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Season Review

SPORTSCAR365: Prototype Drivers of the Year

Sportscar365’s staff picks out the prototype drivers who shone around the world in 2019…

Photo: James Moy/Toyota

LMP1 – Mike Conway

Toyota’s No. 7 car won half the number of races that its sister No. 8 machine achieved in 2019 but on most occasions, the less decorated TS050 Hybrid was the quickest.

Certainly, one of the fastest and most consistent drivers in Toyota’s lineup across the second half of the 2018-19 FIA World Endurance Championship season and the first half of the 2019-20 campaign was Conway in the No. 7.

The Englishman set three fastest laps across the seven rounds held and was the only LMP1 driver to be quickest in more than one race.

His efforts at Spa and Silverstone were sandwiched by a phenomenal 3:17.297 run on lap four of the 24 Hours of Le Mans which came in as a new race lap record.

Conway was particularly impressive in the biggest event of the year and his opening stint behind the wheel which saw him clear off from his teammate Sebastien Buemi to the tune of over half a minute will go down as one of his finest contributions.

That set up a dominant run for the No. 7 crew which was only thwarted by a cruelly timed sensor issue in the final stages that handed victory to Toyota’s title-winning car.

Getting his name engraved on the coveted RAC Tourist Trophy for winning the 4 Hours of Silverstone would have offered some degree of consolation for Conway, who will surely be one of the favorites to snag one of Toyota’s Le Mans Hypercar seats next year.

Honorable mentions: Sebastien Buemi (WEC co-champion with four race wins), Kamui Kobayashi (Fellow Toyota ace who shared two wins with Conway and Lopez), Gustavo Menezes (Starred for Rebellion Racing this year) 

Photo: Mike Levitt/IMSA

DPi – Dane Cameron

When crafting the driver lineup for its Acura DPi program, Team Penske knew it needed IMSA title-winning experience if it was to succeed against the other makes.

Cameron, as it turns out, was a perfect choice.

The 2016 Prototype champion, who was lured from Action Express Racing’s Cadillac DPi operation to the new Acura program at the start of 2018, duly delivered Penske’s desired title in its second season of DPi action.

Cameron was the star of the Acura lineup this year and produced several highlight-reel moments that contributed to his and Juan Pablo Montoya’s championship bid.

One was his attacking start at Mid-Ohio, where he made a brilliant lunge down the inside of Oliver Jarvis’ Mazda to take a lead that would grow to eight seconds by the end of the stint.

Another was his stoic defense from reigning champion Felipe Nasr’s AXR Cadillac in the final stages of the Detroit Belle Isle sprint to secure win number two.

A third victory at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca near the end of the year capped a seven-race podium streak that essentially banked the No. 6 crew the drivers’ title.

In all, Cameron was the full package in 2019 and deservedly picked up a second IMSA prototype honor to go with his GT Daytona championship crown from five years ago.

Honorable mentions: Harry Tincknell (standout Mazda DPi driver on race pace), Oliver Jarvis (Rolex 24 pole-sitter in record-breaking run), Felipe Nasr (Winning drives at Sebring and Petit Le Mans for Action Express)

Photo: MPS Agency

LMP2 – Nico Lapierre

Sports car stalwart Lapierre continues to be one of the reference drivers in LMP2 and was as quick as he’s ever been in 2019.

The Frenchman had a busy year representing Signatech Alpine for the tail end of the 2018-19 WEC and Cool Racing in the first four races of 2019-20. He also drove the Cool squad’s Oreca 07 Gibson in the European Le Mans Series.

Lapierre’s finest hour came at Le Mans, where he led the way in terms of average times and went on to claim an unprecedented fourth victory in five editions.

That result also netted him and his Alpine co-drivers Andre Negrao and Pierre Thiriet the ‘Super Season’ drivers’ championship.

While Signatech is one of the most prominent LMP2 teams around, Lapierre’s other program with nascent Swiss outfit Cool Racing required an entirely different approach.

Partnered with LMP2 rookies Antonin Borga and Alexandre Coigny, Lapierre was instrumental in thrusting Cool right into the top half of the stacked and experienced ELMS grid.

He went on to stick the Oreca on pole for the team’s second-ever race at Monza before scoring podiums at Barcelona – where he set the fastest lap – and Spa. 

The Cool program’s best achievement, and one of Lapierre’s best drives, then came in the WEC season-opener at Silverstone where he and Borga – running as a pair after Coigny injured himself in a crash the previous day – took an impressive maiden win.

Honorable mentions: Nyck de Vries (Pure speed for Racing Team Nederland in WEC), Job van Uitert (ELMS runner-up impressed in his debut year), Paul-Loup Chatin (Key part of IDEC Sport’s ELMS-winning crew), Phil Hanson (Asian LMS champion, 3rd in ELMS, currently 3rd in WEC)

Photo: MPS Agency

LMP3 – Mikkel Jensen

Driving the oldest Ligier LMP3 chassis around, Jensen and his Bronze-rated co-driver Jens Petersen made for a formidable duo throughout this year’s ELMS campaign.

Jensen, in particular, was outstanding and impressed many with his lap times at the head of the class.

The BMW-affiliated Dane took three wins with Petersen at Monza, Silverstone and Spa.

The latter victory undoubtedly featured Jensen’s finest moment of the season, in which he overtook two cars on a thrilling final lap to go from third to first.

He was rewarded for his ELMS title with an opportunity to impress the WEC paddock as one of the four chosen rookies for the end-of-year test in Bahrain.

Jensen drove G-Drive Racing’s Aurus-badged Oreca 07 Gibson and was the fastest of the rookies in LMP2 (only Will Stevens and Antonio Felix da Costa out-paced him).

Having now contested two and a half seasons of LMP3, Jensen now appears ready to make the move up to a more powerful prototype formula and would likely excel if presented the chance.

Honorable mentions: Nigel Moore (2nd in ELMS with five podiums), Garett Grist (2nd in Asian LMS, 4th in ELMS for United Autosports), Austin McCusker (IMSA Prototype Challenge co-champion), Lucas Legeret (Scored poles for half the ELMS races this season)

Photo: WEC

Best Bronze – Frits van Eerd

Passionate racing enthusiast Van Eerd graduated from the ELMS to the WEC last year and has been improving constantly since making the big step up.

In October, the owner of the Dutch JUMBO supermarket chain became the first Bronze driver to win a WEC race – a remarkable feat considering how many rounds of the championship have now been held.

Van Eerd started 2019 with a Dallara P217 Gibson but his Racing Team Nederland entry could only register best finishes of fifth at Sebring and Spa.

His search for a podium prompted a mid-year (and off-season) change to the Oreca 07 Gibson which led to an instant upswing in performances and results.

With Giedo van der Garde and Job van Uitert, Van Eerd claimed Racing Team Nederland’s first top-three finish at the Silverstone opener.

The momentum then flowed on to the 6 Hours of Fuji where Van Eerd, Van der Garde and Nyck de Vries claimed a memorable breakthrough victory.

Van Eerd is gaining more consistency in his driving while his pace has also improved. He’s been the fastest Bronze in three of the four WEC races held so far this season and will be aiming to continue that form into the campaign’s second half.

Honorable mentions: Martin Hippe (Asian LMP3 champion, 2nd in ELMS), Henrik Hedman (best-placed Bronze in ELMS LMP2, 5th overall), 

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