After previously previewing the LMP1 class for this years Le Mans 24 Hours, now it’s time to look at the burgeoning LMP2 class, which is in very rude health this year with 18 entries battling for class victory. Any one of these entries is capable of winning and the sheer size of the class appears to show the ACO’s decision to make this class strictly a pro-am format seems the correct one at this point. This class will provide plenty of action over the 24 hours that’s for sure.
#22 Oreca 03R-Nissan: Fabien Giroix/John Martin/Oliver Turvey
In the pre-season this entry from Millennium racing would have been a favourite for victory in both the World Endurance Championship and the 24 Hours. So far however 2014 has not been kind to the team as budget problems mean this is their first running of the year having missed last week’s Test Day, the team are up against it to find the sweet spot for their Oreca entry. This team should not be discounted though as the team is highly professional and experienced in sports car racing, as are their stellar driver line-up which is a match for any in the LMP2 field.
Sebastien Loeb Racing:
#24 Oreca 03R-Nissan: Rene Rast/Jan Charouz/Vincent Capillaire
The Sebastien Loeb name returns to Le Mans for the first time in years, although sadly for spectators he is not returning behind the wheel. This year it’s the turn of his Sports car team as they make their LMP2 debut in the 24 Hours. The team is coming into the race in good form having claimed 2nd in the most recent European Le Mans Series race at Imola. The only question mark around this team is how they will handle the P2 class in the 24 Hours as the team has little experience with this car. Something that cannot be questioned however is the driver line-up with on-loan Audi factory GT driver making his debut in the LMP2 class, previous factory LMP1 and Le Mans Series champion Jan Charouz and gentleman driver Vincent Capillaire. Capillaire is one of the better Am drivers and if Rast shows anything like the kind of pace he has in GT cars he will be one to watch out for.
#26 Morgan LMP2-Nissan:Roman Rusinov/Olivier Pla/Julien Canal
This G-Drive racing team has proved itself to be a major contender so far in 2014 as it has dominated in the WEC taking victory in both rounds so far, also topping the times at the Test Day last weekend. This Oak racing affiliated team looks strong this year with their Oak badged Morgan which was designed specifically for this race. This came through last year as the team claimed a dominant 1-2 finish, something they’ll be aiming to repeat this year. On the driving front this team is particularly strong as Rusinov has improved dramatically in 2014, Pla is one of the benchmark LMP2 drivers in the world right now with Am driver Canal bringing plenty of experience and is no slouch himself. Watch out for this team as a podium is easily within their reach this year.
#27 Oreca 03R-Nissan: Sergey Zlobin/Mika Salo/Anton Ladygin
Another team relatively new to LMP2 racing is the SMP racing team which makes it’s debut in the P2 class at the 24 Hours this year. The team is formidable,especially thanks to AF Corse support in running the organization. Although luck has so far deserted them in the opening WEC races they have been challenging for wins, before various dramas have delayed them. Anyone in the class who gets a relatively problem free run in the 24 Hours will be fighting for the podium come next Sunday afternoon,with the SMP racing team hoping their bad luck is up for the year now. The driver line-up of Russians Zlobin and Ladygin is solid with Mika Salo bringing both pace and experience to the team. This team in overall terms is a solid entry yet will probably need a reliable run and misfortune for others to challenge for a podium.
#29 Morgan LMP2-Nissan: Julian Schell/Nicolas Leutwiler/Leo Roussel
Pegasus racing is once again a team new to top level prototype racing, however the team doesn’t have the support of a major team like SMP has with AF Corse, or the stellar line-up enjoyed by Sebastien Loeb racing. Therefore whilst this team has shown admirably sop far in the ELMS it has yet to consistently challenge for podiums, something that appears almost impossible for this young team. Whilst it can claim to have one of the best liveries in the field if it has struggled in the ELMS so far the step up at the 24 Hours will be awfully daunting for this team. The driving talent of Schell, Leutwiler and Roussel have little previous prototype experience and can be described as a majority Am line-up. This is something the team will struggle with against the immense driving talent in this class. Realistically the team should be aiming for a finish with anything more simply a bonus for a team which needs more experience at this level to be competitive in this class.
OAK Racing-Team Asia:
#33 Ligier JS P2-Honda: David Cheng/Ho-Pin Tung/Adderly Fong
Whilst the OAK racing team has been competing in the Le Mans 24 Hours for years, this is a debut for the team in this new affiliation with the Asian market, sparked by the recently launched Asian Le Mans series. Carrying on the new image of this team is the car their using, the Ligier JS P2 Coupe, making it’s debut at the 24 Hours. So far this is all adding up to a classic retirement with a new car devoid of race running and a newly affiliated team. Before you write this team off on the flip side the team has plenty to justify it’s contenders tag. Firstly the driving talent includes quick ex-single seater drivers Ho-Pin Tung and Adderly Fong, joined by the experienced David Cheng. Also the OAK racing team are always dynamite at the 24 Hours. Therefore if the new coupe can run reliably first time out do not at all be surprised to see this team competing for high placings next Sunday.
#34 Oreca 03R-Judd: Michel Frey/Frank Mailleux/Jon Lancaster
After a 2013 campaign in which they struggled the Race Performance team have shown definite signs of improvement so far in 2014. The team has stuck to a reliable Oreca-Judd package and with regular drivers Michel Frey and single seater convert Frank Mailleux, have shown tremendous promise so far in the ELMS. Mailleux has proved a revelation so far, with their driving talent strengthened immensely with another single seater convert in Jon Lancaster joining the team for his Le Mans 24 Hours debut. If Lancaster can quickly adapt to the Circuit de la Sarthe expect this team to rapid from the flag. A class podium is a definite aim for this team.
#35 Ligier JS P2-Nissan: Alex Brundle/Jann Mardenborough/Mark Shulzhitskiy
The second OAK racing entry is most definitely an intriguing entry in the LMP2 class, as it shows off their newly developed Ligier JS P2 coupe for the first time at the 24 Hours. Whilst the car is very new the team appear confident it can last the full 24 Hours. If this car can run trouble free throughout the race expect it to be challenging for the class win as this entry is very closely linked to Nissan this year. This is shown on the driving front as the team boasts 3 very fast Nissan backed drivers in benchmark man Alex Brundle, GP3 racer Jann Mardenborough and GT academy winner Mark Shulzhitskiy. All of these are quick drivers and this will only benefit the team, the only question mark remains on their new Ligier coupe.
#36 Alpine A450B-Nissan: Paul Loup-Chatin/Nelson Panciatici/Oliver Webb
Yet more diversity is brought to the LMP2 field as the Signatech team again field it’s Alpine badged Oreca for the race. This team is gaining experience in the category and came into 2014 on the back of winning the ELMS LMP2 drivers and constructers championships. Things have been slightly rougher in 2014 so far yet this team has showed tremendous promise and is deserving of it’s title as class victory contenders. The line-up of the experienced Panciatici with rapid young drivers in Chatin and ex single seater hot shoe Oliver Webb could prove inspired come next Sunday.
That’s the first half of this diverse LMP2 field previewed,please stay tuned for Part 2 coming soon!
In the meantime please visit the home of the great photographs I’ve used in the preview, they can be seen at http://www.dailysportscar.com/?p=32030 and http://www.motorsport.com/lemans/photos/main-gallery/?r=8087