Despite the global economic downturn, new teams are sprouting up, and many are flocking to the European-based Le Mans Series for 2009. Two of the latest squads to confirm programs in hotly contested sportscar championship are Full Speed Racing and Pegasus Racing.
Full Speed Racing, owned by an American car collector, has applied to enter the LM GT1 category with a Saleen S7-R. The team, run under the assistance of longtime Saleen stalwart Graham Nash, plans to race the American supercar in the entire five-round series, plus the 24 Hours of Le Mans, entry permitting. There is also consideration of entering the FIA GT Championship with a second chassis.
"It's fantastic to be back in the Le Mans Series having been one of the founder members back in 2004," Nash said. "The new team is a very exciting project and I'm delighted to be involved. I've had five years experience racing with Saleen. I know just how quick the S7R can be and our new chassis has an impressive racing history with many race wins and pole positions to its credit."
Since its debut in 2001, Nash has run Saleens in a variety of series, including the FIA GT Championship, Le Mans Series, British GT Championship as well as a handful of American Le Mans Series and Grand-Am events.
The team has already signed Emerson Newton-John as one of its drivers. Newton-John, the nephew of movie star Olivia, will return to the cockpit of a racecar after a seven-year hiatus. He's hoping to help raise awareness for his Aunt's initiatives in early detection methods of breast cancer.
"I'm really looking forward to getting back in the driving seat," Newton-John said. "More importantly this is a chance to educate the world on early detection and the benefits of the new Liv Aid product. I am honoured that my aunt, Olivia, has put her faith in me to do this job and represent her new device. Racing is still my passion and it's fantastic to be rekindling my career. I feel I still have a lot of unfinished business left in this sport."
Pegasus Racing, meanwhile, confirmed that it will enter a Courage-Oreca LC75 AER in the LM P2 category this season. With roots in the VdeV European Endurance Proto Challenge, the French squad expands its program to include the Le Mans Series.
"As a driver for the team, I'm very pleased to be in the Le Mans Series," said Julien Schnell, who will team with Philippe Thirion in the French-built car. "When we started to evaluate the project [one year ago], we contacted numerous constructors and engine manufacturers. We ran into Yves Courage, who gave us an attractive offer to buy a chassis fitted with an AER engine...[After Oreca's acquisition of Courage last winter], Oreca had proposed to sell us the same car, which had been used for development.
"This was an interesting solution because the car is complete and ready to run. We will benefit with Oreca helping us with set-ups and they will also provide us with a package of spare parts at each circuit."
Schnell, who will also continue competing in the VdeV series to defend his title, said the team will shakedown the car next week at Paul Ricard before making full preparations for the upcoming season. Pegasus has also submitted an entry for the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
In other news, two-time and defending LM GT2 champions Virgo Motorsport has been reshuffled, with majority team backer Jim McWhirter forming his own new team for 2009. Team JMW will campaign Virgo's 2008-spec Ferrari F430 GT with lead driver Rob Bell, who will be in quest for his third consecutive title.
Virgo Motorsport, meanwhile, will continue under the leadership of team manager Chris Warne, and field a 2009-spec Ferrari for Sean and Michael McInerney. The team also plans to take up its automatic invitation to Le Mans.
Virgo's main competitor last season may get even stronger in 2009, as Team Felbermayr Proton announced that Richard Lietz will share the wheel of the German team's No. 77 Porsche 911 GT3 RSR with fellow Porsche works driver Marc Lieb. Lietz, who has been with the IMSA Performance Matmut squad for the past two seasons, replaces Alex Davison, who returns to race in Australian V8 Supercar Championship.
Speedy Racing Team Sebah, which announced last month that it will field two Lola coupes in the prototype ranks, has signed Andrea Belicchi, Marcel Fassler and Nicolas Prost to pilot its Aston Martin-powered P1 entry. Xavier Pompidou, Jonny Kane and Benjamin Leuenberger have been named as drivers of its Judd-powered P2 contender.
Finally, series officials have confirmed the addition of an official test at the Bugatti Circuit at Le Mans, scheduled for April 25-26. The two-day test is in addition to the already planned pre-session at Paul Ricard on March 8-9.