For Scott Sharp and the Tequila Patron ESM team, what a difference a year can make.
Twelve months ago, the Florida-based team was preparing for the start of its first full season in the FIA World Endurance Championship, although under far from ideal circumstances.
Development issues with the HPD ARX-04b forced ESM to switch between three different LMP2 cars over its first four races of 2015, culminating with the debut of its Ligier JS P2 Hondas at Spa in May.
The team, however, was never able to catch back up, having struggled the remainder of the year, including having a dismal debut at the 24 Hours of Le Mans and not scoring a single podium finish all season.
But less than two months after the checkered flew on Bahrain, to end one of Sharp’s most challenging years of his career, he, Ed Brown, Johannes van Overbeek and Pipo Derani were celebrating in victory lane at Daytona, having pulled off the team’s biggest-ever win.
What’s more, the driving quartet backed up their Rolex 24 at Daytona win with overall victory at the Twelve Hours of Sebring, becoming the first team since 1998 to have won both races in the same year.
“It’s just been an incredible start for the Tequila Patron ESM team,” Sharp told Sportscar365. “Never did I think we’d win both races.
“Those are just two hard races that are hard to get to the end of unscathed and finish, let alone win. So it’s a huge accomplishment for the whole team.
“Certainly its given us a big push forward into the year. I think it’s pumped everybody up. So we’re all excited to get to the WEC.”
As the team shifts its focus back to the WEC, beginning with this weekend’s season-opening Six Hours of Silverstone, a lot has changed from one year ago.
ESM’s U.S.-based crew has largely been replaced by personnel from OAK Racing, as part of its new alliance with the Philippe Dumas-led organization.
The French squad, which won the 2015 LMP2 World Championship as G-Drive Racing, has integrated well within the half-dozen ESM employees that have been retained, Sharp said.
“It’s gone amazingly well,” he said. “I can’t say thank you enough to Phillipe Dumas and his style of leadership. This is how he told me it would work out, and it has.
“The supporting role that his guys gave at Daytona and Sebring, the way the two teams worked together was flawless.
“We have a lot of trust in those guys. We had it going into the season, the engineering staff and the whole team, based on the success that they’ve had and the product they’ve built.
“As we’ve started to work even more intimately close, that trust has only grown further. I think it bodes for an enormously successful season ahead of us.”
In addition to moving into Onroak Automotive’s shop in Le Mans as its European base, there’s also been changes behind the wheel and underneath the bodywork of the Ligiers this year as well.
Derani, arguably the star of Daytona and Sebring, joins the team for the season alongside fellow newcomer Chris Cumming and team veteran Ryan Dalziel in the No 31 Ligier, with Sharp teaming up with Brown and van Overbeek in the No. 30 car.
A switch from Honda to Nissan power has also been made for the WEC season, in a move that puts all of the 11 season-long LMP2 entries on equal footing with identical engines.
“It’s going to be a hugely competitive year,” Sharp said. “Obviously we roll into the season and we have large expectations for our personal success. But it’s not going to come easy.
“There’s a lot of strong combinations out there. The field is deeper than last year.
“There’s some teams that have some questionable drivers as Silvers. So that makes it a little tougher for the teams that have legitimate Silvers.”
While having enjoyed its dream start to the year, Sharp doesn’t feel it necessarily puts more pressure on the team to perform, in its second world tour, as they aim to bring home even more hardware this year.
“I think it’s just a positive,” he said. “It does give us more motivation, more confidence. We know that we have the right tools to get the job done, so its just a matter of executing.
“[OAK] is a team that won the championship last year so we expect to be in the same position.”