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Le Mans 24 Hours: Race Preview, Part Two, LMP2

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A 22 car entry provides depth and variety of stunning proportions with a hefty proportion of the field well able to hope for a potential podium run or better.

We could split this preview in a number of ways, by engine supplier with Nissan, Judd BMW and HPD all featuring, team prospects, tyre suppliers (with Dunlop dominating the numbers game) and the season so far.

We’re going to do it by chassis though, and there are plenty to review.

24 OAK RACING MORGAN – NISSAN – Olivier PLA/ David HEINEMEIER HANSSON/ Alex BRUNDLE
25 DELTA-ADR ORECA 03-NISSAN – Tor GRAVES/ Shinji NAKANO/ Archie HAMILTON
26 G-DRIVE RACING ORECA 03-NISSAN – Roman RUSINOV/ John MARTIN/ Mike CONWAY
28 GULF RACING MIDDLE EAST LOLA B12/80 COUPE – NISSAN – Fabien GIROIX/ Philippe HAEZEBROUCK/ Keiko IHARA
30 HVM STATUS GP LOLA B12/80 COUPE – JUDD – Johnny MOWLEM/ Anthony BURGESS/ Jonathan HIRSCHI
31 LOTUS LOTUS T128 Judd – Kevin WEEDA/ James ROSSITER/ Christophe BOUCHUT
32 LOTUS LOTUS T128 Judd – Thomas HOLZER/ Dominik KRAIHAMER/ Jan CHAROUZ
33 LEVEL 5 MOTORSPORTS HPD ARX 03B – HONDA – Scott TUCKER/ Marino FRANCHITTI/ RYAN BRISCOE (AUS)
34 RACE PERFORMANCE ORECA 03 – JUDD – Michel FREY/ Patric NIEDERHAUSER/ Jeroen BLEEKEMOLEN (NLD)
35 OAK RACING MORGAN – NISSAN – Bertrand BAGUETTE/ RICARDO GONZALEZ/ Martin PLOWMAN
36 SIGNATECH ALPINE ALPINE NISSAN – Nelson PANCIATICI/ Pierre RAGUES/ Tristan GOMMENDY
38 JOTA SPORT ZYTEK Z11SN – NISSAN – Simon DOLAN/ Oliver TURVEY/ Lucas LUHR
39 DKR ENGINEERING LOLA B11/40 – JUDD – Olivier PORTA/ Stéphane RAFFIN/ Romain BRANDELA
40 BOUTSEN GINION RACING ORECA 03-NISSAN – Matt DOWNS/ Thomas DAGONEAU/ Rodin YOUNESSI
41 GREAVES MOTORSPORT ZYTEK Z11SN – NISSAN – Thomas KIMBER-SMITH/ Eric LUX/ Alexander ROSSI
42 GREAVES MOTORSPORT ZYTEK Z11SN – NISSAN – Jann MARDENBOROUGH/ Lucas ORDOÑEZ/ Michael KRUMM
43 MORAND RACING MORGAN JUDD – Natacha GACHNANG/ Franck MAILLEUX/ Olivier LOMBARD
45 OAK RACING MORGAN – NISSAN – Jacques NICOLET/ Jean-Marc MERLIN/ Philippe MONDOLOT
46 THIRIET BY TDS RACING ORECA 03-NISSAN – Pierre THIRIET/ Ludovic BADEY/ Maxime MARTIN
47 KCMG MORGAN – NISSAN – Alexandre IMPERATORI/ Ho-Pin TUNG/ Matthew HOWSON
48 MURPHY PROTOTYPES ORECA 03-NISSAN – Brendon HARTLEY/ Mark PATTERSON/ Karun CHANDHOK (IND)
49 PECOM RACING ORECA 03-NISSAN – Luis PEREZ COMPANC/ Pierre KAFFER/ Nicolas MINASSIAN (FRA)

The HPD has had much success at Le Mans, and an example took another win last year in the hands of Starworks Motorsport. It’s perhaps a surprise to many that there is only a single car on this grid.

