If one is to look directly at the 2017 FIA World Endurance Championship entry list alone, he or she might think these new LMP2 regulations have really crushed the variety. On the one hand, yes, going down to just four named manufacturers from a technically unlimited amount was always going to limit variety in some way, but what if you take all the series as a whole?
Let’s start with the big one then: the FIA WEC. Nine entries make up the LMP2 entry list and all of the teams have gone for the ORECA 07, albeit with the two Signatech Alpine Matmut entries listed as an Alpine A470.
This is not without reason either, after all the ORECA 05 was undoubtedly the top performer in the last two WEC seasons, where it’s narrower profile gave it a superior straight line advantage leading to two wins in two attempts at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. KCMG took the honours in 2015, whilst Signatech Alpine and G-Drive Racing took an impressive one-two in 2016.
Whilst it may be a bit off-putting to have the class with a usually healthy amount of variety reduced to basically a spec class, don’t write the new 2017 regulations or the LMP2 class off just yet.
The European Le Mans Series, in this writer’s opinion, shows that this is only the beginning of the new LMP2 era. Three of the four manufacturers are represented in the 14 car field, with five examples of the Onroak-built Ligier JS P217 alongside four ORECA 07’s and a quartet of Dallara P217’s.
All three manufacturers are represented by strong teams, which is good, as results breed business in this heavily results based industry; if one manufacturer shines here, then maybe it will appear in the full season on the world stage?
Case in point: LMP3 champions United Autosports and Tockwith Motorsports, from the ELMS and Asian Le Mans Series respectively, will both utilise the Ligier. Early Prologue pacesetters Graff Racing and 2016 race winners DragonSpeed will take the ORECA into battle and, last but certainly not least, Le Mans podium finishers SMP Racing and Cetilar Villorba Corse, another early frontrunner in the Prologue, will use the Dallara.
Casting the net wider, the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship is the only series where the new LMP2 machines have actually been in racing action already. In this series there are two ORECA 07’s (three at Daytona), one Ligier JS P2 and one Riley-Multimatic Mk 30, the Daytona Prototype international cars are omitted from this count and, hence, will be omitted from any further points.
Let’s look at some data provided by racer David Heinemeier Hansson; this is purely to put some evidence behind this piece and, obviously, weather conditions and driver ability have to be taken into account. It is not a definite statement of the 2017 cars potential, but it is certainly a good base.
The Rolex 24 at Daytona saw the ORECA 07 set the fastest times of the LMP2 specification entries, with Neel Jani setting a 1:37.44, whilst also being the fastest over his best 20 laps, averaging a 1:38.18. Next up was Rene Rast in the Riley, setting a best lap of 1:39.183, and a 20 lap average of 1:40.065. Jose Gutierrez was the fastest in the Ligier, with a best of 1:39.821, and an average 20 of 1:40.521.
It is worth noting, however, that the Visit Florida Racing Riley ran really well in the wet period of the race and ended up third overall, whilst all the other LMP2 entries suffered issues. Secondly, Daytona is a very top speed-dependent track, meaning that the data will be skewed towards speed rather than how the car is as an overall package.
Moving on to Sebring, the Rebellion Racing ORECA was fastest again, with Sebastien Buemi clocking in a fastest time of 1:50.245, and a fastest 20 average of 1:51.321. The Riley was once again second fastest, with Renger van der Zande setting a 1:51.174 fastest, and an average 20 of 1:52.030. Gutierrez had a best lap of 1:50.792, with an average 20 of 1:52.168.
There is a case for the ORECA once again being the strongest chassis, but, by Sebring, all three manufacturers present had a best time within one second of each other, a significant improvement on Daytona. A more balanced track brought more balanced times, a positive sign this writer would say. Also to be remembered is the fact that the Rebellion car is only present for the four Tequila Patron North American Endurance Cup rounds.
Endurance races are not won purely on single lap, or even a single driver’s pace alone, which is why this writer believes that all of the chassis manufacturers, at least the ones present in each series, will be in the hunt for victories throughout both the WeatherTech Championship and ELMS seasons.
In conclusion, all is not lost and this writer is inclined to believe that we will see more manufacturers represented in the World Endurance Championship before long. Hopefully, the Dallara and Ligier do show well in Europe, the Ligier definitely based on known quantities, enticing more teams to maybe take up an alternative option if they either remain in the World Endurance Championship or move up/across from one of the two other series mentioned.
No offense is meant towards ORECA in this piece, far from it, its current market strength is not unearned. Comments have just been made on variety and this is just to hopefully reassure folks that is isn’t as bad as it looks.
ORECA 07 – 4
Dallara P217 – 4
Ligier JSP217 – 5
Riley – 0
ORECA 07 – 2
Dallara – 3 (3x Caddy DPi)
Ligier – 3 (2x ESM DPi, 1x Legit)
Riley – 3 (2x Mazda DPi, 1x Legit)
ORECA 07 – 9 (Two as Alpine A470)
ORECA – 15
Dallara – 6
Ligier – 9
Riley – 3
ORECA – 15
Dallara – 3
Ligier – 6
Riley – 1