Gustavo Menezes has become the first American to drive a modern-day LMP1 hybrid car in an official session, as the newly crowned LMP2 World Champion got behind the wheel of Porsche’s 919 Hybrid in Sunday’s WEC Rookie Test in Bahrain.
The 22-year-old Californian, who was one of three LMP2 standouts selected by the WEC for the test, described the 1000-horsepower World Championship-winning prototype as a “LMP2 car with nitrous and steroids.”
“It was hard to put the smile away on the first lap,” Menezes told Sportscar365. “The acceleration on the car is incredible.
“It’s like getting in a rocket ship. No offense to an LMP2 car but it’s on another level.
“I really enjoyed it. Obviously the overall grip of the car is amazing. It’s so stable and so good.
“After dancing around in a race for two stints yesterday, to get in this, it’s a different world. It’s hard to actually adapt quick enough because at the end of the day, Bahrain is one of the highest [tire] deg circuits in the year.
“As you improve, the tires fall off. The lap times don’t get better but you get a better feel.”
Menezes completed 30 laps on Sunday morning in the No. 1 Porsche, the same car which Timo Bernhard, Brendon Hartley and Mark Webber took to a third place finish in Saturday’s season finale.
While having had a prep meeting in Shanghai with the German manufacturer, Menezes said additional meetings this weekend and help from newly crowned World Champion Neel Jani and 2015 champion Bernhard, helped get him acclimated to the complex LMP1 racer.
He turned laps in the 1:43 range, which was less than one-second off Bernhard’s base time set the car.
“They gave me all the advise they could under braking and the rotation of the car,” he said. “But I think a lot of the stuff as well, you have to get a feel for yourself and understand why you have to drive in that style.
“Every lap I understood I was like, ‘Oh now I understand why he said that.’ It was great.
“I’m really grateful for Porsche for having me here. They worked really well with me.
“They brought me in and treated me like any of the other drivers, so it was a great time.”
Menezes enjoyed a breakout rookie season in WEC competition, with four class wins and seven podium finishes out of nine races, in helping take Signatech Alpine to the class title.
He became the first American to win a FIA-sanctioned World Championship in 35 years.
“It’s been very exciting and thrilling and has been a great experience,” he said. “I’m grateful to everyone that’s supported me.
“This was just a taste and a handshake of what’s to come. It just shows me how much more I want to work to get an opportunity in a car like this.”