Racing Engineering have made the switch from the FIA Formula 2 Championship to the European Le Mans Series this winter. What does this mean technically, what are the main differences considering the two kinds of cars?
Apart from the obvious differences like wheel arches, roof, doors, an F2 and an LMP2 are relatively close in terms of architecture. They are two cars with a lot of aero, a carbon monocoque, a double wishbone suspension with pushrods at each corner. The powertrain is also similar to what we used in F2 with a 6-gear sequential gearbox with a paddle shift and a V8 engine. Even though the LMP2 is heavier and less powerful, the corner grip is quite high. The LMP2 is far more complex in terms of electronics. The teams and drivers have more tools to play with before and during the session: Traction Control System, Electric Power Steering, and more engine and gearbox maps. We have real-time telemetry now, allowing us a live visualisation of the car sensors (reliability, performance).
Further than the car, where are the principle differences, but also challenges when it comes to running an LMP2 car in the Le Mans Series?
Basically, the main challenges and differences are coming from the basics of an endurance race: longer races and several drivers sharing a car. The longer race duration (four hours against one in F2) means that more can happen (weather changes, safety car, etc). We have more parameters to take into account for the race strategy: race duration, refuelling, number of tyres, driving time for each driver according to his category (each driver has a different minimum and maximum driving time during the race). Even if still vital, the qualifying sessions have less importance than in F2. We will also have to adjust our strategy throughout the race in order to adapt to changing circumstances, while in F2, once the tyre change was done, we rarely had to pit again. While with the F2, we were able to fully adjust the car to its driver, we have to learn how to work with three drivers using the same car, thus finding a balance suiting well the three, give track time to each of them, etc. The challenges come also from the different calendar structure. In the FIA Formula 2 Championship we had between 10 and 12 events per season (with 2 races per weekend). In the European Le Mans Series we have 6 events with one 4h race per weekend.