The 2015 Le Mans endurance season will see the introduction of the new category of cars created by the ACO: the LM P3s (Le Mans prototype 3).
Vincent Beaumesnil, the ACO Sport Manager, gives a progress report on the situation in LM P3, the first of which will soon have their first shakedown.
Vincent, can you remind us why the ACO created the LM P3 category? We’ve got a long-term vision concerning the LM P3 category. It’s a crucial step to enable new entrants to access our endurance pyramid. It will help bring new teams and promising young drivers into endurance for whom it will be a crucial step in the context of our endurance driver ladder. In addition, the LM P3s will attract gentlemen drivers who want to race prototypes rather than GTs giving them a fore-taste of endurance that may lead to the Le Mans 24 Hours. Sir Chris Hoy (six Olympic medals in cycling) is a perfect example. This year he will be racing in the ELMS Championship with the aim of being on the grid at the 2016 Le Mans 24 Hours.
It’s also very important to remember that despite its very low cost the LM P3 category has to comply with the same safety standards as the closed LM P1s and LM P2s, which represent a very big difference compared to what can be found in prototypes at the moment at this price level. We can offer everybody a real Le Mans-type prototype - a small closed LM P1! – for a budget that’s much lower than the one required for an entry in a national GT championship. At the moment, after various simulations we’ve carried out, you can count on 400 to 450 000 euros for a full season in ELMS which is pretty reasonable (133 to 150 000 euros per driver).
Can you give us an update on the current state of the different projects? Three chassis constructors have confirmed that they are building cars. Ginetta was the first and the car exists. At the moment, we’re in the homologation and crash test phase. Ginetta-Nissans will take part in the pre-season tests for the ELMS at Le Castellet (23-24 March, and they will race in the championship right from the start of the season. They have respected their schedule. LAS Motorsport has also launched the construction of an LM P3. It’s an association of a design office specialised in the conception of racing cars, ADESS EG, Sébastien Loeb Racing’s team, which needs no introduction, and SORA Racing, the Mayenne-based prototype manufacturer.
The third constructor that’s currently building an LM P3 chassis is the association between AVE Motorsports and Riley Technologies. The latter is a well-know American company which, among other projects, developed the Cadillacs entered at Le Mans, ran the works Vipers recently, and also builds Daytona prototypes: it’s a front-line American firm that’s bet on the LM P3s. And we're expecting some really good news in the near future with another prestigious constructor announcing the creation of his own car!
Oreca looks after all the client service aspect linked to the engine. The development of the Nissan, a normally-aspirated V8 delivering 420 bhp, is being finished at Nismo in Japan. These are reliable cheap engines that will last 10 000 km between revisions – two seasons in the ELMS. X-Trac is providing gearboxes and Michelin is the sole tyre supplier to guarantee a level playing field and cap costs.
Everything’s under way so that the 2015 season kicks off without problems and some manufacturers have received several firm orders. LAS Motorsport and Riley Technologies, which threw their hats into the ring after Ginetta, are working flat out to supply their cars as quickly as possible. All three are serious high-quality manufacturers. We should have between six and nine LM P3s on the grid for the Silverstone 4 Hours, the first round of the ELMS on 11th April.
Are these cars eligible for several championships? Of course! But I’d like to point out that while all the teams entered in the ELMS have to do the pre-season tests at Paul Ricard, this isn’t the case for the LM P3s. The reason is that the regulations fell two months behind schedule in 2014 so that we could carry out the right simulations for the engine. And we’re still two months behind! Even so there will be some LM P3s at Paul Ricard. It’s up to the constructors and the teams to finalise their agreements as we don’t want to put them under any pressure for the March test sessions.
I’d also like to confirm the fact that the LM P3s can take part in the Le Mans 24-Hours test day (31st May 2015) depending on the places available. The teams will have to be very careful about the entry procedures for this test day. It may lead to some logistics problems with two cars in the same pit due to a lack of room, but the LM P3s can take part.
The ELMS Championship has been confirmed and the regulations have been published. We’ve brought in specific rules enabling teams to restrict the number of mechanics working on the cars with a minimum refuelling time. Thus, the same mechanics can change the tyres and carry out refuelling. We’ve limited the number of tyres. Everything’s been done to cap costs.
The car is also eligible for the 2015 Asian Le Mans Series whose calendar and sporting regulations will be announced at a later date. But I can confirm that at present we’re in advanced negotiations concerning the entry of several LM P3 cars in Asia.
And of course, we’re also aiming at the United States. Our partner, IMSA, knows all about this car and we discuss the subject on a regular basis. National championships like the VdeV Endurance Series are keeping a close eye on what’s happening as well, and we may see LM P3s racing in it this season. All this will help teams to write off the cost of their equipment and that’s very important. Not only do we foresee this formula making strong progress over the next three years, but also what we’re expecting for the first season exceeds our forecast!
What prizes will be awarded to the LM P3 entrants? The driver or drivers winning the Drivers’ Championship in the ELMS will be given a test by Nissan in LM P2 with its Junior team. It’s a strong signal as we know Nissan’s dynamism in its driver programmes. And don’t forget that the Japanese manufacturer is making its comeback to LM P1 this season.
This gives the winners a real opportunity to be assessed by a works team, and obviously that can open other doors for the future.
The team winning the LM P3 teams’ classification in the ELMS will be given an invitation for the following year’s Le Mans 24 Hours in LM P2 provided it’s entered in one of our series. When you realise just how scarce the places are for this race it’s an exceptional prize.
Concerning the Asian Series it’s a bit early to start talking about prizes, but we’ll have a look at that as soon as the regulations are finalised, and they will be just as attractive.
To conclude, I’d like to thank Nissan for making such a huge effort to back the LM P3 category by being the official engine supplier and by giving the winner a test. We can only be delighted that we have the support in LM P3 of a major manufacturer that has a worldwide impact.