It’s fielded by the successful Level 5 team from the USA and features a very convincing driver line-up with the two pros; sportscar star Marino Franchitti and Indycar refugee Ryan Briscoe, bolstering the efforts of team owner and driven man Scott Tucker.

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With the car managed by ex Strakka man Piers Phillips all the pieces are in place for this car to go very well indeed – Head says place the #33 car on the short list for a podium, particularly if the conditions fall well for the team’s Michelin rubber.

The Lotus LMP2 effort arrives in 2013 with a brand new car, the first car on this or any other grid to boast a fully 2014 compliant chassis.

The package though is still very new, and though there have been performance improvements from the Judd engined car it seems unlikely that either the raw speed or the required 24 hour reliability will be there quite yet.

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A hefty and car damaging shunt for the #32 car in the hands of a no doubt now rather bruised Dominik Kraihamer, at last weekend’s Test Day won’t have helped much either!

That said there are plenty of reasons to keep an eye on the two black coupes. they are good looking cars with some very capable drivers amongst the line-up. No Vitantonio Liuzzi sadly, but ex F1 tester and Lotus factory man James Rossiter, Ex LMS Champion Jan Charouz and one-time overall Le Mans winner, the mercurial but often melancholy Christophe Bouchut might all add some real pace at times to the effort.

The now defunct Lola factory is still represented by a trio of cars, two more recent coupes and a slightly older open car.

DKR Engineering field the ex Pecom Racing #39 Lola Judd, the open car is unlikely to feature in the leading pack though and the very new effort will see a finish as a real triumph.

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The other Judd engined Lola is an altogether more convincing package, HVM Status returning to the track after a delayed start to their year, the now Canadian flagged outfit opting to pull out of the FIAWEC after finding the financial going rather tough.

The car has real potential but has yet to show the pace we saw last year in the ELMS.

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Johnny Mowlem anchors the driver line-up and will be a steady hand in the tiller. He knows full well that the winner on Sunday is unlikely to be the outright fastest car, but more likely the most consistent and the least delayed, Tony Burgess and Jonathan Hirschi will be charged with delivering on that wish list.

The final Lola is the only Nissan engined example of Huntingdon’s latter day output, but again it is unlikely to feature on anyone’s list of realistic potential winners.

Gulf Racing Middle East struggled last year to unlock their Lola Coupe’s potential but were getting somewhere by the end of the season. They have though struggled to find the right package for 2013, missed Silverstone and are now a Gulf team without a Gulf livery.

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Team co-owner Fabien Giroix still has fire in his belly but there looks to be precious little pace elsewhere – Japanese lady racer Keiko Ihara is back for another go and we expect endurance racing veteran Philippe Haezebrook to replace Frederic Fatien for the great race.

Zytek’s trio of chassis on the grid are an altogether more pacey bunch.

Jota Sport have assembled a very capable crew around quick gentleman driver Simon Dolan.

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Oliver Turvey and Lucas Luhr bring an exciting blend of youth and experience to the team.

McLaren blessed Turvey is likely to be one of the quickest men out there and has already impressed in his ELMS and WEC running thus far. Luhr is simply top drawer sportscar talent, hugely knowledgable, capable of entirely error free but class leading speed. If this car stays out of trouble it could win, and win well.

Greaves Motorsport meanwhile bring a pair of Nissan engined Zytek’s once again but this year there are very different missions in hand for the two cars.

A late deal with Caterham Motorsport sees the #41 car liveried in green and yellow and crewed, not only by Greaves mainstay and now three times Le Mans class winner Tom Kimber Smith, but also Caterham F1 tester Alex Rossi, the Le Mans rookie struggled at the test day but should be more up to speed by race week. Fast gentleman Eric Lux completes the line-up where we’d expect TKS to shine, and to help bring Rossi up to speed in short order too.

