Late last year, Ligier Automotive unveiled the brand new JS2 R as part of the brand’s 50th anniversary celebrations. This year, former 24H SERIES champions Nordschleife Racing oversaw the French GT’s first competitive 24-hour race. And that, as it turns out, is just part of the program…
When considering the most successful teams in 24H SERIES history, Team Altran is deservedly towards the top of that list. On its maiden CREVENTIC campaign in 2014, the French outfit took its Peugeot 208 GTI to three A5-class wins in four races and an additional two podiums. One year later, this total was repeated, albeit with a six-race calendar and in an increasingly tight A3T category.
Come 2016 though the French team was unstoppable, winning each of the five races for which the 208 GTi was entered that year and collecting two more podiums to secure 1st and 2nd in the A3 standings. In 2017, the 208, fittingly, finished 1st and 2nd on its swan song race in Dubai, while the 308 Racing Cup that replaced it made a similarly impactful debut collecting 1st and 2nd at the Red Bull Ring. Two further wins and four podium spots later, Team Altran was a champion once again, now in the TCR class.
Fast forward to this year’s Hankook 24H BARCELONA. The venerable 308 Racing Cup, now operated by ‘Nordschleife Racing’ after Team Altran Peugeot’s rebranding, has been unable to keep pace with Audi’s RS3 and Volkswagen’s Golf GTI in the TCR development arms race, and going into this year’s Catalan event, the Peugeot had scored just two podiums during admittedly reduced campaigns in 2018 and 2019.
At Barcelona, Il Lione
finished an underwhelming 9th, closing what’s set to be its final 24H SERIES race with a whimper rather than a roar. Not that this will dent the 308’s formidable series record too badly, of course.
“I wouldn’t want to say it’s a ‘sad’ event. It’s more like one chapter is closing as a new one opens,” said Nordschleife Racing communication manager, Arnaud Tinet. “We’re very happy about everything we’ve done with [the 308 Racing Cup]
and with this project. Peugeot has been an on-going story for us since 2010 when we were an official works team. There’s been a lot of highs and lows, but at the end of the day, a lot of success and a lot of trophies. We’ve done everything we set out to with this car, and it’s now time to start a new adventure.”
"When considering the most successful teams in 24H SERIES history, Team Altran is deservedly towards the top of that list."
The ‘new chapter’ in question refers to Nordschleife Racing’s other entrant at Barcelona this year. A model that, like its predecessor, was on the pace straight out of the blocks and claimed a class win on its maiden 24H SERIES outing…
…okay, fine, it was in the experimental ‘SP4’ class-of-one, but, hey, a podium’s a podium!
Launched at the 2018 Paris Motor Show, the new Ligier JS2 R celebrates the 50th anniversary of Ligier Automotive, the eponymous racing equipe of the late great Guy Ligier. Though its lineage dates back to the prototypical JS1 from whose slightly roughened edges the silks were dropped at the 1969 Salon de l’Auto, the new ‘R’ was more greatly inspired by its ‘JS2’ namesake of 1970, the first and so far only production Ligier sports car to-date. Like the 40+ Ligier GTs, single seaters, prototypes, and even ‘microcars’ before it, the ‘R’ also carries the venerated ‘JS’ insignia, an homage to former sports car ace – and close personal friend to Guy Ligier – Jo Schlesser, who tragically perished at the 1968 French Grand Prix.
The brand new JS2 R is much more than just a quirky design study, however. Designed and developed with the same ‘practical performance’ in-mind as its JS2 forebear, the JS2 R is Ligier’s un-ironic answer to the Porsche 991 Cup on-track, and already boasts its own dedicated single-make series. It’s a project therefore that Nordschleife Racing is taking very seriously.
“For Ligier, the JS2 R is a great way to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the brand as, basically, a revival” – JS2 R, get it?
– “of the original JS2. And for Nordschleife Racing, it’s a great opportunity moving forward. Early on, we saw that the car had massive potential, not just for short sprints but endurance races as well, and we know that Ligier Automotive has the proven knowledge and experience to design great, fast, quality racing cars. It was a win-win. Plus, there’s actually a little history between the senior managers of our team and senior managers at Ligier, so it was a nice opportunity to work together on a new project!
“What’s interesting about the [single-make Ligier JS Cup]
is that their races run between four and six hours, so we know that this car has been built to run race after race after race on a controlled budget, at pace and without much maintenance. That’s very important to potential customers.”
"Designed and developed with the same ‘practical performance’ in-mind as its JS2 forebear, the JS2 R is Ligier’s un-ironic answer to the Porsche 991 Cup."
Visually, and as you might expect, there are similarities to the JS2 of 1970 and its ‘R’ descendant, most notably those sloping headlights, razor-sharp bodylines and flared wheel arches. In a particularly neat nod to history, both also weigh 1010kg.
That’s about it though. Unlike its forebear, the ‘R’ was built specifically for the track rather than adapted from an existing road car, an immediate bonus for any aspiring customer team with 89,000 euros burning a hole in their Stand 21 race suits
. The original JS2 for example boasted both a 168hp Maserati V6 (later 192hp) for the road, and a 330hp Ford Cosworth DFV for the track, while the newboy was designed around Ford’s mid-mounted 3.7-litre V6, a unit capable of producing – yep – 330hp when mated with a six-speed sequential gearbox.
