Tag Archives: LMP2

Le Mans

Le Mans 2018: Prototypes Preview

Le Mans 24 Hours 2018: LMP preview

This year’s Prototypes field at the Le Mans 24 Hours, is big, full of variety and high-profile talent. LMP1 is the biggest it has been in years; bolstered by privateer teams, while LMP2 is again huge, and features a chassis and tyre war for everyone to look forward to. Both classes will be intriguing, and with so many questions yet to be answered in each, fans track-side and at home will have plenty of reasons to stay up all night and follow the action.

Let’s start with the 10-car LMP1 field, because it is the big story, and will (almost certainly) produce the overall winner. Porsche’s LMP1 programme may be over, but Toyota has stayed put, meaning that we will see Hybrid LMP1 cars running at incredible speeds around La Sarthe once again. The one question on most fans minds though will be whether or not the Japanese marque’s new privateer competition will be able to give it a run for its money. At this point, answering that question is hard, as it’s become a very complicated subject over the last few months.

Le Mans

What are we likely to see? Toyota having a noticeable (but not dominant) advantage in pace, being able to run longer, and spend less time in the pits, through the Equivalence of Technology (EoT) regulations which seemingly have pegged the privateers back. So do the privateers stand any chance at all? Well… Yes and no. There is a good chance that one of them will lead the race, most likely in the opening stint, before the artificial EoT restrictions come into place. But beyond that, if the race runs clean and to plan, then expect them to slip further and further out of contention. It must be pointed out though, that Toyota has entered 13 cars at Le Mans in the hybrid era, and only two of them have had a clean run to the finish. This is a team that has come achingly close, on multiple occasions, and fallen short. This year, the pressure is off more than it has been in the past – it’s running the same TS050 HYBRIDs as last year (with minor tweaks) and the privateer competition is (as expected) not going to be a strong as the might of Porsche and Audi. Anything can happen though.

But, even if Toyota does win the race in dominant fashion, it will more than likely be a popular victory, because this is a brand that at this point, almost deserves a win after showing such loyalty and class over the years, without claiming any wins in France. It will also go down a storm if Fernando Alonso is in the winning car. Say what you will, but this is a ‘Triple Crown’ run, and we should all be rooting for it. It is rare that we see Formula One drivers looking outside of the bubble for other opportunities while in the prime of their careers, so make the most of this. It’s a big story, and there’s no avoiding it. Keeping Le Mans and the FIA WEC relevant to the public is a very hard task, so having a two-time F1 champion fully committed to a dual programme should be greeted with open arms.

Le Mans

Outside of Toyota, we have five LMP Non-Hybrid entrants, with varying degrees of expectations. At this point, it seems that Rebellion Racing and its brand new R-13s are head-and-shoulders the best of the bunch. A good run at Spa, and a pacy run at the Test Day (where the No.3 finished up just six tenths off the fastest Toyota) have put the team in good stead to score an overall podium. Both cars have proven to be reliable (despite limited running) and have standout driver crews including 2016 LMP2 Le Mans winner Gustavo Menezes, and former overall Le Mans winners Neel Jani and Andre Lotterer. If there is going to be a privateer in with a shout, look no further than the Swiss.

Elsewhere, SMP Racing will hope it can also be in the fight with its BR1 cars. The car has shown potential, but the horrific blow which Matevos Issakyan suffered at Raidillon will inevitably put a microscope on this effort, especially as Jenson Button is joining the team from Le Mans onwards. Changes have been made to the car to prevent a repeat of what we saw in Belgium, but there hasn’t been enough running yet to categorically rule out any similar occurrences at Le Mans. Do Button and the Russian team have a shot here? Yes. Reliability could well become the deciding factor in which privateer finishes closest to the Toyotas, and the BR1 is the most developed of the non-hybrid chassis.

Le Mans

Outside of that, we have ByKolles, CEFC TRSM and DragonSpeed. All three have a lot of work to do, in the reliability and speed department to be considered contenders. It’s just too early for all three to expect much from Le Mans, which for them will be used as more of an extended (and very public test). DragonSpeed, like SMP, also had a huge incident (though a very different one) at Eau Rouge/Raidillon, leaving the team in a race against time to prep a brand new BR1 for the big race. ByKolles’ poor form over the years leaves very few with any sort of confidence and CEFC TRSM just hasn’t run its Ginetta G60-LT-P1s enough due to financial difficulties to expect anything more than a week full of new-car niggles and data gathering.

Then there’s LMP2. It’s a big field once again, with three of the four LMP2 chassis represented (ORECA, Dallara and Ligier) and two tyre brands (Dunlop and Michelin). There’s a lot to like about this year’s field, though it appears that in low-downforce trim, even with the new evolutions of the Dallaras and Ligiers, the ORECA is still the car to have.

