OAK Racing - working next door to world's temple of endurance racing
OAK Racing is a French racing team which is mostly known for its participation in the endurance racing championships.The biggest success of the team is a championship title both in drivers’ and team’s category of LMP2 class in the 2013 FIA World Endurance Championship, including a victory at that year’s 24 hours of Le Mans.
The team is acting under the name OAK Racing since 2009. Prior to that, since its foundation in 1980, the team was known as Promatecme, before becoming Saulnier Racing in 2000. The founder of a team and an owner until 2006 was Serge Saulnier. In late 2006, Jacques Nicolet takes over an ownership and presidential duties.
OAK Racing is also known by its car manufacturing division, which started its work in 2010 and it was renamed to Onroak Automotive in 2012. In 2013, the company made a deal with Guy Ligier to start a production of Ligier prototypes.
Serge Saulnier founded Promatecme in 1980
A rich history of OAK Racing started in 1980 when Promatecme team was born in Magny-Cours, under the leadership of Serge Saulnier. During the 1980s, the team was a regular entry in the French Formula 3 Championship. The first great result came in 1992 when Promatecme’s driver Franck Lagorce became the French F3 champion.
Between 1997 and 1999, Promatecme recorded some notable results in the British F3 Championship. In 1997, Nicolas Minassian scored seven wins to finish second in the points. A year later, Enrique Bernoldi was a championship runner-up with six wins. In 1999, Jenson Button scored three wins for Promatecme, finishing third in the points.
Saulnier Racing stayed in single-seater competitions until 2005
After twenty years of running a team, Serge Saulnier changed a name to Saulnier Racing in 2000, continuing to compete in Formula 3. The first success followed in 2001 when Ryo Fukuda became the French F3 champion. In 2003, the team entered World Series by Nissan, which was renamed to World Series by Renault in 2005. It was the last year for Saulnier Racing in that competition, as the team switched to prototype racing after that.
Jacques Nicolet took over the team in 2006
In 2006, French entrepreneur and gentleman racer Jacques Nicolet took over the team, switching the main interest into endurance racing and Le Mans Series. Saulnier Racing was running Courage LC 75-AER prototype in LMP2 class, scoring its first podium in the second race, at 1000 of Valencia. The drivers in the #35 car were Jacques Nicolet, Alain Filhol and Bruce Jouanny.
After six rounds, they finished fourth in the LMP2 teams’ standings. In June 2007, Saulnier Racing debuted at 24h Le Mans, not finishing the race.
Le Mans 24h podium in 2008
Next year, Saulnier Racing came with two cars at Le Mans 24h race. The 3.4L V8 Judd-powered #35 Pescarolo prototype was running in LMP2 class while 5.5L V10 Judd-powered #4 Pescarolo entered the LMP1 class.
Pierre Ragues, Matthieu Lahaye and Congfu Cheng reached the podium, finishing third in LMP2 class and 18th overall. Jacques Nicolet, Marc Faggionato and Richard Hein finished 26th overall and 12th in LMP1 class.
In the 2008 Le Mans Series, Saulnier Racing also had two cars, finishing 5th in LMP2 class and 12th in LMP1 class.
OAK Racing – new name since 2009
Before the 2009 season started, Saulnier Racing became OAK Racing. The team chose that name because an oak is a symbol of solidity, strength and longevity, characteristics that endurance racing demands.
The team concentrated on the LMP2 category only, joining forces with Mazda and entering two Pescarolo-Mazda prototypes in the Le Mans Series and at 24 hours of Le Mans. The team also participated in two rounds of the Asian Le Mans Series, winning both races.
One more podium at Le Mans 24h
At 2009 Le Mans 24 hours race, OAK Racing scored one more LMP2 podium, for the second year in a row. Jacques Nicolet, Richard Hein and Jean-Francois Yvon finished in the third place, sharing the #24 Pescarolo-Mazda. Another car finished in the 8th place. In the 2009 Le Mans Series season, the #24 OAK Racing crew finished in the sixth place.
Third Le Mans podium in a row
In 2010, OAK Racing continued to use two Pescarolo prototype, returning to Judd engines. The team also consolidated their links with tire manufacturer Dunlop, becoming their LMP2 development team.
In June 2010, OAK Racing’s drivers reached the podium for the third year in a row. This time, they finished in the second place. The drivers of the #35 Pescarolo-Judd were Matthieu Lahaye, Guillaume Moreau and Jan Charouz. OAK Racing’s crew in the #24 finished in the fourth place.
Except at Circuit de la Sarthe, OAK Racing was successful on other circuits, scoring seven podiums in the Le Mans Series and Intercontinental Le Mans Cup.
Moving from Magny-Cours to Le Mans in 2011
OAK Racing opened a new chapter in 2011, moving its headquarters and workshops from Magny-Cours to Le Mans, next door to world’s temple of endurance racing – Circuit de la Sarthe. The team expanded his commitments in the Intercontinental Le Mans Cup, fielding one LMP1 car and two LMP2 prototypes. OAK Racing’s cars were coated with the legendary blue and orange racing livery of Gulf Oil International, which they would keep for two seasons.
At the 2011 24 Hours of Le Mans, OAK Racing had four cars on the grid, three in LMP2 class and one LMP1 prototype. The best-placed car was the #49 Pescarolo-Judd prototype, finishing fifth in LMP2 class. At the end of the season, OAK Racing finished 5th in the LMP1 standings of the Intercontinental Le Mans Cup and 2nd in the LMP2 class.
