Share, , Google Plus, Pinterest,

Print

Posted in:

Le Mans 24 Hours: Race Preview Part Three, LMP2

nissan-banner-600-03

19 cars, nine different makes, models and names of chassis, three different engines and two tyre manufacturers – the vast majority of which have either race-winning or at least podium-finishing form at international level.

Variety really is the spice of LMP2 life, and an aspect of the class that’s destined to be the subject of a great deal of debate in the coming weeks as a rather more ‘spec’ set of rules is prepared for by 2017.

For now lets revel in a very, very good grid in this class indeed, with a nine-car WEC grid joined by a similar number of ELMS cars and a one-off addition.

The era of the coupes is now here, with 12 of the 19 racing closed-top cars this season. Remember though that in 2014 it was the good old Zytek that took the trophy.

14 of the cars are powered by the Nissan V8, with three using the HPD Honda twin-turbo V6 and a further pair with Judd’s BMW-derived V8.

Dunlop have similar numerical dominance over Michelin on the tyre front, with 15 of the cars shod by the boys and girls in yellow to the blue team’s four.

G-Drive Racing

Roman Rusinov’s GazProm backers double up the effort in 2015 with a pair of Ligier-Nissans in a new and really very attractive orange and grey colour scheme.

Oak Racing provides the technical back-up and pit crews.

#26 Ligier JS P2 Nissan (Dunlop)
Sam Bird
Julien Canal
Roman Rusinov

Le-Mans-LMP2-Preview-16

Very much a title contender, with Roman Rusinov and Julien Canal carried over from last season in the full WEC joined by the very rapid Sam Bird, the British ex-GP2 racer replacing Nissan LMP1-bound Olivier Pla.

Canal is a three-time Le Mans class winner in GT1 and GTE Am, with Rusinov looking for a first podium (he finished third in 2013 before the Delta-run G-Drive Oreca was excluded for an oversized fuel cell)

Bird meanwhile will be looking to sweep away the nightmare of last year when his AF Corse Ferrari ploughed at unabated speed into the chaos of the multi-car shunt on the Mulsanne Straight in a sudden rain storm.

The #26 won at Silverstone in impressive fashion but suffered a VERY rare Nissan engine failure at Spa leaving them needing a good result at Le Mans to get back onto terms with the championship-leading sister car.

#28 Ligier JS P2 Nissan (Dunlop)
Luis Felipe ‘Pipo’ Derani (Le Mans rookie)
Ricardo Gonzalez
Gustavo Yacaman (Le Mans rookie)

Le-Mans-LMP2-Preview-11

The all-Latin American trio in the #28 Ligier leads the championship after a Spa win pushed them clear of the competition.

The trio are all quick – Gonzalez is the gentleman driver with a WEC class-winning record (also in an Oak-prepped car, taking the class title in 2013 in a Morgan-Nissan).

Yacaman has done most of his racing in the United States but is very quick indeed already, the Ligier clearly suiting him well.

Pipo Derani meanwhile is a star in the making, the young Brazilian finding sportscar racing very much to his liking after opting to leave his single-seater course last year. Races in the ELMS showed his pace and a full season of FIA WEC will likely make the final decision.

SMP Racing

The Russian-owned team, winners of the LMP2 title in last year’s FIA WEC, are at the centre of the storm over the 2017 LMP2 regulations, as their in-house designed coupe (from the pen of Paulo Catone, the man behind the Peugeot 908), has been cited privately as an example of how the current cost-capped formula can be circumvented – the team deemed to be developing a car that it has no intention of selling commercially (a view the team bitterly disputes).

It is very early days for the new car, run by the in-house SMP team now rather than the AF Corse squad of old. Nissan engines provide the power, Michelin tyres the grip.

Both BR01s carry their Russian national colours with pride.

#27 BR01 Nissan (Michelin)
David Markozov (Le Mans rookie)
Maurizio Mediani
Nicolas Minassian

Le-Mans-LMP2-Preview-19

David Markozov is a new name in the #27 car alongside the very able Maurizio Mediani and the enormously able Nic Minassian.

With such a new car it’s likely to be a fight to finish, but ‘M+M’ will be a huge help in driving around any mid-race niggles.

#37 BR01 Nissan (Michelin)
Mikhail Aleshin (Le Mans Rookie)
Anton Ladygin
Kiril Ladygin

Le-Mans-LMP2-Preview-22

Single-seater star Mikhail Aleshin is the new man in the #37 SMP entry, the Formula Renault 3.5 champion and IndyCar podium finisher adding pro power to the Ladygin brothers’ attack.

