Friday 30 August 2019

FIA WEC 2019/2020: LMP2 season preview

The LMP2 class will have 8 cars on the grid this season:  7 Oreca’s and one single Dallara for newcomers Cetilar Racing.  The late change to Oreca by United Autosports makes it almost a single make cup for season 8.   2 teams don’t return to the championship, Dragonspeed and Larbre Competition while Jackie Chan DC Racing will only race one car this time.   TDS Racing now runs the Racing Team Nederland Oreca while the Dragonspeed run Oreca now races under the Jota flag.  4 teams move up from the European Le Mans Series to the World Championship: United Autosports, High Class Racing, Cool Racing and Cetilar Racing.   

There’s a lot of familiar names and faces in the class, which should give us some good racing over the season. Signatech Alpine is here to defend its title, but won’t face an easy task.  United Autosports and JOTA are expected to be their main contenders for the championship, but race by race it will be an open battle for all three podium spots.  The only real question mark is how far the Cetilar Dallara will be able to keep up with the pace of the Oreca’s. 

#22 United Autosports - Oreca 07/Gibson

A bit of a surprise at the time, United Autosports decided to bin the Ligier LMP2 and make a last-minute switch to the Oreca 07 chassis for their maiden season in the World Endurance Championship. The team acquired three chassis’ from USA based PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports.  After an almost faultless Le Mans 24 Hours, the team didn’t manage to do better than fourth position in the LMP2 class. Moving over to the Oreca chassis should enable them to fight for the win in the upcoming WEC season. 

A switch with consequences, as Ligier promptly announced the end of their collaboration with United Autosports as distributors for the English market. The team remains with their Ligiers in the ELMS this season and has already committed to run several Ligier LMP3’s in next year’s ELMS and Michelin Le Mans Cup. 

The #22 will have a strong driver line-up with Filipe Albuquerque, Phil Hanson and Paul Di Resta. Oliver Jarvis will replace Paul Di Resta for the second race in Japan, who has a date clash with the DTM championship. 

# 29 Racing Team Nederland - Oreca 07/Gibson

The Dutch are back for their second season in the FIA WEC and have a clear ambition to fight for the podium.  Despite a perfect run with Dallara I which they finished every race in their ELMS and WEC campaigns, the decision was made to end the collaboration with the Italian manufacturer and Davytech who ran the car since 2017.  Frits Van Eerd & co decided to switch to a brand new Oreca 07 chassis which now will be run by TDS Racing. The team also changes to Michelin tyres, after testing both the Michelin and new Goodyear compounds during the Prologue in Barcelona last month.

Frits Van Eerd will once again be joined by Giedo Van der Garde and Nyck De Vries.  Due to 2 date clashes with the F2 championship, De Vries won’t be able to race in Silverstone and Shanghai.  He will be replaced by silver rated Job Van Uitert who is making a blitz career in protoype racing since his debut in 2018.  

During the Prologue, Nick De Vries was the fastest driver in the LMP2 class.  With 2 fast & experienced pro drivers and Van Eerd who seems to be well at home in the Oreca 07, Racing Team Nederland might will be one of the teams to watch in the upcoming season. 

# 33 High Class Racing - Oreca 07/Gibson

Danish team High Class Racing has been racing in the European Le Mans Series since 2017 and made its debut in this years’ 24 Hours of Le Mans, finishing 11th in the LMP2 class.  The team owned by Anders Fjordbach also went from a Dallara P217 to an Oreca 07 at the start of the 2019 ELMS.   

Anders Fjordbach will be joined by 67 year old Mark Patterson who has recovered from his crash at Monza earlier this year at the ELMS test day.  The third driver for the Danish squad is Kenta Yamashita. This 24 year-old Japanese driver is part of Toyota’s Young Driver Programme and will make his debut in prototype racing at Silverstone. Yamashita has won the Japanese Formula 3 title in 2016 and is currently leading the Super GT championship.  Toyota will follow his progress from close by, so expect this youngster to be one of the candidates for a seat in the upcoming Hypercar next season. 

#36 Signatech Alpine Elf - Alpine A470/Gibson

Last seasons’ champions Signatech Alpine return to the WEC, with the rebadged Alpine A470 but a slightly different driver line-up.  There will be 2 new faces in the team’s garage since Nicolas Lapierre moved over to Cool Racing and Pierre Thiriet decided to focus on his professional commitments.  This leaves Andre Negrao as the only driver at the team that won last seasons title and the Le Mans 24 Hours in 2018 and 2019. 

