Petit Le Mans preview: Prototypes (P1, P2, PC)

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This weekend marks the end of an era for the American Le Mans Series presented by Tequila Patron.

The last Petit Le Mans to feature the ALMS, before its assets are integrated and merged into the new-for-2014 TUDOR United SportsCar Championship, will take place this Saturday at Road Atlanta.

It will additionally be run with heavy hearts following the loss earlier this week of British rising star Sean Edwards, a Porsche driver killed in a training accident in Australia.

We’ll still take a look through the field in the prototype and GT classes to see who stands the best shot of scoring a win in the ALMS swan song.

P1 (4)

  • Muscle Milk Pickett Racing: Yet to win Petit Le Mans in its history, but a win would be its ninth in a row to cap a historic, title-winning season. Drivers Klaus Graf, Lucas Luhr and Romain Dumas in their HPD ARX-03c will have a serious challenger to battle with Rebellion Racing returning for the first time since Monterey in May. The team’s plans are yet unannounced for 2014.
  • Rebellion Racing: As mentioned previously, the team’s alternate Lola B12/60 Toyota chassis will be on hand to defend its 2012 overall triumph at Petit with drivers Nicolas Prost, Neel Jani and Nick Heidfeld. Unfinished business for them as they beat Pickett’s team at Sebring (for third place), but lost out overall at Long Beach and Monterey.
  • Dyson Racing: One of the stalwarts of sports car racing rounds out its 30th season with Chris Dyson joined by two gentlemen drivers, and the team’s Lola B12/60 Mazda is unlikely to challenge for an overall win on pace alone.
  • DeltaWing Racing Cars: Radical coupe looks to finish its first race since its introduction at Austin; only car in class with a two-driver lineup of Andy Meyrick and Katherine Legge, and wants to impress on team’s home soil.

P2 (4)

  • Level 5 Motorsports: Team went 1-2 in deeper P2 field at Petit last year and has pulled out all the stops again for its pair of HPD ARX-03bs. The early favorites with Scott Tucker, Ryan Briscoe and Marino Franchitti in one car (No. 551) and Guy Cosmo, Jonny Kane and Peter Dumbreck in the other (No. 552). Marino is wearing brother Dario’s helmet this weekend.
  • Extreme Speed Motorsports: Scott Sharp can still win the P2 class driver’s title with a win and some help as the team seeks a repeat of GT win at Petit in 2012. Has Anthony Lazzaro and David Brabham to aid him in the No. 01 HPD. The guy to watch in the sister No. 02 is Rob Bell, a McLaren factory shoe making a rare prototype appearance alongside regulars Johannes van Overbeek and Ed Brown.

PC (7)

  • CORE autosport: Twice defending class champions seek a race win repeat in the capable hands of team principal Jon Bennett, Tom Kimber-Smith and Mark Wilkins (No. 05). Wilkins was part of the winning car a year ago.
  • PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports: On paper the Dane Cameron/David Cheng/Michael Guasch lineup doesn’t quite stack up to CORE’s. But Cameron’s talent may be able to push this car to its second Petit win (2011), and the team won Sebring already this year.
  • BAR1 Motorsports: A pair of challengers but it’s the Kyle Marcelli/Chris Cumming/Stefan Johansson (No. 8) car that could win its third straight race, while the second car of Tomy Drissi, James French and Rusty Mitchell (No. 7) is there to make up the numbers.
  • RSR Racing: Bruno Junqueira and Duncan Ende will be solid as ever for Paul Gentilozzi’s No. 9 car, so the wild card is sports car and ALMS debutante Gustavo Menezes. He has track experience from Star Mazda, but is new to multi-class racing.
  • Performance Tech Motorsports: Tristan Nunez and Charlie Shears anchor the No. 18; I reckoned Ryan Booth, an IMSA Lites race winner, would have been added as a third. Unlikely to win on raw pace.
  • 8Star Motorsports: Team’s new car for Ozz Negri and Sean Rayhall (No. 25) is a true wild card. Negri’s experienced in Daytona Prototypes in Rolex but new to ALMS, while Rayhall, an IMSA Lites star, makes his ALMS and thus endurance racing debut. Surprising to see only two drivers without a veteran third hand, but the team has other commitments in the FIA World Endurance Championship and IMSA Lites this weekend.

