Onto the sole Le Mans Prototype category in the WEC, Last Lap’s preview series looks at a handful of key talking points for LMP2 in Season 9.
The excitement of Le Mans Hypercars and the questionable prospects of the LM-GTE car has made LMP2 quite the dark horse in the current spotlight of sports car endurance racing.
From the increased level of interest from customer outfits, to the attractive nature of competition, LMP2 will be a class which is guaranteed to bring out the action and drama throughout the course of the 2021 season.
Fabio Scherer joining reigning champions United Autosports
Last year, United Autosports reigned dominantly across all of their sports car commitments to secure three championship titles, two of which include the WEC LMP2 drivers’ and teams’ trophies.
Needless to say, it was an impressive feat for a team to enter their maiden, full-time WEC campaign to claim two titles and a hard-fought class victory at the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
However, the Anglo-American outfit are under a greater task to defend their crown as best as possible with 14 entries this year as opposed to eight from last year.
As Paul Di Resta is only set to race with the team this year at Le Mans, prior to his 2022 Peugeot LMH campaign, United brought in a young talent who made his switch from DTM last year to sports car racing.
Fabio Scherer spent much of his career in karting and single-seaters, then making a move to DTM for 2020.
In an interview with Last Lap earlier this year, he talked about how the COVID-19 pandemic created a crammed calendar for the DTM rookie that he was.
The 21-year-old Swiss driver also described his excitement to enter sports cars and into the competitive LMP2 environment.
He will be joined by team regulars Phil Hanson and Filipe Albuquerque, both of whom Fabio suggested his openness to learn from both of them ahead of his first 24 Hours of Le Mans in August.
Read the full interview on Fabio Scherer:
- Part 1 – Fabio Scherer Interview: Catching up with United Autosports’ WEC debutant
- Part 2 – Fabio Scherer Interview: Catching up with United Autosports’ WEC debutant
The pressure may be on for him to get to grips with the WEC, but he is confident about acclimatising with the speed and performance of the LMP2 which matches similar to the ’20 Audi RS5 DTM.
With the rearranged Season 9 calendar, he credited on how the rounds at Spa, Portimão and Monza will better prepare him for his first Le Mans 24 Hours.
Cost-cutting preparations on performance
The ACO can adjust the performance of LMP2 cars through measures such as the fuel-flow rate and the amount of weight ballast, and even mandating Le Mans low-downforce aero kits.
Limiting performance sounds like a negative thing for the championship but it needs to be done. As will be discussed in a dedicated future opinion piece, LMP2 is in the firing line as the performance predictions for the Le Mans Hypercar are theorised.
In fact, it may take two or three years until the category gets underway for the LMH/LMDh running performance to become clearer. To have only one tyre manufacturer in LMP2, departing the Dunlop kind, or to decrease the performance slightly due to the LMH arrival is a major move from the ACO.
What we do know is that LMP2’s competition, action and drama will be unaffected as these changes are made across the whole category.
The new Pro/Am sub-category
One of the aspects that attracted more entries into the WEC was the introduction of a Pro/Am LMP2 class, with its own drivers’ and teams’ trophy/title to fight for.
This decision had a difficult birth following an attempt to mandate a bronze-licensed driver in the crew of each team.
Naturally, this faced a great deal of backlash from the upper-professional drivers in particular. Thus, the Pro/Am was born into the WEC with this mandation.
Pro/Am features seven competitors: #20 High Class Racing, #21 DragonSpeed USA, #24 PR1 Motorsports, #25 G-Drive Racing, #29 Racing Team Nederland, #44 ARC Bratislava, and the #70 Realteam Racing.
The two extra additions since the initial entry list was the #24 and the #25.
Some notable drivers in this category include the likes of four-time Le Mans winner in GT2/GTE, Jan Magnussen (#20), and current Haas F1 reserve driver Pietro Fittipaldi who makes his sports car debut at the ELMS opening round at Barcelona this weekend.
DragonSpeed announced last year the line-up of their full-time return to the WEC as three-time Indy 500 winner and ex-Acura Team Penske DPi driver Juan Pablo Montoya.
Another notable name in the sports car discipline is Renger Van Der Zande who is entering the full WEC season for the first time with numerous Daytona 24 appearances behind him, as well as in the Sebring 12 Hours, plus three previous Le Mans cameos with DragonSpeed.
Other notable mentions – Formula E regulars
Current Mercedes-Benz EQ Formula E star Stoffel Vandoorne made his return to sports cars during the fortnight of the 2021 Asian Le Mans Series rounds for JOTA.
His last and only appearances in the discipline was with SMP Racing at the 6 Hours of Spa and the 24 Hours of Le Mans (2019) during the Super-Season (2018-19), where he claimed 3rd at both races.
Many of his Formula E rivals are either set to debut, or have already been racing in both disciplines.
The Belgian also took on a role this year in the Mission H24 hydrogen program, alongside another FE star and ex-Rebellion driver Norman Nato, as a fellow test/development driver.
"It's really promising for the future"
"C'est vraiment prometteur pour le futur"
— Mission H24 (@MissionH24) March 29, 2021
His teammate Tom Blomqvist is also due to return to a full-time endurance campaign after his outing at Le Mans last year for HubAuto (GTE-Am).
Several other commitments in both the WEC and IMSA were primarily based around the BMW GTE/GTLM factory duties with a personal best of 3rd at the ’19 Petit Le Mans.
His jump to LMP2 will put him in a far more competitive environment due to the majority of the class fielding Oreca 07s.
A final FE star mention goes to former Bathurst 12 Hours victor Robin Frijns having spent six years as an Audi factory driver.
The Dutchman graduates with the Team WRT outfit into LMP2, joining the recently-crowned Asian Le Mans Series LMP2 champion Ferdinand Habsburg and 19-year-old Charles Milesi ahead of their FIA WEC debut.
LMP2 will definitely be the most action-packed category during Season 9 with more than enough drivers and teams to get excited for including the all-female crew at Richard Mille Racing.
The increased level of competition in the category has simply made it more unpredictable on who will take the victories, including the ultimate Le Mans 24 Hours crown in August.