short, 4 round calendar, with 4 classes, namely LMP1, LMP2, GT1 and GT2.

History

2003 1000km of Le Mans

The 2003 1000km of Le Mans was a one-off endurance race that was run on the Bugatti Circuit in Le Mans. It was an experimental event that was meant to gauge interest in a European endurance sports car racing series. This was done following the failure of the 2001 European Le Mans Series, which had suffered from low car counts, due to competition with the FIA Sportscar Championship and FIA GT Championships. Although officially run under the Le Mans Endurance Series name, this did not count towards any championship. In order to help bolster the number of entrants, the ACO promised winners in each of the four race classes automatic invitations to the 2004 24 Hours of Le Mans.

For the race, 42 cars were entered, split across the LMGTP, LMP900, LMP675, GTS and GT classes. Only 35 cars would be seen on race day, with the overall and LMP1 winner being the #5 Audi Sport Japan Team Goh Audi R8. LMP675 was won by the #13 Courage Compétition Courage C65, GTS by the #88 Care Racing Ferrari 550 GTS, and GT being won by the #47 Cirtek Motorsport Ferrari 360 Modena GTC. LMGTP, which had a sole entry, the #17 JML Team Panoz Panoz Esperante GTR-1 failed to make it to the finish.

European Le Mans Series

le mans endurance series (2003-2005)

Following the success of the 2003 1000km, the ACO proceeded with its Le Mans Endurance Series, which unlike the former European Le Mans Series,  featured only 1000 km races instead of the shorter, 2 hour 45 minute races used by the ELMS, while having fewer races in a season than the ALMS and FIA SCC to help keep costs down. The series was run in partnership with the ACO.

The 2004 LMES consisted of 4 events, with the inaugural round being held in Monza, while other rounds were held at the Nürburgring, Silverstone and Spa. A total of 38 cars participated in the various events in the inaugural season of the series.

The 2005 LMES saw the calendar expand to 5 events, with all rounds from the previous season being carried over, with Istanbul Park being added to the race calendar. The championship experienced growth in the number of entrants, with total of 47 cars participating in the various events of the 2005 season. The GTS and GT classes were renamed as GT1 and GT2 respectively.

Le mans series (2006-2011)

The 2006 season saw the calendar remain at 5 events, although the calendar saw numerous changes. The Silverstone round was replaced by a round held at Donnington Park, whilst the Monza round was scrapped owing to schedule clashes. The 1000km of Monza was replaced with the 1000km of Jarama as a result. The opening round of the season was truncated from a 1000km/6 Hours distance/time limit to a 4-hour limit, after the organisers failed to bring sufficient fuel to the race. A total of 46 cars participated in the 5 events across the season.

The 2007 season saw the calendar expand to 6 events, owing to the addition of the 1000 Mile Mil Milhas Brasil. The calendar saw a number of changes, with the Istanbul round being scrapped in favour of a new round at the Circuit de la Comunitat Valenciana Ricardo Tormo in Valencia, while Monza and Silverstone were brought back on the calendar, replacing Jarama and Donnington Park. The series saw 51 cars participate across the 6 events.

The 2008 season saw the calendar shrink to 5 events, after the Mile Mil Milhas was dropped. All rounds were retained, bar the round at Valencia, which was replaced with a new round at Catalunya, the 1000km of Catalunya. A standalone precursor race to the Asian Le Mans Series was planned at the Shanghai International Circuit, but it was later cancelled and postponed to 2009, owing to the economic climate and conflicts with the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics. The season saw 51 cars participate across the 5 events.

The 2009 season saw the calendar remain at 5 events, with Monza dropped for a round at Algarve. The round was notable for being the first round of the race to be held at night. A total of 58 cars participated across the 5 events.

The 2010 calendar saw the calendar remain at 5 races, with the Nurburgring, and Catalunya rounds dropped, in favour of rounds at Paul Ricard and the Hungaroring. The Paul Ricard round, the 1000km of Le Castellet was the first time that the series ran an 8 Hour race. This would be the final season of GT1 competition in the series. The Formula Le Mans Cup was folded into the series, becoming the FLM category, with the spec Oreca-Chevrolet FLM09. A total of 54 cars participated across the 5 events of the series.

