Heading For A Good Finish Until...
LMP1 in Europe has taken a mighty leap forward with
the debut at Monza of the factory Peugeots. There is strength in
depth too as almost every car in what will soon become a 14 car
class entry has been substantially improved or upgraded, with more,
famous names in the driving seats and a subsequent stepping up of
What chance then for the Three Musketeers at Chamberlain-Synergy
Motorsport in their #19 Lola B06/10 AER?
exactly what the cynics have been saying ever since Gareth Evans,
Peter Owen and Bob Berridge took to the tracks together in the series
three years ago.
Since then the trio have netted the LMP2 title (for
Evans in 2005), a class win and a pair of further podium finishes
in LMP2 plus a further podium on their LMP1 debut last season, followed
by a string of points finishes that took them as close as its possible
to get to second place in the premier LMP1 class in 2006.
So just how do these three post consistently impressive
results against the cream of Europe’s sportscar racers?
it properly,” said Gareth Evans (with Dave Lampitt, below)
before the 2007 season opening 1000kms of Monza got underway. “Hugh
and the boys give us a car that is absolutely beautifully prepared
inside and out, we decide on a race strategy and a race pace for
each of us and we stick to it.”
It’s a simple formula in theory but it does
require a blend of speed, self control and yes, that most elusive
of racing ingredients, luck.
is that whilst there might be some who observe that we aren’t
as fast as some of the others out there, we still get the results.
And I’m entirely convinced that if we had the opportunity
to get more time behind the wheel we’d be a whole lot closer
to the ultimate pace.”
The reality is though that many ‘gentleman
drivers’ have no real opportunity to test outside of the race
meetings, the reality of having to earn the funds that pay for their
racing taking precedence.
“That’s absolutely right, unfortunately
I have to spend the bulk of my time in the office, so getting the
time in the car is at a real premium. The interesting thing is that
whenever we get time in the car the times come down steadily. Bob
of course is faster than either Peter or I, but for myself, I know
that the more time I get in the car the easier it gets to keep to
a faster and faster pace.”
Monza would again show that the theory could provide
impressive results, but this time the racing luck would desert the
Friday and Saturday practice sessions, Bob Berridge would keep the
#19 car very close to the leading pack’s pace, and ahead of
the quick-fire qualifying session the car had posted the 7th fastest
time overall, behind a select group including the new diesel powered
Peugeots and the 2006 title-winning Pescarolo. Evans and Owen meanwhile
would be kept busy bringing down their lap times and re-acquainting
themselves with the track where the team posted a second place in
the LMP2 class on the championship’s last visit here two years
The first flying laps of the 20 minute qualifying
session would actually see Berridge top the timing sheets overall,
but the pace would be upped, and upped again, and by the end of
the all too brief qualifying period the #19 car would lie in ninth
spot for the inside line into the very busy first chicane.
The first prediction of the weekend was that the
Prima Variante, the first chicane, at the end of the full tilt dash
down the main straight, would see the pent up frustration of the
close season explode into a rash move or a fumbled move at the season’s
very first corner. The pundits were wrong and everyone, all 46 starters,
made it through cleanly.
Bob Berridge had started in #19 and he was right
with the LMP1 pack, and it wasn’t long before he started to
preparation was paying off as others began to hit early race troubles.
Berridge was more than holding his own and was ready to pounce if
those ahead stumbled.
First to be humbled was the very rapid Charouz Lola,
which clashed with another LMP1 car and had to pit out of sequence:
the Chamberlain-Synergy car meanwhile was preserving tyres and fuel
and by the time the LMP1 field started to make their regular stops,
Berridge was well in touch.
He finally pitted somewhat later than the leading
speed merchants from a hugely encouraging fourth place, stayed aboard
and the same tactics were repeated, the only signs of wear and tear
on the pristine yellow Lola were the louvres over the front wheels,
both sides having been pulverised by chunks of racing rubber thrown
up by the Lola’s Michelin slicks. The well-drilled pit crew
had already prepared a pad of race tape to fix the errant panels
Hour two and the Lola was secure in a top five position,
having pitted from third place overall, a wonderful run.
looking very good indeed for the #19 crew, with the other Lola now
long gone and both factory Courages, the very fast Racing for Holland
Dome and the second of the factory Peugeots having fallen behind,
with a catalogue of mechanical problems between them.
It was Gareth Evans’ turn to climb aboard
next and he had clearly been reading the Chamberlain-Synergy script
very carefully – his lap times were not quite as fast as those
of Bob Berridge but they were still quick and more importantly they
were super-consistent, Gareth able to defend his position very effectively
from the rapid pack of LMP2 cars behind.
He was now fending off a couple of recovering LMP1
runners, with Stephane Sarrazin blasting past in the factory Peugeot
and Jean-Marc Gounon looming large in the surviving factory Courage.
Evans’ first stint was bang on the money and
as his second got underway, Peter Owen revealed that the #19 car’s
pace had been hobbled by “a wastegate problem since the very
start of the race. That means we had no real pick-up out of the
corners so it has been costing us huge chunks of time. It’s
fine above 6000 revs but below that the car is very sluggish.”
made by both drivers then had been all the more remarkable but as
Peter Owen made his final preparations to take over for the closing
segment of the race, there were gasps from the mechanics watching
the TV monitors: Gareth had gone off the circuit and into the gravel.
From the TV pictures the car seemed almost undamaged, despite a
brush with the tyre wall, but cruelly it seemed that the marshals
were determined, despite Gareth’s protestation, to remove
the Lola to a place of safety rather than assist with a restart.
A very downhearted Gareth Evans appeared back in
the pits a while later with the refreshingly honest analysis that
the accident had been caused by a minor mistake from himself. The
infamous pocket book of racing excuses not required in the Chamberlain-Synergy
“What people don’t really realise sometimes
is that these are serious pieces of kit and they aren’t easy
to drive, or to drive quickly,” Gareth had observed the previous
day. It was an entirely accurate assessment but unfortunately, one
that fate had decided would blow up in his face this time out.
Nil Points then from the Monza jury – you
can be assured that Valencia’s round two of the Le Mans Series
will see the Musketeers looking to turn their luck around.