Nicolas Minassian

2020 Rolex 24 LMP2 Preview

This is part two of my preview for the upcoming Rolex 24, if you would like to visit part one previewing the DPI class you can find it here. Part two is looking at the LMP2 class, which is enjoying a resurgence in 2020.

After a down year where the class came close to folding because of lack of entries, tweaks from IMSA have helped massively. The class has five entries for the Rolex 24, with the majority sticking around for the full IMSA season.The late withdrawal of Rick Ware Racing and a second PR1 entry dampened the feel good, yet the class has still improved massively this year. Just like with the DPI class, any of the five cars can win their class.

#8 Tower Motorsport by Starworks Oreca 07: Ryan Dalziel/John Farano/David Heinemeier Hansson/Nicolas Lapierre

Starworks Motorsport return to the prototype ranks after a difficult 2019 season in GTD. The team enjoyed their most successful period fighting for wins in Grand-Am, and their return is welcome news. The team have gone with the dominant Oreca package, and should enter the race as class favourites.

Ryan Dalziel and John Farano are the full season drivers, and are joined by David Heinemeier Hansson and Nico Lapierre for this event . This is a seriously strong line-up. Lapierre and Dalziel are very quick and experienced, with Farano and Heinemeier Hansson some of the best Am drivers.

Farano was fourth in the Roar qualifying session, but in every other session the car was in the top three. Along with completing over 175 laps to gain experience with the car, the test showed this team is a serious contender.

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#18 Era Motorsport Oreca 07: Ryan Lewis/Dwight Merriman/Nicolas Minassian/Kyle Tilley

Another brand new team to IMSA this year is Era Motorsports. The team has emerged from historic motorsport, with team principal Kyle Tilley working overtime to get this program off the ground. The team are doing the full season, with Tilley and Dwight Merriman driving.

Tilley and Merriman both have good motorsport experience, however are unproven at this level. Ryan Lewis brings experience along with good pace, although Nicolas Minassian is the star amongst the team. The Frenchman has a wealth of prototype experience and is a very quick peddler.

Completing over 150 laps at the Roar was great for a team lacing IMSA experience. Merriman struggled in the qualifying session, setting the slowest time of those that completed a lap. Finishing the race would be a good result any new team, anything else would be a bonus.

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#38 Performance Tech Motorsports Oreca 07: Cameron Cassels/Kyle Masson/Robert Masson/Don Yount

Performance Tech are one of two returning entries from last year, and remain largely unchanged for 2020. The team have performed at this level for several years now, always punching above their weight.

Cameron Cassels and Kyle Masson return as full season drivers, and are joined by Am’s Robert Masson and Don Yount. Kyle will be the quick driver in this team, with his father taking time out of his day job as a leading spinal surgeon to join him for Daytona. The drivers may struggle to match more illustrious names in this class, but have always performed reliably and consistently.

Third in qualifying at the Roar was impressive. This was the highlight of their Roar. The team at least completed some solid laps, with experience being their biggest strength.

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#52 PR1/Mathiasen Motorsport Oreca 07: Gabriel Aubry/Nick Boulle/Ben Keating/Simon Trummer

PR1/Mathiasen Motorsport return in 2020 as defending LMP2 champions, albeit against very limited competition. The team have been mainstays of IMSA racing for several seasons now, and return with a largely different driving crew.

Gabriel Aubry is the only returnee from last year, a shrewd move as he is one of the most promising LMP2 talents in the WEC. Simon Trummer joins the team from JDC-Miller, with Am’s Nick Boulle and Ben Keating completing the line-up. Keating will garner headlines as he is pulling double duty between this entry and the Riley Motorsport entry in GTD.

The Roar was great for the team, with Ben Keating setting the quickest time in the qualifying session, along with completing almost 200 laps across three days. The car was particularly quick in the hands of Aubry and Trummer. This team has a very good chance of victory, with a balanced line-up and a very quick car.

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#81 DragonSpeed Oreca 07: Colin Braun/Ben Hanley/Henrik Hedman/Harrison Newey

DragonSpeed return to Daytona as defending Rolex 24 champions, although it wasn’t this car that won. The team have expanded to do the full season, and want to start it off with another Rolex victory. The team has quickly emerged as a force in LMP2 in Europe, and now want success in America.

Ben Hanley and Henrik Hedman are doing the year, and are joined by Colin Braun and Harrison Newey in Florida. This team has a very balanced line-up. Newey is a quick young driver making his IMSA debut, with Braun and Hanley both providing speed and experience. Hedman is a solid Am driver.

