RETRO MUSCLE: Le Mans 24-Hour prepared 2016 Ford GTs in action in France as part of an action packed weekend of motor sport
RETRO MUSCLE: Le Mans 24-Hour prepared 2016 Ford GTs in action in France as part of an action packed weekend of motor sport

Fans prepare for a feast of motor sport this weekend

NOT up to much this weekend? Good. Settle down for what should be a superb mixed bag of motor sport entertainment.  

A date clash between the 84th running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans and the first Formula 1 race held in Azerbaijan has met with some criticism, but for we wintered Aussies it simply gives us fair excuse to rug up and enjoy the action on television or live stream.  

So a quick geography lesson for you. Our own Dan Ricciardo and the rest of the F1 circus are off to the former Soviet republic for what's being called the European Grand Prix.   

Baku Grand Prix street circuit, Azerbaijan. Photo: Majid Aliyev
Baku Grand Prix street circuit, Azerbaijan. Photo: Majid Aliyev Majid Aliyev

Loose term as Azerbaijan and its capital city Baku - where the street circuit Grand Prix will be held - are at the crossroads between Asia and Europe. Check your map and you'll see the country borders Iran.  

World's fastest street circuit

So why here then? Quite simply, oil money. Baku is one of the world's wealthiest cities thanks to its valuable black gold reserves, and Bernie Ecclestone and his money men have few qualms about heading where the dollars are, even places with a history of questionable human rights.  

Despite such negatives the Baku track itself should make for a fascinating F1 race. It will be the fastest street circuit in the world, and the second longest circuit on the F1 calendar (behind Spa in Belgium) at six kilometres in length.    The track features a 2.2km straight which should make overtaking easier than, say, Monaco, and it winds its way through the very tight old part of Baku town, past a castle and some stunning architecture.   

Daniel Ricciardo of Australia and Red Bull Racing sits in his car in the garage during qualifying for the 2016 Canadian Formula One Grand Prix. Photo: Mark Thompson/Getty Images
Daniel Ricciardo of Australia and Red Bull Racing sits in his car in the garage during qualifying for the 2016 Canadian Formula One Grand Prix. Photo: Mark Thompson/Getty Images Mark Thompson

It will make for compelling viewing, not least with Australia's Ricciardo and his Red Bull proving quickest around the previous street circuit at Monte Carlo, taking pole position and only missing victory due to a poor pit stop.  

While places like Azerbaijan are on the 2016 F1 calendar, countries with proper Grand Prix heritage are shamefully overlooked. France - the birthplace of Grands Prix - hasn't held an F1 race since 2008, but our garlic-munching friends arguably have something far better: Le Mans.   

Webber joint favourite for glory

The 24 Hour endurance race held this weekend will see Porsche, Audi and Toyota vie for outright victory, with Aussie ace Mark Webber joint favourite with Kiwi Brendon Hartley and German Timo Bernhard in their Porsche 919 Hybrid.   

And while the F1 race will be over in under a couple of hours, you can dip into the World Endurance Championship showpiece in France over a full day, with coverage on Foxtel's Eurosport or by online live stream.   

Ahead of the 2016 Le Mans 24 Hours: Porsche Team, Mark Webber. Photo: Contributed.
Ahead of the 2016 Le Mans 24 Hours: Porsche Team, Mark Webber. Photo: Contributed.

Prototype racers such as the Audi R18 will be sharing track space with production-based beauties in the GTE class. The new Ford GTs will be a particular highlight (and here marking 50 years since the iconic Ford GT40's first Le Mans triumph), alongside Ferrari 488s, Chevy Corvettes, Porsche 911 RSRs and Aston Martin Vantages.   Aussie interest is there with Mark Webber and Ryan Briscoe competing, there'll be four Kiwi drivers and 20-odd ex-F1 pilots taking part.

2016 Porsche 919 Hybrid, Porsche Team: Timo Bernhard, Brendon Hartley, Mark Webber. Photo: Contributed.
2016 Porsche 919 Hybrid, Porsche Team: Timo Bernhard, Brendon Hartley, Mark Webber. Photo: Contributed.

Highlighting the race's accessibility, British six-time Olympic gold medal-winn ing cyclist Chris Hoy makes his first start, France's soccer World Cup-winning goalkeeper Fabien Barthez makes his second, while a quadruple amputee, Frederic Sausset, takes the start in a modified Morgan LMP2 car using his thighs to control the throttle and brakes and his right limb attached to the steering column. Much respect.  

And if the ladies need an extra reason to watch Le Mans, actor Brad Pitt will wave the cars off at 11pm AEST tonight to start proceedings.   

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So ignore the bad weather this weekend, get ready to cheer on the Aussies and enjoy what should be a feast of racing.  

2016 Audi R18 from Audi Sport Team Joest ahead of the Le Mans 24 Hours. Photo: Contributed
2016 Audi R18 from Audi Sport Team Joest ahead of the Le Mans 24 Hours. Photo: Contributed Audi Communications Motorsport


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