Le Mans 2020: LMP2 Preview

A look at the LMP2 field of the 2020 Le Mans 24 Hours, running 19-20 September.

Although I’m not able to fully research every car I still want to look team by team and then tell you my picks for the top 3 in each class!

Like GTE Am, LMP2 is an under-rated class though perhaps less so than the GT counterpart. I think that’s to do with an even higher level of quality among the Pro drivers in LMP2. You have Formula E champions, IndyCar champions, outright LMP1 winners, Formula 2 and Formula 3 winners. The talent is off the charts.

To recap, in sports car racing drivers are graded Platinum and Gold for Professional, Silver or Bronze for Amateur. Yes there are problems with driver rankings, fake silvers and so on. It is a real problem. I don’t have space to get into that now!
In GTE AM you have to run a Bronze driver and can have only one Platinum.
In LMP2 you are allowed two Platinum drivers.

There’s a bit of an unofficial split: Teams stacked with Platinum talent and a very good Silver, and teams with genuine amateur Bronze drivers in a proper Pro-Am format akin to GTE AM. Arguably they should reflect this with a separate sub-class cup for the latter.

To re-use a paragraph from the Am preview, yes, in the race, huge time gaps will appear in the field as the Pros drive away from the Ams. But just wait. Often the race will close up again when the situation reverses: when the Pro hands over to their Am and the car becomes the tortoise, the chasing car is taken over by the Pro and becomes the hare. Often it is a mystery how the class really looks until it shakes out in the final hour of the race.

There have been a lot of Covid-19 withdrawals in the LMP1 and GTE Pro classes, and so the two pro-am classes feature heavily in the 2020 race.

Entries By Class at 15th September:
LMP1 5
LMP2 24
PRO 8
AM 22
TOTAL 59

Probably my least favourite thing about LMP2 is the lack of variety of cars. That’s not Covid-19 related and has been the case at Le Mans for a while. Nearly everybody in LMP2 uses the Oreca. Nothing against Oreca but prototype endurance racing shouldn’t be a spec formula.

Le Mans is worth double-points to the WEC teams. Will they go for it to make their season? Will they race conservatively for points? Remember the WEC points are awarded as if the non-WEC cars are not there, so if two ELMS cars finish 1-2 and the top WEC car is 3rd, that car will be awarded 50 points for being first WEC car home even though they did not win the race. This opens them up to be challenged by those going for glory at the 24 Hours, knowing the WEC teams need those points.
ELMS entries do not get points towards their own championship.

WEC Points Standings
22 United Autosports 120 pts
37 Jackie Chan DC 98 pts
29 Racing Team Nederland 91 pts
38 Jota Sport 89 pts
42 Cool Racing 79 pts
36 Signatech Alpine 64 pts

ELMS Points Standings
22 United Autosports 68 pts
32 United Autosports 39 pts
26 G-Drive (TDS) 36 pts
39 Graff 35 pts
31 Panis Racing 27 pts

OUTRIGHT PODIUM?

With a heavily-depleted LMP1 field as it rolls to the end of an era there is a very strong possibility we will see an LMP2 car on the overall podium, just as we did in 2017 in that hot race when the hybrid cars failed. This time we only need to see three delayed cars in the top class and it’ll happen.

What chance we’ll see two on the overall podium? What chance a win? Well I think the Toyotas are bulletproof now so we shall see.

DALLARA P217 (1 car)

47 Cetilar Racing Belicchi (G)/Lacorte (B)/Sernagiotto (S) WEC

8th in the WEC. You might call the team plucky. I like them, they’ve worked their way up.

I was hoping to see more Dallaras, they have always been quick in a straight line since the current rules started and I thought they were competitive on the other tracks. Not so much at Le Mans though.

LIGIER JS P217 (3 cars)

11 Eurointernational D’Ansembourg (B)/Maris (B)/Tambay (G) ELMS

2019 LMP3 champion in the ELMS. Adrien ‘son of’ Tambay the headline name here. The team will be hampered a bit by a lack of LMP2 experience but mainly because I think they’re the only team running two Bronze drivers. Will be looking for a finish.
Yes, this is the same team that entered CART Indycar races in the 1990s!

34 Inter Europol Competition Binder (S)/Smiechowski (S)/Isaakyan (G) ELMS

The Polish team with the bright green and yellow cars! You certainly won’t miss them on track. If you only follow WEC you won’t know them but they run LMP2 and LMP3 cars in both European and Asian Le Mans Series with respectable championship positions for all of them. They’ve been working the ladder for a while.
Isaakyan was with the SMP LMP1 effort but was quite wild, he shunted it a few times. Binder is quick.

35 Eurasia Motorsport Yamanaka (B)/Foster (G)/Mehri (P) AsianLMS

They finished 3rd in the Asian LMS with Foster and ex-F1 man Mehri with a run of second places.
At Le Mans in the past their car has been known to visit the gravel often due to some poor driver selections. Let’s hope they’ve chosen a better 3rd driver this year.