Le Mans

At the Test Day, ORECA 07s ended up locking out the top five, with the fastest of the other chassis being the No.22 Ligier JS P217 from top team United Autosports. There is a divide in performance in raw pace, but during long runs, it remains to be seen what the Ligier and Dallara teams can do. As a result, for the moment it looks like the winner will most likely come from the ORECA camp, even though many will be rooting for the likes of Juan Pablo Montoya (also on a ‘Triple Crown’ run, with United) or the legendary Jan Lammers (in his 24th and likely, final appearance in the race) to feature up front.

Le Mans

Of the ORECA teams, who are the favourites? DragonSpeed’s No.31 car, spearheaded by a highly-motivated Pastor Maldonado, which is on Michelin rubber, looks to make noise. Former LMP2 winner Signatech Alpine does too, its A470 (an ORECA re-badged) driven by former Toyota factory man Nicolas Lapierre, the rapid Andre Negrao and fast amateur Pierre Thiriet. It does look though, like a more balanced class than years past. There’s no ‘outrageous’ line-up, and the fact that five of the 20 cars are running on Michelin could well add spice when the chips are down.

There is not long to go now, so soon all will be revealed. Hopefully we will have safe race & one that will live long in the memory.

Written by Stephen Kilbey
Photography by Dailysportscar

FIA WEC

FIA WEC 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps review

Five things we learned from the FIA WEC 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps

1. Alonso already looks impressive
While there wasn’t an enormous amount of wheel-to-wheel racing in LMP1, or a true battle for the overall lead, it was still nevertheless pleasing to see two-time Formula One World Champion Fernando Alonso get up to speed so quickly in his debut race in the FIA WEC. The Spaniard, along with teammates Sebastien Buemi and Kazuki Nakajima didn’t put a foot wrong all weekend, and went on to win. Alonso, during his stints was nothing short of impressive, multiple times he was shown clearly pushing hard through traffic, and at the end of the race when the car suffered a gearbox temperature issue he managed his pace well, ensuring it made the finish.

FIA WEC
Despite the fact that team orders were clearly at play, preventing the No.7 Toyota, which came from a lap down at the start to within striking distance of the No.8 towards the end, this was still a significant moment. Alonso is up to speed, already, and will head to Le Mans confident. If he wins that, not only is it a global story, but a very strong start to what could be a World Championship-winning season.

2. BMW & Aston’s cars look reliable
The two new GTE cars for this year also had an impressive showing at Spa, not in speed, but far more importantly, in reliability.  The M8 GTEs and Vantage GTEs spent the entire weekend far off the pace of the front-running Fords and Porsches. But at this stage, that means little, partly because Balance of Performance can turn the fortunes of a manufacturer quickly, and even if BoP wasn’t to blame, it’s more than likely that political game-playing was.

FIA WEC
The key here is that all four cars finished their debut FIA WEC races, and without any notable niggles; a far cry from the debuts of some GT cars of old. The extensive pre-season testing programmes have paid off, because both MTEK and Aston Martin Racing will head to Le Mans full of confidence. Both can be in the mix, and like Ford in 2016, have a chance to win at La Sarthe in the first year of the car’s life. We just need to hope now, that the race organisers don’t mess up the Balance of Performance for Le Mans, because if it’s anything like Le Mans 2016, it will leave a sour taste in the mouths of everyone track-side and at home watching.

3. GTE Am didn’t disappoint
Going into round 1, looking at the entry list it was easy to come to the conclusion that the expanded nine-car GTE Am category could produce the best racing in the FIA WEC. At Spa, despite a few silly driver errors, it produced the goods, especially at the end after the last safety car. New teams Project 1 Racing and TF Sport impressed mightily. The former had its hopes dashed by an off from Egidio Perfetti, but when the team’s 911 RSR was kept between the white lines, it was competitive, and was odds on for a podium.

FIA WEC
TF Sport, which many UK fans may know from its championship-winning form in the British GT Championship, also produced the goods. Euan Hankey, on his WEC debut was the star here, battling reigning champion Pedro Lamy all the way to the flag for the class lead in the final hour. He didn’t score the team a historic win in its first race, but he did, along with Charlie Eastwood and Salih Yoluc showed off that Tom Ferrier’s team mean business this year, and that its ambition to win the world title in the ‘Super Season’ is not unrealistic. The only issue may turn out to be the Porsche 911 RSRs in the class, as so far, on pace they’ve been head and shoulders above the Ferrari and Aston teams. Porsche’s customers could have dominated at Spa, but due to a cocktail of poor luck and driver error none of the four found the podium. Le Mans is therefore going to be very interesting indeed!