Under the bodywork lies an FIA-approved tubular steel chassis, to which double wishbones have been mounted front and rear (18in wheels are at the other end) and Brembo has got stopping power covered. Despite standing a shade under 4ft tall, the JS2 R is also “suitable for tall drivers”, a claim representative of the Ligier’s ‘user-friendly appeal’, albeit one not strained unduly by Nordschleife Racing’s Sebastien Poisson, Guillaume Roman, Mathieu Sentis and Sebastien Dussolliet in Barcelona.
Performance figures have yet to be revealed, but suffice to say, initial impressions on its Barcelona debut, plus profound cornering capability and technical support from Ligier mean Nordschleife Racing has some serious arsenal at its disposal.
“If you compare the Ligier with the Peugeot TCR, what strikes you when you remove the hood is that everything has been so efficiently put together, and there’s plenty of room for our mechanics to work around the engine, the suspension, the gearbox, etc. It’s very ‘simple’, I’ll say, but very strong, and built with performance and reliability in-mind. You don’t always get that with a road car that’s converted for the track. We essentially have all the pros of a race car with none of the cons.
“But what’s more important is the knowledge behind it all. We’ve been working hand-in-hand with Ligier for months now, talking about what kind of evolution the car needs to convert what was initially a Ligier JS Cup sprint car to a full endurance racer. Nordschleife has been endurance racing for close to 10 years now, and we know how to get the job done. So far, and together with great support from Ligier, this partnership has been working really well.”
"We essentially have all the pros of a race car with none of the cons."
However, assumptions that Nordschleife Racing, as with the 208 GTI and the 308 Racing Cup, planned to leap from the traps in Barcelona and gun for victory straight away are wide of the mark. Much as we saw with the new ‘Evo’ Mercedes-AMG GT3 in Portimão
, Barcelona’s formidably tough 24-hour race was instead the perfect platform for, essentially, an extended test and development program before a full championship assault in 2020. Focus was solely on the chequered flag at Barcelona.
“We first visited Ligier around July, and we then spent the whole summer analysing what needed to be done for 2020, making sure we were well prepared. That was the priority. We also wanted to compete in a 24-hour race as soon as we could, and the most feasible option was [the Hankook 24H]
“It made a lot of sense: we are a French team, Ligier is a French carmaker, we’re both very familiar with [the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya]
, and logistically, in terms of time and distance, Barcelona was perfect. We would have loved to do [the Hankook 24H COTA USA]
as well, but having the car in a container on the ocean for several weeks meant that just wasn’t a realistic option.
“Our job heading into in Barcelona was to get as many miles as possible under our belt to gather as much data as we could. And if it makes strategic sense to pull the car into the garage for a thorough check, then that’s what we were going to do. We weren’t worried about reliability. The JS2 R is so well-engineered in that, it’s small, it’s light, it’s agile, but it’s incredibly strong, and that’s [testament]
to Ligier. They design as many parts as they can, they build as many parts as they can, and there is a lot of crossover between this car and their P2, P3 and P4 prototypes. The level of performance you could see from this car over one lap is something you could expect across a full race, over several races or even over a full season. That’s so important for endurance racing, and it’s the main reason we wanted to do a 24-hour race as soon as possible. It’s the perfect testing opportunity.”
Ultimately, the Ligier JS2 R completes an impressive 510 laps on its maiden competitive outing in Barcelona, albeit in 34th place overall following a precautionary 4.5hr pit stop during the night. One done purely for diagnostic reasons.
There’s still work to be done, but so far, pace, longevity and reliability seem en point. Dubai will be the true test, as it has been for so many over the years. Arnaud isn’t too worried though, and nor should he be quite frankly. Alongside the Ligier’s now tested 24-hour performance, Nordschleife Racing, in its previous ‘Team Altran’ guise, is a former class winner in Dubai (twice), is a two-time series champion, and knows how to come out on top in a heavily competitive category. Turning that whimper into a roar is a strong possibility next year.
“We’re big fans of the 24H SERIES Continents, so we’re expecting to do Dubai, Barcelona and COTA in 2020, with maybe one additional race on the European schedule. With ‘the Continents’, you have all the flagship races with so many teams and so many people attending, and it just makes each event feel really special. We are all looking in the same direction, and that is a championship-win in next year’s 24H SERIES Continents. We’ve done it before. We know we can do it again!”
*Arnaud Tinet was speaking with James Gent at the 2019 Hankook 24H BARCELONA
Nordschleife Racing (#526)
Engine: Ford V6, 3,726cc
Power: 330bhp @ 6,500rpm
Torque: 400Nm (295lb ft) @ 5,000rpm
Transmission: Six-speed sequential, rear-wheel drive
Suspension: Double wishbones, rear actuated pushrods
Brakes: Brembo callipers, four-piston, 343mm (front), 304mm (rear)
Tyres: 260/660 R18 (front), 280/660 R18 (rear)
1st race, 1st class win (sort of), Hankook 24H BARCELONA
Sebastien Poisson, Guillaume Roman, Mathieu Sentis, and Sebastien Dussolliet