Friday 15 April 2016

WEC SIlverstone : LMP2 Preview

11 cars on a very competitive LMP2 grid this year, with a few new teams in the mix with very high ambitions. 4 different chassis will race in the class this year : the Oreca 05 (of which 2 are rebranded into Alpine), SMP's BR01, a Gibson 015S and the Ligier JSP2. LMP2 might be fingerlicking good again, even better than last year. 

First up is the title defenders G-Drive Racing. A major change in the team this year, as it will not be run by OAK racing anymore but by Jota Sport. Also in ELMS, Jota will run under the bright orange G-Drive flag. Roman Rusinov defends his title and will be joined by Frenchman Nathanaël Berthon and Audi factory driver Rene Rast. A very strong line-up again, aiming for no less than a second consecutive title in their Oreca05/Nissan.  

SMP Racing puts 2 of the BR01/Nissans on this years startgrid. They struggled a bit for pace at the prologue, but some good finishes in ELMS last season really showed what this car is capable of. Mikhail Aleshin put the car on pole at the Rolex 24, showing that there's still a lot of potential in this prototype. The #27 will be in the hands of Nicolas Minassian, Maurizio Mediani and David Markozov. In the second car it's a complete Russian line up with former F1 driver Vitaly Petrov, Kirill Ladygin and Victor Shaytar at the wheel.  

Tequila Patron ESM starts the WEC campaign on a high after back to back wins at the Daytona 24 hours and the 12 hours of Sebring, a unique performance which hasn't been done since 1998.  In 2016 the team will operate from the Oreca headquarters in France. 2015 was sometimes hard for the team which sometimes struggled and learned throughout their maiden season in WEC. Most of the tracks were new for the drivers and the Honda engine struggled to be competitive without a BoP adjustment. This season the team will run the Gibson-Nissan engine, which the Ligier chassis was orginally designed around.  Returning drivers Ed Brown, Scott Sharp and Johannes van Overbeek will share the #30 Tequila Patrón ESM Ligier. Pipo Derani, who impressed in Daytona and Sebring, will join Chris Cumming and ESM veteran Ryan Dalziel in the #31 Ligier JSP2/Nissan. 

2 Alpine A460 branded Oreca05/Nissans will be on the grid this season. Both will be run by Signatech Alpine but under a different team banner. The #36 being the Signatech car, recplacing their Oreca03 in which they had a strong end tot the season last year. Gustavo Menezes, former Toyota factory driver Nicolas Lapierre and Stéphane Richelmi driving this car. The #35 will race under the Baxi DC Racing Alpine name, the team owned by David Cheng, winning the LMP3 title in the Asian Le Mans Series earlier this year. David Cheng will drive the car himself, joined by Ho-Pin Tung and Nelson Pantiatici.   

Strakka Racing started last season in the Dome LMP2 but switched to the Gibson chassis after a few races. In 2016, they return with the same Nissan powered Gibson 015S. At the prologue last month, Strakka showed some outright speed, putting in the second fastest time in LMP2 after a trouble-free 2 days of testing. No changes in the #42 driver line-up with Nick Leventis, Jonny Kane and Danny Watts on duty again. 

RGR Sport by Morand is a new team in the LMP2 class, founded by Mexican Ricardo Gonzalez who is also the promotor of the WEC race in Mexico city. The Ligier JSP2/Nissan will be run by the experienced Morand team. Gonzalez has built a very strong driver line-up around him with Bruno Senna returning to the World Endurance Championship and into the prototype class. Filipe Albuquerque, Audi factory driver and racing with Jota the past season completes the driving squad. Although a new team, this is one to keep an eye on this season, they might go all the way in the title race. 

Last, but not least, its another new team entering the WEC with a 2 car effort. Only one car has been entered for Le Mans, as the second was introduced only after the invités for the 24 hour race were announced. After John Booth and Graeme Lowdon left the Manor Formula 1 team, their interest shifted to the WEC season. After buying an Oreca 05/Nissan, the first car was entered in the WEC, including the Le Mans 24 Hours. A few weeks later, they obtained a second chassis which was previously owned by KCMG, giving them the opportunity to field a second car in the WEC. 

A mix of young and experienced drivers will defend the Manor colors. The #44 car, which will also race at Le Mans, will be driven by Tor Graves, former F1 driver Will Stevens and James Jakes who has raced in Indycar lately. Driving duties in the #45 are for Matthew Rao, Richard Bradley who won Le Mans last year with KCMG and was runner up in the championship and Roberto Merhi.