4. LMP2 looks open
This year’s LMP2 field in the FIA WEC has a fresh look about it, with new teams, new drivers, new chassis and a tyre war. The racing, while far from thrilling for most of the race at Spa, did show some really positive signs. The main signal for positivity, was just how open this year’s title race is. DragonSpeed, Jackie Chan DC Racing, G-Drive Racing and Alpine all look capable of winning races this year and challenging for the title. Even Racing Team Nederland’s Dallara, with its 2018 Joker package, looked pacey too, and could make waves later in the year when hot-shoe Nyck DeVries steps into the car’s third seat.

FIA WEC
Michelin’s tyres also appear to be capable of going toe-to-toe with Dunlop, so it could be interesting to see if anyone else makes a switch mid-season to gain an edge, as in raw pace, the French rubber does look to have an advantage at this stage.

5. Shaky start for the non-hybrids
Spa provided fans with their first chance to see the new LMP1 non-hybird challengers, though it was a somewhat fractured showing from the eight-car group, only five of which started the race. CEFC TRSM Racing’s weekend unfortunately never got going, financial issues preventing Ginetta from releasing its G60-LT-P1s for the race. DragonSpeed’s BR1 meanwhile, had a monster shunt at Eau Rouge, Pietro Fittipaldi going straight on into the tyres at full-speed, fracturing both his legs, and ending his chances of an Indy 500 birth just a month out from the race.

The cars that did take the start however, did put on a bit of a show, ByKolles CLM, SMP Racing’s BR1s and Rebellions pair of R-13s did all enjoy some thrilling on-track battles, giving us a glimpse into what could be a very competitive race for third place each weekend during the season.

FIA WEC

There were two issues though, one being that SMP Racing’s No.17 BR1 failed to finish after a big shunt at Raidillon, and that other that none of the Privateers came even remotely close to challenging the Toyotas in pace or efficiency, the whole field getting lapped, not just by the eventual winners in the #8, but by the No.7 crew, which started a lap down.  That’s not very encouraging, especially given the promises made to the privateers that they would have a chance should they run a perfect race. Rebellion’s No.3 R-13, which finished third, did indeed enjoy a perfect race debut, and wasn’t even in with a slim chance of securing second or first.

Equivalence of Technology, is crushingly difficult to understand and indeed work out if you’re a rule-maker. But so far, it’s not hard to spot that it appears to be skewed very much in the favour of Toyota, which could mean it goes one of two days at Le Mans: either the EoT swings back the other way – or Toyota run away with the French classic.  The only saving grace here, is that there are rumblings in the paddock that due to the what’s capable for the non-hybrids in terms of top speed, could mean that they are far closer to the Toyotas in June. A number of the cars, are perfectly capable of blowing by the Toyotas on top speed, once the Hybrid cars’ superiority under acceleration peters out. The wide open spaces at Mulsanne and the run down to Indianapolis could prove to be happy hunting grounds for a well sorted and well driven non-hybrid LMP1.

We’ll have to wait and see…

Written by Stephen Kilbey
Photography by Dailysportscar

FIA WEC

FIA WEC 6 Hours of Spa Preview

Looking Ahead to the FIA WEC  6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps

After months and months of intrigue and speculation, the FIA World Endurance Championship’s 2018/19 ‘Super Season’ is finally here. This weekend, the teams and drivers will head to Spa-Francorchamps to kick off the season with the traditional Le Mans dress rehearsal in the Ardennes Forest. But with so much new technology up and down the order, just what can we expect? Will it deliver and what should we be keeping an eye on as the countdown to the 86th edition of the Grand Prix D’Endurance enters its final stages?

Up at the front, the LMP1 class looks completely different, and far bigger, than it did in 2017. In fact, what we have, for better or for worse, is the biggest LMP1 field in the FIA WEC’s six-year history. It is packed with privateer cars, fresh and still unproven, and just two hybrid entries from Toyota after Porsche’s withdrawal. But don’t let the lack of factory competition for the Japanese marque put you off. This is very much a David vs Goliath situation, and there is still far more questions than answers at this time.

FIA WEC

Toyota’s big news story this year, isn’t concerning the car. Instead, the headlines surround the driver crew which will feature two-time Formula One World Champion Fernando Alonso. It is no secret he’s coming this year, and it is no secret that he is taking on the FIA WEC as part of a ‘Triple Crown’ run. But just how will he fare? Well, we don’t know yet, but what we do know, is that his supreme talents in an F1 car aside, when he stepped into an IndyCar last year he was quick straight away. You would also think that his performance at Daytona this year (for his sportscar debut) would give a good indication. But his car wasn’t up to the task, resulting in a rather quiet run to the finish for the Spaniard. Time will tell just how quickly he can adapt to what is a very different style of driving required in LMP1 H.

