FIA World Endurance Championship

Signatech Alpine/DPPI

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

Leave a comment

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.

Toyota sweeps Le Mans test day, beats 2016 pole time

ACO
Leave a comment

Toyota Gazoo Racing made an impressive start to this year’s official running at the Circuit de la Sarthe ahead of the 2017 24 Hours of Le Mans by dominating Sunday’s test day, beating the pole time from 2016 in the process.

Toyota heads into this year’s edition of the endurance classic out to avenge its heartbreaking defeat, and made an immediate impact by sweeping the top three positions on Sunday.

Kamui Kobayashi turned in a fastest lap of 3:18.132 in the No. 7 Toyota TS050 Hybrid to finish over a second clear of the sister No. 8 entry at the top of the timesheets, as well as lapping 1.6 seconds quicker than last year’s pole time.

Defending Le Mans holder Porsche endured a tough day blighted by a number of issues, leaving the No. 2 919 Hybrid fourth, 3.3 seconds off the headline pace, with the No. 1 car behind in P5.

Signatech Alpine set the pace in LMP2 as Nelson Panciatici posted a fastest lap of 3:28.146 in the No. 35 Alpine A470 Gibson (rebadged Oreca 07), giving the French squad P1 by almost seven-tenths of a second. Jean-Eric Vergne put in an impressive display on his first outing at the Circuit de la Sarthe to finish second for Manor, while Alex Brundle was third-fastest for Jackie Chan DC Racing.

Oliver Gavin topped the timesheets for Corvette in GTE Pro, posting a best time of 3:54.701 in the No. 64 C7.R as the Porsche 911 RSRs followed in second and third, the No. 91 leading the No. 92. Curiously, Ford Chip Ganassi Racing’s Le Mans defense started in quiet fashion as its quartet of Ford GTs filled out the bottom four positions.

Aston Martin Racing led the way in GTE Am courtesy of Pedro Lamy in the No. 98 Vantage V8, whose time of 3:58.250 was enough to give the British marque top spot by 0.052 seconds. Fernando Rees finished second in the No. 50 Larbre Competition Corvette C7.R, with Matteo Cairoli taking third for Dempsey-Proton Racing.

Perrinn confirms two orders of LMP1 chassis for 2018 WEC, Le Mans

Perrinn/Elan PR
Leave a comment

British motorsport engineering company Perrinn has confirmed the receipt of two orders of its LMP1 chassis for the 2018 FIA World Endurance Championship and 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Following the withdrawal of Audi and Rebellion Racing’s decision to step down to LMP2 for 2017, this year’s LMP1 class in the WEC features just five cars, with boosting numbers a key aim for the series’ leadership at the ACO and FIA.

Ginetta has already announced plans for a customer LMP1 chassis for 2018, while Russian outfit SMP Racing is also working on a project with BR Engineering and Dallara.

Perrinn has joined the fray by announcing on Thursday that it has received two chassis orders for 2018, as well as releasing renders of its design.

“With the design work already completed alongside preliminary digital and crash test simulations, the as yet unnamed car is expected to be revealed in late November before testing starts in December,” the statement reads.

“With the program already at such an advanced stage, Perrinn has confirmed it is capable of supplying further cars for the 2018 season.

“The first two cars sold will be run by a European race team with its identity and engine details to be released shortly.”

“Increased support and stability from the FIA and ACO, coupled with programs from other manufacturers has meant we’ve had a lot of discussions with teams seeking more freedom than the new LMP2 category,” designer Nicholas Perrinn added.

“LMP1 offers a route to progress from an engineering and pace point of view. In just a few short months, the program has progressed very quickly to the point where we’ll have two cars plus enough spares to build another car within six months.

“We have ensured we have capacity to do more should some of our other discussions develop.”

Updated Le Mans entry list, Toyota driver swap, revealed Tuesday

(Photo by Dean Treml/Red Bull via Getty Images)
1 Comment

A handful of driver swaps and additions have been confirmed as part of the near finalized entry list for this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Here’s the full entry list.

Chief among them is Toyota Gazoo Racing switching two of its drivers around between two of its three Toyota TS050 Hybrids. The recovering Jose Maria Lopez is shifted to the No. 9 entry with Yuji Kunimoto and Nicolas Lapierre, while Toyota veteran Stephane Sarrazin is slotted in alongside Mike Conway and Kamui Kobayashi in the team’s No. 7 car.

“Our circumstances have changed over the last few weeks as a result of the injury to José María,” Toyota team president Toshio Sato said in a release. “He is in the unfortunate position of having completed very few racing laps this year in WEC, so we all felt it was appropriate to adjust the driver line-up.

“I am very confident that Stéphane will fit well into a No. 7 line-up which can fight for the win. José María, like Yuji, will learn a lot at Le Mans this year, familiarizing himself with the track and the event in general, and this is an important step for the future as well.”

Elsewhere the ByKolles lineup retains the same trio of Oliver Webb, Dominik Kraihamer and James Rossiter, Jose Gutierrez joins the DragonSpeed-operated G-Drive entry in LMP2 replacing Leo Roussel, Graff Racing has finalized its LMP2 lineup and a handful of others have been swapped around in GTE-Am, notably at JMW Motorsport (in Will Stevens) and Proton Competition. Only the third seat in the No. 88 Porsche 911 RSR for Proton remains to be filled.

Breaking down the entry list a bit, Porsche looks for its third straight win and Toyota its elusive first.

