Signatech Alpine driver Andre Negrao believes the team’s mid-season switch to Michelin tires will give it an edge over its Dunlop-shod FIA World Endurance Championship LMP2 title rivals in the 24 Hours of Le Mans season finale.
Alpine ran the first five races of the 2018-19 ‘Super Season’ on Dunlop tires but made the switch to Michelin before the 1000 Miles of Sebring in March.
Negrao, who shares the No. 36 Alpine A470 Gibson with Nicolas Lapierre and Pierre Thiriet, reckons the deficits that Signatech had to the Michelin teams at Le Mans last year will turn into advantages this time around.
LMP2 boasts the closest WEC title battle heading into Le Mans, with the Signatech crew holding a four-point lead over Jackie Chan DC Racing’s Ho-Pin Tung, Stephane Richelmi and Gabriel Aubry, who run on Dunlops.
“The Michelin gives us more confidence for the long stints, depending on the temperature, but in general it’s longer than the Dunlop,” Negrao told Sportscar365.
“I remember last year, we had Dunlop tires and the DragonSpeed car had Michelin. In the night they put the supersoft on, and I remember they were 2.5 seconds faster than us then. They were really fast, it was amazing.
“Overall, I think we have an advantage because of the Michelin tires, but a lot of cars in LMP2 have [them] as well. The good thing for us is that the Jota [Jackie Chan] cars and the G-Drive car have Dunlop tires.”
Negrao explained that Alpine struggled to switch on its tires at Sebring, but has since got up to speed following a rigorous testing program.
“Sebring was pretty tough for us because the tires changed the car a lot and we had to adjust the suspension and other things, the camber,” he said.
“Between Sebring and Spa, I had three days of tests at Motorland [Aragon] and I tested 35 new sets of tires. I did 350 laps, and after that we finally understood the tires.
“Because we did three days of tests and long stints, we learned more. Spa was completely different because of the rain and snow, so we didn’t see too much, but now in Le Mans we understand the tires much better.”
Signatech Alpine is the only team on the WEC grid to have finished on the podium in every race so far this season.
Negrao noted that a mix of consistency in its driver lineup and changes to the structure of the team, which scaled back from two cars to one for 2018-19, have been key factors.
The Signatech and No. 38 Jackie Chan DCR crews are the only LMP2 lineups to have gone unchanged through the 13-month ‘Super Season’.
“We have the same lineup from last year and definitely, this part is helping us a lot,” said Negrao.
“In terms of the car compared to last year, [it’s] much better. We changed the suspension setup a lot and the aerodynamic setup, making little modifications on the car.
“Another reason is that we don’t have the two cars, so all the focus of the team is on this car. Because we just have one, everything is more precise now.”
WEC Title “More Important” Than Le Mans Win
Negrao reckons Signatech’s priority this weekend is to clinch the WEC LMP2 title rather than defend its Le Mans win from last year.
But he also said that completing the Le Mans/WEC double would be “perfect” considering Signatech won the 2018 race by default after the G-Drive Racing Oreca, which won on the road, was disqualified post-race.
“We want to do very well in Le Mans, but the main thing is winning the championship,” he said.
“Of course, if we win Le Mans and also win the championship, that’s perfect. But it’s more important to win the championship than Le Mans.
“In 2017, we were in P4 but then the guys in front of us were disqualified, so I wasn’t on the podium. Then in 2018, they were disqualified and then we had to have another podium here in November, but it wasn’t the same thing.
“I hope this year we can finally own Le Mans and go on top of the podium without [penalties for others].”