Valencia 1000 Kms
Finishing A Tough One

Peter Owen was dressed in his civvies on race morning at Valencia, and he had a very valid point regarding the format of the Le Mans Series races.

“A real problem for us is that we only get very limited track time. That was one reason why we came testing here earlier this year, because this is a new track for the Le Mans Series. We’ve asked the organisers to consider increasing the practice sessions to 90 minutes. With the one hour sessions and a three driver team, we each end up with about 15 minutes driving.”

Bob Berridge adds that “we daren’t change the set-up during a session, there just isn’t time. It’s all about getting in as much track time as possible. Two drivers get about 25 minutes seat time per session, but we’re lucky if we get more than 15.”

Peter Owen again: “All three of us are financially involved with the team. The series needs teams like this one, but we each get so little running. For example, this morning it was Gareth’s turn to drive in the warm up. He and I take it in turns from race to race.

“There’s no point getting frustrated with the lack of track time, but inevitably we haven’t found all the time in the car yet. Bob sets it up for Gareth and I, but over the two days there’s a lot of hanging around. I don’t know why we can’t start practising on Friday morning, because we’re all here.

“There isn’t a better team in the paddock in terms of morale, commitment, hard work – and having some fun. For someone like me this is an indulgence, and what normally happens is that my best laps come at the end of my stint, by which time I’m really used to the circuit. The standard is very high of course, and there are even more prototypes this year.

"However, I’m having a good weekend: my sister lives in Spain, my wife has come out here with me, and we’ve got some friends racing in the Americas Cup, so we’ve had a busy, socialising weekend.”

So that’s the background to Peter’s Valencia weekend – one that ended on Sunday evening with a good finish in the race, and a couple of stints to his name.

Bob Berridge meanwhile was busy planning an addition to his normal Le Mans programme: he’s going to cycle to the test day, setting out from Oxfordshire on May 25, and he’s determined to raise thousands of pounds for the Teenage Cancer Trust, and a charity connected to the ACO.

So onto the race weekend itself. Friday was one of those days when things didn’t quite come together, with some lost track time in the first session, and then the engine switching to safe mode in the afternoon, after a temperature sensor wrongly diagnosed a hot engine. It wasn’t, but the engine itself thought it was running hot.

“I got two laps in this afternoon – with five cars in the gravel,” growled Bob Berridge.

Cars in the gravel, and the resulting yellow flags, would be a feature of all three practice sessions. With the Valencia track having been designed for motorcycles, the gravel traps were positioned very close to the edge of the track, so an inconsequential spin often saw the car concerned ending up in the gravel.

With an example of great timing, things really started to come together on Saturday morning.

“The lads gave me a car with a great set-up,” said Bob Berridge. “The chassis, the tyres, the engine – all great.” The result was ninth in class and a 1:27.5, faster than the Racing for Holland Dome and the factory Courage. But there was more pace than that…

Gareth Evans and Peter Owen were happy too, although Gareth (above) had “yellow flags on every lap, and a ball of rubber just exploded upwards through the louvres above one front wheel.”

“I had to come in to have the louvres removed,” pointed out Peter Owen.

So what happened in qualifying on Saturday afternoon Bob?

“We got it wrong on tyre choice. This morning, that 1:27.5 would have been a 26.6, except that I was baulked. Michelin advised us not to change to a certain tyre – and they were right.”

Bob’s best qualifying lap was a 1:28.0. But back to where we came in, and the race morning warm-up, and there was B. Berridge setting a 1:26.8, the fourth best time, and third in LMP1, behind the two Peugeots – with 50 or 60 litres of fuel in the tank. Gareth Evans (right) was happy with a 1:29.6, and everything was set for the race.

Except that Bob would be starting further back than usual, on tyres that were a bit of a handful, to say the least.

“It was a pleasure to get out of the car – it was like a special stage on the soft tyres, which were really not good after about five laps. It was just a question of hanging on.”

Berridge and Owen had a good chuckle about the crowd appeal of Peter, the former suggesting that the team might have to give in to pressure from the chanting crowd to put Mr. Owen in the car….

“Meanwhile, Gareth Evans handled the second stint (above), and the race plan of plugging away with no mistakes was working nicely. Evans was finding that he was “sitting on top of my seat, not in it, so I got cramp,” but it was job done – and Peter Owen’s turn.

More of the same – consistency, not cramp – was followed by Bob Berridge’s second stint.

“I got us up to 12th, but we’ve slipped back a bit – but we’re still seventh in P1,” said Berridge, as Gareth Evans and Peter Owen saw out the remainder of the race.

Bearing in mind the dramas some teams were having, the Chamberlain-Synergy Lola AER just kept on going – to seventh in P1 and a couple of championship points.

It was perhaps surprising that more of the prototypes didn’t retire after what turned out to be a very tough event – so seventh it was, and a good demonstration, again, of the reliability of the package.. which is just what everyone wanted, with Le Mans the next event on the programme. Bob’s off to get in some training on his bike….

 

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