Nicolas Lapierre says he was delighted to receive “another chance” to compete for overall wins in the FIA World Endurance Championship by reuniting with his former LMP2 team Signatech Alpine, seven years on from his last full-time role in the top category.
The quadruple 24 Hours of Le Mans class winner was recently named in Alpine Endurance Team’s crew for its debut in the Hypercar class, which replaces LMP1 as the WEC’s headlining prototype division.
Lapierre, Andre Negrao and Matthieu Vaxiviere will drive the Signatech-prepared Alpine A480 Gibson, which is a rebranded ORECA-built LMP1 previously run by Rebellion Racing.
Lapierre has not held a full-time position in LMP1 since his spell with Toyota which ran for two and a half seasons from 2012 until midway through the 2014 campaign.
After being dropped from Toyota’s main crew, Lapierre switched his focus mainly to LMP2 and only returned to LMP1 for one Le Mans call-up from the Japanese company.
His new role is set to enable him to compete against his former team for overall wins.
“I’m very happy to be back in the top category and I was looking for this for many years,” Lapierre told Sportscar365.
“Obviously I came back with Toyota in 2017 to do Le Mans, but I have never raced against them. When I joined them in 2012, it was the first year, and I’ve always raced with them in [WEC] LMP1.
“So it’s going to be a first, and I’m looking forward to it. I still have a lot of friends there, as drivers or on the technical side, so it’s quite cool to be fighting against them.
“But most important is for me to be back in the top category.
“One of my targets is to achieve winning Le Mans. I did it a few times in LMP2, which is great, but as an endurance driver what you want is to win in the top category.
“I have got another chance to do it, and hopefully we can take that.”
Lapierre suggested that his half-decade exile in LMP2 played a significant part in him finding a way back into the top class, while the timing is now right for an LMP1 return.
His LMP2 stint, which is continuing this year in the form of a European Le Mans Series drive with the Cool Racing team that he co-manages, heralded four Le Mans class victories plus two WEC titles with Signatech Alpine in 2016 and 2018-19.
Three of those Le Mans wins came with the team that he is now representing in Hypercar, while his first triumph in the French enduro came with KCMG back in 2015.
“It’s always hard when you come to the top category and return to LMP2, because it can only be negative and people can always judge, saying that if you are not able to fight in LMP2 it was right that you didn’t have your chance in LMP1,” said Lapierre.
“In the end, coming back into LMP2 and winning two championships and Le Mans four times, it was just great for me.
“This new challenge, coming back to the top category, is the right timing and I’m very much looking forward to it.
“It came at the right time because [in recent seasons] the LMP1 category was not really busy and there were not a lot of opportunities with just Toyota going around.
“It was not really exciting, and to be honest if I had the opportunity to join the team to fight against Toyota the previous three or four years, I wouldn’t have gone there because it was just too obvious that Toyota was going to win the championship.
“I was happy to race in LMP2 where the fight was just tremendous.
“But now with this BoP and the new rules, Alpine has a real chance to do something good there, and I think it’s the right time for me to come back.”
Lapierre, who is hopeful that his LMP1 return could springboard a potential LMDh role in the future, added that he is joining a Signatech Alpine operation possessing the “same philosophy and approach” that he experienced during his first spell with the team.
Alpine took delivery of its new LMP1 in December and is set to go testing within the next two weeks, ahead of the planned WEC season-opener at Portimao in April.
“When I left Alpine [in 2019] it was like we finished what we had to do,” said Lapierre.
“Then when Philippe [Sinault, Signatech team principal] told me they were going to continue in LMP2, they had won everything. So I thought it was a done deal and I wanted to go to a new adventure. This is why I left two years ago.
“Obviously we stayed in touch, and quite early Philippe told me about this LMP1 program. I always told him that if it was going to happen, I wanted to be there for sure.
“I went to Bourges at the start of the year and the team has the same philosophy and approach, which I really like.
“Everything we developed together during the years I was there are still there, but much improved. I think the team is really motivated.
“They won everything in LMP2 and it was the right time to get this new challenge. There is a real chance to move into a good position to do well in the category.”
Alpine Lineup Enjoying Underdog Status
Lapierre believes that Alpine Endurance Team will lap up its status as a rookie in the top class, racing against Toyota which has been in the category for almost a decade.
Both Vaxiviere and Negrao are new to LMP1 machinery, despite their extensive experience in the second-tier formula.
However, Lapierre reckons the trio can validate the strength of LMP2 in recent years by going up against Toyota’s squad of world champions.
“It’s like seeing, for example, second division guys going to the first division in football and to see how they play,” said Lapierre.
“We’re going to be super hungry and willing to prove what we can achieve.
“It’s exciting for us and for the people watching, to see what we can do. I hope we have a chance to fight against them.”