Daytona and Sebring 2016: Two iconic victories for the French constructor
In 2021 the LMP3 cars are accepted in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. And for Ligier Automotive it marked the French constructor's first victory – with three laps in hand! - in this new category in the Daytona 24 Hours thanks to the #74 Ligier JS P320 entered by the Riley Motorsports team (read the article HERE). Two months later the brand scored another victory this time in the Sebring 12 Hours with the #54 Ligier JS P320 run by CORE Autosport (read the article HERE). These wins hark back to others on these two iconic circuits. Those of the #2 Ligier JS P2-Honda ‘made in France' of the American team Tequila Patron Extreme Speed Motorsports, which defeated the might of the Daytona Prototypes on their own playing field in 2016! First of all at Daytona where Ligier Automotive became the first – and only – French constructor to triumph in this event and then went on to achieve the same feat at Sebring with the same car and the same driver lineup. So let's have a look back at this first Franco-American adventure.
The adventure began as a challenge!
Tequila Patron Extreme Speed Motorsports entered two cars for the 2016 WEC season, two Ligier JS P2-Nissans, and decided to focus on the international championship. However, the American outfit was also very impressed by the performance of the Ligier chassis powered by the Honda engine, which had already been adopted by another team, so it decided to fly its colours on its home turf. Tequila Patron Extreme Speed Motorsports got in touch with Ligier Automotive with the aim of participating in the most prestigious race in its own country, the 24 Hours of Daytona on 30-31 January 2016. It was a late decision that didn't make things easy for anybody! But both parties liked challenges. “The base car was excellent,” recalls Philippe Dumas, the OAK Racing Team Principal. “And with an intensive stint of development work, sweat and tears the two squads struck up an excellent collaborative working relationship based on team spirit helped by the backup supplied by the OAK Racing operations squad. The result was a very competitive race car.” So competitive, in fact, that the #2 Ligier JS P2 in the hands of hard-charging youngster, 22-year-old Pipo Derani, set the second-fastest time in qualifying! Of course, this scintillating performance didn't banish the normal question marks associated with the potential problems concerning the reliability required for a 24-hours race, nor the experience of the highly-skilled rival teams and their 100% professional driver lineups. Alongside the young Brazilian, Scott Sharp, Ed Brown and Johannes van Overbeek never put a foot wrong. And as the race unfolded everybody began to dream of a podium first of all, and then victory!
“When I was on the grid after hotly-contested qualifications in pouring rain, I began to think what this race meant to each of us and just how important it was to at least cross the finishing line,” says Derani. “It was both a lot of pressure and a lot of joy at the same time to have the opportunity to fight in a race like Daytona with a car capable of winning. The race itself was full of ups and downs, but the Ligier JS P2 never missed a beat throughout the event. At the end there were only two cars fighting for the win so there was no question of making do with second place. We got past and went on to score what is certainly the greatest victory of my career.”
“What Pipo forgot to say is that he drove a fantastic stint at the end of the race and pulled off a masterly overtaking move,” points out Dumas. “That day Lady Luck smiled on us. I don't want to say it was easy, but the end of the race went off like a dream. The shot of adrenaline was the fear of breaking down. And we didn't! The car was really competitive.”
And that wasn't the end of the adventure. ESM was now completely hooked and the team managed to persuade Tequila Patron to give them a budget. Two months later they tackled the 12 Hours of Sebring!
“It was different at Sebring,” continues Dumas. “There we really went all out for victory. We were all driven by the rage to win and we did so by sheer hard work. It was a wonderful moment of motor sport as a constructor. The car was very competitive, but we were up against really tough opposition and in terms of performance everybody was more or less on an equal footing. We made daring choices, in particular by shodding slicks in the first third of the race before the other teams. Our options were transcended by Pipo Derani who showed that when it came to pushing really hard he had no equal.”
“With fifteen minutes to go to the end,” explains Pipo, “we were in the lead when a yellow flag suddenly appeared out of nowhere. We took advantage of it to add fuel and change tyres. We rejoined in fourth place at the restart with twelve minutes to go to the chequered flag. It looked like we‘d have to settle for a podium, but I said to myself it's perhaps my only chance of winning Sebring and I have the car to do it. I went hell for leather and overtook my rivals one after the other. We became the winners of the 36 Hours of Florida! Those two races changed my life and it was only possible thanks to an incredible car and a great team.”
Ligier Automotive and ESM continued their close collaboration with success. First of all that same year in the two other big events in the North American Endurance Cup, Watkins Glen followed by the Petit Le Mans. And then in 2017 in the DPi category that replaced the Daytona Prototypes. And again in 2018 when ESM gave Ligier Automotive its second victory in the 12 Hours of Sebring with the #2 Nissan-DPi. But that's another story…