The Motor Sport Month - International News

Ferrari looks at Le Mans

Ferrari is evaluating the 2014 LMP1 World Endurance Championship rulebook and has not ruled out its first full-factory prototype campaign since 1973.

The Italian manufacturer has confirmed speculation that it is undertaking a low-level investigation into the energy-based formula. Antonello Coletta, who runs Ferrari’s non-Formula 1 motor sport programmes, explained that the evaluation was based on the idea of using its new F1 V6 turbo in sports car racing.

"It is normal that Ferrari should screen all opportunities, stand at the window and look in," Coletta said. "It is important for us to understand what is available in the future."

But Coletta stressed that it had no immediate plans to join Audi, Toyota and Porsche in the P1 category in the WEC or Le Mans 24 Hours.

"At the moment we are concentrated on F1, so it would not be possible to do something else," he added. "We cannot say Ferrari will be in LMP1, but we cannot say Ferrari will not be in LMP1. Also, we cannot say if our vision is for 2015, 2016 or beyond."

Coletta said Ferrari would not follow a route suggested by Renault, which has raised the prospect of its 1.6-litre V6 being used by its Alpine brand, which backed an LMP2 programme in 2013, or customers.

"Either we build a car or we do not come," he said.

A factory prototype campaign at some undetermined point in the future would end a Ferrari absence from frontline sports car racing stretching back 40 years. Its last factory prototype assault came in 1973 with the 312PB, a programme that was halted for 1974 by current Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo when he took the reins of the racing team.

Its last prototype, the 333SP, made its debut in the US IMSA series in 1994 but was conceived as a customer car and never ran on a factory basis.

Ferrari’s admission of an interest in the prototype division has raised parallels with its still-born IndyCar programme of the late 1980s. It built the 637 as a bargaining tool at a time when it was threatening to pull out of F1 over regulation changes.

Race the Titanic...

A team involving Hollywood star Leonardo DiCaprio, one bearing the Virgin name and Indian industrial conglomerate Mahindra have taken the last three slots on the entry list for next winter’s inaugural FIA Formula E Championship for electric vehicles.

DiCaprio, who is also an environmental activist, has entered into a joint venture with Monégasque manufacturer Venturi, which offers for sale a range of electric and solar-powered vehicles having started life building sports cars in the early-1990s. The team will race under the Venturi Grand Prix banner.

DiCaprio said: “The future of our planet depends on our ability to embrace fuel-efficient, clean-energy vehicles. Venturi Grand Prix has shown tremendous foresight in its decision to create an environmentally friendly racing team and I am happy to be a part of this effort.”

Virgin Galactic vice-president Alex Tai put together the Virgin team, with the backing of brand founder Richard Branson.

Mahindra is expanding its racing activities, which already include competing in the Moto3 bike category on the MotoGP undercard.

Ligier back in the limelight

The Ligier name will return to top-class motor sport next year, in endurance racing.

Ex-Formula 1 team owner Guy Ligier, whose family took over French racing car constructor Martini Automobiles in 2004, is joining forces with the French OAK Racing team and its car-building offshoot Onroak Automotive to offer a range of prototypes from entry level right up to LMP1. A new LMP2 coupé under development at Le Mans-based Onroak for next season will be badged as a Ligier badges and development of Ligier’s Group CN JS53 Evo has been taken over by Onroak.

The deal is likely to encompass an Onroak car built to 2015 LMP3 rules, which will be introduced into the European and Asian Le Mans series in 2015. It is also possible that the customer version of the OAK LMP1, due to race for the first time in next May’s Spa round of the WEC, could be dubbed a Ligier.

Ligier, 83, built prototypes before entering F1. He said: "I have every confidence in Jacques Nicolet [boss of OAK and Onroak], with whom I have enjoyed a long friendship, to bring the Ligier name back to the summit of endurance."

ORCEA, which won the P2 class in six of the eight WEC rounds this year, has also confirmed plans to build a coupé to replace its existing open-top design for 2015.

Priaulx bound for the USA

Andy Priaulx, three-time World Touring Car champion with BMW, will swap from the German manufacturer’s DTM line-up to its Rahal-run attack on the new United SportsCar Championship in North America.

Priaulx, who has raced in the DTM since BMW’s return to the German-based series in 2012, will swap places with Maxime Martin. The Belgian raced one of the factory BMW Z4s in the 2013 American Le Mans Series as well as undertaking DTM test duties.

Priaulx, 40, said: “After more than two decades as a professional racing driver it is amazing to be given such an exciting new challenge. Not only will I be visiting new tracks and racing a new car, but this programme is giving my career even greater longevity.”

Priaulx’s recruitment is the only change in BMWs line-up, which includes Dirk Muller, Bill Auberlen and Joey Hand when he is not on DTM duty.

Red Bull Formula 1 reserve Antonio Felix da Costa will also join the BMW DTM squad, although it has yet to be confirmed which teams he and Martin will represent.