Porsche ready for final LMP1 outing in Bahrain

Photo: Porsche
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At the conclusion of this weekend’s Six Hours of Bahrain, Porsche’s four-year run in the LMP1 class of the FIA World Endurance Championship will come to a close. The pair of Porsche 919 Hybrids will roll off from first and third after Friday’s qualifying, and will look to add one more win to their final tally.

Despite its short stint, Porsche more than made its mark on the class and the championship, immediately jumping to the fore and challenging young hotshots Toyota, race winners in 2012 and 2013 and LMP1 champions in 2014, and long-time stalwarts Audi, which introduced its first LMP1 entry in 1999 and quickly became the predominant force in the LMP category.

The 2014 season saw Porsche score four poles and a race win before embarking on a remarkable three-year stretch from 2015 to 2017, in which they scored three straight 24 Hours of Le Mans wins and three straight WEC driver and manufacturer championships (they wrapped the 2017 titles at the previous race in Shanghai.

Fritz Enzinger, Vice President of the LMP1 effort, detailed that the early days of the program were a little rocky, given the complex hybrid technology they were working with, but that they were able to find their stride relatively quickly.

“Back then (in 2014), we developed from zero a highly complex hybrid racecar on a Formula One level. The early days were extremely demanding, especially as we had to set up the infrastructure, including new buildings, at the same time, plus assembling a team of 260 excellent people. The timing was really tight and the 2014 Le Mans race came way too early for us. But since then, we have managed maximum success. I’m incredibly proud of this team and I hope that we can conclude the era of the Porsche 919 Hybrid with a good race in Bahrain.”

Team principal Andreas Seidl added that having the championships wrapped up will make the final weekend more enjoyable, as they won’t have the pressure of racing with the championships in mind.

“I feel a big relief that the pressure of defending the manufacturers’ and drivers’ world championship titles is resolved before our last race. The emotions of the farewell under the stress of the title battle would have been extremely hard for the team,” Seidl revealed.

Further, he added that Toyota’s TS050, which debuted last year, made their task all the more challenging as they worked to developed the Porsche 919 Hybrid –  the same basic car that they launched in 2014.

“In Toyota this year, we are facing a competitor who developed an all-new car for 2016. We, instead, kept developing our existing car. That we still won Le Mans as well as both championship titles is thanks to outstanding driver performances, many detailed improvements and the operational strength of our team,” Seidl asserted. “Now we have to get ourselves together and focus on this last race. We want to leave the stage not only as world champions but also with a performance that is satisfying for all of us. Six hours of reliability and faultless work are big challenges of men and machine. Safety has the highest priority. Only after the checkered flag can we allow our reflective feelings to break through.”

In terms of approaching Porsche’s LMP1 swan song, some drivers are taking different approaches. For example, Nick Tandy, driver of the No.1 entry with Neel Jani and André Lotterer, isn’t putting much thought into the farewell and is focusing entirely on the race.

“I prefer not to think about the farewell yet,” Tandy quipped. “The Bahrain race is very interesting anyway because we are racing from day into night. It is normally very hot for the car, the drivers and especially the tires. It is a challenging race to finish the season at. I haven’t been there since 2015 but I was on the podium back then when I came second in the LMP2 class. So this year’s target is to make it onto the LMP1 podium.”

Conversely, newly crowned champion Brendon Hartley, driver of the No. 2 entry with fellow champions Earl Bamber and Timo Bernhard, freely expressed his emotions about the end of the Porsche LMP1 program.

“Going to Bahrain will be emotional for all of us. Especially as we arrive as World Champions with less pressure now,” asserted Hartley, who has also endured a busy stretch since the Petit Le Mans on October 7 that has seen him racing every weekend across the WEC, Formula 1, and the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. “I have so many incredible memories and experiences with the 919 Hybrid, teammates and all the boys and girls from the Porsche LMP Team. We shared something very special together. After developing the Porsche 919 for more than four years, it’s an absolute dream to drive so we will all be enjoying every last lap with this awesome machine. On one side there will be a lot of sadness, but on the other hand we will be giving everything to give this project the ultimate send off it deserves.”

Porsche’s LMP1 effort won races in each of its four seasons, totaling 17 victories between it’s entries.

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