Nicolas Lapierre described Alpine Endurance Team’s maiden season in the top class of the FIA World Endurance Championship as “very frustrating” despite assessing that the Signatech-run outfit did a “good job” with its grandfathered non-hybrid LMP1 car.
Lapierre, Andre Negrao and Matthieu Vaxiviere were unable to topple Toyota Gazoo Racing in the Hypercar class, as the LMH manufacturer swept all six races.
The Alpine A480 Gibson’s best results were the second places at Spa and Monza, while Vaxiviere took the team’s first and so far only outright WEC pole position at the 8 Hours of Portimao.
Alpine finished on the overall podium at each round, with its four other results being third places at Portimao, the 24 Hours of Le Mans and both legs of the Bahrain double-header.
Lapierre evaluated that the campaign was tough from a competition standpoint despite the former LMP2 title-winning team adapting well to a new vehicle and racing class.
“It was very frustrating,” Lapierre told Sportscar365. “I’m happy with the job the team did, because it was a big step to go to the top category. There are a lot more things to manage.
“I think the whole team did a good job and, although we had problems here [in the 8 Hours of Bahrain], everything went smoothly this season.”
However, he described some of the Hypercar races as “super boring” affairs as the Toyotas on several occasions managed to take comfortable wins courtesy of trouble-free runs.
Despite showing flashes of superior pace, the ORECA-built Alpine non-hybrid was unable to match the stint lengths of the hybrid-powered Toyotas all season.
“We start the races and we know there is nothing we can do,” Lapierre said.
“[Toyota] have two cars that have been reliable this year, which has been quite impressive I have to say, because it’s their first year with the new car.
“They didn’t have many problems, so we have to admit that they were really good. But we are very frustrated to be so far away, in every aspect of the race.
“It’s not that we’re a bit faster or shorter on fuel… it’s never balancing. We are just two steps down in every subject, so it’s very difficult for us.
“For every aspect, we need to have a show: for the people watching at home and the people at the race. It will be much nicer to have a show.”
Alpine is committed to the 2022 WEC with its LMP1 car, which was recently given approval for an extra year of grandfathering into the LMH-oriented Hypercar class.
Gearbox Issue Thwarts Season Finale Run
Alpine led the opening 15 minutes of Saturday’s 8 Hours of Bahrain after Lapierre took a tidy inside line to blast ahead of Mike Conway and Sebastien Buemi coming out of the opening three-corner sequence.
However, the Toyota drivers soon caught and passed the Frenchman, whose car went on to develop a gear shifting issue that put paid to Alpine’s chances of taking victory.
“There was an opportunity and we took the lead, which was cool,” said Lapierre.
“The pace was quite OK until we caught traffic: they have four-wheel-drive and a lot of power so they can overtake in the traffic much easier than we do.
“So they overtook us and we started to have gearbox issues. It was hard to select gears, upshift and downshift.
“It was getting too severe and we were afraid it to damage the gearbox, so we had to stop to change the actuator. It took us seven or eight minutes, so then the race was basically lost.”
The Alpine continued circulating for the remaining time with a new target of climbing through the GTE and LMP2 fields in order to reach the overall podium, which it did.
However, Lapierre suggested that the No. 36 car would have struggled to match the Toyotas over the eight-hour duration even if it had not encountered the gearing issue.
Alpine averaged 28-lap stints during the previous weekend’s 6 Hours of Bahrain against regular 31-lap stints from the Toyotas. It hoped to add a lap to its figure for the 8 Hours of Bahrain but was unable to achieve that.
“We were trying to do 29, but we lost too much time,” Lapierre explained.
“We had to do a big lift to go to 29 and it was not efficient, so we switched back to 28. But they did 31 and 32.
“OK, we were shorter so it was more pit stops, but it’s also the fact that they opened all of the Full Course Yellow windows where we were just shorter than them, and we missed all these opportunities as well.
“So we were losing at every stage. There was not much we could do, to be honest.”