Rebellion: 13 years of endurance racing coming to an end

The Rebellion Corporation announced earlier in February that the company will seize its business operations to no longer compete in FIA WEC. This piece looks back on their endurance journey.

Rebellion Racing has established an illustrious expedition into the world of endurance racing, particularly in an LMP1 outfit.

They participated in series’ like the European Le Mans Series, American Le Mans Series (ALMS), IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, the Intercontinental Le Mans Cup, and the FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC).

To this day, they reign as the most dominant and successful privateer-team in the FIA World Endurance Championship.

On February 13, following a strategic committee meeting, the Rebellion Corporation officially announced that it would conclude its motorsport business operations at the end of this (WEC) season.

Instead, Peugeot Sport would make a return to the WEC as the factory name would take over and will be running a Le Mans Hypercar Prototype, the top-tier class that will replace LMP1 from 2021.

This tribute piece entails the challenges they have encountered, with an impressive line-up of committed drivers, over the years of experience in this discipline.

How it began for the endurance privateer team

The Swiss team’s roots began as a GT2 squad competing in ACO’s Le Mans Series from 2003 under the name of SEBAH Racing.

The team grasped success early, claiming the 2004 Le Mans Series GT2 Teams’ championship.

In 2005, they claimed a fifth-place finish in GT2 at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, also winning the Le Mans Series GT2 Drivers’ Championship (also on behalf of their Porsche 911 GT2 entrant).

From 2007 to 2009, the team became a collaboration between SPEEDY RACING and TEAM SEBAH – this was the more iconic root of their endurance campaign.

In the GT2 class, they continued their participation in the Le Mans Series (LMS).

Their results followed:

  • 2007 – Fifth in the LMS GT2 Teams’ Championship
  • 2008 – Seventh in the LMS GT2 Team’s Championship

(Driving a Spyker C8 GT2-R in both participations)

Andrea Chiesa / Benjamin Leuenberger | Speedy Racing Team | Spyker C8 Laviolette GT2R
#94 Spyker C8 GT2-R (pictured), 2008 Le Mans Series – Image Credit: © ACO/DPPI

As of 2008, they also participated in the LMS championship in an LMP2 attire.

Despite the rookie entrant, they went onto achieve seventh in the LMS LMP2 teams’ standings in 2008, and second-position in the LMS LMP2 teams’ standings; the LMP2 car they drove one of the first closed-cockpit LMP2 prototypes, in their Lola B08/80-Judd.

Despite the efforts of Swiss trio of Andrea Chiesa, Iradj Alexander, and Benjamin Leuenberger, their #94 Spyker C8 Laviolette GT2-R retired out of the 2008 edition of the 24 Hours of Le Mans after 72 laps.

Even the team’s #33 LMP2 entrant, in the hands of Andrea Belicchi, Steve Zacchia, and Xavier Pompidou, also fell into retirement at that year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans after 194 laps.

They were also crowned winners of the Michelin Green X Challenge in 2009, ACO’s competition which meant the winners (in their respective categories) can receive an invitation to following year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Wearing the LMP1 outfit

In the year 2010, they decided to fully compete in the LMP1 category after proving so in 2009, when achieving a second-in-class in the Lola B08/80-Judd LMP1.

They changed their name to the more familiar ‘Rebellion Racing’ competitors. They also now resorted to using V10 ‘Rebellion’ powertrains.

Unfortunately, their attempts at the 2010 24 Hours of Le Mans ended in retirements for their #12 #13 Lola B10/60 Rebellions.

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Still, in LMS, they went on and claimed third in the LMS LMP1 Teams’ Championship.

In October 2010, engineers from Rebellion Racing and Toyota Motorsport ran an evaluation test program at Circuit de Algarve (Portimao, Portugal) and Circuito Monteblanco (Spain).

Following successful outcomes out of their testing, the regular drivers of Neel Jani and Nicolas Prost, and Andrea Belichi and Jean-Christophe Bouillion had their contracts renewed.

In 2011, the powertrain partnership was officially announced between Rebellion Racing and Toyota Motorsport GmbH which meant for two Lola B12/60 cars being powered by Toyota.

At the 2011 LMS, they claimed the LMP1 Teams’ Championship Title that came from one of the bonus points; Neel Jani earned a point from pole position which asserted a team win by one point.

They finished P3 in the team’s standings (50pts – first of the five LMP1 privateers) in the Intercontinental Le Mans Cup that year – they were behind Audi Sport Team Joest (85pts – P2) and Peugeot Sport Total (113pts – P1).

