2017 Season Preview: LMP2

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It’s all change in LMP2 for 2017, with the introduction of four standard chassis made by Dallara, Onroak, Oreca or Riley/Multimac and a spec Gibson V8 engine. The four-chassis variety has, though, failed to reach the FIA WEC for this year at least, with all teams opting for the Oreca 07, which won the LMP2 title in its previous incarnation as the Oreca 05 in the hands of Signatech-Alpine (although rebadged as an Alpine A470).

This year, more than ever, the key to success in LMP2 will be driver rankings. With each team required to run at least one silver- or bronze-rated driver alongside the pros, it is usually the quickest of these “amateurs” that makes the difference.

A glance at the entry list reveals a number of “amateur” drivers, who do not earn a living racing sportscars. However, the likes of Matt Rao for reigning champions Signatech-Alpine has prototype and single-seater experience, while Julien Canal in one of the two Vaillante Rebellion cars has won practically every he has raced.

The step forward in speed offered by the Gibson V8 engine is likely to make this year’s LMP2 cars the quickest the class has ever seen, with lap times at Le Mans likely to be cut by some 10 seconds. This could make the cars more difficult to handle, especially for less-experienced drivers.

Driver rating key: B = bronze, S = silver, G = gold, P = platinum

Vaillante Rebellion

Oreca 07- Gibson

#13 – Mathias Beche (P), David Heinemeier Hansson (S), Nelson Piquet Jr (P)
#31 – Julien Canal (S), Nicolas Prost (P), Bruno Senna (P)

Rebellion Racing, long time stalwarts of the LMP1 privateer category, have taken a step back into LMP2 for the foreseeable before a (still-tentative) return to the category in 2019. The Swiss team will run a pair of Oreca 07s crewed by a star-studded line-up including Brazilians Nelson Piquet Jr and Bruno Senna and former P1 drivers Mathias Beche and Nicolas Prost.

Rebellion have blitzed the LMP1 privateer category on an annual basis since the WEC’s inaugural season in 2012, and so it will be interesting to see them come up against tougher opposition this year. The team has already competed at the 12 Hours of Sebring and the Rolex 24 at Daytona with the new Oreca 07, which will certainly have given them a chance to iron out any major issues ahead of the WEC season.

CEFC Manor TSR Racing

Oreca 07 – Gibson

#24 – Tor Graves (S), Jonathan Hirschi (G), Jean-Eric Vergne (P)
#25 – Roberto Gonzalez (S), Simon Trummer (G), Vitaly Petrov (P)

Manor is back for 2017 for a proper two-car entry under the CEFC Manor TRS Racing banner. The British-based team have joined forces with Chinese sponsors CEFC, Baxi and TRS, some of whom were involved with the Baxi DC Racing outfit last season.

Arguably the most high-profile signing at CEFC Manor TRS Racing is that of former Formula 1 and Formula E driver Jean-Eric Vergne, marking the Frenchman’s first foray into sportscars. He will be joined by Jonathan Hirschi and Tor Graves in the #24 car, while Mexican driver Roberto Gonzalez (not to be confused with brother Ricardo, who entered LMP2 last season with RGR Sport), ex-ByKolles man Simon Trummer and Russian Vitaly Petrov will take charge of the #25 machine.

G-Drive Racing

Oreca 07 – Gibson

#26 – Roman Rusinov (G), Pierre Thiriet (S), Alex Lynn (P)

Acrimony over driver rankings, and particularly Roman Rusinov’s upgrading from silver to gold, drew a cloud over the close season, with the Russian threatening to walk away from the series. Instead, Rusinov is back for a shot at the 2017 LMP2 title.

He is joined by 2012 European Le Mans Series champion Pierre Thiriet and Brit Alex Lynn, who recently won the 12 Hours of Sebring with Wayne Taylor Racing in his first ever race on American soil.

TDS Racing

Oreca 07 – Gibson

#28 – François Perrodo (B), Matthieu Vaxivière (G), Emmanuel Collard (P)

TDS Racing move to the FIA WEC for 2017 after three runner-up finishes in four years in the European Le Mans Series. The team, based in Saint-Aubès just outside Montpellier, will be looking to carry on their ELMS form into their WEC commitment.

Joining TDS Racing for 2017 are 2016 GTE Am drivers champions François Perrodo and Emmanuel Collard. As the sole bronze-rated driver on the P2 grid, Perrodo may use 2017 as a learning experience more than anything. However, with the experience of Collard and Frenchman Matthieu Vaxivière on board, the team will be looking to upset the odds in 2017.

Signatech-Alpine Matmut

Alpine A470 – Gibson

#36 – Nicolas Lapierre (P), Gustavo Menezes (G), Matt Rao (S)

The 2016 LMP2 champions are back with their Alpine chassis (rebadged Oreca 07) for the 2017 season with one of the strongest driver line-ups on the P2 grid. Menezes controversial silver rating has been upgraded to gold for 2017, forcing the team to look elsewhere for an “amateur” driver. Matt Rao, last year of Manor, has been recruited to fill that role and will join Menezes and Nicolas Lapierre for the full season.

Jackie Chan DC Racing

Oreca 07 – Gibson

#37 – David Cheng (S), Alex Brundle (G), Tristan Gommendy (P)
#38 – Ho-Pin Tung (G), Oliver Jarvis (P), Thomas Laurent (S)

David Cheng returns to the 2017 WEC with his DC Racing outfit, this time with the backing of movie star Jackie Chan as title sponsor. The team has put together an impressive driver line-up for a pair of even-more-impressive-liveried Oreca 07s. Although not made clear by the team name, the effort will be managed by the reigning ELMS champions and multiple Le Mans winners Jota Sport.

Alex Brundle is arguably one of the quickest P2 drivers out there, and he joins the #37 machine alongside Cheng and platinum-rated Tristan Gommendy. Oliver Jarvis, multiple race winner for Audi until the programme came to an end last year, joins the team in the #38 car together with Ho-Pin Tung and 19-year-old Frenchman Thomas Laurent.

Images: WEC-Magazin
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