36 MENEZES Gustavo (usa) LAPIERRE Nicolas (fra) RICHELMI StŽphane (mon) Alpine A460 Nissan team Signatech Alpine podium during the 2015 FIA WEC World Endurance Championship 6 Hours of NŸrburgring, Germany, from august 28 to 30th 2015. Photo ClŽment Marin / DPPI.
Gustavo Menezes pulled further clear of his pursuers in the chase for the coveted FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) LMP2 class crown at the Nürburgring last weekend, as he and Signatech-Alpine team-mates Nicolas Lapierre and Stéphane Richelmi conquered changeable conditions to complete a stunning victory hat-trick.
Fresh off the back of dazzling the sportscar racing fraternity by winning the legendary Le Mans 24 Hours at his first attempt, the talented young American headed to Germany’s Nürburgring for the final European round of the 2016 WEC campaign. An uncharacteristic ‘off’ for Lapierre at the beginning of free practice left Signatech-Alpine playing catch-up early on, but the French outfit responded in style as its N°36 crew lapped fourth-fastest out of the 11 high-calibre LMP2 protagonists in the remaining two sessions.
Menezes and Richelmi subsequently manoeuvred the 550bhp Alpine A460 prototype to second on the grid during a damp-but drying qualifying run. The latter then took to the wheel for the start of the six-hour encounter and held position throughout the opening stint as he tenaciously kept the class pace-setter just about in sight in a fiercely-contested scrap.
Twenty-one-year-old Californian Menezes joined the fray in fifth place after Richelmi pitted, but the highly-rated Santa Monica native was soon the quickest driver on the circuit and a series of consistently impressive lap times saw him snatch the class lead and move into the top ten outright before mid-distance.
Maturely managing several ‘Full Course Yellow’ interruptions and engaging in an energetic duel with the No.26 G-Drive Racing entry – until gearbox failure for the latter prematurely curtailed their budding battle – when Menezes handed over to Lapierre after almost two hours inside the cockpit, the Alpine was ensconced at the head of the LMP2 field.
Thereafter, the experienced Frenchman withstood an initial challenge to edge away from the chasing pack and responded brilliantly to late-race pressure to take the chequered flag eighth overall amongst the 33 competitors and tally a third consecutive class triumph for Signatech-Alpine.
The success enabled Menezes, Lapierre and Richelmi to stretch their advantage in the FIA Endurance Trophy for LMP2 Drivers to 41 points as the season reaches its midway stage. The action will resume on the Williams-Harfield Sports Group protégé’s home turf in September, with back-to-back North American races in Mexico City and Austin, Texas – the first of five long-haul contests to conclude the campaign.
“Wow – another fantastic weekend!” enthused Menezes, a former winner of the coveted Jim Russell Driver Scholarship Award. “As a team, Signatech-Alpine is absolutely on top of its game right now and as drivers, Nico, Stéphane and I are all working together really well. None of us had ever been particularly lucky at the Nürburgring before, so it was really satisfying to finally get a result there!
“After the setback in FP1, the mechanics did an amazing job to repair the car quickly enough for us to get out in the afternoon and we made massive strides forward in the limited time we had on-track. Qualifying was then tricky with some rain during my run, so to wind up second on the grid after the way our weekend had begun was a pretty decent result.
“In the race, Stéphane drove really well to hold second place for most of his stint and after the pit-stop, I took over in fifth. The Alpine A460 felt great and whilst there was probably more pace in the car, I was mindful of not pushing too hard and hurting the tyres. We were perhaps lacking a little bit over a single lap in comparison with the G-Drive, but we had an entertaining fight with them and it was a shame that it didn’t go on for longer.
“The team is increasingly putting its faith in me, which is really rewarding and it was awesome to take the class lead and hand over to Nico with almost a full minute’s margin. After that, he concentrated on controlling the gap and bringing it home – and he didn’t put a foot wrong.
“The guys on pit wall called the strategy perfectly, too; there were a lot of ‘Full Course Yellow’ periods, which made it difficult to judge exactly when the best moment would be to stop for tyres and fuel, but in a situation where it would have been very easy to lose track position, they got it spot-on every time.
“Having scored three victories in a row now, we’ve clearly got momentum on our side and winning the Le Mans 24 Hours gave us a real confidence boost. We’re in strong shape going into the mid-season break which is a nice situation to be in, but it’s imperative that we get our heads down and keep working hard. The next target is to maximise our one-lap speed to close the gap to G-Drive, because they’ve taken every pole position so far and whilst endurance racing is obviously a marathon rather than a sprint, we still want to be the fastest!
“I’m really pumped for the North American double-header and excited to go to Mexico City; it will be a new circuit for pretty much everyone and I can’t wait to see it – with the passion and enthusiasm of the fans there, the atmosphere will be incredible! Make no mistake, we are fully focussed on winning this world championship – and Mexico is the next step.”