Istanbul Practice & Qualifying
Fit For Racing

Think back almost exactly a year to the opening race of the 2005 Le Mans Endurance Series and, as Hugh Chamberlain put it at Istanbul today, Saturday, after qualifying, “Who would have predicted that we would have won LMP2 last April?”

It’s the same drivers for 2006, so that’s Gareth Evans, Bob Berridge and Peter Owen (right), and although the car looks similar, it’s the brand new Lola B06/10 with AER’s also-new for 2006, 3.6 litre twin-turbo V8.

So the car looks similar, Hugh Chamberlain looks similar, but the drivers have all been getting stuck in to their fitness programmes since April 2005. Gareth Evans and Peter Owen have been the most recent to devote more time to fitness, and both look very well on it.

Bob Berridge claimed his weight loss last summer. Peter Owen allegedly has some new racing boots for this year, but some merciless ribbing from the other two ensured that they stayed in their box.

Test sessions with the new car at Estoril and Paul Ricard had gone just about perfectly, and new car and engine had displayed impeccable reliability. Apart from one small problem in practice, that reliability has continued at Istanbul.

The first session on Friday, on a very dusty track, but under fairly clear skies and in pleasantly warm temperatures, saw Peter Owen out first, then Gareth Evans, with Bob Berridge having most time in the car – because he didn’t race here last November.

It turned out that the session was almost meaningless, in terms of times, because of the dust, but it went so smoothly otherwise that Gareth Evans (below) even got in the car again for another quick blast at the end.

Bob Berridge set the best time of the trio; a 1:46.209, sixth fastest overall, and fifth in LMP1. A solid start – in fact, a very good start, and the Lola was instantly highly competitive (fifth in LMP1).

Saturday morning and it was still dry, although more overcast and cooler, and on a cleaner track (but still dirty off-line) Bob and Gareth were both in the forty-sixes, but there was a small ‘but’.

“We had a fuel pick-up problem,” commented Bob Berridge (what a distinguished pose, above!), “but they’d fixed it in plenty of time for the second session.”

Gareth Evans (left, looking deadly serious / thoughtful) reckoned that his new-found fitness came in handy when he was sent out with the power steering set to the least assistance. “No-one told me to put it in position four,” he said, “so I just muscled it around.”

More ribbing, Gareth the victim this time: “Do we have to tell him everything?”

Although this team takes its racing deadly seriously, there’s a real sense of fun when they’re together: Istanbul may not have been the ideal choice of track for the opening race, but Chamberlain-Synergy is thoroughly enjoying itself, as ever.

More good news was that the team was very pleased with the latest Dunlop rubber and, with the castor adjusted, the only problem (referred to by Peter Owen) was that “we were bottoming out in Turns 10 and 11, so we’ve raised the car by a couple of millimetres. We’d also taken some aero off, and we would have had a better top speed this morning, but it was masked by the fuel pressure problem.”

The quips and wisecracks were flying around, as usual, and Bob Berridge reckoned that even after along day at the track, they’d probably still be out in the Istanbul night clubs until five am on race morning. Perhaps that’s Bob’s version of fitness training? The three of them had ‘ragged’ Warren Hughes (over at Team LNT) about his new silver race boots, and Peter Owen’s similar attire was noticeable by its sudden absence.

So everything looked set up for the final session before qualifying, and each of the drivers had had sufficient laps to feel comfortable in the car around the sweeping Istanbul Park circuit, thanks to the continuing reliability (Peter Owen, below)…

....but then some rain fell in the lunchtime session. Bob Berridge was still into the 1:45s, but a misleading hour on the track saw Bob, the usual qualifying man heading into qualifying at 3:30 with a car that Hugh Chamberlain bluntly described as a bucket of … well, something unpleasant.

No doubt Julian Sole, the Lola’s designer, wouldn’t have appreciated the term, but he knows what these Chamberlain-Synergy boys are like.

Such ‘technical’ terms are misleading, because there’s such a small margin between a good qualifying car or not, and a good race car or not.

Hugh Chamberlain: “We didn’t give Bob (getting in just prior to the session, above - and looking very fit.. almost Coulthard-esque in the botty department!) a good qualifying car at all, but it is a good race car. I don’t care where we are in relation to LMP2 cars, because we’re not racing them for points - we’re racing the LMP1s. The weather hasn’t helped, and although we went in the right direction, straight away, at Estoril and Paul Ricard (with the car set-up) we haven’t got it right here – at least, not for qualifying.”

The drivers headed off for their 5am appointment with their beds, confident that they’d got a reliable car, which Bob would start from tenth on the grid, sixth in LMP1, after he set a late 1:44.976.

Spirits were high and, with the crafty Hugh Chamberlain and Dave Lampitt overseeing race strategy, no doubt there’s a surprise in store for the second running of the Istanbul 1000 kilometers for Chamberlain-Synergy Motorsport. Last November, Evans, Owen and Guy Smith finished second in class, sealing Gareth Evan’s LMP2 title by a single point (Bob and Peter each having missed one race thanks to other commitments). Another podium on Sunday?

PS Despite a damp/wet warm-up on Sunday, the pre-race mood is very much more optimistic: "Did you see me whistle past the Pescarolo past the pits?" asked Bob Berridge.

In general terms, the team had "reviewed certain issues" and with less drag on the B06/10, it was very quick again - third fastest overall.

 

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