Onroak Automotive’s Philippe Dumas is confident the updated Le Mans aero kit for the Ligier JS P217 Gibson will close the gap to ORECA after struggles in last year’s race.
The French constructor has rolled out an evolution to its aero package, which along with Dallara and Multimatic-Riley, were part of the ACO’s ‘Joker’ updates permitted for this year.
While confined to the nose, the updates brought improved pace in the Le Mans Test Day, with the quickest Ligier, the No. 22 United Autosports entry, coming within two seconds of the pace-setting Oreca 07, compared to nearly four seconds adrift in the same session in 2017.
The deficit prompted Onroak to request aero changes between the Test Day and race last year, which was ultimately shot down by rival constructors.
“It couldn’t be worse than last year,” Dumas told Sportscar365. “To be honest, in the window we were allowed to change when we did the joker, the only part we were allowed to change was the QCF (Quick Change Front).
“I think we are in a reasonable spot to close the gap. If we were three-and-a-half seconds slower last year, if we are one second slower, it’s already a win, I would say.
“And after if you are one second to the best car, in Le Mans, in a 24 hour race, depending on the strategy, reliability, and the lineup, we can play.”
The highest-placed Ligier in last year’s race was the United Autosports car, which finished fourth in class, although most other teams struggled.
Dumas is hopeful that the combination of a new aero package and stronger teams and driver lineups should put the Onroak-built cars closer, and potentially in the mix for the class win.
United has returned as a two-car operation, featuring stars Juan Pablo Montoya and Paul Di Resta, while OAK Racing is operating a pair of Ligiers under the Jackie Chan DC Racing banner, including a car for Ricky Taylor, Come Ledogar and David Heinemeier Hansson.
“It’s always the same story: you have to stay out of trouble and have good reliability, as we did last year with the United car,” Dumas said.
“Now we have eight cars. We have four with a pretty good team and lineup. It’s a lot better than last year.”
Dean: United Focused on Race Pace
United Autosports co-owner and managing director Richard Dean echoes Dumas’ feelings but says that comparing single-lap pace to the Orecas is not his priority.
“Over one lap, I’m hoping we’re within two seconds [to the Oreca], but we’re not bothered about where we qualify,” he told Sportscar365.
“I think in a race stint, it’s going to be quite interesting and that, we don’t know.
“We are hoping we are competitive and we believe there’s a chance in the race that we’ve got a competitive race pace.”
Dean said the team tested the aero package at Paul Ricard following the European Le Mans Series opener in April but said that the first proper usage came at the Test Day.
“It was really positive and we were third fastest through the speed trap in LMP2 which is a big difference to where we were 12 months ago, so that gave everybody a lot of positivity,” he said.
“Balance-wise, we didn’t quite get there so there’s still some work to do on that which is definitely achievable.”
As was the case last year, the Anglo-American team is benefitting from support from OAK, with Gautier Bouteiller engineering one of the team’s entries.
John Dagys contributed to this report