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WEC Rounds “Massive” for Penske Le Mans Prep

Team Penske’s managing director explains benefits committing to WEC races prior to Le Mans debut…

Photo: MPS Agency

The opportunity for Team Penske to contest the two opening races of the FIA World Endurance Championship prior to its 24 Hours of Le Mans debut has been “massive” for its preparations, according to the team’s managing director.

The American team is returning to Le Mans for the first time since 1971 with its single-car LMP2 effort. 

Its No. 5 Oreca 07 Gibson, which is making its final appearance of the WEC season, will be piloted by Dane Cameron, Felipe Nasr and Emmanuel Collard.

It previously debuted with eighth place at Sebring before finishing fourth in class at Spa.

According to Team Penske general manager Jonathan Diuguid, the squad’s participation at those previous two rounds has been a significant boost to its level of readiness at Le Mans.

“Doing Sebring and Spa were massive for our preparation,” Diuguid told Sportscar365.

“We made massive steps from an operational standpoint from Sebring to Spa, and we’re hoping to see that again at Le Mans.

“We’re understanding the Goodyear tire a little bit better. Le Mans is a different beast, so we’ll see how it all shakes out.

“We’re coming in with two races on our back, which is massive. If we would have tried for just a single one-off entry, it would have been extremely difficult, based on what we’ve learned the past two rounds.

“The WEC is in a good spot where they have plenty of entries, so it was good to experience it.”

Three-time IMSA champion Cameron, who will be making his Le Mans debut, feels the team is “decently prepared” ahead of its outing at the Circuit de la Sarthe.

“We’ve trying to get better and better, which is challenging with what we have going on in the background,” Cameron told Sportscar365.

“We maybe haven’t done the test days as so many others, but we’ve made good steps on how to run the races.

“I was really happy with the step we made from Sebring to Spa, in terms of pace. Also I was really encouraged with the race execution.

“I really felt like we did a much better job of that in Spa: we didn’t do the wrong thing in terms of when to take tires, and those things.

“We were experimenting a bit in Sebring and then it went back to, OK, maybe we shouldn’t have done that.

“Penske does quite a good job of looking inside and back through the data at what we missed on. I think we’ve been able to take a good jump.”

Cameron recognizes that while Penske has taken significant steps forward during the previous two rounds, the unique challenges of Le Mans are not to be underestimated.

“We went from P8 to P4, so hopefully we can go from P4 to P1,” he said.

“But we’re not underestimating the challenge of this race and our relative inexperience.

“We’ll take the same approach we have, approaching it with some respect but also doing the best we can to achieve the best result.

“We’re certainly not here just to ride around and say we got to the end.  We want to give it a go and to win.

“It’s a race that Roger [Penske] really wants to win. It would be very, very special to do that for him.”

LMP2 Cut Off to Ensure LMDh Personnel “Flexibility”

Le Mans will be the last race for Penske’s LMP2 program, with the car not returning for the final three WEC rounds as focus shifts to testing of the Porsche LMDh car.

Diuguid explained that an increased focus on LMDh development was necessary to ensure flexibility in various stages of car development and testing.

Porsche Penske Motorsport is due to carry out its first North American test with the twin-turbo V8, spec-hybrid powered prototype next month. A second LMDh test car, in addition to the European example, arrived at the IMSA program base in May.

“LMDh is the main focus of the program going forward, so we looked and re-evaluated everything that was going on with the amount of testing we’ve had,” Diuguid said.

“And the setbacks, which is probably the best way to describe it, that we’ve had with some of the systems.

“We just wanted to make sure we have the flexibility we need to do additional tests or move personnel around to really focus on the LMDh program.”

Cameron added that the two programs were not necessarily fighting for space, but that the team will benefit from only needing to focus on one venture. 

“Both programs are quite time-consuming: you have shipping challenges and all the rest,” Cameron noted.

“And one person can only do so much. The guys need rest and time at home. They’re going to all different countries around the world. It gets a little bit difficult to juggle that, I think.

“It would be nice to continue to do races and get better, but ultimately the focus on the team’s forward-looking outlook is to prepare the LMDh car the best we can be.

“We just need to re-dedicate everyone over to that as it really starts to take off towards crunch time.

“But this is a really big race to get to. The rules are very different and unique.

“So it’s invaluable for that program to be here with boots on the ground. They sent a couple of guys to have a cheeky look last year but there’s no substitute for participating.”

Daniel Lloyd contributed to this report

Davey Euwema is Sportscar365's European Editor. Based in The Netherlands, Euwema covers the FIA World Endurance Championship, European Le Mans Series and Fanatec GT World Challenge Europe powered by AWS, among other series.

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