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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.

Zach Veach splits with Andretti Autosport for rest of IndyCar season

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Zach Veach will be leaving his Andretti Autosport ride with three races remaining in the season, choosing to explore options after the decision was made he wouldn’t return for 2021.

In a Wednesday release, Andretti Autosport said a replacement driver for the No. 26 Dallara-Honda would be named in the coming days. The NTT IndyCar Series will race Oct. 2-3 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and then conclude the season Oct. 25 on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida.

Veach was ranked 11th in the points standings through 11 races of his third season with Andretti. Since a fourth in the June 6 season opener at Texas Motor Speedway, he hadn’t finished higher than 14th.

“The decision was made that I will not be returning in 2021 with Andretti Autosport in the No. 26 Gainbridge car,” Veach said in the Andretti release. “This, along with knowing that limited testing exists for teams due to COVID, have led me to the decision to step out of the car for the remainder of the 2020 IndyCar season. I am doing this to allow the team to have time with other drivers as they prepare for 2021, and so that I can also explore my own 2021 options.

“This is the hardest decision I have ever made, but to me, racing is about family, and it is my belief that you take care of your family. Andretti Autosport is my family and I feel this is what is best to help us all reach the next step. I will forever be grateful to Michael and the team for all of their support over the years. I would not be where I am today if it wasn’t for a relationship that started many years ago with Road to Indy. I will also be forever grateful to Dan Towriss for his friendship and for the opportunity he and Gainbridge have given me.

“My love for this sport and the people involved is unmeasurable, and I look forward to continuing to be amongst the racing world and fans in 2021.”

Said team owner Michael Andretti: “We first welcomed Zach to the Andretti team back in his USF2000 days and have enjoyed watching him grow and evolve as a racer, and a person. His decision to allow us to use the last few races to explore our 2021 options shows the measure of his character.

“Zach has always placed team and family first, and we’re very happy to have had him as part of ours for so many years. We wish him the best in whatever 2021 may bring and will always consider him a friend.”

Andretti fields five full-time cars for Veach, Alexander Rossi, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti and Colton Herta.

It also has fielded James Hinchcliffe in three races this season.