Pagenaud primed for more Sebring success with ESM P2

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Among the IndyCar drivers in action at this weekend’s Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring, Simon Pagenaud is one with some great experience at the central Florida circuit.

He’s competed here since 2009 with de Ferran Motorsports, Highcroft Racing, Muscle Milk Pickett Racing and Level 5 Motorsports, all in various iterations of Acura/HPD LMP1 or LMP2-spec chassis. He has finished second in class (2010-2012 LMP1, 2013 LMP2) each of the last four years.

Now for 2014, he’ll again be in an HPD prototype, in the same spec HPD ARX-03b as he raced with for Level 5 in 2013.

The difference is, this HPD is fielded by Extreme Speed Motorsports, and will be on Continental tires as opposed to Michelins.

Pagenaud was among the No. 2 car’s lineup in the Rolex 24 at Daytona, and together with ESM full season co-drivers Ed Brown and Johannes van Overbeek and fourth driver addition Anthony Lazzaro, finished seventh there, second best LMP2 car.

The Frenchman was part of an ESM private test at Sebring, after the series’ test Feb. 20-21. He compared the updated car favorably to last year’s.

“Yeah it’s a lot better than Daytona; this track suits the car much better,” Pagenaud told MotorSportsTalk in an interview last week. “We did a lot of laps with no mechanical issues. The team did great, and we’re in good shape.”

The ESM cars – along with other P2-spec cars in the race – will be able to revert to high downforce bodywork as opposed to the low downforce, Le Mans-spec bodywork ran at Daytona. That should also aid the team’s progress.

“I think the Continental tire will be a little better tire,” he said. “We have a little bit more downforce now because we had to go away from the Le Mans kit. There’s more downforce but also more drag. The HPD product is very used to Sebring.”

Lazzaro won’t be in action this weekend so it will just be the three of them in the striking black-and-green Patron HPD car.

Pagenaud is in the midst of a busy stretch, where he won a rally in France in an S2000 class Peugeot, and will head to Barber right after Sebring for IndyCar’s final two-day preseason test with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports.

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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