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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.

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.