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Le Mans 24 Hours Preview: Part 2, LMP2

20 cars, chassis and tyre wars abound!

A 20-car entry sees the LMP2 class as numerically the strongest in the 2019 Le Mans 24 Hours, and with the potent 4.2 litre Gibson V8 that powers all 20 cars having proved itself to be a paragon of reliability, the battles here could easily prove to be race-long.

Add in the relative fragility of many of the LMP1 non-hybrids this season and the top of the shop here could easily be knocking on the door of an overall podium by the checkered flag.

Whilst some dismiss the class as ‘spec’ there’s plenty to savour here, top quality teams and drivers, a chassis war between the so far dominant ORECAs but with teams of real quality in the Ligier camp, plus the outliers in Dallaras, and then add into the mix a proper old-fashioned tyre war too between Dunlop and Michelin.

Game On!

High Class Racing

#20 | ORECA 07 | Dunlop | ELMS | Dennis Andersen, Mathias Beche & Anders Fjordbach | Test Day time: 3:33.202 (17th LMP2)

2019 has brought with it a fresh look for High Class Racing, which is making its Le Mans 24 Hours debut this year.

The Danish squad, which has been racing the past two years with Dallara in the ELMS’ LMP2 class, has switched to ORECA for this year in a bid to achieve better results.

It’s been a bit of a rollercoaster so far. There have been highs, Anders Fjordbach topping the ELMS Prologue at Ricard, and lows, losing multiple laps after getting caught up in someone else’s incident at Monza. But, even with limited experience to draw from with the 07, the pace has been stronger, and Dennis Andersen continues to be a steady hand.

It’s not going to be easy for this plucky squad to challenge for the top spots, as Andersen is a true Bronze driver, but with the help of former Rebellion LMP1 man Mathias Beche, a strong finish is certainly possible. Beche is a WEC overall race winner and Fjordbach has come on strong during the past year.

Whatever happens, this team is sure to enjoy its first Le Mans, especially as it looked like it would be forced to miss out on the event until the ACO decided to build the two new temporary garages.

United Autosports

#22 | Ligier JS P217 | Michelin | ELMS | Filipe Albuquerque, Phil Hanson & Paul di Resta | Test Day time: 3:32.242 (15th LMP2)
#32 | Ligier JS P217 | Michelin | ELMS | Alex Brundle, Ryan Cullen & Will Owen | Test Day time: 3:30.847 (9th LMP2)

Podium finishers last year there’s little doubt that much of Ligier’s hopes rest on the shoulders of the US-flagged, UK based United Autosports squad.

The late decision by the ACO to add two additional entries saw the team gain their fully deserved second entry and with the late switch last year to Michelin rubber there are even further twists in the chassis + tyre manufacturer mix here.

The two cars have high-quality driver line-ups, #22 with the increasingly quick Phil Hanson joined by the impressive pairing of Pros that are Filipe Albuquerque and Paul di Resta. There is a lot to like here in terms of potential raw speed and race smarts, if the Ligier can stay in touch with the ORECAs they will be a force to be reckoned with over the race distance.

The sister #32 car is anchored by the equally impressive Alex Brundle, his speed in the Ligier has been a breath of fresh air since he returned to the LMP2 fray this season. That too has unlocked more from this less experienced team-mate Ryan Cullen, a major step forward in his so far short LMP2 career – consistency will be the key to success for him, and for Will Owen, who knows the team and the car well.

If the #32 trio can keep their race clean, and keep a competitive pace, they look just the ticket to be in the mix.

Panis Barthez Competition

#23 | Ligier JS P217 | Dunlop | ELMS | Rene Binder, Julien Canal & Will Stevens | Test Day time: 3:31.694 (13th LMP2)

Panis Barthez have just one of their pair of ELMS entered Ligiers at Le Mans this year and arrive in the wake of a surprise switch to Dunlop rubber just before the start of the season.

There’s nothing wrong with the line-up in the #23 car. Rene Binder is new to the effort this year but is quick and reliable. Will Stevens continues to impress in LMP2, the ex-F1 man already has a Le Mans class win to his name from GTE Am a couple of seasons ago but is certainly capable of class-leading pace if the machinery allows, and Julien Canal knows exactly what is required here.

2019 will be Canal’s 10th consecutive Le Mans 24 Hours, the first three of which produced class wins in GT machinery, this is his sixth attempt at LMP2 success in the 24 Hours and there is every possibility that if the race moves away from an ORECA speed fest that the #23 might find itself in contention for a podium.

Algarve Pro Racing

#25 | ORECA 07 | Dunlop | ELMS | John Falb, Andrea Pizzitola & David Zollinger | Test Day time: 3:31.074 (10th LMP2)

Algarve Pro is one of a pair of teams forced into a late driver change by injury, in their case the accident that befell Mark Patterson at Monza has counted out the 67-year old from the race this season. Bad news indeed for the Cox-family owned and run team.

