The Prototype Challenge category has proven to be extremely popular in American Le Mans Series this season and is sure to attract numerous teams in the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship next year. Yet, although the cars are built in France by ORECA, there are few and far competing in Europe.
Four LMPCs were present in European Le Mans Series this year: one entered by Algarve Pro Racing Team and three by ORECA’s Team Endurance Challenge. The diverse driver lineups included a mix of gentlemen and professional drivers.
Twenty-six-year-old Swiss driver Gary Hirsch and 22-year-old Frenchman Paul-Loup Chatin from Team Endurance Challenge were the winners of this year’s championship.
“We fought throughout the entire season, primarily against Soheil Ayari and Anthony Pons,” Hirsch said. “Same car, same team… They were tough competitors, especially as Anthony was gaining confidence and speed with each race.
“Things played to our advantage in [Paul] Ricard, but it was a close call: as I was replacing Paul-Loup at the wheel, our engine simply would not restart. Although the mechanics eventually figured it out, for a few long minutes I really thought that it was all over.”
Besides their title, both drivers earned an invitation to participate in next year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans as well as test drives in a LMP2.
“Acquiring some prototype experience in a LMPC first was the right thing for me to do,” Hirsch added. “The LMP2 trial will probably take place during the first quarter of 2014. I am really excited
“But it goes beyond the title and the prize. I was able to demonstrate speed and reliability before several team managers, especially in Hungaroring or Silverstone where we had a wet race. With three wins over five races this season, I’m back on their radar screen.”
In 2012, Hirsch was without a drive after a career in Formula Ford, Formula Renault 2.0, and FIA GT3.
The Swiss driver is confident for 2014. “I have several opportunities,” he said. “I’m working hard to be able to drive a prototype in Le Mans and in an international endurance championship.
“I am also keeping an eye on the U.S. It would take a significant budget, but I would love to race in Sebring or in Petit Le Mans. It’s the ‘land of opportunity,’ as they say.”