24 Hours of Le Mans 2015: LMP2 Preview

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Long considered an ailing category in which simply getting to the finish would secure your team a podium position, LMP2 has been completely transformed in recent years. Taking the grid at this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans will be a total of 19 cars made by seven different manufacturers and powered by three different engine suppliers. The LMP2 race promises to be just as close, if not closer, than the LMP1 battle.

G-Drive Racing – Ligier JS P2 – Nissan

17835665083_f138aa8932_k#26 – Roman Rusinov (RUS), Julien Canal (FRA), Sam Bird (GBR)
#28 – Gustavo Yacaman (COL), Luis Felipe Derani (BRA), Ricardo Gonzaleo (MEX)

 

The Ligier JS P2 coupés debuted at Le Mans last year and showed impressive pace throughout the race, particularly in the hands of G-Drive. The Russian-entered team would go on to only narrowly miss out on the world championship for drivers and LMP2 teams. G-Drive are back with a two-car effort this year and hope to reinforce their lead at the top of the championship. The #26 took the victory at Silverstone, while the #28 triumphed at Spa-Francorchamps.

G-Drive have had to cope with the loss of Olivier Pla to the Nissan factory LMP1 programme, but have found a more than capable replacement in the shape of Sam Bird. The Englishman will be looking to atone for his error at his Le Mans debut last year, which saw his Ferrari 458 collide with two prototypes on the Mulsanne Straight in the early-race deluge. In the #28 car, young Colombian driver Gustavo Yacáman, fresh from plenty of prototype racing in the Tudor United Sportscar Series, joins G-Drive stalwarts Derani and Gonzalez for his debut at La Sarthe.

 

 

SMP Racing – BR01 Nissan

18458184231_1c4e670a20_k#27 – Maurizio Mediani (ITA), David Markozov (RUS), Nicolas Minassian (FRA)
#37 – Mikhail Aleshin (RUS), Kirill Ladygin (RUS), Anton Ladygin (RUS)

 

SMP Racing return to Le Mans in a brand-new BR01 coupé, which debuted at the second round of the European Le Mans Series in Imola last month. SMP struggled at Imola, but put in some competitive times at Test Day last week. The lack of miles under the BR01’s belt may prove to be its undoing, but it will be exciting to see yet another prototype design take on the Circuit de la Sarthe.

The #27 car arguably has the strongest line-up, with long-time LMP1 racer Nicolas Minassian joined by former Ferrari GTE driver Maurizio Mediani and Russian David Markozov. The #37 offers an all-Russian driving team, with Russia’s brightest driving talent and 2010 World Series by Renault champion Mikhail Aleshin heading up the driving duties alongside Kirill Ladygin and his brother Anton.

 

 

Pegasus Racing – Morgan Nissan

11357099_1010239765660465_1858129576064166399_o#29 – Léo Roussel (FRA), Ho-Pin Tung (NLD), David Cheng (USA)

After years of trying, the Strasbourg-based team have finally been given an entry to the 24 Hours of Le Mans courtesy of their full-season commitment to the European Le Mans Series. This will be Pegasus’ third Le Mans after its debut in 2010 and a 10th-place finish in 2014. The Onroak-built Morgan Nissan is one of the “oldest” LMP2 cars on the grid, and the team will be hoping to improve on two disappointing results in the first two rounds of the ELMS. Gold driver Ho-Pin Tung will be joined by US driver David Cheng and 18-year-old Frenchman Léo Roussel.

 

 

Extreme Speed Motorsport – Ligier JS P2 HPD

18266677439_9e892e3c5e_k#30 – Scott Sharp (USA), Ryan Dalziel (GBR), David Heinemeier Hansson (DNK)
#31 – Ed Brown (USA), Johannes van Overbeek (USA), Jon Fogarty (USA)

 

Extreme Speed Motorsport bring the best that US prototype racing has to offer in the shape of two Honda-powered Ligier JS P2s. It’s not been all plain sailing for ESM this year, with the planned debut of the new HPD coupé being put back indefinitely due to lack of performance at the Daytona 24 Hours. The Ligier coupé is a more than adequate replacement and should give the US-entered team a solid basis to compete. A third place at Silverstone, a race in which ESM ran their old open-top HPD P2s (and so the third car they have raced already this season), was chalked off after the cars failed post-race inspection. Usually carrying the branding of team owners Scott Sharp and Ed Brown’s company Tequila Patron, the team have been forced into a rethink due to France’s ban on alcohol advertising. In Rolling Stone magazine, a suitable replacement has been found to keep the cars’ coolness level up high.

In terms of driving talent, ESM bring proven race winners in the shape of Ryan Dalziel, Scott Sharp and Johannes van Overbeek, with assistance coming from experienced prototype and Le Mans racers David Heinemeier Hansson, Ed Brown and Jon Fogarty. It may not be the strongest driver line-up in the field, but the ESM cars – particularly the #30 entry – will be more than capable of running up at the front.

