Gustavo Menezes produced a scintillating turn-of-speed over the course of an eye-catching FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) debut in the 6 Hours of Silverstone last weekend, as Signatech-Alpine was cruelly denied a hard-fought podium finish in a flat-out thriller.
Menezes has steered his burgeoning career from single-seaters to sportscars this year, and has teamed up with established WEC race-winner Nicolas Lapierre and GT3 graduate Stéphane Richelmi in one of Signatech-Alpine’s two A460 prototypes. Entered in the fiercely competitive LMP2 class, the trio featured up towards the sharp end throughout free practice around the celebrated ‘Home of British Motorsport’, but a greasy, low-grip track surface the next day – the legacy of overnight rain and snow – threw an early curveball.
Menezes and Lapierre shared the car during qualifying, with the average of both drivers’ best times determining the classification. Laudably consistent and matching his experienced and highly-rated team-mate for pace, the talented young American belied his lack of prior running in the 550bhp Alpine A460 to excel in the tricky conditions.
Although a minor tyre pressure misjudgment restricted the N°36 entry to seventh in the LMP2 pecking order and 14th overall amongst the 33 protagonists, grid slots are somewhat immaterial ahead of a six-hour marathon, with the primary focus being on preparation rather than position.
Menezes was entrusted with taking the start, and he immediately set about gaining ground as he moved up the LMP2 leaderboard on his maiden appearance in endurance racing’s premier series. Lapierre and then Richelmi subsequently assumed the reins, before the 21-year-old Santa Monica, California native returned to the cockpit later on as each driver completed two double-stints.
Following a composed and trouble-free performance, in the closing stages of the race, the N°36 Alpine A460 was embroiled in a three-way scrap for the runner-up spoils until an LMP1 prototype inadvertently edged Lapierre off the circuit whilst lapping him. The unplanned excursion saw the Frenchman pick up a puncture, which relegated the Signatech-Alpine effort to fourth at the chequered flag – with ten of the 11 LMP2 starters reaching the finish – and an excellent eighth outright.
Impressively, the timing screens revealed that it was Menezes who had posted the quickest Alpine lap of the weekend – testament to just how well he is settling into his new surroundings. Having ably underscored his sportscar racing credentials, the Williams-Harfield Sports Group protégé – a former winner of the coveted Jim Russell Driver Scholarship Award – was justifiably satisfied with his Silverstone showing.
“That was to all intents and purposes a six-hour sprint!” he reflected afterwards. “Aside from having to be a touch more circumspect in traffic, it was full beans from start-to-finish. We were looking good for the podium until the LMP1 car drove Nico clean off the track with just 12 minutes remaining. It was hugely frustrating to lose third place almost within sight of the chequered flag, but it just goes to prove that in endurance racing, you can take absolutely nothing for granted and it’s never over until it’s over.
“One thing we all struggled with during the race was tyre degradation, which was much higher than we had anticipated. They’re new tyres this year and obviously the Alpine A460 is a new car, so we had no prior knowledge of how they would behave or react in race conditions and during double stints, we were effectively just trying to hang on by the end. That’s something we’ll need to revisit and figure out before the next race; we’ll regroup, go back to the drawing board and see where we went wrong to make sure we return stronger.
“There are a lot of positives to take away from Silverstone, and on a personal level, it was a great weekend for me – to set the fastest lap of any Alpine driver given the calibre of my five team-mates was more than I could have hoped for. We showed encouraging flashes of speed and managed the traffic well, and fourth place represented a decent haul of points to kick off the season. If that’s a bad day, I’ll definitely accept it!
“Everybody at Signatech-Alpine did a fantastic job – our strategy was spot-on, the pit-stops were flawless and there were no mistakes or technical issues, which is quite a feat over such a long race. We learnt a lot and we are working in the right direction, which will serve us well moving forward. We’re firmly in the mix in LMP2 and the potential of the Alpine A460 is clear to see, so with a bit more experience under our belts, I’m confident that even better results are on the horizon. We’re massively motivated and success is in our sights.”