LMP2 looks set to be a story of three chassis makers, and two tyre brands with Dallara, Ligier (Onroak) and Oreca going head to head once again in a 20 car grid composed of three Dallara P217s, an octet apiece from each of the French chassis makers plus a single Alpine A470-badged Oreca.
On the tyre front, it’s five Michelin-shod teams trying to take on the dominant Dunlops with both tyre suppliers bringing new product to the season. Dunlop has been addressing wet weather issues of the past and bringing their traditional ground-pounding long run resilience, Michelin proving already to have one lap sparkle.
Since last year the rule makers have moved to allow both Dallara and Ligier to try to close the gap to the Oreca that dominated on pace in 2017. In qualifying trim the G-Drive Oreca pole sitter managed a 3:25.3, astounding pace fromm a P2 car, if conditions support it the cars should be even faster this year.
The Test Day gave the first opportunity for back to back public comparison on how they had done with the updates to the aero kit that the teams are only allowed to race at Le Mans.
The Oreca still topped the times, but the gap has narrowed, and over longer stints the conclusion was perhaps that the gap may have closed a little more. Neither Dallara nor Ligier has nailed it, but in the right hands there could be more of a race on pace than in 2017!
That will be helped by some big name additions to the entry on the driver front, Juan Pablo Montoya and Paul Di Resta will make the United Autosports Ligiers hustle and the rapid Pastor Maldonado will do likewise in the Dragonspeed Oreca. The class includes eight ex-F1 drivers, a pair of overall Le Mans winners, multiple class winners and champions from a variety of series.
After the extraordinary reliability from last year’s class that saw a P2 car almost take the win, and a pair make the overall podium – what does 2018 hold in store?
This is a race within the race that you’d do well to pay attention to!
Racing Team Nederland
#29 | Dallara P217 | Michelin | Frits van Eerd, Jan Lammers, Giedo van der Garde | Test Day Time: 3:32.723 (16th in class)
A second-year effort for Frits van Eerd’s Dallara based effort, and in 2018 the Dutch team steps up to a full WEC entry and switches to Michelin rubber.
The 2018 effort sees ex F1 man and 2016 ELMS Drivers Champion Giedo van der Garde join the full season squad with Jan Lammers making his final planned appearance for the squad at Le Mans, he’s replaced after this one by Nyck de Vries. For now though the 1988 Le Mans 24 Hours race winner gets one more chance to score a result, appropriately the 2018 race will be his 24th appearance.
For van Eerd the draw of Le Mans is what this effort is all about, a classic gentleman driver story in a well-resourced team. Much will depend on the pace of van der Garde to keep this one in the hunt.
#35 | Dallara P217 | Dunlop | Viktor Shaytar, Harrison Newey, Norman Nato | Test Day Time: 3:31.646 (12th in class)
Its a very different driver squad to the ELMS norm for the Russian flagged SMP Racing effort and their Dunlop-shod Dallara P217.
Regular pilots Orudzhev and Isaakyan are on LMP1 duty for the team so their regular LMP2 buddy Viktor Shaytar is joined by Asian Le Mans Series Champion Harrison Newey and ELMS Paul Ricard race winner, single seater star Norman Nato.
The team knows the car, and this race, very well, and the #35 is a fresh chassis for this season. Ahead of the Test Day there are still questions about the ‘Jokered’ Dallara (and Ligier), last year’s first effort proving hugely quick in a straight line, but somewhat less confidence inspiring in the corners.
Shaytar is a solid prospect at the wheel, quicker and more consistent than most gentleman racers. Newey (son of aero genius Adrian Newey) has speed, and ambition – this is a big step up for him and his ability to work across the rigours of a Le Mans week with an unfamiliar team and team-mates will be tested. For Nato too this is uncharted territory, though he has adapted well to the general discipline of endurance from his previous high level single seater career.
Plenty of potential is the summary at this point here!
