OAK Racing, who are contesting the full 2013 FIA World Endurance Championship with their #24 and #35 Morgan Nissan LM P2s, will enter a third car in the opening three rounds. The #45 machine will be present at this week’s official WEC test at Paul Ricard (29/30 March) where Jacques Nicolet, Jean-Marc Merlin and Philippe Mondolot will all appear behind the wheel.
The strong gentleman driver line-up, which maintains the original ethos of the Le Mans 24 Hours, will see Nicolet and Merlin share the car at Silverstone and Spa before being joined by Mondolot at La Sarthe in June. With an average age of 54 the crew will be counting on their experience and consistency.
This will be OAK Racing President and ‘silver’ grade driver Nicolet’s seventh season of racing sports-prototypes having notched up a class podium at Le Mans and a further five top-threes in LM P2 throughout 2012.
Like Nicolet, Merlin came to sports-prototypes through historic racing, VdeV, Group C and Classic Endurance Racing, among others, before successfully competing in the modern Porsche Cup Asia, VdeV, Dubai and Spa 24 Hour races, and Formula Le Mans. He has been an active racing driver since 2000.
Meanwhile Mondolot might have only begun his competition career in 2004 but the driver from Nantes has already made a big impression by winning three consecutive VdeV Proto Endurance Challenge titles (2009, 2010 and 2011) and finishing as runner-up last season. He has already made a strong start to this year’s campaign after winning last weekend’s season-opening 6 Hours of Catalunya in Barcelona aboard a Norma M20 FC.
Sébastien Philippe, OAK Racing Team Principal: “This represents a very big challenge but also an opportunity for OAK Racing to run a trio of cars in the first three WEC races. For the ‘gentleman Morgan’ the key word is ‘fun’, although the team will manage the car and drivers in the same professional manner as our other two entries. The goal is to always have a good race and score the best possible result. Jean-Marc and Philippe are making their LM P2 debuts and have a lot to learn, but can count on their knowledge of other categories and a big asset in the form of Jacques, whose experience in this class will be invaluable. I’m sure there will be great moments ahead.”
Jean-Marc Merlin, #45 Morgan LM P2: “My passion for the Le Mans 24 Hours began at the age of 14 when a friend invited me to attend the 1978 race with his father François Servanin, a true gentleman driver who contested the event twelve times. My fascination with this race lead me to participate in every edition of the Le Mans Classic, which I won on corrected time in 2006, and over the years I’ve been able to drive some of the event’s most iconic cars. I love the human adventure of racing over 24 hours and have the great pleasure to share the occasion with my team-mates Philippe and Jacques. I cannot wait to fulfil my childhood dream by contributing to a genuine gentlemen driver crew at the 90th anniversary race.”
Philippe Mondolot, #45 Morgan LM P2: “I caught the motorsport bug in my childhood by regularly attending the Le Mans 24 Hours with my father, so this is a dream come true. I began by racing GTs, which seemed more accessible and are beautiful cars, as you can see on the road. But after tasting a prototype it would be difficult to backtrack! LM P2 is the logical conclusion. I can appreciate the great potential of the Morgan and my experience of CN prototypes will help me understand their driving style. However, the difference between going fast and very fast in these machines is a big step that I hope to achieve as successfully as possible.”
Jacques Nicolet, OAK Racing President and driver of the #45 Morgan LM P2: “I am very pleased to be contesting the Le Mans 24 Hours with a crew of gentlemen drivers who are passionate and effective. I also welcome the human experience aspect this adventure will provide alongside my team-mates Jean-Marc and Philippe, whose attitudes I appreciate as much as their driving abilities. We all share the same passion and enjoying ourselves is the main objective, albeit in the spirit of competition and with a desire to score the best possible results.”
The trio of gentleman drivers compliments OAK Racing’s pair of full-time Morgan LM P2 WEC entries that see Olivier Pla (FRA), Alex Brundle (GBR) and David Heinemeier Hansson (DEN) unite in the #24 car, and Bertrand Baguette (BEL), Martin Plowman (GBR) and Ricardo Gonzalez (MEX) sharing the #35. Both crews appear very competitive which, allied to the strong package of Morgan chassis, Nissan engine and Dunlop tyres – for whom OAK Racing has been selected as an official partner team for a fifth consecutive year – should allow them to fight for victory in the coming campaign.