Most major racing disciplines around the world have a clear and comprehensive framework to allow aspiring drivers to learn the ropes. Pretty much everyone starts in karting, but from there F1 hopefuls go on to Formula Renault and other open-wheeled series; NASCAR aspirants to ARCA and the Nationwide Series; rally prodigees to local championships; and so on and so forth. But teams fielding Le Mans prototypes had to recruit from other disciplines. That is, until now.
Earlier this year, the Automobile Club de l'Ouest – the organization behind Le Mans and its associated series – launched Formula Le Mans, known in America as the Le Mans Prototype Challenge. The idea was simple: everybody driving the same cars, designed on the same model as LMP1 and LMP2 racers, in support races to existing LMS events. French racing team (and, since acquiring Courage Competition, chassis constructor) Oreca was contracted to design and build the cars and help organize the series.
The purpose-built chassis known as the FLM09 packs a Chevy LS3 tuned to 430 horsepower with Magneti Marelli engine management, driving an Xtrac six-speed sequential gearbox to Michelin slicks housing Brembo carbon-ceramic brakes. Eight teams participated in the inaugural season this year, fielding some 50 drivers at races at Spa-Francorchamps, La Sarthe, Algarve, the Nurburgring, Silverstone and Magny-Cours.
The opening season was a success, prompting ACO and Oreca to launch a winter series, currently under way. But for next year's series, Formula Le Mans will be fully integrated into the Le Mans Series as another category, much as they've been run in the American Le Mans Series since their inception. In order to separate the FLM cars from the higher-level LMP2 and keep them running for the full race distance, however, the Oreca FLM09s be equipped with restrictor plates. The integration of FLM into the full series ought to make for some interesting racing and a more hands-on training ground for aspiring drivers when they join the grid next year, but for now you can read the full press release after the jump and browse the mega gallery by hitting the thumbnails below.
[Source: Formula Le Mans]
2010: FORMULA LE MANS ALONGSIDE THE BIG PLAYERS !
FORMULA LE MANS IS A GENUINE RACING NURSERY AND THE "FIRST STEP" TOWARDS ENDURANCE RACING. AS SUCH THE AUTOMOBILE CLUB DE L'OUEST HOLDS IT DEAR AND HAS GRANTED THE ENTRANCE TO THE "LE MANS SERIES" ENDURANCE RACES.
From the next racing season on, FORMULA LE MANS owners (ORECA FLM monotype prototype / 420 BHP GM engine) will have the grand opportunity to take part in LE MANS SERIES 1000 km races in Europe. The FLM are also announced in Northern America within the "ALMS" starting in 2010.
The 2009 model will undergo minor modifications with an "Endurance Kit" including an engine intake restrictor in order to position this "economic prototype" at some distance from the LMP2, but nevertheless in front of the GT2 pack.
The cars will participate in their own FLM Championship within the Le Mans Series races including a specific ranking, a separate podium ceremony and a dedicated FLM-ORECA motorhome at each meeting. Registrations to the 2010 FLM Championship are already open as the available seats are limited and due to the fact that regular LMS contestants have priority.
The organizers reckon with about a dozen contestants for the four European Le Mans Series races (PAUL RICARD-HTTT / SPA-FRANCORCHAMPS / SILVERSTONE / + 1 Le Mans Series race to be defined). There will be an additional meeting outside of the LMS framework during the 2010 season.
Teams can be composed of 2 to 3 drivers (with at least one gentleman driver). There will be DRIVERS', GENTLEMAN DRIVERS' and TEAM' Championships. Just like the 2009 FLM Champions Nico VERDONCK (Belgium) and Gavin CRONJE (South Africa), the 2010 Champions will be offered a test day in LMP1 – LMP2 within Team ORECA.
Lastly, the Le Mans 24 Hours are not included in the FLM racing calendar, hence the prototypes will not be entitled to qualify for the 24 Hours.
Pierre FILLON FLM President and ACO Vice President:
"The FLM is in line with ACO's intentions to develop a genuine endurance racing racing nursery! In 2010, the nursery will gear up with the launch of a Le Mans prototype drive academy with an ACO academy award on the one hand and on the other hand with the integration of the FLM into LMS races. As a consequence the learning conditions for all new drivers and teams are similar to those of the Le Mans 24 Hours in LMP1 or LMP2."
Hugues De CHAUNAC, FLM Manager and CEO of ORECA:
"Formula Le Mans' evolution towards the Le Mans Series occurred naturally. With the ACO, we are going to give fresh impetus to this racing category thanks to the latest measures. Formula Le Mans will take on a whole new dimension as a pre-stage to endurance racing, and on top of that it will benefit from the Le Mans Series' aura and media coverage. In addition to top-level performance and very reasonable running costs there will be the prestige and sports-related interest inherent in long-distance races like the 1000 km races."
Patrick PETER, Le Mans Endurance Organisation CEO, Le Mans Series co-organizer with the ACO:
"We are pleased to welcome the FLM within the Le Mans Series races. We hope that this racing nursery will highlight many young talents who will doubtlessly leave a trace in future glorious moments of endurance racing in Europe and throughout the world."