Cetilar Villorba Corse
#47 | Dallara P217 | Dunlop | Roberto Lacorte, Giorgio Sernagiotto, Felipe Nasr | Test Day Time: 3:29.968 (8th in class)
The Italian squad have real ambition, and their immaculately presented Dunlop shod Dallara looks the part. Prepped by Team Manager and ex Le Mans racer Christian Pescatori they will be looking for a significant step forward this year, returning pairing Lacorte and Sernagiotto know the package well and are continuing to find pace whilst new addition for 2018 Nasr will add significant pace.
The ex-F1 man and current full-season IMSA DPi driver has potential to be amongst the very quickest in this class if the revised Dallara has found a more sensible balance between straight line speed and the ability to get around the turns quickly and safely (something it failed to achieve last year!)
A joyful effort sportscar racing needs more like them!
#22 United Autosports
#22 | Ligier JS P217 | Dunlop | Phil Hanson, Felipe Albuquerque, Paul di Resta | Test Day Time: 3:29.281 (6th in class)
#32 | Ligier JS P217 | Dunlop | Will Owen, Hugo de Sadeleer, Juan Pablo Montoya | Test Day Time: 3:32.363 (14th in class)
The US-flagged, UK-based team have doubled up to a pair of Dunlop-shod Ligier JS P217 LMP2 cars in 2018.
Both have big names and rapid youngsters on tap, and both have strength in sufficient depth to count them amongst the ones to watch for this race, whether or not the Ligier has taken a sufficient step forward with it’s ‘Joker’ upgrade for 2018.
The #22 sees the increasingly mature and impressive Phil Hanson start his second Le Mans. He’s partnered by the man that has taken most of the responsibility for his career progression since last year, ex-Audi factory man Filipe Albuquerque. The Portuguese is world-class, pure and simple, a match for anyone else on this entry lap for lap, stint for stint. Ex-F1 man Paul di Resta complete the trio after impressive LMP2 form at both Daytona and Sebring. He’ll add his Le Mans 24 Hours debut to that growing endurance racing cv and looks set to be a real asset to the team’s chances here.
The sister #32 car sees ELMS pairing Will Owen and Hugo de Sadeleer joined by another ex-F1 star, and Indy 500 winner, Juan Pablo Montoya. Owen and de Sadeleer have progressed well together with United and, with ELMS team-mate Wayne Boyd replaced by a stone cold world-class superstar in Montoya the chemistry, and the performance, look likely to continue.
For Montoya this is a step towards ruining Fernando Alonso’s hopes of being only the second man (after Graham Hill) to score the classic Triple Crown of wins at the Indy 500, Monaco Grand Prix and Le Mans 24 Hours. Alonso has Monaco in the bag, Montoya has both Monaco and the Indy 500. The Spaniard could double up here whereas the odds are very much against Montoya completing his set! It could though make 2019 a very interesting year!
Panis Barthez Competition
#23 | Ligier JS P217 | Michelin | Will Stevens, Timothy Buret, Julien Canal | Test Day time: 3:31.673 (13th in class)
It’s a different look to the Panis Barthez outfit this season, no Fabien Barthez in the driving seat (he’s racing in Blancpain this year), and that seems to have been a positive step forward.
The Michelin equipped Ligier sees the return of young Timothé Buret who seems to have found a touch of consistency in the offseason.
He’s joined by super consistent ‘sportsman’ Silver Julien Canal who put in an appearance at Spa with the similarly equipped Larbre squad as practice for the big one.
Another new addition for 2018 has been ex-F1 man Will Stevens and, once again, he’s shown his real pace thus far in the season. He returns as a title holder here, but he’ll value a win in LMP2 even higher than his part in the GTE-Am win for JMW in 2017.
As with the other Ligier-equipped teams, much will depend on the competitiveness or otherwise of their revised low drag package but the team looks more competitive than ever before.
