Last year, the Signatech Alpine team were celebrating a monumental LMP2 victory at the 24 Hours of Le Mans which arguably helped turn their season around and take them a step closer to their World Endurance Championship victory.
However, the endurance race in the heart of France is unpredictable and with 24 hours of non-stop racing action anything can happen. A lot can happen in a full day, but the 258,000 spectators weren’t prepared for the seemingly endless incidents that made Le Mans’ 85th edition a truly memorable race.
Under incredibly hot conditions, the number 36 car found itself in trouble within the first 20 minutes as Gustavo Menezes ran onto the gravel at the end of the Mulsanne Straight. With Menezes awaiting rescue from the stewards, precious time was lost and the decision to have Matt Rao complete a quadruple stint was made to change up the team’s strategy.
The team and the number 36 car came across more problems as the race progressed into the night, with pit stops to change the gearbox oil pump for Romain Dumas and later an electrical issue for Matt Rao.
Despite this run of bad luck, the Signatech Alpine team managed to claw back to 12th as the night went on. During the closing stages, the LMP2 team displayed an impressive performance which saw them finish 9th in the category and 11th overall- not bad considering the accidents side-lining many of the LMP1 favourites.
Being quoted on the results of the race, Guastavo Menezes, who was part of the winning LMP2 team last year said:
“The twenty-four hours of this year’s race seemed longer than last year! I feel really sorry for all the members of the team, they deserved a better result. I made a minor mistake at the start of the race, but it proved to be a very costly one. We then had other technical issues, but we refused to become disheartened. We were almost last at one point and yet we managed to finish in the category top 10 following a genuinely marathon effort!”
Meanwhile the other Signatech Alpine team piloting car number 35 had a comparatively calmer race than their partners with the early stages seeing them move from 8th to 7th. With a perfectly executed plan, the team managed to continue their successes through the night and by sunrise had earned themselves 4th position.
With two hours to go, it was looking like the trio of Panciatici, Ragues and Negrão were about to ahcieve one of their best performances this season as they maintained second in the LMP2 category and third in the overall rankings. However despite the proficiency of the pit crew, the number 35’s front brakes failed, resulting in a detour into the gravel and then eventually back into the pits.
Despite this major setbacks the team had the car back out on the track finishing 4th in their class and 5th overall. Pierre Ragues one of the pilots of the number 35 cars said:
“It’s a bit hard to take just missing out on a podium spot in the overall standings. It would have been a very special moment, for us as drivers and for the team. We knew that we were a bit slower during the day, when it was very hot, and we tried to push during the night. We also knew that the brakes were a critical point, but that we had to push. There was no indication that they were going to give up like that.”
However since the race, the Rebellion LMP2 squad have been stripped of their Le Mans podium position after video evidence emerged of a bodywork infringement used to restart the engine after pitstops. This means that in the LMP2 category both the number 35 and 36 have improved their positions to 3rd and 9th respectively.
As the gruelling heat and extreme test of endurance came to a close, the winners of the LMP2 category and overall second place finishers, were part of Jackie Chan’s DC racing team. The film actor excitedly compared the success to his Oscar win.
While Signatech Alpine’s number 36 car wasn’t able to repeat last year’s success, there are still 6 races left to reclaim those dropped points. Improving their position from 12th to 9th during the last stint allowed the team to earn a few more points that could prove crucial when it comes to the final races of the season.
Images taken from Signatech Alpine Flickr