The 2011 season saw the calendar remain at 5 races, with all rounds carried over bar the round at the Hungaroring, which was replaced by a round at Imola. The 8 Hours of Le Castellet was shortened to 6 Hours. Compared to past seasons, there was a significant reduction in the number of entries across the season, with a mere 29 entries spread across the 5 events. 2011 was the final season of the LMP1 class in the series, while the GT2 category was renamed as LM GTE, and split into 2 divisions.

european le mans series (2012-present)

The 2012 season saw the Le Mans Series renamed as the European Le Mans Series. Initially, the calendar was to have seen 5 6 hour races, held at Paul Ricard, Zolder, Donnington Park, Brno and Algarve. However, due to a lack of entries, the Zolder round was axed, and following a dismal turnout at Donnington Park, Brno and Algarve were similarly axed. Petit Le Mans served as the final round of the 2012 series, after a deal was brokered between IMSA and the ACO, with the ELMS bearing transport costs for teams. The FLM category was renamed as Le Mans Prototype Challenge (LMPC), while a new GTC category was added. Initially, it was set to be populated by Grand Touring Cars from one-make series, but owing to a lack of entries, it was opened to GT3 cars. However, ultimately no cars participated in the category for the 2012 season.

The 2013 season the calendar restored to 5 races at Silverstone, Imola, Spielberg, the Hungaroring and Paul Ricard. The season saw a slew of changes, with the LM GTE Pro category dropped and GTE Am being renamed as GTE, while race distance was halved to 3 Hours. A total of 34 cars participated in the 5 events across the season.

2014 saw the calendar maintained at 5 races, with the Hungaroring dropped for Estoril, while races were extended to 4 hours in length. LMPC was dropped from the series. A total of 45 cars participated in the 5 events across the season.

The 2015 season saw the calendar maintained at 5 races, with no changes. 2015 marked the debut of the new LMP3 category. A total of 40 cars participated in the 5 events across the season.

The 2016 season saw the calendar expanded to 6 races, with the addition of Spa, while no rounds were added or dropped. GTC was dropped from the series, while a total of 46 cars participated in the 6 events across the season.

The 2017 season was maintained with 6 races, with rounds at Imola and Estoril being replaced by rounds at Monza and Algarve respectively. The season saw the introduction of the new “licensed” LMP2 cars produced by the 4 chassis manufacturers, equipped with a spec Gibson engine and Cosworth electronics. A total of 37 cars participated in the 5 events across the season.

The 2018 calendar saw no changes, with no new events added or removed. Silverstone and Paul Ricard swapped their places in the calendar, with the Paul Ricard hosting the opening round and Silverstone moving to an August date. A total of 47 cars participated in the 6 events across the season.

The 2019 season was maintained at 6 races, with the Spielberg round at the Red Bull Ring dropped for a round at Catalunya. A total of 42 cars participated in the 6 events across the season.

Categories

Le Mans Prototype 2 (LMP2)

Denoted by White Sticker with Blue Font, White Number on Blue Background.

#23 Panis Barthez Competition - Ligier JS P217, 2018 24 Hours of Le Mans
Panis Barthez Competition – Ligier JSP217 – Gibson #23 – Image by Kevin Decherf on Flickr

The second tier Prototype class in the FIA World Endurance Championship and the IMSA WeatherTech Sports Car Championship. In the European Le Mans Series, it is used as the top class in the series. It is a Pro-Am class in all championships where it is used and all teams must have a one Amateur driver, with either a Bronze or Silver rated driver in each car

All cars in the category have been closed cockpit since 2017.

Costs are tightly controlled in this category, with the regulations directly stating the following:

“The selling price of the complete new car without the single engine neither the homologated electronic equipment must not exceed 483 000€.”
” The Chassis Constructor must provide the FIA the price list of spare parts. The total of this price list must not be more than 140% of the selling price of the complete new car.”

However, there is a caveat to this, with the technical regulations also stating:

  • ”A 20% increase of the spare parts price is allowed if a Chassis Constructor is providing a sale services of these parts on the race meetings.”

    However, this price does not include options, which include:
  • The air conditioning system (mandatory and homologated) @7000€ max
  • The optional rear view camera system (but homologated)
  • The optional telemetry system;
  • The optional Tyre Pressure Monitoring System.

Unlike LMP1, where teams can design and build their own chassis, LMP2 is a tightly controlled formula, with only 4 licensed chassis manufacturers (Ligier, Oreca, Dallara, Riley-Multimatic) and a spec engine, the Gibson GK428 producing 600 horsepower, paired with Cosworth electronics and a 6-speed gearbox

Bodywork in the class is also homologated and can only be altered under a “Joker” upgrade once during the current homologation cycle. 3 of the 4 cars, the Ligier, Dallara and Riley have undergone the joker upgrade previously ahead of the 2018 racing season. 2 aerodynamic configurations are used: A high-downforce kit for use at all tracks, and a low drag kit for Le Mans

