Gustavo Menezes has been recognised for his standout performances in the 2016 FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) by being selected to take part in the official end-of-season LMP1 ‘Rookie Test’ in Bahrain with Porsche – describing it as an ‘unbelievable’ opportunity.
Having switched from single-seaters to sportscars this year, Menezes has made an instant impression in endurance racing’s premier and most fiercely-contested global series, partnering Nicolas Lapierre and Stéphane Richelmi in Signatech-Alpine’s 550bhp Alpine A460 prototype.
Four victories and six podium finishes from seven starts thus far – including a superb success in the iconic Le Mans 24 Hours – have enabled the gifted young American and his two team-mates to establish a commanding 38-point lead in the chase for the prestigious FIA Endurance Trophy for LMP2 Drivers. Such is their advantage that the trio can conceivably lift the laurels in the penultimate outing in Shanghai next month.
Menezes’ exceptional form has not gone unnoticed within the paddock, and the championship promoter has put him forward as one of just three LMP2 class competitors to participate in the LMP1 ‘Rookie Test’ around Bahrain International Circuit on 20 November, the day after the 6 Hours of Bahrain season finale at the same venue.
There, the highly-rated Santa Monica, California native will be able to further enhance his sportscar racing credentials inside the cockpit of the Porsche 919 Hybrid – the car that not only clinched last season’s LMP1 Drivers’ and Manufacturers’ titles and tops both 2016 tables for good measure, but which has also conquered the toughest race in the world two years in a row.
Indeed, Porsche is the most celebrated manufacturer in Le Mans history, with 18 outright triumphs to its name – five more than any of its rivals – and some of the sport’s most legendary drivers have competed for the marque over the years. Little wonder Menezes is already buzzing to get to Bahrain.
“I’m tremendously proud and hugely excited to have been chosen to take part in the LMP1 Rookie Test – it’s going to be one of the best days of my life!” enthused the 22-year-old Williams-Harfield Sports Group protégé, a former winner of the coveted Jim Russell Driver Scholarship Award. “It’s an honour that the championship organisers have put their faith in me, and I must thank Signatech-Alpine for always giving me the tools and support this season to do the job out on the track – you guys rock!
“The news came as a complete surprise. I was having lunch at Fuji last weekend when one of the WEC organisers beckoned me outside. My first thought was, ‘woah, what have I done?’ but he said ‘don’t worry, you’re not in trouble’ and told me I’d been chosen for the test. I couldn’t believe it – there are no words to describe the emotions I felt. I was mind-blown.
“When we committed to the sportscar route this year, this was one of our goals and we’ve worked so hard to achieve it. It’s a fantastic initiative from the championship to promote up-and-coming talent and give drivers like myself the chance to prove ourselves at the highest level. That alone is an unbelievable opportunity, and to see first-hand how a world championship-winning LMP1 team operates at the absolute pinnacle of international endurance racing is the icing on the cake.
“Every time I see a Porsche at the moment, it brings the biggest smile to my face. As a brand, it has such a rich heritage in the sport and is continuing to rewrite the record books all the time, and the 919 Hybrid is a dream machine – unquestionably one of the most technologically-advanced cars in the world. It will be incredible to climb behind the wheel in Bahrain, and I will listen and learn and take as much away from the experience as I possibly can. It’s already been an extraordinary season, and this will be a truly awesome way to end it. I can’t wait!”
Automobile Club de l’Ouest (ACO) President Pierre Fillon praised Menezes’ sportscar transition to-date as being ‘consistently impressive’, demonstrating both ‘outstanding performance’ and ‘great potential’ whilst WEC CEO Gérard Neveu admitted that with numerous candidates having been considered for the test, whittling them down to only three had been no simple task.
“We looked in depth at drivers from the world of endurance racing before making the selection, and believe that [these three] fully deserve the opportunity to demonstrate their talent and potential,” he affirmed. “This Rookie Test will give them an added bonus to their season, and forms an important element of the progressive career path available within the endurance family.”
Source. Russell Atkins Media/Photo. John Patterson