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ESM on Hunt for Petit Le Mans Driver Replacements Amid Fuji Clash

Tequila Patron ESM searching for two new drivers for Petit Le Mans due to Fuji clash…

Photo: BigTom Photography/ESM

Tequila Patron ESM is on the hunt for two replacement drivers for October’s Motul Petit Le Mans, with Olivier Pla and Nico Lapierre now ruled out of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season finale due to a date change for the WEC Six Hours of Fuji.

The FIA World Endurance Championship confirmed earlier this month that the Japanese round would be moved one week forward to Oct. 12-14, to allow Fernando Alonso to take part in Toyota Gazoo Racing’s home race and complete the balance of the 2018 portion of the WEC’s ‘Super Season’ schedule.

The decision to put the Fuji race back on Petit Le Mans weekend, months after a number of WEC drivers had confirmed WeatherTech Championship or Tequila Patron North American Endurance Cup programs, has led to widespread criticism from competitors.

Pla and Lapierre, who were confirmed at ESM for the entire four-round Patron Endurance Cup, will now be forced to miss the ten-hour Road Atlanta finale due to their full-season WEC commitments with Ford Chip Ganassi Racing and Signatech Alpine, respectively.

It’s resulted in in ESM team owner Scott Sharp now on the lookout for replacements for his two Platinum-rated prototype stars.

“It’s a shame that the WEC moved their date and chose to conflict with one of the major endurance races in the world, Petit Le Mans,” Sharp told Sportscar365. “It’s very unfortunate that both Oli and Nico won’t be able to finish the Tequila Patrón North American Endurance Cup with us.”

Sharp indicated that the driver market for that weekend, which also sees DTM in action at Hockenheim, is slim, particularly with available drivers with prototype experience and the level of talent his Florida-based team has become accustomed to employing.

“It’s difficult as there are guys that are either already committed to programs or they’re already part of the WEC,” he said. “But it is what it is.”

ESM is one of several WeatherTech Championship Prototype teams impacted by the WEC’s date change.

Action Express Racing needs to replace Toyota factory driver Mike Conway in the No. 31 Cadillac DPi-V.R and Mazda Team Joest has lost Harry Tincknell, who is also set to miss the Mid-Ohio round in May due to his full-season WEC commitments with Ford.

United Autosports, which recently committed for the entire Patron Endurance Cup, meanwhile, will no longer have the services of Bruno Senna for Petit Le Mans as well, with the Brazilian confirmed in Rebellion Racing’s LMP1 program.

The date clash has also impacted BMW Team RLL and Porsche GT Team’s endurance lineups, while Park Place Motorsports’ Patrick Lindsey and Joerg Bergmeister will both also miss the Road Atlanta finale in favor of the WEC round in their newly confirmed Porsche GTE-Am effort.

Pla: “Lack of Consideration” for Date Change

Drivers affected by the date change have taken to social media to voice their displeasure, including longtime WEC driver Pla.

“As I said on my Twitter, it’s a lack of consideration, a lack of respect,” he told Sportscar365. “When they are talking about the spirit of endurance and the spirit of WEC and how it’s a big family and stuff like like that… I think they’ve forgotten it at this point.

“I can totally understand why Alonso is so important. I’m not Alonso; I’ve never pretended to be, but [I] have a contract with a team and the calendar was set.”

BMW’s Nicky Catsburg, who is part of Team RLL’s lineup for the endurance races as well as a full-season driver for BMW Team MTEK in the WEC, said he will “race wherever [BMW] tells me to race” but has also questioned the move.

“I also find it surprising that the decision to move the Fuji date has been taken just for this reason,” he said.

“Many teams and drivers who have been loyal to the championship are now facing problems, because at this time of year, everybody has his deals in place.”

Rene de Boer contributed to this article

John Dagys is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of Sportscar365 as well as the recently launched e-racing365 Web site for electric racing. Dagys spent eight years as a motorsports correspondent for Channel, and contributes to other publications worldwide. Contact John



  1. tracer

    February 23, 2018 at 11:01 am

    What a mess. 🤦‍♂️

    • Aiden

      February 23, 2018 at 5:23 pm

      Conor Daly, Daniel Morad, Alexander Rossi, Alex Tagliani, Dale Earnhardt Jr, etc

      • Brian

        February 23, 2018 at 11:08 pm

        Really hoping Earnhardt Jr was a joke

        • Jeff Wagner

          February 24, 2018 at 7:37 pm

          Dale Earnhardt Jr., (unlike Dale Earnhardt who did an excellent job at Daytona) couldn’t even do a decent job With Team Corvette on TWO occasions and you want to put him in a Prototype???

  2. WEC iz dum

    February 23, 2018 at 11:05 am

    Toyota should have just announced Alonso as a driver from the very beginning (most of us knew he would drive for them) and *maybe* all of this could have been avoided. Date clash remains, but drivers could sort out contracts and rides from the get-go.

  3. Change it up

    February 23, 2018 at 11:12 am

    Oh oh!! Pick me!! 🙋‍♂️ 🏎🏎🏎🏎🏎🏎🏎

    • Rus'L

      February 23, 2018 at 12:07 pm

      I raised my hand first!!

  4. CM-12

    February 23, 2018 at 11:24 am

    Try Rio Haryanto. There. Done.

    • Jack

      February 24, 2018 at 2:56 pm

      Toyota driver. Undone.

