What to expect from the LMP1 era's last survivor

While Alpine is still mulling the prospect of a Le Mans Hypercar entry to complement the reinvigorated brand's F1 team, its partner team Signatech is testing the waters in 2021 with the last remaining car from the outgoing LMP1 era.

What to expect from the LMP1 era's last survivor

The Automobile Club de l'Ouest has gone all-in on the new Hypercar regulations, which will finally come on stream in the 2021 FIA World Endurance Championship season.

Toyota and Glickenhaus have signed up to be part of the new top class of the WEC and Le Mans 24 Hours from the very beginning,  but we will have to wait until 2022 for Peugeot to provide some factory competition for Toyota. And another year before Ferrari, Audi and Porsche join the party - the latter two via the cheaper LMDh formula.

That means in 2021, Toyota's main rival is likely to be a brand that has been making a big splash in the motorsport world over the past six months, but one that is still sitting on the fence regarding whether it should build a Hypercar of its own.

In conjunction with a revamp of the Renault F1 Team, Renault Group brand Alpine has also increased its presence in sportscar racing. Alpine has been rebadging Oreca LMP2 cars since 2015, when it formed a partnership with the Signatech and DC Racing outfits.

The link-up with Signatech yielded two LMP2 championships and three Le Mans triumphs in 2016 and 2018, 2019, underlining the French team's credentials as a suitable partner for Alpine to step up to the top class.

But rather than committing to the ACO's hypercar formula from the outset, Alpine is first testing the waters with a grandfathered Rebellion R-13 LMP1 chassis from Oreca, making it the last survivor of the LMP1 era.

Nicolas Lapierre and Andre Negrao, who were in the car for respectively three and two of Signatech's Le Mans wins, will be joined by newcomer Mathieu Vaxiviere in what's been rechristened as the Alpine A480-Gibson, which mirrors the striking deep blue livery of the brand's Formula 1 car.

Although the A480 shares no shortage of DNA with the Oreca 07 LMP2 car, Signatech has nonetheless recruited several engineers to run the more complex LMP1 machine, which will be subject to a Balance of Performance to bring it into line with Toyota and Glickenhaus.

"The team is bigger now," Signatech's founder and team principal Philippe Sinault explains. "To operate this car we need more people. We recruited three more engineers, some mechanics and one more person in the composite department."

Lapierre said he was pleased "the key people are still the same" at the team's headquarters in Bourges. He added: "They were the strength of Alpine when we won the championship and Le Mans 24 in the past few years.

"Obviously, the team had to get a bit bigger to manage the BoP and all this new electronic stuff we have inside the car. But I still felt at home when I came back to Bourges, it was very easy for me to get back and integrate the family again."

Sinault explained that the team won't do any development work this year given the fact that it will be pegged back to match the slower laptimes of the new Hypercars, and that the A480 will run the full season with what last year's low-downforce Rebellion aerokit.

"We can develop the car, but at the moment our main concern is to have a good knowledge about the new regulations and to manage all the new electronic processes," he said. "The car is reliable already. So we have to work on the using of these new tools well."

Whether 2021 will convince Alpine to properly join the hypercar ranks is not yet clear, but Sinault says that option is still being discussed.

"We talk a lot with [Alpine CEO] Laurent Rossi and Alpine's technical staff about the future," he replied when asked about Alpine's future intentions. 

"For sure on the endurance racing platform at the moment, a lot things are moving. The subject is on the table but we first have 2021 to do."

A good performance in 2021, then, won't hurt the long-term prospects for Alpine in endurance racing's top class.

Whether Signatech will be able to take on the might of Toyota is unclear, nor are there any guarantees that the ACO will be able to find the right balance between the old non-hybrid LMP1 and a hybrid-powered hypercar designed to lap considerably slower.

But if Alpine has one ace up its sleeve compared to the competition, it's the fact that its Oreca-built car is a proven platform which already has three Le Mans starts under its belt, with two of those yielding overall podium finishes.

"We know the reliability was pretty good in the last few years," commented Negrao. "It did a lot of Le Mans, races and a lot of laps. So we know that the car is working very well. I think as soon as we know that the car is okay to go to Le Mans, we can fight for the win."

