One of the surprises from last week’s ACO entry announcements was the fact that SMP Racing will not defend its LMP2 title in the FIA World Endurance Championship, instead opting to debut its all-new BR01 prototype in the European Le Mans Series. (En Français)
According to SMP Racing managing director Benjamin Durand, the decision to shift the program’s focus to the continental championship was both financial and timing-related.
“Running in the European Le Mans Series allows us to develop [the car] more leisurely,” Durand told Endurance-Info. “In addition, the European championship is more manageable as a team.”
The Russian squad, which also claimed the ELMS GTE and GTC championships last year, has scaled back its overall involvement for 2015, with its two-car LMP2 effort and a single-car Ferrari F458 Italia GTE for the FIA WEC the only confirmed efforts so far.
However, with two confirmed entries for the 24 Hours of Le Mans with the Nissan-powered BR01s and potentially some end-of-year FIA WEC races with the cars, Durand stressed the prototype program will not be focused entirely on the ELMS.
“Before Le Mans, we will take part in several test sessions in order to defend our chances,” Durand said. “This is why the ELMS is a good compromise. We cannot afford to take the 24 Hours of Le Mans lightly.
“In everything we have done so far, we went there step by step with the GTC and GTE in ELMS and LMP2 FIA WEC. Now we are going to run a GTE car in FIA WEC.”
Despite facing parts-related delays, Durand said the Paolo Catone-designed BR01, which is being assembled in the South of France, is scheduled for its FIA crash test later this week.
“If all goes well, it will be approved shortly,” he said. “We must now continue the build even though it is dependent on the delivery of parts. The BR01 must take to the track in early March with the objective of running the official ELMS test at the end of the month.”
Mikhail Aleshin, Maurizio Mediani, David Markozov and Anton Ladygin have been confirmed as four of SMP’s prototype drivers for 2015 and are expected to be joined by Nic Minassian and Kirill Ladygin.
The team’s GTE-Am entry in the FIA WEC will be driven by 2014 ELMS champion Viktor Shaitar, Andrea Bertolini and Alexey Basov, with sporting director Sergey Zlobin, who won the 2014 LMP2 World Championship, now unlikely to return to the cockpit.