In 2023 LMP2 entered Motul Petit Le Mans in a three-way fight for the championship that ended with Ben Keating winning his second championship, this time with Paul-Loup Chatin. With a bigger roster thanks to teams moving or expanding from other classes, and some European imports, it’s very possible the fight in 2024 could be just as close, with even more teams involved.
Picking out what teams those might be is complicated. Very few teams and driver combos start 2024 the way they ended 2023. It’s been a big, boisterous game of musical race seats in the off season.
“You look down the entry list, and almost every car you go, ‘Oh, those guys could win. They could win, they could win,’” states Colin Braun, reunited with longtime driving partner Kurtz. “I think the whole thing is going to be pretty darn competitive. Everyone seems to be kind of gunning for not filling the field but gunning to win. And I think we’ve circled almost all of them on our on our side, looking at who’s competitive.”
They say a Pro-Am pairing is only as good as the Bronze, so let’s start with the guy who many say is the best Bronze in a race car right now. Not only is Ben Keating a two-time and defending LMP2 champ, but the Texas car dealer magnate also was part of the Corvette trio that took the final GTE-Am title in the World Endurance Championship.
Phil Hanson, with whom he’ll drive in the No. 85 JDC-Miller MotorSports Porsche 963 in GTP while doing double duty at the Rolex 24 at Daytona, describes him as, “Scary quick.” Keating is now racing with United Autosports USA, competing its first full season in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, and partnered with Ben Hanley, who took the Michelin Endurance Cup with George Kurtz last season. It’s a formidable partnership that could easily result in a title for the drivers in the No. 2 ORECA.
Speaking of United, they’ll be running a second car – and two-car teams are a bit of an anomaly in LMP2 – for LMP3 graduate Dan Goldburg, who finished second in his LMP2 debut at Indianapolis last year. Goldburg is joined by Paul Di Resta, a longtime driver in United’s universe, so the F1 and DTM veteran knows how capable the team is.
“We’re not expecting any adjustment time; we’re expecting to be at the top,” declares Di Resta. “[United is] a top team. They come in to mean business and we’re here to fight for the win straight off and try and do what we can. I believe that is possible. And the most important thing is sticking to the true roots of what United is and what they’re about.
“They’ve come here to show a huge statement. I’m not saying that’s going to pay off because you need a lot of luck, but there’s no adjustment time needed. I think they’ve got enough experience and enough tools to hit it hard straight away.”
Kurtz finished second to Keating last season and is looking to move the No. 04 CrowdStrike by APR ORECA up a notch. With Braun becoming available due to Meyer Shank Racing’s unfortunate exit, it only made sense for Kurtz to reunite with his longtime driving partner, with whom he won the GT World Challenge America Pro-Am title last season. It’s a potent pairing.
“Last year watching from the outside, and knowing George well, it was really competitive, some crazy battles,” says Braun. “And I think this year, it’s only more competitive and a deeper field. So it’s going to be a big battle and challenge. But George has proven to be one of the best Bronzes in the paddock, and I’m looking forward to driving with him. This CrowdStrike by APR team did a great job in IMSA, we won with them at Le Mans together, so there’s some continuity and some some confidence there. I think we have all the pieces to really achieve this year.”
Steven Thomas and Mikkel Jensen are one of the few pairings returning as-is for 2024, and sticking with the same team, TDS Racing in the No. 11 ORECA. The team that won two races in 2023 should remain a contender. John Farano, the 2022 champion who missed most of 2023 after a crash, should have some success with Ferdinand Habsburg-Lothringen in the No. 8 Tower Motorsports ORECA.
Dwight Merriman and Ryan Dalziel are returning with Era Motorsport. Jake Galstad/Motorsport Images
Dwight Merriman and Ryan Dalziel are another pair returning with the same team, once again driving the No. 18 ORECA for Era Motorsport. The duo has a habit of winning at Road America, but missed a trip to victory circle in 2023.
For the newcomers, the team with the best opportunity to upset the apple cart has to be Gar Robinson, Felipe Fraga and Riley Motorsports. They dominated LMP3 in 2023, won two championships, are have to be considered the strongest threat among rookie LMP2 teams. Inter Europol won the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 2023, and have teamed with 2023 champs PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports to field the No. 52 ORECA for Jakub Smiechowski and Nick Boulle, who could certainly see victory. PJ Hyett has drafted Chatin into his No. 99 AO Racing ORECA – liveried as a dragon and nicknamed “Spike” as he moves to LMP2.
Finally, there’s the outlier … Sean Creech Motorsport has moved from LMP3 with Lance Willsey and Joao Barbosa. The oddity? Willsey brought a Ligier to the all-ORECA party that is LMP2.
“I’m optimistic. I think we’re gonna go out there, we’re going to be competitive,” says Willsey. “I’m not going to be grandiose and say that we’re going to run away from the field because we’re most certainly not, but I am confident that with the driver lineup, the team we have behind us, we have all the ingredients in place to be competitive.”
The No. 33 SCM Ligier showed good pace during the Roar. If they can maintain that throughout the season, they may indeed be competitive in what is certainly a stellar field of LMP2 teams.