WEC: Track action beckons at Le Mans after day two of scrutineering
Day 2 at Le Mans Scrutineering saw the remaining 40 cars on the entry list pass through the city center for technical checks ahead of the first on-track action on Wednesday.
Unfortunately, the weather took a turn for the worse overnight and during the early part of the day, with multiple rain showers resulting in a smaller gathering of fans than on Sunday.
The biggest surprise of the day came in the morning, when LMP1 outfit DragonSpeed became the latest team to reveal a new livery during Le Mans race week.
The American team, which will bow out of the FIA WEC after this weekend to focus on IndyCar, has brought Gulf colors back to the top class at the 24 Hours on the 50th anniversary of the iconic oil and fuel brand’s second win at the race.
DragonSpeed’s BR1 Gibson will pay homage to the three overall LM24 wins for the brand on its tail fin, while the rear wing is dedicated to celebrating past Gulf sportscar victories at 10 legendary race circuits.
While very few GTE cars passed through the inspection tent yesterday, there were plenty on parade today. One of those was the Risi Competizione Ferrari 488 GTE, which is the only privateer entry into the 17-car Pro class this year.
At the Test Day, the team lost a significant amount of running time to shaking down its car, which is a brand-new chassis, and getting its drivers aboard after the mad rush to the track from the IMSA race at Detroit and, in the case of Jules Gounon, the Blancpain meeting at Paul Ricard.
As a result, it’s going to be incredibly important for the team to get plenty of laps in during practice and qualifying, as its drivers – despite their glowing CVs – have limited GTE experience. Only Pipo Derani has raced a GTE before and has two Le Mans starts to his name in the Pro class – one with Ford, the other with AF Corse. Oliver Jarvis and Gounon, meanwhile, are new to GTE racing, but have plenty of GT3 experience to call upon between them.
Despite that, and the outfit only having a single car in a field of two and four-car teams, race engineer Rick Mayer told RACER that he is confident the team’s new driver-crew can keep them competitive.
“It’s going to be tough for us, because we lost a lot of track time at the Test Day,” said Mayer. “Jules didn’t know the track, but he was up to speed so fast, he’s going to be rock solid. Oliver is going to be awesome, and Pipo drove in Pro with a Ferrari, so driver-wise we should be OK in this company.
“The only thing we lose is the knowledge from drivers that have driven the car for years. The race looks like it will be mild and dry, but the lead-up could be very wet, which isn’t ideal for us. We’d like to get up to speed in the dry – we need to know how to double-stint these tires, and we haven’t done a long enough run yet.
“Worst case there’s the warm-up, but it’s not ideal, especially as this is probably the most stacked GTE Pro class ever.”
There’s plenty of intrigue in the GTE Am category, with a mix of guest cars joining the full-season FIA WEC clan. One of the regular teams joining the action is JMW Motorsport, which won Am just two years ago. This year the team brings a trio of World Challenge regulars to the race. Jeff Segal returns to 24 Hours with the British outfit for a second year, bringing along his driving partner Wei Lu for the first time and K-PAX driver Rodrigo Baptista.
JMW is chasing a repeat of its GTE Am win from two years ago, and will be leaning on a lot of World Challenge talent to achieve it. Image by LAT
“It’s a big deal for Wei and I; this whole year is a big mountain to climb,” Segal told RACER. “Coming from GT3 racing in the U.S. to European Le Mans Series, and now Le Mans. We have a great car for this race though with JMW, and Wei has already proven that he’s ready.”
Lu said that the transition from racing the 488 GT3 in World Challenge to the GTE model in Europe has been a smooth one.
“It’s great that you can use the same car and upgrade it from GT3 to GTE, when you race with Ferrari,” he said. “There’s obviously a lot of similarities, which really helps. I just need to get used to racing a car without ABS. But we’re confident, and I’m happy to be racing with Rodrigo, who I have raced against many times. I think he’s as quick as any factory driver.”
One of the final cars through today was the Wynns-liveried Keating Motorsports Ford GT, which, understandably has attracted a lot of attention. Bill Riley, who is part of the team running the Keating operation, told RACER the team is confident that the combination of Jeroen Bleekemolen, Ben Keating and Felipe Fraga can be a force in this year’s race.
“Working with the Ganassi team is a real pleasure,” he said. “They’ve helped us a lot, getting up to speed with this, now it’s down to us to deliver it. The car came to us pretty much turnkey, so we’ve just got to do maintenance and set up work.
“At the test we made sure Felipe got his minimum laps in, and that Ben and Jeroen got used to the car. It was a true test day, lots of box-ticking. We wanted to be a little faster but it didn’t happen; we didn’t go for a mock qualifying run.
“There’s plenty to look forward to. We have a strong line-up and this team is the same we run in the U.S., which means there’s a lot of familiarity for us, and that’s really important.”
Of the LMP2 contenders that were on the schedule today, RLR MSport driver Arjun Maini was particularly wide-eyed. The Haas F1 development driver, who has moved into sportscars from racing in F2 with Trident this year, is enjoying his first experience at Le Mans. He will race with Norman Nato (standing in for Rebellion-tied Bruno Senna) and John Farano this week.
“This is massive,” he told RACER. “Already at the test you start to get a feel for how big of a race it is. You have to come and see this for yourself to really see just how many passionate fans there are.
Haas F1 development driver Arjun Maini is soaking in his first Le Mans campaign. Image by Ehrhardt/LAT
“It’s been an eye-opener this year. Anyone from single-seaters will tell you that you come into this close-minded. But once you get a taste of it, you realize that there’s much more to racing than just sprint racing. It’s awesome.
“I love driving prototypes in the ELMS, and for sure I’m going to enjoy it here at the Le Mans 24 Hours. I feel quite ready for this. It was hard to get used to the circuit, it took time. Usually it only takes a session, but it took me until lunchtime to feel confident enough to push. The grip level was low. But the objective of the test was just to complete laps.”
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