How P4 Could Save LMP3 in the UK

With the Ligier JS P4 making its racing debut in the UK last weekend, Connor Jackson looks at what doors the new Prototype open for National Racing.

Credit: Dan Marr / Motorsport Media

If you’re a national racing fan, especially of anything on four wheels, this weekend will certainly be one of your highlights of the season. BTCC, British GT and their appropriate supports are all in action, with the former racing at Thruxton, the UK’s fastest circuits.

But outside of the BTCC, GT and of course BSB for fans of two wheels, there’s another package that’s vying to be one of the UK’s top attractions. While BTCC visit Donington Park this weekend, the MSVR Club Car Championship kicked off their campaign at the Derby-based circuit a few days ago.

Featuring the GT Cup and MSV F3 Cup the MSVR have already put themselves in position to challenge the British GT package and along with a number of club events, there is one more addition to the calendar that has quickly become the headline of the weekend, that being the LMP3 Cup.

Set up in 2016, the LMP3 Cup has immediately become the fastest national series on four wheels, with a lap round Donington National taking only 62 seconds. That’s 5 seconds quicker than an Aston Martin GT3 and 8 seconds quicker than BTCC’s pole time from 2017.

With teams split into Pro-Am pairs, it provides the perfect opportunity for young talent to prove their ability before stepping into LMP2 in Europe, while Gentlemen drivers get the traditional Le Mans experience without forking out half a million for the privilege.

So why then have numbers failed to pick up?

The #21 Mectech Motorsport – Norma M30 picked up victory in the second Donington Park race (Credit: Dan Marr / Motorsport Media)

Now in its second full season, the series entered Donington with 7 LMP3 cars. While this isn’t as bad as the Asian Le Mans Series (who only had five present at the final round,) when the ELMS boasts 18 cars, it raises questions over the financial capability of running such a machine on a purely national scale.

If there’s something that Sportscars have taught us though, it’s that cheaper models will always be built. GT1 and GT2 may have gone the way of the history books, but the current success of GT3 (British GT gaining an extra entry this year) and GT4 throughout Europe has proven that sometimes a downgrade can be a move forward for a category.

Step forward, the Ligier JS P4.

With the exception of the Mectech Motorsport’s Norma M30, all other cars in LMP3 Cup are run on Ligier’s and their JS P3 car. So it would only be natural for the outfit to test their new PT4 class car in the UK’s Prototype series.

The lap times could not match the competition. Matt Bell, who drove the car on his own all weekend, was five seconds off the pace. His best lap coming in the first qualifying session, setting a lap of 1min 07.012. With Onroak Automotive designing the car to slot in between the LMP3 and CN categories, the car was not intended to be a sign of the times to come, but the car does open the doors for different manufacturers to test what they can do with the same design.

Last year, hinted the price for the model to be around €160,000, but with Ligier themselves acknowledging the JS P3 will tip past the €200k mark and older P3 models still selling for more than the P4, the move could tip entries in their favour. With a number of GT3 Models, costing around the same if not more than the P3 to run for a single year, the JS P4, while untested, may allow drivers to compete for less while achieving the same speed.

Matt Bell drove the JS P4 on his own in both 1 hour races. (Credit: Dan Marr / Motorsport Media)

The P4 continues to blur the line ever more between classes of motor racing, as the machine clearly takes inspiration from the Radical Sportscars, which the Head of; Phil Abbot, worked together with Onroak’s Jacques Nicolet to build.

At the weekend, Bell, perhaps rather unsurprisingly, ran at the back for much of the two 1-hour races. On both occasions he finished over three laps down failing to average over 100mph in the opening race. He didn’t finish last in race two though, as continued problems ensured that the #22 crossed the line 1 lap ahead of race one winner Christian Olsen in the #7 Ligier.

It’s clear the JS P4 has no intention of competing with its older brother, but a successful debut in the UK and a years experience in the VdeV Challenge could yet see the car become the pioneer for a more-affordable Prototype experience… however that may look.

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