After getting his feet wet in the sports car racing scene last year, Sam Bird is set for a new challenge in LMP2, as the open-wheel standout gears up for a dual-season program that will include a title attack in the FIA World Endurance Championship.
The 28-year-old Briton, who had starring drives in both the Prototype Challenge and GTE-Am ranks in 2014, has joined G-Drive Racing as part of the Russian-backed squad’s expanded effort in the cost-capped prototype category.
For Bird, who is also competing in the inaugural FIA Formula E Championship this year with Virgin Racing, the opportunity to step into a full-time sports car seat comes as the logical next step in his budding endurance racing career.
“I had some great experiences with Peter Baron and Starworks over in America that got me introduced to endurance racing and introduced me into the American scene, which I thoroughly enjoyed,” Bird told Sportscar365. “I also did some work with AF Corse through Amato [Ferrari] and loved working with them.
“This year I’ve moved to LMP2 and it’s a natural progression for me, coming from GP2 and single-seater racing to be in a car with a lot of downforce. It makes sense to me and I already feel very at home with the car.
“It’s a great opportunity for myself and I think the driver lineup that we have is one that can compete for race wins and hopefully the championship.”
Bird takes the place of the Nissan LMP1-bound Olivier Pla in the No. 26 Ligier JS P2 Nissan alongside Roman Rusinov and Julien Canal, a highly successful trio that captured a class-high four wins in 2014 but lost out on the championship due to a race-ending accident in Sao Paulo.
“Going on last year’s performance from this team, where they nearly won the championship, everyone here is very, very eager to one better,” Bird said.
“Everybody was very disappointed that they didn’t achieve winning a world title last year and they do want to go a step more.
“For sure, we’ll be doing absolutely everything within our power to make sure that is a possibility.”
Having completed three pre-season tests with the OAK Racing-run squad, Bird already feels confident at the wheel of the Onroak Automotive-built car, which will face stiff competition in the ten-car LMP2 class this year, which sees the biggest growth for 2015.
It includes the team’s expansion to a second Ligier-Nissan for Gustavo Yacaman, Pipo Derani and 2013 FIA WEC LMP2 champion Ricardo Gonzalez.
“If you look at P2 as a category this year, it’s phenomenal,” Bird said. “It’s a great category and one of the strongest ones.
“We’re going to need all the help possible. The other [G-Drive] car is very quick and they’ve got some good guys in there. They’re going to push us to be faster and faster in our car.”
Bird, a race winner in Formula E, feels he has a nice mix to his racing program this year.
“Combined with my ongoing season in Formula E makes for a very good season’s of racing,” he said. “I think they work very well alongside each other.
“You look at [Lucas] Di Grassi and [Sebastien] Buemi, they’re able to do it. Now with Loic Duval as well. So there’s no reason I can’t do this and be successful in Formula E as I’m showing right now.”
With no clashes between the two series, it will result in a busy year ahead for Bird, although it’s been easy to separate the two disciplines as he’s set to pursue titles in both globe-trotting championships.
“I think you do your work in Formula E and you come here and do your work here,” Bird said. “When you get back to Formula E, you’re in that zone. I don’t see it as a negative. I only see it as a positive.
“Bum-in-seat time these days is so rare that it’s only going to be a positive. More practice means I’m going to be fresher when I get back into the next car I get into.”