With reliability issues having struck all three factory LMP1 squads in the opening races this season, could that trend continue this weekend and a privateer team end up on the overall podium at the 24 Hours of Le Mans?
Given what’s occurred so far this season in the FIA World Endurance Championship, it’s not completely out of the question, especially for Rebellion Racing, which heads into the French endurance classic with momentium on its side.
The team’s No. 13 Rebellion R-One AER of Alexandre Imperatori, Dominik Kraihamer and Matheo Tuscher has snatched third place overall finishes in both the six-hour races at Silverstone and Spa and currently sit second in the World Drivers’ Championship.
It’s put the Anglo-Swiss squad in an unthinkable position that not many could not have scripted prior to the start of the season.
“We’ve been having a good performance so we were in a good position to benefit from the troubles of the factories, but we never expected that the results would be that good,” Imperatori told Sportscar365.
“[The] first overall podium, absolutely, it [was] a dream come true, but we want to be able to do it again at Le Mans.”
Various issues for the Porsche 919 Hybrids, Audi R18s and Toyota TS050 Hybrids have put the small Bart Hayden-led team — operating at a fraction of the budget of the factory squads — in a unique position.
“To be honest it’s quite surprising because when you hear how much simulation they are doing, how much testing, to see that many problems is quite a surprise,” Nicolas Prost told Sportscar365.
“But you know, Toyota has a new engine. Porsche has new batteries. Audi has a completely new package, so it’s very new cars so you can expect them to have problems, but we didn’t expect them to be so big.”
Rebellion returns to Le Mans with the same R-One AER package that debuted in the race last year, after making the switch from Toyota powerplants in 2014 with its ORECA-built chassis.
It comes after a season that saw a string of reliability issues of its own, largely around the integration of the turbocharged engine and associated electronics.
“As a private team, it’s very hard to put a new engine in the car,” Prost said. “The AER is a very good engine but it’s quite complex, so I think we needed to work on the installation and a lot of things.
“Now we are starting to see the potential and reliability of the package.
“Stability is very important for our team because it’s not like we have the means to do everything at the same time.”
Imperatori also thinks the off-season switch to Dunlop tires has also paid dividends, particularly in suiting its rear-wheel drive only prototype.
“That was one of the main reasons behind deciding to switch to Dunlop because we could develop a tire that was suited to our car,” he said.
“You have to keep in mind that the other cars in LMP1 are hybrid power; they have front-wheel drive, so it was a very different tire and it was not suited to our car at all.”
Should Le Mans turn into another race of attrition, Rebellion could be well positioned to be making some history of its own.
The team has two prior 4th place overall results in the race, from 2012 and 2014, when there was only six and seven factory LMP1 entries entered, respectively.
With Porsche and Audi both scaling back to two cars each, this year’s grid sees only six factory hybrids taking part, putting odds again in their favor for a potential upset.
The last privateer team to claim an overall podium finish at Le Mans was Pescarolo Sport, some nine years ago with its self-built LMP1 car.
“I think we come into this one feeling confident,” Hayden said. “Obviously we know that at Le Mans, anything can happen.
“To an extent we want it to happen to the others, and if we can keep going around then who knows.
“We’ve [been on the overall podium in] the previous two races and there are no more cars ahead of us in terms of P1 cars, so why not? I think we’ve got a chance.”
James Newbold contributed to this report