  5. Mike D

    February 23, 2018 at 11:39 am

    I think there’s a bunch of good, as-yet-unsigned options for these teams (I’m not aware of any commitments for these, feel free to correct me).
    Romain Dumas – no Porsche commits that week
    Lucas di Grassi – Formula E
    Benoit Treluyer – also has Nissan ties in Super GT
    Will Stevens
    Oswaldo Negri Jr – has Onroak/Ligier experience
    Pierre Kaffer
    Richard Bradley

    Hell, why not Brendon Hartley? F1 is off that weekend 🙂

    • tracer

      February 23, 2018 at 12:30 pm

      Great list. Hartley would seem to be an obvious choice given his prior experience with ESM, but I’m not sure if Torro Rosso would let him race outside of F1 at that point in the F1 season.

      • Jack

        February 24, 2018 at 2:59 pm

        Hartley is now a Honda factory driver, Honda won’t let him race for Nissan, which is why he was not at Daytona.

    • Mike D

      February 23, 2018 at 12:40 pm

      Before I get beat down… Dumas might be at CORE, just plain forgot.

    • AF

      February 24, 2018 at 10:44 am

      At least two of them will be racing full-time in the WEC.

  6. N8

    February 23, 2018 at 12:35 pm

    It was OK for Alonso to miss Monaco last year, but it’s not OK for Alonso to miss CotA this year? Can anyone rationalize that for me?

    • Frank

      February 23, 2018 at 12:54 pm

      I’m sure they are dreaming that Renault power will have them battling with Mercedes for a world championship at that point of the season. They will wake up soon.

    • rollyourown

      February 23, 2018 at 2:09 pm

      Yea by the time CoTA rolls around McClaren will be a solid back marker and Alonso will be ready to call his F1 career over. Perfect time to hand over the duties to Lando and become a full time sportscar driver.

  7. Kurt

    February 23, 2018 at 12:45 pm

    Give Nico Jamin a shot, a gamble but a test would confirm whether he has the speed and consistency. Does Indy race that weekend? Hinchcliffe has endurance experience and plenty quick. Anthony Davidson perhaps.

  8. MarcusM

    February 23, 2018 at 1:08 pm

    Romain Dumas in at CORE, or Porsche GT lineup perhaps? Who knows.
    Due to the DTM also clashing with PLM more drivers will miss the race.
    Rast, Dual (Audi) for example.

  9. David

    February 23, 2018 at 2:05 pm

    IndyCar season will be over. Lots of drivers available.
    Marco and Mario?

  10. Casey

    February 23, 2018 at 2:16 pm

    Bruno Juinquiera
    Oriol Servia
    Anthony Davidson
    Marc Gene
    David Brabham
    Marino Franchitti
    James Hinchcliffe

    • Mart

      February 24, 2018 at 2:23 pm

      Please not Franchitti. Talk about overrated drivers who take wrong paychecks (Level5) If he wasn’t Dario’s brother he would work at KFC.

  11. David Haueter

    February 23, 2018 at 2:40 pm

    Lucas Luhr may be available. . .

  12. Jenner

    February 23, 2018 at 3:43 pm

    Danica is free.

    • Matt

      February 23, 2018 at 4:30 pm


    • jaysfan

      February 23, 2018 at 5:00 pm

      I hope not! Then the better have at least 2 or 3 extra rolling chassis/bodies, they’ll need them if Danica drives for the team

    • Steven

      February 23, 2018 at 8:19 pm

      Even the GTD cars would be lapping the Nissan DPi if she was behind the wheel.

  13. Lanky Turtle

    February 24, 2018 at 12:30 am

    I think I know a guy available that weekend. His name is Cole. He has a set of special matched tires.

  14. Jack

    February 24, 2018 at 2:58 pm

    Go after Lance stroll. I mean, he is free.

  15. Jeff Wagner

    February 24, 2018 at 8:46 pm

    A source telling me the *Truth and nothing but the Truth* Scott Tucker has informed Scott Sharp he is available that weekend and has no Racing commitments. Tucker said he has *Time* and certainly has an *Interest* in *Lending* his Driving abilities to ESM, mentioning to Sharp “I love Racing so much I wouldn’t even require a *Payday* and I would do the Driving *Free* of any *Charges* or hidden *Fees*!

  16. Gabe Docks

    February 24, 2018 at 10:17 pm

    Sage Karam.

    • Frank

      February 25, 2018 at 8:17 am

      I just checked out Sage’s twitter. He has gone back to wrestling and iRacing. He should probably stay there.

  17. Jeff Wagner

    February 25, 2018 at 11:16 pm

    Sage and his Dad did a fantastic job making sure it will probably stay that way.

  18. Matt

    February 26, 2018 at 9:09 am

    Allan mcnish is available…

  19. Cory Harts

    February 27, 2018 at 8:34 am

    There is no reason it has to be a prototype driver. There are some good IndyCar drivers that would do a great job. Among these are Alexander Rossi, Connor Daily, and somebody like Ed Jones. I think that an IndyCar driver would be an awesome idea for both these seats. The only issue I have with this is the possibility of Honda not wanting their Indy drivers to race for a Nissan backed team. However Ryan Hunter-Reay does race with Wayne Taylor Racing for the NAEC races. I think that the american Motorsports landscape is a lot more laid back unlike it is in Europe where it is all business and no fun.

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