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ESM Leads American Assault At The 2016 24 Hours Of Le Mans

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Friday, June 17 2016
Extreme Motor Sports' Ligiers could put the American team on the LMP2 podium at Le Mans this weekend.

Extreme Motor Sports’ Ligiers could put the American team on the LMP2 podium at Le Mans this weekend.

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor

America-based Extreme Speed Motorsports will start the most prestigious sports car race in the world this weekend with something very important that it did not have a year ago: experience in the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

That experience, combined with the momentum of a good start to the World Endurance Championship season this year, has the ESM team thinking podium, if not a victory, in the super competitive LMP2 class.

“After having one 24 Hours of Le Mans under our belt as a team,” Scott Sharp, co-driver of the No. 30 ESM Nissan-powered Ligier, said, “it is much easier the second time around.  All drivers know the track, we know what to expect, we are more prepared for the many challenges facing us, so I feel a huge sense of calm within our garage.”

For the second year in a row, ESM will field a pair of entries at Le Mans. Sharing the seat with Sharp in the No. 30 car at the famed 8.47-mile Circuit de la Sarthe will be Ed Brown and Johannes van Overbeek. Driving the sister No. 31 Ligier will be Ryan Dalziel, Chris Cumming and Pipo Derani.

The team will start the race Saturday sitting third in WEC LMP2 class points and driver points. It will also have some wind at its back as it finished third at Spa last time out.

LMP2 will field 23 cars at Le Mans this year.

While having raced in the event a year ago is making team members more comfortable this year,

The No. 30 ESM Nissan Ligier of Scott Sharp, Ed Brown and Johannes van Overbeek.

The No. 30 ESM Nissan Ligier of Scott Sharp, Ed Brown and Johannes van Overbeek.

competing at Le Mans continues to humble all who race there.

“Le Mans is bigger than any one driver or team,” van Overbeek said. “Racing here makes you feel very privileged no matter what you’ve done and where you’ve come from. Not only is it a tough race, it’s a tough week leading up to it. The days are very long and by race start, everyone is already exhausted. Dealing with the strain of the week is part of the challenge. It’s a very tough race to finish, let alone podium in. We’re ready for the big show.”

Dalziel is the only ESM driver to have mounted the top step of the Le Mans podium, winning the LMP2 class in 2012 in the Starworks Motorsport HPD ARX-03b.

He said there is no such thing as being a sage veteran at Le Mans.

“This year will be my 5th time competing and every year I still feel like it’s the first one,” Dalziel said. “I don’t get nervous or anxious about any other race. It’s just humbling to be there each year and try to once again win it. It’s such a huge race, even just logistically. The Le Mans Test Day just shakes the nerves off about Le Mans.”

The team participated in the open test at Le Mans earlier this month.  The test did give ESM a boost.

“I think we learned some things about the car and continued to improve,” Dalziel said. “I think nighttime is the most difficult of any endurance race I’ve competed in. It’s not that it is the darkest race, but it can feel almost lonely at times, so you have to be at full concentration. On those freak laps where you don’t pass or get passed, you feel like it’s almost not real. Dealing with the faster and slow cars only multiplies the nighttime difficulty level.”

A second shot for American success in P2 comes via Michael Shank Racing with Curb/Agajanian. Shank has leased a Honda Ligier from ESM and will race it as the No. 49 Honda Ligier JS P2 for Ozz Negri, John Pew and Laurens Vanthoor.

The 2016 24 will be Shank’s first at Le Mans.

“There are 23 cars in the LM P2 class, and two of my three drivers are rookies at Le Mans, so we’re keeping expectations maintained,” Mike Shank said. “We’re going to try not to make any mistakes and see where that puts us. We’re going to be as competitive as we can be – trust me, we’re going to push! – but we want to focus on minimal mistakes from the team and the drivers and keeping the car running. We’re throwing everything at it.”

The Shank car will be driven by the team’s regular drivers Ozz Negri and John Pew. They will be joined by Laurens Vanthoor.

“The biggest challenge will be every day when we go to the track,” Negri said. “Every day will be a new experience for me. I’ll try to enjoy it the best I can. I can’t deny than my focus is 100-percent here with IMSA – I want to win races with John – but we want to represent IMSA well at Le Mans and do well for Honda and our American fans. I’ve never been there, and everybody keeps telling me it’s gigantic.”

Perhaps America’s best hope for a class podium comes in GTE Pro. That’s where Corvette Racing’s C7.Rs compete and almost always, compete for victories.

Corvette racing will be on track at Le Mans for the 17th time. In 2016, it has already posted wins at

The Chevrolet Corvette Racing C7.R driven by Oliver Gavin, Tommy Milner and Jordan Taylor, races to victory at Circuit de la Sarthe in 2015.

The Chevrolet Corvette Racing C7.R driven by Oliver Gavin, Tommy Milner and Jordan Taylor, races to victory at Circuit de la Sarthe in 2015.

Daytona and Sebring in the IMSA WeatherTech Series.

Oliver Gavin was the fastest driver in the No. 64 Corvette C7.R during Wednesday’s and Thursday’s qualifying sessions with a lap of 3:55.848 (129.245 mph) to qualify 13th. He, Tommy Milner and Jordan Taylor won Le Mans last year in the GTE Pro class as Corvette Racing completed a Triple Crown season – winning Daytona, Sebring and Le Mans.

In the No. 63 Corvette C7.R, Antonio Garcia was the quickest of its three drivers with a lap 3:57.967 (128.127 mph) for the 14th position. Garcia is driving with Jan Magnussen and Ricky Taylor, who is making his first start with the team at Le Mans.

“We’ve said for some time that this year’s Le Mans would be the biggest challenge that Corvette Racing has faced in our 17 attempts here,” Doug Fehan, Corvette Racing program manager, said. “There has been nothing over the last two days that should lead anyone to think otherwise. The biggest assets we have are our experience and ‘never-give-up’ attitude that has helped Corvette Racing to eight Le Mans wins and the five Triple Crown victories in a row. Anything can happen at this race, and that’s what we love about Le Mans. It should be a great battle, and we’re looking forward to adding to our Le Mans legacy.”

Taylor, whose full-time job is driving for his father’s Wayne Taylor Racing team in a DP Corvette in the IMSA series, will be driving at Le Mans for a third time. But this year, he will step up a class.

“My other two starts with Pro-Am teams,” he said, “so the expectations weren’t always to win. The goal was to finish the race and be on the podium. But when you come toCorvette Racing, this is a team that always expects to win. You have to adjust your own expectations a little bit. It’s a real honor to be a part of this group. Very rarely do you have the chance to come to such a big event like Le Mans with a team that has a record like Corvette Racing. For me it’s about seizing the opportunity and doing the best I can to support Jan, Antonio and the rest of the Corvette Racing team.”

The 24 Hours of Le Mans starts at 3 p.m. local time (9 a.m. ET) on Saturday with live television coverage available on FOX Sports 1, FOX Sports 2 and the FOX Sports Go app. Radiolemans.com will have live audio coverage, as well.

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Friday, June 17 2016
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