Gustavo Menezes put on a spectacular show for the appreciative home crowd in last weekend’s 1,000 Miles of Sebring – round six of the fiercely-disputed 2018/19 FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) – but mechanical woes ultimately denied the talented young American a popular podium result.
Gustavo Menezes has promised to ‘come back stronger’ in the next round of the FIA World Endurance Championship, after his bid for a fourth consecutive top three finish in sportscar racing’s premier global series came unstuck in challenging conditions at Fuji Speedway last weekend (12-14 October).
Gustavo Menezes made history at Silverstone last weekend (17-19 August), becoming the first American driver ever to win a race outright in the fiercely-disputed FIA World Endurance Championship courtesy of a scene-stealing back-to-front charge through the field.
Competing for Rebellion Racing, Menezes – the 2016 FIA WEC Champion and Le Mans winner at LMP2 level – is swiftly establishing himself as a force to be reckoned with this season in the headlining LMP1 class of sportscar racing’s premier global series. Following consecutive third-place finishes at Spa-Francorchamps and Le Mans, the talented young Californian travelled to the celebrated ‘Home of British Motor Racing’ – a circuit at which he has always excelled – fired-up to maintain his rostrum run. Menezes duly set the fastest lap time of the six Rebellion drivers in free practice – his team-mates notably including overall Le Mans winners and World Champions Neel Jani and André Lotterer – and in FP1, he even outpaced three of the factory Toyota drivers for good measure, Formula 1 hero Fernando Alonso amongst them.
The highly-rated Santa Monica native subsequently partnered Mathias Beche in qualifying to put the No.3 Rebellion-Gibson R-13 prototype fifth on the starting grid for the six-hour showdown, as he once more circulated quicker than any of his stablemates – this time, to the tune of nearly eight tenths-of-a-second.
Mere moments into the race, however, Beche found himself turned around by Stéphane Sarrazin in one of the SMP Racing cars – for which the Frenchman received a drive-through penalty – sending the Rebellion plummeting down the order to the very foot of the field. In front of an enthusiastic crowd of more than 60,000 spectators, the Swiss ace immediately initiated what would turn into a spectacular recovery drive, and when he handed over to Menezes at the end of an action-packed opening hour, the crew were up to fifth. His 23-year-old team-mate continued to chase down the sister Rebellion in third and the SMP in fourth, consistently closing the gap as he produced a series of scintillating lap times rapid enough to rival those of the race-leading Toyotas. All of that good work looked to be for nought, though, when an ill-timed safety car intervention shortly before mid-distance dropped the No.3 entry almost a full lap behind its two adversaries, and it required a herculean effort from Beche, Thomas Laurent and Menezes to haul the car back into podium contention.
After Laurent shook off the SMP threat, 2016 FIA WEC ‘Revelation of the Year’ Menezes returned to the cockpit for the final hour, and he had more than halved a 1m12s deficit to Jani when the latter was forced into the pits with 15 minutes remaining to fix a defective rear light, prompting a switch in positions.
The Williams-Harfield Sports Group protégé went on to take the chequered flag third, but when both Toyotas were later disqualified following technical checks, Rebellion became the first privateer team to win an FIA WEC race outright since 2012 – vaulting its No.3 driving trio to within two points of the World Championship lead.
In evidence of the key role he played in the result, Menezes completed four of the nine stints himself and posted a best lap time almost half-a-second out-of-reach of anybody else – making him the fastest Rebellion driver weekend-long in another supremely impressive performance.
“I’m absolutely ecstatic,” enthused the former Jim Russell Driver Scholarship Award winner. “I haven’t felt this happy for so long. It’s my first win since COTA last year, and it feels very special. Having spent a while living in the UK during the earlier stages of my career, Silverstone is something of a ‘home’ track for me and it’s a great feeling to take my first LMP1 victory there.
Obviously it wasn’t the ideal way to do it, but ultimately, winning a race is winning a race, no matter how it comes and we will grab this result with both hands. All the boys at Rebellion have worked so hard to get the whole LMP1 project off the ground and to develop the car to the stage where it is now, and they really deserve this one-two finish. I’m immensely proud of everybody involved in the programme.
