24h Le Mans, Ferrari vs. Porsche: Tire warmer ban heats up tempers

The 24 Hours of Le Mans is experiencing a premiere of a different kind. In the 2024 WEC season, warming up the tires in the pits is prohibited. The drivers have to leave the pit lane with cold tires and can only slowly warm them up over the course of the lap. The rule change was originally introduced in 2023. But after a few accidents in Spa, and a lot of criticism, it was overturned before Le Mans.

So in 2024 there will be a second attempt and this time the tire warmer ban will be implemented. In Le Mans, the lack of heating blankets before the race is therefore a big issue. Especially since a drop in temperature is expected for Saturday and Sunday. But opinions between the camps are divided.

Ferrari drivers against heating ban: risk of injury for the show?

The Ferrari drivers in particular are strongly critical of the ban. Last year’s winner Alessandro Pier Guidi was annoyed: “It is very unsafe for everyone. When you drive out of the pits, you have zero control and we are in the middle of cars that are coming at 300 km/h.”

#2 Cadillac with Bamber, Lynn, Palou
Traffic in Le Mans: Will it be dangerous with cold tires?, Photo: DPPI/WEC

Robert Shwartzman, who drives the privately entered #83 AF Corse Ferrari, goes a step further and questions the safety of the drivers: “I don’t understand the idea behind it. Is it supposed to be funny if someone spins or crashes?! Is it all for show? As a driver, I’m not a fan of it.”

“If we want to race and make it safe, then we should make a rule that prescribes certain temperatures. Then you won’t have zero grip when you leave the pit lane,” is his suggestion.

WEC, 24h Le Mans, #50, Ferrari, Fuoco, Molina, Nielsen
Too dangerous? Ferrari drivers are angry about the tire warmer ban in the WEC, Photo: Ferrari

But the discussion about the heating blankets is not just about safety, but also quite simply about performance. The drivers estimate the time lost after the pit stop due to the cold tires to be 20 to 25 seconds. Whoever gets the tires up to temperature faster has a significant advantage after each pit stop in the 24-hour race.

Porsche counters Ferrari criticism: They are slower than us

Porsche therefore suspects that Ferrari’s criticism of the heating blankets is a political calculation. Porsche’s motorsport boss Thomas Laudenbach suggested that the Reds could be using the safety argument as a pretext: “On the WEC tracks, it seems that we get the tires into the window a little faster. Ferrari is very professional, they see that and are not happy with it. So you have to find better arguments instead of saying: ‘They (Porsche; ed.) are better than us.'”

Porsche driver Andre Lotterer sees it similarly: “It seems we are coping better (than Ferrari; ed.).” Apparently, tire warm-up is a characteristic that suits the Porsche 963 better than the Ferrari 499P. “I don’t know why. They are all the same tires and it’s not as if we are tuning the car for something like that. It’s not really something you can do specifically,” said Lotterer. At Porsche, the opinion is unanimous: the tire cover ban is a good thing. “I’m glad it’s no longer in place this year,” said Porsche’s LMDh factory manager Urs Kuratle.

#6 Porsche-Penske with Estre, Lotterer, Laurens Vanthoor
Porsche heats up the tires faster than Ferrari in Le Mans, Photo: LAT Images

The intention behind the rule change is the same as in Formula 1, where the abolition of electric blankets was also planned for 2024, but was ultimately overturned. It’s about sustainability and cost savings. Because electric blankets are not only energy-intensive, but also quite expensive.

Paul di Resta: WEC tires are not ready for this yet

The discussion is not only between Ferrari and Porsche. Drivers from other manufacturers are also questioning the sense of the ban. Peugeot driver Paul Di Resta believes that the rule is damaging to the show on the track. “When you talk about strategy: when you come out of the pits, you don’t fight each other. You just wait until you can overtake the driver in front of you.”

“I, on the other hand, want to see cars coming straight out of the pits and going full throttle straight away. That’s what strategy is all about,” the Scot continued. Di Resta demands that tire construction needs to be changed in order to achieve that. The former Formula 1 driver compared the situation with that in the premier class: “The Formula 1 drivers said that their tires aren’t ready for that yet. In my opinion, we’re certainly not ready for that yet.”

His brand colleague Nico Müller, however, defused the criticism a little: “In advance, we imagined it would be even worse than it felt in the training sessions,” he told Motorsport-Magazin.com but added: “But it is getting colder now [im Rennen]so it may become an issue again.

#94, Peugeot with Vandoorne, Di Resta, Duval
Pit stop at Peugeot, Photo: DPPI/WEC

Much cooler temperatures and more changeable weather are forecast for the 24 Hours of Le Mans than for the practice and qualifying days. Di Resta believes that this discussion is only now becoming so prominent because the weather has helped with the WEC 2024 races so far. “I think we haven’t seen the truth yet when it comes to that.” At the races, at least, during endurance tests in the winter months in Spain, many teams have already gotten an idea of ​​how the unwarmed tires behave at low temperatures.

Cheating rumors: Is someone cheating when warming up the tires

But the tire warmer discussions do not stop at this point. Some in the paddock also have doubts about the comprehensive monitoring of the rules. In the WEC, not only are heating blankets banned, but also all types of artificially generating additional temperature in the tires before they are put on.

There is therefore a rumor that some manufacturers or teams might try to heat up the suspension or the bodywork so that it then passes on heat to the tires. “There are rumors that a few teams don’t really respect the rules. I hope that everyone sticks to them. Because it has to be fair,” Shwartzman also addressed this topic.

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