Gustavo Menezes has staked his claim to a sportscar racing future following an impressive test for Signatech-Al
pine in Bahrain, receiving praise for an ‘excellent’ performance as he lapped at a similar pace to the FIA World Endurance Championship’s leading lights.
Menezes flew straight to the desert kingdom from his Formula 3 swansong in the end-of-season Macau Grand Prix, where a weekend that had begun in promising fashion ended in a hefty disagreement with the tight-and-twisty Guia Street Circuit’s unforgiving concrete barriers after he was clipped from behind, destroying his Jagonya Ayam with Carlin single-seater in the process.
Further contact from two pursuing cars left the talented young American nursing a bruised knee and dosed up on painkillers, but he was determined not to let it spoil his Middle Eastern opportunity, with Signatech-Alpine’s A450 having proven to be a potent force during its maiden campaign in WEC’s LMP2 class in 2015.
Although he has predominantly plied his trade in the fiercely-disputed FIA Formula 3 European Championship over the past two years – tallying a brace of podiums and no fewer than 28 top ten finishes against the indisputable crème de la crème of up-and-coming open-wheel stars – Menezes has also dipped his toe into the sportscar waters with outings in the Prototype Challenge (PC) category of the 24 Hours of Daytona, 12 Hours of Sebring and Petit Le Mans.
That said, the Alpine A450 – a car that triumphed in its class in Shanghai earlier this month and snared the runner-up spoils at Fuji – is another notch up the endurance racing ladder. After covering almost 500 kilometres behind the wheel of the French sports prototype on his first visit to Bahrain International Circuit, the 21-year-old Californian revealed that he had ‘enjoyed every minute’ as he assesses his options for career progression.
“It went really well,” he enthused. “Signatech-Alpine is an ultra-professional team and everybody was extremely supportive of me; their engineers have worked in F3 before, so they’re used to assisting drivers like me to adapt, which gave me a bit of a head-start. Sportscars demand a very different driving style to F3 and my initial runs were all about dialling myself into the car, but it didn’t take long to feel comfortable in the Alpine A450 – it was a reasonably straightforward transition.
“My prior endurance racing experience also helped me to ‘click’ with the car pretty quickly. I knew it would be good, but it’s fair to say the Alpine A450 was even better than I’d expected – it’s powerful and refined with a lot of downforce and very sophisticated aerodynamics, and there are so many aspects you can play around with. The Dunlop tyres offer amazing grip, which allowed me to push hard and really explore the limits and the tyre-warmers are fantastic – you leave the pit-lane and the car is ‘on it’ straightaway.
“On ‘race runs’, it felt great. I had to get used to conserving the car and saving fuel over long stints which made for a learning curve, but I enjoyed every single minute of it and I was really happy with my progress – by the end of the day, I was setting lap times on a par with the top LMP2 guys from the weekend. The team seemed pretty happy with me, and I think it’s safe to say everybody left the test with a big smile on their face. It certainly cheered me up after Macau!
“There’s tremendous potential inside this team and WEC is one of the sport’s biggest success stories right now, so competing there is definitely a prime option on my 2016 shortlist. Wherever I end up, I’m keen for it to be a long-term commitment and I’m really excited about what the future may hold.”
Signatech-Alpine is an established outfit with an enviable pedigree in endurance racing circles, having clinched back-to-back European Le Mans Series drivers’ and teams’ crowns in 2013 and 2014. Team principal Philippe Sinault acknowledged that former Jim Russell Driver Scholarship Award winner Menezes had made a strong case for himself.
“Gustavo did an excellent job at the test,” he affirmed. “He is an intelligent young man who worked well with our engineers and took on-board everything he was told. He improved throughout the day and for his first run in an LMP2 car on his debut at Bahrain International Circuit, he lapped at a very encouraging pace. His feedback was incisive and he possesses all the attributes for a successful sportscar career if that is the route he chooses to take.”