If there was ever a class that was unpredictable at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 2016, the LMP2 class is surely that class, with 24 entries all packed with impressive driver line-ups, with most, if not all, teams all in with a chance of taking the class victory.
You have to say that all ten full-time FIA World Endurance Championship competitors will be in contention for victory as competitive the class has been this season so far, while the eleven European Le Mans Series teams are all likely to be in the mix as well.
Throw into the mix last years Le Mans champions KCMG as well as the Michael Shank Racing team representing the WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, and you’ve got a star-studded field of highly polished and highly competitive racers.
To complicate matters too, you’ve got chassis manufacturer representation from Ligier, Oreca, BR Engineering, Morgan, Alpine and Gibson, with Dunlop and Michelin providing the tyres.
The World Endurance Championship Challengers
Let’s start by looking at the ten WEC runners, starting with the two teams who have triumphed during the season so far, and those who have come close!
The #43 RGR Sport by Morand outfit started the year off in the best possible way with victory in the Six Hours of Silverstone, with an impressive line-up of Bruno Senna, Filipe Albuquerque and owner/driver Ricardo Gonzalez. The impressive trio drove a near-perfect race to take the chequered flag first, made even more impressive by it being the outfit’s first race in the championship.
At the Six Hours of Spa-Francorchamps, the #36 Signatech Alpine entry of Gustavo Menezes, Nicolas Lapierre and Stephane Richelmi took the chequered flag first, ensuring the they joined the RGR team at the head of the championship standings after the first two races.
Currently third, after a pair of runners-up spots is the #31 Extreme Speed Motorsports trio of Pipo Derani, Ryan Dalziel and Chris Cumming, who as well as their team-mates in the #30 Ligier Scott Sharp, Johannes van Overbeek and Ed Brown will be looking to go one better and claim class honours at Le Mans.
The #26 G-Drive Racing has seen a driver line-up switch in the weeks running up to the race, with Nathanael Berthon departing to be replaced by Will Stevens, who jumps across from the Manor Racing squad. Stevens will race alongside regulars Roman Rusinov and Rene Rast for the team who currently sit fourth in the championship standings after the first two rounds.
Talking of Manor, their usual two-car effort is down to one for Le Mans, having signalled their intention to race two cars for the legendary event too late to be accepted, meaning the trio of Tor Graves, Matt Rao and Roberto Merhi are their only representatives on track.
One of the most popular and fan-friendly teams in class is the Strakka Racing team, and are the only team in the World Endurance Championship to still be running with an open-top Gibson 015S, and in the hands of Nick Leventis, Danny Watts and Jonny Kane, they should be able to fight for overall honours, and put their early retirement from Spa-Francorchamps well behind them.
The SMP Racing stable continues with its two car entry into Le Mans, with Maurizio Mediani and Nicolas Minassian being joined in the #27 by Verizon IndyCar Series racer Mikhail Aleshin, while in the sister #37, Vitaly Petrov will line-up alongside fellow Russian’s Viktor Shaitar and Kirill Ladygin.
The final full-time WEC entry comes from the Baxi DC Racing outfit, with team owner/driver David Cheng being joined by regular team-mates Ho-Pin Tung and Nelson Panciatici.
The European Le Mans Challengers
The European Le Mans Series has a lot of quick and potential victors within its ranks, both in terms of its drivers and its teams.
G-Drive Racing add to their regular WEC entry for the 24 Hours of Le Mans with two thirds of their championship leading ELMS team, with Simon Dolan and Giedo van der Garde being joined this week by GP3 Series star Jake Dennis, who replaces the Ford GT-attached Harry Tincknell.
Perhaps one of the fastest drivers on the whole LMP2 grid will be Thiriet by TDS Racing’s Mathias Beche, who has shown amazing speed every time he has stepped into the #46 Oreca 05-Nissan in 2016, with the Swiss driver and his team-mates Pierre Thiriet and Ryo Hirakawa having triumphed in the recent Four Hours of Imola.
Eurasia Motorsport also have a great chance of being in contention with Tristan Gommendy on board their #33 Oreca 05, with the Frenchman being joined Chinese driver Pu Jun Jin and Dutchman Nick de Bruijn. The team proved their pace by being fastest in the pre-race test at Le Mans ahead of all their rivals both in ELMS and WEC!
The Greaves Motorsport squad have added former G-Drive Racing star Berthon to their line-up for Le Mans join regular combatants Memo Rojas and Julien Canal in the #41 Ligier JS P2-Nissan, while the Murphy Prototypes team returns to Le Mans with an Oreca 03R and line-up of American Ben Keating, Belgian Marc Goossens and Dutchman Jeroen Bleekemolen.
One of the biggest stories of the 2016 24 Hours of Le Mans comes in the form of the debut at the event of multiple world and Olympic cycling champion Chris Hoy, who has been handed his first outing by the Algarve Pro Racing team. Hoy, who only made car racing debut in 2014, will line up alongside fellow Briton Michael Munemann and Frenchman Andrea Pizzitola.
The Panis-Barthez Competition team, set up by former Formula 1 and Le Mans racer Olivier Panis and former French footballer Fabian Barthez, will make their Le Mans debut with Barthez one of the three drivers behind the wheel. Fellow Frenchman Timothe Buret and Paul-Loup Chatin will join the one-time World Cup winning goalkeeper for the endurance event.
Krohn Racing return for another shot at the race, with team owner Tracy Krohn once again leading the team alongside Swede Niclas Jonsson, while Portuguese driver Joao Barbosa completes the team.
The SO24! by Lombard Racing team are one of only two LMP2 teams being powered by the Judd engine, and their #22 Ligier JS P2 will be piloted by Vincent Capillaire, Erik Maris and Jonathan Coleman, while the other Judd-powered entry is from Race Performance, who will race their Oreca 03R with Nicolas Leutwiler, James Winslow and Shinji Nakano.
The Pegasus Racing outfit are the only team racing with a Morgan-chassis this year, with the #28 Nissan-powered entry being piloted by a trio of Frenchman in the form of Ines Taittinger, Leo Roussel and Remy Striebig.
The Defending Champions and Dreams being Fulfilled
There are three other teams competing with LMP2 machinery in 2016, with the 2015 24 Hours of Le Mans winners KCMG back to defend their title having withdrawn from the main World Endurance Championship, at least in this class. Two of the trio that took the honours last year return, with Richard Bradley, on loan from Manor Racing, and Matthew Howson back with the team alongside Japanese racer Tsugio Matsuda.
Making their debut and fulfilling a lifelong dream for their team owner is Michael Shank Racing, who were invited to compete due to their achievements in the United States based WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, with the outfit competing with John Pew, Oswaldo Negri Jr and Laurens Vanthoor.
The final LMP2 entry is an amazing story in itself, with #84 invitation ‘Garage 56’ entry being taken by SRT41 by Oak Racing and their specially adapted Morgan LMP2-Nissan to accommodate quadruple amputee Frederic Sausset.
The Frenchman lost all four limbs to a bacterial infection back in 2012, but was not deterred with his ambitions to race in the grandest endurance race of them all, and will be partnered by fellow Frenchmen Christophe Tinseau and Jean-Bernard Bouvet.