LMP2 preview: Pick a winner…

LMP2, the second prototype division, pitches seasoned pros against ambitious young talent and amateur ‘gentlemen’. It’s also the most unpredictable and open class at Le Mans. 

Writer Gary Watkins

26 G-Drive Racing

Car ORECA-Nissan 05

Drivers René Rast/Nathanaël Berthon/Roman Rusinov

It’s all change for G-Drive after its successful championship assault last season. It has swapped from OAK Racing to the Jota Sport team and from the Ligier JSP2 to the ORECA 05. Jota is undertaking its first full WEC campaign after four seasons as a front-runner in the European Le Mans Series, and its drivers showed at Silverstone that they are going to be a force. They ended up third, despite losing time with two separate problems. This line-up, with Rusinov as its mandatory silver-rated or ‘amateur’ driver, is arguably the best in the field. 

31 Extreme Speed Motorsports

Car Ligier-Nissan JSP2

Drivers Luis Felipe Derani/Ryan Dalziel/Chris Cumming

US entrant ESM has transformed its fortunes after linking up with OAK Racing, last year’s P2 champion with G-Drive, for the 2016 season. It has already scored back-to-back outright victories at the Daytona and Sebring enduros, the opening two rounds of the IMSA SportsCar Championship in North America, with a Honda-powered Ligier. It followed that up with a second place in the WEC opener. ‘Pipo’ Derani is emerging as a driver with a big future in the prototype ranks. The experienced Dalziel and decent silver driver Cumming complete a strong line-up. 

36 Signatech Alpine

Car ORECA-Nissan 05

Drivers Nicolas Lapierre/Stéphane Richelmi/Gustavo Menezes

Signatech, a race winner in last year’s WEC with an open-top ORECA, has moved over to the French constructor’s coupé for 2016 and put together an ultra-strong line-up in the best of its two cars. Lapierre was previously a factory Toyota driver and Richelmi has a full year of sports car racing behind him, in the GT ranks, while single-seater convert Menezes has the potential to be one of the best silver-rated racers. They enjoyed a strong rather than a stunning start to their WEC campaign, with fourth place at Silverstone, but the team is still learning about the ORECA and Le Mans should be better suited to the car’s strengths than the British circuit. 

38 G-Drive Racing

Car Gibson-Nissan 015S

Drivers Giedo van der Garde/Simon Dolan/Jake Dennis

Jota has consistently proved that there is life left in the open-top Gibson, a design that dates back many seasons (see page 138). It showed that at Le Mans last year with second in class and, most recently, in the opening round of this year’s ELMS. Harry Tincknell, who will be on duty with Ford in GTE Pro in the 24 Hours, anchored another victory for the team in its first race running under the G-Drive banner. Tincknell’s absence for Le Mans means two rookies – van der Garde and Dennis – line up alongside amateur Dolan.

41 Greaves Motorsport

Car Ligier-Nissan JSP2

Drivers Memo Rojas/Kuba Giermaziak/Julien Canal

LMP2 stalwart Greaves Motorsport is back at Le Mans with a solo entry for the new Ligier coupé, with which it is defending its ELMS crown (it had to withdraw its open-top Gibson after failing to find drivers for what now appears to be an unfashionable car). It has put together a strong line-up with three-time Daytona 24 Hours winner Rojas, former Porsche Supercup star Giermaziak and Canal, the silver in last year’s WEC-winning crew at G-Drive. 

46 Thiriet by TDS Racing

Car ORECA-Nissan 05

Drivers Mathias Beche/Ryo Hirakawa/Pierre Thiriet

The small but perfectly formed TDS team has been a front-runner in the ELMS since its arrival in the prototype ranks in 2011, winning the title at its second attempt, and had near misses at Le Mans in 2012 and ’14. With Mathias Beche returning on loan from LMP1 privateer Rebellion, to drive alongside silver Thiriet and Toyota-contracted Hirakawa, it has everything in its armoury to go one better than its previous second-place finishes. 

48 Murphy Prototypes

Car ORECA-Nissan 03R

Drivers Jeroen Bleekemolen/Marc Goossens/Ben Keating

The Anglo-Irish Murphy squad, back for its fifth Le Mans campaign, has retained its open-top ORECA and put together a strong line-up in GT star Bleekemolen, the experienced Goossens (who will be making his 13th start at the 24 Hours) and handy silver Keating. 

49 Michael Shank Racing

Car Ligier-Honda JSP2

Drivers Oswaldo Negri Jr/Laurens Vanthoor/John Pew

Shank needs no introduction to aficionados of US sports car racing. It has lately been a consistent front-runner in Grand-Am and then IMSA and won the Daytona 24 Hours in 2012. This will be its first Le Mans, but any shortfall in experience should be overcome by running under the umbrella of OAK Racing, part of the organisation that includes Ligier constructor Onroak Automotive. It will run the same chassis with which ESM won at Daytona and Sebring, but with the 2.8 (rather than 3.5) version of the Honda twin-turbo V6. The bigger engine isn’t homologated for the WEC.