As France’s famed 24 Hours of Le Mans, arguably the greatest motorsport contest of them all, celebrates its 100th anniversary next weekend, there will be another reason for the nation to take notice. After a 73-year hiatus from the race, the country’s storied marque Delage will be represented on the starting grid with a car wearing its name and dressed in the automaker’s iconic blue livery.
“We are completely linked to the history of Le Mans because Delage was one of the competitors at the very first edition of Le Mans,” says Laurent Tapie, the 48-year-old business mogul who refounded Delage in 2019. As for its accomplishments at the revered endurance event, Tapie is quick to point out that “we [Delage] did six competitions, the last one being in 1950. In 1937, Delage won the 3.0-litre class, and in 1947, we finished second overall.” Despite those successes, the manufacturer—established in 1905 by Louis Delâge—was shuttered in 1953.
Tapie, along with the ardent enthusiasts club Les Amis de Delage—presided over by Louis Delâge’s great-grandson Patrick Delâge—joined forces to resuscitate the automotive enterprise with the development of the 1,100 hp D12 hypercar, which was inspired by Formula1 machines. According to Tapie, the first two examples of the US$2.3 million model have begun production in Magny-Cours, France, for the initial clients. Yet as striking as the D12 appears to be, the Delage that will be the focus of attention on June 10 and 11 will be the Le Mans Prototype 2 (LMP2) racer making its way around Circuit de la Sarthe.
The next tier down from the Hypercar class in the FIA World Endurance Championship series, the LMP2 category is highly standardised as far as configuration and performance specs, and is intended for privateers. For this reason, Delage has partnered with veteran squad Idec Sport, a team that has also campaigned six times at Le Mans, albeit more recently.
Weighing in at a required minimum of 930 kilograms, all LMP2 entries are fit with a 560 bhp, 4.2-litre V-8 with no direct fuel injection allowed. Other stipulations are that the vehicle be no longer than 5 metre (including the rear wing) and have a maximum width of 2 metre. In other words, the playing field is equal when it comes to form and function.“What makes the difference on the race are the drivers, obviously, the strategy, and the setup of the car,” says Tapie. “The role of Delage is to merge with Idec so that we can decide on the setup and the choices together during the race—we are making one team.”
Key to that team are the three men that will be rotating as pilot—Paul Lafargue, Paul-Loup Chatin, and Laurents Hörr. Lafargue, whose father is Idec Sport’s founder Patrice Lafargue and teammate Chatin finished first in the LMP2 standings for the 2019 European Le Mans Series, while Hörr joined Idec Sport this season. As for the challenges, Tapie cites mechanical issues, driver error, and conditions. Of the latter, he notes that “the weather in Le Mans is never sure, it’s a place where the weather can change very quickly. And this time of year, when it’s raining—it’s a shower.” But Tapie also mentions that one of the greatest hurdles to overcome is aerodynamics. After all, the 14km course is a combination of proper track and public roads (closed, of course, for the race) with 38 turns and the iconic Mulsanne Straight. “Active aerodynamics are illegal, so you have to set up your aerodynamics in a balance between the downforce for all the curves you have, and the minimum drag for the straight line,” says Tapie.
While the mission ahead is daunting, Tapie is pragmatic. “We have a chance to win our category, but we’ll see,” he says. When asked about Delage’s continued involvement with Idec Sport and endurance racing, Tapie is more confident. “Yeah, we’re considering it, because everybody wins… it’s good for both teams, it’s synergy—one plus one equals three,” says Tapie. “Plus, the teams are getting along very well. When you put engineers together, you never know what’s going to happen. Here, it works… and that gives us the will to carry the partnership beyond Le Mans.”
This story was first published on Robb Report USA