The race certainly wasn’t without its dramas and setbacks for us, from the contact at the start to the safety car appearance midway through that threatened to derail our podium challenge altogether. That was hugely frustrating. I was in the car at the time and making inroads into the battle for third, when the leading Toyota went by to lap us literally seconds before a Full Course Yellow was thrown, which left us virtually an entire lap behind the two cars ahead. After that, I had no choice but to get my head down and push like hell, and I thoroughly enjoyed every moment.
The pace was really good in my first two stints, and the team asked if I would be fit to get back into the car for the race’s final hour. It’s always an honour to be offered the opportunity to bring it home, so I said, ‘let’s give it a shot’. In the meantime, Thomas had cleared the SMP and slashed the gap to third place from more than 1m40s to 1m12s, which remained a tremendously tall order but I knew I just had to dig as deep as I could and see what was possible. The R-13 felt incredible, which allowed me to quickly settle into a really strong rhythm and I’d got the difference down to only 26 seconds when Neel hit trouble.
The Equivalence of Technology regulations still evidently aren’t where they need to be, but all we can do is keep performing to the best of our ability and hope the FIA and ACO address the situation. As a team, there’s no question that we’re more competitive than we’ve ever been, with all three drivers working together extremely well. Ultimately, we know we gave it absolutely everything at Silverstone, and to have fought through the field from the back of the pack to win the race is nothing short of mind-blowing…”
Gustavo Menezes has described his third-place finish in last weekend’s Le Mans 24 Hours as ‘like a victory’, after the talented young American led the Rebellion Racing charge in a captivating race full of unexpected twists-and-turns.
Although the 86th edition of France’s legendary round-the-clock classic marked only Menezes’ third start at La Sarthe, the highly-rated Santa Monica, California native already boasted an impressive record in the event, having sensationally triumphed on his debut there in the LMP2 category in 2016. Now competing in the headlining LMP1 class, Menezes and team-mates Thomas Laurent and Mathias Beche initially qualified the No.3 Rebellion-Gibson R-13 prototype third in the fiercely-contested, 60-strong field – best of the non-hybrid entrants – but they were relegated to fifth due to a pit-lane infringement.
Immediately rising to fourth when the race got underway, Laurent engaged in an entertaining early battle with SMP Racing’s Stéphane Sarrazin, exchanging places on several occasions and finding a way past for good while navigating a backmarker at the Tertre Rouge Esses an hour-and-a-half in. Swiftly stretching his legs, the Frenchman pulled out almost half-a-minute over his countryman before relinquishing the reins to Beche. When the Swiss driver returned to the pits for a routine tyre and fuel stop an hour later, however, an ill-timed safety car intervention to deal with debris meant he was held at pit-lane exit, costing the No.3 crew two minutes and dropping them to fifth.
Menezes first took to the cockpit as the sun began to set, and the 23-year-old was regularly the fastest non-hybrid driver on the track as he chased down the SMP entry ahead. That relentless pressure ultimately told as the Russian car went off shortly before 11pm local time, reinstating the Rebellion in third. The 2016 FIA World Endurance Championship LMP2 class title-winner and ‘Revelation of the Year’ returned to the fray during the night, but just past half-distance, a small mistake damaged the rear floor of the R-13 and obliged an unscheduled pit visit for urgent repairs. Eight-and-a-half minutes later, Menezes rejoined the race, albeit down in fourth again, behind the sister car.
What ensued was a see-saw internecine scrap for supremacy between the two Rebellions for the honour of finishing as best non-hybrid after the all-conquering Toyotas, with an issue for one invariably being offset by a problem for the other, from sensor failure to pit-stop delays and disobedient doors that refused to stay shut. The last four hours saw Menezes complete a marathon six stints behind the wheel of the 655bhp sportscar, overcoming a malfunctioning gearbox to impressively outpace former World Championship and Le Mans-winning team-mate Neel Jani in the No.1 Rebellion and safely bring the No.3 car home as leading privateer. Not only that, but the Williams-Harfield Sports Group protégé ended up on average the quickest non-hybrid driver by more than six tenths-of-a-second per lap. He also lapped barely a second-and-a-half adrift of two-time Formula 1 World Champion Fernando Alonso’s best effort in the significantly faster Toyota around the demanding 13.626km circuit – firmly underscoring his burgeoning sportscar racing credentials in what is widely renowned as the toughest race in the world.
