Team Endurance Challenge has announced two of the three driver line-ups it will use in the 2013 European Le Mans Series. The news comes just days away from the first official test to be held at Paul Ricard.
The team, which is managed and directed by ORECA, will employ Nicolas Minassian to mentor the mix of gentlemen drivers, promising young talents, and experienced hands.
The first of the team’s three ORECA-FLM 09s will be piloted by Soheil Ayari and Anthony Pons. Ayari is already more than familiar with the series and the car, having been crowned GT1 champion in 2007 with Team ORECA and having taken two LMP2 podiums in the last two Le Mans 24 Hours. He said: “I’m very happy to be back with ORECA with Team Endurance Challenge. I know the team and their strengths well. It’s [also] a pleasure to return to the ELMS, a series which I enjoy a lot.”
Of his new team-mate, Ayari continued: “[This year] begins a new adventure with Anthony Pons, on a sporting and a human level. When we met, we immediately got along well. It’s his first year in prototypes but we are aiming to take the title. I’m very motivated by the challenge!”
Whilst this will Pons’ first season in prototypes, he is also no stranger to endurance racing. After winning the GT VdeV series in 2011 he had a successful GTE-Am campaign in 2012, a year which saw him crowned ELMS champion with a second place at Le Mans and the winner of the Six Hours of Spa. He said: “This partnership with Team Endurance Challenge is part of a medium-term project, of which a Le Mans 24 Hours participation in LMP2 is the primary goal.”
The Frenchman continued: “After my season in GT, I wanted to take on a new challenge and I needed to get back to basics. I think that the ORECA-FLM 09 is the right tool for that and it’s also what led to Soheil being my team-mate. He has a lot of experience and our objective is to win.”
The team’s second car will be driven by Alex Loan and Matthieu Lecuyer. Loan will be the youngest member of the team at just 17 years old, but that does not mean a lack of experience; the Andorran-born driver has already spent a season in French F4 and another in Formule Renault 2.0 Alps and has decided to move up to prototypes.
He said: “The tests at the Castellet in February went well. I enjoyed the car, especially the downforce and carbon brakes. The team, whether it be the engineers or mechanics, is very professional and the experience with the other drivers was good.”
He continued: “I’m physically and mentally ready to take on this challenge. The LMPC class allows young drivers to show their talents and I think this program can help me progress in my goal to become a professional and to one day complete in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, [which is] a dream of mine.”
Lecuyer, on the other hand, comes from a Peugeot-endorsed background and enjoys a CV that boasts endurance experience, among other race disciplines. He said: “I had already had talks about driving the ORECA-FLM 09 and this time all the elements were united. I was at Sebring when ORECA won overall and I was attracted by the fact that the team which builds this car also runs it directly.”
The Frenchman added: “I couldn’t wish for a better environment. This project fits in perfectly with my goal of participating in the 24 Hours of Le Mans in LMP2. The team will be competitive and Alex was on a good pace during out tests. The program will be exciting and enriching.”
Team Endurance Challenge also said that the two drivers in its third and final entry will be revealed ‘within the next few days’, but before the first official test.