At Le Mans the LMP2 class was the biggest category in the race with 20 cars entered for the 80th 24 Hours of Le Mans. Some called it the most competitive prototype class category in the world and why would we disagree. There were fights throughout the field for most of the race. Strongest this year was Starworks Motorsport. Here’s a team-by-team review of what happened in LM P2 and what happened with the Nissan DeltaWing.
Starworks Motorsport (HPD ARX-03b)
Despite having won the first round of the FIA World Endurance Championship at Sebring, Starworks Motorsport was not regarded as the top favorite for the class win at Le Mans. A seventh place at Spa and losing Sarrazin to Toyota meant the team’s hopes for a Le Mans victory were dented. Tom Kimber-Smith joined Enzo Potolicchio and Ryan Dalziel and he did what he was hired for – leading the team to a Le Mans class victory.
Having started ninth on the grid Kimber-Smith cut through the field and after just two hours the Briton was already in second place, chasing leader Olivier Pla. The team dropped to fourth after a slightly longer pit stop, but when Kimber-Smith got back onboard again he managed to put in fast laps again and, taking advantage of the problems at OAK Racing, moved into the lead just after 0.30am. The team then went on to increase its lead and apart from a unscheduled, but short pitstop in the final hour had no problems. The team finished the race 1 lap clear of its nearest rival and made it two wins out of three FIA WEC events.
Thiriet by TDS Racing (Oreca 03 Nissan)
The European Le Mans Series championship leading team did not compete in the FIA WEC round at Spa, but that didn’t prevent Thiriet, Beche and experienced Tinseau to impress at Le Mans. Beche started the race from fourth place, moved up into third and was then ‘given’ second when ADR-Delta hit trouble. The pit stops saw the #46 dropping down the order and just when Beche had moved back up into third a very long pit stop resulted in the car dropping down to 16th in class. After this setback Thiriet, Beche and Tinseau did what they had to do and kept out of trouble. As other fell by the wayside the #46 kept gaining positions and Thiriet eventually moved into second place when Ayari went off at Indianapolis. Despite a late scare the Swiss team maintained its position and finished in second place on their Le Mans debut.
Pecom Racing (Oreca 03 Nissan)
The Pecom Racing Oreca 03 Nissan of Perez-Companc, Kaffer and Ayari started the race from fifth and quickly moved up into the top three. The team’s decision to swap from Ayari to Kaffer early on meant the car dropped back to fifth – followed by problems that resulted in the loss of another position.
Kaffer and Ayari then pushed as hard as they could and brought the #49 back into a podium position. The team then fought with the #26 Signatech Nissan team for second place. Ayari managed to pass Rusinov for second and then put in some really fast lap times to create a comfortable lead over the LMP2 cars behind. Unfortunately Ayari spun into the gravel in the morning, allowing the #46 Oreca to take second. No further positions were lost – as the #26 pitted almost immediately after Ayari’s mishap. In the remaining hours the team tried to catch the Thiriet by TDS car, but it turned out to be a bridge too far and the Pecom Racing team finished in third place.
Signatech-Nissan (2x Oreca 03 Nissan)
A team with mixed results at Le Mans is probably the best way to describe the weekend of the Signatech Nissan team. The French team had two cars in the race, the #23 Oreca 03 Nissan for Lombard/Tresson/Mailleux and the #26 Oreca 03 Nissan for Ragues/Panciatici/Rusinov.
There were high hopes for the #23 car before Le Mans, but it just wasn’t their weekend. Before the race had started the only times the car had been mentioned was when it spun off or returned to the pit earlier than expected and in the race it was more of the same. From a 13th position on the grid the car made it into the top 4 at night, but then dropped back down to 13th position – when Lombard hit the tyrebarrier at the Mulsanne corner – and eventually finished in ninth place in LMP2. One can only imagine that Tresson has been searching desperately for a restart button to start the weekend all over again and do much better.
The second car, the #26, did much better and Panciatici, Ragues and Rusinov finished in fourth place. Consistency and no (major) errors were the key words for the G-Drive sponsored car. From third on the grid the car was soon down in 11th but all three drivers helped getting the car back into the top four. During the early hours of Sunday the team was in third place, until a puncture caused an unscheduled stop and losing third place. By the time everything was sorted a podium finish was out of sight.
Greaves Motorsport (2x Zytek Z11SN Nissan)
Another team that had higher hopes for Le Mans. Greaves Motorsport won the LMP2 class last year and returned to Le Mans with two cars – and father and son Brundle – this year. It wasn’t going to be a repeat though and the team went home with a fifth and eighth place finish in class.
Somewhat unexpected it wasn’t the Brundle/Brundle/Ordonez car that was the highest ranked car of the team. Having started from 15th on the grid the #41 of Zugel, Julian and Gonzalez was outside the top 10 for almost the entire first half of the race. With the attrition rate always high in LMP2 all three drivers knew they had to keep the car between the white lines and keep running a steady pace. All three drivers did just that and whilst other teams made mistakes or hit trouble the #41 continued its run forward. Early Sunday morning the team had taken fifth place – the highest possible for the car – and that position it would still be in when the chequered flag came out.