“We really couldn’t have done very much more than that,” Menezes reflected. “We effectively finished first-in-class. There’s just no way we can compete with Toyota given the way the regulations are, but we fought with everything we had to reach the podium and as a comparatively small independent team up against a major factory effort, third place was honestly like a victory for us – particularly after all the drama and stress we went through along the way.”
“When I climbed in for my first stint as evening was falling, we were a minute behind the SMP following our earlier delay during the safety car period – and by the time I returned to the pits again to hand over to Thomas, we were literally running nose-to-tail, so I was really pleased with that.
The next time I took to the track was around 3am, with the No.1 Rebellion right on our case. I made a little error at the first chicane and clipped the kerb, which caused the rear plank to collapse and the loss of all rear downforce. There were sparks dragging on the ground and the back end of the car was just dancing all the way along the Mulsanne Straight at around 200mph, which was pretty terrifying. I had to hang on for dear life and drag it back to the pits, where the team did an amazing job to change the floor in only seven minutes.
That put us two laps behind our team-mates, but we never stopped believing. There was a stage when we seemed to alternate issues with the sister car, or one or other of us would get caught out by the timing of the safety car – the momentum kept swinging this way and that – but we doggedly persevered and it goes to prove you should never give up.
When I began my final stint with just under four hours left on the clock, we were around a minute behind the No.1 Rebellion. On the one hand, I had the team telling me not to take any risks as the main priority was to preserve the three-four finish, but as a driver, I wanted to get on the podium and I felt as a crew, we deserved that so I carried on pushing. Then, two laps later, Neel [Jani] had to pit due to his door coming open, which allowed us back into third and I could ease off a little.
Towards the end, we encountered some upshifting difficulties and I had to stop using second gear, which you need a lot at Le Mans! Despite that, my lap times held up and the R-13 still felt very good. I could literally have driven it all day and I said to my engineer, ‘I’d really like it if I could bring this home – I’m in the zone and I know I can do it’. The team agreed, and it was a real privilege to be allowed to take the chequered flag in such a prestigious race.
“Then on the cooling-down lap afterwards, the gearbox broke completely. I don’t think it had more than another lap or two in it – we really did make it home by the skin of our teeth. What a story!”
Indeed it was, and whilst Menezes had ascended the podium at Le Mans before – for his LMP2 success two years ago – this was metaphorically-speaking a much bigger stage, and with two rostrum appearances now from three starts in such a famously gruelling race, he is fast developing an enviable reputation. The result also saw him become the first American to stand on the overall podium at La Sarthe since 2001 – quite the achievement.
“Sharing that with my two team-mates was beyond doubt one of the most special moments of my career to-date,” acknowledged the erstwhile Jim Russell Driver Scholarship Award winner. “Thomas and Mathias both did an incredible job, and I couldn’t have felt prouder being up there with them looking out at our mechanics who had worked their absolute backsides off all week and the sea of fans down below. It was also the perfect way to kick-start the partnership with my new sponsor, crypto-currency Modex. The whole experience gave me goosebumps – just magical.”
Gustavo Menezes proved his pace and potential on a hugely impressive LMP1 class debut in the fiercely-disputed FIA World Endurance Championship last weekend (3-5 May), lapping fastest of the non-hybrid competitors around legendary Belgian circuit Spa-Francorchamps to secure a top three finish with Rebellion Racing.
The 2016 FIA WEC LMP2 class champion and Le Mans 24 Hours winner is a hot property on the sportscar racing scene, and he was snapped up over the winter by Anglo-Swiss outfit Rebellion for its return to LMP1 level – the uppermost echelon in endurance racing’s premier global series. Notwithstanding very limited pre-season track time, Menezes and team-mates Thomas Laurent and Mathias Beche came out-of-the-blocks in fine form to place third in opening free practice at Spa behind the wheel of the No.3 car. The talented young American was then the quickest of the Rebellion sextet in FP2 and outpaced a certain Fernando Alonso in FP3, before teaming up with Laurent to tackle qualifying.
