FIA WEC LMP2 Preview


Mark Atkins takes a look at the new LMP2 cars for 2017, pictures from the FIA WEC/Adrenal Media

Introduction

The new-look LMP2 season kicks off in both the World and European championship formats at Silverstone over the Easter weekend. The FIA WEC will run its 6-hour race on the Sunday, with the ELMS holding the 4-hour version on Saturday. Both races mark the dawn of a new era in the LMP2 class, as you will see for the first time the new generation of cars racing for the first time on European soil. After a less-than-auspicious debut at Daytona in January, when they were solidly beaten by the new DPi concept, and also at Sebring where reliability played a major part in many DNFs, the ACO, as well as the teams and fans, will hope that the P2s will finally find their feet once they are up and running at the Northamptonshire circuit.


The concept

The ACO and the FIA announced the new regulations in 2015, which permitted only four nominated chassis constructors and just one engine supplier. Engine power would be increased from 500 to 600 PS. The chassis width would also be reduced from 2000 to 1900mm, as well as a myriad of smaller detail changes designed to improve safety and increase overtaking. The raison d’être behind the change was to prevent a cost explosion as well as to make clear power difference between GT and P2, as last year some GT cars were approaching P2 straight line speeds, which obviously made overtaking and lapping much more difficult.

At Le Mans in 2015 the four chassis constructors were named as Onroak (Ligier), Dallara, ORECA and Riley-Multimatic after a competitive tender process. Gibson Technologies in the UK were nominated as the sole engine supplier, and a prototype engine was unveiled at la Sarthe the following year. However, the changes were not universally greeted by the teams. Some, like Strakka (who had hoped to run the Dome S103) and BR (who had invested a lot in their BR01 and who was hoping to sell it to customers) were horrified as much of their business model was being taken away with the regulation changes. Fortunately, we will still see the Russian team in ELMS this year with a Dallara, in preparation for a full assault on a (thankfully) revived P1-L category next year with the Italian manufacturer.

2017 will prove to be a critical year, with some teams taking a sabbatical in order to see which of the four chassis will prove to be the most competitive. This is something the ACO has to watch carefully as already the ORECA chassis has a monopoly in the WEC. If this trend continues then the other three manufacturers will doubtless start to get uncomfortable and their customers will fear that they have wasted their investment. Will we see the ACO taking action in some kind of BoP or allowing mid-season upgrades despite the chassis being homologated until 2020?

The WEC Teams

Since last year, some major changes have taken place in the team line-ups. Gone are Strakka (now with McLaren in Blancpain), ESM (back to IMSA with Nissan) SMP Racing (sabbatical to develop the 2108 P1-L machine) and RGR (lack of pesos from México). In their place we have Rebellion (formely P1-L), and expanded efforts from Alpine as well as DC Racing. All of these will run the ORECA chassis, either brand new 07 or an upgraded 05 (the Alpine A470 is identical to the 07 apart from the chassis plate).

Vaillante Rebellion (13/31)

The P1-L champions from 2016 step down to P2 (but for how long?), with 2 ORECA 07s and much of the previous years’ driver talent. One major difference will be in the livery, as they now have sponsorship from the French comic book racer Michel Vaillant and will now be known as Vaillante Rebellion. After a disappointing run in the IMSA endures at Daytona and Sebring (where despite pole position the alternator had to be changed three times), this team will be keen to prove that these were ‘one-offs’ due to the unusual nature of the tracks. The sheer strength of names like Prost, Heidfeld and Kraihamer will make this team standout favourites for the championship.

Prediction: one or other car will take the title. But which?


CEFC Manor TRS Racing (24/25)

Now named CEFC Manor TRS Racing, in deference to a Chinese energy company, the Yorkshire-based team had a fairly impressive debut season and will be keen to capitalise on it. After being unceremoniously dumped out of F1 in 2015, they quickly regrouped and ran 2 ORECA-Nissans in the 2016 WEC with a large variety of drivers, including the returning Tor Graves and ex F1 drivers Will Stevens and Roberto Merhi. This year they expect to remain with a consistent cadre, but the big name is the signing of ex- Toro Rosso star Jean-Eric Vergne after a year’s sabbatical. A full year’s experience in endurance racing will do John Booth’s and Graeme Lowden’s team no harm either as they enter their second season.

Prediction: one class win at least, but not enough for the title.


Signatech Alpine (35/36)

Despite the P2 regulations prohibiting manufacturer involvement, the reigning champions Signatech Alpine, famous for their Renault-engined A110 rally car from the 1970s, will enter two rebadged ORECA 07s for an expanded effort. At the time of writing only Stéphane Richelmi and Nicolas Lapierre have been confirmed. The team has proved itself with one car, but running two consistently may prove to be a bigger challenge. Here the driver mix will be critical.

Prediction: top 3 team depending on who else gets the seats alongside Richelmi and Lapierre.


Jackie Chan DC Racing (37/38)

The former Signatech Satellite team of 2016 now goes independent and teams up with last year’s ELMS champions and fan favourites Jota Sport for a full crack at the title. The Chinese link means David Cheng and Ho-Ping Tun joining the driver strength, but the gold drivers are none other than ex-Audi man Olly Jarvis and my hometown’s hero Alex Brundle. The latter showed his speed in the G-Drive ORECA at the tail end of last year, once reliability problems had been sorted, anchoring the team’s hat-trick of wins at Fuji, Shanghai and Bahrain.

Prediction: the experience of Jarvis and speed of Brundle along with Jota’s Sam Hignett on the pit wall is the team’s biggest asset.


TDS G-Drive Racing (26/46)

Russian driver Roman Rusinov takes the petrol station chain’s orange colours to Pierre Thiriet’s TDS Racing, who is stepping up to the WEC after two successful seasons in the ELMS. Although they were denied the 2016 title in dramatic fashion at the final round at Estoril, the team is even hungrier for success and signing ex-Manor driver and Williams F1 tester Alex Lynn for the #26 car was a real coup. However, some big names appear in the sister car in the form of veteran sportscar ace Emmanuel Collard (who started his first Le Mans in 1995), ex- AF Corse team mate François Perrodo stepping up from GT for his first run in a prototype and the exciting Mathieu Vaxvière completing the line up.

Prediciton: the #46 will prove to be the stronger team over the course of the season, Lynn to be the stand-out driver in the #26.