Jarama 1000 Kms
Fast, Reliable Run To Fourth - Again

After a successful LMP2 title run in 2006, which left Gareth Evans as the drivers' champion in the 'junior' prototype category, the team decided to take the step up to the blue riband LMP1 class where the team would be testing themselves against Le Mans veterans Henri Pescarolo and Yves Courage and their latest prototype racers together with a raft of other very rapid race cars from British, Italian Dutch and Swiss teams.

To do battle against the best that Europe could muster the Chamberlain Synergy squad chose the brand new Lola B 06/10 with an equally brand new twin turbo V8 powerplant.

It was a huge challenge but the results came throughout the season with a class podium in the first race of the season, almost matched by the team’s run at the classic Nurburgring circuit.

The season has proved popular with the driving trio of Bob Berridge, Gareth Evans and Peter Owen:

“This is the best race series in the world,” said Evans, relaxing between practice sessions at the final race of the season at Jarama circuit just outside Madrid. “Great cars, great teams and great circuits.”

Jarama though would see two challenges ahead for the ‘Three Musketeers’: to finish the 6 hour (or 1000km) race as high up the order as possible and to attempt to clinch the second place in the LMP1 championship (already won by the Pescarolo team) which would earn them an automatic entry at the 2007 Le Mans 24 Hours.

The early practice sessions saw the team finding pace around the narrow and slippery Jarama circuit.

The #19 car would finish the day 6th fastest overall, Bob Berridge’s best effort getting in amongst the leading group. That was despite the fact that the Lola was running “on full tanks and old rubber, we see no point running any other way in practice, that’s what we’ll be dealing with in the race.”

“ We’re very happy with the way the car is handling, very happy with the way the AER engine is pulling and have enjoyed ourselves throughout so far,.” said Peter Owen.

But the Qualifying session on Saturday afternoon would see the smiles disappear from the faces of all concerned. Despite an early lap that would top the timesheets, Bob Berridge found it impossible to improve as others overhauled the Lola’s benchmark time. 11th fastest overall was not the result they were looking for at all and it was a disappointed trio that was spotted striding away from the paddock immediately after a post session debrief:

“We had issues!” said Berridge without a flicker of a smile. It seemed that the carefully crafted set-up of the car had been lost for the crucial run, a flurry of activity at each corner of the Lola indicating that a change had been made for qualifying that had undone much of the good work of the preceding three practice sessions.

11th though was far from a disaster and with the super-professional pitcrew on the case, what turned out to be a basic set-up error was identified and fixed.

The ‘fix’ evidently worked and the #19 car was at the top of the timesheet early on in the race morning warm-up and continued to find more pace throughout the session, a 1:25.317 good enough for 5th fastest overall by the session’s close.

“The boys worked at it until 3am and the car is miles better. In fact the fastest lap in that session was badly baulked and could have been a 1:24.1,” said a now smiling Bob Berridge.

And so to the race.

Berridge would take the opening session and would adopt the “usual plan” which meant that the #19 squad would be looking to claim some high profile scalps.

From his eleventh place start Berridge made immediate progress, up to ninth by the end of lap 2 and grabbing another position by the 25 minute mark.

Next on the target list was Miguel Angel de Castro in the #40 Lola, the same car that the team had campaigned so successfully last season. It was no mean feat, the Jarama circuit gave the LMP2 car a chance to stretch its legs and it was of course de Castro’s home race, always good for a few tenths per lap.

Berridge though would not be denied and was soon up to seventh before #19’s his first routine pit stop.

With the Lola refreshed by a full tank of fuel and a new set of Dunlop rubber Berridge was back into the fray and still making progress into a three way Lola scrap between the LMP2 leading duo and the big #19 LMP1 car.

The power of the LMP1 car soon caome to bear and before the end of his double stint Berridge was up to 4th place overall.

Gareth Evans was next aboard and running fast and steadily: the LMP2 cars were taking advantage of their slightly better fuel consumption and barely slower pace here, leapfrogging the mid-pack LMP1s and leaving #19 propping up the top ten at this stage.

Gareth though was more than holding his own and would pit to turn the car over to team mate Peter Owen at the 2 Hours and 30 minutes mark, now back up to 8th overall, and closing in on the cars ahead.

Owen too has been improving all season in the new car and he would again pull back a couple of positions to again hold 8th position at the end of his stint, making up places despite strong challenges from both quick LMP2 cars and delayed but recovering LMP1 cars.

It was a hot but happy Owen who passed the car back to Bob Berridge after one of his best stints of the 2007 season.

The task ahead for Berridge was clear. He emerged in 9th position overall and would need to make sustained progress to pick up the points the team needed to clinch second place in the championship.

And progress he did, both on pace and by profiting from the almost inevitable misfortune of others as cars fell by the Spanish wayside in the closing stages of the race.

By the time the chequered flag flew the #19 car was up to an excellent 5th place overall, 4th in class. That was the good news. The bad news is that the final result would leave the Chamberlain Synergy squad just a single point short of their goal.

Berridge, Evans and Owen finished the season equal on points with the Creation Autosportif squad but a second place finish at Donington Park from their competitors would be enough for them to clinch second in the Championship at the last round and with it the second automatic Le Mans entry for the 2007 race.

It was doubly galling for Chamberlain Synergy as in the latter stages of the race the Lola had been biting huge chunks out of the Creation’s advantage.

Bob Berridge: “I took a lap out of Nic Minassian and (Swiss Spirit Courage‘s) Marcel Fassler. Late on in the race, I was able to do 1:26 flat lap after lap. The set-up for the race was excellent.”

That pace had seen Berridge match Minassian’s best race lap (to the thousandth of a second) late in the race, the Lola getting faster as the Creation’s pace suffered.

The crew’s overnight efforts had indeed made a fundamental difference to the drivers' ability to push hard.

"We made a very slight set-up change after the Saturday morning session: it was a minute change, but it made the car very difficult in qualifying. We changed it back for the race and it was flying," added Bob.

And, despite the last minute disappointment the whole team were all smiles, particularly the ‘Three Musketeers’. Outgoing LMP2 champion Gareth Evans was left to sum up a challenging but hugely enjoyable 2006 season:

"We're very happy with the change to LMP1 for this year. We just missed out on the guaranteed entry for Le Mans, but we achieved a lot this season and we’ll be back for more next year. "

That’s good news for all concerned.

 

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