He’s replaced by David Zollinger, ex-Formula Le Mans racer, VdeV Champion and previous Le Mans entrant.

Ex-ELMS LMP3 Champion John Falb is making his LMP2 debut this year as part this line-up and is one of 30+ Le Mans debutants, he’s a quick and consistent gentleman driver with the intelligence to know that he needs to reel in the emotions here.

And Andrea Pizzitola, reigning ELMS Drivers Champion complete the trio, properly quick, and a great team player to boot. He’s not likely to recover the lost overall win from last year (when he was part of the excluded G-Drive effort) but his professionalism will be vital if the #25 car is going to go the distance.

G-Drive Racing

#26 | Aurus 01 | Dunlop | ELMS | Roman Rusinov. Job van Uitert & Jean-Eric Vergne | Test Day time: 3:30.457 (6th LMP2)

G-Drive Racing is another major contender. The now Aurus-branded G-Drive effort lost out to ‘fuel-rig-gate’ last year, excluded from the win on the day following the race.

They are back courtesy of an ELMS title with a new colour scheme to go with the Aurus brand, the latest Dunlop rubber and an exciting new prospect on the driver squad.

Roman Rusinov is at the core of the team as always and has been on the ‘fast’ side of his driving barometer for much of the year thus far. He’s joined once again by Jean-Eric Vergne, super quick, if a little erratic at times, but with speed to match or better just about anyone in this field.

Adding further steel to the effort is reigning ELMS LMP3 Champion Job van Uitert, coming into his first Le Mans as an increasingly important part of the team, and with a growing reputation in the paddock for raw and consistent speed.

If Rusinov is on form, and the Dunlops do what they are capable of, these guys will be tough to beat.

TDS Racing

#28 | ORECA 07 | Dunlop | WEC | Loic Duval, Francois Perrodo & Matthieu Vaxiviere | Test Day time: 3:30.319 (5th LMP2)

Is this year’s Le Mans 24 Hours a final LMP2 fling for Francois Perrodo before a switch back to GTE Am? We’ll see.

It’s fair to say that the #28 effort has underperformed this season and that the usually chipper Perrodo has had more days with a long face than at any point that this writer has known him. He and TDS Racing will be looking to sweep away the bad memories of their exclusion from fourth place last year.

On to 2019 though and Francois Perrodo needs to be on his game to keep the effort in the mix. There’s little doubt that his two Pro team-mates, Le Mans overall winner and WEC World Champ Loic Duval and the mercurial Matthieu Vaxiviere have the pace to take the fight to the rest so much will depend on the Gentleman’s pace and consistency.

Staying error-free is vital here!

Racing Team Nederland

#29 | Dallara P217 | Michelin | WEC | Frits van Eerd, Giedo van der Garde & Nyck de Vries | Test Day time: 3:30.674 (7th LMP2)

Le Mans sees the last outing for the current Racing Team Nederland outfit with the #29 Dallara, wearing a Minardi F1 tribute livery, this the favourite F1 outfit of Frits van Eerd.

The Jumbo supermarket owner switches to TDS Racing for next season after what has not been the happiest of seasons, though it has not been without its flashes of brilliance, in particular, Giedo van der Garde’s run to the front of the field at Spa last time out.

He and Nyck de Vries have shown real pace at times but it is the consistency that has been lacking from the effort, and the shortcomings of the Dallara have not helped it seems.

The car should be relatively quick at Le Mans, the team will be looking where a potential might leave them in the order.

Duqueine Engineering

#30 | ORECA 07 | Michelin | ELMS | Romain Dumas, Nico Jamin & Pierre Ragues | Test Day time: 3:30.715 (8th LMP2)

Duqueine Engineering’s LMP2 effort has been a coming force in the hotly contested ELMS and is certainly one to watch.

2016 FIA WEC World Champion and double Le Mans winner Romain Dumas replaces ELMS regular Richard Bradley joining the impressive Nico Jamin, and an on-form Pierre Ragues in the #30 car.

Everything about this effort looks on-point, only a lack of Le Mans experience for the team is a mark in the negative column. Expect the effort to run with the leading pack if their run stays clean, and don’t bet against a dream debut for one of the best new efforts in the class in the Gibson era.

DragonSpeed

#31 | ORECA 07 | Michelin | WEC | Anthony Davidson, Roberto Gonzalez & Pastor Maldonado | Test Day time: 3:28.769 (2nd LMP2)

Coming on strong and still in the hunt for the WEC title before the crew switches to Jota Sport for next season, DragonSpeed holds an extraordinary first having won races this year in LMP2 in IMSA, ELMS and FIA WEC.

