There won’t be a blue ORECA 07 Gibson car with number 17 on the side panels, once the 2021 edition of the 24 Hours of Le Mans start tomorrow, Saturday.
Era Motorsport, which is the team behind the IDEC Sport #17 car, has chosen to pull out, after a true nightmare weekend for them.
It all started out last weekend, where Kyle Tilley injured his shoulder, so he had to skip the NASCAR race in Indianapolis. That resulted in him in missing the 24 hours of Le Mans as well. The team had contact with an unnamed driver, but that driver tested positive for COVID-19 prior to the announcement.
So they ended up making a deal with Thomas Laurent, who would be able to give plenty of feedback, and help Ryan Dalziel out with the setup of the car.
Dwight Merriman had an accident on Sunday morning, on the way towards Tertre Rouge, where the car was so severely damaged, that the team had to get a new chassis. So no more driving for them during the test day.
They were ready to roll back on the track for the Wednesday practice during the afternoon, and got quite a few laps without major issues, and that continued in the Qualifying and the Free Practice 2, Wednesday evening. But there was an issue with the speed of Merriman, since he was worryingly slow during his night laps around Circuit de la Sarthe. He was 24 seconds slower than Thomas Laurent, and 22 seconds slower than Ryan Dalziel – on his fastest lap. That made him get very close to the minimum speed, of which you are required to do. He was about 20 seconds slower than the fastest LMP2 pace during day, so that wasn’t so fast either.
Free Practice 3 was run Thursday afternoon, and unfortunately, we ended up with another Merriman induced Red Flag. The American lost the rear of the car during breaking for the Dunlop Chicane, and hit the inside wall so hard, that another chassis was ready for the bin.
The team made an announcement on Friday morning, that they are going to pull out of the race, since they don’t feel confident about the car setup and the feel that the low downforce package that is mandatory at Le Mans, gives them on the track. Merriman has done plenty of laps in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship and the European Le Mans Series, but that has all been with the high downforce package.
But the fact is, Merriman has done 33 laps during daylight hours, and 6 laps during the dark – and if you add the 5 laps that he managed to do in 2020, until he crashed and totalled a car in the Porsche Curves, plus sending himself to the local hospital, so he had to miss the race. During that total of 39 laps, he has totalled 3 chassis’s, with two of them being within the first 15 laps!
In case of Era Motorsport, with Dwight Merriman as one of the drivers, wish to return to Le Mans in 2022, it’s going to be essential for him to do loads of laps in an ORECA 07, with the low downforce package – preferable at Paul Ricard, where there is plenty of run-offs, so most mistakes don’t have huge consequences, or to move his focus towards the GTE Am category, where things don’t happen quite as quickly.
Don’t forget, that the current LMP2 times – even with the cars slowed down a bit for this year – still are faster than most of the years with Audi R8 LMP1 cars on track during 2000-2005. They primarily made their laptime down the straights, while the LMP2 car has higher speed around the corners, even with the low downforce kit.
That has reduced the field to 61 cars, with fingers crossed that both Inception Racing Ferrari #71 and Porsche #92 can be repaired in time, following their big shunts on Thursday evening.