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RML AD Group Le Mans News 2009
Le Mans Test Day Cancelled.
Issued December 1st 2008

ACO Cancels Le Mans Test Day

With rumours circulating over the past few days concerning the possible future of the official Le Mans Test Day, originally scheduled for 31st May, it came as no great surprise when the ACO released official confirmation today, 1st December, that the test has been cancelled.

The official communiqué is as follows:

The Automobile Club de l’Ouest always listens attentively to the manufacturers’ needs, and so in agreement with teams that may be invited to the 2009 Le Mans 24 Hours, the Club, remaining faithful to its firmly-held objective to reduce costs, has taken the decision to cancel the test day scheduled for 31st May 2009, and to rethink the format of the Le Mans Series events.

The Le Mans 24-Hours race has always been in tune with the times and when motor racing shows signs of disquiet linked to the economic situation, it is the ACO’s duty to take preventive measures while respecting the sporting regulations.

Thus, in keeping with the cost reductions already begun with the 2009 ACO regulations, and the new orientations in 2011, the test day originally scheduled for 31st May 2009 has been cancelled.

On the other hand, all the entrants invited by the ACO will have to take part in free practice on Wednesday before Thursday’s qualifying session on 11th June to be allowed to start on Saturday 13th June at 15h00. This decision represents considerable savings for all the entrants, who must be ready at the circuit on Monday 8th June (scrutineering).

Following the same train of thought the 2009 Le Mans Series races will be a day shorter so the entrants will be at the circuit 3 days instead of 4, scrutineering included. These measures will favour the participation of entrants in the Le Mans Series and American Le Mans Series events from the start of the season to prepare for the Le Mans 24 Hours.

This decision is nothing exceptional in the history of the Le Mans 24 Hours as the test day has not always been on the ACO calendar. The test day before the race week itself was held for the first time in 1959 as preliminary practice and continued until 1974. It was suspended because of the first petrol crisis. It was reinstated for 1986 and 1987, and then cancelled again before being part of the event in 1993. According to the years this session took place in March, April or May and since 2005 in June.
It lasted one two or three days and was called practice day, preliminary practice, pre-qualifying and test day since 2005.

On the whole, this decision is likely to be welcomed by most people. Although the test is extremely valuable to teams preparing their cars for the 24 Hours, and especially to those introducing new cars or drivers to the event, there is no doubt that it has considerable cost implications.

It is only relatively recently that the test was moved to the weekend preceding the start of the Le Mans week. For many teams this meant setting up at the circuit, and staying there, for nearly three full weeks, with all the associated costs this entailed. Not only did team personnel have to be accommodated, but there were also charges levied by the ACO on those who maintained a presence in the pit complex during the week between the test and the start of scrutineering. It was either that, or undertake an equally costly return to base, wherever that might be.

The cancellation of the test poses several fresh questions, some of which will, hopefully, be addressed by the introduction of the extra free practice session on the Wednesday, prior to Thursday qualifying. Rookie drivers will need to gain as much track-time as possible, to familiarise themselves with one of the world's most demanding circuits. Teams with new cars will also need that extra time to dial their cars into a track that includes some of the fastest sections in motor racing, as well as others which demand high downforce and maximum grip. It is always a challenge, but this will compress the timescale required to achieve the perfect compromise into just a few hours.

Although not crystal clear in the press release, it is assumed that what was once the Wednesday evening qualifying session is now re-classified as Free Practice, although how long this period is to be is not explained. Ideally, in order to compensate for the loss of the Test Day, this allocation needs to be extended from the usual four hours (7pm-9pm and 10pm-12am ) to a longer period, perhaps starting in the early afternoon.

Whatever the detail, the net result appears to be that Thursday's pair of two-hour sessions will become the only ones devoted to qualifying, thereby compressing the excitement into one evening, and simultaneously removing the weather wild-card which has sometimes been a significant factor in deciding pole for the 24 Hours.

One hopes that those teams who have already booked their accommodation for the test weekend and intervening weeks can get a refund on their hotel reservations.

Further details can be found on the ACO Website