The team showed tremendous pace throughout the three day test, topping four of the seven sessions. Hedman went second quickest in the qualifying session, showing he can compete with the other bronze rated drivers in the class. The team has the pace to win this class, it just comes down to strategy and reliability.

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That wraps up part two of my Rolex 24 previews, with the LMP2 class set to provide plenty of action across the 24 hours. Who do you think will win the class? Let me know by either commenting below or finding me on Twitter @JWjournalism. A special thanks must also go to Motorsport.com and IMSA.com for the high quality images in this post.

 

 

 

The glory years of F3000

With next month being the 30th anniversary of the beginning of Formula 3000, the junior racing category that between the years 1985 and 2004 catapaulted many young drivers into Formula One, now seems to be an appropriate time to look back on the popular final step to F1. I’m going to focus on the late 1990’s period of the series, when the series was as exciting as F1. At it’s peak there were forty full season entries battling for twenty six spots on the grid. Despite have a spec Lola chassis and Zytek engine package, the series provided great racing during the late 1990’s, before rising costs ruined the championship by the early 2000’s.

The series seemed to take on a new step during the 1996 season, where a new for 1996 spec Lola chassis and Zytek engine package produced a titanic title battle between the RSM Marko driver Jorg Muller and Super Nova racer Kenny Brack. A contentious collision at the final race of the year at Hockenheim settled the title in Muller’s favor, with the series showing itself to be a series on the up going into 1997.


Kenny Brack in action during the 1996 F3000 season at Silverstone. Photo credit goes to unknown from Flickr.com

1997 once again provided a title battle that went on until the business end of the season. Once again it was RSM Marko and Super Nova drivers who were fighting it out for the title, the only difference being the drivers involved as the Brazilian Ricardo Zonta turned the tables on RSM Marko to claim the title by 1.5 points from the Colombian Juan Pablo Montoya for RSM Marko. The series featured a talented crop of drivers as the likes of Jason Watt,Jamie Davies and Max Wilson established themselves as men to watch in their rookie years. 1997 would see the profile of the championship rise as the series gained mainstream television coverage from ITV,further enhancing the profile of the series for the future.


1997 champion Ricardo Zonta in action during the opening race of the year at Silverstone. Photo credit goes to unknown sourced from Flickr.com

For anyone also interested in this period of F3000 racing, EdwinTV9 has kindly posted the 1997 ITV season review on Youtube. The link is below, feel free to view it.

1998 was a stellar season for F3000, the last year of the Lola T96/50 chassis produced a thrilling title battle between Super Nova driver Juan Pablo Montoya and the young German Nick Heidfeld. The profile of the series continued upwards in 1998 as established F3000 teams such as Super Nova, DAMS and Astromega were joined by the likes of West Competition team and the RTL Team Oreca. These were big for the series as the West Competition team was a McLaren junior team to help Nick Heidfeld progress, with the RTL Team Oreca being a BMW junior team also. This showed the growing manufacture influence with the F3000 series.

On the track Juan Pablo Montoya prevailed over Nick Heidfeld after a final round showdown, with the Williams test driver Montoya taking his talents to the highly competitive CART series in America, a title he duly won in 1999 before winning the prestigious Indy 500 in 2000 and returning to the F1 paddock with Williams in 2001. Of the rest Gonzalo Rodriguez impressed in his second year with two wins in the final three races, with Jason Watt once again showing his talents in 1998 for the Den Bla Avis team.

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Juan Pablo Montoya in action during his title winning year in 1998. Photo credit goes to unknown sourced from Flickr.com

Also individual videos reviewing the 1998 F3000 season can be found on Youtube. The coverage come from ITV highlights and the first round link can be found below. Feel free to watch.

1999 was arguably the most successful year for the F3000 series during it’s existence as the new Lola B99/50 chassis produced grids of close to forty cars fighting over twenty six grid spots. The 45 minute qualifying sessions suddenly became like races themselves as everyone fought to get into the main race. By now the series was supporting the F1 races the entire year with every race supporting a European F1 grand prix weekend.

This link to the F1 paddock was now becoming far more obvious in F3000, with the West Competition team fielding Nick Heidfeld again as his dominated the year to comfortably win the title, with Gonzalo Rodriguez finishing third posthumenously in his Benetton backed Team Astromega entry, whilst Stephane Sarrazin impressed in his second year in the category for the Gauloises Formula Prost junior entry. Other teams dipping from F1 into F3000 included Williams with their all Brazilian Petrobras junior team, Sauber with their Red Bull junior/RSM Marko team and the short lived Portman-Arrows team, which only survived three races despite Arrows F1 support.

