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FIA WEC: Silverstone, Race Preview, Part Three, LMP2

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LMP2 (7 Cars)

21 Strakka Racing Nick Leventis/ Danny Watts/ Jonny Kane Dome Strakka S103 Nissan WITHDRAWN
22 Millenium Racing Fabien Giroix/ Oliver Turvey/ John Martin Oreca 03 Nissann WITHDRAWN
23 Millenium Racing Stefan Johansson/ Mike Conway/ Shinji Nakano Oreca 03 Nissan WITHDRAWN
26 G-Drive Racing Roman Rusinov/ Olivier Pla/ Julien Canal Morgan Nissan
27 SMP Racing Sergey Zlobin/ Nicolas Minassian/ Maurizio Mediani Oreca 03 Nissan
37 SMP Racing Kirill Ladygin/Viktor Shaitar/Anton Ladygin Oreca 03 Nissan
47 KCMG Matthew Howson/ Richard Bradley/ Tsuigo Matsuda Oreca 03 Nissan

It’s all change in LMP2 from 2013 with not a single team from last year’s Championship returning with the same name, package and/or line-up.

It’s an all Nissan engined set of seven for the year with five Oreca chassis dominating in numerical terms plus a single Morgan and the brand new Strakka Dome coupe.

It’s the only class in the WEC with a tyre war to talk about though, KCMG switch from Michelin to Dunlop, SMP Racing and Strakka race with the guys in blue – Everyone else is till in the Yellow corner.

Strakka return to the fray after an early bath from an ill-starred LMP1 campaign last year with accident damage putting paid to a complete season. Their return, this time in LMP2 though comes with a very good looking new car, designed by Dome, built in the UK by Strakka. The car was delayed, and then missed the Prologue test after a last minute technical issue and then just yesterday was announced as withdrawn from both Silverstone and Spa after problems emerged in testing at Paul Ricard. That was far from the start to the new programme that the team were looking for, either for their own prospects for the year, or for the push to attract customers for the only closed top LMP2 initially committed to the full WEC season.

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Roman Rusinov moves his G-Drive backing over from Delta ADR to Oak Racing and campaigns the only Morgan chassis in the WEC this year. His newly acquired Gold driver rating means that the Russian has had to find an Am ranked driver to share the car – Julien Canal, out of a drive at Larbre, fits the bill nicely, he’s quick, usually error free but lacks recent form in anything with this level of aero. If he can get up to speed then this could be a very capable package, particularly as Olivier Pla, one of the fastest men on this or any grid in any class anchors the effort.

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KCMG appeared in the WEC three times last year with their beautifully presented Morgan Nissan but it’s all change for the Chinese owned, Asian based team.

The Morgan has been replaced by an Oreca chassis, and the Michelins that had shod the Morgan are replaced by Dunlops on the Oreca.

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KCMG have been utilising drivers from their long list of talent plying their trade in junior formulae in Asia – Both Matt Howson and Richard Bradley featured in the team’s 2013 outings in LMP2 and both are now confirmed for the full 2014 season – Tsuigo Matsuda is confirmed only for Silverstone and Le Mans at present.

2012 saw the entry into the WEC of ADR Delta, last season it was redubbed Delta ADR and G-Drive and expanded to two cars, and now in 2014 it’s a pair of Oreca Nissans once again but this time under the Millennium Racing banner.

That brand comes courtesy of the Millennium Fund backers of Fabien Giroix, himself late of the ill-fated Gulf Racing Middle East LMP2 effort, but the French veteran racer is back with a vengeance. He shares the #22 car with the mercurial Oliver Turvey, the McLaren F1 test driver moving over from Jota in the ELMS last year.

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Completing the full season trio is Aussie hotshot John Martin, his pace last year was there or thereabouts on par with season standout Mike Conway and this trio is going to be tough to beat.

Trying hard to do just that will be the sister #23 car where Mike Conway, alongside his Toyota test and reserve driver roles, will serve a near full season role alongside ex F1 men Shinji Nakano and Stefan Johansson – All told the Millennium pair look strong contenders.

Now though we have the devastating news confirmed that Millennium will be forced to miss out the Silverstone season opener too – They are still committed to the Championship, but the non-arrival of vital payment means they’ll miss their home race.

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Finally there’s a two car team graduating from the ELMS, SMP Racing bring two brand new Michelin shod Oreca Nissans and a well drilled crew under the AF Corse banner, bolstered with some quality technical addition too. The team are clear that the current sanctions affecting the parent company are an irrelevance and all seemed well at Paul Ricard. A further tightening of the screw in recent days has though made things very difficult – The team though have promised to be at Silverstone for the season opener.

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The driving squad is dominated by the Russian talent base that has been at the core of the other SMP Racing efforts elsewhere, there is though some real steel added by the presence of ‘Tsar’ Nicolas Minassian, a man with race winning form in LMP1 and LMP2, a man familiar with the AF Corse team through his rainy over the past two seasons with the now departed Pecom effort.

Minassian anchors the #27 car with Sergei Zlobin and Maurizio Mediani with an all Russian trio crewing the sister car, Kirill and Anton Ladygin with Viktor Shaitar.

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There is some shortage of overall experience but both cars went well at the Prologue – Will they stand up to the attack of the high quality field? We’ll see! We’ll see too whether the current pressure of actions on SMP racing tells any further than at present with the Team Principals on the current US and EU sanctions lists in retaliation for Russia’s actions in the Ukraine.