Signatech Alpine wins the deep LMP2 field at Le Mans

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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.

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.”