Can Toyota’s pair of mildly-revised TS050 HYBRIDs be challenged by the slew of private competition? In truth, especially at this stage, it seems unlikely. There is still plenty of creases to be ironed out in the class’ EoT (Equivalence of Technology), and in the new cars themselves. So we may have to wait a little before we see the true potential of SMP and DragonSpeed’s BR1s, CEFC TRSM’s Ginettas, ByKolles upgraded CLM and Rebellion Racing’s R-13s. The FIA WEC Prologue though, was if nothing else, encouraging; Toyota setting its fast times running outside the rules, leaving some hope for a competitive race at the start of the season.

FIA WEC

Who should we be looking to at this stage to challenge for the final podium spot? SMP Racing and Rebellion Racing look to hold the advantage at this stage in the pace department. The Russian BR1 AER’s look quick, and at the Prologue they didn’t suffer any major troubles. Not surprising, as the car, designed by Dallara, has had the most running of the new breed, and has a good set of drivers to get the most out of its cars. This will include Jenson Button this year, but unfortunately not until after the Spa round.

Rebellion meanwhile, was unable to get its pre-season test programme underway before the Prologue, due to the lead time from ORECA of its new Gibson-powered chassis. The team, has been out testing since the trip to Paul Ricard, but its R-13s are still very new. The pace appears to be there, so it’s all down to durability this weekend in Belgium if the Swiss-flagged effort is to leave with silverware at this early stage. Elsewhere, ByKolles, DragonSpeed and CEFC TRSM showed flashes of what is to come in France, but there is still a long way to go for all three teams. The focus at this stage is very much on using Spa as effectively as possible as preparation for Le Mans, which is going to be a far harder, but more important task in the long run.

While LMP1 may hold the most interest to those in the stands, let’s not forget that there is plenty to look for in the other three classes too. GTE Pro is stacked. Now with the addition of a full BMW factory effort, the category is 10-cars strong, and oozing talent. While little has changed at Ferrari, Porsche and Ford in the off-season, that is by no means a bad thing. With the added value of BMW’s new M8 GTE and Aston Martin’s new Vantage, with fresh driver crews, there’s going to be a real fight for the podium spots this year.

FIA WEC

Both new cars set to grace the class have been out testing for months now, and have completed some serious mileage. Both cars look strong, not bullet proof, but certainly further down the line in their development than you might expect considering neither have a FIA WEC start to their name.

Aston Martin’s driver crew sees two newcomers set to debut at Spa; Maxime Martin, who’s astonishing performance at the 2013 Nurburgring 24 Hours still lives in the memories of many, and Alex Lynn, who’s won races in GP2, LMP2 and in DPi. Both are rapid, and are already up to speed with the car and their new surroundings. BMW meanwhile, will start the season with a quartet of FIA WEC new-boys: Martin Tomczyk, Nicky Catsburg, Tom Blomqvist and Antonio Felix Da Costa. There’s no weak link there, it is hot-shoe central in the BMW garage!

FIA WEC

Then there is both the LMP2 and GTE Am classes which are set to deliver quality racing all season long, as they did in 2017. LMP2 has variety, with a Dallara P217 from Racing Team Nederland (driven by none other than Dutch hero Jan Lammers at Spa and Le Mans) and a Ligier JS P217 fielded by Larbre Competition. That means  we don’t have an an ORECA spec-class, instead we have a division with three of the four LMP2 global chassis present, and two tyre brands, with Michelin entering the class to go head-to-head with Dunlop.

FIA WEC

DragonSpeed’s 07 Gibson may well prove to be the class of the field. At the Prologue it ran fastest, courtesy of a rapid lap by the polarising figure that is Pastor Maldonado, the Venezuelan signed up for his sportscar race debut at this weekend too, with Mexican Roberto Gonzalez and Frenchman Nethanael Berthon.

FIA WEC

GTE Am meanwhile, may have been consistently the best class on the wheel-to-wheel racing front in 2017, and that could well be exacerbated this season, as the car count has grown significantly to nine cars, up from five last year. There is plenty of familiar faces in the class too. Aston Martin Racing return as champions with the same line-up and the older, rumbling V8-powered Vantage, Clearwater Racing looks to be everyone’s favourite team again with its all-chrome Ferrari 488, and the ageless Jorg Bergmiester rejoins the series with Team Project 1 – the most successful Porsche one-make team, which expands its programme with a debut FIA WEC run this year. As unpredictable as ever in 2018/19, GTE Am should continue to throw some real surprises throughout the season. At the moment, going on the form from the Prologue, which saw the new Porsche 911 RSRs in the class look clearly faster in pure lap time, it’s advantage Stuttgart. But with BoP set to be tweaked throughout, nobody is crowning any winners just yet.

So sit back, and enjoy the ride. This weekend, the FIA WEC, with its new look grid and new calendar is back, and some might say, better than ever. The new era, starts now.