Algarve Pro Racing
#25 | Ligier JS P217 | Dunlop | Mark Patterson, Ate Dirk de Jong, Tacksung Kim | Test Day Time: 3:32.752 (17th in class)
Sam and Stewart Cox are back once again with a Dunlop-tyred Ligier JS P217, by dint of support for both the ELMS and Asian LMS (which they won last year. The Portuguese based outfit has an increasing group of loyal customers and here fields an all gentleman line-up in an effort that has more than a nod to the proud Le Mans tradition of racing against the race – for a finish.
Mark Patterson continues his loyalty to the sport and is closing in on his ambition to be the oldest ever starter, the fact that he does it with true Silver pace is a wonder!
He’s joined by Ate Dirk de Jong and Tacksung Kim, proof positive both that an effective effort in Asia can bring new members to the endurance racing family. Both have experience of the circuit via appearances in the Road to Le Mans race last year They’ll be repeating that trick in the coming season for sure.
Jackie Chan DC Racing
#33 | Ligier JS P217 | Dunlop | David Cheng, Nicholas Boulle, Pierre Nicolet | Test Day Time: 3:38.657 (19th in class)
#34 | Ligier JS P217 | Dunlop | Ricky Taylor, Come Ledogar, David Heinemeier Hansson | Test Day Time: 3:33.037 (18th in class)
Jackie Chan DC Racing were dealt four entries of a potentially five earned (2 x full season WEC entries, an auto entry via their LMP2 class win at Le Mans, and two other auto entries via LMP2 and LMP3 class wins in Asian Le Mans) .
Perhaps the surprise package for the two additional entries that emerged was that they featured Ligier and not Oreca chassis, and that Onroak themselves have been playing a key role in filling the seats therein and will play the major role in fielding these cars too.
There are two very different crews in the Ligiers, the #33 featuring an all gentleman line-up: David Cheng, team co-owner, Pierre (son of Jacques) Nicolet, and 2017 Rolex 24 Hours LMPC class winner Nicholas Boulle.
The sister #34 meanwhile has a convincing trio: ‘Sportsman’ Silver David Heinemeier Hansson is still one of the best truly non-pro drivers out there – with a record at Le Mans which includes a GTE Am class win and second in LMP2.
He’s joined byreigning IMSA Champion and current Penske Acura driver Ricky Taylor, and by ex-McLaren GT factory driver and 2016 Blancpain Endurance Champion Côme Ledogar.
Whilst that is a line-up that hasn’t driven together there is real potential if they can gel, and if the car is up to the task! One to watch.
#44 | Ligier JS P217 | Dunlop | Tracy Krohn, Nic Jonsson, Andrea Bertolini | Test Day time: 3:32.532 (15th in class)
Mark Goddard’s team were delighted to get the nod for Le Mans this season, and were no doubt even more delighted when the initially reserve listed Tracy Krohn got in touch to see whether his three man driver squad, initially slated for a GTE-Am effort, could be accommodated in the team’s Dunlop-shod Ligier JS P217.
That brings Krohn, his long-time driving partner Nic Jonsson and the mercurial Andrea Bertolini, plus the unmistakable ‘Krohn-Green’ livery – to the Eurasia fold.
For Krohn and Jonsson it will be a record-breaking 13th consecutive Le Mans together, breaking their own record.
For Bertolini it will, perhaps surprisingly, be a first time in an LMP car in any race! The man that, as test driver for Ferrari’s Corse Cliente, has driven more different Ferrari F1 cars than any other then switches from red to (very) green!
The team has recent competitive form in both ELMS and Asian Le Mans Series in LMP2, are capable of running reliably and bringing an effort home. Tracy (and the two Pros) will need to be error-free if that’s to produce any kind of result.
#50 | Ligier JS P217 | Michelin | Romano Ricci, Erwin Creed, Thomas Dagoneau | Test Day time: 3:40.926 (20th in class)
Jack Leconte’s team has a proud heritage of success at Le Mans in multiple classes but it’s been more than half a decade since the team took a win and, put frankly, this effort looks unlikely to break that cycle.
The team made a very late call to enter the FIA WEC with a Ligier JS P217, this after their first programme announcement spoke of a two car LMP3 effort in Michelin Le Mans Cup and a one off entry request in LMP2 for Le Mans.