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Caterham meanwhile are taking a good long hard look at the LMP1 racing scene. We expect them to see the potential and to hear in due course that a customer chassis programme will be on the cards, and, who knows, perhaps LMP1 might be in the future for them too?

The #42 car meanwhile reaffirms a close link between the UK based team and Nissan.

Senior factory driver Michael Krumm anchors the effort and will be amongst the fastest men in the class. Alongside the German will be a pair of the GT Academy hatched, NISMO Athletes. the dynamic duo though have dramatically different backgrounds at this level.

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Lucas Ordonez was the first ever winner of the GT Academy and proved to be a worthy trailblazer for those that followed. And to show what could be achieved.

He has raced at Le Mans twice before, last year in the Greaves Zytek Nissan alongside Martin and Alex Brundle. It was his first appearance though that set the scene for what is now a full professional career as he stood, alongside his Signatech team mates on the second step of the podium – an amazing result for the young Spaniard.

In the garage that weekend was his 2013 team-mate, then simply a contestant in the GT Academy and now, having won the contest in 2011, he arrives at Le Mans as a rookie with real expectation that he might just be part of another glittering chapter in the amazing GT Academy story.

Jann Mardenborough’s demeanour after his 10 ‘rookie’ laps were safely reeled off in tricky conditions was one of someone at peace with his place in the world, the sport and his team. Not a hint of arrogance, but all business – One to watch next week for sure.

No fewer than five Oak Racing/ Onroak built Morgan chassis are on the entry, a trio for the factory team and a pair of customer cars.

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KCMG raced their Michelin shod Morgan Nissan for the first time at Silverstone’s WEC race and impressed many with the standard of preparation and pace that they showed.

The car looked immaculate, and it raced with the leading pack too until trouble intervened. Matt Howson impressed, and did so again at the Test Day. If the Asian Le Mans Series gets the traction it requires this team might well be a key part of it.

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The Morand Racing Morgan is uniquely Judd engined, a combination that the factory rejected, but that appears to have provided the ELMS and Le Mans newcomers with a pacey package.

The car led well at Silverstone until the appalling conditions caught out Franck Mailleux. Unlikely to be able to sustain a full race attack but should show up in the chasing pack.

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in terms of pace the #45 Oak Morgan Nissan is very much the slowest of the factory run trio. It will however be the most noticeable thanks to the Fernando Costa designed Art Car livery, designed to commemorate the 90th anniversary of the Le Mans 24 Hours and the contribution to road safety that innovation in racing has made.

The #35 Morgan Nissan has potential to run with the pack, the car is fast, the Nissan V8 powerful and reliable and the driver squad, led by Bertrand Baguette and fast Brit Martin Plowman, with reliably quick gentleman Ricardo Gonzales in support, should be up to the task.

They are unlikely though to be the quickest of the Oak Morgans as the lead #24 car looks set to be a real race long contender. US based Danish entrepreneur David Heinemeier Hanssen is as fast as gentleman drivers get, Alex Brundle provides very worthwhile pace and an increasingly strategic head on young shoulders and lead driver Olivier Pla is simply top drawer. He’ll be in contention for class pole and will squeeze the very best from this package – If the Oak team’s luck holds this is a major contender for a class win.

There are no fewer than eight Oreca 03 chassis on the entry list in the French constructor’s 40th anniversary year, or rather there are seven plus a single car homolgated and entered as an Alpine 450, the bright blue car bears a famous racing name but is apparently mechanically and aerodynamically identical to its Oreca badged brethren.

The Signatech run car is though very quick, used its Michelin rubber to very good effect at the Test Day and, with a quick, all French driver line-up, will certainly be in the mix.

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Tristan Gommendy impressed mightily on his first public appearance in the full ELMS entered car and with able support from both Pierre Ragues and Nelson Panciatici.

Murphy Prototypes are back for another crack at the great race after leading the class in 2012 in their Oreca Nissan.

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Brendan Hartley stays aboard for a second year and is joined by ex F1 man Karun Chandhok and US based South African Mark Patterson.

