Alex Cascatău Set To Drive LMP3 Car For The Very First Time At Barcelona Test
GT & Prototype Challenge champion Alex Cascatău bookends the year by having his first go in an LMP3 prototype at Barcelona as the Romanian explores his options ahead of what is bound to be a busy 2021 season.
Fresh off a successful campaign in the Dutch GT & Prototype Challenge that yielded both class and overall titles for Cascatău, the Romanian is already looking ahead to 2021 and begins his preparation for the upcoming season by sampling the most popular LMP3 car in the world, Ligier’s JS P320. Five wins in six starts at venues such as TT Circuit Assen and Circuit Park Zandvoort have helped Alex gain confidence in his skills as he goes up through the ranks.
While the 2020 season was the first for Alex driving a CN-class prototype, he showed his speed from the very beginning delivering pole position for BS Racing by Baticonsult at virtually every occasion. The Norma M20 FC with its naturally aspirated, 260 horsepower Honda engine develops some rather impressive levels of downforce meaning Alex is more than ready to step up to the next level by getting behind the wheel of an LMP3 car, something he’ll do at Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya with the assistance of Team Virage from Spain.
The Ligier JS P320 is Team Virage’s weapon of choice in the Ultimate Cup or the European Le Mans Series and it is, as the name suggests, part of the third fastest group of FIA-sanctioned prototypes in the world right now. The car itself is powered by a Nissan 5.5-liter V8 engine that makes 455 horsepower. An Xtrac six-speed sequential gearbox sends all the power to the back wheels and, while 455 horsepower may not seem much when you compare it to what a road-going Ferrari produces, the Ligier’s lightweight construction sees it tip the scales at just 900 kilograms dry.
To put that into perspective, Team Virage’s Aston Martin Vantage GT4 is 500 kilograms heavier. Alex will have a whole day’s worth of testing around the Spanish Grand Prix course to properly get to know the €240,000 Ligier. He is set to drive in excess of 400 kilometers during the test which is a lot when you consider that the 16-turn track measures 4.65 kilometers in length.
Alex’s skills will particularly be put to the test through the Turn 1-2 sequence at the beginning of the lap where you’re shaving over 150 km/h of your speed as you brake at the end of the start/finish straight. Then there’s the long left hander that makes up Turn 3 followed by other complex corners like La Caixa, the slow Turn 10 coming off the back straight. In short, this track is perfect for Alex in his bid to get to the bottom of what you need to be doing to be fast in an LMP3 car.
That’s important because the Romanian, who’s progressed from racing in the local Dacia Logan Cup merely five years ago to pushing the high-downforce Norma prototype this year, looks to keep going up. In other words, you shouldn’t be surprised if you’ll see Alex driving in the ELMS or perhaps the Michelin Le Mans Cup.
Launched back in 2015, the LMP3 category was meant to be the gateway into the world of endurance racing for many up-and-coming drivers and teams. As a cost-effective alternative to the more expensived and, admittedly, faster LMP2 cars, LMP3 models feature a variety of spec parts including the engine which means a bespoke powerplant is out of question in order to keep the platform below the €240,000 price cap.
All of the cars built to the LMP3 set of rules share the same basic dimensions measuring no more than 4.65 meters in length while the width can be no greater than 1.9 meters or, in other words, just 100 mm shy off an F1 car. The latest rules, that came into effect in 2020, mandate the introduction of more powerful Nissan-Nismo engines (up to 455 horsepower from 420 horsepower), as well as traction control. Each of the four manufacturers that are currently selling LMP3 cars (Ginetta, Ligier, Duqueine, and Adess) offer new-generation cars although older LMP3s can be upgraded with the upgrade kit costing €50,000 (engine upgrades amount to €5,000 if you are running the old 5.0-liter V8 engine). The new cars can be seen in series such as the European Le Mans Series, Michelin Le Mans Cup, Road to Le Mans, Ultimate Cup, and in V de V, as well as the Asian Le Mans Series and, from 2021, the IMSA Weathertech Sportscar Championship.
About Team Virage
Coming out of Spain, the birthplace of two-time F1 World Champion Fernando Alonso among many, many others, Team Virage made a name for itself in the junior single-seater formulas in the early ‘90s and early ‘00s. The team won races in everything from the Formula Open Telefonica Nissan series to Formula 3 and Formula Renault 1.6 while also winning the title in Spain’s own Formula Renault 1.6 championship in 2003.
A short spell engineering the Brazilian A1 World Championship effort in 2005 was followed by arguably Virage’s most lucrative seasons yet as the behind-the-scenes partner to Barwa Addax Team (also known as the Barwa International Campos Team) in GP2 and GP3. Starting in 2008, Team Virage engineered the likes of Vitaly Petrov, Sergio Perez, Giedo van der Garde, and Ryo Haryanto. Vice-champion titles for both Petrov (2009) and Perez (2010) were the highlights of a period that also saw Team Virage prepare cars in World Series by Renault, F4, Auto GP, and the Formula BMW Talent Cup.
After all these seasons preparing the cars of various F1 alumni, Team Virage came back to the frontlines in 2017 when the LMP3 squad was formed with the aim of competing in everything from the ELMS, the Michelin Le Mans Cup, to the 24H Series Prototype Challenge, and the Ultimate Cup. This year, the team has been active particularly in the Michelin Ultimate Cup and the Michelin Le Mans Cup where it has also contested the famous Road To Le Mans race that takes place during the 24 Hours of Le Mans race weekend.
Most recently, Team Virage won the third round of the Ultimate Cup held at Magny-Cours in France, this victory increasing the team’s championship lead to 19 points with only one round left to go. The team’s drivers include Julian Wagg, Alessandro Ghiretti, and Miguel Cristovao, all of whom make up the No. 88 championship-leading lineup – a lineup that faces about half a dozen other P3 cars at every race.