Gustavo Menezes raced to a season-best second-place finish in last weekend’s 6 Hours of Mexico, as defending title-holders Signatech Alpine Matmut sped into the second half of the 2017 FIA World Endurance Championship in feisty form.
Following a solid opening half to the campaign – highlighted by a trip to the podium in the most recent outing at Germany’s Nürburgring in July – and a seven-week mid-summer break, Signatech Alpine Matmut returned to action at Mexico City’s narrow-and-twisty, high-altitude Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez with a refreshed driver line-up, with Brazilian André Negrão joining incumbents Menezes and Nicolas Lapierre behind the wheel of its 600bhp Alpine A470 prototype.
The revised N°36 crew wasted no time at all in demonstrating its credentials, comfortably setting the pace amongst the nine LMP2 class protagonists on a wet-but-drying track in the first free practice session, with little to choose between Menezes and the experienced Lapierre on the stopwatch. Following a similarly productive FP2 and FP3, the Frenchman and Negrão teamed up in qualifying and duly claimed Alpine’s first pole position of the year – lapping an impressive fifth-fastest overall in the mixed conditions.
Lapierre started the race and initially held onto the lead, before yielding to the pursuing Bruno Senna and Alex Lynn as he focussed on looking after the car and tyres rather than pushing too hard, too soon.
Menezes then took over for a double stint, with the talented young American determinedly chasing down Roman Rusinov for second place. Negrão continued the good work before Lapierre climbed back into the cockpit for the final hour-and-a-half. He went on to engage in a thrilling duel with Ben Hanley that was only resolved with less than five minutes remaining when the Briton spun, assuring Signatech Alpine Matmut of the runner-up spoils and matching the team’s 2016 Mexican result.
Currently sitting fourth in the fiercely-disputed FIA Endurance Trophy for LMP2 Drivers, Menezes will next travel to his home event – the 6 Hours of Circuit of The Americas (COTA) in Austin, Texas on 14-16 September – with his sights firmly set on maintaining his upward momentum in sportscar racing’s premier global series.
“It was a very intense but encouraging weekend,” reflected the highly-rated Santa Monica native, a former winner of the coveted Jim Russell Driver Scholarship Award. “Competing in Mexico is a lot of fun. The fans are always really passionate and enthusiastic and make the whole racing community feel very welcome.
Nico and André performed brilliantly in qualifying to put the N°36 entry on pole position for the first time in 2017, and I must say that André has settled in really well. Yes, he already knew the team having driven the sister car up until mid-season, but it’s still not easy to adapt to working with two new team-mates and he did a phenomenal job right from the word ‘go’.
Having proven our pace in both practice and qualifying, we thought we had the speed to drive off in the race but the other teams were strong. After losing the lead early on, we changed our approach following the first stint and pushed hard to close the gap but to be honest, we just didn’t quite have enough.
That said, we are all happy to finish on the podium for the second race in a row. It’s our best result of 2017 so far and continues the positive trend that began at the Nürburgring. More importantly, it keeps us in the title hunt, especially with the championship leader having had a bad weekend in Mexico.
Of course, what we are still searching for is that elusive top step, and on a personal level, I can think of nowhere better to open our victory account for the year than at my home race in Austin. It was very good to us last year, and we’ll certainly be giving it everything we’ve got to produce a repeat performance 12 months on!”