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Menezes: “It Wasn’t Ideal, But A Win Is A Win”

The WEC's first American race winner speaks out about Rebellion's work, the EoT process and the privateer competition

Gustavo Menezes, the first American FIA WEC overall race winner, has had quite a week, pushing hard doing double duty at Silverstone in both the ELMS and FIA WEC, before being named the victor of Sunday’s six-hour race after post-race scrutineering.

Toyota had both its cars (which originally finished 1-2) disqualified after they failed the skid block deflection test post race. Toyota then withdrew its appeal on Tuesday, meaning Rebellion Racing’s #3 R-13 has now officially scored the team its first overall WEC victory, the first ever for a privateer in the championship, and the first non-hybrid win since 2012.

Menezes, who all year long has shone in the #3 with teammates Thomas Laurent and Mathias Beche, was key in the team’s performance, which saw them persevere after an incident at Turn 1 and eventually come back and finish ahead of the sister #1 crew.

The experienced #1 trio of Andre Lotterer, Bruno Senna and Neel Jani, reduced to a pair after Senna’s shunt in practice, had a solid race, but once again ended up falling behind the young guns over the other side of the garage when the team was forced to replace the rear-end of the car towards the end of the six hours.

Thus, Menezes and co scored the win. The circumstances meant that there was no podium celebration or press conference, but it’s still a big deal for everyone involved.

“I’m absolutely ecstatic,” said Menezes. “I haven’t felt this happy for so long. It’s my first win since COTA last year, and it feels very special. Having spent some time living in the UK during the earlier stages of my career, Silverstone is something of a ‘home’ track for me and it’s a great feeling to take my first LMP1 victory there.

I haven’t felt this happy for so long. It’s my first win since COTA last year, and it feels very special

“Obviously it wasn’t the ideal way to do it, but ultimately, winning a race is winning a race, no matter how it comes and we will grab this result with both hands. All the boys at Rebellion have worked so hard to get the whole LMP1 project off the ground and to develop the car to the stage where it is now, and they really deserve this 1-2 finish. I’m immensely proud of everybody involved in the programme.

“All three of us did great, Mathias did well driving with damage at the start, I pushed as hard as I could until I was told to box and Thomas was faultless after I handed the car over to him after the middle stint. It’s amazing that we could come back from that Turn 1 contact.”

DSC spoke to Menezes after the race, and before the penalties were applied to Toyota, there were two key talking points. The first was EoT and the second was the performance of the other privateer runners in the LMP1 class.

It was another (mostly) fast, but fragile performance from Rebellion’s competitors, which did at times did at least produce some good, close racing, something LMP1 Privateer was void of at Spa and Le Mans. But the EoT in the class was the real story here, as there’s still a gulf between the two types of LMP1 cars in the category.

“To be honest, when it comes to EoT, it’s a topic we don’t need to discuss because it’s so obvious to the fans, to the teams, the championship organisers,” Menezes said to DSC. “It’s not the correct EoT, they have to start making good steps because, at the moment, this is baby steps in a marathon.

“While we can improve in some areas, we are at the maximum performance level we can be against the Toyotas.”

In the race, Toyota lapped the privateers four times, in what really, wasn’t a contest past Lap 1. The ACO made EoT changes after Le Mans, and dropped the enforced fuel stint lap-caps for the LMP1 Privateers but it didn’t make much of a difference, once the flag dropped it was a two-horse race between the #7 and #8 for the whole six hours.

The privateer cars do have potential and can in certain situations produce head-turing lap times though. In Qualifying, it will come as a surprise to many that the fastest LMP1 Privateer lap, Jenson Button’s 1:38.305 in the #11 SMP BR1, was a tenth quicker than the best Porsche 919 Hybrid lap from 2017. But the big advantage for Toyota comes in the race, as the TS050 HYBRID has so much more punch in traffic that the privateers lose the majority of their time when the track is busy.

“It’s almost like we’re LMP2 cars, the R-13 is mega to drive, and I love it, but it’s frustrating, when you see two cars potentially five, six, seven laps ahead of us at the end of the race,” Menezes continued.

“After the first couple of laps, we’re already thinking about getting lapped and we’re in the same class. The ACO acknowledges that the EoT has to be improved and I just hope that something is done sooner rather than later. We all love being in the championship, and want healthy, strong racing.”

It’s almost like we’re LMP2 cars, the R-13 is mega to drive, and I love it, but it’s frustrating, when you see two cars potentially five, six, seven laps ahead of us at the end of the race

During the race, Rebellion did enjoy battles with the #17 SMP Racing BR1 after the sister car’s engine expired (robbing Button’s chance of a big result at his home race). DragonSpeed and ByKolles’ races were both littered with issues, but they showed flashes of pace too. Woes aside Menezes feels that what we saw at Silverstone bodes well for the rest of the season as the cars continue to develop in both the performance and reliability departments.

“We’re here, we’re in the World Championship to race, be competitive and fight against others. I’m happy to SMP do well, it’s a shame that they had issues, Jenson (Button) is a friend of mine and I want to see him have success. I want to see both our cars do well. And the race pace from the privateer cars are pretty equal, they showed that it can be a real fight.

“Our team keeps making steps forward, and now we will prepare for Fuji and Shanghai, we’ll be going full-speed.”

And you never know, with the points gap between the #8 Toyota and the #3 Rebellion now just two points in the Drivers’ standings (with a three-point difference in the Teams standings), thanks to the DSQ for the #8 and three consistent outings for the #3, if the EoT improves we may yet see a championship fight between Rebellion and Toyota too…

Featured image courtesy of Rebellion Racing