Mikhail Aleshin says SMP Racing can expect “way better” pace and reliability in this weekend’s 24 Hours of Le Mans than in last year’s race, in part thanks to its new aero kit.
The Russian team has rolled out a new low-downforce aero spec for its BR Engineering BR1 AERs at Le Mans, which Aleshin and co-driver Stoffel Vandoorne both expect to prove beneficial.
“I think our pace is definitely way better than last year,” Aleshin told Sportscar365. “We’ve kept developing the car all the time so our expectations are big.
“Obviously it’s impossible to fight with Toyota but we need to fight still because the race is long, anything can happen and we’re going to fight to the end.”
Aleshin says the new specification is a “big change”, with more effective downforce a key result.
“Everywhere it’s a bit different,” he said. “Overall, it makes the picture a bit different. Let’s see.
“It’s hard to say if it’s going to help us or not because the weather is different now. But definitely our downforce is more efficient now. That I can tell for sure.”
Vandoorne, who made his debut with SMP in last month’s Six Hours of Spa, admitted he expects it to make some corners more difficult, due to the decrease in downforce.
“At Spa we ran a different aero configuration which was high downforce, and that meant in the corners we were quite easy compared to all the cars around us,” the Belgian told Sportscar365.
“Now we’re quicker on the straights but in the corners we’re more difficult because we run such low downforce. It’s changing the concept a little bit.”
Aleshin says one of the main improvements since 12 months ago is the BR1’s reliability.
“It’s definitely better than last year but I don’t want to say for sure because when you say, ‘Ahh it’s so much better’ then something goes wrong,” he said.
“What I can say for sure is that SMP Racing is working as hard as hell to make sure everything runs well and our last couple of races have shown that we’ve become much better with this.”
Close Race Forecasted Between Non-Hybrids
Both drivers say they’re expecting a close battle with their LMP1 non-hybrid rivals, especially Rebellion Racing.
“I think we’re going to have a good race between the non-hybrids because it’s pretty competitive,” said Aleshin.
“[Rebellion] has a great car and a great team as well. We definitely know they are going to be competitive, but no one knows how much until the race starts.
“Even then, everyone has different strategies, different fuel management and stuff. I think it’s going to be close and fought until the last lap.”
Vandoorne agrees with his teammate, but added doubts about their chances of battling with the Toyota TS050 Hybrids.
“Sometimes there’s surprising things happening and I think to go challenge the Toyotas will be very difficult for us in terms of pure pace and over a long run as well. We have to wait and see,” he said.
“We’re not really focusing on them. We’re focusing on ourselves, trying to maximize everything. I think if we execute everything perfectly we have a good shot at being the first cars behind the Toyotas.”
Daniel Lloyd contributed to this report.