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2020 Le Mans 24 Hours: LMP2 Wrap-up

By Michael Zalavari

The #22 United Autosport Oreca of Phil Hanson, Felipe Albuquerque, and Paul Di Resta has claimed victory in the LMP2 class at the 2020 24 Hours of Le Mans. The #22 lead the last 8 and a half hours of the race after trading the lead with the sister car overnight and held off a late charge from the #38 JOTA Oreca to take the win.

This is the team’s maiden Le Mans victory in the LMP2 class and continues an impressive run of LMP2 victories for the team stretching back to the WEC race at Bahrain last year.

It also confirms the #22 squad as FIA WEC champions; the double points win giving them an unassailable lead heading into the season finale in two months time at Bahrain.

The Goodyear-shod #38 JOTA Oreca finished second, with Anthony Davison, Antonio Felix da Costa, and Roberto Gonzales keeping the #22 honest throughout the latter stages. JOTA were on the lead lap for the entire second half of the race, but a lack of outright pace overnight and a minor delay for an unplanned stop to re-buckle da Costa’s belts after they had come undone mid-stint kept the #38 car just out of striking distance.

The shape of the race changed due to the last safety car triggered in the last 40 minutes of running. The #39 So24-Has by Graff Oreca hit the wall hard in the first part of the Porsche Curves on driver’s left. James Allen spearing straight on in the right-hander, skipping through the gravel and hitting the tyres. The two leaders being separated by only a single safety car train as the clock ticked towards the finish.

A splash-and-dash with 8 minutes left brought the gap down to less than 5 seconds, and a mistake by Hanson immediately coming out of the pits, forcing him to shortcut the Dunlop chicane, raised the tension. But Anthony Davison in the #38 would also need a pit stop after a bit of team radio bluffing, allowing the #22 to cruise into the finish to win by 33 seconds.

Both United Autosports and JOTA/JCDC cars were the class of the field all race, with most other pre-race favourites running into trouble early on. Signatech Alpine and Racing Team Nederland suffering identical water leaks in the early running, immediately taking them out of contention, while the G-Drive #26 Aurus suffered a throttle-sensor issue overnight, losing a number of laps when in real contention.

The sister cars to the top two also ran into issues. While leading, the #37 JCDC machine suffered a broken alternator, resulting in a 22-lap loss of time. However, it came to light that a component was passed to the stricken car while it was stopped trackside, and the car was black-flagged by race control overnight, the first car to be excluded in those circumstances since a Callaway Corvette in 1994!

Also while leading, the #32 suffered a cracked oil line, costing 45 minutes to fix. Job van Uitert setting the fastest lap for the LMP2 class shortly after being returned to the track, showing the car was capable of much more than 13th place.

Third place went to the #31 Panis Racing Oreca of Nicolas Jamin, Julien Canal, and Mattieu Vaxiviere, the team showing the right combination of speed and consistency and being in the best position to capitalise on a series of late-race incidents in the LMP2 class.

There were many stories of recovery throughout the race; Signatech Alpine returning to 4th after their early problems, and G-Drive’s #26 ending the race in 5th. It could have been a podium for the G-Drive machine, but a suspension failure with 40 minutes left brought that car back into the garage.

IDEC Sport’s recovery to 6th and 11th for their two cars is especially remarkable; both cars started one lap down in the pit lane due to missing qualifying, after both cars suffered accidents on Thursday’s practice running requiring extensive repair. It also led to an unexpected LMP race debut for Patrick Pilet, a replacement for the injured Dwight Merriman, the Frenchman delivered a faultless display in the #17.

The top 10 was completed by the #42 Cool Racing, Algarve Pro’s #25, the Richard Mille Racing Team, and Cetilar Racing the top non-Oreca finisher in the #47 Dallara.

Cool Racing’s late charge up the order was halted almost before it began, with brake problems necessitating a brake change just at the beginning of Lapierre’s installation in the car with 2 hours remaining. The 7th place result ends Nicolas Lapierre’s 100% winning record at Le Mans in LMP2 machinery, after 4 wins in 4 LMP2 starts before this year (STOP PRESS – a drive time infringement for Alexandre Coigny saw a post-race penalty add 2 minutes and 3 seconds to the time – they drop to 8th behind the Algarve Pro #25 car).

Clean, mistake-free runs rewarded Algarve, Richard Mille and Cetilar with top 10 finishes. The #50 result is particularly noteworthy, the three debutants running a conservative but thoroughly measured drive, doing exactly what was required of them in the first Le Mans outing for the team.

The Algarve Pro Racing team have taken big strides forward too, the partnership with Goodyear and an evidently happy and productive relationship with core Gentleman driver John Falb is once again producing results for Sam and Stu Cox, the team is increasingly seen as a force to be reckoned with in the class in ACO racing that has, by far, the most strength in depth. The post-race time penalty for the #42 elevated the #25 to seventh in the class, 11th overall.

Early pace-setters So24-Has by Graff racing were on for a top 5 result in the last hour, until an incident heading into the Porsche Curves ended their race prematurely. James Allen’s early stint battling with the leaders the highlight of the race in LMP2, with the Australian mixing it with United and JOTA/JCDC cars before sunset on Saturday, his pace rattling no less a talent than Filipe Albuquerque!

Dragonspeed USA suffered a disappointing race with the retirement of the #21 car and engine issues on the #27 keeping them out of the running to finish outside the top 10.

Duqueine, High-Class, G-Drive by Algarve, and Eurointernational were the other retirements.

The exit of the #30 Duqueine Oreca was particularly dramatic, a three-wide moment for a trio of P2s into the braking area for the first chicane ending very badly indeed for Tristan Gommendy, contact and a spin left him impacting the barriers very hard indeed, happily, he emerged without serious injury.

High Class battled for hours with ultimately terminal gearbox issues after running in the early stages in real contention for the lead courtesy of Kenta Yamashita.

The last-minute entry from the G-drive by Algarve had early-race weekend braking problems, showed some blinding pace but then struggled in the race with electronics niggles. There was real potential there for sure with Nick Tandy in spirited form. Here’s hoping we see this car back out later this year.

Racing Team Nederland were unable to emulate the Signatech’s recovery after an identical issue, due to an intermittent engine problem and a number of off-track excursions. Despite real speed, the deficit was unrecoverable, and with dramas on the Tour de France for the Jumbo team on the final stage, a potential history-making ‘double’ ended with a thoroughly disappointing pair of results for Frits van Eerd.

The top placed Ligier went to Eurasia Motorsports, finishing 14th in class; Nobuya Yamanaka managing the car to the finish despite numerous adventures in the gravel throughout the race, that, in itself, was a dream result for Nobuya.

InterEuropol the other Ligier to finish, coming in #17th after a string of mechanical issues overnight and then a significant post-race penalty for a driving hours infringement for Rene Binder. The team will be disappointed by the result, expect a response!

Nielsen Racing will also be happy to finish in their debut in LMP2 machinery and correctly so; Tony Wells bringing the Asian Le Mans Series LMP3 champions home in 16th in class after telemetry and suspension issues hampered their race. The plan was always to run for a finish, here’s hoping that we see the team back for more, their inherent quality deserves it.