 

 

OAK Racing – Ligier JS P2 HPD

18268632668_eb3e536f83_k#34 – Chris Cummung (CAN), Laurens Vanthoor (BEL), Kévin Estre (FRA)
#35 – Jacques Nicolet (FRA), Jean-Marc Merlin (FRA), Erik Maris (FRA)

 

OAK Racing, and team owner Jacque Nicolet, are an almost permanent feature at the Circuit de la Sarthe in the month of June. The French team have started afresh for 2015, ending partnerships with G-Drive Racing and Team Asia to put together an all-gentlemen-driver car and a car with more professional drivers behind the wheel. Interestingly, the #34 Ligier will be powered by an HPD engine, while the other car has Nissan power behind it.

Two stars of GT3 racing, Audi factory driver Lauren Vanthoor and erstwhile McLaren and Porsche driver Kévin Estre, join OAK Racing for a first toe in the water of prototype racing. They undoubtedly have pace, but the LMP2 is highly competitive and it will be a steep learning curve. Canadian rookie Chris Cumming completes the line-up on the #34 machine. The #35 car is the home of three French gentlement drivers, a fan favourite among the home spectators. As the only all-bronze crew in the LMP2 field, getting the #35 car to the finish would be a major achievement for the OAK Racing team.

 

 

Signatech Alpine – Alpine A450B Nissan

18261346950_fd74dfb63e_k#36 – Nelson Panciatici (FRA), Paul-Loup Chatin (FRA), Vincent Capillaire

 

Signatech Alpine are another Gallic force to be reckoned with on the LMP2 grid. Winners of the last two ELMS P2 championships, Signatech Alpine made the step up to the World Endurance Championship for the 2015 season but have found the going tough so far this year. A fifth-place finish at Spa-Francorchamps raised hopes of improvement, and the French squad will be hoping to build on last year’s third-place finish at Le Mans.

The sole change in the driver line-up is the addition of Vincent Capillaire to replace SARD-Morand-bound Oliver Webb. Panciatici and Chatin are exceptionally quick racing drivers so expect Signatech Alpine to be up among the head of the field should they get a clean run.

 

 

Jota Sport – Gibson 0155 Nissan

18265211490_17921be8d4_k#38 – Simon Dolan (GBR), Mitch Evans (NZL), Oliver Turvey (GBR)

Jota Sport enjoyed an exceptional 2014 season, with victory at Le Mans the high point. Pipped at the post by Signatech Alpine in the European Le Mans Series championship finale in Estoril, the season did end in disappointment, but Jota are back to defend their Le Mans title. The familiar Zytec name has been replaced by Gibson, but essentially the car is largely unchanged from last season’s effort.

Team owner Simon Dolan has consistently improved his performance and can no be considered among the very best non-professional drivers in the field. In Mitch Evans, Jota Sport may have unearthed another star-in-the-making to follow in the footsteps of Harry Tincknell (now at Nissan). Jota wiped the floor with their LMP2 competitors at Spa-Francorchamps – including all of the full-season LMP2 entries –, and must be considered among the favourites to take class victory at La Sarthe this weekend.

 

 

Krohn Racing – Ligier JS P2 Judd

18262841969_f8b202f46d_k#40 – Tracy Krohn (USA), Nic Jönsson (SWE), João Barbosa (PRT)

Krohn Racing have made the step up from GTE to LMP2 for this season, but the familiar lime green livery remains. The Krohn Racing Ligier JS P2 is a full-season entry in the European Le Mans Series, as well as in the Tequila Patron North American Endurance Cup (which comprises Daytona, Sebring, Watkins Glen and Petit Le Mans) and so far performances have been promising with a fourth at Silverstone and a fifth at Imola.

Le Mans and endurance racing are Tracy’s passion and so it’s a welcome sight to see him return to western France for another crack at the 24 hours, particularly after his massive shunt at the Forest Esses in free practice last year. He is joined by long-time driving partner Nic Jönsson and Daytona Prototype stalwart Joao Barbosa, who won at the 12 Hours of Sebring earlier this year.

 

 

Greaves Motorsport – Gibson 0155 Nissan

18268632738_e5142bdc4a_k(1)

#41 – Gary Hirsch (CHE), Gaëtan Paletou (FRA), Jon Lancaster (GBR)

Greaves Motorsport are back with their Gibson-Nissan LMP2 and perhaps one of the most interesting driver line-ups on the grid. Since the 2011 class victory, success has been relatively thin on the ground for Tim Greaves and his team, but given a clean and consistent run, the British team could certainly be in with a chance of a podium.

