Istanbul ‘Four Hours’
Podium Finish First Time Out With The B06/10

The second Le Mans Series visit to Istanbul didn’t see the second running of the Istanbul 1000 kms: this one was shortened to a four hour race, or 715 kilometres, but for Chamberlain-Synergy that was just about the only negative aspect of this opening round of the 2006 Le Mans Series.

Jan Lammers was sitting in Carlo’s ‘Le Chien Qui Fume’ hospitality awning (shared with the Chamberlain-Synergy team, among others) after the race, and having seen the yellow team come home third in LMP1, he was moved to remark that “it’s great to see how much they enjoyed their third place.”

This team is certainly at the top of the pile when it comes to enjoying its endurance racing, and as remarked upon at the end of the practice and qualifying page, everything was really looking up on race morning – with Bob Berridge setting the third best lap time, behind the Pescarolo and Lammers’ Dome.

Behind that performance lies a tale though. Paul Thomas is the team’s race engineer, but he was absent this weekend, having to be at Valencia for the opening round of the GP2 series.

“We sent Paul the data after qualifying yesterday,” recounted Bob Berridge, “and he emailed us back to say that he reckoned the car must have been just about undriveable on Saturday.”

That had certainly been Hugh Chamberlain’s view after qualifying, Bob having pulled one out of the bag to somehow set a 1:44 lap time in the 20 minute qualifying session.

“The lads worked late last night to put Paul’s recommended settings on the car for the race, and it was transformed in the warm-up,” commented Bob before the race start.

Less downforce was the most significant change made to the Lola B06/10, and suddenly there was Bob Berridge “whistling past” the pole position Pescarolo in the warm-up. Ironically, that was on a damp track, with lap times nearly 20 seconds slower than in qualifying. The team had taken downforce off the Lola, yet it still had enough – but more importantly, it now it had its straightline speed back.

Now the three drivers could go racing, even though the track was damp at the start. But there was a drama to come before the lights.

“We ‘lost’ one of the air jacks when we changed tyres (from slicks to intermediates) before the start,” said Dave Lampitt. That would mean some frustratingly slow pit stops for the B01/60 – and almost certainly the loss of one race position at the end of the four hours.

Bob Berridge got the car’s race underway, at 11.30 on Sunday morning, in marked contrast to the style exhibited by Jean-Marc Gounon in the factory Courage (one of the Lola’s six LMP1 rivals). The Frenchman nudged the RML P2 Lola into the pit wall – before the start line! – then charged off towards the front… led the race… and dropped back to eighth (on wets). Bob Berridge had a different plan: quite simply, he calmly moved up the order, from tenth on the grid to ninth on lap 1, eighth on lap 2, seventh on lap 4, sixth on lap 6….. fourth on lap 9… second on lap 12…… in fairness, some of the improvements were because most of the prototype drivers had started on wets or intermediates, and pit stops were needed, for slicks, on the drying track – but it was still a mightily impressive first dozen laps.

Bob came in for his slicks on lap 14, and it was a long stop… “Without the jack problem, we’d have been second in class: that was the only problem we had.”

He slipped way down the order to fifteenth, but with lap times tumbling into the 1:47s, then the 1:46s (eventually into the 45s), the #19 car moved back up the charts: eleventh at 55 minutes, tenth at one hour... and blasting past the faster GT2s.

That soon became fifth, fourth in P1, behind the scrapping hybrids from Pescarolo and Creation, the Barazi Courage (the P2 leader having a dream-like race) and Jan Lammers’ black and white Dome (Alex Yoong at the wheel). The Lola was quicker than the Lister one place behind it – and with two of the P1s ahead due to retire at about the mid-way point of this shortened event, a podium place was there for the taking.

Bob dropped a place at 90 minutes when he pitted to hand over to Gareth Evans – another slow stop, as explained above – and now the 2005 P2 Champion set about completing a double stint.

Or would he though? At an hour and three quarters into the event, the organisers informed the teams (via the timing screen) of a fact that came as no surprise to many: the race would be shortened, owing to insufficient fuel being available at the track. But not by an hour, or say 180 or 200 km, but by nearly 300 km, or over an hour and a half.

A bulletin was issued stating that drivers would need to complete a minimum of 40 minutes on the track in order to score points: suddenly the teams were faced with totally revising their strategy – mid-race.
Thanks to Peter Owen’s gracious good nature, the juggling at Chamberlain-Synergy simply resulted in Gareth Evans completing his planned double stint, leaving Peter Owen to complete the last half hour – not enough to score points.

“It was simple: I was happy that the right thing to do was to keep Gareth in the car to use up his fuel in his second stint. The team’s result was the important thing,” said Peter Owen (among other things) after the race.

So Gareth was the only one of the three drivers to complete his planned allocation of ‘seat time’ – but that’s the way things go when unforeseen circumstances crop up. Other teams were faced with much more difficult situations, with their drivers not necessarily as easy going as Peter Owen.

So there was Gareth Evans rattling off the laps – often in company with Martin Short in the Rollcentre entry, as the fastest P2 car, Short’s Radical, fought its way back from an early delay. These two changed places for fifth overall in the third hour of the race… and then changed again – and again.

'I don't really know why that was," said Gareth afterwards. "I was just maintaining my own pace. The Radical obviously performed brilliantly and it was a huge blow and bad luck for Rollcentre to go out so near the end of the race.'

But as Hugh Chamberlain had pointed out earlier in the meeting “we’re racing against the other P1 cars, not the P2s.”

The other P1 cars were down to the Pescarolo and the Lister soon after half the revised race duration, and the ‘allocation’ of the second and third steps on the podium came down to that jack problem on the Lola.

With 40 minutes left, Gareth Evans was third overall, over half a minute ahead of the Lister – but the #19 Lola was due to pit, for the last time, very soon.

Peter Owen duly took over with just under 29 minutes left, but was passed by the Lister – of former F1 man Nocolas Kiesa – on his out lap. Peter’s task was a simple one: bring the car home. He duly did just that, to secure a podium for the new Lola on its maiden European outing – leaving Peter with the duty of telling Autosport’s sports car correspondent exactly what he thought of a prediction that the yellow Lola would be lucky to score a podium finish this year. Is that why the guys are smiling so much?

Gareth Evans had indeed played “a blinder” (according to H. Chamberlain). The challenge this year is even greater than in 2005, but a podium first time out was the ideal start for the Chamberlain-Synergy Lola AER.

“It’s a brilliant engine,” summed up Bob Berridge, “and there’s even more to come from it soon.”

See you at Spa next month.

 

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