There are smiles and banter aplenty chez Murphy, but make no mistake they want to win, and they have a more than reasonable chance of putting themselves into contention. Reliability, consistency and rapid pitwork is what will keep them there if they get to the front.

Boutsen Ginion have had real pace at times from their Oreca Nissan but in truth the Le Mans line-up looks like a rather more commercial effort than one designed for real speed.

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ALMS racer Matt Downs and Thomas Dagoneau will do OK at this level but the team’s third driver at the test, ex Indy Lights racer Rodin Younessi looked all at sea. It would not be a surprise to see a minor reshuffle in line-up here.

Thiriet by TDS meanwhile bring their 2012 ELMS winning pedigree back for more in 2013.

Pierre Thiriet is the Silver ranked man here with his proven speed bolstered very considerably by Ludovic Badey and mercurial BMW factory man Maxime Martin.

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It’s difficult to see a weak link here on paper, expect the #46 car to be on contention throughout.

Race Performance field the only Judd engined Oreca in the field and have proved already this season that they have found much more pace from the package.

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Michel Frey returns and is joined for the ELMS season by fellow Swiss Patric Niederhauser, the younger man impressed at Spa and the team have done their prospects no harm whatsoever with their third signing, Jeroen Bleekemolen. The Flying Dutchman is fast in whatever he chooses to race and might, just might, put this little team into the pack.

Delta ADR started the 2013 WEC season as one of the class favourites after a very convincing debut last year, their 2013 effort has expanded to a second Oreca Nissan running under the G-Drive banner, Roman Rusinov’s backer having switched allegiance from Signatech last year.

The #25 car sees the return of Tor Graves, a man who should certainly be on the list of fastest and most consistent silver ranked drivers, with ex F1 man Shinji Nakano and young Brit Archie Hamilton completing the line-up.

lm_preview_Delta-ADR

Nakano is certainly capable of doing well but needs to find his most consistent form whilst Hamilton, competing here 60 years after his grandfather Duncan won the race overall for Jaguar, achieves his life’s ambition and could do well. When the Hamilton brain is on task the potential is there to impress, but that needs to be a race long commitment, racing experience wins over youthful exuberance every time here.

As an aside Archie will be racing with his Grandfather’s ‘lucky orange’ a now rather past its ‘eat by’ date item that was found in the Jaguar after the 1953 race was won. Tradition in Motorsport is a fine thing and we’re delighted to see the Hamilton plan come together – Just don’t blow it with a mid stint citrus snack!

The ‘sister’ G- Drive car meanwhile is a clear contender in the class, the #26 car features the evergreen Roman Rusinov as their ‘silver’ driver, a man easily capable of running with the pack. Add to that rapid Aussie John Martin, who moves over from last season’s #25 car and Indycar star Mike Conway, whose previously sometimes dour demeanour seems to have been lost since his transatlantic career began and there’s a compelling reason or several to put this car on anyone’s list of favourites.

Pecom Racing complete the list and their Oreca Nissan package was another WEC race winner last year, and already is again in 2013 as the AF Corse run team march towards a Championship contending season.

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They are the second Oreca chassised team to have opted for Michelin rubber and they have a top class driver squad too.

Luis Perez Companc is an Argentinian ice cream magnate (as opposed to Magnum!) and has plenty of experience both in GTs and LMPs. He’s a solid rather than mercurial performer but that’s perfect for the job in hand.

Pierre Kaffer has been with Pecom for several seasons, the ex Audi factory driver still has the twinkle in his eye of a man with the ability to shine too, the more so since Nic Minassian joined the team mid season in 2012. Minassian’s career cv tells its own story, the popular Frenchman still richly deserves his ‘Quick Nic’ moniker.

Pecom join a gaggle of cars that can, if the stars align, compete throughout the race for the win. The question is, what kind of LMP2 race are we going to get? A fast paced reliability run, or a tale of repeated sues for multiple cars? If the latter happens then the history books are clear – it really could be anyone’s race.

GG