After a big 2013 season that ended with the European Le Mans Series championship, SMP Racing will be active on several fronts this year, and not only in endurance racing. (En Français).
The Russian-backed team began its 2014 campaign at last weekend’s Rolex 24 at Daytona, where its Ferrari 458 Italia GT3, supported by Extreme Speed Motorsports, finished fourth in class with drivers Mika Salo, Boris Rotenberg, Sergey Zlobin, Maurizio Mediani and Mikhail Aleshin, who led the GTD ranks at one point.
“It was an amazing experience for us,” Rotenberg said. “I’m not a professional driver, so to take part in such a legendary race with a bunch of well known drivers is very rewarding. The atmosphere in the U.S. is totally different from what we’re used to in Europe. This was the first time I came to the U.S. and I left very happy.
“At the moment, it’s only a one-off but you never know. We will already be very busy this year with several key programs.”
The FIA WEC is one of them, with the team fielding two Oreca 03 Nissans with technical support from AF Corse. It’s expected that Nicolas Minassian will join Zlobin and Mediani in one car, with the all-Russian lineup of Anton and Kiriil Ladygin and Viktor Shaitar in the second LMP2 entry.
Besides its GTC title in the ELMS, SMP showed its hand in the Blancpain Endurance Series last year, coming close to winning the Pro-Am title while also silencing critics with a top performance in the 24 Hours of Spa.
“SMP Racing is present in all major categories by establishing a real connection,” Zlobin said. “The FIA WEC will allow us to take that next step. In parallel, we will also be in Formula Renault Alps, German F3, Auto Sport Academy, Formula Renault Eurocup, ELMS and the IndyCar Series.”
While Aleshin will drive a SMP-backed IndyCar fielded by Schmidt Peterson Racing, Zlobin also confirmed three Ferrari 458 GT3s for the ELMS to defend its crown and to secure an automatic invitation for the 2015 Le Mans 24 Hours. The team did not receive the invite this year due to missing the first round in Silverstone.
GTC won’t be the only class on the team’s ELMS menu, with SMP also committed to fielding a Ferrari 458 Italia in GTE, likely for Ferrari factory pilot Andrea Bertolini and a to-be-determined co-driver. The team will also be submitting a GTE entry request for Le Mans.
In the short term, SMP will keep its base in the south of France. When questioned about the arrival of a Russian LMP2, Zlobin said, “If we start building a LMP2, you’ll be the first to know!”
There is little known about SMP’s LMP2 car, other than it still being in the pipeline. Former Peugeot 908 architect Paolo Catone was bought on board last year to head design efforts.