American racer Menezes clinches first major title with WEC LMP2 success

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American racer Gustavo Menezes clinched his first major title in motorsport on Sunday in Shanghai as the Signatech Alpine team wrapped up LMP2 class honors in the FIA World Endurance Championship.

Menezes, 22, has raced through 2016 behind the wheel of an Alpine A460 Nissan alongside seasoned sportscar racer Nicolas Lapierre and former GP2 driver Stephane Richelmi.

Their charge to the LMP2 drivers’ title was built upon a string of three wins in Europe at Spa, Le Mans and the Nürburgring. The Le Mans victory was particularly crucial, being a double-points round.

A fourth victory at the Circuit of The Americas in Austin, Texas last month was topped and tailed with podiums in Mexico and Fuji, before a fourth-place finish in Shanghai on Sunday clinched the title.

The title rival RGR Sport by Morand squad could only finish third in China, giving Menezes and co. a 35-point buffer with 25 left to play for in Bahrain at the final round of the season.

The success sees Menezes become the first American to win an FIA world championship in 35 years, the last being Bob Garretson in the 1981 World Sportscar Championship.

Menezes made the switch into sportscars full-time this year, having made his first appearance at Petit Le Mans in 2013. Additional appearances followed at Daytona in 2014 and 2015, as well as at Sebring and Petit Le Mans once again two seasons ago.

Menezes spent much of his junior career focusing on single-seaters on both sides of the Atlantic. After racing in the Star Mazda series in 2011 and 2012 without recording a race win, his first breakthrough victory came in German F3 in 2013, when he finished fourth in the championship standings.

Two years in the FIA F3 European Championship followed in 2014 and 2015 where Menezes finished no higher than 11th in the championship, before signing a deal with Signatech Alpine for 2016 that would lead to the LMP2 world title.

Richelmi’s championship win is also a career first. The Monegasque racer spent his junior days racing in Europe before three full seasons in GP2, yielding one race win in 2014. Richelmi moved into Blancpain for 2015 ahead of his switch to the WEC for this season.

Completing the trifecta of single-seaters-to-sportscars trajectories, Lapierre raced in F3 and spent three years in GP2, as well as winning the A1 Grand Prix title for Team France in 2006 before then moving across to sportscars from 2008.

Since the formation of the WEC in 2012, Lapierre has been one of its most consistent performers, never finishing lower than fourth in every race in which he has seen the checkered flag – and now, he has a championship to boot.