Sharp, Patron ESM enter “immensely different” second WEC season

Photo courtesy of IMSA

The 2016 season couldn’t have started any better for Tequila Patron ESM, with overall wins in the Rolex 24 at Daytona and Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Fueled by Fresh from Florida.

Luis Felipe “Pipo” Derani spearheaded the driving lineup, along with solid performances from Scott Sharp and Johannes van Overbeek with Ed Brown also completing minimal laps in the team’s No. 2 Ligier JS P2 Honda.

Things will be a tad different once they head from North America into the FIA World Endurance Championship, for the team’s second season in the LMP2 class.

The Ligier JS P2s that they ran from Spa onwards last year are now a tried-and-true package, after a scramble to build the cars to even ensure they were ready for Spa. The Ligiers were the third different chassis the team used last year, after the HPD ARX-04bs at Daytona and previous generation HPD ARX-03bs at Sebring and Silverstone.

For 2016, the team has Nissan engines replacing Hondas, a primarily French crew from OAK Racing (Onroak Automotive) on board and a slightly altered driver lineup. Sharp, van Overbeek and Brown will continue in the team’s No. 30 car with Derani, Ryan Dalziel and Chris Cumming in the No. 31 car.

“It’s gonna be really competitive. I’m excited with the moves we made,” Sharp, also the team owner, told NBC Sports at Sebring. “I think the Nissan engine is the one to run in the WEC from a weight perspective.

“The big move for us is collaborating with Onroak and their car, with the success they’ve had already to go testing in (Motorland) Aragon. It’s so smooth and orchestrated, it should be a solid season.”

The team has tested there and at Circuit Paul Ricard for the Prologue in late March.

As Sharp explained it, despite those differences, familiarity in knowing the tracks and process should make things better this season.

“It’s immensely different. It was a such a cluster for us last year,” Sharp said. “Three different chassis. Going to all these new tracks.

“As a driver with a lot of experience, I’d been to the tracks here so many times. Elkhart (Lake, Road America), it’s like I’ve been there 20 times. For us it was almost like a young driver going to tracks against guys that know it so much better. That’s what we did last year.

“It was so frustrating, because you’d spend all week learning and understanding and playing catch-up. Now it’s like, you want to hit the rewind button and be like, ‘Can we start over now?’ For us, it should be so much easier this time around.”

Sharp also said Patron ESM has played by the rules with proper gentlemen Silver-rated drivers, in Brown and Cumming, while other teams have opted for the “fake Silver” to fill out the car’s lineup to the regulations.

“There’s five or six really strong combinations at least. One factor people are talking about is we have two legitimate Silvers, whereas some cars have a Silver in, and a lot of organizations wouldn’t rate them a Silver.

“But here we’ve got two different things completely compared to the U.S. We’ve got different engines and tires on the car, and we’re stoked to get it going.”