Dominant United LMP2 squad going into Le Mans "blind"
United Autosports is going into the Le Mans 24 Hours "blind" because it hasn't had chance to test its Oreca LMP2 car at the Circuit de la Sarthe, Filipe Albuquerque has warned.
The squad co-founded by Zak Brown is unbeaten in LMP2 competition in 2020, having won all three European Le Mans Series races of the season so far and the last three rounds of the FIA World Endurance Championship, stretching back to last November's Bahrain race.
However, this weekend will mark the first time United is going into Le Mans using the benchmark Oreca 07 chassis, having only made the switch from its previous Ligier JS P217 at the start of the 2019/20 WEC season.
Albuquerque, who will share United's lead entry with regular WEC teammates Phil Hanson and Paul di Resta, thinks this could put the team at a disadvantage compared to its main rivals who are going into the race with more continuity.
"There is one point not playing into our favour which is going to Le Mans with no test day," said Albuquerque. "We are going into it blind, without knowing how the car reacts there.
"Normally we would have the test day and then time to analyse it before we go again. This time it’s going to be trickier. We need to adapt fast to the Oreca, especially for me it’s been four years in a row with Ligier and now we’re going to have completely different aero for the Porsche Curves. I expect this car to be very different.
"And now LMP2 is so competitive, most teams are investing in professional drivers to guide them. When you have a field of 24 cars, there will always be someone pushing like hell and that will dictate the pace, and force everyone else to push hard.
"Yes, we have been dominating, but we’ve had some very nice fights with G-Drive [in the ELMS]. And being favourites is one thing, but nothing gives you the win. We have to take it session-by-session. We have to be clever and stay away from problems."
#22 United Autosports Oreca 07 - Gibson: Philip Hanson, Filipe Albuquerque, Paul Di Resta
Photo by: Erik Junius
Hanson feels that the higher-than-usual number of GTE Am runners and bronze-graded drivers racing at Le Mans in the LMP2 class this year also creates more opportunities to slip up, particularly with the move to September meaning more night-time running.
"This year you see some [LMP2] entries with bronze drivers, and you're going to come up behind these guys quite often throughout the race," he told Motorsport.com. "And then with the GTE Ams as well, any mistake they make can impact your race.
"Then you have to consider that the GTE Ams could struggle more because their gentleman driver has to do an extra stint at night. All these things can play a factor."
United drivers wary of Goodyear threat
Both Albuquerque and Hanson believe that tyres could also be an important deciding factor in the race, with Michelin and Goodyear both having exhibited different strengths and weaknesses throughout the ELMS and WEC campaigns so far.
United's two Orecas are among the 19 cars running Michelin rubber, while five cars are on Goodyears, including the Jackie Chan DC Racing car that lies second in the WEC points.
#37 Jackie Chan DC Racing Oreca 07: Ho-Pin Tung, Gabriel Aubry, Will Stevens
Photo by: JEP / Motorsport Images
"Goodyear did a really good job this year bringing a new tyre," said Albuquerque. "They are still not showing their potential and I think they can be strong at Le Mans.
"I think the most crucial one is the intermediate. We cannot use the new intermediate Michelin, so if we are in that window, Goodyear will be very strong."
Hanson added: "Goodyear operates best on its softest tyre, and because it's in September, if it's going to be cooler, especially at night, we could see Goodyear being the stronger tyre.
"Over the season Michelin has been the stronger tyre because it has a big operating window, but if the conditions suit the Goodyear, it could be the stronger tyre."
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