Friday 18 December 2015

ELMS LMP3 class boosts 2016 grid.

2015 marks the introduction of the new LMP3 class, offering affordable prototype racing cars to compete in Europe's leading endurance series.  Given the short amount of time between the publication of regulations and the first race at Silverstone (nearly 6 months), Ginetta pulled off a huge achievement by getting 5 cars to the grid last April. Even more impressive, 4 of them made it to the end of the race.  

Team LNT, Ginetta's factory team dominated the season with Sir Chris Hoy and Charlie Robertson clinching the title at Paul Ricard. Graff Racing entered the first Ligier JSP3-Nissan at Estoril last October, and became the first team going head to head with Ginetta in the championship. By the end of the season 7 cars and 20 drivers had competed in the series. 

With more chassis available next year (Ligier and Adess already launched their cars for next season) and a lot of new teams set to join the ELMS, the field will be big and very competitive next year. We should see Ginetta, Ligier, and Adess LMP3 cars at the first race in Silverstone, resulting in a varied grid at the start of the season.  Given the high interest in this class, and with 2 more constructors still working on their chassis (Riley almost ready to roll out their car, Dome still in development for as far as we know), there's no doubt the LMP3 class is becoming a big succes to offer entry level prototype racing to new and existing teams. 

At this moment it seems like we'll have a possible grid of at least 15 cars at Silverstone for the 2016 opening race. This number might still increase as there's more news coming out almost every day. With these numbers, the 2016 ELMS grid will surely grow despite pulling out the GTC cars. With the new GT3 Cup support race at Le Mans next year open for ELMS and AsianLMS LMP3 cars, entering the championship also gives the teams the unique opportunity race at the legendary track at La Sarthe. 

This is what we know so far about cars and teams entering the LMP3 class next year :

Ginetta's factory team Team LNT will not return to the ELMS championship after clinching this years title with Chris Hoy and Charlie Robertson.  Their attention goes out to the development of the new G57 chassis which is not eligible in the ELMS.  At this moment, it seems like Lanan Racing is the only team that will continue to race with the Ginetta-Juno LMP3 in 2016.  The British team will have increased factory support and become the lead Ginetta squad. No words on drivers so far.

RLR Msport (University of Bolton) returns to the LMP3 class next year, but switches from the Ginetta Juno to a new Ligier-Nissan JSP3. RLR was the first non factory team to win a race in its class at Imola. Driver opportunities are still open for the moment. 

Villorba Corse is expected to return in 2016, although it's not clear yet whether the team will retain the Ginetta Juno or switch to another car.  Their 2016 programmes haven't been fully announced yet.

Spanish based SVK by Speed Factory who finished third in this years team championshipis set to return in 2016, but will trade in the Ginetta for a newly acquiered Ligier JSP3. 

Graff Racing entered the first Ligier JSP3-Nissan at Estoril last October, finishing an impressive second inbetween both Ginetta Team LNT factory cars. They will return to the series in 2016 with 1 or 2 Ligiers. 

United Autosports plans a full season assault to the European Le Mans Series in two Ligier-Nissan JSP3's.  Alex Brundle has already been announced as the leading driver.  Brundle is very well known with Ligier as he helped with the development of the JSP2 LMP2 and raced the car at Le Mans.  The team originally intended to enter 2 Ginetta's but ultimately decided to switch to Ligier, with a further development into LMP2 and Le Mans scheduled. 

The Italian based Eurointernational will field 2 Ligier JSP3-Nissan prototypes. After dominating the Italian Sports Prototype Championship last season they decided to take a step forward and race in the ELMS. Eurointernational brings in a huge amount of experience in prototype and open wheel racing and might well be one of the podium contenders for 2016. Giorgio Mondini will be the leading driver. 

Yvan Muller Racing, the team of four time WTCC champion Yvan Muller will make its debut in endurance racing next season with 2 Ligier JSP3 cars.  Competing in ELMS being a logical step up for the team, wanting to compete on a higher level and giving drivers a chance to have a taste in endurance racing. Just one driver confirmed so far : Thomas Laurent, world champion Karting KZ2. Muller himself has been very active in testing their first car last week in Barcelona. 

SO24! by Lombard Racing is a new team in endurance racing, but headed by a few familiar faces, Jean Lombard and Dominique Payen. The team originates from a partnership with the ACO sport driving school and Jean Lombard who leads a highly recognised driving school in Monthlery. The Le Mans based team will race in the LMP3 class with a Ligier JSP3-Nissan. There will also be an entry in LMP2 with a Ligier JSP2. The first confirmed driver for the LMP3 car is Thomas Dagoneau.

Team Extrème Limite will compete in a Ligier JSP3 which has been delivered at the end of last month. Private tests with new pilots have been held at Magny Cours last month, but no names have been confirmed yet.

Team Ultimate is a French team, racing ist second season in the VdeV series and ready to enter the ELMS with a Ligier JSP3-Nissan. Team owners Matthieu and Jean-Baptiste Lahaye will drive the car with Francois Hériau.  Matthieu Lahaye already quite experienced in endurance racing with 4 starts at Le Mans.

The newly founded Panis-Barthez Competition is believed to compete in both LMP classes next year. A Ligier JSP3 should be entered in LMP3 with 2 or 3 talented young drivers at the wheel. Tech 1 Racing will be running the cars in both classes.

Sylvain Boulay who has a long history at Le Mans with WR, returns to endurance racing with an Adess 03, run by CPB Sport. Boulay himself, who has competed 10 times at Le Mans, will drive the car together a second to be announced driver. This should be the first step of the team to go on to the LMP2 class in the future and ultimately race at Le Mans.   

Germany's G-Private Racing has purchased 2 Adess-03 cars, with the intention to race in the European Le Mans Series. With no current news available, we're still in doubt if they will make it to the start of the season or even will start in ELMS next year. 

BE Motorsport, formerly known as Buggy Experience Racing Team has bought a Ligier JSP3, and will have a full season entry. Announced drivers are Spanish Javier Ibran and Toni Castillo together with Dutchman Mathijs Bakker. 

Duqueine Engineering ordered 2 Ligier LSP3's, one of which has already been delivered and tested at Barcelona last week. One or two will be fielded in ELMS, with Nelson Paciatici and Aurélien Comte already confirmed for one car.

The 2016 ELMS entry list will be announced at the ACO press conference in Paris on 5th of February, together with the Le Mans invitations and the WEC enrty list.