Written by Stephen Kilbey
Photography by Dailysportscar

LMP1

Le Mans 2017: LMP Preview

This time next week the wait will nearly be over for the Le Mans 24 Hours 2017. Anticipation for the on track action will be at its peak and all the cars will be being prepared for action. Here we look at the talking points from a new look prototype field and what we can expect to see during Le Mans 2017.

Toyota vs Porsche
It is the clash of the titans we’ve all been waiting for. This year it is slightly different too, with Toyota, for the first time, bringing three cars to Le Mans. Toyota will be out to right the wrongs of last year, and try out some new talent too. The No. 9 car features returnee Nicolas Lapierre, Japanese Super Formula champion Yuji Kunimoto and WTCC champion Jose Maria Lopez (who was in the No.7, but has been moved to the third car after his shunt at Silverstone cost him a race at Spa, and the experience to go with it).

Le Mans 24 Hours
Whilst the picture at Toyota has been of wholesale changes to technical parts and personnel, at Porsche, the car has taken a much more evolutionary approach, but the driver squad has had a thorough shake up. Out is the retiring Mark Webber, and last year’s Le Mans winners Roman Dumas (here in an Alpine LMP2) and Marc Lieb who is here as a reserve. In has come ex-Audi LMP1 star Andre Lotterer, and returning Le Mans winners from 2015, Nick Tandy and Earl Bamber.

So far it’s been advantage Toyota, winning at Silverstone & Spa and setting the fastest times at the Le Mans Test Day. However, Porsche shouldn’t be counted out, the new (for 2017) 919 has proved quick, using an aero package which wasn’t designed for use at Silverstone and Spa, and its driver set is both experienced and youthful. Who will come out on top? At this point it’s too early to say. One thing’s for sure though, it will be a historic result whatever happens. It’ll either be Toyota’s first victory, or Porsche’s 19th!

Le Mans 2017

ByKolles
Without competition, but still with interest, the ByKolles Racing Team has kept the LMP1 privateer on life-support this year. The Austrian team, with its Nissan-powered CLM P1/01 has the potential to mix in with the new and high powered LMP2s. It may not sound like much, but the car will be fast in a straight line, and should be competing with the top-end LMP2 teams. This year in particular, filling the gap between LMP1-H and LMP2 is not necessary, instead, the team will be excited about the prospect of seeing just how high up the order it can finish.

Le Mans 2017

Oreca vs everyone else in LMP2
The non-Oreca 07 runners could very well be in trouble. At the Le Mans Test Day, with their new low-downforce kits, the Orecas were seconds ahead of the competition, that without even being fastest in a straight line! In the end they finished 1 to 13 in the LMP2 running order, leaving frightened faces at Ligier, Dallara and Riley in their wake. Will this domination continue during race week? It’s distinctly possible. There are contingencies in the rules, to re-balance performance, but it’s by no means clear whether at this point the race officials intend to act. Certainly Ligier, has publicly accepted that its low-drag kit, is not working, with it becoming clear that Dallara has gone far too far down the blindingly fast route, and not nearly far enough on the goes round corners quickly aspect. The commercial future, for this brand new class, could well hinge on what, if anything, emerges in the coming days.

Le Mans 24 Hours 2017
World Endurance Championship vs European Le Mans Series
There has been plenty of discussions over the past couple of years about a perceived gap in standard between the FIA WEC and ELMS LMP2 teams. This will be put to the test next week, as the entire WEC field (all Orecas!) and all but one of the ELMS LMP2 teams are on the entry list. There are entries from the likes of Signatech Alpine, Rebellion, United Autosports, DragonSpeed and G-Drive Racing, some of the best teams in sports car racing. Which series will emerge with the winning, or highest placed car? Time will tell. It’s time to settle the debate!

Riley
While there’s strength in numbers for Oreca, Ligier and Dallara at Le Mans, the fourth LMP2 constructor, Riley, has just one bullet in its gun. There are some very good aspects to this programme, mainly Keating Motorsports fielding Jordan Taylor – who has won every IMSA WeatherTech race this year – and ultra-fast Dutchman Jeroen Bleekemolen alongside team owner Ben Keating. The problem though, is that the car has had little testing, particularly with its Le Mans aero set up. The Keating outfit only received the car six weeks ago, but it will receive support from Bill Riley himself and Multimatic at the race week, as Keating is their only customer racing in Europe. They will be desperate to show off what the car can do too, as a good result next week could well boost future sales.

