Gustavo Menezes was in bullish mood as Rebellion Racing released a sneak preview of the new R13 that he will pilot in the 2018/19 FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) at the Geneva Motor Show yesterday (6 March), describing his new ride as ‘one mean motor’ as he revs up for his maiden assault on international sportscar racing’s most prestigious title.
Still aged just 23, Menezes is one of the hottest properties on the endurance racing scene right now. In his rookie campaign in the fiercely-disputed discipline in 2016, the talented young American not only won the LMP2 class in the legendary Le Mans 24 Hours – widely regarded as the toughest race in the world – but he went on to lift the coveted Drivers’ trophy come season’s end, courtesy of four victories and three further rostrum finishes from nine starts.
Menezes added another triumph – on ‘home’ turf in Texas – and four more podiums to his impressive résumé last year, leading to his recruitment by 2017 LMP2 Teams’ Champion Rebellion Racing, where he will share the No.3 entry with Thomas Laurent and Mathias Beche as the Swiss outfit returns to the headlining LMP1 category with its new Gibson-powered ORECA prototype. All three men are class-winners at Le Mans, while Beche also counts the 2012 European Le Mans Series LMP2 class crown on his career CV – as well as a long prior association with Rebellion.
“I’ve been spending some time with the team and my new team-mates, and I’m starting to get really excited!” enthused highly-rated Santa Monica, California native Menezes, the 2016 FIA WEC ‘Revelation of the Year’ and a former winner of the Jim Russell Driver Scholarship Award. “It’s cool to have two such distinct driver line-ups at Rebellion – the young guys against the older, more experienced crew.
“I raced against both Thomas and Mathias throughout last season, but I’ve raced with them in the past, too, in the Asian Le Mans Series and Petit Le Mans so I already know them reasonably well and can vouch for just how quick and competitive they are. Thomas won the Le Mans 24 Hours at the age of only 18, I’m one of the youngest Americans ever to win the race and Mathias has a lot of knowledge of working with ORECA and knows the team inside-out.
“We all get along very well, and that chemistry is so important in endurance racing, where being able to lean on each other and support one another is absolutely key. It looks like we’re going to be the youngest driving partnership in the LMP1 field – and by some margin – but we still have a considerable amount of experience between us and I can assure you we are ultra-motivated and hungry for success. Here’s hoping we can really take it to the sister car and give the factory Toyota boys a hard time, too!”
The 2018/19 FIA WEC ‘Super Season’ will see ten cars vying for glory in the top tier LMP1 class – with one of the most prominent names on the entry list a certain two-time Formula 1 World Champion called Fernando Alonso. Menezes reveals he is looking forward to going wheel-to-wheel with the Spaniard out on-track – even if at the end of the day, the McLaren star is ‘just another driver that I want to beat’.
“It will be pretty surreal to be fighting against Fernando,” reflected the Williams-Harfield Sports Group protégé. “I had a little taste of it at Daytona earlier this year, and I remember spending the summer with Carlos Sainz Jnr back in my mid-teens. We used to constantly play the Formula 1 game on the PlayStation; one of us was always Sebastian Vettel, and the other was Alonso.
“It’s fantastic for the series to have big names like that coming in and there’s no doubting Fernando’s calibre as a two-time F1 World Champion, but as soon as the helmet goes on and the visor comes down, he’s just another driver that I want to beat.
“Rebellion and ORECA have been working together non-stop all winter and are doing everything in their power to give us the best package possible, and they always come up with a competitive proposition. Yes, we’re a little bit behind the curve in terms of pre-season testing – the R13 probably won’t roll out until the official ‘Prologue’ group test at Paul Ricard early next month, which means the first race at Spa-Francorchamps will be quite literally a shakedown for Le Mans – but that is a deliberate tactic.
“There are inevitably hiccoughs and minor issues with any new car, and we want to make sure we are as prepared as we can be before we hit the track because there are so many unknowns out there still, with five different chassis and engine manufacturers in the LMP1 field. We won’t truly find out what the pecking order is until we get to the first race weekend.
“That said, I’m confident we will have a quick car underneath us, and the new Rebellion looks awesome – really aggressive and purposeful and one mean motor! What is it they say, if it goes even half as fast as it looks… Ultimately, this year represents a massive opportunity for me – and I fully intend to grab it with both hands and run with it!”
The 2018/19 FIA WEC ‘Super Season’ will incorporate eight rounds across Europe, Asia and North America, including two editions of sportscar racing’s jewel in the crown – the iconic Le Mans 24 Hours. The action will begin with the 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium on 3-5 May.