11 June 2023
Sixty years after its first appearance in the 24 Hours of Le Mans and ten years after its return in the Sarthe, Alpine celebrated both anniversaries with the festivities surrounding the centenary of the world's most famous 24 hours race.
From Friday onwards, the A-arrow brand's team were in the Le Mans town centre for the Scrutineering. After this first big event in front of a large crowd, the two crews headed to the Circuit de la Sarthe for Test Day. Although Les Bleus had a productive Sunday, the first free practice and qualifying sessions under a blazing sun left a certain amount of frustration within the team on Wednesday. Caught out in an incredibly nervous field, André Negrão and Matthieu Vaxiviere had to make do with positions far down the grid.
André Negrão and Charles Milesi then turned their focus to race preparations, which began in the presence of Renault Group CEO Luca de Meo. They settled into their respective cockpits at 4 pm on Saturday. On a slightly damp track, both were careful to avoid the opening lap hazards before the team took advantage of the first safety car period to adjust the strategy of the #36 Alpine. Coupled with an excellent restart, some impressive overtaking and a superb display of driving, this decision enabled Charles Milesi to leap from second to last to first place in just over an hour whilst André Negrão also made a series of overtakes to move up the order.
Still among the leaders after they realigned the strategies, they were relayed by Julien Canal and Memo Rojas before a downpour fell over the track. The two Silver drivers showed remarkable composure to seize the slightest opportunity and take control of the LMP2 category.
Nevertheless, the night threw up several hurdles for Philippe Sinault's team. Julien Canal was the first to be surprised by the precarious grip when he overtook a GTE Am. Thanks to the lightning intervention of the mechanics, the n°36 Alpine was back on track losing just one minute in the pits. Meanwhile, Memo Rojas and Olli Caldwell were incredibly reactive in changing conditions to get into podium contention. Shortly before midnight, however, the Mexican was the unfortunate victim of a pile-up between several cars heading to a slow zone. The damage sustained led the crew to make a 17-minute stop to repair the front half-axle, the rear end and other bodywork components.
Despite the setbacks and their consequences, Les Bleus continued to fight on in the middle of a night illuminated by the talent of their drivers. Among them, Charles Milesi emerged as one of the fastest competitors during his triple stints and got back on the leader's lap by relaying with Matthieu Vaxiviere before Julien Canal completed his minimum driving time. Meanwhile, Olli Caldwell, Memo Rojas and André Negrão also did their utmost to rejoin the top ten.
In a race that became more and more straightforward despite numerous slow zones, the six drivers kept pushing while relying on the flawless performance of the technical team to maximise their chances for the final sprint. However, with two hours to go, Charles Milesi had to deal with a front-right puncture. His final push saw the n°36 car move up to fourth place, a gain of 19 positions, thanks to a last-minute overtake on the n°31 WRT. Concurrently, the n°35 crossed the chequered flag with André Negrão behind the wheel in ninth place, ten places better than its grid position. It is the Alpine Elf Endurance Team's best result to date in this year's FIA World Endurance Championship, ahead of the season's next round at Monza ( 7-9 July).
Away from the track, the A-arrow brand created a buzz throughout the week. Between a host of events, exhibitions and parades, Alpine revealed the A110 R Le Mans and the A424_β, the precursor of the hypercar that will compete in the premier category of the FIA World Endurance Championship and the 24 Hours of Le Mans from 2024. It's now a reality.
André Negrão: "I have mixed feelings at the end of this crazy race. It wasn't the result we were aiming for, but we put in a great performance, racing at the front of the field to challenge for the podium until just seven seconds were enough to wipe out our efforts, and there wasn't much we could do about it. From then on, we had to finish the race to see how far we could climb. I want to congratulate the whole team, Memo and Olli for his superb work on his first 24 Hours of Le Mans."
Olli Caldwell: "This is good to see the finish line for my first 24 Hours of Le Mans, especially considering where we came back from after qualifying. We didn't know what to expect and had a few issues during the race, but I think the fact that we could challenge for a good result is almost as good as getting it. We made a big step forward with a top ten finish at the end of this long week and we learnt a lot to improve our car. I hope we can build on this momentum."
Memo Rojas: "It was great to see such a comeback after the unfortunate incident we were involved in. The team worked fantastically quickly to repair the car, get us back on track and achieve a great top-ten result. We still have some work to do, but we learned a lot from this week, and I know that this team will continue to give all it has until we reach the top."
Matthieu Vaxiviere: "It's frustrating to finish fourth, but we can't be disappointed if we put things into perspective by looking at where we started on the grid. We were 23rd, second last at the start, and we managed to climb back up to finish fourth, showing that Alpine knows how to run great races and be successful at Le Mans. There's no one to blame, the team did a fantastic job, and we scored third-place points in the championship. It will give us greater confidence for the rest of the season."
Charles Milesi: "To finish the race is a small victory in itself, given the number of casualties. I think we can be pleased with fourth place, given our starting position. We managed to turn things around by making a big step forward in pace. The team did an excellent job, including on the technical side, as we didn't encounter the slightest problem. We had a near-perfect race except for a puncture and a minor contact, but I think we can be proud of this weekend, which could get our season back on track."
Julien Canal: "Although the result may seem frustrating, it's our best to date this season, and our climb from the back of the grid to just off the podium proves that. We thought it would be a tough race, but we battled our way to the front thanks to some big improvements to the car, and I'm delighted that we managed to turn things around. The same goes for me with some good times and impressive consistent overtaking of the leaders. I'm very proud of that, and it gives us a boost of confidence. Morale and desire are so important in this sport that you can move mountains if you have it, and that's definitely the case for me!"
Philippe Sinault, Alpine Elf Endurance Team Principal: "Our start to the week in Le Mans was difficult, but the real satisfaction came from showing our ability to react by being immediately on the pace at the start. We opted for a compromise as rain was likely, as fairly large deltas between the ambient and track temperatures. We did a good job anticipating this while adopting an excellent strategy to find ourselves quickly with our two crews in the lead. Neither of our cars escaped issues during the night, but our trios finished fourth and ninth. It shows that we can fight for the podium by remaining calm, composed, concentrated and motivated to seize any opportunity in this race where anything can happen. I'd also like to underline the solidarity between the drivers within the team in our difficulties, like when we all got together on Friday to pull together. Lastly, it's been a fantastic event, with such a thrilling and indecisive finish that bodes well for the future, and we can't wait to join our future rivals in the premier category."
24 Hours of Le Mans 2023 – LMP2
1. Inter Europol Competition n°34 328 laps
2. Team WRT n°41 +21.015s
3. Duqueine Team n°30 + 1 lap
4. Alpine Elf Endurance Team n°36 + 1 lap
9. Alpine Elf Endurance Team n°35 + 6 lap s
FIA Endurance LMP2 Trophy
1. Team WRT n°41 – 94 points
2. Inter Europol Competition n°34 – 90 points
3. United Autosports n°22 – 74 points
6. Alpine Elf Endurance Team n°36 – 46 points
11. Alpine Elf Endurance Team n°35 – 17 points