With Extreme Speed Motorsports not here this weekend and the pair of Mazda prototypes continuing its development program, the hopes of a P2 victory in Saturday’s Petit Le Mans rest with OAK Racing.
The French squad, which concludes its first full season of racing in the U.S., heads into the 10-hour enduro at Road Atlanta not only as one of the favorites in the Prototype class, but also looking to deliver the first win for the new Ligier JS P2-Honda.
The car, built and developed by sister company Onroak Automotive, made its North American debut last month at Circuit of The Americas, which saw Alex Brundle claim pole and set fastest lap but settle for a runner-up finish with co-driver Gustavo Yacaman.
Rejoined by Chinese ace Ho-Pin Tung this weekend, and with no Balance of Performance adjustments since COTA, the black and pink-liveried prototype appears to be in the catbird’s seat, all while flying the flag for P2 machinery in the pivotal season finale.
“When you look back at COTA, the car was competitive for sure,” team principal Philippe Dumas told Sportscar365. “In this type of track, it’s a little bit like Mosport, we’ll be fast anyways. In terms of lap time, I’m very confident.”
The team is coming off a productive test at NOLA Motorsports Park last week, which remarkably was their first test away from a race weekend in the U.S. this year.
It provided the opportunity to further develop the car to the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship specific regulations, which includes the larger air restrictor and spec Continental tires.
“We chucked it on the track at COTA and managed to sort it out to an area where it’s raceable. Now we have to make it comfortable for ten hours,” Brundle said.
“The car we drove at COTA would not be the car that will last ten hours here, just in terms of how palatable it is and how easy it is to drive.
“We made the thing more drivable in traffic and easier to jump in and jump out of. I think we’ve done a decent job.”
Brundle and Tung are two of the most experienced drivers with the Ligier, with the Englishman having played a key part in the car’s pre-season development, and both having piloted separate entries in its race debut at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in June.
While Brundle nearly pulled off a debut class victory, Tung logged nearly 12 hours of drive time in the same Ligier-Honda chassis that’s been brought Stateside.
“I think it’s been a very good year for the Ligier,” Tung said. “We debuted it this year at Le Mans and ever since, it’s been very competitive in every single race it’s been entered in. I think it definitely proves that it’s a big step forward [over the Morgan chassis].
“The support of Honda has been tremendous and made a real difference in getting the car fast on track here.”
The challenge this weekend, according to Brundle, will be getting through traffic, which has been a weak point for the P2 cars this year in comparison to the more powerful DPs.
“This is a very special place for traffic,” he said. “It’s really hard. With the esses down the hill, you have to wait. It’s pretty much the same in the kink into the hairpin right out of the back.
“My concern is that the DPs are going to get four GTDs on the way down and we’re going to get three, every lap, and that’s going to carry on churning away all race.
“The reality is that they’re going to stay on the lead lap, even if we get out front. We have good speed but we don’t have the speed to lap all of the competitors.
“It’s going to all be about the end of the race and we know how restarts go for us. I think we need to get it in the right position and hope it works out. It’s going to be a really good race, I think.”
It’s been a memorable season for OAK, which claimed victory at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park in July, and remained in championship contention until a race-ending accident two rounds ago at Road America.
“I think it’s quite impressive what we’ve done this season,” Dumas said. “To be traveling all the time and load the car in the truck after each race and [only] rebuild it [on-site] at each event…
“We’ve definitely enjoyed being here. It’s an amazing story for the whole team. I think we are a little bit more a part of the U.S. story and we would love to continue.
“It’s always a question of opportunity and sponsorship. But if you ask me now if we want to continue in this championship, I’d say yes, with more than 100 percent. We love everything here.”
With the team’s future in the TUDOR Championship is unclear, Dumas wouldn’t want anything more than to go out on top in Saturday’s season-finale.
“We already proved to everyone we have the pace here,” he said. “Our objective is to win this race. I don’t know what we can do but we’re definitely here to win the race and get the first win with the Ligier.”