2014 LMP2 Review

The WEC’s LMP2 class was the smallest in the field during 2014. Issues at Millennium Motorsport and an un-welcome testing crash for Strakka Racing’s new car meant there were only four full season entries in the class from three teams. The small grid however did not mean there was to be a lack of excitement. The fierce battle for both the Teams and Drivers Trophies that went down to the wire in the most dramatic of fashions.
The season started strong for the G-Drive racing team with, Juilien Canal, Olivier Pla and Roman Rusinov taking pole position and the win in their #26 Morgan-Nissan at Silverstone. After a strong fight for the lead it was the #47 KCMG Oreca that came home in second position. The two SMP Orecas ended up with 3rd and 4th in the #27 and #37 cars respectively. SMP had a lot of work to do after leaving Silverstone with the best placed of their cars eight laps off of the class lead.

The 6 Hours of Spa soon came around and brought another win for the G-Drive team. ELMS regulars Jota came second in their warm up race for Le Mans with Simon Dolan, Harry Tinknell and 2009 Le Mans Winner Marc Gene behind the wheel. KCMG began to mount a championship challenge at Spa with another podium finish. SMP brought up the rear of the class again with Sergey Zlobin’s 27 car coming home last in class, 2 laps off of the leaders.
The 24 Hours of Le Mans was not surprisingly the race to boast the largest LMP2 grid of the season, with 17 cars lining up to attempt to win the class. Le Mans is also where the championship battle gained a whole new dynamic. Although the #38 Jota Zytek won the LMP2 class in the endurance classic, you had to look all the way down to 12th in class to find the first full season WEC car. Because the 11 cars that finished above the #27 SMP were all effectively one off entries, the race winning points (double for Le Mans) went to the drivers of the #27 SMP Oreca. However, SMP had shuffeld their driver combinations for Le Mans, meaning that Maurizio Mediani and Nicolas Minassian, who had been Sergey Zlobin’s team mates in the previous 2 races, instead drove the #37 car. Because the #37 car only completed 9 laps and therefore scored no points, and Zlobin scored 50 points for winning the race, when at the next race at CoTA Minassian and Mediani were reunited with Zlobin, the Russian was 50 points better off in the Drivers’ Championship, meaning if an SMP car was to win the Drivers’ trophy, It would only be Zlobin that would become champion. G-Drive came second out of the WEC runners with KCMG in third. The Double points for Zlobin however put SMP and the returning Russian in a position to be able to challenge the previously untouchable G-Drive for class honors.
After the long summer break, WEC action resumed at the Circuit of the Americas in Texas. The fact that the race was on home soil, TUDOR United Sportscar regulars ESM entered the race in one of their HPD’s. Although the American team finished 4 laps off of the lead, they still managed to get onto the final step of the podium in a race that was turned on its head by adverse weather conditions. KCMG took their first win with Matthew Howson, Richard Bradley and Tsugio Matsuda behind the wheel ahead of the reunited trio of Zlobin, Minassian and Mediani in the #27 SMP Oreca by just 45 seconds. G-Drive could only manage fouth in class in their new Ligier JS P2 Nissan coupe. This again closed the gap at the top of the standings with Zlobin out scoring the G-Drive trio.

Next up was the Japanese round at Fuji. A strong performance by G-Drive saw them take their first win in their new Ligier. The #47 KCMG car continued on with their solid season to finish second in class this time with Alexandre Imperatori driving instead of Tsugio Matsuda. After a fierce battle all race long however, the KCMG team were disappointed to not win the race. The gap between first and second at the line was a tiny 6 seconds. For the second race running it was a one off entry which claimed third in class, this time it was the OAK Racing Morgan of Keiko Ihara, Gustavo Yacaman and Briton, Alex Brundle. Sergey Zolbin’s #27 finished 4th in class and the #37 SMP Racing trio had yet another disappointing round, bringing up the rear of the class.
Shanghai was were KCMG had their first disappointing round. A first lap incident with the Championship leading GTE-PRO Ferrari saw it not even complete the first lap, which hurt their championship campaign. Rusinov, Pla and Canal won again in their G-Drive Ligier. This time dominating the race and winning by 3 laps. ESM returned to race again in the WEC. The Chinese race was the first time that the team had raced outside of the Americas. They entered with two cars this time and the result went one better than they could manage in Texas, taking second in class. Zlobin kept his championship hopes alive with another solid third position in his #27 SMP Oreca one place ahead of the other SMP car. The second of the ESM cars came fifth with Ed Brown, Johannes Van Overbeek and David Brabham behind the wheel. OAK Racing also returned, but could only manage 6th in class, 10 laps off the winning Ligier.

For the penultimate round of the WEC, the championship headed to the desert in Bahrain. A first lap incident between the #37 SMP car and the G-Drive Ligier broke the right rear wishbone on the G-Drive car. The controversial incident meant that Zlobin could now challenge for the LMP2 title once more. However with 15 minutes to go the #27 car went up in smoke due to a suspected gearbox issue, forcing them out of the race. KCMG took their second win of the year with the #37 sister SMP Oreca claiming second. The bad luck for SMP meant that they would need misfortune for the G-Drive team if they were to take the titles in Brazil.
The final round at in Brazi was a case of trying to nurse the car to the end for G-Drive, as that was all they had to do. Punctures for the two SMP cars early on virtually handed the race and the Championship to G-Drive before on lap 41 a break failure on the entry to turn one ended G-Drive’s chances. All SMP had to do was finish and that is what they did. KCMG took their third win of the season but second in class was enough for SMP to take the Teams Trophy, and for Sergey Zlobin to claim the 2014 LMP2 Drivers Trophy.

With Zlobin going to GTE-AM next season we are garunteed to get a new LMP2 Champion in 2015. Strakka are also set to bring their new Dome chassis into the mix and SMP are entering with their all new BR-01 chassis, 2015 is set to be even more exciting.

Image Source: Walter Schruff