Le Mans 24: LMP2 car-by-car preview

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With a 23-car field and a good variety of machinery – the last before the new mandated four chassis and single engine package come into play in 2017 – LMP2 is both deep and hard to pick this year.

Still, there’s definite tiers of contenders with about 10 to 12 or 13 possible podium finishers. We break them down below:

22-Capillaire/Maris/Coleman, SO24! By Lombard, Ligier JS P2 Judd (D)

What are ingredients that make Le Mans a challenge? Be a first-year French team, with a primarily gentlemen driver lineup, a less than ideal package and the slowest time at the test day. In other words, peg your expectations fairly low for this car in the deep 23-car field.

23-Barthez/Chatin/Buret, Panis-Barthez Competion, Ligier JS P2 Nissan (M) 

Chatin and Buret are respectable racers, Buret set for his Le Mans debut after showing occasional flashes of brilliance Stateside in Pro Mazda last year. But like SO24! By Lombard above them, it’s too deep a field for this car to get much beyond the lower top-10 in class.

25-Munemann/Hoy/Pizzitola, Algarve Pro Racing, Ligier JS P2 Nissan (D)

British cycling legend Sir Chris Hoy makes his heralded Le Mans debut and that’s a great story – likely the only one of note you’ll be hearing from this car and team during the week.

26-Rast/Rusinov/Stevens, G-Drive Racing, Oreca 05 Nissan (D)

Combine an Audi factory ace, a class champion whose Silver rating has been the source of controversy and the ex-F1 driver making his team debut following the LMP2 musical chairs, and you have this car. Despite the strange mashup, this car is a definite podium contender.

38-Dolan/van der Garde/Dennis, G-Drive Racing, Gibson 015S Nissan (D)

The venerable “Mighty 38” – nee Jota Sport – has its usual different lineup, old car and a dogged determination to succeed in spite of that. Either Giedo van der Garde or Jake Dennis could emerge as a star to keep this car in contention against the newer coupes.

27-Minassian/Mediani/Aleshin, SMP Racing, BR01 Nissan (D)

Aleshin won the overall pole at Daytona this year in the same car and makes his second Le Mans start. Minassian and Mediani, the longtime pairing, look to match the exciting if erratic Russian and position this car for what would be a minor upset to win the class.

37-Petrov/Shaytar/K. Ladygin, SMP Racing, BR01 Nissan (D) 

Two forgettable races have kicked off the year for this car and while the all-Russian lineup makes for a good story on paper, it’s not the outright best in class. A top-10 is a realistic target, a top-five a case of punching above expectations.

28-Taittinger/Streibig/Roussel, Pegasus Racing, Morgan Nissan (M) 

The proverbial underdogs – Le Mans’ Minardi or Dale Coyne Racing if you will – Pegasus always seems to put up a good fight despite a lesser rated driver lineup and the oldest car in the field. Such is the case again for them going into 2016.

30-Sharp/Brown/van Overbeek, Extreme Speed Motorsports, Ligier JS P2 Nissan (D)

While Sharp and van Overbeek certainly played a key role in securing the team’s Daytona and Sebring victories, they’d need to perform a minor miracle to do likewise at Le Mans. Banking points and scoring a top-10 finish in class is an achievable goal.

31-Dalziel/Derani/Cumming, Extreme Speed Motorsports, Ligier JS P2 Nissan (D)

The team enters with much better preparation and results than they did this time last year and Dalziel and Derani figure to keep the No. 31 ESM Ligier fully in the hunt. Cumming should also be better suited for his second Le Mans after rare mistakes in his first, last year.

33-Junjin/Gommendy/De Bruijn, Eurasia Motorsport, Oreca 05 Nissan (D)

The rabbit and lone standout pro in this car is Gommendy, close but no cigar at Le Mans before. Despite leading the Test Day, it’s hard to call this car the favorite for a class win.

34-Leutwiler/Nakano/Winslow, Race Performance, Oreca 03R Judd (D) 

With an older car and less than ideal lineup, this is another in the “low expectation department.” Nakano and Winslow have occasional days where they punch above their weight.

35-Cheng/Tung/Panciatici, Baxi DC Racing Alpine, Alpine A460 Nissan (D)

The package is probably slightly better than the lineup here. In Panciatici, Tung and Cheng there’s three very capable drivers but the car is what will put this car in results contention more so. In a lesser car, this would be a fringe top-10 contender.

36-Menezes/Lapierre/Richelmi, Signatech Alpine, Alpine A460 Nissan (D)

Good car, good lineup and arguably the quickest of the Silvers in Menezes – the American open-wheel convert who is making full advantage of his Silver rating to essentially give this car three pros in a theoretical pro-am lineup. Don’t blame them for gaming the system.

