Tuesday 12 April 2016

ELMS Silverstone : LMP2 Preview

In 3 days, the endurance season kicks off in Silverstone with the first of 6 races in the European Le Mans Series. Time for a look on to the stunning 45-car startgrid of this growing and ever more popular championship.

© ELMS - Adrenal Media

15 cars will be on a well filled LMP2 grid this weekend. The 14 full season entries will be joined by SRT41 by OAK Racing, the Le Mans “Garage 56” entry with Frederic Sausset at the wheel. With 4 new teams at the start of the season and the return of Asian Le Mans Series champions Race Performance, the LMP2 grid looks healthier and more competitive than ever. LMP2 gave us some cracking races last year, looking at the teams and drivers who will compete in  2016, we should be in for 6 top notch races again. 

© ELMS - Adrenal Media
Defending champions Greaves Motorsport have traded in their Gibson 015S for a brand new Ligier JS P2/Nissan with a stellar driver line-up. Mexican Memo Rojas Jr, multiple GrandAm champion and Daytona 24h & Sebring 12h winner leads the driver squad together with reigning FIA WEC LMP2 champion Julien Canal and Polish driver Kuba Giermaziak, who has experience in Porsche Supercup and made his Le Mans debut with JMW Motorsport last year. 

Last years runner up Thiriet by TDS Racing will be eager to get a shot at the 2016 title, and do so with their Oreca 05/Nissan in which they won the 4 hours of Imola and Estoril last year. Pierre Thiriet will be joined by Rebellion driver Mathias Beche whose return to the team correspondends to a partnership between TDS Racing and Rebellion Timepieces and Japanese driver Ryo Hirakawa who joins the team as part of the Toyota Young Drivers Programme. The same trio of drivers will also contest the Le Mans 24 Hours in June. 

The mighty #38 Gibson 015S/Nissan of Jota Sport will race in the orange G-Drive Racing colors this year, following a collaboration between the two teams in ELMS and WEC. At Silverstone Jota owner Simon Dolan will be joined by Harry Tincknell and Dutch former F1 driver Giedo Van Der Garde. Double duties for Tincknell this weekend as he will race with G-Drive in ELMS and make his debut in the Ford GT in the WEC championship. He will race the Ford GT at Silverstone, Spa and Le Mans in the #67 Ford GT with Marino Franchitti and Andy Priaulx. Tincknell also set the fastest time at the Prologue last month.

© Pegasus Racing
Pegasus Racing holds on to its #29 Nissan powered Morgan. Ines Taittinger is the first of two female drivers who will be on the ELMS (and Le Mans) grid this season. Taittinger raced in the French VdeV series in the past years, where she drove a Norma prototype. She will be joined by Rémy Striebig and Léo Roussel who has been with Pegasus since 2014.

Eurasia Motorsport, bringing together European and Asian motorsport talent, returns for its second season to the ELMS. In 2016 the team will be called LeSports by Eurasia Motorsport, following a partnership between Eurasia Motorsport and LeSports TV, which has a comprehensive content platform and media rights for more than 200 sporting events worldwide. The team acquiered a new Oreca05/Nissan, to replace their existing Oreca03. Chinese driver Pu Junjin and Dutchman Nico Pieter De Bruyn return to the team and will be joined by Frenchman Christian Gommendy who joined the team at the end of the 2015 season to race in the Asian Le Mans Series.

Reigning LMP3 champion and Nissan backed Sir Chris Hoy returns to the European Le Mans Series and steps up to the LMP2 category. Hoy will race in the Algarve Pro Racing Ligier JSP2/Nissan with Frenchman Andrea Pizzitola and Michael Munemann who finished second in the Asian Le Mans Series this year. Hoy will also race at the Le Mans 24 Hours. 

© SMP Racing
SMP Racing enters 2 of their gorgeous looking BR01/Nissan's. With their GTE programs in ELMS and WEC on hold for 2016, the team fully focuses on the LMP2 class in both endurance championships. The #32 BR01 will be driven by Stefano Coletti, Andreas Wirth and Colombian talent Julian Leal Covelli who raced in GP2 last season. The second car with #44 is in the hands of Saen Galeal, Mitch Evans and Antonio Goivanazzi. Not all well known names, but a few of them might surprise us with their speed. 

Murphy Protoypes also returns with their Oreca 03/Nissan. So far the only driver we know of is Michael Lyons. At Le Mans the car will be driven by Ben Keating, Marc Goossens and Jeroen Bleekemolen. The team just moved into a new workshop near Silverstone, and will expand its activities this season with a factory supported Ave/Riley in the LMP3 class.  

American racing enthousiast Tracy Krohn heads into his second season in the European Le Mans Series. Krohn Racing puts its bright green #40 Ligier JSP2 back on the startgrid for the whole season. In 2016, the team switched from Judd to the Nissan engine. Tracy Krohn returns at the wheel with Nic Jonsson, they will be joined by last years ELMS champion Bjorn Windheim.  

At Silverstone, lots of new faces & teams will make their appearance in the ELMS paddock with 4 new teams entering the championship for the first time in 2016. 

US based Dragonspeed impressed at the 12 hours of Sebring last month and came in fourth at the end of an epic race. In the pre race test days at the former airfield in Florida, the teams Oreca 05/Nissan was second fastest, already showing some great pace and reliability. Swedish Hendrik Hedman will share the car with Briton Ben Hanley and Frenchman Nicolas Lapierre who brings tons of experience in endurance racing with him. With the speed and reliability this team showed in Sebring, they will be one to watch over the season. 

So24! By Lombard Racing, the French team based at Mulsanne, close to the Le Mans track is the second new team in the LMP2 class. They will field a Judd powered Ligier which will be driven by Olivier Lombard,Vincent Capillaire and Jonathan Coleman. Sarthe Objectif 24! was founded in 2011 with the intention to enter a team at Le Mans from the Sarthe region. After succesfull years with Boutsen Ginion Racing, Sebastien Loeb Racing and last season with Signatech-Alpine in WEC, the team now collaborates with Olivier Lombard in ELMS and Le Mans. 

Panis-Barthez Competition is a collaboration between Olivier Panis and former French football star Fabien Barthez. Barthez already raced in the GT class for several years, and will now step up to the LMP2 protoype class in a Ligier JSP2/Nissan. He will be joined by Paul Loup Chatin, who won the ELMS title in 2014 with Alpine and Timothe Buret.

Another French team makes its debut in the LMP2 class : IDEC Sport Racing. They will neter a Judd powered Ligier JSP2 for team owner Patrice Lafargue, Paul Lafargue and Dimitri Enjalbert. IDEC Sport was founded last year and already races in 3 endurance championships : ELMS, VdeV and the 24H series. 

© ELMS - Adrenal Media
Returning to the European Le Mans Series is the Swiss team Race Performance. Absent on the ELMS grid last season, the team of Michel Frey clinched the Asian LMS title earlier this year and will field their #34 Judd powered Oreca 03 chassis for Nicolas Leutwiler, James Winslow and Franck Mailleux who returns to the team after a succesfull campaign in 2014.  

The final contender in LMP2 is French team SRT41 by OAK Racing, fielding their Oreca based Morgan/Nissan. SRT41 races at Le Mans as “garage 56” with a car completely adapted to quad amputée Frederic Sausset. In preparation for the 24 hours in June, the team will also race at the ELMS rounds at Silverstone and Imola. Sausset will be accompagnied by fellow French drivers Christophe Tinseau and Jean-Bernard Bouvet. 

Kristof Vermeulen.