The #42 was less fortunate. An alternator problem just a couple of hours into the race meant the team dropped down to 17th in class. Trying to catch up behind the safety car Lucas Ordonez spun the car and later on in the race Martin Brundle also lost control of the Zytek at the Forza Chicane. Ordonez and the Brundles continued and into the second part of the race they were back in the top 10. From there on it was always going to be eighth or ninth place for them. Mailleux challenged Brundle for eight in the final minutes, but wasn’t able to pass the 1990 Le Mans winner.
ADR-Delta (Oreca 03 Nissan)
ADR-Delta’s John Martin managed to put the #25 Oreca 03 Nissan on pole position and the Australian pulled away into the lead as soon as the lights went to green on Saturday. He managed to keep the OAK Racing #24 behind him – until things went wrong during the first pitstop. A long pitstop meant Martin rejoined in 14th position. Martin, Charouz and Graves fought hard to get back into seventh, but then hit trouble again and once again minutes were lost in the pit. Another fightback saw the #25 back in sixth in class, before a fluid leak caused another long delay in the pit. As a result sixth place was the best possible result for ADR-Delta. Without the problems the team had certainly been able to fight for the class victory, as Jan Charouz set the fastest LMP2 lap time of the race in this car.
OAK Racing (1x Morgan-Judd, 1x Morgan-Nissan)
OAK Racing was one of the top favorites for the class win at Le Mans before the weekend and a seventh place finish for the #35 Morgan-Nissan of Heinemeier-Hansson, Leinders and Martin as well as a DNF for the #24 Morgan-Judd of Pla, Lahaye and Nicolet was far off the expectations.
From the beginning of the race it was clear that the OAK Racing drivers wanted to win the event and when the ADR-Delta Oreca hit trouble in the pits it was Pla who moved into the lead. Longer stints meant the #24 was able to extend its lead. Martin in the #35 Nissan-powered car managed to pass Nicolet just after 10 pm, but a couple of punctures dropped the #35 all the way down to 17th in class. All hopes were on the #24, but an engine problem resulted in that car also pitting and losing the lead. Despite efforts from the team to fix it the #24 was retired around 2 o’clock in the morning.
After that Martin, Leinders and Heinemeier-Hansson had a rather smooth race and early Sunday morning the #35 was back into the top 10. The car finally managed to get into seventh position, but the distance to get into sixth was too much and after 24 hours of racing it was still in a – for the team – disappointing seventh place.
Boutsen Ginion Racing (Oreca 03 Nissan)
The team that promised a line-up full of drivers from the Le Mans region and showed up with a German (Petersen) and a Japanese driver (Nakano) joining local hero Brière. Petersen and Brière couldn’t match Nakano’s pace and the #45 Boutsen Ginion Racing Oreca 03 Nissan was never in contention for a top finish. The team started from tenth on the grid and never got out of the mid-field. The team was also involved in a rather odd incident just after midnight. Petersen stopped at the Porsche Curves and a loss of power and headlights was reported. Several minutes later the car suddenly rejoined again and returned to the pit. On his outlap Petersen then spun the car into the gravel at the first Mulsanne chicane. Three consecutive punctures meant the Belgian team lost quite some time in the pit and valuable time was lost. After 24 hours the team was still where it started…in 10th place.
Race Performance (Oreca 03 Judd)
Race Performance, the only team running a Judd-powered Oreca 03, finished in 26th overall and 11th in the LMP2 class after a rather eventful 24 Hours of Le Mans. Frey, Hirschi and Meichtry eventually finished 34 laps down on the class winner. Unfortunately for the Swiss team the only times the car was shown on the TV screens around the circuit it was when it hit trouble, was in the pit for stop-and-go penalties or when it was wheeled back into its box to be checked. Nevertheless the small Swiss team never gave up and whatever the problem was it was solved and the Oreca 03 Judd was sent out on the track again. Where others failed to finish, Race Performance kept going and the #40 car crossed the line 11th in class just after 3 pm on Sunday afternoon.
Extreme Limite ARIC (Norma M200P-Judd)
Not much can be said about the Extreme Limite ARIC Norma. It was there, was way off the pace of the top cars in LMP2 and Rosier, Thirion and Haezebrouck did what was asked from them: bring the car to the finish and stay out of trouble (and out of the way from other cars). Noone had expected the team at Le Mans after a big crash during the FIA WEC 6 Hours of Spa, but not only did they race at Le Mans, a 12th place finish with the Norma M200P was probably more than what was hoped for.
Jota (Zytek Z11SN Nissan)
Hopes were high for Jota after their LMP2 class win in the FIA WEC 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps, but it wasn’t to be at Le Mans. The team had a rather untroubled run in the opening hours of the race – making its way up to sixth in class by midnight. Unfortunately Simon Dolan hit ‘something’ and returned to the pit just before 2.30am. The repairs that followed cost the #38 Zytek Z11SN Nissan some nine minutes. One hour later the #38 car spun coming down through the Dunlop Esses. It was recovered by safety vehicle and then returned to the pits with electrical problems – which were solved and the car was sent out to the track again. With less than 4,5 hours to go Dolan than suffered more bad luck as he crashed at the Porsche Curves, causing a lot of damage to the rear-end of the Zytek. The rather out-of-shape Zytek returned to the pit eventually – where it was retired.
