Throughout the start of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, it had looked like it was going to be a battle between FIA World Endurance Championship LMP2 champions Signatech Alpine and G-Drive Racing. The duo of cars looked to be in a class of their own, gaining an early advantage on the field and pulling ahead. All eyes were on them as the Circuit de la Sarthe descended into darkness.
Sadly, the numerous Safety Cars throughout the evening separated the two cars, taking away any chance of a fight for the class win. The two cars had been racing within around three seconds of each other, pitting on the same lap which kept the pressure up on the teams not to make a mistake in the stops.
The Signatech crew of Nicolas Lapierre, André Negrão and Pierre Thiriet got stuck in the wrong Safety Car group, which handed the advantage to Jean-Eric Vergne, Job van Uitert and Roman Rusinov onboard the #26 G-Drive car. The race seemed to be theirs until just five hours from the chequered flag a wire failed in the Aurus 01’s starter motor, causing the team to go into the garage for twenty minutes. They lost five laps on the rest of the class, handing the win over to the had-been-chasing #36 trio.
It had been an interesting battle of tyres between the two cars until the G-Drive suffered its issue, with Signatech running Michelins but G-Drive pushing the Dunlops to the limit. The two tyres had been producing similar lap times for the two cars, which took away any form of advantage that could have been found in the tyres. It was a shame that the Safety Cars split the cars as they did, because it would have been really interesting to see how the tyres developed over the course of the race for each car, and if there were any advantages to be found.
In the end, it was a triple WEC podium in LMP2, with runners-up in class Jackie Chan DC Racing #38 taking second place, and the TDS Racing crew securing the bottom step. Both Jackie Chan Racing and TDS were running Dunlop tyres, so there is a potential that the Michelins had a small advantage over the field. However the large divides in the grid make it difficult to draw any solid conclusions.
ORECA took the triple, with three of their chassis on the Le Mans podium. As it has appeared all season, the ORECAs looked to be the best chassis out on the field during the 24-hour endurance event. The highest placed non-ORECA was the #22 United Autosports Ligier in the hands of Paul Di Resta, Philip Hanson and Filipe Albuquerque which crossed the line for forth in class.
It was a competitive showing for the United Autosports team, who had controversy only been handed one entry to the prestigious race when the initial full entry list was revealed. This caused a lot of debate ahead of the race, with team boss Richard Dean expressing confusion over how his team had not been shown the favour it had been suggested they would considering the amount of support the American team shows the ACO. The team competes in both the European Le Mans Series and the Asian Le Mans Seires with two cars, the latter of which they won last season which led them to get their automatic entry.
This was one of the contributing factors to the 2019 rendition of Le Mans getting a grid extension to 62 cars, allowing the second United Autosports a place on the grid. The #32 crew of Ryan Cullen, Alex Brundle and Will Owen did not have the strong race the sister car did when an issue saw them spend some time in the garage and dropped them 20 laps off the leading LMP2 battle.
The #22 United Autsports showed a great performance to place forth in class and the team, with its Le Mans line-up of drivers, will return to the WEC paddock next year, staying with Ligier as they fight for the LMP2 Endurance Trophy.
After looking so strong all season, and throughout much of the build up sessions to the blue-riband race, Pastor Maldonado unfortunately took the LMP2 DragonSpeed car out of the race. It was a sad way for the Venezuelan’s first season of WEC to end, and a sorry way for the DragonSpeed crew to wrap up their participation in the endurance championship.
DragonSpeed will not return to WEC with either their LMP1 or LMP2 cars next year. The trio of Maldonado, Anthony Davidson and Roberto Gonzalez will stay together for the 2019/20 season, though, but will move across to Jota Sport who will run the #38 Jackie Chan ORECA under their own banner next season.
Four of the twenty LMP2 cars failed to be classified for the 87th running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, which saw an improvement on the six non-finishers from 2018 (this does not include G-Drive Racing or TDS Racing as the two cars did finish the race, but were disqualified after the event).
With so many cars, there was hope that there would be closer competition throughout the class, but the only real mover up the grid was the #26 G-Drive, which had climbed competitively from fifth to first in class before its issue. The multiple Safety Cars throughout the night did a lot of damage to the competitive order, putting nearly a lap gap between some cars, which was very difficult to recover.