Christophe Profit was a busy man at Snetterton last weekend.
His role as sales and marketing manager for Onroak Automotive – the French firm that builds Ligier sportscars – took him to Norfolk where he assisted the running of the inaugural Prototype Cup race.
The Checkered Flag.co.uk sat down with Profit in the middle of his hectic schedule to find out more about Onroak Automotive’s role in the Prototype Cup, as well as news on the company’s yet-to-be-announced CN car.
Firstly, Christophe, what are your thoughts on the Prototype Cup now we have seen it in action?
It was very cool to be at Snetterton and to see the cars out on track. We’ve been working closely with Phil Boland [technical director, Bute Motorsport] and Richard Dean [owner and managing director, United Autosports] towards the launch of this championship for a few months. It’s very important for us to have a series like this.
Why is it important to have a UK based prototype series?
The rules for LMP3 are very well made so we want to implement them in this national championship. It’s a good opportunity for British teams to have a first step into prototype endurance racing, because it can help them to access to the European Le Mans Series, and thereafter to fulfil the dream of racing at Le Mans. As a manufacturer, we offer a large range of prototypes with CN, LMP3 and LMP2 cars, so it is important for us that the promoter organises this series: teams can start in the CN and LMP3 categories and later move up to LMP2. We want to support the teams in this national series and then support those who want to progress into the endurance pyramid. United Autosports is the official Onroak Automotive agent in the UK and will help us to provide the British customers with support services.
What support did Onroak Automotive offer to the teams present at Snetterton?
We had a support truck and team members to help teams to run the cars, to ensure there were enough spare parts available and that everything ran smoothly. We provide our customers with a lot of support too. There are about 45 staff currently working in our workshops in France, and some of them are here today to answer questions and to provide teams with help.
Our service base is very wide. In various series and championships in Europe, United States and Asia, we supply various support services to our customer teams including spare parts availability and advice on engineering. It’s a similar situation here at the first race of the Prototype Cup and we will continue to provide this service next season.
It seems that it’s not too difficult for teams switching from GT racing to LMP3 because the teams work in similar ways, but for teams coming from single seater or Radicals, it seems the difference is bigger and they need a bit of extra help from the factory so we look after this transition.
It’s been a busy time for Onroak Automotive in terms of sales. Can you give us an idea of how many chassis have been sold so far?
We have delivered 51 cars, including one at Snetterton, and we have already sold over 60. I am a lucky man because I get to sell such a nice car with a great set of rules made by the ACO so it makes my job easier! It’s a category we have needed for a while. We have missed having a class below LMP2 but now it is here and becoming very popular. LMP2 cars are very specific to run, and much more complicated in terms of data in comparison with the LMP3. For teams just beginning in the prototype categorie, LMP3 is perfect.
How does Onroak Automotive support the transition of teams from LMP3 to the 24 Hours of Le Mans?
Most of the teams who approach us or buy our cars have a multi-year aim of competing at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. It’s common for them to set a two to five-year project that ends with them competing in LMP2. Through an LMP3 programme, the teams can gain confidence and experience, and eventually move up to the category above. Our new LMP2 car, the Ligier JS P217, is very nice, it is very impressive in terms of performance and the new aerodynamics. The sales, confirmed ones and expected ones, are good for the moment so we are expecting this to be a successful model. We have done a lot of work since the beginning of the season to get it ready for homologation and now we are all very much looking forward to seeing it racing next year!
Every LMP3 car in the UK at the moment is a Ligier JS P3, but there are five other manufacturers licensed to the category. Is there a concern that the series will suffer if they don’t make enough deliveries?
If we only have Ligiers on the grid in two years’ time, LMP3 will die. Of course, this weekend is a test for next year’s series and I have been told we will see more entries so it is not a problem at the moment. We need to fight against other manufacturers, as we are currently in Asia with Ginetta and Adess. It’s cool to have competition – in the Asian Le Mans Sprint Cup series last year we had two Ligiers, two ADESSs and two Ginettas racing against each other which was the perfect balance. I think this is one of the reasons why LMP3 can be successful in the long term. So we will wait to see the replies of the other manufacturers and hope that the grids can become more diverse. We are waiting patiently for our French compatriots Norma, and we hope that ADESS can sell more cars because their LMP3 package is well manufactured. I hope Ginetta will come back with more LMP3 cars because they are great to compete against, and also hopefully Riley will join the grid soon with their new car from America. I have no news from Japan regarding the Dome LMP3, but it would be good if they could produce a car soon as well.
So the potential is there for LMP3 to be a hugely successful multi-manufacturer category?
Of course, but we are not able to build all the cars in LMP3 with the huge demand. Also, I know some drivers have said they want to run a different car to the Ligier so if they are going to be in the class they need the other companies to co-operate. You need to have a mix of manufacturers, not only for the competition and the demand but also because it provides a challenge to our engineers who need the test of going against other engineers with different designs. That is how progress is made.
The Prototype Cup will run alongside number of similar championships next year (e.g. Creventic 24H Proto, Britcar Prototype Series, V de V). Will there be enough supply to meet the demand of these new competitions next year?
True, it could be an issue to have too many LMP3 series on offer in 2017 if we can not produce enough cars with the different manufacturers. We know how many cars we can build each year with our resources. There will be different national series, ACO series in Europe and in Asia, IMSA series in USA, etc. The sprint series will need around 20 cars on the grid to survive and the endurance series will probably need 30 to 40. So, if too many series are launched next year, it could be a risk to not have enough cars. That of course depends of the situation with the other manufacturers.
On a final note, CN cars are also going to be permitted in the Prototype Cup next year. Could you give us an update on the Ligier CN front?
Yes, we have changed a few things. The Ligier JS53 Evo 2 is from 2011 and is coming to the end of its set of regulations. We are currently working on a new version powered by a 1.6 litre turbo engine provided by Peugeot, which has shown great potential in recent testing. We anticipate the new package will solve the reliability problems experienced with the 2-litre Honda engine used in the past.
Work is also being done on a completely new CN car, which I think we will probably name the Ligier JS57. The idea is to have a new look for sure; we are improving the safety of the car with a new head restraint and some other innovative features which are still in the research and development phase. We want this car to be versatile, that is, eligible to compete in competitions all around the world. In the USA some teams with CN cars put a V8 or V6 turbo engine in, so we must have a car that allows them to do so. I anticipate we will launch this car around March with testing to begin in April. That should make it ready for delivery and racing at the start of 2018. We are all very much looking forward to the next phase in our racing story.
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