The Automobile Club de l'Ouest (ACO) has officially revealed the list of 55 competitors that have been entered for the 78th running of the iconic, round-the-clock Le Mans 24 Hours endurance classic in June – with the legendary British names of Jaguar and Nigel Mansell both due to take part.
The successful entries have been selected, as usual, based upon their performances in sportscar circles over the past year. In the premier LMP1 class, all looks set for another battle between the two titans of modern-day prototype competition, Audi and Peugeot, with the Lion having finally emerged on top on home turf last year with a crushingly dominant one-two in the all-diesel duel.
This year, aside from its three 'factory' entries, Peugeot has also entrusted a fourth 908 HDi to Hughes de Chaunac's respected ORECA outfit, after the similar relationship with four-time Le Mans winner Henri Pescarolo soured somewhat last summer when the #17 car and #7 works effort collided in the pit-lane, destroying the latter's chances of victory on the spot.
Audi, for its part, will also field three cars under the 'Team Joest' and 'North America' banners – although none of them will carry the coveted #1 this year for the first time since 2004 – as well as equipping privateer operation Kolles with a brace of older R10 TDis, as was likewise the case in 2009.
The sprightly Lola-Aston Martin coupés return to La Sarthe too, with two in the hands of the Prodrive-run Aston Martin Racing squad and the third now run by French concern Signature Plus – whilst it will be an all-family affair in the #5 Beechdean Mansell Ginetta-Zytek, as 1992 F1 World Champion Nigel and sons Greg and Leo bid to prove that three heads are better than one.
In the nine-strong LMP2 fray, the main interest will be to see just what overall 2009 Le Mans winner David Brabham is capable of in a Highcroft Racing HPD ARX.01, a renamed Acura. On the Connecticut-based outfit's maiden trip to Europe – and with Marino Franchitti also on the driving strength – hopes are understandably high, particularly given that the team triumphed in the 2009 American Le Mans Series (ALMS) with the Acura ARX-02.
In the poorly-supported GT1 category, a pair of Matech Competition-run Ford GTs looks to be the principal attraction, though one of them remains on the reserve list for now. The accepted #61 entry certainly looks to be an intriguing proposition, with an all-female, all-Swiss driver line-up of Cyndie Allemann and Scuderia Toro Rosso F1 ace Sébastien Buemi's cousin Natacha Gachnang.
In GT2, finally, the scene looks to be set for a battle royale between Porsche and Ferrari once more, but not to be discounted are the two BMW M3 GTRs led by World Touring Car Championship (WTCC) stars Andy Priaulx and Jörg Müller, an Aston Martin Vantage from JMW Motorsport, Spyker Squadron's C8, the newly re-classed 'Yellow Peril' Corvette threat and a Rocketsports Jaguar XKRS, a car that competed in just a sole ALMS outing in 2009 and about which some questions of legality have been raised.
The news also ends a 15-year absence from La Sarthe for the big cat – since the XK220 raced there in 1995 – and some have surmised that it might also constitute a precursor to a more high-profile return in the years to come.