Friday, March 16, 2012

2012 12hrs of Sebring preview: Le Mans Prototype 2

LMP2 used to be the class of the last man standing. The last car still running was the winner. The cars were required to be so light that durable components could not be fitted to them. To remedy the problem, they have been made just as weighty as LMP1 cars, but with less power requirements. This has allowed them to be built cheaply. And by some accounts, LMP2 cars are cheaper to run for a season than a championship caliber program in GTE.

Just happy to be here.

Lotus #31. Lola B12/80 Lotus. Thomas Holzer, Mirco Schultis, Luca Moro. It almost seems as if this car is actually here literally to help make up the numbers. The 2 Rebellion entries will have a similar livery and they are expected to get more headlines, and are more serious contenders. The 3.5L V6 Toyota engine in the GT2 car never worked quite to satisfaction last year. We just hope it was reworked during the off season.

Gulf Racing Middle East #29. Lola B12/80 Nissan. Frederic Fatien, Keiko Ihara, Stefan Johansson. This car might get some premium exposure, for the presence of Keiko, a Japanese female driver. Apparently she used to be a podium girl and then decided she wanted to try the racing thing herself. Solid package regarding the chassis and engine, but aside from Stefan Johansson they are racing tourists.

Black Swan #54. Lola B11/60 Honda. Tim Pappas, Bret Curtis, Jon Fogarty. Lately it has been hard to imagine Tim Pappas in a lineup where he wasn't the least accomplished driver. He had penchant for surrounding himself with the best talent he could find. It was announced that Black Swan would be entered in P2 with a Lola-Honda, but it took quite a while for the car to appear on entry lists. We feel Bret Curtis is a gentleman driver. Even though he is an ace in Grand-Am, we don't remember the last time Jon Fogarty raced a LeMans type prototype. He could be out of his element. Even if he has had plenty of test sessions, nothing could possibly simulate the race ahead.

Gulf Racing Middle East #28. Lola B12/80 Nissan. Fabien Giroix, Maxime Jousse, Jean-Denis Deletraz. A stronger lineup than the #29 car. However these reworked Lolas are still very untested and unproven.

Looking for a solid result.

ADR-Delta #25. Oreca 03 Nissan. John Martin, Robbie Kerr, Tor Graves. Robbie Kerr is a highlight here, and we also happen to think they have a very refreshing livery. Thor Graves brings sponsorship from Thailand. Will they actively be going for the Michelin Green X Challenge crown?

Conquest Racing #37. Morgan Judd. Martin Plowman, David Heinemeier, Hansson, Francesco Dracone. With 2 open wheel youngsters they should have been ranked higher. But these 2 young guns have not done multi-class racing before and it still
needs to be seen how much patience they will have in dense traffic. David Heinemeier is moving over from the GTE Lotus to prototypes this year.

Greaves Motorsport #41. Zytek Z11SN Nissan. Christian Zugel, Elton Julian, Ricardo Gonzalez. It seems a Nissan engine is "de rigueur" for European LMP2 squads. Whatever chassis a team happens to get, they just make sure they complement it with a Nissan power plant as is the case here. The 3 drivers all drove in the ALMS last year. But they're now after new horizons. There are faster drivers and faster cars out there. Besides mandated bodywork requirements we're not sure if the Zytek has had any performance updates.

Signatech Nissan #23. Oreca 03 Nissan. Jordan Tresson, Franck Mailleux, Olivier Lombard. This is the team that made the Oreca-Nissan famous today. They were so dominant last season, that it made any other vehicle package a daft choice - given that you would pay the same or more for anything else. So why are they this low? In response to the great season the Oreca-Nissan had last year, everybody feared going out of business, so all the other chassis received significant improvements during the off-season. Not that Oreca has kept a pat hand either. In our view Signatech's lineup is almost downgraded from last year. But they're still Nissan's factory effort and are well-backed.

The heavy hitters.

OAK Racing #24. Morgan Judd. Jacques Nicolet, Matthieu Lahaye, Olivier Pla. Just seeing the level of dedication and respect Jacques Nicolet has treated matters regarding his racing activities has made us a fan of his. This team had 4 cars at Sebring, and the 24hr of LeMans last year. This year they only have 2 entered at Sebring. But they come with stronger lineups in both cars. The car has also been updated, and is also now called a Morgan. The update takes significant cues from last year's diesel challenging ARX-01e campaigned in last year's race by Highcroft. Very fast pro drivers flanking Jacques Nicolet. Could be one to watch, if some strong entries hit trouble.

Starworks Motorsports #44. HPD ARX-03b. Enzo Potolicchio, Ryan Dalziel,
Stephane Sarrazin.
We are not sure what his real name is. On various lists his first name has been Enzo, and on others it says Vincente. Either way, he is pulling out all the stops to ensure success. It was quite a surprise when it was announced that Peugeot's lead driver would be racing for Starworks. Stephane Sarrazin was the head tester at Peugeot, and was generally seen as the fastest and most reliable driver there. Ryan Dalziel is well entrenched in the Starworks team and seems to be the one the head honchos trust. However at the 24hr of Daytona they had Allan McnIsh in their squad, he had set the fastest lap of the race. Towards the end of the race they elected to have Dalziel hunt down the lead car, to no avail. Here in LeMans type racing Sarrazin is immensely more experienced than Dalziel, and probably just as fast or faster. We think the team would have to allow Stephane to do some crucial and decisive stints to make the most of his experience. That needs to be seen.

Level 5 Motorsports #055. HPD ARX-03b. Scott Tucker, Christophe Bouchut, Joao Barbosa. Unless some of the Nissan teams decide to work together, or the Morgan teams decide to help each other get to the front, Level 5 will have an advantage over them. They have 2 cars and both of them will work to help each other. They're both essentially running just to get Scott Tucker the win. We believe this is the car he will nominate himself in for points, since this is the steady, and experienced lineup, the long distance masters. This is also the newer car of the two. So it should be a bit faster.

PeCom Racing #49. Oreca 03 Nissan. Luis Perez-Companc, Soheil Ayari, Pierre Kaffer. We would have picked this car for the win, if it wasn't for the fact that Level 5 has 2 cars working in sync. This car essentially has 3 professional drivers. Although Luis Perez-Companc (the PeCom in PeCom Racing), is bank rolling the operation, he is an enlightened gentleman driver. He can go blow for blow with the best pros in the field. Signatech's loss is this team's gain since Soheil Ayari is part of the mix. Being that AF Corse is the brain behind this mission, the obligatory Ferrari driver is imbedded, with Pierre Kaffer in presence.

Level 5 Motorsports #95. HPD ARX-03b. Scott Tucker, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Luis Diaz. This entry is an older car than the #055. But Hunter-reay and Luis Diaz are flat out drivers. We suppose Scott Tucker will nominate himself in the newer car alongside the real endurance guys since they are more likely to get to the end by taking fewer risks and nursing the car home. But if all works well (as it could) this car will blow past the sister car, and will challenge the fastest drivers in this class. The only reason to reel them in would be if both cars are running in consecutive positions in the last hour of the race with no one challenging for position. If that does not materialize and everything goes well, they are a strong bet for the win.