NOVEMBER 29, 1999
The diminishing attraction of the Le Mans 24 Hours
THE classic 24 hour endurance sportscar race at Le Mans is not as attractive as once it was to the major motor manufacturers. In recent days both Mercedes and Porsche have announced that they will not be competing in the event in 2000. In addition Toyota and Nissan have already pulled out and, although it has not been confirmed, BMW is also expected to close down its sportscar operations in order to concentrate on the its Formula 1 program. That means that of the major teams in 1999 there will only be Audi next year although the Volkswagen subsidiary will be joined by General Motor offshoot Cadillac.
It is probably significant that these are the only two major manufacturers not currently involved in Grand Prix racing - and both have been having a very close look at Formula 1 in recent months. Neither is willing to admit its interest but the fact that important staff members have been turning up at races suggests that they are evaluating a move into F1 and with victory at Le Mans counting for less it is more likely that their programs will be accelerated. The trend amongst manufacturers in recent years has been to compete at Le Mans and then move into F1. This route was adopted by Mercedes-Benz, Peugeot, BMW and Toyota.
It is also worth noting that the engine manufacturers involved in single-seater racing in the United States are becoming less and less happy with the way things are developing at the moment. There is a strong possibility that as many as 10 CART teams may buy Oldsmobile or Nissan engines and customer chassis in order to compete in the 2000 Indianapolis 500. CART, under pressure from the teams, has left open a gap in its calendar to allow this to happen and while the motor manufacturers in CART are saying that they are not going to stop it happening, Ford's motorsport chief Dan Davis, made an ominous comment this week to the Associated Press.
"We got into Indy-car racing to run the Indy 500, and we can't do that," he said. "This situation doesn't seem to be in our best interests."
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