Three full-season IndyCar drivers are set to participate in Scott Dixon, Sebastien Bourdais and Mikhail Aleshin, the three of them all set to miss the Le Mans Test Day at June 4 (will be racing in Detroit) and will then fly after the Texas race (June 10, 8 p.m. ET, NBCSN) for scrutineering early in the week. NBCSN IndyCar analyst Townsend Bell is also set to compete. Bourdais (GTE-Pro) and Bell (GTE-Am) will seek to defend their class wins last year in the same team and driver lineups with Ford Chip Ganassi Racing and Scuderia Corsa, respectively.

A trio of Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires veterans – Gutierrez, Felix Rosenqvist and Will Owen – enter into a highly competitive 25-car LMP2 field for their debuts. Their runs will be interesting to watch.

From an American entry standpoint, there are seven teams and 12 cars, listed below:

  • 21-DragonSpeed-10-Star, Oreca 07, Henrik Hedman, Ben Hanley, Felix Rosenqvist
  • 32-United Autosports, Ligier JS P217, Will Owen, Hugo de Sadeleer, Filipe Albuquerque
  • 43-Keating Motorsports, Riley Mk. 30, Jeroen Bleekemolen, Ben Keating, Ricky Taylor
  • 63-Corvette Racing, Corvette C7.R, Jan Magnussen, Antonio Garcia, Jordan Taylor
  • 64-Corvette Racing, Corvette C7.R, Oliver Gavin, Tommy Milner, Marcel Fassler
  • 66-Ford Chip Ganassi Team UK, Ford GT, Olivier Pla, Stefan Mucke, Billy Johnson
  • 67-Ford Chip Ganassi Team UK, Ford GT, Andy Priaulx, Harry Tincknell, Pipo Derani
  • 68-Ford Chip Ganassi Team USA, Ford GT, Joey Hand, Dirk Mueller, Sebastien Bourdais
  • 69-Ford Chip Ganassi Team USA, Ford GT, Ryan Briscoe, Richard Westbrook, Scott Dixon
  • 82-Risi Competizione, Ferrari 488 GTE, Giancarlo Fisichella, Toni Vilander, Pierre Kaffer
  • 62-Scuderia Corsa, Ferrari 488 GTE, Bill Sweedler, Townsend Bell, Cooper MacNeil*
  • 65-Scuderia Corsa, Ferrari 488 GTE, Christina Nielsen, Alessandro Balzan, Bret Curtis

*Only all-American driver lineup in the field.

There are 18 American drivers entered. They are, Will Owen, Gustavo Menezes, David Cheng, Ben Keating, Ricky Taylor, Mark Patterson, Matt McMurry (LMP2), Jordan Taylor, Tommy Milner, Billy Johnson, Joey Hand (GTE-Pro), Bill Sweedler, Townsend Bell, Cooper MacNeil, Bret Curtis, Tracy Krohn, Patrick Long and Mike Hedlund (GTE-Am).

Toyota takes second straight WEC win with dominant Spa display

Toyota Gazoo Racing
Leave a comment

SPA, Belgium – Toyota swept to a dominant one-two finish in Saturday’s FIA World Endurance Championship round at Spa-Francorchamps, continuing its perfect start to the 2017 season as Anthony Davidson, Sebastien Buemi and Kazuki Nakajima took their second straight win.

After winning the opening race of the year at Silverstone two weeks ago, Toyota sent out a warning shot to its rivals by topping all three practice sessions, only for Porsche to snatch pole with its No. 1 919 Hybrid on Friday afternoon.

Andre Lotterer led the early part of the race for Porsche, only for tire management issues to cause the German driver to drop back, with Mike Conway blasting into the lead for Toyota in the No. 7 car.

Conway and teammate Kamui Kobayashi were in control of the race until a full course yellow was thrown in the fourth hour, with a mistimed pit stop allowing the No. 8 Toyota to move into the lead.

Conway put in a stunning stint to reduce the gap between the two TS050 Hybrids from 20 seconds to just two in just 40 minutes, only to be burned by another full course yellow that widened the gap once again.

Porsche managed to get its No. 2 car up into second place briefly before Conway fought back, with Kobayashi then putting in a blistering final stint to cut the gap at the front once again. Late traffic cost the ex-Formula 1 driver the chance to catch Buemi at the front, with the No. 8 trio finishing two seconds clear at the checkered flag.

Porsche was left to settle for third and fourth, the No. 2 finishing ahead of the No. 3, but has placed its focus on preparing for Le Mans by running its cars in low downforce aero packages for the opening two rounds of the year. Toyota’s third entry, the No. 9, finished two laps down in fifth place.

G-Drive Racing converted pole position into victory in the LMP2 class at Spa after a back-and-forth battle with Rebellion ended when the Swiss team was hit with a penalty and suffered a bodywork issue, leaving Alex Lynn, Pierre Thiriet and Roman Rusinov to sweep to the win in the No. 26 Oreca 07 Gibson.

GTE Pro offered up a fascinating fight between the two AF Corse Ferrari 488 GTEs that even made contact at one point, only for Sam Bird and Davide Rigon to emerge victorious in the No. 71 car. Aston Martin Racing took GTE Am victory with its No. 98 Vantage GTE courtesy of a convincing display from Pedro Lamy, Mathias Lauda and Paul Dalla Lana.

The WEC season continues with the 24 Hours of Le Mans in June.