#6, NIELSEN RACING, GBR, Ligier JS P320 - Nissan, Nicholas Adcock (GBR), Austin McCusker (USA), Max Koebolt (NLD) / #41, TEAM WRT, BEL, Oreca 07 - Gibson, Louis Delétraz (CHE), Robert Kubica (POL), Yifei Ye (CHN)

The 2021 season for the European Le Mans Series (ELMS) is upon us, and the organisers, regulators and teams have introduced some tweaks that should keep things interesting for all. Change can often be criticised as costly or manipulative, but 2021 has change sufficient to positively spice things up a little which should deliver some variety and intrigue to proceedings. Many have followed endurance motorsport for the different looking prototypes and strategies that can be applied, but in recent years that has been honed out of the field and we currently look to the teams both in their pitwork and driver line-ups for a car to deliver the edge that with good fortune takes the win on a Sunday afternoon. 

LMP2 plus
With considerable changes in the parent championship (World Endurance Championship – WEC) and the eligible categories for the 24-hours of Le Mans plus the rising performance challenging circuit designs on safety grounds the reigning in of performance has been necessary and has trickled down. Hence we see constraints being placed on the fastest runners in the LMP2 category.

The most obvious ways are to add weight, 20kilos up to a minimum dry weight of 950kg, and reduce power output (by 50kw) from the Gibson-Technology GK428 (thats 4.2l V8 na) to a total of 400kw or ~540hp.. From Round 2 at the Red Bull Ring in mid-May the LMP2 cars will be configured to Le Mans specification which reduces downforce and drag. Ironically this will make the cars faster in a straight-line but more of a handful in the corners. In conjunction with the additional weight the net result will require a step up in driver skills to not only maintain pace through the corners but also mitigate the impact on the brakes and tyres. 

#26, G-DRIVE RACING, RUS, Aurus 01 – Gibson, Roman Rusinov (RUS), Franco Colapinto (ARG), Nyck De Vries (NLD) #84, ASSOCIATION SRT41, FRA, Oreca 07 – Gibson, Aoki Takuma (JPN), Nigel Bailly (BEL), Pierre Sancinena (FRA)

Much angst has been vented about the late introduction of the above changes, some of which may have first come out of initial testing of the Hypercars (LMH) and their (likely sandbagged) pace, but we emphasise its the same for everyone, the late notice will prove an advantage to the teams and drivers that adjust quickest, which for the spectator will now not happen in pre-season (on closed circuits) but will be played out during the season in full sight… That is a good thing to follow!  Some have complained at the additional cost, but if that is your beef you’re in the wrong game, a Le Mans pack may cost 100k but if you were planning on-going to Le Mans (and thats why most compete) you were buying it anyway… Now you get to practice with it leading up to the main event, knock yourselves out, this move takes the set-up & feel confusion away! 

Change is Good – Be Positive, Adapt, Learn and Progress

Further fun is to hand in LMP2 with further innovation, effectively with two sub-categories that deliver additional rungs to the ladder as teams and more so drivers progress on from either Michelin Le Mans Cup or the LMP3 category into the top flight of continental endurance motorsport. 

Firstly, the Pro-Am LMP2 sub-category is a defined thing (again) and just under half (seven) of the LMP2 field include a Bronze ranked driver who likely provide significant funding to the team in question. We would expect to see teams that include a full LMP2 entry as well colloding on set-ups, and it will be intriguing to see if the non-Bronze drivers adjust that setup to be more accomodating of the Bronze or looks for them to do their best with it. Note below the Pro-Am identifier on the side of the #34  

#34, RACING TEAM TURKEY, TUR, Oreca 07 – Gibson, Salih Yoluc (TUR), Charlie Eastwood (IRL), Harry Tincknell (GBR) 2021 European Le Mans Series, Barcelona, Spain. Photo © John D Stevens.

Secondly, the Innovation Car (#84) category, its an LMP2 car run by Oreca/Graff Racing due to the adaptations required for two of the three drivers (Aoki & Bailly) in ELMS solely until the August 2021 edition of the 24-hours of Le Mans (ie. not a full season entry) where it fills the Garage-56 slot. The former Moto GP rider Aoki Takuma and Nigel Bailly are graduates from Fred Sausset’s academy to assist physically impaired drivers into top-flight motorsport. The third driver Pierre Sancinena is able-bodied, catering for the combination proving a further challenge for the team, he is currently only included for the ELMS events.

#84, ASSOCIATION SRT41, FRA, Oreca 07 – Gibson, Aoki Takuma (JPN), Nigel Bailly (BEL), Pierre Sancinena (FRA) 2021 Michelin Le Mans Cup, Barcelona, Spain. Photo © John D Stevens.

LMP3
Much like its faster cousin above this category has become dominated by one manufacturer, Ligier and its JS P320 all powered by the venerable Nissan standard motor for the category. Just two entries attempt to buck the trend, the #4 DKR Engineering and #12 Racing Experience teams. So to rise above, we must look toward the capabilities of the teams and their drivers to deliver the difference on the standard Michelin rubber.  One goliath of a team should leap off the page at everyone, #2 & #3 cars of the United Autosports team will likely prove a season long challenge for any other entrant…   If they are not doing it you have to ask yourself why not? And likely adjust to match their approach/strategy.. unless you are supremely confident or niave! 

#18, 1 AIM VILLORBA CORSE, ITA, Ligier JS P320 – Nissan, Alessandro Bressan (ITA), Andreas Laskaratos (GRC), Damiano Fioravanti (ITA) 2021 Michelin Le Mans Cup, Barcelona, Spain. Photo © John D Stevens.

The other element that LMP3 brings to the Series is that degree of random-ness that so often bubbles to the surface over the four-hour race distance… Whether its a driver who is tougher to pass, an isolated off resulting in a Virtual or Actual Safety Car or some other unpredictable event LMP3 brings more than its own competition, adds a streak of colour and volume to the ELMS grid that greatly enhances proceedings. Of course it is another rung on the ladder to Le Mans, taking ambitious European racers and bringing them up onto the International stage. 

LMGTE
Continues to provide a premium category of Grand Touring to the European arena. Emulating the WEC it continues to include three manufacturers, Ferrari, Porsche and Aston Martin but all in customer hands. Ferrari continue to provide 5 of this weekends 8 runners with 2 Proton Competition Porsche RSR-19s (#77 & #93) and the mighty Aston Martin Vantage AMR (#95) in the hands of stalwarts TF Sport. Also noteable is the Iron Lynx #83 Ferrari F488 GTE EVO in the hands of the all-female crew of Rahel Frey / Michelle Gatting / Manuela Gostner. 

#93, PROTON COMPETITION, DEU, Porsche 911 RSR – 19, Michael Fassbender (IRL), Felipe Laser (DEU), Richard Lietz (AUT) 2021 European Le Mans Series, Barcelona, Spain. Photo © John D Stevens.

In summary, it is good to be back, and if you poke below the cover of the European Le Mans Series you continue to find a series in good spirits.  With the changes, innovations and line-ups of Teams/Drivers, choice of categories there is going to be plenty to watch and tune in to follow… Oh and did we mention whilst turning up continues to be a challenge its all Free and Available online, details below –

Watch – https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCU8C8RqGhqH4nhk4mlN1Vwg

Enhanced Timing – https://live.europeanlemansseries.com/en/

Listen – http://player.radiolemans.co/

Lets Go Racing! 

2021 Michelin Le Mans Cup, Barcelona, Spain. Photo © John D Stevens.