ORECA 07 / Aurus 01 / Alpine A470 (20 cars)

The car is the Oreca 07 – the Aurus and Alpine are the same car with a different badging deal.

22 United Autosports Albuquerque (P)/Hanson (S)/di Resta (P) WEC
32 United Autosports Brundle (G)/Owen (S)/van Uitert (S) ELMS

Top-line team leading both WEC and ELMS with Albuquerque and Hanson topping the tables in both series.

Surprised to see Hanson is a silver, he raced Ant Davidson hard at Spa. Wonder if there’s some funky driver ratings going on! Even so, to have Albuquerque and Di Resta in the car means this is always going to be a contender.

The other car is almost as strong, don’t let the silvers fool you here either. This crew are 2nd in ELMS albeit a lot of points behind.

Either car could win and I wouldn’t be surprised to see both on the podium.

For the record, United are also 1st and 3rd in ELMS LMP3!

37 Jackie Chan DC Racing Aubry (S)/Stevens (P)/Tung (G) WEC
38 Jota Sport da Costa (P)/Davidson (P)/Gonzalez (S) WEC

2014 LMP1 champion Ant Davidson anchors the ‘Mighty’ 38 car. I can’t believe it but he’s never won Le Mans and this’ll be his 12th start across 3 classes. He’ll be very motivated to change that. Dominant Formula E champion Antonio Felix da Costa makes his first LMP2 Le Mans start after two years with BMW in GT. Gonzazlez did a season of Champ Car in 2004 with PKV, this is his 3rd LMP2 season – his brother Ricardo won LMP2 at Le Mans in 2013.
Frustratingly, Davidson was ill at Silverstone a year ago and so he didn’t record any points, his car-mates are 4 points ahead of him.

In the 37, Aubry is building a handy reputation, 3 wins in the last season and a bundle of 2nds across two seasons, and he’s also doing the ELMS and the Endurance Cup of IMSA. Ex-F1 reject Stevens has built a nice career in both GT and prototype racing. Tung is pretty handy as well.

The 37 car is slightly ahead in the WEC points but remember the 38 was DQ at Fuji. Both of these cars can win.

21 Dragonspeed USA Montoya (P)/Buret (S)/Rojas (G) ELMS
27 Dragonspeed USA Hanley (G)/Hedman (B)/van der Zande (P) IMSA

Juan Pablo Montoya is the headline name! He’s still mainly known for that amazing Williams F1 stint, and for his two Indy 500 wins. Many don’t know that he also owns 3x Daytona 24 Hour wins and won the 2019 IMSA Weathertech series for Team Penske. He is very much the star name on the LMP2 entry list. And if he transpires to win the race overall he will win the Triple Crown* before Fernando Alonso! * Monaco GP variant

Memo Rojas needs no introduction to US fans, he won the Daytona 24 Hours three times and Grand-Am championship four times alongside Scott Pruett for Chip Ganassi Racing, two of those teamed with Montoya. Since then he’s won two championships in LMP2 in the ELMS. Buret is solid. It’s going to take a lot to beat this car.

In the other car, Ben Hanley has put in some amazing drives in LMP2 and his professionalism in his few IndyCar runs is no surprise even if those entries were very much a surprise to me! Renger van der Zande is a more recent IMSA driver who needs little introduction to US fans, he’s rapid. Hedman is very much the weakest link here and he’ll know it. In the past he was a bit overwhelmed and spun quite a bit but I think he’s improved a lot in recent times as he’s got used to the cars.

Due to the Covid-19 situation the American team is getting logistical help from Racing Engineering, the storied Spanish GP2/F2 team who made their own foray into LMP2 in recent years.

I think the 21 car can win. The 27 car very much depends on Hedman’s fortunes.

25 Algarve Pro Racing Falb (B)/McMurry (S)/Trummer (G) ELMS
16 G-Drive with Algarve Cullen (S)/Jarvis (P)/Tandy (P) AsianLMS

No.25 is 7th in the ELMS with Falb, Trumer and Aubry (see Jackie Chan Racing above). It should have a decent run in the top ten but they’ll be competing in tightly contested upper/mid-pack.

No.16 is a one-off entry added at the last minute. Tandy obviously known for GT racing but also that 2015 LMP1 win! Jarvis won Le Mans LMP2 two years ago and has been racing with Mazda in IMSA. Top drivers but thrown together late, hard to call how this’ll do.

17 IDEC Sport Kennard (S)/Merriman (B)/Tilley (S) ELMS
28 IDEC Sport Bradley (G)/Chatin (G)/Lafargue (S) ELMS

Chatin and Lafargue along with Memo Rojas were the 2019 ELMS Champions and 5th at Le Mans.

