The great eagerness of the different protagonists in the LM P2 class of the FIA World Endurance Championship is one of the very positive aspects behind the impressive delegation of ORECAs competing in that category. As demonstrated with this opening round during which six teams maintained suspense up until the chequered flag, which was first seen by the Jackie Chan DC Racing and its ORECA 07 driven by trio Jarvis/Laurent/Tung.
Saturday’s qualifying sessions set the tone, confirming the homogeneity expected in the LM P2 category, with three cars finishing within only two tenths of each other. Enough to actually give great value to the pole position which was clinched by G-Drive Racing. Yet, just a couple of metres after the green lights had gone off, the standings were already totally different.
With the best start against Vaillante Rebellion’s and G-Drive Racing’s ORECA 07 (respectively No. 13 and No. 26), the Alpine A470 with Nicolas Lapierre on board completed a perfect beginning of the race, taking control straight away. For over four hours, team Signatech Alpine Matmut was strong and uncompromising, widening the gap with its rivals further and further.
The tables turned in the last third of the race, particularly during the 5th hour, and what seemed to be a perfectly-controlled performance changed radically. Due to an LM P1 having gone off track, the race got neutralised and all contenders progressively gathered behind the safety car which annihilated all of the efforts that Lapierre-Menezes-Rao had put in since the start. While stuck, like others, by a choice of tyres following on an episode of rain, Jackie Chan DC Racing’s car played its cards right during the last phase of the race, crossing swords with Alpine, of course, but also with TDS Racing (No. 28) and Vaillante Rebellion (No. 31) which probably benefited most of the neutralisation, having caught back up in the lead. Delayed by a pit stop to do some work on a door, G-Drive Racing fought hard too, while Jean-Eric Vergne showed potential of British team Manor in this class, posting excellent lap times, one after the other, throughout his last stint.
The race was far from over in the last hour, especially with the different strategies in place, even though Vaillante Rebellion (No. 31) seemed to be holding a good position. But the Jackie Chan DC Racing went into the pits for a very fast stop, roughly twenty minutes before the finish line. Olivier Janis managed the end of the stint really well and smoothly, allowing the Chinese squad to prevent direct rivals to catch up, as well as to clinch its first success with authority, in a championship which promises to be particularly competitive this year.
Rémy Brouard (Jackie Chan DC Racing by Jota): “How great! What a joy! It’s absolutely amazing. Yes we knew that we were ready for this, and I’d tell lies if I said that we didn’t think to race in the lead this weekend. We’re ambitious and it’s Chinese culture to put everything in place to win. Yet the level in LM P2 this year is so incredible that one also needs to be humble. Our three drivers did a fantastic race. We were bold and went for intermediate tyres when it’d just started raining. And that didn’t paid off! But we managed to catch up with one extra pit stop. The team did an amazing job, until the very last express pit stop, which was decisive, before Olivier’s last stint. What a relief to cross the finish line! Though I got nervous about the podium. But today was meant to go well. We couldn’t have dreamt of more to start the season.”
Xavier Combet (TDS Racing): “It’s a great satisfaction to finish on the podium considering the overall level of teams in this class. We lost about twenty seconds when the car from the pit next to us stopped too far and got in our way. It’s a shame, but that’s part of the race. On G-Drive Racing’s car, we got delayed by some issues with the right hand door which did cost us time in the pits. Generally speaking, what we’ve done this weekend allows us to be positive and optimistic for what’s to come next. The championship will be very competitive but we can give it a good shot.”
Nicolas Lapierre (Signatech Alpine Matmut driver): “The safety car ruined our race. We were quite comfortable, 45 seconds ahead, and there you go… our strategy was totally thwarted with everybody behind us. We spent over half of the race in the lead, we were fast, had a good strategy, the car was performing really well… We had it all to achieve something great. But unfortunately the safety car went out. It’s disappointing, infuriating actually, but that’s how it is.”
Next round of the FIA WEC on May 4th, 5th and 6th.
Source. Oreca/Photo. John Patterson