Signatech Alpine/DPPI

Menezes ready to defend Le Mans crown in ‘insanely close’ LMP2 class

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American racer Gustavo Menezes is geared up to defend his 24 Hours of Le Mans crown with Signatech Alpine next weekend, but expects a tough challenge in the “insanely close” LMP2 class.

Menezes, 22, won Le Mans for Signatech Alpine last year alongside Nicolas Lapierre and Stephane Richelmi en route to the LMP2 crown in the World Endurance Championship, becoming the first American champion to win an FIA world title since 1981 in the process.

The revamped LMP2 class has looked closer than ever through the opening two rounds of the WEC season, with Menezes recording P4 and P5 finishes at Silverstone and Le Mans respectively in the No. 36 Signatech Alpine A470 Gibson.

Menezes returned to the Circuit de la Sarthe for the first time since his Le Mans victory last weekend, taking part in Sunday’s test running, with the official pre-race schedule set to get underway next week.

“The test day went well. It’s fantastic to go back to Le Mans and our speed looked good straight out-of-the-box,” Menezes said.

“With everybody following their individual agendas, it’s tricky to ascertain the true pecking order at this early stage. But one thing for sure is that it’s insanely close in LMP2.

“The No. 35 car put in a great lap, which proved the potential of the package we have and that’s promising because our pace was very similar but we just never got a clear run to show it.

“We concentrated on our own technical program, played around with a variety of different set-ups, came away with plenty of useful data and – most importantly of all – worked well together as a team.”

The new Oreca chassis (rebranded by the team) for 2017 and added power has resulted in a significant improvement in lap time for the LMP2 class, with straight line speeds outstripping those set by the LMP1 runners.

“At Le Mans in particular, you can really feel the extra downforce and power in LMP2 this year because the long straights allow the cars to properly stretch their legs,” Menezes explained.

“The Alpine A470 felt incredible to drive round there – more like a single-seater than ever before. We were hitting top speeds in excess of 330km/h, which was very impressive.

“In a non-competitive session, Nelson [Panciatici] was already eight seconds faster than last year’s best LMP2 qualifying time, meaning we’re likely to be even quicker come the race weekend itself.

“We still have a bit more work to do, of course, but I think we’re in reasonable shape and I’m really excited to return next week.

“The team and Alpine have placed their trust in me, and I want to reward them for that by fighting for the win again.

“The clear objective is to keep up my 100 per cent record at Le Mans and whilst that obviously won’t be easy, nothing worth having ever is. So bring it on!”

Menezes will defend his Le Mans LMP2 title on June 17-18.

GAINSCO partners with JDC-Miller for Simpson, Goikhberg

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The bright yellow No. 85 JDC-Miller Motorsports Oreca 07 Gibson, nicknamed the “JDC Banana Boat,” will morph into the latest incarnation of the bright red “Red Dragon” for 2018.

The now GAINSCO Auto Insurance-backed No. 99 JDC-Miller Motorsports Oreca 07 Gibson will run the full 2018 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season, and the new livery will be revealed at the Roar before the Rolex 24.

GAINSCO revealed last month it wouldn’t run its own team, having partnered with Bob Stallings Racing for more than a decade with great success in GRAND-AM Rolex Series competition. But it was still going to partner with a team and received multiple proposals from other teams. The initial deal with JDC-Miller Motorsports is one year for 2018 with an option for 2019, but both parties envision this growing into a multi-year deal.

The last few years the team has run only on-and-off, with a one-off appearance in the 2014 Rolex 24 at Daytona as Alex Gurney scored pole, but a devastating accident for Memo Gidley having left him seriously injured. Gidley has made significant strides in his recovery.

Since that point, GAINSCO/BSR moved into Pirelli World Challenge, running first a Hyundai Genesis, then a McLaren 650S GT3, and then a Porsche 911 GT3 R with Gurney’s longtime co-driver Jon Fogarty. The same level of success was hard to find and while the team scored several podium finishes, wins eluded them over two years.

Alas, this provides John Church’s quality operation a major supporter both from visibility and agent standpoints, as GAINSCO is one of the biggest at-track activators in the sport. Primary drivers Stephen Simpson and Misha Goikhberg continue for the full season with Chris Miller the third driver for Tequila Patron North American Endurance Cup rounds.

A fourth driver will be named later (likely within the next week to 10 days), but won’t be Jon Fogarty, as Bob Stallings offered him the opportunity but Fogarty declined owing to other business commitments.

“We offered Jon Fogarty the opportunity, took a couple days (to think), he couldn’t feature anyone else driving but him… he has successful business ventures and that takes priority at this time,” Stallings said.

Church and Stallings. Photo courtesy of GAINSCO Racing

Stallings, Executive Chairman of GAINSCO, as well as the founder of the GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Race team, recently decided not to run his own race team, but is committed to continuing the legacy of the Red Dragon by partnering with an organization capable of a long-term winning program.

“We had many opportunities to continue our quest for championships and JDC-Miller MotorSports was an easy pick,” said Stallings of the Minnesota-based team. “John Church and John Miller have established themselves as a team to be reckoned with, even against the formidable competition in IMSA.”

“We are very honored to gain the support of GAINSCO Auto Insurance and to carry on the livery of the No. 99 Red Dragon,” Church added. “It was immediately evident that the GAINSCO folks are as committed as we are.  This is a tremendous opportunity for JDC-Miller MotorSports and we look forward to the season ahead.”

Andy Jordan, Sr. Vice President of Marketing and Business Development led the search for the GAINSCO’s 2018 racing partnership.

“We were amazed and flattered by the amount of interest we received from teams who felt their racing programs would be elevated by an opportunity to partner with us and run the famous “Red Dragon” livery.  There were several important considerations for GAINSCO; the team had to compete at the highest level, and it had to feel like the kind of family we could be a part of and believe in.

“JDC-Miller Motorsports was the team we kept coming back to.  They race prototypes, they are great people, they are committed to win and the parallels between JDC-Miller Motorsports today and GAINCSO/Bob Stallings Racing in 2006/2007 were abundant.  I couldn’t be prouder and more excited to join John and his team for the 2018 season and hopefully beyond.”

JDC-Miller is adding a second car this season, with Simon Trummer its first confirmed driver and Robert Alon having tested with the team at Daytona earlier this month. This car will maintain the “banana boat” livery and will announce the rest of its program later.

Church said there “hasn’t been a discussion” in terms of adding Bob Stallings Racing personnel to JDC-Miller’s lineup as it sits, but it could be integrated.

The JDC-Miller Oreca 07. Photo courtesy of IMSA