For the 2011 edition of the Intercontinental Le Mans Cup, the points-scoring infrastructure was re-designed so that each car was allowed to score between one and 15 points (in their category).

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There were extra points on offer too, such as one for qualifying on pole in their class, and an additional one or two points given for meeting special engine use conditions.

At the 2011 Le Mans 24 event, they entered their two LMP1-powered Lola Toyotas. The #12 qualified eighth in class and finished sixth overall by their crew: Nicolas Prost, Neel Jani, and Jeroen Bleekemolen. The other #13 car faced retirement after 190 laps in the hands of Andrea Belicchi, Jean-Christophe Boullion, and Guy Smith.

In summary, they finished off their LMS participation on a high by winning the championship but acknowledged the fact that they did not manage to bring both cars home at Le Mans.

Establishing their achievements as an underdog in WEC

The inaugural season of the FIA World Endurance Championship in 2012, taking over from the Intercontinental Le Mans Cup. It was the first endurance series with a world championship status since the World SportsCar Championship, which folded in 1992.

Previously, the World Endurance Championship name also was used by the FIA from 1981 to 1985.

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For the next eight years and 60 WEC races, they were set to be one of the most iconic of the privateer entrants. This was an era where they would attempt to prove themselves against the likes of the dominant manufacturers: Toyota, Audi, Porsche, and Peugeot.

On February 1, German and former-F1 driver Nick Heidfeld was announced to drive the #12 Rebellion Lola-Toyota for selected rounds of WEC; he drove at the 6 Hours of Spa season-opener, the 24 Hours of Le Mans, and the 12 Hours of Sebring – he would share the car alongside regulars Neel Jani and Nico Prost.

Rebellion Racing began on a rocky start to the WEC season at Sebring.

They qualified sixth and seventh in-class. In the race, they managed to achieve 32nd and 36th overall after struggling on pace and getting caught up in the action around.

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The 6 Hours of Spa that followed returned more rewarding results.

Neel Jani in the #12 LMP1 qualified the car in fifth with a time of 2:04.234, up to two to three-second slower behind the four Audi Sport Joest (two hybrid-diesel prototypes and two non-hybrid equivalents). The #13 qualified in seventh nearly eight-tenths slower.

The race itself ran smoothly, finishing behind the Audis and securing fifth (#12) and sixth (#13).

Their efforts at the Le Mans 24 were rewarded with the first of their four LMP1 privateer (LM) wins that they would achieve; they finished fourth overall in a class dominated by a blend of six Audi and Toyota prototypes.

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Later that year, they would also attempt ALMS’ Petit Le Mans, taking place at Road Atlanta in Georgia. Since the Audis were not taking part, it struck as an opportunity to claim an overall victory. During the race, fellow privateer Muscle Mil Pickett Racing was caught up in an incident with a GT car, thus donating their lead to the #12 Rebellion that was entered for the event.

They won three laps ahead of the P2 class winner Level 5 Motorsports.

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Bart Haydon, Team Manager at Rebellion Racing, has stated his fond memories of the car and its achievements in 2012″…because with the Lola Toyota, as well as winning the Championship, we finished fourth overall at Le Mans against the 6 factory cars of Audi and Toyota and then at the end of the year we went to Atlanta and won Petit Le Mans too.”

He also commented on the significance of being a global manufacturer (in comparison to a privateer status) in an LMP1 category, Team Manager Bart Haydon gave his thoughts at the end of last year:

“For a manufacturer in LMP1, they have the might of their organisation and knowledge base behind them and their budget and available resources are significantly higher than those of a privateer team.

“That makes it difficult for a privateer to directly compete, but with regulations and persistence on the part of the privateer, they can achieve their own goals and Rebellion Racing’s list of results and achievements over the course of the WEC’s history speaks for itself,” reflecting on the team’s WEC achievements since 2012.

Rebellion Racing successfully claimed WEC’s LMP1 Teams Endurance Trophy.

For 2013, they would continue their attendance in WEC and ALMS (for the final time). During the ALMS season, Rebellion decided that it would focus on its WEC commitments, thus no longer intending to compete in the ALMS.

They attempted that year’s Petit Le Mans, which saw a hint of deja-vu after claiming a second consecutive victory following the retirement of Muscle Pickett Racing at the half-way point. Similar to the previous year.

Ahead of 2014, Rebellion had partnered with Oreca to design and create their LMP1 prototype. Known as the Rebellion R-One, it still featured a Toyota powertrain and two debuted at the 6 Hours of Spa.