40-Krohn/Jonsson/Barbosa, Krohn Racing, Ligier JS P2 Nissan (M)

The tried-and-true Krohn/Jonsson package remain Le Mans veterans but whereas podiums were achievable in the GT ranks in years past, this isn’t the best package in a deep LMP2 field – even with Barbosa providing more than ample support as the second pro.

41-Rojas/Canal/Berthon, Greaves Motorsport, Ligier JS P2 Nissan (D)

Greaves usually fields a Le Mans contender but there’s too many new variables this year – new lineup, new chassis primarily – and the depth at the top more likely to resign this car to the lower fringes of the top 10 at best.

42-Leventis/Watts/Kane, Strakka Racing, Gibson 015S Nissan (D)

The likable trio and past Le Mans winners hope to match the formerly Jota, now G-Drive No. 38 crew in punching above their weight given their strength as a team with the venerable, but aging, Gibson Nissan package.

43-Gonzalez/Senna/Albuquerque, RGR Sport by Morand, Ligier JS P2 Nissan (D)

This car is a solid win or podium contender, featuring the Audi factory ace (Albuquerque), a past class winner (Gonzalez) and the experienced yet still hungry veteran (Senna) in a tidy package with Morand’s team strength.

44-Graves/Rao/Merhi, Manor, Oreca 05 Nissan (D)

While Manor has been a great story thus far in the full FIA WEC, the team may find its first Le Mans a tougher experience, especially given the newness of its revised for Le Mans driver lineup. A top-five would be a great result for its first time out.

46-Thiriet/Beche/Hirakawa, Thiriet by TDS Racing, Oreca 05 Nissan (D)

The perennial “nearly” team in LMP2 at Le Mans, Thiriet by TDS is consistently there or thereabouts but has not quite clawed its way to the top of the podium. With a respectably good lineup and a good car, this year could be its year.

47-Matsuda/Howson/Bradley, KCMG, Oreca 05 Nissan (D) 

It’ll be interesting to see how much experience pays dividends because this is a car that hasn’t run all season. Bradley and Howson are reunited and Matsuda has a shot in a car that can win, unlike his Nissan LMP1 bow last year.

48-Keating/Bleekemolen/Goossens, Murphy Prototypes, Oreca 03R Nissan (D)

Older car and an am who’s never raced an LMP2 car is usually a bad recipe. But considering Keating and Bleekemolen are regular co-drivers and Goossens is high on experience, this is a good sleeper car provided it keeps running into the morning hours.

49-Pew/Negri/Vanthoor, Michael Shank Racing, Ligier JS P2 Honda (D)

Likable American team makes its maiden Le Mans bow. Vanthoor’s an ace and Negri and Pew look to maintain their usual consistency as a pair. The team will need to adapt back to a different, smaller size Honda engine, Dunlop tires, and the Le Mans regulations.

GARAGE 56 ENTRANT

84-Sausset/Tinseau/Bouvet, SRT41 by OAK Racing, Morgan Nissan (M)

The Garage 56 entrant has quad amputee Sausset as the car’s reason for being as the invitation entrant into the race. It’s quite a story and will be interesting to see how long the car runs beyond Sausset’s initial laps.

NEOM McLaren Racing Formula E and Ian James set to race ahead of electric motorsports’ curve

James McLaren Formula E
McLaren Racing
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As Formula E enters their ninth season and McLaren Racing is set to compete in last year’s championship winning car, Ian James is passionate about pushing electric motorsports forward at a critical stage as race technology begins surpassing that of the street cars.

Midseason, McLaren acquired the assets of the Mercedes-EQ team as they were already on their way to winning a second consecutive championship. With those assets in place and coming off a successful debut in the Extreme E series, James is set to usher in a new era in electric car racing.

Last week’s announcement that Jake Hughes will join Rene Rast behind the wheel of the NEOM McLaren Formula E team was the last piece of the puzzle.

McLaren’s electric portfolio is building with the Formula E team coming one year after they entered the Extreme E rally series in 2022 with Tanner Foust and Emma Gilmour. There were a lot of lessons to learn in that series with growing pains during the first three of five rounds. Rounds 4 and 5 were a completely different matter with the team crossing the finish line first in Chile before being assessed a time penalty.

In the final round in Uruguay, they scored an elusive podium.

“McLaren kicked off the season in Extreme E at the beginning of this year, so our first [electric] race took place Neom, actually out in Saudi,” NEOM McLaren Racing Team Principal James told NBC Sports. “At the time, we were in very early discussions about opportunities with the Formula E team. I actually went out there to meet with Zak [Brown, CEO McLaren Racing] and that was my first taste of Extreme E.

