The Le Mans 24 hours organisers, the Auto Club de L'ouest (ACO) have today announced they have received 82 entries for the 2009 edition of the endurance, scheduled to take place June 13-14.
An official press release from the ACO compares this number to 2008, when 88 entries were received, and 2007 when only 76 entries were received. Here I have a go at trying to work out what may be on that list.
Due to the way the ACO makes up the field every year, a handful (15 in total) of teams have confirmed places on the entry list. These are teams invited to take part in the race due to their achievements in other sportscar and GT racing series.
Recent winners of Le Mans itself are invited, along with winners of the endurance races at Sebring and Petit Le Mans, winners of the European Le Mans series and the FIA GT championship.
It must be stressed that not all of these invites have been taken up; for example, Penske have chosen to decline the entry for the second year running. This means that the remaining 40 places on the starting grid have to be fought out between the other 67 entrants.
Working out exactly who is on the entry list (aside from the confirmed entries) is next to impossible, and the exact list is kept under wraps until late February. However, some things are obvious.
Adding the team from the published full time entry lists for the European Le Mans Series brings the entry number up to 64. I find it hard to believe a full time LMS team would shy away from an attempt at Le Mans itself, there is a huge break in the season to allow preparation and it surely represents the best opportunity for sponsor exposure.
With the ALMS teams the obviousness of a run at Le Mans is less, well, obvious. Firstly it's not just a question of loading the cars on the hauler for another few weeks, it's a major expense. Secondly, a number of rules in the ALMS mean that you cannot just ship an ALMS car over to France and run it the same way. This is one of the major reason why Penske have always stayed away.
Many of the big ALMS teams are amongst the 15 confirmed through invites, the two works Corvettes, two Risi Ferrari GT2 entries and a single Flying Lizard Porsche are all guaranteed spots at Le Sarthe.
Other teams may not be so lucky. The Creation team, who are rumoured to moving to the ALMS from Europe, have been Le Mans stalwarts for years, and the Intersport outfit were at Le Mans last year, so may have a chance at making the trip again.
The big unknowns from the ALMS are the plans of the new Acura and BMW teams. Both have commented that they can bring their car within the 24 hours rules, and both have expressed a desire to make the trip. But will they make it this year, still with new cars?
But this is all very sketchy. There are certain teams who are glaring omissions from every list. Perhaps the biggest missing name are Spanish outfit Epsilon Euskadi.
However, although their 2008 was far from glamorous I find it very hard to believe the won't be back. To invest so much in a completely new car for only one year seems an appalling decision, no matter what the economic climate.
The second gap is in GT1. There are no Aston Martins. The works team have jumped ship to P1 and Team Modena have dropped to GT2 with a Ferrari, passing their invite up along the way. Of course, there is a chance there will be none.
However, with all these used GT1 Astons on the market I would like to think some of them have been snapped up by a privateer for a run at Le Mans (but perhaps I'm judging everyone by NASCAR standards).
Of course, all this could be rubbish. Previous years have seen something of a wheat and chaff split in Le Mans entries, and the current list spans everyone from those will turn out to be overall victors to those who cannot even build a car properly.