Top 10 FIA WEC LMP2 drivers of 2015

The 2015 season produced a thrilling and fierce battle for LMP2 honours. Motorsport.com's endurance racing correspondent Sam Smith selects his 10 best performers of the year.

2015 probably marked the best season so far for the LMP2 class in the FIA WEC, as a titanic and sometimes bitter battle between the KCMG and G-Drive Racing squads ebbed and flowed all season.

The new ORECA 05 got up to speed quickly and dominated proceedings at Le Mans - but while the slick Hong Kong-entered KCMG outfit won the year's biggest battle, G-Drive Racing eventually came out on top in the war.

The LMP2 class could boast numerous of impressive drivers: some old hands, some new challengers. With a clutch of drivers only completing in a handful of races, Motorsport.com has chosen to include only those that contested at least four events in 2015.

The order below takes in to account not only pace and results, but also the racecraft and categorisation of the driver:

10. Julien Canal

#26 G-Drive Racing Ligier JS P2: Roman Rusinov, Julien Canal, Sam Bird
#26 G-Drive Racing Ligier JS P2: Roman Rusinov, Julien Canal, Sam Bird

Photo by: XPB Images

A true silver-classed racer, Canal was quite superb in 2015 and a pivotal cog in an almost perfect endurance team aboard the No.26 G-Drive Ligier.

Canal, a genial and passionate racer, made some slight errors during the campaign, especially in practice at Shanghai, but these paled into insignificance when it came to his excellent qualifying pace and race performances, which were often revelatory.

Fuji was a personal highlight for Canal, who became the only driver to top the points tables over two classes in the FIA WEC (he won the LMGTE AM teams title with Larbre in 2012).

In Japan, as at Silverstone and COTA, Canal was imperious in difficult conditions, setting up his teammates to claim a third victory of the season. Philippe Dumas, the calm and calculated orchestrator of the G-Drive Racing squad, got the best from Canal in 2015 and it was a well-deserved title for all concerned.

9. Oliver Webb

#43 Team Sard Morand Morgan LM P2 EVO: Pierre Ragues, Oliver Webb, Zoel Amberg
#43 Team Sard Morand Morgan LM P2 EVO: Pierre Ragues, Oliver Webb, Zoel Amberg

Photo by: XPB Images

For what he had at his disposal - a rather elderly Morgan Evo LMP2 - Webb acquitted himself very well in his FIA WEC debut season.

The reigning ELMS champion had some excellent races, especially at Fuji where he led for a while. He hustled the ageing Morand-run Morgan and extracted the maximum from it on most other occasions.

His efforts were rarely rewarded as they should have been, but Webb showed some very promising traits this season in often trying and complex circumstances within the Morand team.

8. Matt Howson

 

#47 KCMG ORECA 05: Matthew Howson, Richard Bradley, Nick Tandy
#47 KCMG ORECA 05: Matthew Howson, Richard Bradley, Nick Tandy

Photo by: XPB Images

If Canal's season was noteworthy, then Howson's decisive role in KCMG's astonishing Le Mans 24 Hours and subsequent WEC win at Nurburgring was as consistently impressive as any from a silver driver this season.

Yes, there were some that grumbled about Howson's categorisation as a silver, but that should take nothing away from a very accomplished campaign from this extremely adept endurance driver. A cerebral and tactical racer, Howson can also fight, as his stints at COTA, Shanghai and Bahrain attested.

His contribution was often not as spectacular as Tandy, Lapierre or Bradley's, but his work ethic within the team was just as vital to KCMG's successful 2015 campaign. A very valuable asset who seldom seeks the limelight, Howson can be highly satisfied with his performance in 2015.

7. Roman Rusinov

Roman Rusinov, G-Drive Racing
Roman Rusinov, G-Drive Racing

Photo by: Jose Mario Dias

After the bitter pill of missing out on the 2014 title, despite winning four races, Rusinov got his revenge this season.

He drove better than ever, gelling immediately with Sam Bird, who was drafted in to replace the Nissan-bound Olivier Pla. Unlike last year, Rusinov was not required for qualifying the car after the rule change insisting that the silver or bronze driver had to qualify.

This had to be frustrating on occasion, but the Russian though proved to be adaptable in a variety of race conditions, and despite a fraught battle with Bradley at Fuji, he was usually efficiently precise in overtaking when needed.

It remains to be seen what his plans are for 2015, but a title defence will be likely for this immensely competitive individual.

6. Nelson Panciatici

#36 Signatech Alpine A450b: Paul-Loup Chatin, Nelson Panciatici, Tom Dillmann
#36 Signatech Alpine A450b: Paul-Loup Chatin, Nelson Panciatici, Tom Dillmann

Photo by: XPB Images

There was nothing really to separate Panciatici to his teammate and friend Paul-Loup Chatin in 2015. The latter just got the nod, mainly because his relative lack of experience compared to his teammate.

