The LMP2 class numbers have doubled for the 2021 edition of the Rolex 24 at Daytona, and with both new and returning teams and driver to the class, with three of the four homologated LMP2 chassis to choose from, it looks set to be an intriguing race.
The natural starting place for LMP2 is to look at the returning team winners, DragonSpeed. Although the lineup of the #81 ORECA 07-Gibson car, which won the race last year, has changed, with only team stalwart Ben Hanley remaining, it is still filled with talent.
Rinus VeeKay enters his second season as an IndyCar driver after a stellar freshman year, while Rob Hodes and Garrett Grist both have prior experience in LMP2, although this will be their first time competing in a prototype at Daytona.
The sister #82 DragonSpeed ORECA 07-Gibson, meanwhile, blends youth and experience. This will be Eric Lux’ 11th Rolex 24 despite only being 32 years old, while it’ll be Audi factory driver Chris Mies’ first attempt at the race, as well his first prototype race.
Another debutant at the Rolex 24 is Mercedes-AMG works driver Fabian Schiller, who does have experience in prototypes thanks to a few races in the Asian Le Mans Series in 2017.
Finally, young Devlin DeFrancesco is back for his third attempt at the race, having previously competed in the Prototype ‘P’ class and DPi in 2018 and 2019, both for JDC-Miller Motorsports.
Next up is IMSA stalwart, PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports, back for their third consecutive Rolex 24 and sixth attempt at the race in total, running the #52 ORECA 07-Gibson car. The team has retained Ben Keating from last year’s lineup – and so runs with Keating’s now customary Wynn’s livery – but has added Mikkel Jensen, Nico Lapierre, and Scott Huffaker. Lapierre should need no introduction – former Toyota LMP1 driver and four time Le Mans winner in LMP2, he’d be an asset to any team on the grid.
Jensen, meanwhile, makes his Rolex 24 debut, but is no stranger to prototype material, having competed in LMP3 and LMP2 in the European Le Mans Series. He also won last year’s Petit Le Mans at Road Altanta in LMP2, and is rumoured to be in discussions for a Peugeot LMH seat next year.
Scott Huffaker, meanwhile, has raced in junior single seater championships in recent years, and switched to sportscars in 2019, driving for PR1/Mathiasen in LMP3 in IMSA Prototype Challenge, before moving up to LMP2 with the team last year.
Era Motorsport’s #18 ORECA 07-Gibson probably has the most unique livery on the grid this year. The team hosted a competition for participants – mostly children – to illustrate the team’s livery, with the winning entry being applied to the car for the race. That winning entry was from six-year-old Owen, featuring a concoction of yellow lightening bolts and blue/red swirls.
The team’s lineup is similarly excellent. Le Mans and WEC regular, plus European Le Mans Series LMP2 winner in 2014, Paul Loup Chatin joins Ryan Dalziel, who won the Le Mans 24 Hours LMP2 class in 2012. This is his seventh attempt at the race, so he’ll be keen to show off his talent. Dwight Merriman is the team’s bronze-rated driver, while Kyle Tilley owns the team itself.
Tower Motorsports by Starworks, running car #8 Oreca-Gibson, is similarly back for another assault on the Rolex 24, with Canadian gentleman driver John Farano once again at the wheel. He’ll be joined by Frenchman Gabriel Aubry, Matthieu Vaxiviere, and Tim Buret, all experienced prototype racers in their own right.
Vaxiviere has finished twice on the LMP2 podium for TDS Racing and Panis Racing, as well as finished second overall in both Sebring 12 Hours and Petit Le Mans in 2019. Aubry finished second in LMP2 at Le Mans in 2019, plus took second in LMP2 with PR1/Mathiasen last year at Daytona. Buret also has extensive experience in LMP2 machinery in WEC and ELMS, and makes his Daytona debut this year.
Possibly the most high profile car in this year’s LMP2 entry features Robert Kubica, former F1 driver for BMW Sauber, Renault, and most recently Williams, after his devastating rally crash at the beginning of 2011 left him unable to race for eight long years.
He’ll be racing this year for Danish team High Class Racing, the #20 ORECA 07-Gibson, alongside Danes Anders Fjordbach and Dennis Andersen. Both have raced with and been successful with the team for the past few seasons, so it’ll be interesting to see them tackle their first Rolex 24 together.
Former F3 and DTM driver Ferdinand Habsburg joins the team as the fourth driver, having finished tenth in last year’s truncated final DTM season under the Class One ruleset before the series switches to GT3 machinery for 2021.
Another ‘national’ team that European readers will be familiar with is Racing Team Nederland and their #29 ORECA 07-Gibson. Team regulars, in the form Former F1 driver Giedo van der Garde, rapid youngster Job van Uitert and team backer Frits van Eerd, owner of the Jumbo supermarket chain in the Netherlands, will race for the team, alongside young Frenchman Charles Miles, who raced with SO24-HAS by Graff at Le Mans in 2020 and races regularly in the Japanese Super Formula series.
None of them have Daytona experience, however, so it’ll be interesting to see how they do, although van Uitert, Van der Garde and even Van Eerd have extensive experience in LMP2, both for Racing Team Nederland and others, including leading LMP2 team United Autosport for van Uitert, for whom he finished second in the 2020 European Le Mans Series.
Cetilar Racing have also come over from Europe to compete at Daytona this year, and will be the only team fielding a Dallara P217-Gibson. Team regulars Andrea Belicchi, Giorgio Sernagiotto, and Roberto Lacorte will be joined by former F2 racer and Ferrari Driver Academy member Antonio Fuoco.
However, much like fellow their WEC competitors, the team and its drivers have never raced here before, so will be fascinating to watch their progress and get their views as the race progresses.
The only other team with a non-Oreca chassis – this time a Ligier JS P217-Gibson, is RWR-Eurasia, in partnership with Rick Ware Racing, a NASCAR team which has also started a sportscar side.
On driving duty for the European-Asian squad is Salih Yoluc, the Turkish driving having a range of experience in GT machinery; Austin Dillon, a well known NASCAR driver making the crossover for a one-off sportscar race. Cody Ware is the son of team owner Rick Ware, and raced in the Asian Le Mans Series in recent years.
Finally, the team will be completed by Porsche factory driver Sven Müller making his LMP2 debut. Müller was drafted in as a late replacement after the team’s original fourth driver, fellow Porsche driver Mathieu Jaminet, tested positive for COVID-19. Müller has a wealth of experience in Porsche GT machinery, with five starts at Daytona in GTD, but has never raced in prototypes. Tracking his progress may well become a story of the race.
Finally, WIN Autosport will field the #11 ORECA 07-Gibson for Americans Tristan Nunez, formerly of the Mazda DPi programme, bronze-rated drivers Steven Thomas and Thomas Merrill, plus silver Matt Bell.
The former Thomas is making the step up from LMP3 in IMSA Prototype Challenge last season, adding Nunez – undoubtedly the lead driver in the squad – and Matt Bell, the 2020 Prototype Challenge. Thomas Merrill raced in Trans-Am in 2020 and before that has had experience in GT4 machinery.
So, that’s the LMP2 class for the 20212 Rolex 24 at Daytona. A very strong field with depth of experience, age and youth. It’s almost impossible to predict who will come out on top, and the class will surely put up some fascinating action as the race unfolds.