The G-Drive Racing by OAK Racing Ligier JS P2 fought hard at the start, survived the downpour that hit in the 2nd hour, and did not leave the track once in the entire race.
Although narrowly missing out on a podium finish at the 82nd edition of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the team and crew of the #35 G-Drive Racing by OAK Racing Ligier JS P2-Nissan running on Dunlop tyres have accomplished an incredible feat here in La Sarthe. Finishing in 5th in class, 9th overall, the driver crew of Alex Brundle, Jann Mardenborough and Mark Shulzhitskiy powered ahead of the LM P2 pack for most of the race, impressing with the speed and endurance of the brand new Ligier JS P2, out on its first challenge.
Having started in P3 on the grid, the G-Drive Racing by OAK Racing Ligier JS P2 fought hard at the start, survived the downpour that hit in the 2nd hour, and did not leave the track once in the entire race. The Ligier JS P2 translated the talent of its drivers perfectly, carrying them through the night without any issues. The talented trio of drivers is one of the youngest here at Le Mans, with an average age of only 23 years between them. Alex Brundle, test driver of the Ligier JS P2 car, and most experienced of the three, made this his third visit to Le Mans.
He was backed up by GT Academy winners Jann Mardenborough and Mark Shulzhitskiy, for whom this was their second and first visit to the track respectively.
Having led for most of the 24 Hours, as the race neared its end, the car started to suffer from problems with its engine. Just before 10.00 am, the car pitted earlier than planned and was suddenly pushed into its pit box. This was to signal the start of the problems for the #35 Ligier JS P2 which had seen it lose time on track as the lap speeds slowed down. Having previously averaged around 3:40 per lap, and at one point setting the fastest lap in LM P2, Alex Brundle was clearly struggling to get the power out of the car any more. They replaced the spark plugs and motor coil and sent the car back out, but it had already fallen down to 5th despite a strong effort by the team.
The fact that G-Drive Racing by OAK Racing had put its faith in a brand new car and achieved such a result should not be downplayed, but arriving at the end of the 24 hour race only a lap down from the leader, should be celebrated as much as an outright victory.
For its teammates, the hopes for the #26 G-Drive Racing Morgan-Nissan LM P2 died shortly before midnight as Olivier Pla was caught up in an unavoidable incident with a Ferrari at the Michelin chicane. Although the car wasn’t too badly damaged, it didn’t have enough power left to make it back to the pit-lane, and had to retire on the side of the track.
The trio of Julien Canal, Olivier Pla and Roman Rusinov, who were the leaders in the WEC Drivers and Teams Championship for LM P2 going into the race, are naturally disappointed that the race ended so early. Having started 4th on the grid, the car lost a couple of places early on, due to a slow puncture that forced them to pit at an inopportune moment. Rusinov then had a good stint, making up two places, but which were then lost due to the safety car period.
Despite that early setback, the crew carried on, with the three drivers doing good, strong stints, including a close fight with the #43 Morgan-Judd LM P2 to hold on to fifth, although their aim was to stay safe and keep the car going as long as possible; they didn’t want to take any risks. They had made it back up to fifth when the incident happened, and, not being able to retrieve the car, having damaged a rear wheel, they had to retire.
Jann Mardenborough, #35 Ligier JS P2 – Nissan: “For my 2nd time here at Le Mans, I really enjoyed racing the new Ligier JS P2 with OAK Racing, the support team. Me, Alex and Mark were surprised at how competitive the car was straightaway. We led the race for over 14 hours, with a good gap to second place. The car was really strong and the balance was really good. Unfortunately we had a small issue 20 hours into the race, which really hurt us. But the whole team has been fantastic. It’s a really professional team and I’ve really enjoyed working with them.”
Alex Brundle, #35 Ligier JS P2 – Nissan: “I have no idea how long we led the race for, but every moment it felt like we were in the front. We took the lead quite early on, during the safety car period. The team did an excellent job with the tyre management, changing the tyres, having managed to push to the front. We just stayed there, lap after lap after lap, doing fastest laps. Unfortunately then, we had an issue with the spark plug, which cost us time, and we dropped back into fifth place, which is heartwrenching, watching the gap of a lap that we’d built up just go slowly away as we worked to try and fix the issue. Eventually we managed, but we lost too much time. I’m gutted for everyone.”
Roman Rusinov, #26 Morgan - Nissan LM P2: “What’s important is that we made the right choice of car: it is very competitive and reliable. Unfortunately, you can’t always avoid race incidents. It really wasn’t Olivier’s fault. The Ferrari was in the middle of the track and he couldn’t avoid it. We saw the same happen with bigger teams, Audi and Toyota. It could have been me in the car and the same would have happened.
Everyone wants to win this race especially, because it’s a really difficult one. On paper, we were the fastest team with the most reliable car and the best chances to win this race, but that’s Le Mans! I’m optimistic, because it’s only one event of the World Endurance Championship, there are eight in total, we’ve already won two, this one is missing, which is a shame, but we’ll come back next year. It’s a race I want to win for sure, and we will one day!”
Philippe Dumas, Team Principal: “I’m not going to lie, I’m very disappointed. I know that you have to take a general overview, and it’s fantastic to have one car at the finishing line, and even three concerning Onroak Automotive and the Ligier JS P2 cars, but the drivers, and the team, gave everything they had and we were really hoping for a victory.
Car #26 was the reliable one that had to get to the end. This kind of problem doesn’t only happen to others, but we’re never fully prepared for it. But that’s how the race goes and the championship isn’t over, it’s a part of it. Le Mans remains Le Mans, we have a championship to fight for and win: we’re going to have to digest this great disappointment and head off to the final five races and win them. The goal now is to win seven out of eight races, but Le Mans won’t be one of them.”