Le Mans 2017
Reliability
We don’t talk as much about reliability in sports car racing now, because modern machinery is almost bullet proof at times. But this year in LMP2 there is cause for concern when it comes to niggles, serviceability and durability. While the new breed of LMP2 cars have been surprisingly durable, there have been signs that over the course of Le Mans there could be some issues which affect the race.
The electronic systems have had the problems that are the most widespread, with compatibility issues that have caused many teams to lose functions on their steering wheel. Gearboxes, and in particular, gear-shift actuators, have also played up, particularly on the Ligiers. While a race of attrition shouldn’t be expected, the age of the LMP2 cars must be taken into consideration. Expect at least some of the contenders to fall by the wayside, spending unscheduled time in the garage.

High speeds
One of the more spectacular aspects of this year’s 24 hours is going to be the speed of the new LMP2s. The new Gibson engine, and Le Mans aero has relegated the quickest LMP1 car to 13th on the speed trap in a straight line. The fastest of the bunch is the Dallara P217, which managed 341kph (about 205mph) down the straights during the Test Day. That can be bettered during race week too, when the track gets worn in. The new cars are seriously quick, and will breeze past the GTE cars in a straight line, which should dazzle the spectators on hand, who are used to seeing LMP2s have to fight traffic solely through corners.

Le Mans 2017
Tyres
It is not quite the GTE tyre war, but LMP2 does have a handful of Michelin and Dunlop runners in the race this year. It is fair to say that not only does Dunlop have the better rubber in ideal conditions, but also the customer base behind it, as there’s only three Michelin-shod cars in the 25-car field. If the conditions take a turn for the worst though, it may throw a spanner in the works, as neither tyre manufacturer has raced in the wet this year.

Noteworthy names
LMP2’s continued growth has led to many of the world’s best drivers, or most aspirant, wanting to give racing in LMP2 a go. In the field this year are former F1 star Rubens Barichello, Le Mans winner Jan Lammers, ex-F1 drivers Karun Chandhok & Jean-Eric Vergne, LMP1 Audi star Oliver Jarvis, GP2 race-winner Alex Lynn, Formula E champion Nelson Piquet Jnr and Bruno Senna among others.
It is an incredible 75-driver pool this year, and up front should make for a fierce battle for the win!

Rubens Barichello at Le MansRecord times
It is hard to believe that the LMP2 Le Mans lap record is held by Jos Verstappen, in a 2008 Porsche RS Spyder. Since then certain cars have flirted with breaking it but the 3mins:32secs barrier is proving a tough one to break. This year though, it will be shattered, with drivers predicting 3mins:25secs during qualifying. The new LMP2s were lapping quicker than the Pole-time set by the Audi R10 less than a decade ago. It is staggering how far they have come. They are fast down the straights, grippy through the corners, and punchy on exits. They are so fast, that it is going to be like having 31 LMP1 cars on the grid for Le Mans 2017.

Written by Stephen Kilbey
Photography by Dailysportscar

Manor at Le Mans 2016

Countdown to Le Mans: LMP2 Preview

With race week begun & scrutineering over we look at 9 things you should look out for in the LMP2 class

  1. Biggest ever P2 field
    3 cars is the biggest ever field of LMP2 Prototypes with the FIA WEC, ELMS, IMSA and Asian Le Mans Series all represented. Realistically at least half are capable of winning the class battle on sustained pace. All are now reliable enough to expect a finish of Le Mans doesn’t catch them out!

Algarve Pro Racing at Le Mans

2. Nissan vs Honda vs Judd
There are three different engines represented in the field, and it’s likely to be the last time we see at least two of them here with a chance of winning the class. Nissan dominate in the numbers game with 20 of the 23 runners featuring their venerable but hugely effective V8. But it will cease to be a competitive proposition from next year with a ‘spec’ Gibson V8 to be on tap with more than 100 bhp more than the current crop. Similarly the BMW block-based Judd will be outgunned next season, the Rugby-built engine features in just a pair of LMP2s, the So24! Liger and the Race Performance Oreca, neither are expected to be at the sharp end of proceedings, but they’ll sound great in the midfield! The twin turbo Honda V6 meanwhile has only one taker this time out, the very Orange Ligier of Michael Shank Racing – a very accomplished outfit on their Le mans debut, Audi GT star Laurens Vanthoor is the quick man here but he may not be enough to keep them in the mix and prevent a Nissan whitewash

3. Oreca blitz testing
An Oreca 05 Nissan won the class last year and that result certainly helped a sales drive – No fewer than seven of the cars are back this year, two badged as Alpines, but those cars are identical to their Oreca siblings. And the car seems to have retained its performance advantage – For much of the Test Day, held two weeks prior to the race on the same circuit, the Oreca/ Alpine squad filled the top seven slots on the timing screens, late session efforts from Laurens Vanthoor (Ligier Honda) and Jake Dennis (Gibson Nissan) were the only runs to spoil the pattern!

