Competitive but never quite a champion in single-seaters, Nicolas Lapierre continued that theme in sports cars until he won his first championship title at the age of 32.
Early single-seater career
He took a well-established route through France’s junior categories from his debut in 1999 – ending three years in Formula Renault by finishing third in the 2002 Eurocup for Graff Racing. He also made his Formula 3 debut that year but was only 11th in the 2003 European Championship with Signature’s Dallara F302-Renault.
However, the year ended with Lapierre on brilliant form at Macau – winning after James Courtney suffered a puncture and crashed with just four laps to go. Lapierre continued with Signature in the 2004 Euroseries and clinched third in the standings with a double victory at the Hockenheim finale.
GP2 and A1GP
His graduation to the new GP2 Series with Arden International in 2005 began from pole position at Imola’s opening round but that proved the highlight of a character-building season. A frequent retiree, he did finish third in the feature race at Magny-Cours.
Lapierre starred for France in the inaugural A1GP World Cup of Motorsport that winter. He won six times as he and Alex Prémat clinched the 2005/06 title for their country. A second GP2 season with Arden included three early-season podium finishes but he broke his back in a spectacular accident at Monaco’s Ste Devote corner. Absent from a couple of meetings, both his results and relationship with the team never fully recovered.
However, a move to DAMS was rewarded with victory in the Bahrain sprint race at the start of 2007. It was another campaign plagued by ill-fortune and he lost the Magny-Cours sprint race when his brakes failed. But he did star at Spa-Francorchamps when he won the feature race from pole position.
Sports cars with ORECA
Lapierre made his debut in the Le Mans 24 Hours in 2007 with ORECA’s Saleen S7R-Ford and he continued with Hugues de Chaunac’s team for the rest of the decade. Fifth overall in the 2009 race with a Courage LC70-AIM, he won the final round of that year’s Le Mans Series at Silverstone as he and regular co-driver Olivier Panis finished as the third best pairing of the season.
The team ran an ex-works Peugeot 908 in 2010 and they won at Portimão with Stéphane Sarrazin also driving. Sarrazin won the championship for the team with Lapierre finishing as runner-up – ever the nearly man when the silverware is handed out. Another season with ORECA’s Peugeot in 2011 included victory in the Sebring 12 Hours after the works cars were delayed and another fifth place finish at Le Mans.
The Toyota years
Toyota returned to sports cars in 2012 and Lapierre proved to be a star of the new World Endurance Championship for the next three seasons. The hybrid Toyota TS030s grew stronger as they were developed and Lapierre won three of the last four rounds with regular co-driver Alex Wurz and joined at Fuji by Kazuki Nakajima.
They qualified on pole position for three races during 2013 and won the Fuji Six Hours for a second season in succession. Lapierre briefly led the Le Mans 24 Hours during the early stages but crashed in the Porsche Curves when disputing third with less-than two hours to go.
Partnering Anthony Davidson and Sébastien Buemi at the start of the 2014 World Endurance Championship, their Toyota TS040 Hybrid won at Silverstone and Spa-Francorchamps before finishing third at Le Mans. However, Lapierre left the team in September due to personal reasons and could only watch as his erstwhile team-mates claimed the world title.
LMP2 title success for Signature Alpine
Originally retained by Toyota as a reserve driver for 2015, he switched to KCMG’s LMP2 ORECA 05-Nissan to score a class win at Le Mans that year. Lapierre joined Signature Alpine for the following season and finished fifth overall in the Le Mans 24 Hours to repeat that LMP2 class victory. Lapierre, Gustavo Menezes and Stéphane Richelmi matched that success at Spa-Francorchamps, the Nürburgring and Austin as they claimed the WEC LMP2 class – Lapierre’s first championship title.
He returned to Toyota for the 2017 Le Mans 24 Hours but he suffered a puncture when hit by Simon Trummer’s Manor ORECA in the 11th hour – the car too badly damaged to continue. He spent the balance of the WEC season in Signatech’s rebranded LMP2 Alpine-Gibson – winning the class in Austin.
Lapierre joined Tequila Patron ESM for three rounds of the United Sportscar (IMSA) series in 2018 and won the Sebring 12 Hours when sharing a Nissan Onroak Dpi with Johannes van Overbeek and Pipo Derani. Fifth overall and class-winner once more at Le Mans in 2018, Lapierre, André Negrão and Pierre Thiriet repeated that class success 12 months later to clinch the 2018/19 LMP2 World Endurance Championship title.