Feature image: JOTA Sport. All others, SportsCarGlobal / Red Firecracker.
Last Friday, European Le Mans Series leaders JOTA Sport shocked the paddock and announced that they will step up to the FIA World Endurance Championship in 2016 with an ORECA 05-Nissan while also continuing to compete in the European Le Mans Series with their current Gibson-Nissan.
Partner and driver Simon Dolan has already stated publicly he is unlikely to move from ELMS to the WEC due to work commitments, so who could take a race seat in the British team as they move into the WEC next year?
Both JOTA’s other current drivers are under factory contracts for LMP1 drives at varying rounds of the WEC; Filipe Albuquerque with Audi and Harry Tincknell with Nissan, so it would be reasonable to assume that neither would move to an LMP2 drive in the WEC, although they may continue in ELMS assuming this remains in line with their factory duties and team’s plans.
Thus, considering the above, we can surmise that JOTA Sport will be looking for three new drivers for their ORECA 05-Nissan next year. JOTA already have good ties with Nissan/NISMO and of course, have had the use of Harry Tincknell this season when not on GT-R LM duties for Nissan, so let us continue to make assumptions along this path.
Last Sunday, Scotsmen Sir Chris Hoy and Charlie Robertson clinched the inaugural ELMS LMP3 championship in their Team LNT Ginetta-Nissan at Paul Ricard with one round to go. Both drivers are heavily supported NISMO Athletes and both have expressed a goal of driving at Le Mans, “I’d love to compete at Le Mans next year and Charlie would as well,” explained Hoy at Sunday’s post race press conference, “We need to sort out cars and teams and everything else but we’re definitely on track.
“There’s a long way to go until Le Mans but I’m always trying to learn and develop as much information as possible.”
Could a factory placing by Nissan with JOTA into the WEC be the next step? It certainly is not beyond the bounds of reason.
The step up from an LMP3 car in the ELMS to an LMP2 in the WEC, while big, is exactly what the ACO had envisaged when the prototype class was originally announced and a high-profile pairing of the first LMP3 Champions (one of who is also Britain’s most successful Olympian) and JOTA Sport, a proven Le Mans 24 Hours winning team and potential 2015 ELMS Champions, would certainly be excellent for both publicity and the ‘prototype ladder’ concept.
Within the WEC an LMP2 car must consist of a crew of 2 or 3 drivers and must include at least one Silver or Bronze driver. With Hoy’s Bronze rating and Robertson’s Silver, this leaves them ideally placed to slot into the ORECA 05 and we could again make an assumption and say that JOTA would be looking for a Gold or Platinum driver to take the third sport.
Such an assumption would rule out other NISMO athletes such as 2015 Greaves Le Mans 11th Hour substitute Gaëtan Paletou (Bronze) or current Blancpain Endurance Series racers Katsumasa Chiyo, Wolfgang Reip, Mark Shulzhitskiy, (all Silver) and Ricardo Sanchez (Bronze). NISMO’s Gold and Platinum drivers such as Alex Buncombe, Lucas Ordóñez (both Gold), Jann Mardenborough and Tsugio Matsuda (Platinum) are all committed to the GTR-LM program in one way or another along with F1 refugee Max Chilton (Platinum).
However, Marc Gené remains within the NISMO fold, is a Platinum driver and could slot into the role exceptionally. He has excellent experience of Le Mans, with a win in 2009 and placing 2nd & 4th for Peugeot and a 5th, 3rd in 2013 and 2nd in 2014 for Audi.
Gené has also already had success with JOTA having taken a second place with the team at Spa in 2014, and is an accomplished test driver, so his feedback would be invaluable to a new team heading into a full WEC season and learning a new car.
Lastly, consider that, back where we started theorising above, both Chris Hoy and Charlie Robertson are learning and building a racing career; they need a strong, solid mentor who has ‘been there, done that’ and who better than Marc Gené? Such a position would fit perfectly with his current test and development role with Nissan.
Then of course, it could, and most likely will be, a completely different driver lineup, only time will tell.