Negrao is in for his third season with the team and will be joined by Thomas Laurent and Pierre Ragues.  Thomas Laurent, who is also reserve driver for Toyota, went from LMP3 to LMP1 in 3 years time and race with the Rebellion R13 last season. It’s a bit of a return for the young Frenchman who did his first rookie test with Signatech in 2016.  Pierre Ragues is no stranger to the team as he was one of their drivers who won the 2013 ELMS title in LMP2. Since then he raced with the Alpine for a part of the 2017 season, finishing on the podium at Le Mans. Ragues is currently also active in the ELMS with Duqueine engineering and is one of the drivers on double duty in Silverstone. 

Replacing Lapierre, who has been widely recognised as one of the best LMP2 drivers around, won’t be easy for Signatech Alpine.  But the experience of Ragues and the speed of Laurent should make them once again one of the top runners for the championship. 

#37 Jackie Chan DC Racing - Oreca 07/Gibson

Jackie Chan DC Racing’s effort is down to one car this season, which was expected after the Malaysian backing of the second car fell short at the start of this year.  With a win at Sebring (#38) and second place at Le Mans (#37), the team did end the super season on a high. 

Ho Pin Tung and Gabriel Aubry return at the wheel of the #37 Oreca and will be joined by Will Stevens this season.  Stevens is no stranger to the team as he raced with them at the 1000 miles of Sebring.  The former F1 driver made a successful switch to endurance racing with 2 Le Mans podiums (including a win in GTE Am), full season drives with Panis-Barthez Competition in the ELMS and winning Sebring in LMP2. 

#38 JOTA - Oreca 07/Gibson

For the first time since 2015, JOTA will racing again under its own banner in an endurance championship.  With the Jackie Chan effort down to one car and Dragonspeed suspending its WEC efforts, Roberto Gonzalez turned to JOTA to run his Oreca 07 in the 2019/2020 season. The car will run on Goodyear rubber and feature a new blue/yellow inspired Goodyear livery.

Initially last season’s driver line-up would have been retained, and was on the initial entry list for season 8.  Until Pastor Maldonado announced last week that he won’t participate in the season due to “not reaching a balance agreement between the parties”.  Exit Maldonado, enter Antonio Felix Da Costa.  Da Costa is no stranger to the team as he raced with JOTA at the 24 Hours of Daytona in 2018.  The BMW factory driver who raced with Team MTek last season is also active in the Formula E championship, so it’s still to be seen whether he will be able to do a full season campaign with JOTA.   

The other two drivers remain the same a last season in the Dragonspeed run car. Roberto Gonzalez, one of the most consistent and fastest silver rated gentleman drivers and Anthony Davidson who joined the team last year after Le Mans after 6 years as a factory driver at Toyota. They won the 6 Hour race at Spa “Winter Wonderland” earlier this year, and with the addition of Felix Da Costa, this trio should be able to fight for podiums again. 

#42 Cool Racing - Oreca 07/Gibson

Swiss team Cool Racing is growing quickly, from several seasons in the LMP3 class of the European Le Mans Series to their debut in LMP2 at Paul Ricard in April and now straight into the FIA WEC. After scoring their first podium in Barcelona, the team now looks forward to their debut in the World Championship. 

Probably the biggest news about the team was adding Nicolas Lapierre to their driver line-up.  Lapierre, an ex Toyota factory driver, has been regarded as one of the - if not the - fastest drivers in the LMP2 class.  His experience with the Oreca and in the championship will be a serious asset for the team.  Joining Lapierre are team owner Antonin Borga and Alexandre Coigny who have been racing together since LMP3 in the ELMS.  The team will have a busy weekend in Silverstone, racing in both the ELMS as the WEC.  

#47 Cetilar Racing - Dallara P217/Gibson

The single non-Oreca chassis this season will be entered by Italian team Cetilar Racing.  Another team that has its roots in the LMP3 class of the European Le Mans Series. After two seasons in the top class of the ELMS and 2 consecutive Le Mans appearances, Roberto Lacorte & co now leap into the WEC. 

Cetilar stays loyal to the Dallara chassis in an all Italian entry, but has now joined forces with AF Corse to run their car instead of Villorba Corse who had been running their ELMS entries for the 4 past seasons.  Roberto Lacorte will be joined again by Giorgio Sernagiotto and Andrea Belicchi.  Belicchi is the most experienced driver of the team with 8 Le Mans starts under his belt. It will be interesting to see how they will cope with the sole Dallara agains the Oreca armada.