This probably got overshadowed in the wake of the dramatic Porsche/Toyota finish and Ford’s GTE-Pro dominance, but another impressive performance at the 24 Hours of Le Mans was the effort of Signatech Alpine in the record 23-car LMP2 field.
The trio of Nicolas Lapierre, Stephane Richelmi and Gustavo Menezes didn’t put a wheel wrong in their No. 36 Alpine A460 Nissan throughout the 24 hours, which was particularly impressive given open-wheel converts Richelmi (GP2) and Menezes (Pro Mazda) are Le Mans rookies, to claim the class victory. Other than needing to top off fluid levels in the ninth hour of the race, it was a clean race.
The team won by two minutes over the No. 26 G-Drive Racing Oreca 05 Nissan of Rene Rast, Will Stevens and Roman Rusinov, so for all intents and purposes it was an Oreca 05 1-2 since the Alpine is rebadged.
Lapierre, meanwhile, took his second straight LMP2 class victory having also done so in KCMG’s Oreca last year. Ironically, both these wins come after Lapierre was dropped as a Toyota factory driver, and with Toyota having come so close today.
“It’s always difficult to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans, thus to do it twice in a row is just incredible,” Lapierre said in a release. “It wasn’t really the best start for us in terms of tires and encountering difficulties in the pits. We had to attack to come back, then we had to top off fluid levels, but finally we made it to the first position quite quick.
“The car was fast, racing at a good pace and we were able to push or to control when needed. My teammates did a fabulous job, we only encountered a few issues and the car was intact by the end of the race, which is quite something in Le Mans. It was also lots of pressure to feel like you’re already being chased at mid-race. I’m very happy with this win. With the whole Signature team, we’ve got a common history and after having won together in Macao, it’s great to add Le Mans to our prize list. It’s also very special to race in France for such a brand as Alpine.”
The trio also won the most recent round of the FIA World Endurance Championship season at the Six Hours of Spa-Francorchamps.
Both Menezes and Richelmi’s drives will have showcased themselves as potential stars, who could draw factory eyeballs in the future.
Elsewhere in LMP2, here’s a handful of other notes:
- The BR01 Nissan got on the podium for the first time in what’s its final Le Mans appearance, owing to the new regulations next year where Onroak, Oreca, Dallara and Riley/Multimatic are the four chassis constructors. The all-Russian lineup of Victor Shaitar, Kirill Ladygin and Vitaly Petrov drove the No. 37 car; Shaitar won GTE-Am last year.
- Courtesy of an excellent drive from its veteran trio of Danny Watts, Jonny Kane and Nick Leventis, Strakka Racing signed off what is likely the end of the open-top era at Le Mans in style in fourth, just missing the podium in the No. 42 Gibson 015S Nissan.
- Greaves Motorsport was top Ligier in sixth in class, 10th overall with the No. 41 entry driven by Julien Canal, late add Nathanael Berthon and race debutante Memo Rojas.
- Michael Shank Racing finished a respectable ninth in class, 14th overall, in its Le Mans debut with the lone Ligier JS P2 Honda in the field – Laurens Vanthoor in particular was one to watch alongside Ozz Negri and John Pew, as the trio kept it clean all week.
- Another tip of the cap to Panis-Barthez Competition and Algarve Pro Racing, which in their Le Mans debuts ended 12th/17th overall and eighth/12th in class. The Algarve Pro entry featured British cycling legend Sir Chris Hoy in his Le Mans debut, in the Nissan-supported effort.
- Extreme Speed Motorsports (Tequila Patron ESM) ended 11th and 16th in class after a tough day and night with its two Ligier JS P2 Nissans.