Level 5 Motorsport (HPD ARX-03b)
The American team owned by Scott Tucker was unable to repeat its performance from 2011, when it finished on the podium. After 17 hours of racing at Le Mans the HPD ARX-03b of Tucker, Diaz and Bouchut was retired with a fuel pressure problem.
Until the moment it retired the team had been rather invisible, although a consistent run and staying out of serious trouble meant the team slowly but steadily improved its position. Shortly after sunrise Tucker had to park the #33 HPD with a fuel problem – initial reports saying Tucker had run out of fuel. According to the team the American had not seen the pit boards indicating the problem due to the rising sun and his radio didn’t work.
Status Grand Prix (Lola B12/80 Judd)
Status Grand Prix endured a difficult debut at Le Mans. The team, in only its second race with the LMP2 Lola, had overcome mechanical issues, electrical issues, but was eventually forced to retire from the race when the battery failed after 17 hours.
Buurman started the race, but before the first half hour had been completed he had already been back in the pit for an unscheduled stop. Unfortunately it wasn’t the only problem the team had and the good work from Buurman, Sims and Iannetta was not rewarded as every time the #30 Lola worked its way up the ranks it suffered a new setback. Sims crashed the car during the night, the team repaired the problem in just over half an hour. In the early morning the team then suffered an alternator belt problem. The belt was replaced in 20 minutes. Buurman then set the fastest laps of the car, before suddenly slowing down and pulling over to the side. Despite long attempts to restart the car Buurman was unable to fix the problem and the Status Grand Prix team was was forced to retire from Le Mans.
Murphy Prototypes (Oreca 03 Nissan)
For Irishman Greg Murphy and his team it was a dream come true when they were told they would be racing at Le Mans. Firth, Hughes and Hartley impressed in the #48 Oreca 03 Nissan. Good pace resulted in fights with the Starworks and OAK Racing cars for the podium positions and just before 10 pm Hartley took the lead in the LMP2 category.
Unfortunately a sudden puncture just before the pit lane entry damaged the bodywork and an unscheduled stop cost the team several laps. The car returned and fought its way back, with Hartley fighting for fifth place when a left-rear suspension failure, again at ‘pit-in’, caused another unscheduled visit to the box. Unfortunately the team was unable to fix the problem and a strong run ended too early.
Lotus (Lola B12/80 Lotus)
Despite several high-profile drivers wandering in the Le Mans paddock in Lotus team kit the #31 Lola B12/80 Lotus was driven by Thomas Holzer, Mirco Schultis and Luca Moro. A rather uneventful race saw the team running 17th in class at midnight and no major drama, just a bodywork change some 5.5 hours into the race. The team continued until a gearbox issue threw them out of contention. Despite efforts from the Kodewa-crew to get the car back on track it was retired from the race just after 5 o’clock.
Gulf Racing Middle East (2x Lola B12/80)
Last and certainly least of all the teams racing in the LMP2 class. Already dead slow at Sebring and Spa there was no improvement at all at Le Mans. The cars were off the track more than once and when Keiko Ihara crashed the car in practice everyone thought it was all over for the #29. The team did repair the car though and it qualified in 45th overall.
As the quickest driver on the #29 Marc Rostan started the car, but his adventure only lasted 17 laps this year. At the Porsche Curves Rostan lost control of his Lola and hit the wall, damaging the transmission on the car and forcing it into retirement…the first official retirement in the race.
The second car, the #28 of Badey, Giroix and Johansson, lasted a bit longer. The team lost quite some time in the pits when the front jack failed to retract completely and was damaged when the car drove off. Repairs were needed and the car was stuck in the pit for a while. An off at Indianapolis caused more damage to the car and even though Badey managed to get the car back to the pit the team was unable to fix the problem and retired just after 1 o’clock.
Highcroft Racing (Nissan DeltaWing)
The Nissan DeltaWing was one of the highlights of the weekend. It seemed that you either liked it or hated it. In qualifying the DeltaWing was 29th fastest. There were no real expectations for the race and some called it ‘demonstration laps’.
Shortly after the start the DeltaWing dropped behind the LMP2 cars and in the second hour of the race the team was already working hard to fix a problem with the gearbox cooling system. This resulted in the car dropping down to 50th overall, before returning.
Unfortunately the display ended just after 9.15pm when Toyota driver Kazuki Nakajima tried to overtake the Audi’s and didn’t see the DeltaWing, now driven by Satoshi Motoyama. Motoyama hit the wall at Karting and stopped with severe damage to his car.
What then followed was a true Le Mans tragedy, with Motoyama trying to repair his car for hours – with his team meters away behind the fence giving him instructions. Motoyama got the engine running again, but further checks revealed broken steering arms and the Japanese driver realized he wasn’t going anywhere. After more than an hour and a half of trying Motoyama gave up trying and returned to the paddock on the backseat of team manager Phil Barker’s scooter. A sad ending to a great project.
(Images: Gerlach Delissen)