Panciatici is a threat in any package, but in the supple Signatech Alpine, a car he knows intimately, he was more often than not a force at the front of the field.

As ever, Nelson was mighty at Spa, and guided the car home fourth, but the real brilliance was left for the tricky conditions of Fuji and Shanghai, where his deft reflex sensibilities paid handsome dividends.

5. Paul-Loup Chatin

#36 Signatech Alpine A450b: Paul-Loup Chatin, Nelson Panciatici, Vincent Capillaire
#36 Signatech Alpine A450b: Paul-Loup Chatin, Nelson Panciatici, Vincent Capillaire

Photo by: XPB Images

Chatin arrived with a reputation for pace and consistency after a title winning display in the 2014 ELMS. He didn't disappoint in 2015, with some mesmeric performances in the Signatech Alpine, which surprisingly took its time to adapt to the white-hot pace in the FIA WEC.

The Frenchman however was usually right on it, and succeeded in embellishing the reputation with which he entered his first FIA WEC season.

Chatin and Panciatici are extremely evenly matched and work dynamically with regards to pushing each other within the confines of a productive relationship. On the outside, they appear to do this effectively, putting their egos to one side.

4. Richard Bradley

#47 KCMG ORECA 05: Matthew Howson, Richard Bradley, Nick Tandy
#47 KCMG ORECA 05: Matthew Howson, Richard Bradley, Nick Tandy

Photo by: XPB Images

Bradley is an acquired taste to some. Super assured, with an effervescent enthusiasm for his racing, he can come across over-confident sometimes - but really he's just a super competitive racer who has a deeply rooted passion for endurance racing.

What many fail to realise is that Bradley is still a relatively inexperienced campaigner at the top level. His talents were masked by the elderly ORECA 03R in 2014, but when the new coupe came on stream, his potential soon became evident.

Bradley set the pole time at Le Mans, was instrumental in a dominant race win at Nurburgring, and followed this with a flawless display at Fuji - at least until the incidents that took the gloss off some stellar overtaking before it all went 'samurai'.

The Asian-based Brit was unlucky not to be picked for the LMP1 rookie test at seasons end, but a chance surely will come for this fine endurance performer, who had his best season of racing in 2015.

3. Pipo Derani

Luis Felipe Derani, G-Drive Racing
Luis Felipe Derani, G-Drive Racing

Photo by: Jun Qian

Luis Felipe Derani, universally known as Pipo, didn't take long to announce that he had arrived in the WEC, taking pole at Silverstone in his first race in the category.

Derani enjoyed an exceptional first season in the FIA WEC and was easily the benchmark in the No.28 Ligier-Nissan. He was astute, often forsaking the glory laps in early stints to manage tyres and look at the bigger picture. This impressed his team enormously.

Derani set about his debut at Le Mans with real respect for the event. But it was the progress made as the season wore on that really impressed.

Fuji and Shanghai were excellent in tough conditions, while his last-lap pass on Nelson Panciatici at Bahrain, to notch up a sixth podium of the season, was top class. A big future awaits for this steely and already mature endurance racer.

2. Nick Tandy

#47 KCMG ORECA 05: Matthew Howson, Richard Bradley, Nick Tandy
#47 KCMG ORECA 05: Matthew Howson, Richard Bradley, Nick Tandy

Photo by: Andy Chan

Platitudes only go so far, but for Nick Tandy the rules of excellence were there to be broken in 2015.

Scorching pace and a sublime gift to explore the limits from the very first corner of a stint (his out-laps from the pits had many rubbing their eyes in disbelief); Tandy was a volcanic stew of raw pace and aggression in his four races with KCMG.

Yet, there were errors at Fuji (qualifying) and Shanghai (race), albeit in testing conditions. The recovery drives on each occasion bordered on the sublime.

Tandy often brought a detached brilliance to the wheel of the KCMG ORECA 05 and his employment by Paul Ip was perhaps the genius decision of the season.

He was of course chosen to drive for another team at Le Mans, and he did a pretty decent enough job for it too!

1. Sam Bird

#26 G-Drive Racing Ligier JS P2: Sam Bird
#26 G-Drive Racing Ligier JS P2: Sam Bird

Photo by: Eric Gilbert

What else is there to say about perfection? Bird dug deep in 2015 and re-set his default position as a star performer.

The hangover from his 2013 GP2 heartbreak lasted a while, but re-grouping after a challenging GT campaign with AF Corse in 2014, Bird rediscovered a niche in LMP2 and completely exploited it, usually bossing his opposition.

A race-winning performance at Silverstone was followed by a disappointing engine failure-induced DNF at Spa. Then came Le Mans.