The 2011 LMP2 class winners are the usual go-to team for the Nissan GT Academy, with the likes of Jann Mardenborough, and Mark Schulzhitskiy all making their Le Mans with the British team. This year is no different, and young Frenchman Gaetan Paletou is set to drive alongside Jon Lancaster and Gary Hirsch just nine months after winning GT Academy and gaining his racing licence. Lancaster and Hirsch are themselves no slouches so keep an eye on the Greaves Motorsport for a potential glimpse at the future.

 

 

Strakka Racing – Strakka Dome S103 Nissan

18458184281_08c76a2cc1_k#42 – Nick Leventis (GBR), Danny Watts (GBR), Jonny Kane (GBR)

Given the troubles that plagued the Strakka Racing team last season, their presence on the grid at the 2015 24 Hours of Le Mans will be a welcome sight to all. Problems homologating the Dome 103 chassis essentially shelved any plans the British team had to race in 2014. Since its launch this year, the Dome LMP2 car has had a relatively inauspicious start to the FIA WEC season, but a podium finish at the first round at Silverstone was a fantastic reward for the team’s efforts. Success at Le Mans would make those long nights in the workshop throughout last season seem a very long way away indeed.

The one feature of Strakka Racing’s driver line-up is consistency: Nick Leventis, Danny Watts and Jonny Kane know each other like the back of their hands and, with Leventis upping his performances in recent years as the non-professional driver, don’t be surprised to see Strakka Racing up at the top of timing charts.

 

 

Team SARD Morand – Morgan Evo SARD

17832193923_c585efd2a1_k#43 – Pierre Ragues (FRA), Oliver Webb (GBR), Zoel Amberg (CHE)

It’s been a rollercoaster few months for Team SARD-Morand, with the partnership between the Japanese SARD racing team and France’s Morand Racing turning sour. A two-car effort was reduced to one and a much-publicised reality TV show “Race to 24” ditched; it also appears as if long-time Toyota privateer specialists SARD are no longer part of the entry. Nevertheless, the Morgan EVO is a quick machine, especially in the hands of British driver and reigning ELMS drivers’ champion Oliver Webb.

 

 

Ibanez Racing – Oreca 03 Nissan

18426498716_f9d20928c3_k#45 – Pierre Perret (FRA), Ivan Bellarosa (ITA), José Ibanez (FRA)

 

2015 marks a Le Mans debut for the ELMS full-season entry Ibanez Racing. The Oreca 03 chassis is now somewhat outdated compared to the rest of the field, so the San Marino-entered team may find it difficult to run up at the front. An all-rookie driver line-up makes that task harder, too. The sole aim here should be to finish and gather further experience moving forward.

 

 

Thiriet by TDS Racing – Oreca 05 Nissan

18426316886_966c15efc7_k#46 – Pierre Thiriet (FRA), Ludovic Badey (FRA), Tristan Gommendy (FRA)

 

Thiriet by TDS Racing is the first of two new-for-2015 Oreca 05 closed coupés. The all-French team runs in the European Le Mans Series and has made an impressive start to the 2015 season third at Silverstone and a convincing win at round two in Imola. The three French drivers are quick, very quick, and could certain trouble the podium places if all things remain equal. Badey in particular is one to watch.

 

 

KCMG – Oreca 05 Nissan

17195012039_65953f6bd9_k#47 – Matt Howson (GBR), Richard Bradley (GBR), Nicolas Lapierre (FRA)

The Hong Kong-entered KCMG team has slowly built up momentum since its debut in LMP2 racing a few years ago. So far their pace in the new Oreca 05 coupé has been good, with two fourth-place finishes in the first two rounds of the WEC to their name. Two years of experience of racing at Le Mans, including a third place on their debut at La Sarthe in 2013, may prove invaluable.

Full-season driver Nick Tandy is otherwise engaged with the Porsche LMP1 effort, so KCMG have enlisted the services of a worthy replacement in the shape of Nicolas Lapierre. Dumped by the Toyota LMP1 programme last season, Lapierre will be a welcome sight on the prototype grid this year. KCMG Matt Howson (silver driver) and Richard Bradley (gold) can pedal themselves, and this car has a good chance of getting a result.

 

 

Murphy Prototypes – Oreca 03R Nissan

18261222678_477c4ae7d9_k#48 – Karun Chandhok (IND), Matt Patterson (USA), Nathanaël Berthon (FRA)

The 24 Hours of Le Mans hasn’t been too kind to Greg Murphy’s Irish-entered team over the past three years. Last year, Karun Chandhok fell foul to the rain storm that hit the track two and a half hours into the race, colliding with the Greaves Motorsport car and eventually retiring. Murphy Prototypes are the only P2 entry running the Oreca 03R, last year’s updated Oreca chassis which has since been eclipsed by the closed coupé Oreca 05.

Karun Chandhok returns to lead the team and certainly has some scores to settle after last season’s disappointment. He is joined by silver driver Matt Patterson and Frenchman Nathanael Berthon.

 

Images: WEC-Magazin (Walter Schruff), Pegasus Racing/Facebook