In a session punctuated by a brace of red flag stoppages – one for a hefty accident involving Menezes’ friend Pietro Fittipaldi – the pair lapped fourth-fastest, but were promoted to third on the grid when the No.7 Toyota had its times disallowed for failing administrative checks.
Laurent returned to the cockpit of the Rebellion R13 for the start of what would be an eventful 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps the following day, held in perfect weather and in front of some 63,000 avid fans. After initially holding position, the Frenchman briefly assumed the lead when the majority of the LMP1 protagonists pitted during a lengthy safety car period at the end of the first hour to allow for barrier repairs to be carried out at Eau Rouge.
Highly-rated Santa Monica, California native Menezes was next to take to the track, keeping close company with second-placed stablemate Bruno Senna and more than matching the ex-Formula 1 driver for pace throughout his double stint. Beche then took over inside the Gibson-powered ORECA prototype and despite finding himself obliged to concede to the recovering No.7 Toyota, he reclaimed third with two hours remaining when the sister Rebellion had to make an extended pit visit to fix transponder issues.
Laurent rejoined the fray for the final blast, working hard to shake off the attentions of the chasing SMP Racing entry – whose subsequent crash necessitated another safety car period going into the last hour and eradicated the No.3 crew’s healthy advantage over their team-mates. A close battle ensued to the chequered flag, and although the No.1 Rebellion crossed the finish line ahead, the car’s post-race exclusion for an over-worn skid block promoted Menezes and co. to third overall.
Not only that, but the 23-year-old Williams-Harfield Sports Group protégé – a former winner of the coveted Jim Russell Driver Scholarship Award – posted the race’s fastest non-hybrid lap by more than two tenths-of-a-second, leaving him fired-up for the fight looking towards the next outing on the 2018/19 FIA WEC ‘Super Season’ calendar, the iconic Le Mans 24 Hours on 16/17 June.
“It was a great weekend all-round,” Menezes enthused. “Spa is a track I know well and love going to – one of the true classics and a hugely rewarding and demanding test of driver and car alike. It was such a rush to get everything ready for the season that we’d had very little prior running, and it’s always difficult to know what to expect with a new car but ORECA do a phenomenal job and nothing major cropped up to cause us any real concern.
The first time I drove the R13 in free practice, we were a little bit off in terms of the balance but the Rebellion guys worked their socks off and with a few tweaks and adjustments and a fresher set of tyres for FP2, the car felt a lot better and my confidence quickly returned.
Qualifying was a difficult session with the two red flags. We knew from practice that we would likely be battling our team-mates to be best-of-the-rest behind the two Toyotas, but after Pietro’s big accident, it wasn’t worth risking everything just to gain one spot on the grid – and ultimately, of course, we ended up third anyway with what happened to the No.7 car.
In the race, Thomas did a great job early on, and I soon established a good feeling with the R13 on full tanks when I got behind the wheel. The pace was there immediately, and to set the fastest non-hybrid lap of anybody on my LMP1 debut and be on average one of the quickest drivers on the track was immensely encouraging. I was very pleased with my performance, and then Mathias continued that good work when he got into the car.
It was a shame for our team-mates to lose third place for something so minor, but I’ll definitely take a top three finish first time out and I think we can be very proud of what we achieved. With two outright Le Mans winners and LMP1 world champions as well as the reigning LMP2 title-holder in the No.1 Rebellion, for Thomas, Mathias and myself to show we can run at the same speed and perform at a very similar level is really important and will be a big help when it comes to developing the car.
Now, it’s full throttle ahead for Le Mans. For us, the entire Spa weekend was essentially preparation for what is beyond doubt the biggest race on the FIA WEC calendar, and you can be assured that we will be leaving no stone unturned and giving it everything we’ve got. We need to keep our heads down and work on closing the gap to the Toyotas so we can push them as hard as possible and give them a genuine fight. That will be the primary focus over the next few weeks.”