“Since the transition, I joined them in Chile in Atacama Desert, and then Uruguay last weekend. [The second-place finish was] a lovely way to round out the season. The fact that they got that podium. It was very well deserved. It’s a great team and a great series actually. It’s just so very different from anything else. The team’s done a great job in getting set up, and it’s nice now to, we’re trying to use that momentum that we’ve got from Uruguay to get us into next season when it kicks off next year, which will be great. I think we’re mid-March is looking like the first race, so a little bit of time to get things prepped for that.”

 

James McLaren Formula E
The NEOM Mclaren Racing Formula E team was created through the acquisition of last year’s championship car from Mercedes-EQ. – McLaren Racing

Synergies exist between the single seater and rally series. Lessons learned about battery power and sustainability in the electric SUV carry over so long as one is mindful of keeping focus on the individual needs and nuances of each series.

Especially now that electric racing technology has caught up, and is ready to surpass, the existing technology that has gone into building street cars.

When internal combustion engines gained the upper hand soon after automobiles were invented, racing paced alongside. The pressure of competition pushed the development of their commercial equivalents. The same has not necessarily been true of electric cars. Street cars were not designed to undergo the same stress as racecars – and that vulnerability showed up on the racetrack.

“Formula E has come along a long way,” James said. “I think one of the most notable developments is in the battery technology. In Gen 1, you had the drivers jumping from one car to another car midrace because the battery technology and capacity simply wasn’t where it needed to be to do the full distance. That obviously changed in Gen 2 and we saw a power increase as well to the 250 kilowatts.

“Now going to Gen 3, we have 350 kilowatts in a smaller battery. But that means that we’re relying on the regeneration of energy and for that reason, we’ve got also the opportunity to regenerate on the front axle as well as the rear axle now. So, there’s all sorts of things that are developing in the right direction.

“In terms of throttle response, actually, we’re now in a situation with electric racing and the motors that it’s instantaneous. And one of the advantages of electric over combustion engine is that the torque is instantaneous as well, so that gives you a lot more room to play with.”

No matter the power source, racing has always been about resource management. Drivers and teams select tire strategies they believe produce the fastest elapsed time and fuel conservation comes into play.

On one hand, electric racing is the same, but there is a critical difference. With the battery as both the power source and an integral part of the engine, there are multiple reasons to manage it.

In electric racing, the brain of the car is the software – and that is where James sees the greatest room for advancement.

“As we are working with our drivers and engineers – and start to look at functionality to improve our efficiency and our performance, that’s something we’ll continue to push because that development is open throughout the season,” James said. “That’s going to be our focus going forward and provides enough of a challenge for us to get our teeth into.

“What’s going to be fascinating is as Formula E continues, is to really look at which areas of development on the car are going to be the most relevant and ensuring that we can focus on those together with the manufacturers so we continue and use the series as a platform for technical development that can then feed back into the road car side of things as well.

“At the end of the day, that’s what motorsports always been, a very powerful tool for, and I see Formula E as no exception.”

James McLaren Formula E
Jake Hughes and Rene Rast were chosen for their ability to drive fast and execute the necessary strategy for energy management. – McLaren Racing

Selecting Rast and Hughes as McLaren’s Formula E drivers was not simply because they know how to drive fast. James believes both drivers have the mental aptitude to execute energy management strategies throughout the race and squeeze maximum performance.

“As with many other motorsports, you’ve got a certain amount of energy that you’re able to deploy during the race and the management of that energy is absolutely crucial,” James said. “What we’re seeing typically in electric motorsports now is the hardware side of things. The efficiencies that we’re seeing in the powertrain as a whole, they’re getting up to the sort of 96%, 97%, 98% efficiency, so the gains that you get through that further and further become more marginal.”

With much more room for improvement, software is a different matter. To make the best decisions, the drivers need data, and that is where James believes McLaren Formula E will make their greatest impact.

“And then you really switch that focus to the software and that’s where you’re going to see the most the most improvement and the most gains,” James continued. “It’s then using that software to ensure that you’re deploying the energy in the most efficient manner during race, and thereby giving the driver the most performance. And that’s something which is incredibly complicated, but I find it a fascinating area to work in.

“The benefit of being involved in racing is you can really push the envelope in a way that you can’t do on road cars. And I think that that’s where that value comes in. It means that you accelerate the development a lot quicker. We will get ahead of the curve – and we are getting ahead of the curve now – and that will mean that the electric motorsports remain part of the overall development process.

“The key to that is also making sure that the racing’s exciting and fun for the fans. If we can, we can tick both of those boxes, then it’s got a very bright future ahead of it.”