This is the one they really want though and they have a fair chance of being there.

Roberto Gonzalez has been rock solid of late, and that’s exactly what he needs to be, fault-free on track, hoping that Elton Julian’s loyal crew do the same on pit lane and leaving the heavy lifting to Ant Davidson. The 2014 WEC World Champion loving his time now in LMP2, and Pastor Maldonado, leaving behind his pantomime villain F1 reputation with real pace here.

Keep an eye on the #31, because trust me the rest of the field will be too!

Inter Europol Competition

#34 | Ligier JS P217 | Michelin | ELMS | Nigel Moore, Jakub Smiechowski & James Winslow | Test Day time: 3:34.987 (19th LMP2)

A fan favourite, courtesy, in part at least, of the now infamous ‘Norwich City’ green and yellow colours carried by the teams’ cars.

The Polish-flagged team arrive for their Le Mans 24 Hours debut courtesy of an LMP3 class Championship in the Asian Le Mans Series as they step up to LMP2 with the Ligier JS P217 Gibson for a full season in the ELMS alongside their LMP3 programme.

This is a tight-knit team, under ex-Zakspeed man Sascha Fässbender and his Keese Motorsport outfit and the driver squad, forced into a late change after an injury hit Léo Roussel at Monza last month, is an interesting one, James Winslow is the late addition, the Aussie-based Englishman appearing for a fourth Le Mans.

Fellow Brit Nigel Moore will start his third Le Mans, and has a reputation for blinding speed in an LMP3, can he translate that to the quicker car?

Finally, the team’s debutant at Le Mans is Jakub ‘Kuba’ Smiechowski, quick, understated and emerging talent. With such a striking colour scheme it’s difficult to use the phrase ‘dark horse’ but this could be a team to watch as an outlier if things go awry for some more fancied runners!

Signatech Alpine Matmut

#36 | Alpine A470 | Michelin | WEC | Nicolas Lapierre, Andre Negrao & Pierre Thiriet | Test Day time: 3:28.997 (3rd LMP2)

Alpine is a team with an enviable Le Mans record. It has two wins in LMP2 (in 2016 and 2018), and a further pair of podiums including fourth overall in 2017 and fifth overall in 2018. This year the Signatech team come with a third win, and a WEC title, in their sights, and bring an impressive driver trio to those tasks, indeed the reigning Champions after their win in 2018.

This time around they’ll want to have their podium moment, the post-race exclusion of G-Drive Racing saw the team receive the trophies, after standing on the second step post-race.

They lead the WEC Championship standings too, albeit by a slim margin, so yet more silverware is up for grabs here too.

Nicolas Lapierre will contest his 12th Le Mans 24 Hours this year and arrives, despite not having won overall, with a 100% winning record in LMP2, three appearances and three wins!

Andre Negrao has been impressive in speed and consistency since joining the #36 squad, a great foil to Lapierre’s team leader status whilst Pierre Thiriet remains one of the most rapid Silver-ranked racers in the sport.

A definite contender for the win.

Jackie Chan DC Racing

#37 | ORECA 07 | Dunlop | WEC | David Heinemeier Hansson, Jordan King & Ricky Taylor | Test Day time: 3:31.641 (12th LMP2)
#38 | ORECA 07 Gibson | Dunlop | WEC | Gabriel Aubry, Stephane Richelmi & Ho-Pin Tung | Test Day time: 3:28.504 (1st LMP2)

Two very strong crews and both cars still in WEC title contention, the Jota Sport-run Jackie Chan DC Racing effort is always one to watch and never more so than at the scene of their greatest triumphs, Le Mans.

It was the JCDC/Jota squad that almost scored a famous overall victory in 2017, putting both cars on the overall podium as Porsche managed to salvage the victory and the teamwork at that level has continued.

This is set to be the final race for now for a two-car Jackie Chan DC Racing team in the WEC with the team set to field a single effort next season alongside a Jota Sport-branded effort.

For now though its about the win – at the race and in the Championship. The two cars sit second and third, just a point apart, in the teams Championship, 4 and 5 points respectively off Signatech’s leading tally, and in the Drivers Championship, courtesy of the late season switch from the all-Malaysian crew in the #37, the #38 trio are right in the mix too.

The #38 trio have three wins already this season to their names and the DHH/Jordan King duo have a Sebring win in the #37, with IMSA star Ricky Taylor stepping in to replace Will Stevens who was pre-booked at Panis Barthez.

The form book so far says these six men, in these two cars, should feature at the top of the order unless and until something goes awry. Speed and the perfect run could see another extraordinary run come their way, but will the race allow that?

