Since is inception back in 2014, the LMP3 class of sportscar racing has very quickly gained popularity from both entrants and fans, especially as it serves as an introduction for drivers into the world of Le Mans Prototypes.
The category was introduced to mainstream sportscar fans back in 2015, when the European Le Mans Series added LMP3 in to it’s LMP2 & GT based championship. Over the five race season, the driver pairing of Sir Chris Hoy and Charlie Robertson in the Ginetta dominated, winning three races, as well as scoring a podium at the final round in Estoril. This experience, paved the way for Hoy to make his debut at Le Mans in 2016.
However, 2015 showed that while the class had potential, it needed time to grow, with just three teams competing in all the races of the ELMS, and mainly all using the Ginetta car. Over the off-season, Ligier’s LMP3 offering, the JS P3 quickly became the ‘go-to’ chassis, and by the end of the 2016 ELMS championship, there had been 17 cars entered in all six races.
This was aided no doubt by the success of the Ligier chassis, with 76 cars, having been sold by November 2016! The French manufacturer is also joined by ADESS, Norma and Riley as chassis manufacturers, along with the Ginetta cars campaigned with success back in 2015.
Away from the European Le Mans Series, the LMP3 cars were added to the bill at the Circuit de la Sarthe, home of the Le Mans 24 Hours. On the Saturday morning before the main race, 18 LMP3 cars lined up against 19 GT3 cars. Great attention to the multi-class support race, was bought by the inclusion of former-Formula One driver Martin Brundle, driving a Ligier, as well as 1988 Le Mans winner Jan Lammers. With the vast majority of chassis’ being of the Ligier variety, it was also pleasing to see one Ginetta and one ADESS-03 both being entered, with the Ginetta lining up on the front row for the start.
The race saw a fantastic battle between the United Autosports entry of Brundle and Chris England, against the DC Racing Ligier of Alexandre Cougnaud and Thomas Laurent. Laurent incidentally would go on in 2017 to become a star of the WEC and Le Mans 24, with the DC Racing ORECA, leading for some time, and eventually finishing in second on the overall podium.
In 2017, capitalizing on the success in Europe, the LMP3 Cup was launched, as a UK based series, and backed by Henderson Insurance Brokers. The aim of the series is clear, to foster talent, either old or young, and with the experience gained, for them to one day be taking the start at the Le Mans 24 Hours. The cars run inline with the ACO regulations, with the driver pairing being made up, of a bronze rated driver, along with a driver of any FIA grading.
The championship in 2017 is contested at six circuits, with two races per weekend. Starting at Donington in April, the series moved to Brands Hatch, then over to Spa Francorchamps, then Silverstone (on the Grand Prix layout none the less). Two rounds remain in 2017, with the next being at Snetterton on the 12th and 13th of August, and the season finale, again at Donington, on the 16th and 17 of September. The final two races will also feature the debut in the championship for Sir Chris Hoy, undoubtedly adding some media attention.
The season opener at Donington Park saw a dominant win for Alisdair McCaig and Colin Noble in the Nielsen Racing entered Ligier, ahead of their teammates Jason Rishover and Jamie Spence, who finished second. McCaig and Noble also won the second race on the Sunday, followed home by Tony Wells and Matt Bell in the United Autosports-entered Ligier.
At Brands Hatch, the entry fell slightly, with two teams falling victim to commercial issues. However this did not damper the racing, with Wells and Bell in the United car taking their first win of the season in the first race, despite a late race Safety Car. In the second race however, the Nielsen Racing duo of Noble and McCaig, returned to the top after finishing second in the first race, taking victory on the Sunday.
This battle between the Nielsen Ligier of McCaig and Noble and United’s Wells and Bell has continued all season long, meaning they are separating by just 27 points with four rounds remaining.
With such a long way to go, it will be a really exciting end to the season. Coverage can be found right here on ltmsport.com, and also on our Twitter feed for live text updates https://twitter.com/ltmsport?lang=en. Also the LMP3 Cup are on Twitter https://twitter.com/lmp3cup?lang=en.
The next race is at Snetterton on 12/13 August.