The team then announced that Fernando Rees would be replaced by pay drivers in the line-up and a glimmer of hope for pace evaporated.
Parfumiers and gentlemen drivers Erwin Creed and Romano Ricci are the full season drivers here, both with recent LMP3 form on their career records.
They’ll be joined at Le Mans by Thomas Dagoneau, a man who has race winning form in a Prototype, back in 2012! The team run on Michelin rubber.
#26 | Oreca 07 Gibson | Dunlop | Roman Rusinov, Jean-Eric Vergne, Andrea Pizzitola | Test Day Time: 3:28.394 (3rd in class)
#40 | Oreca 07 Gibson | Dunlop | Enzo Guibbert, Jose Guitiérrez, James Allen | Test Day Time: 3:30.015 (9th in class)
Two cars, but run by different teams is the potentially confusing line-up for the GazProm funded effort this year.
Both are full season ELMS efforts with the ‘lead’ car fielded by TDS Racing also planning on taking in a number of WEC rounds, having already taken the win at Spa.
The #26 features Roman Rusinov, now a Gold-ranked driver once again, and he’ll want to avoid the excesses of his opening stint last year! The rapid Andrea Pizzitola fills the Silver shoes in the squad very capably indeed, he’s likely to be one of the fastest Silver-ranked drivers in the entry.
Ex-F1 man and Formula E star Jean-Eric Vergne completes the line-up, the Frenchman a mercurial spirit with huge talent but a temperament that can get in the way of his towering ability at times. This is a line-up that can really feature at the sharp-end throughout.
The second G-Drive branded car is fielded by Graff Racing with a less well-known crew, but a line-up capable of producing real pace too.
James Allen moved over from single seaters last year and has been quietly building pace and consistency whilst Enzo Guibbert was a standout talent in the ELMS for much of the 2017 season whilst Jose Gutiérrez completes the line-up as a fast silver. Graff Racing though have something to prove after a difficult start to the season on the technical front.
#28 | Oreca 07 Gibson | Dunlop | Francois Perrodo, Matthieu Vaxiviere, Löic Duval | Test Day Time: 3:28.795 (4th in class)
A second year entry from TDS Racing with 2016 WEC GTE Am champion Francois Perrodo who retains the services of the rather rapid Matthieu ‘Matt Vax’ Vaxiviere for a second year. The new part of the Oreca 07/ Dunlop package is the third driver, long-time driving partner for Perrodo, Manu Collard is replaced by ex Audi Factory Driver, WEC World Champion and overall Le Mans 24 Hours winner Löic Duval in an all-French line-up.
TDS are top notch, the car looks good and has been going well. Perrodo is still finding pace, but he IS finding pace, whilst both Pros are very quick indeed, a trouble-free run could see this effort at the sharp end of the finishing order.
#31 | Oreca 07 Gibson | Michelin | Pastor Maldonado, Nathaniel Berthon, Roberto Gonzalez | Test Day time: 3:27.228 (1st in class)
Elton Julian’s squad are spread across two Championships and two classes for the 2018 season, Le Mans though sees the pair of WEC cars listed with a car apiece in either LMP class.
The team’s full-season WEC Oreca has a different look both in livery and in the driver line-up.
The car features an eye-catching livery based on Mexico’s national colours, this a nod to the presence and backing of Roberto Gonzalez aboard the Michelin-shod Oreca 07. He’s a periodically rapid Gentleman driver, joined for Le Mans by the periodically rapid Pro Nat Berthon.
The Frenchman steps away after the big one next week (to be replaced for the remainder of the WEC by Ant Davidson) He’s certainly capable of competitive pace, but the question is will this be a day when he finds it?
A very welcome ‘new’ face for the team this season is Venezuelan ex F1 race winner Pastor Maldonado – check your cynicism at the door on this one because the internet’s favourite motorsport whipping boy is fast, eye catchingly so, and very far indeed from the persona that many ascribe to him.
If it all goes well for this outfit then they could be in the mix.
