Gustavo Menezes feels there will be a larger amount of pressure on him to perform, as the newly minted Gold-rated driver, in his new pro role, looks to deliver back-to-back LMP2 World Championships with Signatech Alpine.
The 22-year-old Californian returns to the French squad after a dominant rookie season in the FIA World Endurance Championship that resulted in four class wins, including top honors in the 24 Hours of Le Mans in his first attempt.
While having achieved the accolades as the team’s designated Silver-rated driver, Menezes admits the level of expectation has changed following an off-season driver rating reclassification by the FIA.
“To win a World Championship, Le Mans, and to have the fastest race lap in a few races, that was massive for me,” Menezes told Sportscar365.
“So obviously I got upgraded to Gold, and now it’s put me in that spot where now the pressure is on because everyone is looking, but everyone wants to see if I can fulfill it as a Gold.
“Now I’ll be compared to Nico Lapierre, to Romain Dumas, to Bruno Senna and everyone else.
“If you want to have a top role at any top manufacturer, you have to perform as the top driver or as one of the top drivers. You have to be able to fill in some big shoes.
“Last year was great. It got me the experience, it got me comfortable with this team, and I’m very happy to be back with them.
“And now it’s just time to show them that I can fill the shoes.”
Menezes said he took advantage of his position as the “amateur” rated driver within the team last year to come to grips with prototype racing, after transitioning full-time from the junior open-wheel ranks.
The added seat time in the team’s Alpine A460 Nissan proved critical for his success, which often saw him match or just end up marginally slower than co-driver Nico Lapierre.
America’s only full-time WEC driver said he’s cognizant of his revised role for this year, which will see him again paired up with Lapierre for the majority of the season but joined by the team’s new Silver-rated driver, Matt Rao.
“Honestly, getting up to pace as fast as possible [was important] because that gives the team more time to develop the car and give the Silver more time in the car,” Menezes said.
“The least amount of time it takes for you, the more time the team has to do other things. It’s just a little bit different, it’s little bit more selfless, and it’s a great role to have.
“I’m excited and they’ve been very good with me.”
Another new aspect of this year’s program is the arrival of reigning World Champion Romain Dumas, who will fill in for the Toyota-bound Lapierre in the Six Hours of Spa and at Le Mans.
The ex-Porsche LMP1 factory driver joined Menezes and Rao at the recent Prologue pre-season test at Monza.
“It’s funny, I actually spoke to him a little bit before my Porsche LMP1 test [last year] and now I’m like, ‘Hey buddy, now you’re in my car!'” Menezes said.
“It’s been a little bit funny but he’s a great guy to work with, both him and Nico.
“Nico is like a brother to me. Not only, of course he’s like a mentor, a big brother to lean some weight on, but now I think it’s a little more as equals.”
Despite the changes, which includes coming to grips with an all-new car in the Alpine-badged Oreca 07 Gibson, Menezes is upbeat on their chances for repeat success.
“We’re going to do exactly what we did last year, which is we knew we had a great lineup and a great car, but we approached it humbly,” he said.
“I think we’re going to have to just wait for the first two races and gauge where we’re at, but honestly with the car and team that we have there’s not reason we shouldn’t be in contention.
“We’re just going to do the best we can every time and doe what’s in our control and hopefully at the end of the year it puts us in a good place.”