Hugues de Chaunac, Oreca, commented in 2014 when the car was revealed: “It’s a great moment, an emotional one for Rebellion Racing and Oreca.”

“Together, our teams worked very hard to get this first result. We knew the timing was very tight in order to build a new closed LM-P1 from the ground up, with an entirely new technical rules package, but we did the job in just under 12 months!

“To see a closed prototype come out of our workshops, at such a level of completion, is a proud moment. It’s one of those days that will stay in our memories because it marks the beginning of a new exciting challenge.

“We are completely concentrated on Spa and the 24 Hours of Le Mans. They are two events (6H Spa and Le Mans 24H) that we are working hard to prepare for and that we are awaiting with a certain level of impatience because they will be the first and truest tests of our car.

We’ve dreamed of this first closed prototype, and today it’s here!”

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Just like 2012, Rebellion Racing set to claim the FIA Endurance LMP1 Teams’ Trophy, and win the 24 Hours of Le Mans in the LMP1-L (privateers without hybrid systems) category and to finish fourth overall – amongst the likes of Audi, Porsche, and Toyota.

Just like every past running of Le Mans, it was an action-packed race in all categories. More specifically, eight different LMP1-H cars led throughout the race.

Towards the beginning, the two Toyotas stayed at the front for most of the opening laps ahead of the trio of Audis. The race ahead set to be busy for the LMP1-H teams.

An example would be how the rain started to kick in during the second hour, a pack of slower LM-GTE cars, and the #3 Audi, which was caught up in an incident with the #7 Toyota.

It impacted the barrier and spun amongst this group of cars (colliding with some of them) by aquaplaning under braking; despite being able to limp the car back and wait almost an hour to repair it, it caught the lead again at the fourth hour.

However, it was the ultimate misfortune of the #7 Toyota Racing that led over 200 laps, which was more than anyone else. Kazuki Nakajima was at the wheel when an FIA-mandated safety device grew faulty and caused a wiring loom to melt. Nakajima was forced to abandon the car after he could not get it repaired.

It was a 1-2 (overall) finish for the Audis, with #2 ahead of the #1 and #3 in the LMP1-H class.

There were seven hybrid LMP1s, but Rebellion matched their best finish in 2012, to achieve fourth overall and win in the privateers class.

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For WEC 2015, Rebellion Racing unveiled a new engine partnership for their R-One LMP1 car.

They used the new V6 twin-turbo petrol powerplants (AER P60 V6 GDI) developed by Advanced Engine Research.

A lightweight all-aluminium construction set the engine apart as one of the most favoured engines to be used by privateers up to the present day.

By this stage, there were more privateer LMP1s like ByKolles (who changed their name from Lotus) who wanted a crack at the event.

Nevertheless, 2015 and 2016 was a sweep of back-to-back wins at the 24 Hours of Le Mans (privateers) and the FIA Endurance Teams’ Trophy for LMP1.

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Spending a year as an LMP2 entry

2017 was the single year they diverted from the LMP1 category and took part in the LMP2 category.

It had been four years since participating in a few IMSA races, beginning at the 2017 Daytona 24 in their Oreca 07 Gibson. They also participated in LMP2 for WEC that year.

Rebellion Racing had renamed themselves to Vaillante Rebellion which was in light of their recent partnership with Graton Editeur/Editions Graton – Vaillante is a fictional automobile company (associated with motor racing) featured in the French comic-book series ‘Michel Vaillant’, published by Editions Graton- it has its most popular outreach in France and Belgium.

There were racing cars that have sported Vaillante liveries over the past two decades, and on Le Mans racers as early as 1997. In 2002, they also entered a Vaillante-liveried car to obtain Le Mans footage for a movie based on the Michel Vaillante character.

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Their Oreca 07 presented a ‘Vaillanted’ livery which had a colour scheme inspired by the colours of the Vaillante logo.

The original name planned was ‘Vaillant Rebellion Racing’, but the FIA WEC imposed a 25-character limit on team names; they suggested for it to be 26.

Bart Haydon stated why Rebellion made a move to LMP2 for 2017.

“2017 was the first year for the new LMP2 cars and it was the last year of the old LMP1 cars, so it was a crossover year.”

“During 2016, when we learned about the expected performance of the new LMP2 cars, we realised that they would be as quick and possibly quicker than the old R-One LMP1, so we elected to move to the LMP2 cars rather than to invest in the older R-One and by taking the LMP2 cars it also allowed us to enter three endurance races in the USA (Daytona 24, Sebring 12H and Petit Le Mans).”