#36 | Alpine A470 | Dunlop | Nico Lapierre, Pierre Thiriet, Andre Negrão | Test Day time: 3:29.205 (6th in class)
A team with plenty of winning behind them, including a win at Le Mans in LMP2 in 2016.
Nico Lapierre is the driver survivor from that crew with much else behind the scenes still familiar though the LMP2 formula now is altogether different.
The team still though, uniquely, are permitted to run their Oreca 07 as an Alpine-badged effort, the most Francais of efforts it is too!
Lapierre is still top class and the team’s Gentleman driver Pierre Thiriet is, arguably, the quickest of the current crop of ‘true’ Silvers. Into his second year with the team Andre Negrão has shown excellent pace also.
An Oreca chassis, a well balanced and very capable driving squad, if the Dunlops prove to be the tyres to have then this is an effort that needs to be taken very seriously indeed.
Jackie Chan DC Racing
#37 | Oreca 07 Gibson | Dunlop | Jazeman Jafaar, Nabil Jeffri, Weiron Tan | Test Day time: 3:31.034 (11th fastest in class)
#38 | Oreca 07 Gibson | Dunlop | Ho-Pin Tung, Gabriel Aubry, Stephane Richelmi | Test Day time: 3:30.475 (10th fastest in class)
Class winners and almost overall winners last year there are multiple changes at Jackie Chan DC Racing for 2018.
The #37 car brings together a first for the Le Mans 24 Hours, an all Malaysian crew with Jazeman Jafaar, Nail Jeffri and Weiron Tan arrive in a full WEC season via the Asian Le Mans Series, Jafaar and Tan already have a race win to their names at Buriram with Jeffri taking pole position at his home race at Sepang.
And it’s the Sepang Circuit that is providing much of the backing for this effort, not only is the pride of their nation at stake, but also a bid to take the FIA WEC to the now ex-F1 venue!
All three men are very capable racers, and all three are Le Mans rookies too!
The ‘Mighty’ #38 sees the only full-season WEC driver carried over with Ho-Pin Tung anchoring an effort that includes reigning Asian Le Mans Champion and 2016 Le Mans LMP2 winner Stephane Richelmi and the latest young driver on the JCDC Talent Bus, Asian Le Mans LMP3 race winner Gabriel Aubry.
This might prove to be the packer of the pair over the full race distance if the race stays clear for, though both in with a shot!
#39 | Oreca 07 Gibson | Dunlop | Vincent Capillaire, Jonathan Hirschi, Tristan Gommendy | Test Day time: 3:29.492 (7th in class)
Graff Racing have had a torrid time thus far in 2018 (see G-Drive Racing above for their second car), with the team looking in real trouble at Monza’s ELMS round last month, both Orecas suffering seemingly identical brake system issues. For Le Mans the team gets the SO24 branding from the consortium of regional businesses, and that brings Vincent Capillaire, Kamui Kobayashi’s biggest and most high profile fan, to the effort.
Swiss driver Jonathan Hirschi and fast Frenchman Tristan Gommendy complete the line-up in what looks, overall, to be a capable if not class leading trio. The questions though currently surround not the drivers, nor the car, but the strength in depth of the team beyond them.
#48 | Oreca 07 Gibson | Michelin | Paul Loup Chatin, Paul Lafargue, Memo Rojas | Test Day time: 3:27.252 (2nd fastest in class)
Another Michelin-shod team the IDEC Sport squad have taken a big step up in 2018 with a two-car, mixed chassis effort in ELMS condensed to a single ORECA at Le Mans (their Ligier was withdrawn from the reserve list some time ago).
Paul Lafargue is the gentleman driver of the trio, supported by reigning ELMS Drivers Champ Memo Rojas, both men adapting to the rigours of the 600 bhp Gibson powered LMP2 cars.
Without doubt though Paul Loup Chatin is the real deal, capable of duking it out with the best in this class. Does this effort have the strength in depth to win this race on pace? No. But this should be a long way from an also ran.