Gustavo Menezes is fired-up to begin the defence of his hard-fought FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) LMP2 class crown at Silverstone next weekend (14-16 April), after getting to grips with Alpine’s new A470 during the traditional pre-season Prologue test at Monza.
The talented young American was joined at the high-speed Italian circuit by his new team-mates Matt Rao and Romain Dumas, with the latter set to stand in for Nicolas Lapierre in the 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps and Le Mans 24 Hours in the wake of his countryman’s call-up to compete for Toyota’s factory LMP1 outfit.
Alongside Lapierre and Stéphane Richelmi, Menezes belied his rookie status last year to win four races – including Le Mans – and tally three further podiums en route to the coveted FIA Endurance Trophy for LMP2 Drivers in sportscar racing’s premier and most fiercely-contested global series.
Following a productive off-season, the two-day Monza test represented the first opportunity for Signatech Alpine Matmut’s N°36 crew to measure themselves against their 2017 opposition. The LMP2 category has undergone something of a revolution over the winter, with an extensive regulation shake-up resulting in a new generation of faster, more powerful and more aerodynamically refined cars.
In evidence of the extra power available – a significant upshift from 475bhp to 600bhp – reigning FIA WEC LMP1 Champion and two-time Le Mans winner Dumas reached an eye-watering 314km/h down Monza’s main straight behind the wheel of Alpine’s A470, beaten only by Porsche’s two LMP1 cars.
Between them, Menezes, Rao and Dumas completed more than 200 laps and proved to be in the ballpark in all conditions both day and night, with the highly-rated Santa Monica, California native topping the LMP2 timesheets in the second session as the team focussed its efforts on race runs, tyre evaluations, braking efficiency and set-up work.
As dress rehearsals go, it marked a strong start, and Menezes is now eager to return to the track for the 6 Hours of Silverstone to discover just how much all of his and Signatech Alpine Matmut’s earnest efforts have paid off.
“Everything has been very positive and I’m really happy with the way our preparations have gone,” affirmed the 22-year-old Williams-Harfield Sports Group protégé, a former winner of the coveted Jim Russell Driver Scholarship Award. “The Alpine A470 is a new car, and while it does bear a lot of similarities to the A460 that we raced last year, the aero package and engine are both different and we’re still experimenting with various changes.
“That said, I feel like I’ve adapted to it very naturally. You really notice the hike in horsepower – the engine keeps on pulling all the way down the straight and to hit 314km/h at Monza was just insane! We have more downforce and bigger front tyres, which make the car more stable and even more enjoyable to drive and it really rewards you when you push it to the limit. The performance gap between the Alpine A460 and our new A470 is huge – it has improved in every area.
“Monza was the first time that Romain, Matt and I had all worked together, and we rapidly established a good understanding and rapport. We’re gelling very well as a team, and whilst we’ll obviously miss Nico at Spa and Le Mans, Romain has settled in very quickly and we already feel like a family again. He brings a lot of experience with him from both Audi and Porsche and his feedback was very similar to mine, which was encouraging. As ‘super-subs’ go, you really can’t get much better!
“He is still getting used to the car because it’s a big change from LMP1, but he was soon on the pace and I’m really enjoying working with him. He has always been a very consistent and reliable driver and I’m sure he will be an excellent team-mate, as will Matt, who is feeling increasingly comfortable inside the car and team and getting faster with every session.
“I think we made good progress at Monza and our overall performance was very promising, so I see no reason why we shouldn’t be capable of competing right at the front of the LMP2 field at Silverstone. I feel so much more confident now with a season under my belt, I’m ready to go racing and I can’t wait to find out how we shape up compared to everybody else. We’re under absolutely no illusions that we’re going to have to work even harder than last year if we want to win again – but that’s a challenge we’re relishing!”
Source. Russell Atkins Media/Photo. Alpine