Signatech Alpine/DPPI

Menezes ready to defend Le Mans crown in ‘insanely close’ LMP2 class

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American racer Gustavo Menezes is geared up to defend his 24 Hours of Le Mans crown with Signatech Alpine next weekend, but expects a tough challenge in the “insanely close” LMP2 class.

Menezes, 22, won Le Mans for Signatech Alpine last year alongside Nicolas Lapierre and Stephane Richelmi en route to the LMP2 crown in the World Endurance Championship, becoming the first American champion to win an FIA world title since 1981 in the process.

The revamped LMP2 class has looked closer than ever through the opening two rounds of the WEC season, with Menezes recording P4 and P5 finishes at Silverstone and Le Mans respectively in the No. 36 Signatech Alpine A470 Gibson.

Menezes returned to the Circuit de la Sarthe for the first time since his Le Mans victory last weekend, taking part in Sunday’s test running, with the official pre-race schedule set to get underway next week.

“The test day went well. It’s fantastic to go back to Le Mans and our speed looked good straight out-of-the-box,” Menezes said.

“With everybody following their individual agendas, it’s tricky to ascertain the true pecking order at this early stage. But one thing for sure is that it’s insanely close in LMP2.

“The No. 35 car put in a great lap, which proved the potential of the package we have and that’s promising because our pace was very similar but we just never got a clear run to show it.

“We concentrated on our own technical program, played around with a variety of different set-ups, came away with plenty of useful data and – most importantly of all – worked well together as a team.”

The new Oreca chassis (rebranded by the team) for 2017 and added power has resulted in a significant improvement in lap time for the LMP2 class, with straight line speeds outstripping those set by the LMP1 runners.

“At Le Mans in particular, you can really feel the extra downforce and power in LMP2 this year because the long straights allow the cars to properly stretch their legs,” Menezes explained.

“The Alpine A470 felt incredible to drive round there – more like a single-seater than ever before. We were hitting top speeds in excess of 330km/h, which was very impressive.

“In a non-competitive session, Nelson [Panciatici] was already eight seconds faster than last year’s best LMP2 qualifying time, meaning we’re likely to be even quicker come the race weekend itself.

“We still have a bit more work to do, of course, but I think we’re in reasonable shape and I’m really excited to return next week.

“The team and Alpine have placed their trust in me, and I want to reward them for that by fighting for the win again.

“The clear objective is to keep up my 100 per cent record at Le Mans and whilst that obviously won’t be easy, nothing worth having ever is. So bring it on!”

Menezes will defend his Le Mans LMP2 title on June 17-18.

Morris Nunn, former IndyCar and F1 engineer, team owner dies at 79

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Morris Nunn, a former Formula 1 team owner and a prominent fixture in the American Open Wheel Racing scene through the 1990s and the early 2000s, died at 79 on Wednesday after a long battle with Parkinson’s disease, according to the Indianapolis Star.

Nunn’s career in racing spans both sides of the Atlantic. He started in the 1960s as a driver before shifting his attention toward the mechanical side of the sport. He then founded a Formula 1 effort, dubbed Ensign Racing, which competed in over 100 F1 races between 1973 and 1982 – the team had a best result of fourth.

However, Nunn may be best known in the U.S. for his exploits in American Open Wheel Racing. He crossed the pond after closing the Ensign outfit in 1982, and was a part of the Patrick Racing team that won the 1989 Indianapolis 500 with Emerson Fittipaldi.

He moved to Chip Ganassi Racing in the 1990s, where he perhaps achieved the bulk of his success. He worked with Alex Zanardi as both his crew chief and engineer during Zanardi’s tenure from 1996 to 1998, and the combination saw Zanardi take Rookie of the Year Honors in ’96, followed by a pair of championships in ’97 and ’98 in the old CART series.

31 May 1997: Alex Zanardi (left) of Italy talks to Mo Nunn , engineer for the Target Ganassi Racing Team, at The Milwaukee Mile in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Nunn also won the 1999 championship with then CART rookie Juan Pablo Montoya.

In 2000, he formed his own team, Mo Nunn Racing, with driver Tony Kanaan – Bryan Herta also contested a trio of events for Nunn that year after Kanaan suffered an injury – and the outfit grew to two cars in 2001, with Zanardi competing alongside Kanaan.

Nunn also ventured into the series that is now called the Verizon IndyCar Series in 2002, fielding an entry for Felipe Giaffone. They went on to win one race that year (Kentucky Speedway) and Nunn’s outfit won another in 2003, with Alex Barron at Michigan International Speedway.

Nunn was a popular and highly regarded figure in the paddock, and a number of people in the racing world took to social media to offer condolences and tributes.

IndyCar on NBC’s Robin Miller offered this detailed look at Nunn’s life in the sport on RACER.com, covering the origins of his career and the impact he had on such drivers as Zanardi and Montoya.

Nunn was 79 years of age at the time of his passing.

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