GRAFF

#39 | ORECA 07 | Dunlop | ELMS | Vincent Capillaire, Jonathan Hirschi & Tristan Gommendy | Test Day time: 3:29.901 (4th LMP2)

There’s only car only for GRAFF in 2019, this effort co-branded with the Sartheoise’ SO24 consortium of regional businesses that brings local driver Vincent Capillaire to the team.

He joins ELMS regulars Tristan Gommendy and Jonathan Hirschi in a team that is very capable of real pace, they impressed last time out at Monza and have national pride on their side too.

With the much-fancied ORECA chassis, there is another tick in the box. One to watch for sure.

RLR Msport

#43 | ORECA 07 | Dunlop | ELMS | John Farano, Arjun Maini & Norman Nato | Test Day time: 3:32.192 (14th LMP2)

Newcomers to LMP2 under their own name at Le Mans, RLR MSport arrive with a new ORECA and high ambitions.

The programme comes courtesy of returning LMP3 customer John Farano, the Canadian in a hurry to progress and getting the opportunity to do so with RLR MSport at Le Mans courtesy of their LMP3 title win in the 2018 ELMS.

Joining Farano are Indian ex-F2 driver Arjun Maini who is showing real speed in the #43 car, and is clearly happy in the endurance racing family too, and for Le Mans only, Norman Nato takes the place of the team’s ELMS regular Bruno Senna (who is on LMP1 duty with Rebellion).

Nato already has race-winning form in the ORECA 07 from last season’s ELMS (with Racing Engineering) and raced at Le Mans last year with SMP Racing.

Much will depend on Farano’s form in race week here, for now, in year one of this programme, the target should be to finish.

Cetilar Racing

#47 | Dallara P217 | Dunlop | WEC | Andrea Belicchi, Roberto Lacorte & Giorgio Sernagiotto | Test Day time: 3:32.551 (16th LMP2)

The final outing for the ever so Italian team under the tutelage of Villorba Corse and Team Manager Christian Pescatori comes in the biggest race of the year before the team moves on to the FIA WEC and a berth at AF Corse.

They are remaining faithful to the Dallara chassis which has shown flashes of real speed this season in their hands and elsewhere. Le Mans though is a different kettle of fish and after a first-year aero pack that alarmed many drivers, the ‘joker’ compromise settled things down a little.

Andrea Belicchi is back this year after injury and makes this a tight-knit trio, Giorgio Sernagiotto is a capable driver too with Roberto Lacorte far from the slowest ‘gent’ out there.

Unlikely to trouble the podium, but there will be adventures in trying to get the car to the finish.

IDEC Sport

#48 | ORECA 07 | Michelin | ELMS | Paul-Loup Chatin, Patrice Lafargue & Memo Rojas | Test Day time: 3:31.332 (11th LMP2)

IDEC Sport has been in real form in the ELMS this year so far with Paul-Loup Chatin one of the stone-cold pacemen in the class, easily capable of taking the fight to the other big names here.

Memo Rojas seems at ease in the team too and after a solid year last year we’re seeing his pace re-emerge once again.

And Paul Lafargue, after missing races last year through injury and subsequent back surgery, seems back in full health. If he can produce consistency this is an effort to be taken very, very seriously.

ARC Bratislava

#49 | Ligier JS P217 | Dunlop | Asian Le Mans | Henning Enqvist, Miro Konopka & Konstantin Tereshchenko | Test Day time: 3:34.322 (18th LMP2)

After a wrinkle last season, Miro Konopka failing to gain entry for Le Mans and making his feelings pretty clear about it, the Slovakian stalwart redoubled his LMP2 commitments in Asia and took the LMP2 Am title. That means he’s back at La Sarthe, after earning a Le Mans place for the team’s efforts.

Konopka is a true enthusiast, not the fastest LMP2 driver on the planet, but far from the slowest, and makes few mistakes.

He’s joined here by Henning Enqvist and Konstantin Tereschenko, the Russian will need to curb his habit of overdriving if the #49 crew is going to get their dream result, a fighting finish.

Larbre Competition

#50 | Ligier JS P217 | Michelin | WEC | Nicholas Boulle, Erwin Creed & Romano Ricci | Test Day time: 3:35.457 (20th LMP2)

The full season WEC entrant that just about everyone thought would not make the distance, is still going and will finish the ‘Super Season’ with its Ligier.

Parfumier pals Ricci and Creed have been aboard the #50 all season, joined for the season finale by Nic Boulle, astonishingly the first man this season to score a second start with the team as the third driver.

The effort has been plodding but fairly reliable thus far. This is not an effort that is going to get a result on pace, a finish will be the objective for let’s not forget, one of the most successful teams in the great race’s recent history in terms of class wins.