Eleven entries from nine American Le Mans Series teams received automatic invitations to next year's Le Mans 24 Hours, among them two for the Penske team that clinched the LMP2 category but is pondering its future in the category.
The Automobile Club de l'Ouest's first 29 entries for the 13-14 June classic included each ALMS class champion, who have long earned earn automatic slots in the following year's 24 Hours, as well as the class winners at Petit Le Mans. In addition, the top two finishers in each category at Le Mans itself, as well as the European-based Le Mans Series, the winner of the Michelin Energy Endurance Challenge and the FIA GT championship, have also been granted invitations for 2009.
Penske thus earned a pair of invitations from LMP2, having captured the class championship for the third consecutive season and winning LMP2 at Petit Le Mans, but it remains unclear as to whether the famous name will take up the offer to attend, with doubt still being cast over its participation in LMP2 - or the ALMS at all - next year.
Porsche's involvement in LMP2 has been questioned amid rumours that it is planning to join recent rival Acura in a revived LMP1 category, while Penske is hotly tipped to make a switch - possibly temporary - to the Grand-Am Rolex Series with a Porsche-powered Daytona Prototype next season, while it awaits the Weissach concern's offering for the top ALMS class. A Penske entry in the Daytona 24 Hours is almost certain as the team is known to be prepping a pair of Riley chassis for current ALMS and IndyCar drivers Romain Dumas, Timo Bernhard and Ryan Briscoe. Penske NASCAR star Kurt Busch is also slated to run with the sportscar effort.
Teams must confirm their entry for Le Mans by 12 January, but are not permitted to use automatic invitations in a different class.
In addition to Penske and Porsche, meanwhile, Audi Sport North America also received the maximum two invitations after winning overall at La Sarthe for the second year in a row, and adding success at Petit Le Mans for a third straight season. 'Dindo' Capello and Allan McNish were victorious in both races, and joined forced with Tom Kristensen at Le Mans and Emanuele Pirro at Road Atlanta. Pirro, however, is unlikely to feature in the team's plans for either race in 2008, having followed long-time co-driver Frank Biela out of Audi's sportscar plans.
Intersport Racing has also been awarded an automatic entry due to its second-place finish behind Audi in the P1 championship and, should it accept, would return to Le Mans for the first time since 2006. The team was a surprise LMP1 class winner in Detroit this season after the leading Audi disqualified for failing a post-race weight check.
Corvette Racing earned two entries in GT1, courtesy of its eighth consecutive ALMS championship and seventh Petit Le Mans victory. GM's factory road racing team has finished second in class the last two years at Le Mans and has five victories at the 24 Hours since 2001 and, unlike Penske, is almost certain to appear at La Sarthe having included the 24 Hours among its early season plans before making the switch to the more hotly-contested GT2 category. Class rival Bell Motorsports was also part of the initial invitation list after placing second in the thin GT1 championship.
Risi Competizione will have the opportunity to defend its GT2 title at Le Mans, after winning Petit Le Mans gave the team a second berth in next June's blue riband event, while one of Flying Lizard Motorsports' rewards for winning its first ALMS GT2 title is another invitation to Le Mans, where the series' leading Porsche GT team has raced since 2005.
The official Le Mans test day has been scheduled for Sunday 31 May.