Pegasus Racing

#29 Morgan Nissan (Michelin)
David Cheng
Leo Roussel
Ho Pin Tung

Le-Mans-LMP2-Preview-20

The Pegasus Racing team is a much more traditional LMP2 outfit, with a customer Morgan-Nissan and Michelin rubber.

This Morgan hasn’t taken the Evo upgrade kit offered for the season, as the team is run on a relative shoestring.

Young Leo Roussel is set to start his second Le Mans and has matured well in the past 12 months – he’s speedy and with a little more racing intelligence than we saw last year.

Ex-single-seater racer Ho Pin Tung meanwhile is paired for the second consecutive Le Mans 24 Hours with experienced gentleman driver David Cheng.

This is an effort that will rely on consistency and reliability against the faster cars and crews.

Extreme Speed Motorsports

It’s been a traumatic run in to Le Mans for the ESM team.

The original plan to field two-brand new HPD ARX coupes in the full WEC was shelved when the cars showed aerodynamic deficiencies in their early-season running.

The team’s older open-top HPDs were rushed out of retirement to be raced at Silverstone, with the new Ligiers, to replace the HPD coupes returned to the factory, delivered in time for what was effectively a shakedown test at Spa.

The cars’ regular Tequila Patron livery is not permitted at Le Mans due to French alcohol advertising controls, so both cars will run with a stylish black-and-white colour scheme from Rolling Stone magazine before reverting to the green-and-white scheme for the next round of the WEC.

#30 Ligier JS P2 Honda (Dunlop)
Ryan Dalziel
David Heinemeier Hansson
Scott Sharp

Le-Mans-LMP2-Preview-04

The #30 car should be the faster of the pair, with Ryan Dalziel driving seemingly better than ever and looking to add a second LMP2 class win here to the 2012 title he took with Starworks in the first year of the FIA WEC.

Team owner Scott Sharp can be quick, too, but needs to be fault-free as well if there’s to be any chance at all for this car. Sharp has raced at Le Mans once before – 19 years ago in an LMP900 Riley & Scott!

David Heinemeier Hansson completes the squad as one of the quickest gentleman drivers in the class. He has a win last year in GTE Am (with the Dane Train Aston) and a second place in 2013 with an Oak Morgan already on his CV.

#31 Ligier JS P2 Honda (Dunlop)
Ed Brown (Le Mans rookie)
Jon Fogarty (Le Mans rookie)
Johannes van Overbeek

Le-Mans-LMP2-Preview-12

The #31 Ligier Honda is likely to be adopting a less attacking strategy than the sister car.

Ed Brown is the owner of Tequila Patron and Jon Fogarty is an ex Grand-Am class champion. Both are first-timers at the Le Mans 24 Hours.

Johannes van Overbeek is the most experienced of the trio here – this is his fifth visit and he has a podium in GT to his name already.

Oak Racing

Oak Racing fields a second pair of Ligiers in its own right alongside its supporting role with G-Drive. Both feature the team’s traditional black and pink livery.

#34 Ligier JS P2 Honda (Dunlop)
Chris Cumming (Le Mans rookie)
Kevin Estre (Le Mans rookie)
Laurens Vanthoor (Le Mans rookie)

Le-Mans-LMP2-Preview-15

The #34 car is a one-off entry for Le Mans only with a hugely interesting all-rookie driver line-up. It’s the only class entry not involved with either a full-season ELMS or WEC campaign, too.

Canadian Cumming has race-winning form in IMSA in both GTC Porsches and LMPC Orecas.

Estre and Vanthoor are both factory-backed GT drivers (Estre for McLaren and Vanthoor for Audi). Both are likely to be very fast indeed with lots to find out about themselves and their relative form.

This will be an interesting one to keep tabs on!

#35 Ligier JS P2 Nissan (Dunlop)
Erik Maris
Jean-Marc Merlin
Jacques Nicolet

Le-Mans-LMP2-Preview-17

The all-gentleman full-season WEC effort was trailed to DSC by Onroak owner Jacques Nicolet at last year’s Le Mans 24 Hours. This is all about the finish and the journey getting there – and none the worse for that!

Signatech Alpine

#36 Alpine A450B (Oreca 03.R) Nissan (Dunlop)
Vincent Capillaire
Paul-Loup Chatin
Nelson Panciatici

Le-Mans-LMP2-Preview-08

Double ELMS champion Signatech Alpine takes Philippe SInault’s Signatech team back to the WEC that it last contested in 2012.

The Alpine A450b is a rebadged Oreca 03.R – a car that has found reliability and improved pace with the 2014 update.

All three drivers here have Le Mans starts to their names: Capillaire with a single outing last year for Sebastien Loeb Racing and Chatin taking a podium with the Signatech Alpine team last year (together with Panciatici). Panciatici meanwhile has been with the team for the past four years. He’s a rapid racer and a safe pair of hands.