#36 Alpine A480 LMP1: André Negrão, Nicolas Lapierre, Matthieu Vaxiviere

#36 Alpine A480 LMP1: André Negrão, Nicolas Lapierre, Matthieu Vaxiviere

Photo by: Alpine

shares
comments

Related video

PR1/Mathiasen to make WEC debut in Spa opener
Previous article

PR1/Mathiasen to make WEC debut in Spa opener

Next article

Fuoco gets WEC drive with Cetilar Ferrari squad

Fuoco gets WEC drive with Cetilar Ferrari squad
Load comments
Why Le Mans didn't decide Toyota's WEC title outcome in 2021 Prime

Why Le Mans didn't decide Toyota's WEC title outcome in 2021

Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and Jose Maria Lopez scored a second successive FIA World Endurance Championship title in the #7 Toyota, as its new Le Mans Hypercar went unbeaten. Motorsport.com recaps how each of the four classes in the 2021 season were won and picks out the best LMH and GTE drivers

WEC
Nov 28, 2021
The unanswered questions that define WEC 2021's controversial ending Prime

The unanswered questions that define WEC 2021's controversial ending

OPINION: The deeply unsatisfying ending to a brilliant World Endurance Championship GTE Pro battle in Bahrain had Ferrari provisionally heading back from the desert as the victor. But Porsche plans to appeal the outcome, which rests on a number of confusing elements that have yet to be satisfactorily explained.

WEC
Nov 9, 2021
How the WEC's heavyweight duel reached its controversial flashpoint Prime

How the WEC's heavyweight duel reached its controversial flashpoint

The Ferrari versus Porsche fight for the FIA World Endurance Championship's GTE Pro title had been a finely-poised affair, right up until Alessandro Pier Guidi's punt on Michael Christensen in the closing stages of the Bahrain 8 Hours handed Ferrari a provisional title, pending Porsche's appeal. Here's how the controversy played out.

WEC
Nov 8, 2021
The remarkable fixes Toyota used to avert another Le Mans disaster Prime

The remarkable fixes Toyota used to avert another Le Mans disaster

The 1-2 finish achieved by Toyota at this year's Le Mans 24 Hours was a result that will have surprised few, given its status as pre-event favourite. But the result was anything but straightforward, as worsening fuel pressure concerns required the team's drivers and engineers to pursue "creative fixes" on the fly. Here is the full story of how it reached the end without a lengthy pit visit

Le Mans
Nov 3, 2021
The 10 greatest drives of lost legend Jo Siffert Prime

The 10 greatest drives of lost legend Jo Siffert

It's 50 years since Jo Siffert was killed in his prime at Brands Hatch. The Swiss scored just two world championship wins in a Formula 1 career spent largely with privateer teams, but showed on numerous occasions in single-seaters and in sportscars with Porsche that he could beat any of the best drivers of his era given the right equipment.

Formula 1
Oct 24, 2021
Inside the Le Mans finish too barmy for Hollywood Prime

Inside the Le Mans finish too barmy for Hollywood

Team WRT has been at the forefront of GT racing for years and made a successful move to prototypes for 2021, capped by an LMP2 win on its Le Mans debut. It could've been even better had the race been one lap shorter, when its cars ran 1-2, but the stranger-than-fiction reality has spurred the team to reach greater heights.

Le Mans
Oct 16, 2021
Why Toyota's Le Mans victory was not as simple as it looked Prime

Why Toyota's Le Mans victory was not as simple as it looked

Toyota scored its fourth Le Mans 24 Hours victory and a 1-2, with the #7 car of Kamui Kobayashi, Mike Conway and Jose Maria Lopez beating the #8. But although it looked straightforward from the outside, Toyota faced serious problem that had to be solved with some quick-thinking and ingenuity.

Le Mans
Aug 24, 2021
What we've learned from the Le Mans 24 Hours so far Prime

What we've learned from the Le Mans 24 Hours so far

The new dawn for the FIA World Endurance Championship has arrived at Le Mans, as Hypercars prepare to duel for victory in the world's oldest endurance race. Motorsport.com picks out the 10 things we have learned in the build up to the race.

Le Mans
Aug 21, 2021