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Le Mans 24 Hours: Germany vs Japan - Battle of the Brands at La Sarthe

By Tarek Ramchani

The 2015 Le Mans 24 Hours is fast approaching. The French classic is not only the third round of the FIA World Endurance Championship but also one of the three biggest - if not the biggest - race worldwide along with F1's Monaco Grand Prix and IndyCar's Indianapolis 500.

Just take a look at the 2015 entry list, it's world class one in all of the four classes. LMP1 will have an unbelievable fourway battle for the outright win between four major manufacturers. GTE-Pro is looking stronger than ever with another fourway battle with prestigious GT brands. Both LMP2 and GTE-Am will be interesting to follow as well with strong privateer entries.

Last year we said that the 2014 edition is the best since the unforgettable1999 race. Audi, Porsche and Toyota gave the fans thrilling battles with Audi scoring a 1-2 win in the end. This year Le Mans is looking even better as Audi, Porsche and Toyota are joined by fourth competitor, Nissan.

In the two FIA World Endurance Championship races before Le Mans, Audi won twice. At Silverstone and Spa-Francorchamps the #7 R18 e-tron quattro was victorious. They were not easy wins for André Lotterer, Benoit Tréluyer and Marcel Fassler. The three drivers had to battle hard against the strong Porsche Team. FIA WEC fans enjoyed some amazing battles in the British and Belgian rounds with unbelievable close racing between the two German brands.

Those were 6-hour endurance events, but now it's the big one. Le Mans is a 24-hour event, not only the longest race of the year but also the fastest and the hardest. The FIA WEC regulars will be joined by selected teams coming from ELMS, AsianLMS and TUSC, traffic for the LMP1 racers will be intense with  big fields in LMP2 and GTE classes. Any slight mistake on race track or pitlane and your chances to win the race are nearly over.

Audi looked the strongest overall after two FIA WEC rounds, but was slightly behind Porsche in the recent test day. The Four Rings are unbeatable at Le Mans since 2010 with five straight wins. Audi Sport Team Joest will field three full factory Audi R18 e-tron quattro cars with a target, a fourteenth win at La Sarthe.

Porsche was strong taking pole positions in both events and with a very fast 919 Hybrid cars on straights. The Porsches were the quickest in the Le Mans test day ahead of Audi. The Stutgart brand will enter three cars in an attempt to win the French classic for the first time since 1998.

Toyota pushed hard at Silverstone and Spa but was not able to fight for the top spot of the podium. The Toyotas were behind both Porsches and Audi in the test day. Unlike the other three brands, Toyota will have only two TS040 Hybrids cars. The Japanese brand never won Le Mans before after numerous attempts in different eras Group C, GT1 and LMP1.

The big question marks are around the Nissan effort. The Japanese brand skipped the opening FIA WEC races and to preferred to keep testing their brand GT-R LM NISMO cars in America. The three Nissans were far from their rivals in the test day. Can the GT-R LMs reduce the gap seen in the test day? Can the new cars survive a hard and a demanding 24-hour race?

The practice and the three qualifying sessions will give the fans a first answer about the four brands chances . However being quick in a single flying lap is one thing, keeping the same pace for 24 hours and without issues is another. No one can say who is going to win on Sunday afternoon, to finish first you have to survive a true Battle of the Brands.

Photo credit: Le Mans Live

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