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Pro-Am Class a “Game-Changer” in Perrodo’s LMP2 Return

Double GTE-Am champion Francois Perrodo explains the factors behind his LMP2 comeback…

Photo: MPS Agency

Francois Perrodo says the existence of a Pro-Am subclass in the LMP2 ranks of the FIA World Endurance Championship and the European Le Mans Series was the “big game-changer” in his decision to return to prototypes next year.

As announced last week, double WEC GTE-Am champion Perrodo will enter the LMP2 class for the first time since 2019, sharing an AF Corse Oreca 07 Gibson in two championships with his current co-drivers Alessio Rovera and Nicklas Nielsen.

The London-domiciled Frenchman told Sportscar365 that the opportunity to race alongside other Bronze-rated drivers in the separate LMP2 Pro-Am classification that was introduced for this year played a major factor in his decision to go back.

He also noted that the performance curbs placed on LMP2 to ensure it laps slower than the Hypercar class have brought the cars into a more comfortable driving window.

“The big game-changer for me was the introduction of the Pro-Am category in P2,” said Perrodo.

“Because when I started in 2017 it was my first time, and the cars were brand new and horrifyingly fast. They were as fast as the LMP1 of 2012, so it was ridiculous.

“I did get some pleasure, but I struggled in race pace because we were struggling against teams with fully professional lineups. The timing wasn’t right.

“The cars were fast and there was no classification for the Bronze drivers. Now they’ve introduced the Pro-Am class, the cars are a bit slower because of Hypercar. That makes the whole difference.

“I still think it will be very hard to drive. Maybe a little bit less scary because they’re a bit slower. But at least I’m fighting against the likes of Frits van Eerd, Henrik Hedman and Esteban Garcia.

“They’re good Bronzes. It’s exactly like in GTE-Am, which is really good because there are 13 cars and each one has a Bronze driver. You’re competing against a similar lineup.”

Perrodo registered a renewed interest in LMP2 for the 2021 season, due to performance cuts and the new Pro-Am class, but ultimately chose to continue in GTE-Am.

He now feels that he has achieved everything he needs to in the GTE-Am category even if he, Rovera and Nielsen fail to clinch the title at this weekend’s 8 Hours of Bahrain.

Perrodo, Rui Aguas and Emmanuel Collard won the 2016 championship with AF Corse before the program switched to LMP2 with TDS Racing for the next two seasons.

Podiums at Silverstone in 2017 and the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 2019 were the highlights of Perrodo’s first stint in the prototype ranks.

His return to GTE-Am for 2019-20 was a triumphant one as he earned his second title alongside Collard and Ferrari factory recruit Nielsen.

“This year I wanted to confirm the good form of the team and the car, which has been the case,” said Perrodo. “Whatever happens this weekend, it has still been a fantastic season.

“I feel like I’ve reached not the end, but I’ve proven what I had to prove in GTE. And there’s a good challenge to take on in LMP2.

“I’m getting older but I’m not mega old yet, I’m mid-40s. So I think it’s about time.”

Perrodo said that AF Corse is ramping up to begin its LMP2 winter testing program later this year.

The Italian squad is set to concentrate on circuits in southern Europe as it sets up the Oreca for its maiden season with the car.

“The boys are excited,” said Perrodo. “One of the things that I like about this team is that we have built a really strong team spirit.

“We do lots of things together like go-karting, restaurants and drinks. So we’ve become a good group of friends.

“I’ve asked to keep the same crew as the No. 83 [Ferrari]. They’re all really excited because none of them have worked on a prototype.

“Maybe don’t expect to see car No. 83 up there at the beginning because there’s going to be a lot to learn! But it’s part of the excitement. It’s a great challenge for everyone.

“I’m actually the one with the most experienced of the car, which is the paradox! The two kids, who are great friends, have never driven a prototype. So you can imagine how excited they are.

“I think I’ll be giving them advice for a couple of laps, and then they’ll be faster than me.

“And for AF Corse it’s a huge challenge. They looked after the Cetilar Dallara last year, but they are still a very GT-focused team. With LMH coming on in 2023 I think it’s great training.”

AF Corse is gradually taking a deeper dive into prototype racing as it prepares to run two factory Le Mans Hypercars from Ferrari in 2023, while Perrodo indicated that he is hoping to race in LMP2 for more than one season.

Perrodo Open to Future IMSA Outings

Despite putting his focus on WEC and ELMS next year, Perrodo is also interested in taking part in select future races of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, which requires one Bronze-rated driver in each LMP2 lineup.

However, he ruled out contesting the Rolex 24 at Daytona, partly due to business commitments and also the personal factor of him not being a fan of the circuit layout.

“If I do this, it would be a case of maybe focusing on WEC and not doing ELMS,” said Perrodo. “Maybe a couple of IMSA races because there are some mythical tracks there.

“Everybody talks to me about Petit Le Mans, Watkins Glen. These are the tracks I would love to try one day.

“Everybody tells me that the layout is awesome: proper old-school and very fast. There’s something special about the American way of racing which I like.”

Daniel Lloyd is a UK-based reporter for Sportscar365, covering the FIA World Endurance Championship, Fanatec GT World Challenge Europe powered by AWS and the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, among other series.

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