A switch to the equally rapid Richard Bradley should’ve led to that form continuing but they’ve not had a good year. They’ll be hoping to break the top ten in a tight field.

I don’t know anything at all of the 17 car crew.

Both cars had incidents in free practice so let’s see if the compressed schedule will affect their race prep.

EDIT (Friday): Merriman was unable to complete the required night laps and the team must start from pit lane, after the entire field has done one lap (yes they have to wait for the last GTE AM car). Patrick Pilet (P) is the excellent choice of super-sub and so all of a sudden the mountain they have to climb, with a huge penalty and a rebuilt car, looks a lot more manageable!

26 G-Drive (TDS) Vergne (P)/Rusinov (G)/Jensen (S) ELMS

Double Formula E champion Vergne thought he’d won Le Mans LMP2 in 2018 but the team were DQ’d for modifying the fuel rig. Rusinov is the man behind the G-Drive sponsorship which has jumped teams so often. Jensen won the LMP3 title with Eurointernational in 2019.

Expect it to be contending to win.

Note this ‘primary’ G-Drive team is run by TDS Racing and the other one by Algarve Pro Racing.

24 Nielsen Racing Grist (S)/Kapadia (S)/Wells (B) AsianLMS
Won LMP3 in the Asian LMS and could’ve picked LMP2 or GTE to enter here.

Can’t say I know if they’ve raced at the 24 before. I think if I were them I’d just be happy to have made it and would aim to record a race finish and do a professional job. Kapadia is very quick in LMP3 cars and I’m looking forward to what he does in a P2.

29 Racing Team Nederland van Eerd (B)/van der Garde (P)/de Vries (G) WEC

Another contender! Jumbo Supermarkets boss Frits van Eerd will be the key here. Others who play the rankings game will be faster, while Frits is a genuine Bronze albeit one of the fastest ones around. Guido van der Garde and 2019 Formula 2 champ Nyck de Vries will have the car at full speed the rest of the time. Stout competition but a possibly top five here.

30 Duqueine Engineering Gommendy (P)/Hirschi (G)/Tereschenko (S) ELMS

Languishing in 10th in the ELMS I think they’re better than that. I’m in the middle of watching the 2018 season and they were race win contenders back then. Team were 7th at Le Mans last year with a different driver line-up. Another top ten is possible but they might need help from others dropping back.

31 Panis Racing Canal (S)/Jamin (G)/Vaxiviere (G) ELMS

The former Panis Barthez Competition. They’re 5th in ELMS points but had one DNF, the other results were 3rd and 4th. Canal won LM 3 times in GT with Larbre and multiple race wins in LMP2 on his way to two titles. They’ll be in the mix.

33 High Class Racing Fjordbach (S)/Patterson (B)/Yamashita (P) WEC

Danish team are 7th in the WEC after a lot of 7th place finishes, with this line-up including 2019 Super GT champion Yamashita. That sort of form would suggest, once the ELMS teams are added in, they won’t make the top ten this time round.

36 Signatech Alpine Laurent (G)/Negrao (G)/Ragues (S) WEC

Multiple champion team and race winner. They’re only 6th in points this season but will be looking to rebound ahead of a step up to LMP1 next year – assuming it can be balanced to the Hypercar but that’s for next year! I know they’re gold not platinum so maybe they don’t have the ultimate edge, but pick a bad driver in this line-up. You can’t.

39 SO24-HAS by Graff Allen (G)/Capillaire (S)/Milesi (S) ELMS

I generally have a lot of time for Graff but I can’t say I have high expectations of this entry. Allen is 4th in ELMS points with the team but his regular co-drivers aren’t in the car. Capillaire I think is OK, I don’t know anything of Milesi. The jury is out for me.

42 Cool Racing Borga (S)/Coigny (B)/Lapierre (P) WEC

5th in WEC and 9th in ELMS with the same drivers. Nico Lapierre will hold everything together, he’s won LMP2 at Le Mans four times – he never did win LMP1 with Peugeot or Toyota. They might spring a surprise here.

50 Richard Mille Racing Team Calderon (S)/Floersch (S)/Visser (S) 24H

I’m so gutted Katherine Legge broke her leg and can’t race this car! Still a reasonable line-up. It’s hard to judge because most of them had middling junior careers and not a lot else, but we all know women don’t get the opportunities so it can be hard to get a genuine reading. I don’t think the car will be as high up as it would’ve been had Legge been here, and it’s all-Silver line-up so expectations must be checked. Top 12? They basically need to finish without losing many laps and they’ll be up there.

MY TOP THREE

I must have put 15 cars in the top ten! The quality level is high this year as it is every year in the modern era. So hard to choose. I’m going with this right now but I change my mind every ten minutes:

22 United Autosports (di Resta)

21 Dragonspeed (Montoya)

38 Jota (Davidson)

I might just be picking my favourite drivers here!

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