The new-look LMP2 grid is assembled for the first time at Barcelona, with new teams, drivers and for this season, new tires.
The major change to the class this year is the introduction of Goodyear to the tire war. The American brand, which is Dunlop Motorsport Europe’s parent company, will be taking on the hugely experienced French constructor Michelin in place of Dunlop.
Four teams are set to sample the new compounds from Goodyear in Spain. One of those is Danish team High Class Racing. Its crew has been hard at work preparing its ORECA, which took part in Saturday’s ELMS race at the Spanish circuit, applying the car’s new livery ahead of tomorrow’s running. Its WEC-bound ORECA has year to be delivered, so the team will run its ELMS full-season 07 Gibson at the Prologue.
High Class is the only team to have committed to running the new Goodyears for this season. Ben Crawley, the head of Goodyear’s racing division in charge of the WEC program, told RACER that this week is going to be extremely important for the American constructor, which is looking to attract customers ahead of its first season in the championship.
“What we intend to do is bring Goodyear back to international racing as part of a brand-building focus and engagement for the brand,” he said. “The timing is perfect, as we’re reestablishing our credentials in the high-performance tire market, with a road-legal car range of F1 Super Sports which are now available in Europe.
“The WEC tires we will use are all brand new, and will be used across the Prologue and a private three-day test in Barcelona after Wednesday. We’re evaluating our final options and will come to a decision here on our declared range for the season-opener at Silverstone.
“There will be four teams out of the eight testing our tires: High Class Racing, Jota Sport, Jackie Chan and Racing Team Nederlands. A number of the teams will be running the various options and will help us narrow down the range.”
While it is unclear how many teams will make their decision to run with either Michelin or Goodyear this week, the teams that are set to sample Goodyears in Barcelona are all expected to commit to running them. It’s important to note that the regulations still state that teams can only make one change of tire brand per season.
The rest of the runners are set to run on the brand-new Michelin tires for the season. One of those teams is United Autosports, which will have plenty of attention paid to it this week.
The set up days have provided RACER with a first chance to see United’s brand new ORECA 07 Gibson which was delivered to the team just before it traveled to Catalonia.
As for its drivers, Phil Hanson and Paul Di Resta will test out an ORECA chassis for the first time this week. Filipe Albuquerque on the other hand, has trailed the 07 previously and is looking forward to campaigning it for the full season.
“Everyone is excited,” he told RACER. “It’s a fresh start, even though the team personnel are staying the same, with this big change of chassis. We have always done our best, but have had many struggles.
“With this decision to move to ORCEA, it’s because it’s a very competitive car and it puts pressure on us to deliver results. We know we can close that gap now with the new chassis.
“There will be a lot of learning and adapting, but what’s interesting is that we know we will have the right tool to fight with the big boys for the win at Le Mans. We should also be competitive throughout the WEC season. The motivation will be high, even if we aren’t getting big results in the beginning. We are prepared for that.”
As well as racing with a new constructor, United will now race under the Union Jack rather than the Stars and Stripes this year. Team co-owner Richard Dean explained to RACER that after almost a decade of his (mostly) British crew hearing the ‘Star-Spangled Banner’ after winning races, it was time for a change in anthem.
Across the rest of the class, there are plenty of drivers who will be worth tracking during the running.
Thomas Laurent puts aside his new development driver role at Toyota Gazoo Racing to focus on his upcoming WEC season with Signatech Alpine. Job van Utiert will also be in focus, making his debut with Racing Team Nederland ahead of his partial season campaign.
Nicolas Lapierre, meanwhile, will make his FIA WEC debut with Cool Racing after leaving his long-standing team Signatech Alpine, still fresh from taking his fourth LMP2 win at Le Mans last month. It wasn’t an easy decision for the Frenchman, but he told RACER that he feels it was the right one.
“I need to thank Alpine for everything. Le Mans was special as it was my last race with the team,” he said. “There was extra pressure because we’d been together over three years, and I wanted to leave in a good way. It was great to finish my team with the team with a Le Mans win and a world championship title. I felt it was the right time to go after achieving so much.
“The maturity of Alpine was strong and my role was only driving. Now I enjoy driving as much as the stuff I can do with teams away from the track, so for me it’s important to be involved deeper with a team.
“At Cool Racing, we are making big steps. I joined the team last year when they were just doing LMP3 and wanted help from me to step up to LMP2. It was a good challenge to take, with nice people who are motivated. We aren’t starting from zero, because they have prototype experience in LMP3, but almost zero.
“We are in the ELMS this year, now we are in WEC and are focused on Le Mans in 2020. I’m very happy, there’s a lot of fun. It’s hard work, but I’m enjoying it.”