LMP2 at Le Mans 2016

4. Audi Factory drivers in P2
A trio of Audi factory drivers grace the LMP2 field, two are refugees from the cancelled third LMP1 Audi, this a victim of the fallout from the VWGate emissions scandal. Rene Rast is with he G-Drive Oreca effort, he was right in the thick of things at the Test Day and looks set to be front runner in the team’s #26 Oreca Nissan. Felipe Albuquerque is similarly inconvenienced by the lack of a third R18 this year but the Portuguese is already a race winner in LMP2, last year in the ELMS with Jota Sport and this season with a win in the opening WEC race of the season at Silverstone in ‘his’ #43 RGR By Morand Ligier Nissan; and Laurens Vanthoor, the coming man in the Audi camp. Almost peerless in GT3, he races convincingly well here last year in a Ligier Honda and will pilot a similar car this time around.

5. ESM triple crown
Extreme Speed Motorsport have swapped their 2015 Honda Power for Nissan in 2016 and have also moved the team into the Oak Racing Workshops here at Le mans from their previous in-house operation. They come to Le Mans with a unique feat in mind. The team’s solo (and still Honda engined) car triumphed overall earlier this year in both the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona and the 12 Hours of Sebring – A Le Mans win would make a nice set, 2016 new addition to the team Pipo Derani was the undoubted star for the team in the US races an he’s joined by another quick Pro, Ryan Dalziel in the #31 car for the full WEC including Le Mans. One major visual difference for the #30 and #31 cars here – Strict French laws concerning alcohol sponsorship once again prevent the team from promoting Tequila Patron – the black and green livery therefore changes for a one-off outing for the cases in white and black Paul Mitchell hair products livery.

6. BR01 From Russia With Love
The Russian flagged SMP Racing squad have their pretty pair of BRO1 Nissans in the race. Designed by prolific sportscar designer Paulo Catone the car should be on the pace. The team will be super keen to bring home a result and have shuffled their squads to boost their chances with ex Peugeot factory man Nic Minassian sharing the #27 car with 2016 IndyCar star Mikhail Aleshin and semi-pro Maurizio Mediani. In the sister #37 F1 refugee Vitaly Petrov returns to Le Mans for the first time in 10 years to anchor the car alongside 2015 GTE Am winner Viktor Shaitar and team regular Krill Ladygin in an all-Russian line-up.

SMP Racing at Le Mans 2016

7. G-Drive Gibson record
Just five open-topped cars remain in the LMP2 class this year, and the #38 G-Drive car is the one most likely to feature at the sharp end of proceedings. This is the very same chassis that has raced for the the team for the past five seasons and has won this race, just two years ago with a stunning fightback drive. They almost repeated the feat last year with second place after a startlingly similar stumble at the very start of the race. Now they’re back for another crack, likely their last with the Gibson chassis. Simon Dolan, team co-owner is an ever present in the team, a massively committed non-Pro driver who truly measures himself against his Professional colleagues. His full season partner this year is another F1 refugee Giedo van der Garde who anchored the team to a race win in the opening ELMS round this season with a very quick stint. Rounding out the trio is young British Driver Jake Dennis, with van der Garde a Le Mans rookie, and also a very quick driver indeed, clocking the fastest non-Oreca time of the Test Day – These guys are still very much in the hunt!

8. Manor
Manor Motorsport’s arrival in the FIA WEC was one of the biggest stories of the beginning of the 2016 WEC season. John Booth and Graeme Lowden looked jaded buy the effort to break through in the notoriously harsh environment of the F1 paddock and look reborn now! They have one regret, that they did not initially enter two cases for the full WEC. By the time they pushed the button on their second (#45) Oreca 05 it was too late too get the car into the Le Mans 24 Hours. The last minute LMP2 driver merry go round though rather strangely sees five of the Manor six on the grid for the 24 Hours. Tor Graves stays aboard his full season #44 car where he is joined by Roberto Mehdi and Matt Rao from the sister #45 – Rao bid higher than regular #44 driver James Jakes for the LM24 seat whilst Mehri stepped in after Will Stevens took the offer of a seat with G-Drive for Le Mans only in the #26 car. The third #45 driver meanwhile, Richard Bradley, will race in the #47 KCMG Oreca!

9. KCMG Return
Back for a one-off race to defend their Le Mans win last year are Chinese team KCMG. They field the very same car, again an Oreca 05 Nissan, that took the win last year here, and two of the same drivers too. Richard Bradley has a near full season drive with Manor in an identical car and his confirmation here keeps him in with a shot of the WEC drivers title, double points are on offer for WEC runners at Le Mans. Matt Howson shared the car in a full WEC campaign with Bradley last season but this is currently set to be his only major race of the season. Tsugio Matsuda is the reigning, and three time, Super GT Champion from Japan. He knows the team, and the circuit, and could be a strong addition to KCMG’s race winning hopes.