1999 would prove to be a year of both tragedy and transition for the category, with firstly the tragic death of paddock favourite Gonzalo Rodriguez whilst qualifying for his second CART race for Team Penske at Laguna Seca. Soon after this second place driver Jason Watt was involved in a motorcycle accident during a magazine photo shoot, leaving him paralyzed and therefore ending his single seater racing ambitions. Along with Nick Heidfeld moving up to F1 for 2000, the series was looking for a new crop of talent to come to the fore in the upcoming 2000 season.


Nick Heidfeld celebrating victory in Hungry during his dominant title victory in 1999. photo credit goes to Formula1.com

2000 was largely similar to 1999, the only major difference being a rule implemented before the start of the season to limit the grid to fifteen teams of two entries, meaning several of the smaller team were forced out of the series after poor 1999 seasons. This made the grid a lot more stable throughout the year, which was another classic season of F3000 as third year drivers Bruno Junqueira for the Williams affiliated Petrobras junior team and Benetton backed D2 Playlife Super Nova drivers Nicolas Minassian. Junqueira was the second half of the Williams shootout for a race drive in 2000, infamously losing out to Jenson Button before claiming the F3000 title. The series struggled to produce a crop of incoming talent to F1, as both Junqueira and Minassian taking their talents to Chip Ganassi Racing in the CART series for 2001.

This seemed strange as the series F1 links grew stronger in 2000 with the European Arrows team being set up as a junior squad for the F1 team, with eight F1 test drivers racing in the category in 2000. Behind Junqueira and Minassian rookie’s Mark Webber and Fernando Alonso impressed, with Alonso joining Minardi for the 2001 F1 season, before Webber replaced him for the 2002 season. In retrospect it appears the 2000 season was a watershed moment for the F3000 series, with sadly the series having it’s final days in the sun in 2000 before the series began to implode as rising costs ruined the series.


Bruno Junqueira on his way to winning the 2000 F3000 title in his brightly coloured Petrobras junior racing entry. Photo credit unknown sourced from Paul11f1.wordpress.com

The series lost more back marker teams with the grid reducing from 30 to 26 cars for the 2001 season. The series incorporated a inaugural fly-away round to open the season, supporting the Brazilian Grand Prix. The F1 only grew even stronger this year with Minardi sponsoring the Coloni team to become European Minardi for 2001, although the grid did lose the McLaren junior team after a difficult 2000 season for the team. Coca-Cola also came on board sponsoring the Nordic racing team, showing the prestige the series held at this time.

The Coca-Cola support of Nordic racing was timely as their driver Justin Wilson dominated the series to claim a comfortable title, beating Benetton backed Super Nova driver Mark Webber, team mate Tomas Enge and DAMS driver Sebastien Bourdais. The standard at the top of the grid was as good as ever, although the overall quality of the grid was slipping slightly from the landmark years of the series in the late 1990’s.


Justin Wilson in action during his F3000 title year in 2001. He went on to impress when he could during a short F1 career after this.
Photo credit goes to LAT.com sourced from AtlasF1.autosport.com .

From here the series dwindled in both popularity and relevance to F1 during the next few years, with the only champion between 2002 and the series end in 2004 to get an F1 drive the following year was Tonio Luizzi, and he shared a half season drive with Red Bull Racing in 2005. 2002 champion Sebastien Bourdais took his talents to America, winning the Champ Car series four years in a row between 2004 and 2007, before impressing in flashes with Scuderia Toro Rosso in one and a half years of F1, before being dropped halfway through the 2009 season. 2003 champion Bjorn Wirdheim has never started a F1 grand prix, becoming a third driver for Jaguar racing in 2004, before switching to Champ Car and subsequently establishing himself in the Japanese Super Formula single seater and Super GT series over the last several years.

F3000 was sadly replaced by GP2 for the 2005 season, something which was a shame but ultimately necessary as the F3000 series had simply run out of steam. The series was fantastic whilst it lasted, with it’s glory years surely making the series the most high profile junior category ever. We will likely never see again a grid full of forty cars competing to even qualify for an F1 supporting event, which simply shows the strength the F3000 series once had. It is a sorely missed final step on the ladder to F1.

Any thoughts on this article feel free to post a comment good or bad on the F3000 series.