With the news that Rebellion Racing will end its motorsport programme after this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans, the international sportscar world loses one of its great privateer outfits. Motorsport Week takes a look back at what was.
While the name Rebellion didn’t truly appear until 2010, the foundations were laid in the years before. The team that would become the WEC’s first (and so far only) non-hybrid winner was formed out of an association between British outfit Sebah Automotive and the Swiss-based Speedy Racing Team. Rebellion Racing was officially formed in 2010 and debuted in that year’s Le Mans Series with a pair of Lola B10/60s, powered by Judd engines but rebadged under their own name.
That year, the Rebellion name also debuted at Le Mans, the start of a streak that would eventually include a class win in 2014 and an overall podium in 2018. Rebellion’s first season in the Le Mans Series was like a glimpse into its future. Not only did it race against the mighty manufacturers it would find itself battling for years to come, it also competed against another future rival in Team LNT, who raced a Ginetta-Zytek. The Swiss upstarts did well and finished third in the standings.
In 2011, Rebellion once again raced two Lolas in the LMP1 class of the Le Mans Series, this time with new engines, provided by yet another future rival in Toyota. With all major manufacturers jumping ship to the newly formed Intercontinental Le Mans Cup, they won the title by a single point, beating out Pescarolo Team.
2012 brought the arrival of the newly created FIA World Endurance Championship, and the Swiss team joined, once again with a pair of Lola B12/60s, still powered by Toyota engines. With the WEC’s creation began the reign of the hybrids, and the two major manufacturers -Audi and Toyota- won every race.
Rebellion still took home some silverware during this time as the FIA Endurance Trophy for LMP1 Teams was created for non-hybrid LMP1 runners. The Swiss outfit dominated the championship, winning six out of the eight rounds and only finishing off the podium at the first-ever WEC at Sebring. In 2013, it more or less won the same class by default after their only rivals, Strakka Racing, withdrew halfway throughout the season.
It’s worth noting the degree of talent that passed through the doors in those early years. Guy Smith, Neel Jani, Jeroen Bleekemolen and Nick Heidfeld drove for the team during this time and throughout these years, the team established itself as the privateer to beat – a reputation it would hold right until the very end.
During this time, Rebellion would also branch out on the other side of the Atlantic, competing in the American Le Mans Series and winning Petit Le Mans two years in a row. The 2013 win would prove its last race in the American series, as it concentrated on its next venture in Europe: the R-One.
Created in partnership with French firm ORECA, the Rebellion R-One was the beginning of a partnership between the two parties that would carry them through the rest of the decade. The R-One, still powered by Toyota engines, made its debut at the 2014 Six Hours of Spa-Francorchamps, and was eligible to compete in what was now called the LMP1-L class, as it was clear the privateer teams would still not be able to match the hybrid force of Audi, Toyota and new arrivals Porsche.
Their only rivals, LMP1 debutants Lotus, had to sit out the first three rounds to await the completion of its new CLM P1/01, and as a result, Rebellion dominated proceedings behind the hybrids, winning every round.
In 2015, the LMP1-H and LMP1-L classes would be merged into a single class, but Rebellion would still defeat the now renamed ByKolles team in the privateer duel, and once again in 2016.
2017 was somewhat of a different year for Rebellion as it stepped down from the top class of an major endurance series for the first time since its inception to enter two ORECA 07-Gibsons in the WEC’s LMP2 class under the Vaillante Rebellion banner, taking on the name of the illustrious French racing comic series. They also took part in IMSA’s Rolex 24 at Daytona, Twelve Hours of Sebring and Petit Le Mans for the first time since its overall Petit win in 2013.
But while the label might have been different, the prizes kept coming in. With class wins in Mexico, Fuji, Shanghai and Bahrain, Julien Canal and Bruno Senna took the Endurance Trophy for LMP2 Drivers, while Vaillante Rebellion also captured the Endurance Trophy for LMP2 Teams.
Senna stuck with the team when it returned to LMP1 for the 2018-19 Super Season, with a powerhouse of a line-up that further underlined how Rebellion had arguably become the number one privateer in endurance racing. The Brazilian would be joined by a returning Neel Jani, an overall win after a win with Porsche in 2016, and Andre Lotterer, triple Le Mans winner and 2012 WEC champion.
Their return to LMP1 would once again by marked by a partnership with ORECA, as it would enter two R13 chassis, which were based on and closely resembled the 07 LMP2 machine. It was also powered by a Gibson V8 engine.
Unfortunately, just so happened that Rebellion’s return to the top class of the WEC coincided with the championship’s most dire period up until that point, as Audi and Porsche had both left, with Toyota the only remaining hybrid manufacturer. That meant that it was up to Rebellion and new rivals SMP Racing to take the fight to Toyota in a class that no longer separated hybrids and non-hybrids.
Yet, no matter how much Equivalence of Technology the championship threw at the Toyotas, they were simply dominant and Rebellion and their Russian adversaries were left to fight amonst themselves, with ByKolles the third (or fourth?) wheel in the saga. The Swiss squad did come out on top again, outscoring SMP Racing by twenty-five points to take the runner-up spot behind Toyota.
The Super Season even gave them another landmark win, although in controversial fashion when the two Toyotas were disqualified on technical grounds following the 2018 Six Hours of Silverstone, promoting the #3 R13-Gibson of Mathias Beche, Thomas Laurent and Gustavo Menezes to first. It would prove to be victory number 31 in the WEC.
Win number 32 came during the current season, and it is perhaps the most memorable. By now, LMP1 was clearly in its dying days as Hypercar had already been announced. Gone were ByKolles, Dragonspeed and SMP Racing, but a blast from the past had returned to challenge Rebellion’s privateer crown. Team LNT, who once raced again Rebellion in its debut season, entered the WEC with a pair of Ginetta G60-LT-P1 – AERs.
Rebellion itself scaled back its operation from two cars after Silverstone to one for the rest of the season. In hindsight, perhaps it was a sign of things to come. Gustavo Menezes, Norman Nato and the ever faithful Bruno Senna manned the lone R13.
In a season where the Toyotas were slowed more than ever before, thanks to Success Handicaps, the trio took a historic pole position at the 4 Hours of Shanghai (the first non-hybrid pole since Sebring 2012) and followed it up with victory. It marked the first time a non-hybrid car took the chequered flag since the WEC was created. This of course discounted the previous win at Silverstone, which was handed to them after disqualification.
At the previous round of the championship in Bahrain, Senna once again took pole before a first lap clash with Ginetta’s Charlie Robertson ended hopes of a 33rd victory. It may still come, however. With three regular WEC rounds remaining before the curtain call at Le Mans, it is very much possible that Menezes, Nato and Senna add one more win to the already rich tally.
In an era of prototype racing where the focus increasingly shifted towards manufacturer interest, Rebellion was the exception to the rule. The perennial David that kept charging into battle against the ever-unbeatable Goliaths. Rebellion Racing is arguably the most successful privateer in modern endurance racing history, and the paddock probably won’t be the same without them.