  • Car Dimensions are listed below:
    • Minimum Weight: 930kg
    • Maximum Width: 1900mm
    • Minimum Width: 1800mm except for the most forward 50mm of the car
    • Maximum Wing Width: 1800mm
    • Maximum Height: 1050mm
    • Maximum Length: 4750mm (including rear wing)
    • Front Overhang: 1000mm
    • Rear Overhang: 750mm (Rear wing included)
    • Maximum Wheel F/R width: 12.5” & 13”
    • Wheel Diameter: 18”
    • Brakes: 15” Free Materials
    • Maximum Fuel capacity: 75 Litres

The following driver aids are allowed:

  • Engine-based traction control is allowed
  • Power Steering is allowed for the sole purpose of reducing effort required to steer

Other driver aids, such as ABS and Power Braking, are prohibited, alongside Four-Wheel Steering.

Le Mans Prototype (LMP3)

Denoted by White Sticker with Purple Font, White Number on Purple Background.

#85 DC Racing Ligier JS P3, 2016 Road to Le Mans
#85 DC Racing – Ligier JS P3 – Nissan – Image by Kevin Decherf on Flickr

Introduced in 2015, it is the third tier Prototype class ACO & IMSA competition and is one of the most widely raced prototype class globally. The class replaced Formula Le Mans, also known as the Le Mans Prototype Challenge (LMPC). 2020 marks the beginning of the 2nd generation rules cycle for the category

It is intended for young drivers and teams who are new to endurance racing, as a stepping stone before advancing to the higher prototype classes. Hence, it is mainly an amateur class, with majority of the championships requiring line-ups to include one bronze driver, while the remaining drivers in the line-up may be Silver or Gold rated, although this varies from series to series

Costs are tightly controlled in this category, with the regulations directly stating:

“The selling price of the complete new car, complete, with the engine described and elected by the ACO must not exceed 239000€ (including the electronic passport).”  

– “The selling price of the conversion kit for the 2020 regulations must not exceed 50000€ (including the electronic passport)”

– ” The Manufacturer must provide the ACO the price list of spare parts. The total of this price list must not be more than 150% of the selling price of the complete new car.”

Like LMP2, LMP3 is a tightly controlled formula, with only 4 licensed chassis manufacturers (Ligier, Ginetta, Duqueine and ADESS) and a spec engine, the Nissan VK56 producing 455 horsepower, paired with a 6-speed gearbox

  • Car Dimensions are listed below:
    • Minimum Weight: 950kg
    • Maximum Width: 1900mm
    • Minimum Width: 1800mm
    • Maximum Height: 1050mm
    • Maximum Length: 4650mm (including rear wing)
    • Front Overhang: 1000mm
    • Rear Overhang: 750mm (Rear wing included)
    • Maximum F/R width: 12.5” & 13”
    • Maximum Wheel Diameter: 18”
    • Max Fuel capacity: 100 Litres
    • Brakes: 14” Steel
  • LMP3 cars also feature traction control from 2020

LMGTE

Denoted by White Sticker with Orange Font, White Number on Orange Background.

#77 Dempsey-Proton Racing Porsche 911 RSR, 2018 6 Hours of Shanghai
#77 Dempsey-Proton Racing Porsche 911 RSR (2017) – Image by emperornie on Flickr

The European Le Mans Series features a single GTE class, which is run to GTE-Am class regulations. Previously, the series featured both GTE divisions, but the Pro class was dropped following the 2012 season. The Am class requires the use of 2 Amateur drivers, with 1 driver being Bronze rated and a second driver being either silver or bronze rated. GTE Am class teams are also only allowed to run cars that are at least one year old. For example, the Porsche 911 RSR 2017 can only be run in 2018 in the Am class.

Points System

Pole: 1 Point (All races)
P1-P10 points:
4 Hours race: 25-18-15-12-10-8-6-4-2-1
P11 & below: 0.5 points (4 Hour race)
DNF: 0 Points

2020 European Le Mans Series Calendar

RaceCircuitCalendar
4 Hours of Le CastelletCircuit Paul Ricard19 July
4 Hours of SpaCircuit de Spa-Francorchamps9 August
4 Hours of BarcelonaCircuit de Barcelona-Catalunya29 August
4 Hours of MonzaAutodromo Nazionale Monza11 October
4 Hours of PortimãoAlgarve International Circuit1 November

Titles

LMP2 Teams Championship
LMP3 Teams Championship
GTE Teams Championship

LMP2 Teams Championship
LMP3 Drivers’ Championship
GT3 Drivers’ Championship

How to Watch

The European Le Mans Series races are streamed on the official European Le Mans Series Website. Past races may also be viewed for free on the official European Le Mans Series YouTube Channel.

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