Onroak Automotive was founded in 2012
In 2012, the ILMC was converted into the FIA World Endurance Championship and OAK Racing joined a new championship with own-built Morgan LMP2 prototype.
Prior to that, Onroak Automotive was founded as an independent company specialized in designing and manufacturing race cars. Following a partnership with British Morgan Motor Company, Onroak’s first car was branded as Morgan LMP2.
Three different cars and three engines in the 2012 FIA WEC
OAK Racing started the 2012 FIA WEC season with #24 Morgan-Judd LMP2 car and #15 Pescarolo-Judd LMP1 car. At the season-opening 12 hours of Sebring, the LMP2 car finished in the second place. From the second round, at Spa-Francorchamps, the #35 Morgan-Nissan LMP2 car joined the grid. The LMP1 car left the championship after the third round (Le Mans), returning to the grid for the last two rounds with new Honda engine.
At the end of the season, OAK Racing finished in the fourth place both in LMP1 and LMP2 classes. At 2012 Le Mans 24h, only one of three OAK Racing’s cars finished the race. It was the #35 Morgan LMP2, driven by David Heinemeier-Hansson, Bas Leinders and Maxime Martin. They finished 14th overall and 7th in LMP2 class.
2013 – Le Mans victory and world championship titles
And then, in 2013, the historical season followed, in which OAK Racing became world’s best LMP2 team, taking not only two FIA WEC titles (for drivers and teams) but also winning at 24 hours of Le Mans. The crew which did all that was in the #35 Morgan-Nissan: Bertrand Baguette, Martin Plowman and Ricardo Gonzalez.
The #24 crew was also successful, finishing second at Le Mans and second in the championship standings for LMP2 drivers. The #24 Morgan-Nissan was driven by Alex Brundle, David Heinemeier-Hansson and Olivier Pla.
The #45 car also participated in the championship for the full season, with Jacques Nicolet as the only full-time driver, sharing a car with five other drivers. Besides taking world’s title, OAK Racing was also the winning team in the 2013 Asian Le Mans Series.
OAK Racing Art Car tributed Le Mans event
In 2013, Jacques Nicolet wanted to pay special tribute to the Le Mans event, so he entrusted the realization of a unique art car to the French sculptor Fernando Costa.
He covered an LMP2 car, the one that claimed two podiums at the 24h Le Mans, with a coat of traffic signs, which interprets the Le Sarthe circuit. The name of that unique masterpiece was the “Art Car of the 90 years of the 24 Hours of Le Mans”.
Expanding to America in 2014
Following an exceptional 2013 season, OAK Racing multiplied its participation in several series on different continents during 2014: FIA WEC, Asian Le Mans Series and IMSA United Sportscar Championship. In the FIA WEC competition, OAK Racing became a support team for G-Drive Racing, fielding a single Morgan LMP2 entry before a switch to all-new Ligier JS P2 later in a season.
In the 2014 IMSA Championship, OAK Racing scored one victory (Mosport) and two podiums, finishing fifth in the final standings. In the Asian Le Mans Series, the team defended drivers’ and teams’ titles.
Ligier JS P2 debuted in 2014
The season 2014 was a milestone season because Onroak Automotive introduced its first LMP car produced after an agreement with Guy Ligier. The LMP2 prototype, named Ligier JS P2, debuted at 2014 Le Mans 24h, with three cars on the grid, used by OAK Racing and Thiriet by TDS Racing. The #46 Ligier of Thiriet by TDS Racing finished in the second place.
Since then, Ligier JS P2 became one of the most popular and most successful cars in the international endurance racing. G-Drive Racing, with a technical support of OAK Racing, captured FIA WEC LMP2 title in 2015.
Wide range of Ligier prototypes
After an introduction of Ligier JS P2, OAK Racing continued to combine its racing efforts with providing technical and logistical services to other teams. The range of race cars produced by Onroak Automotive starts from Ligier JS 53 (CN class), over Ligier JS P3 to several LMP2 models – Ligier JS P2, Ligier JS P217 and Onroak Nissan DPi.
An addition to prototype manufacturing came in October 2016, when Onroak bought American manufacturer Crawford Composite and started to offer Crawford F4 open-wheel chassis.
Racing in the ELMS, supporting other teams in the FIA WEC
In 2016, OAK Racing didn’t participate in top class racing with its own team, providing only technical and logistical assistance to other teams. Extreme Speed Motorsports was running two Ligier JS P2 cars in the FIA WEC and IMSA Championship, winning both 24h Daytona and 12h Sebring. Mexican team RGR was also using OAK Racing’s services.
OAK Racing was running two LMP3 cars in the European Le Mans Series, with Jacques Nicolet and Pierre Nicolet participating full season in the #24 car, while three other drivers were driving the #4 Ligier JS P3.
An incredible story about Frederic Sausset
One of the special stories in a history of OAK Racing is the Garage 56 entry at the 2016 24 hours of Le Mans. For that race, OAK Racing prepared Morgan LMP2 prototype specially adapted for Frederic Sausset, a quadruple amputee who wanted to participate in the world’s greatest endurance race.
After he debuted in racing in 2015, at the wheel of a Ligier JS 53 Evo adapted to his disability, Sausset’s dream came true in June 2016. He was a part of the SRT41 by OAK Racing crew in the #84 Morgan LMP2, sharing a car with Christophe Tinseau and Jean-Bernard Bouvet. Sausset finished the race in the 38th place, securing a place among Le Mans legends.