Gustavo Menezes was in bullish mood as Rebellion Racing released a sneak preview of the new R13 that he will pilot in the 2018/19 FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) at the Geneva Motor Show yesterday (6 March), describing his new ride as ‘one mean motor’ as he revs up for his maiden assault on international sportscar racing’s most prestigious title.
Still aged just 23, Menezes is one of the hottest properties on the endurance racing scene right now. In his rookie campaign in the fiercely-disputed discipline in 2016, the talented young American not only won the LMP2 class in the legendary Le Mans 24 Hours – widely regarded as the toughest race in the world – but he went on to lift the coveted Drivers’ trophy come season’s end, courtesy of four victories and three further rostrum finishes from nine starts.
Menezes added another triumph – on ‘home’ turf in Texas – and four more podiums to his impressive résumé last year, leading to his recruitment by 2017 LMP2 Teams’ Champion Rebellion Racing, where he will share the No.3 entry with Thomas Laurent and Mathias Beche as the Swiss outfit returns to the headlining LMP1 category with its new Gibson-powered ORECA prototype. All three men are class-winners at Le Mans, while Beche also counts the 2012 European Le Mans Series LMP2 class crown on his career CV – as well as a long prior association with Rebellion.
“I’ve been spending some time with the team and my new team-mates, and I’m starting to get really excited!” enthused highly-rated Santa Monica, California native Menezes, the 2016 FIA WEC ‘Revelation of the Year’ and a former winner of the Jim Russell Driver Scholarship Award. “It’s cool to have two such distinct driver line-ups at Rebellion – the young guys against the older, more experienced crew.
I raced against both Thomas and Mathias throughout last season, but I’ve raced with them in the past, too, in the Asian Le Mans Series and Petit Le Mans so I already know them reasonably well and can vouch for just how quick and competitive they are. Thomas won the Le Mans 24 Hours at the age of only 18, I’m one of the youngest Americans ever to win the race and Mathias has a lot of knowledge of working with ORECA and knows the team inside-out.
We all get along very well, and that chemistry is so important in endurance racing, where being able to lean on each other and support one another is absolutely key. It looks like we’re going to be the youngest driving partnership in the LMP1 field – and by some margin – but we still have a considerable amount of experience between us and I can assure you we are ultra-motivated and hungry for success. Here’s hoping we can really take it to the sister car and give the factory Toyota boys a hard time, too!”
The 2018/19 FIA WEC ‘Super Season’ will see ten cars vying for glory in the top tier LMP1 class – with one of the most prominent names on the entry list a certain two-time Formula 1 World Champion called Fernando Alonso. Menezes reveals he is looking forward to going wheel-to-wheel with the Spaniard out on-track – even if at the end of the day, the McLaren star is ‘just another driver that I want to beat’.
“It will be pretty surreal to be fighting against Fernando,” reflected the Williams-Harfield Sports Group protégé. “I had a little taste of it at Daytona earlier this year, and I remember spending the summer with Carlos Sainz Jnr back in my mid-teens. We used to constantly play the Formula 1 game on the PlayStation; one of us was always Sebastian Vettel, and the other was Alonso.
It’s fantastic for the series to have big names like that coming in and there’s no doubting Fernando’s calibre as a two-time F1 World Champion, but as soon as the helmet goes on and the visor comes down, he’s just another driver that I want to beat.
Rebellion and ORECA have been working together non-stop all winter and are doing everything in their power to give us the best package possible, and they always come up with a competitive proposition. Yes, we’re a little bit behind the curve in terms of pre-season testing – the R13 probably won’t roll out until the official ‘Prologue’ group test at Paul Ricard early next month, which means the first race at Spa-Francorchamps will be quite literally a shakedown for Le Mans – but that is a deliberate tactic.
There are inevitably hiccoughs and minor issues with any new car, and we want to make sure we are as prepared as we can be before we hit the track because there are so many unknowns out there still, with five different chassis and engine manufacturers in the LMP1 field. We won’t truly find out what the pecking order is until we get to the first race weekend.
