Thursday 4 February 2016

Large grid expected for ELMS in 2016

With the announcement of the 2016 European Le Mans Series at the ACO press conference tomorrow, let's take a look at the cars and teams that might be expected on the grid this year. 

After yet another thrilling season in 2015, the European Le Mans Series is healthier than ever and keeps on growing.  With several new teams entering in the LMP2 class and the incredible boost in LMP3 (at least 22 cars predicted), startgrids will probably exceed 35 cars and give us some great racing during the season.

Greaves Motorsport defends its 2015 title and will field their Gibson 015S again. Runner up French team TDS Racing returns with their Oreca05/Nissan. Jota Sport and G-Drive Racing announced their plans yesterday and will field a Gibson 015S under the G-Drive banner, run by Jota. Krohn racing also returns to Europe this year with their Judd powered Ligier JSP2, with a team which will be runned by and based at Greaves Motorsport this season. 

Pegasus Racing will race at least one of their Morgans in 2016. A second car is possible, yet undecided. Eurasia is also expected to return to the series, either with their existing Oreca03 or with a new Oreca05. Portuguese team Algarve Pro Racing will field their Ligier JSP2 again this year. Whether Ibanez racing will return in 2016 is still unclear, as is a possible entry by David Cheng Racing who might team up with Pegasus. 

2016 will also see several new teams into LMP2 and other teams return to prototype racing. After a year absence in ELMS, and clinching the Asian Le Mans Series title last month, Swiss team Race Performance returns to the LMP2 class in their Oreca03/Judd.  

At this moment, 4 or 5 new teams will enter the European Le Mans Series in its top class. Panis-Barthez Competition is a new team set up by former F1 driver Olivier Panis & Fabian Barthez and will run a very ambitious program with Ligier in LMP2 and LMP3 this year. Also new is the SO24! By Lombard Racing who will also run a double program with Ligier in both prototype classes.  Yves Courage is set to return to endurance racing and will field a BR01/Nissan in the series.  American based Dragonspeed Racing is the fourth new team in LMP2 and will enter an Oreca05/Nissan.  IDEC Sport is another French team racing in the VdeV series that might step up to ELMS.

The LMP3 class is exploding in 2016, and will probably only continue to grow during the season. Last year, LMP3 was Ginetta's exclusive playground (except for the last race at Estoril), this year it's Ligier who takes the upper hand with the majority of cars being a Ligier JSP3.  As far as we know  no less than 22 cars (and this list is probably far from complete) are set to enter the class, of which 17 Ligier JSP3. The question remains how many will effectively run a full season campaign and will be announced tomorrow.

Ginetta Juno
Team LNT won't defend their title in 2016 as they focus on their new G57 prototype which isn't eligible in ELMS. Right now it seems only Lanan Racing will retain their Ginetta Juno and will run their car with Ginetta factory support.

Ligier JSP3
© RLR MSport
Graff Racing who already raced at Estoril during the last race in 2015 returns this season with 2 cars  and leads the impressive Ligier armada who will be at the start in Silverstone.  Villorba Corse makes the switch from Ginetta to Ligier and will field one car this season.  RLR Msport (University of Bolton) also traded in their Ginetta for a Ligier, as will Spanish team SVK by Speed Factory  

Panis-Barthez competition enters the ELMS in both prototype classes, with a Ligier in LMP3, as will SO24! By Lombard Racing.  Another new French team is Yvan Muller Racing, the team of four time WTCC champion Yvan Muller who is set to field one or two Ligiers. Team Ultimate, currently active in the VdeV series have bought a JSP3 and will be another French team coming into the LMP3 class.  Team Extrème Limite and Duquiene Engineering are the final two French teams, both set to field the Ligier prototype. 

United Autosports also steps up to prototype racing and will be at the grid with 2 Ligiers.  Italian based Eurointernational has confirmed their intention to race in LMP3 and is expected to field 2 cars. Spanish SPV targets to be on the Le Mans grid in 2019, and starts their chase for an invitation in LMP3 this year with Ligier as will BE Motorsport, another Spanish team making its debut in the ELMS. Dutch team Davytec, known from their Corvette's and Volvo's in the Dutch Supercar Challenge also joins the Ligier family.  Swiss based Race Performance returns to the series with a double effort, of which one is a JSP3. 

Riley-Ave AR-2
Murphy Prototypes will expand their activities into the LMP3 class and run a Riley-Ave AR-2 LMP3 with factory support. Testing of this new car should start imminently. 

The German G-Private Racing is believed to enter 2 Adess-03 cars in the championship with extensive factory support. CPB Sport, run by Sylvain Bouley also bought an Adess chassis and is expected to enter the car this season. It's been pretty quiet though in the Adess corner, so we're not sure wether these cars will be on the grid at the start of the season. 

Last year's champions Formula Racing return to ELMS and will race their Ferrari 458 again with Christina Nielsen added to their line-up. Other teams entering one or more Ferrar's are AF Corse (at least 2), JMW Racing (1) and Austrian AT Racing (1). 

Thiriet by TDS, champions in GTC step up to the GTE class, but still have to announce which car they have chosen. Aston Martin, Ferrari and BMW are believed to be in the mix. Rumours were going round about Belgian Prospeed entering a Corvette C7R in the GTE class, supporting AAI Motorsports, this could be a mighty addition to the GTE grid. 

After their succesfull entry at Estoril last October, Beachdean AMR return to the ELMS for a full season campaign in their Aston Martin Vantage.  Proton Competition will probably return with the Porsche 911, Gulf racing UK is expected to step up to the WEC this year. 

No more GTC cars in 2016, but they will race in newly founded Michelin GT3 Le Mans Cup. The final date to enter in this championship is March 14th. 

With more news about teams and entries streaming in, this list is far from complete but gives a first sight at what promises to be one of the championships to follow in 2016.  For more updates, visit the Club Arnage facebook page, which will be updated regularly.

Who will be racing in 2016 ?  We'll know it tomorrow afternoon at the press conference for the 24 hours of Le Mans, FIA WEC and European Le Mans Series.  The press conference will be streamed live on the WEC and ELMS websites. Club Arnage will be there to cover all the news. 

Kristof Vermeulen.