On Tuesday morning, 2017 European Le Mans Series LMP2 champions DragonSpeed announced that they will be moving up to the FIA World Endurance Championship’s LMP1 class in 2018. It will not be the championship-winning No. 22 moving up, though. It will be the 10Star DragonSpeed No. 21 that will make the big move. The team will retain Henrik Hedman and Ben Hanley for the “super series.” The third driver (a professional driver) is currently under review.
10Star DragonSpeed principal Elton Julian is very excited about the team’s future.
“The whole team is thrilled and up for the challenge,” Julian stated. “Having won sportscar titles in GT3 and LMP2, the natural progression for our highly talented and motivated crew is to move up to LMP1. We’re carefully studying potential partners who can help us put together a program which will deliver the progress and success we want for DragonSpeed. Everyone is on the same page in terms of the package and approach we need and we can’t wait to get started.”
For Hanley, the opportunity to compete full-time in the FIA World Endurance Championship was something that he could not miss.
“I’m really happy to continue with DragonSpeed on its journey,” Hanley said in the team’s press release. “Moving up to the WEC and LMP1 is a great chance for us to fight for overall podium results, especially at Le Mans given the issues the hybrids have had there the last few years. Henrik [Hedman] never stops improving and his commitment is an inspiration to the entire team. Having enjoyed one-off drives with a few WEC LMP2 teams this season, I can say for certain that DragonSpeed are up to the job.”
Driving an LMP1 car will be a new experience for Hedman. However, he’s looking forward to it.
“The chance to progress to the premier level of endurance racing with such a successful and close-knit group made this an easy decision,” Hedman stated. “Step by step, we’ve grown together and achieved a lot. I applaud the ACO and FIA for the new schedule and the opportunity it has created. I’m committed to preparing myself and applying everything I’ve learned over the past few seasons to racing the new generation of LMP1 cars with Elton and the team.”
As noted, the team has not determined which chassis or engine that they will use as of yet. There are a couple of LMP1 chassis possibilities. One would be the new Ginetta that is currently under development. Three chassis have already been sold to an unnamed team. Another option is a Dallara chassis. That car was originally exclusive to SMP Racing, but will also be sold to other customers. A third potential option would be to upgrade one of their existing ORECA 07s. Engine-wise, Judd is building a new 5.5-liter V10 engine for LMP1 privateers. Upgrading the Gibson V8 is an option as well.
In the European Le Mans Series this year, the DragonSpeed organzation had mixed fortunes. The No. 22 ORECA 07-Gibson that ran under the G-Drive Racing banner won the LMP2 Drivers Championship with Leo Roussel and Memo Rojas on the strength of a win at Monza and four second-place finishes. Despite the team running three drivers in all six races, Rojas and Roussel were the only ones to compete in all six races for the team. Ryo Hirakawa had to miss the Red Bull Ring and Paul Ricard rounds. Nicolas Minassian drove in Hirakawa’s place.
The No. 21 team of Hanley, Hedman and Nicolas Lapierre finished 11th in points. The final points position was not indicative of their pace as the No. 21 team topped practice sessions multiple times during the season and won three poles. However, a second-place finish at Monza was the best the team could muster. A DNF at the Red Bull Ring and finishes well out of the hunt at Silverstone and Portimao did not help the team’s case.