That said, I’m confident we will have a quick car underneath us, and the new Rebellion looks awesome – really aggressive and purposeful and one mean motor! What is it they say, if it goes even half as fast as it looks… Ultimately, this year represents a massive opportunity for me – and I fully intend to grab it with both hands and run with it!”
The 2018/19 FIA WEC ‘Super Season’ will incorporate eight rounds across Europe, Asia and North America, including two editions of sportscar racing’s jewel in the crown – the iconic Le Mans 24 Hours. The action will begin with the 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium on 3-5 May.
Gustavo Menezes will graduate to the highest level of international sportscar racing in 2018-19, after signing to compete for Rebellion Racing in the headlining LMP1 category of the FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) – describing it as a ‘dream’ move and ‘once-in-a-lifetime opportunity’.
After steering his burgeoning career from single-seaters, Menezes stunned observers during his maiden campaign in endurance racing’s premier global series in 2016 by speeding to both Le Mans 24 Hours glory and the fiercely-disputed LMP2 class crown with Signatech-Alpine. His outstanding achievements deservedly earned the gifted young American the coveted FIA WEC ‘Revelation of the Year’ accolade and a head-turning try-out in Porsche’s potent LMP1 contender in the end-of-season Rookie Test in Bahrain.
The highly-rated Santa Monica native reprised his front-running form this year as he popularly triumphed on home turf at the Circuit of The Americas and tallied four further podium finishes behind the wheel of Alpine’s 600bhp A470 prototype. Notwithstanding that valiant defence, early-season ill-fortune meant Menezes ultimately had to concede his hard-fought title to Rebellion’s No.31 crew, but the Anglo-Swiss outfit had nonetheless taken note of his talent – particularly when he starred for the team in a one-off, scene-stealing performance at Petit Le Mans, where he was the architect of some spectacular overtaking manoeuvres to scythe through from fourth position into the lead.
With Rebellion now returning to LMP1 following its successful single-season foray into LMP2, the Williams-Harfield Sports Group protégé will join forces with Porsche LMP1 refugees Neel Jani and André Lotterer – outright Le Mans winners and World Champions both – as well as reigning LMP2 title-holder Bruno Senna, fellow incumbent Mathias Beche and 2017 FIA WEC ‘Rookie of the Year’ Thomas Laurent in an all-star, six-strong, two-car driver line-up. Already an ambassador for Rebellion Timepieces, Menezes is primed to push for overall FIA WEC honours when the series’ eagerly-anticipated and significantly overhauled new ‘super-season’ revs into life at Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium next May. To say that he is fired-up would be quite the understatement.
“It’s really special and a privilege to be joining Rebellion Racing to compete in LMP1,” enthused the former Jim Russell Driver Scholarship Award winner. “I want to thank the team for placing their trust in me, and I can’t tell you how excited I am to get into the car for the first time! I had a great couple of years with Signatech-Alpine, and now another adventure begins.
It’s been an incredible journey from Formula 3 to FIA WEC, winning both Le Mans and the World Championship in my first season, driving an LMP1 car at the 2016 Rookie Test and now stepping up to actually race at the pinnacle of the sport! When I sampled the Porsche in Bahrain, I immediately thought, ‘this is the future – this is where I want to be’, so when the Rebellion option presented itself, it was way too good to turn down. This is my dream.
I didn’t have the perfect season in 2017, so to go and race for Rebellion at Petit Le Mans and do so well there was a real boost. It was the ideal time to shine and show that I hadn’t lost any of my speed, and I don’t think that went unnoticed. The weekend also allowed me to get to know the team and witness first-hand the impressive calibre of everybody involved, and I instantly felt at home and established a good relationship.
It’s a fantastic driver line-up for 2018-19, and I’m already good friends with some of the other guys in the team too, which definitely helps. There’s a great blend of youth and experience, and we all bring different qualities to the mix. After only two years in sportscars, I still can’t believe I will be competing for the biggest title in the discipline with such an amazing group of people – and I genuinely think we have a realistic shot at winning.
