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