In what turned into an utterly dominant performance, Signatech Alpine emerged victorious from the record 23-car LMP2 field. Stephane Richelmi, Nicolas Lapierre and Gustavo Menezes all drove faultlessly.
The car took the win over the #26 G-Drive Racing Oreca by almost three minutes, after the Russian-flagged entry un-lapped itself in the run to the flag. It’s Lapierre’s second LMP2 class win in a row, and Richelmi and Menezes’ maiden victories.
The G-Drive squad, which was there or thereabouts on pace, would have been closer had it not been for a drive-through penalty, which cost the team the lead of the race before the halfway mark. It was a great run from 2015 WEC P2 champion Roman Rusinov, Rene Rast and Will Stevens.
Finishing third was the #37 SMP Racing BR01 in the hands of Vitaly Petrov, Victor Shaytar and Kirill Ladygin. It was a fine send-off for the team’s chassis, which is unlikely to race as of next season. And in similar fashion, the fourth-place Strakka Racing Gibson too had a great run.
The team kept the age-old chassis in contention for the podium, with impressive stints from both Danny Watts and Jonny Kane in particular throughout. The team will be very content after the disappointment of last year’s DNF.
Rounding out the top five was the Eurasia Motorsport Oreca, which despite a few scares, ran quickly and quietly to the finish.
At the start of the race, the fight at the front included the #47 KCMG, #46 Thiriet by TDS and Manor Orecas, all of which retired.
In the opening hours, Roberto Merhi showed supreme pace, controlling the race, shining on himself and Manor’s debut, but it wasn’t meant to be. At nightfall the team suffered a series of small niggles, before the car retired on Sunday morning when Matt Rao went off at Indianapolis and then into the barriers at the Porsche Curves when the nose of the car collapsed.
It was a tough end to what looked like such a promising showing early on for the English crew, but Manor will learn and come back stronger in the future.
Thiriet by TDS and KCMG too suffered a similar fate. Matt Howson, Richard Bradley and Tsugio Matsuda suffered a crushing electronics failure with Matsuda at the wheel, having to limp back to the pits after many attempts to restart the car. The KCMG crew didn’t lead the race, but were there or thereabouts in the opening hours.
TDS meanwhile led a considerable portion of the race, before an accident ended its chances. Pierre Thiriet hit the inside armco head-on on the run down to Mulsanne Corner, and went straight off into the gravel. When the car got back to the pits, the lengthy repairs came to nothing, as the car conked out on its way out of the pits and retired.
There were other notable cars which were in the fight but finished unrewarded. The #38 G-Drive Gibson crew had a shunt at the Ford Chicane and retired after repairs running just off the podium, the Baxi DC Alpine, which also had a hefty terminal crash at the Forza Chicane, and the RGR Morand Ligier which finished 10th; like all the other JS P2s in the race it never showed front-running pace.
From the 12-hour mark onwards, the winning Alpine ran like clockwork, having enough of a lead by the final safety car to perform a precautionary brake change. It’s a big win for the now-veteran French crew, especially racing in the most competitive class top to bottom.