This really is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I’m just a 23-year-old kid from California and American success in the highest echelons of global endurance racing has been few-and-far between, so to get the chance to battle for the World Championship in LMP1 is magical. It’s a pretty awesome story – and this is only the start! There is massive potential inside this team and I am looking forward to truly taking the fight to Toyota next year. I can’t wait to show everybody what we are capable of.”
Gustavo Menezes produced a champion’s performance in the 2017 FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) season finale in Bahrain last weekend, and whilst he was not able to overcome the inconceivable odds to clinch back-to-back titles in sportscar racing’s premier global series, the talented young American certainly did not surrender his hard-earned crown without a fight.
Menezes travelled to the Middle East sitting 23 points adrift of the top of the table in WEC’s fiercely-disputed LMP2 class with just 26 remaining in play, meaning he and team-mates Nicolas Lapierre and André Negrão essentially needed to secure both pole position and the race win while hoping their rivals scarcely troubled the scorers.
It was, quite literally, a case of all or nothing and admittedly the very tallest of orders, but in tandem with Negrão, highly-rated Santa Monica, California native Menezes was on scintillating form in qualifying to annex Signatech Alpine Matmut’s third pole of the year – and third in swift succession in the ‘Land of One Thousand and One Nights’ – almost four tenths-of-a-second clear of their closest pursuers.
So far, so good, and Lapierre subsequently stuck to the plan as he led away at the start of the next day’s 6 Hours of Bahrain, which began late afternoon and continued into the evening under the floodlights illuminating Sakhir’s Bahrain International Circuit. Unfortunately, traffic and premature tyre wear on the hard-compound rubber forced the Frenchman to relinquish his advantage, and following a change of strategy at his first pit-stop, he re-emerged down in seventh place.
After completing a rapid triple stint, Lapierre handed over to Negrão as night fell, and both the Brazilian and Menezes maintained the offensive as the N°36 crew endeavoured to battle their way back up the order behind the wheel of the 600bhp Alpine A470 prototype. Erstwhile Toyota factory ace Lapierre returned to the cockpit for the final blast and ultimately took the chequered flag in fourth position, with Alpine Deputy Managing Director Bernard Ollivier quick to praise the ‘excellent’ performances of all three men.
The result guaranteed Menezes the same spot in the prestigious FIA Endurance Trophy for LMP2 Drivers at the end of a campaign that saw the 2016 FIA WEC LMP2 Champion, Le Mans 24 Hours winner and ‘Revelation of the Year’ place inside the top five in every race – finishing on the podium more often than not, including a popular victory on home turf in Austin.
Although understandably disappointed at not being able to make it back-to-back title triumphs, Menezes acknowledged that after conceding ground at the beginning of the season, it was always going to be the very longest of long shots.
“We gave it our all and I am satisfied with what we achieved,” reflected the 23-year-old Williams-Harfield Sports Group protégé, a former winner of the coveted Jim Russell Driver Scholarship Award. “We had a rocky start to the weekend and whilst we took steps forward throughout practice, we knew there was much more left in the tank and we proved that in qualifying as André and I pulled out a mega effort for pole, which kept the championship dream alive.
Unfortunately, we made a wrong call on tyres in the race, which turned out to be very expensive for us. Nico did a great job in his first stint to stay among the leaders, but it was difficult to know exactly where we were in relation to the other cars, given we were on a different strategy due to the unexpectedly high tyre degradation that left us playing catch-up from early on.
We took a gamble after that by switching to the medium compound, but by then, the damage was already done. André went on the attack and was fast throughout his stints, and I gave it absolutely everything when I got into the car, as I have done all year. My best lap was very comparable with Nico’s at the end of the race, which is extremely positive as everybody knows how quick and capable he is.
Although on paper, the results don’t necessarily suggest it, I’m pleased to have made progress this season and to have accumulated more experience. The standard in LMP2 unquestionably stepped up several notches in 2017, but we held our own and we can be proud of the work we put in. I’d like to congratulate Vaillante Rebellion on their well-deserved title success.”