For Nathanaël Berthon, LMP2 was an excellent school. From his first Le Mans outing in 2015 (with Murphy Prototypes) to last year’s race with DragonSpeed, the Frenchman has had plenty of time to hone his experience at the wheel of a ‘smaller’ prototype. “It was an excellent school. You build up your confidence in LMP2, before graduating to LMP1. It’s a great way to learn the ropes. That doesn’t mean it’s mandatory. Some drivers go straight into LMP1 and have the pace from the outset. Take Fernando Alonso,” Berthon says.
He’s a hard worker and is fully familiar with the Oreca 07s, which make up a large proportion of the field and which he compares to the Rebellion R13-Gibson that he has been driving this year. “Today’s LMP2s are extremely powerful. There’s not all that much difference with the LMP1s. During last year’s qualifying, I clocked a time of 3:24.883 (in LMP2). This year, we’re at 3:16 (with an LMP1), which is faster, admittedly, but ultimately not that far off. The cars have the same engine block and the monocoque is the same. There is the same philosophy behind the cars. However, they’re very different to drive and the cockpit environment is totally different. There is so much more to get to take into consideration when driving an LMP1. More things to think about behind the wheel. And we have more people, more mechanics and engineers, so we can discuss technical issues in full detail.”
The #3 Rebellion R13-Gibson, which he shares with Rebellion Racing teammates Thomas Laurent and Gustavo Menezes, really appeals to the French driver: “The aero package is really well designed. If the engine was a bit more powerful, we could make up the difference in peak speed, but the package is really excellent overall. It’s great to see a private team reach this level, and it just wouldn’t have been possible a few years ago.”
Nathanaël Berthon is at ease on the Le Mans track. He has come to understand the race and its conventions. “Everything is different here. Yes, the circuit is long, but race week is long too! There’s a real protocol, from Scrutineering to the race, and its makes for a very special atmosphere.”
Berthon talks regularly to his teammates in the sister car (#1 Rebellion R13-Gibson) and this year has a real chance of being among the frontrunners. Will this be just the start of his Le Mans LMP1 career? We certainly hope so, because we often say that Le Mans chooses its winners and we have an inkling that Nathanaël Berthon will be among them one day.
PHOTO: LE MANS (SARTHE, FRANCE), CIRCUIT DES 24 HEURES DU MANS, 13 JUNE 2019. Nathanaël Berthon is ready to go for his LMP1 début at the 24 Hours of Le Mans.