KCMG at Le Mans 2016

Written by Graham Goodwin
Photography by Dailysportscar

FIA WEC 2016

Introducing the FIA WEC 2016

The official prologue for the 2016 FIA World Endurance Championship took place over Easter weekend. This was the first chance for the public to see the new teams and cars in the flesh. Although little can be concluded from lap times at this stage, Stephen Kilbey from Dailysportscar, was trackside at Paul Ricard to give Travel Destinations a briefing on what to expect in the FIA WEC and at Le Mans 2016.

LMP1
Porsche, Audi and Toyota are all back for another season which is posed to be just as enthralling as last year. Each team will be entering 2 cars each in 2016, so there is a level playing field at the front of the grid.

Porsche 919 Hybrid

Porsche has opted to tweak its 919 Hybrid for the new season and take lots of small steps in an attempt to improve on performance, and nullify the ACO’s new restrictions on fuel-flow imposed to slow all the LMP1 cars down.

Audi R18 e-tron quattro

Audi and Toyota meanwhile enter 2016 with entirely new packages. Both the new Audi R18 and the Toyota TS050 are very different to what the teams ran last year, and that’s very apparent not just aesthetically, with new liveries and noticeable aero developments, but also under the covers too. The gamble here is whether the new technology will be as reliable as the tweaked tried and tested formula adopted by Porsche. Porsche topped the time sheets at Paul Ricard, but both Audi and Toyota showed quick sector times, without needing to put them all together. Ultimately the first race at Silverstone will really show us what each car is capable of.

Toyota TS050

In the privateer subdivision, one of the two teams present – Rebellion Racing – makes a return with two R-Ones, in a very similar package to last season, but a very shiny new livery which up-close is extremely detailed and in some ways mesmerising. The ACO have promised to review this class to try and enable them to be more competitive moving forward. Perhaps Rebellion’s efforts and consistency over the last few years deserves more.

Rebellion Racing

LMP2
There are plenty of new faces in the LMP2 class this year. This is probably the most difficult grid to predict with many similarly powered cars lining up alongside each other. G-Drive Racing, after winning the LMP2 Championship last season, have partnered up with Jota Sport to run a brand new Oreca 05, sporting the team’s standard eye-catching livery.

Manor

Aside from that, both Signatech Alpine and ex-F1 outfit Manor have also purchased Orecas for the new season. Alpine’s blue and orange looks just as good on a prototype with a roof, and Manor’s fresh look – conceived by team principal Graeme Lowdon – will certainly stand out in what promises to be a very competitive field.

RGR Morand

RGR Morand’s very patriotic livery representing the re-branded team’s Mexican ties on the new Ligier is also one to look out for.
GTE Pro
Much like LMP1 class the GTE Pro grid is oozing manufacturer interest, and the addition of Ford is a testament to the class’ relevancy in global GT racing.

Ford GT

On the subject of Ford, Chip Ganassi Team UK’s pair of GTs look astonishing up close, and with some more development should be in the running for some results throughout the season having already run at Daytona and Sebring in the States this year.

Ferrari 488

Outside of the Ford’s new car on the grid, the well-established AF Corse squad are back with two brand new Ferrari 488 GTEs which promise to be in contention for the title right away. When has a Ferrari not been in the mix over the last few years?

Aston Martin Racing

Aston Martin Racing and Dempsey Proton Racing – Porsche’s only Pro representative this year – meanwhile have revised cars for the season. Aston martin’s Vantages are substantially more meaty in the rear diffuser department, and livery wise, after sporting Gulf colours since 2008, Aston Martin return to the team’s roots by running in a very smart (and British) green.

GTE Am
Although the Aston Martin’s will no longer be carrying the Gulf Oil branding, the famous colours won’t be missing from the grid, as European Le Mans Series graduates Gulf Racing UK are participating in the full FIA WEC season this year with their Porsche. It is certainly a striking car and sure to be a fan favourite.

Gulf Racing UK

Top to bottom, GTE Am’s foundations remain unchanged, although 2015 LMP2 runner-up KCMG are also set to run a Porsche in the 2016 FIA WEC championship.

As the clock ticks down to the start of the season at Silverstone from the 15th – 17th April, the work behind the scenes will be ramped up. The official prologue has certainly whetted the appetite for what is going to be another great endurance racing season.

 

The Le Mans 24 Hours remains the pinnacle in the endurance racing calendar and the jewel in the crown of the FIA World Endurance Championship. For those wishing to watch the racing live, travel, ticket and camping packages are still available from Official Agent Travel Destinations. Availability restrictions for certain areas apply, but it is still possible to reserve your place Le Mans 2016.

Travel Destinations also have exclusive offers to attend the FIA World Endurance Championship  rounds at both Spa-Francorchamps and the Nurburgring. Visit our dedicated site for more information and the best prices or call Travel Destinations direct now on 0844 873 0203.