This effort should make anyone’s list of potential podium finishers or better.

Jota Sport

#38 Gibson 015S Nissan (Dunlop)
Simon Dolan
Mitch Evans (Le Mans Rookie)
Oliver Turvey

Le-Mans-LMP2-Preview-05

2014 winning team Jota Sport is back with a revised and renamed car: the Gibson marque makes its Le Mans debut this year.

Simon Dolan and Oliver Turvey are back to defend their titles – Dolan a very quick gentleman driver and Turvey just plain fast.

Mitch Evans is yet another young Kiwi joining the Le Mans family. The 2012 GP3 championship winner and 2014 GP2 race winner won on his LMP2 debut with Jota at Spa last month.

There’s little more to say – if the ‘Mighty 38’ isn’t on your shortlist of race favourites, you’re wrong!

Krohn Racing

#40 Ligier JS P2 Judd (Michelin)
Joao Barbosa
Nic Jonsson
Tracy Krohn

Le-Mans-LMP2-Preview-21

Krohn Racing has moved from GTE to LMP2 this season and has also moved to a full season of ELMS racing (plus Le Mans of course).

Tracy Krohn and Nic Jonsson stand on the cusp of a little bit of racing history. This edition will be their 10th consecutive Le Mans together and that breaks the record of none other than Dindo Capello and Allan McNish!

They’re joined by IMSA superstar and Le Mans favourite Barbosa, whose Rollcentre Racing performances are fondly remembered by many.

The team has opted for Judd V8 power and Michelin tyres, a unique combination with the Ligier chassis. It seems to suit the team owner, who is driving as well as ever.

Once again this writer will be trotting out the same line about the Krohn Racing effort – if Tracy has a good day and keeps his concentration this car can finish well up. The effort has produced the goods before more than once in the GTE days.

Greaves Motorsport

#41 Gibson 015S Nissan (Dunlop)
Gary Hirsch
Jon Lancaster
Gaetan Paletou (Le Mans rookie)

Le-Mans-LMP2-Preview-09

Greaves Motorsport brings a Gibson Nissan to the task with a new backer (Kairos Technologies) and a new-look driver squad.

All three have sportscar racing experience, with Lancaster a having winning form in top-class single-seaters and late replacement for Bjorn Wirdheim 2014 Nissan GT Academy winner Gaetan Paletou stepping up from his LMP3 Ginetta to an LMP2 drive just 10 months after his GT Academy win!

The season long ELMS team gave a hard-fought but controversial win at Silverstone’s ELMS season opener and to show that this is an effort that can take the fight to the rest.

If all the pace can be retained, if Paletou is up to the very considerable task and the aggression (from Lancaster) is turned down half a notch, there’s plenty to indicate that this could be a a really major contender.

Strakka Racing

#42 Dome S103 Nissan (Dunlop)
Jonny Kane
Nick Leventis
Danny Watts

Le-Mans-LMP2-Preview-13

The Strakka team is delighted to be back after a very trying 2014 that saw design woes for the brand-new Dome that already looks set to be a 2017 victim of alleged regulatory progress!

This is a team with Le Mans-winning form in the previous iteration of LMP2 and with two of the quickest men on the grid in Jonny Kane and Danny Watts. Nick Leventis has used the effective year off wisely for training and, well, some more training, with Strakka possessing a fabulous BASE Performance simulator featuring the tub from the last Le Mans Dome – the S102 LMP1!

The Dome debuts its new and aggressive low-drag aero kit at Le Mans and will race here with Dunlop tyres for the first time after the team found its original Michelins uncompetitive.

There’ll be no mistaking the Dome on track – it’s Darth Vader to the Ligier and Oreca’s Princess Leia and if the new aero and Dunlops have hit the nail on the head, then there’s litte reason why the Strakka boys shouldn’t be in the mix.

Team SARD Morand

#43 Morgan Evo SARD (Judd) (Dunlop)
Zoel Amberg (Le Mans rookie)
Pierre Ragues
Oliver Webb

Le-Mans-LMP2-Preview-03

Here’s an effort that has had a very close call with disaster.

Benoit Morand managed to snare the deal with SARD to bring the Japanese team back to Le Mans, but things started to go awry almost immediately.

A planned two-car effort for the WEC was reduced to a single car in the wake of financial woes and an abortive effort to attract interest and backing through a rather ill-conceived ‘reality’ TV show.

SARD appears to be no longer involved, although the team’s name will stay as entered (together with the rebadging on the Judd V8).

The recovery plan was good news for the three remaining drivers and has involved both a convincing display at Spa (the team missed Silverstone) and increased support from new backer Franck Muller Watches.