The ORECA 05 was significantly quicker and reaped the rewards. Want to know how much it hurt Bird as he made his way from the podium after finishing third? He could barely speak to this correspondent, such was his disappointment. Winning is everything to Sam Bird.

The Le Mans frustration set the tone for a fearsome fightback which saw he and his teammates Rusinov and Canal win at COTA, Fuji and Bahrain.

Bird was held in super high regard by the G-Drive/Onroak hierarchy. It was a no-brainer to give him a test in an LMP1 car at Bahrain with Toyota.

If he gets an LMP1 test role and also comes back to defend his crown, it will make it all the more fascinating to see what is next for a driver who was the clear top dog in 2015.

Notable mentions

Ryan Dalziel was unfortunate to miss out on a place in this list, having always been an efficient and quick endurance racer capable of diluting deficiencies in a package and able to take advantage of tough situations.

He did it again in 2015 with Tequila Patron ESM after a troubled start not really of the team's making. It threatened to neuter the whole season, but Dalziel's head never went down and the chirpy Scot rose to every occasion.

His tenacious cameo in the lead at COTA, and his epic stints at Fuji and Shanghai amid level playing field conditions were a delight. With the added bonus of Onroak's input in 2016, Dalziel, paired with Pipo Derani and Chris Cumming, should be a potent trio.

The self-imposed 50 percent attendance rule means that Nicolas Lapierre is omitted from the list which after his accomplished performances for KCMG at Spa, Le Mans and COTA seems harsh. The Frenchman's class at the wheel is well known and frankly his absence from a full-time drive in the FIA WEC is a big loss. Along with Oliver Turvey, he was the undoubted standout performer at La Sarthe.

Also missing out are Turvey, Harry Tincknell and Mitch Evans. The first two are both young drivers from the very top drawer, and possess attributes that could see them achieve anything they wish in endurance racing over the next decade.

While Turvey was particularly brilliant at Le Mans, Evans shone on his debut at Spa. However, it was Tincknell's mix of faith and 'positive red-mist' at Spa that really enthralled.

After serving a penalty for jumping the start, Tincknell then set some incredible laps to finish his double stint less than ten seconds behind Bird's Ligier. The works Nissan driver had laid vital foundations for JOTA to reprise its 2012 Spa win and it was a fine, fine drive.

Strakka Racing started to threaten more at the front of the LMP2 field after acquiring a Greaves Motorsport Gibson 015S chassis. Danny Watts and Jonny Kane's pace has never been in doubt and both showed, especially at Nurburgring and Shanghai, that with they have the tools to mix it with the very quickest.

David Heinemeier-Hansson continued to look like a very strong silver categorised driver as he re-acquainted himself with LMP2 machinery after a year in LMGTE. A switch back to GTs looks on the cards for the popular Dane next season.

Where to start with Gustavo Yacaman? A lot of people in the paddock love to hate him. The Colombian has a very fine turn of pace and can often read a race well. Within him though, there is a furnace of ambition that sometimes burns way too hot.

The Fuji incidents can't be ignored. Yacaman was exonerated of blame for the main incident after a convoluted process, and ultimately he was deemed not to be at fault for Bradley's race ending in the barriers.

One of the big issues was that Yacaman had some 'previous' in TUSC from 2014 after some lurid on-track action. Some instantly pointed to this, which of course is very easy to do.

Not many seemed to feel sympathy for Yacaman and there was a whiff of the witch trial about it all, which was wrong. Still, there was no doubting that the rough-house tactics that day in Japan left lingering doubts about aspects of his race craft.

Ricardo Gonzalez again showed flashes of improved speed and consistency in the No.28 G-Drive Ligier, but ultimately it was a last lap error at Shanghai which accounted for any chance of an unlikely title push in Bahrain. This was a shame for the likeable Mexican, who genuinely progressed as the season went on.

Top cameo performances came from Laurens Vanthoor and Kevin Estre at Le Mans. As expected, both were very quick but ultimately lost out on a top placing. These remained one-off LMP outings for the pair but with time on their side they will surely be seen again in the future.

Talking of cameos, the ultimate one was achieved by Alex Brundle in China. Maximising the advantage that Michelin have in wet conditions, Brundle returned to the track after almost a year away to remind everyone that he can run at the front whatever the circumstances and conditions. It was one of the great feel-good moments of the season.

Tom Dillmann was drafted in to the Signatech Alpine team in place of Vincent Capillaire at Shanghai and Bahrain.

Somewhat contentiously the youngster was categorised as a silver driver. However, this was no fault of his, or his team boss - Philippe Sinault, who exploited the fact to good use and reaped a win in China and a pole position in Bahrain.

Dillmann will be Gold in 2016, both literally in the ranking sense and also perhaps metaphorically, as he showed some real skill in his two outings this year.

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