Their efforts at Le Mans had the #13 driven by Nelson Piquet Jr., Mathias Beche, and David Heinemeier Hansson reach the podium but were disqualified after post-race technical checks revealed:

  • Modification to the body – found to be in technical non-compliance (decision of the stewards #58)
  • Unauthorised intervention in the Parc Fermé after the race (decision of the stewards #59)

The Vaillante Rebellion confirmed its intentions to file an appeal with the officials but failed to retract the disqualification.

This disqualification also caused a change to the overall classification for the 2017 Le Mans 24.

Jackie Chan DC Racing’s second car, the #37 driven by the trio of Cheng, Gommendy, and Brundle, claimed the third step on the podium just behind its sister car, the #38, and the #2 Porsche 919 Hybrid (in light of the drama for all but one [out of five] LMP1 cars to take the win).

The other #31 Vaillante Rebellion claimed P16 in the overall classification.

They became the 2017 winners of the FIA Endurance Trophy LMP2 (teams’) at 8H of Bahrain, following three season podium appearances and one pole position. Bruno Senna fought hard facing against such hurdles as the power steering failure that lasted up to 30 minutes.

Even though it was since 2009 when they competed in an LMP2 car, they managed to achieve success in that LMP2 outfit.

The final years in endurance racing

For the 2018-19 WEC SuperSeason (Seven), the championship desired a calendar established over winter months, hence why it crossed into the following year.

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Rebellion Racing continued an entry in LMP2 at the ELMS but resorted to an LMP1 entrant for the FIA WEC. Named the Rebellion-R13, it used a normally-aspirated Gibson V8 engine in an Oreca chassis.

They debuted at the 2018 6 Hours of Spa with one car set to do the whole season, and the other participations on a race-by-race basis relative to sponsorship criteria.

Following the post-race disqualification of the #8 Toyota GAZOO Racing, it claimed an overall victory but never got to taste the win on the podium.

They battled with fellow LMP1 privateer SMP Racing and were confident in their running; a driver who got to drive for the team again was Neel Jani, having debuted for the team in LMP1 back in 2010.

The 2019 1000 Miles of Sebring event happened to be the final time they would race there since it was postponed and cancelled during the current WEC season.

At the 2019 24 Hours of Le Mans, they debuted special liveries on their cars.

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The #1 car made it to the end and achieved a podium finish, in the hands of Andre Lotterer, Neel Jani, and Bruno Senna – Neel and Lotterer (current day Tag Heuer Porsche FE teammates) were at their 11th Le Mans participation whilst Bruno was at his seventh.

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The #3 wasn’t so lucky by sustaining damage during two incidents and also faced a three-minute penalty for not respecting tyre regulations. Thomas Laurent, Nathanaël Berthon and Gustavo Menezes finished in fourth place behind their sister car.

In WEC 2019-2020, at the 4 Hours of Shanghai, they achieved a first-ever in endurance racing which was how Rebellion claimed both overall pole position and an on-track win itself against the rival Toyotas (lapping the #7) and Ginettas.

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Due to the all-new ‘Success Handicap’ that acted as a balance-of-performance/Equivalence-of-Technology measure for LMP1 cars. The championship-leading Toyotas fell victim to being held back and meant Rebellion was given a chance to be the first-ever privateers to qualify and win overall.

The #1 R13 scored the 4th non-Hybrid win in WEC history.

It also meant that Bruno Senna became the first and only driver to this point to win in all classes, with Gustavo Menezes scoring his 2nd overall win and a first for France’s Norman Nato.

They later repeated a pole at the 8 Hours of Bahrain but were caught up in an incident with the #5 Team LNT Ginetta LMP1 at the first corner, on lap one.

This meant that over the course of the race, they fell behind the Toyotas. Their next and most recent victory was at the Lone Star Le Mans.

They have gathered 32 championship wins and 27 podiums so far in the FIA WEC.

With such an illustrious set of achievements over their time in endurance racing, they will be missed by Rebellion and WEC fans worldwide as the ‘underdog’ of the WEC world say their goodbyes to Le Mans Prototype racing. Rebellion Racing also nurtured long-term drivers like Neel Jani and Mathias Beche.

They will continue until the end of this WEC season, where they will have the 6 Hours of Spa in August, Le Mans 24 in September, and the 8 Hours of Bahrain to end their endurance journey on a positive note.

They will continue their motorsport endeavours in the Dakar, having participated in the event earlier this year.

Peugeot Sport will be set to take over and engage in the upcoming Hypercar programme.

Image Credit: FIA WEC via Twitter / © Rebellion Racing