Gustavo Menezes will graduate to the highest level of international sportscar racing in 2018-19, after signing to compete for Rebellion Racing in the headlining LMP1 category of the FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) – describing it as a ‘dream’ move and ‘once-in-a-lifetime opportunity’.
After steering his burgeoning career from single-seaters, Menezes stunned observers during his maiden campaign in endurance racing’s premier global series in 2016 by speeding to both Le Mans 24 Hours glory and the fiercely-disputed LMP2 class crown with Signatech-Alpine.
His outstanding achievements deservedly earned the gifted young American the coveted FIA WEC ‘Revelation of the Year’ accolade and a head-turning try-out in Porsche’s potent LMP1 contender in the end-of-season Rookie Test in Bahrain.
The highly-rated Santa Monica native reprised his front-running form this year as he popularly triumphed on home turf at the Circuit of The Americas and tallied four further podium finishes behind the wheel of Alpine’s 600bhp A470 prototype.
Notwithstanding that valiant defence, early-season ill-fortune meant Menezes ultimately had to concede his hard-fought title to Rebellion’s No.31 crew, but the Anglo-Swiss outfit had nonetheless taken note of his talent – particularly when he starred for the team in a one-off, scene-stealing performance at Petit Le Mans, where he was the architect of some spectacular overtaking manoeuvres to scythe through from fourth position into the lead.
With Rebellion now returning to LMP1 following its successful single-season foray into LMP2, the Williams-Harfield Sports Group protégé will join forces with Porsche LMP1 refugees Neel Jani and André Lotterer – outright Le Mans winners and World Champions both – as well as reigning LMP2 title-holder Bruno Senna, fellow incumbent Mathias Beche and 2017 FIA WEC ‘Rookie of the Year’ Thomas Laurent in an all-star, six-strong, two-car driver line-up.
Already an ambassador for Rebellion Timepieces, Menezes is primed to push for overall FIA WEC honours when the series’ eagerly-anticipated and significantly overhauled new ‘super-season’ revs into life at Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium next May. To say that he is fired-up would be quite the understatement.
“It’s really special and a privilege to be joining Rebellion Racing to compete in LMP1,” enthused the former Jim Russell Driver Scholarship Award winner. “I want to thank the team for placing their trust in me, and I can’t tell you how excited I am to get into the car for the first time! I had a great couple of years with Signatech-Alpine, and now another adventure begins.
“It’s been an incredible journey from Formula 3 to FIA WEC, winning both Le Mans and the World Championship in my first season, driving an LMP1 car at the 2016 Rookie Test and now stepping up to actually race at the pinnacle of the sport! When I sampled the Porsche in Bahrain, I immediately thought, ‘this is the future – this is where I want to be’, so when the Rebellion option presented itself, it was way too good to turn down. This is my dream.
“I didn’t have the perfect season in 2017, so to go and race for Rebellion at Petit Le Mans and do so well there was a real boost. It was the ideal time to shine and show that I hadn’t lost any of my speed, and I don’t think that went unnoticed. The weekend also allowed me to get to know the team and witness first-hand the impressive calibre of everybody involved, and I instantly felt at home and established a good relationship.
“It’s a fantastic driver line-up for 2018-19, and I’m already good friends with some of the other guys in the team too, which definitely helps. There’s a great blend of youth and experience, and we all bring different qualities to the mix. After only two years in sportscars, I still can’t believe I will be competing for the biggest title in the discipline with such an amazing group of people – and I genuinely think we have a realistic shot at winning.
“This really is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I’m just a 23-year-old kid from California and American success in the highest echelons of global endurance racing has been few-and-far between, so to get the chance to battle for the World Championship in LMP1 is magical. It’s a pretty awesome story – and this is only the start! There is massive potential inside this team and I am looking forward to truly taking the fight to Toyota next year. I can’t wait to show everybody what we are capable of.”