The chassis is the Evo version of Onroak’s Morgan open-top car and the Judd is a potent powerplant.

The driving squad sees Swiss silver-ranked driver Zoel Amberg teamed with rapid Brit Oliver Webb and fast Frenchman Pierre Ragues.

Webb scored a podium finish at Le Mans last year with Signatech Alpine and shared the ELMS title with the team. Ragues starts his ninth Le Mans with a single class podium finish on his record.

Ibanez Racing

#45 Oreca 03.R Nissan (Dunlop)
Ivan Bellarosa (Le Mans rookie)
Jose Ibanez (Le Mans rookie)
Pierre Perret (Le Mans rookie)

Le-Mans-LMP2-Preview-07

Another all-rookie effort sees one-time Le Mans Series entrant Ibanez Racing back with an all-yellow liveried ex-Delta ADR Oreca – badged as a Wolf and with Wolf factory diver Bellarosa aboard.

The Italian is very quick and Ibanez is capable of pace, too, with gentleman driver Perret learning the LMP2 ropes.

It’s an effort that may have its moments but is unlikely to be a race-long frontrunner.

Thiriet by TDS Racing

#46 Oreca 05 Nissan (Dunlop)
Ludovic Badey
Tristan Gommendy
Pierre Thiriet

Le-Mans-LMP2-Preview-10

Oreca’s new 05 coupe – based on the same tub as the Rebellion R-One LMP1 – made its debut this season and races at Le Mans for the first time in the hands of its first two customers.

The car has already shown real speed in both the WEC and – in the hands of the 2012 ELMS champions here – in ELMS.

Indeed, the Thiriet by TDS Racing team gave the car its first race win last time out at Imola. The team is on its fourth different chassis in around 18 months after moving from Oreca to Morgan, then over to Ligier for Le Mans last year where it led until problems struck, and then after a rather angry split with Onroak, back to Oreca for 2015.

The Ligier though did get the team onto the podium last year and an unchanged driver line-up should mean that there are dividends to be gained from that stability.

Pierre Thiriet is the gentleman driver here, but in several seasons of LMP2 racing he’s become better and better.

Ludo Badey looks like an old-fashioned racing driver and drives like one too. Fast, aggressive in traffic and not at all concerned about the niceties of the corporate side it seems (we like him!).

Tristan Gommendy is old-school too, and a man who’s deserved more chances than he’s so far been handed. Expect the Frenchman to be one of the fastest here.

KCMG

#47 Oreca 05 Nissan (Dunlop)
Richard Bradley
Matt Howson
Nicolas Lapierre

Le-Mans-LMP2-Preview-02

The KCMG team from Hong Kong is the second customer for the new Oreca 05 an has entered its car in the full 2015 FIA WEC.

The #47 car is set to become a fan favourite, because a) it’s quick, b) it’s pretty and c) it has a stunning electric blue foiled livery.

Nick Tandy is racing the car for much of the season but is, of course, on Porsche LMP1 duty this week.

His replacement for Spa and Le Mans is none other than Nicolas Lapierre, making his racing comeback after a fallout with the Toyota Racing team where he’s still under contract as a development driver.

He showed at Spa that there’s been no affect on his speed or racecraft. He’ll be a man to watch in qualifying and the race for sure.

Matt Howson and Richard Bradley have already combined to race-winning effect in the WEC last year and there’s little to suggest that won’t be in prospect in 2015 as the Oreca beds in.

The only potential weak point here is the newness of the package. The TDS car’s Imola win shows that there is pace and resilience available – now all they need to do is repeat that kind of running eight times over, back to back!

Murphy Prototypes

#48 Oreca 03.R Nissan (Dunlop)
Nathaniel Berthon
Karun Chandhok
Mark Patterson

Le-Mans-LMP2-Preview-06

Finally, numerically, but certainly not in terms of potential pace, is the car that topped the times at the Test Day.

Greg Murphy’s eponymous team has brought some Irish craic to the Le Mans paddock for the past three years and now needs some luck to go with the good humour.

All three of the 2015 drivers have raced for the team before here, but never as a three-man squad.

Mark Patterson is the gentleman driver here – the US-domiciled South African businessman coming out or retirement for the 3,415th time to race this year! His good-humoured approach is always a delight and, when on form, his speed will keep the #48 in the mix, too.

Karun Chandhok doesn’t need the moniker ‘ex-F1 driver’ to establish his credentials. He’s a real team player: quick, smart and consistent.

Nathaniel Berthon is simply super-quick – another man we’re likely to be hearing more about for years to come. He has the ability to go toe-to-toe with anyone here. He’d prefer, though, to take the #48 to the front and stay there!

Could this be the year of #MurphysMen?