Last year’s winners of the 2015 LMP2 Drivers Championship in the European Le Mans Series in 2015 were Gary Hirsch, Bjorn Wirdheim and Jon Lancaster. Since the end of last year’s season, Hirsch and Lancaster limited their driving time, the former focusing on the 24 Hours of Le Mans with Beechdean Motorsport and the latter racing in the VdeV Championship.
Wirdheim, on the other hand, remained active in Japan with a season in the Super GT Series. He also drove in Europe with Flash Engineering in the Scandinavian Touring Car Championship and with Krohn Racing in the ELMS. DSC talked to Gary and Bjorn and reflected upon the impact of their championship victory.
How did you feel after winning the championship last year, and how did it affect you?
BW: “Winning the title is something I’m very proud off, and, of course, it was acknowledged in Japan, where I normally race, and also in Sweden, where I’m from, so it was a chance to get my name back in the spotlight here in Europe.”
GH: “The ELMS championship is one of the most competitive endurance series at the present. Being the champions is obviously a great feeling and [an] achievement I was eyeing after my LMPC ELMS title in 2013. There’s no doubt about the fact it opens doors on a global scale. The recognition is probably the most striking repercussion.”
Did that title have a beneficial effect on reaching out to new sponsors or on consolidating existing business relationships?
BW: “I haven’t really worked with sponsors since I left F3000, so it didn’t make a difference in that respect. However, it’s of course good to have this success on paper if I was to approach anyone in the future.”
GH: “Yes, definitely in consolidating existing relationships. But we live in a changing environment where we can’t count on sole performance nowadays.”
Looking at your 2016 season, were you expecting a better outcome?
BW: “I always looked at 2015 and my participation as a one-off; as I’m committed to racing in Super GT, there just happened to be no clashes last year. I thought it would be a nice chance to return to Europe after 10 years in Japan with a competitive team. Best case scenario, I would get to add another title to my CV and that’s what happened!”
GH: “There are still ongoing discussions with top teams. So far I had the chance to drive some of the fastest cars on the grid and build a valuable experience with different engine manufacturers as well as tires manufacturers, which is an asset I can count on.”
In an ideal world, do you think the ACO should help you once you earn an ELMS Championship title?
BW: I think the best help is sort of what is already in place in WEC – that champions get an opportunity to test with manufacturer teams and a chance to showcase their ability.
GH: “Yes, I think so. As a driver, I work hard to develop my career. This year, prize money were introduced in the ELMS, which is a great step. Another step (and this is just an idea) could be to give a financial advantage to teams working with the drivers [who were the] champions of the previous year, for instance, either in nature or in compensation. In other series, you see either a test provided to the champions in the higher category or a significant prize money. I think the organizers should help their champions stepping up.”
One part of this plea seems to have been heard: it was confirmed last week that drivers eligible for a Rookie Test with LMP1 manufacturers would be now be chosen from a list of drivers including the WEC, the European Le Mans Series and the Asian Le Mans Series.