Racing – Le Mans Series – Valencia 1000 Km – May
Work In Progress
After the disappointments
of the opening race of the season, at Monza three weeks earlier,
Embassy Racing arrived in Spain for the tortuous Valencia 1000 Km
with a Radical that Jonathan France described as “having our
signature on it”.
That was a
reference to the fact that Monza had effectively seen the team take
delivery of the Radical and then almost immediately rush down to
Northern Italy to race it. For round 2 of the Le Mans Series, the
team had had a chance to prepare thoroughly, and begin to have the
car adjusted and modified the way they want it.
By the end
of the first day of track action in Spain, Warren Hughes had already
worked out how to set about securing a result at the tight and twisty
circuit - with this remarkably accurate prediction of what would
happen in the LMP2 race.
think race pace is going to have a big bearing on the result. Race
pace will come back to us anyway, just as it did at Monza: others
lost pace after qualifying, but we didn’t.”
of free practice and then qualifying had seen the Embassy Racing
Radical run absolutely trouble free.
the first time we’ve been able to follow our programme,”
said team owner Jonathan France, “rather than trouble-shooting.
“We’re getting the car how we want it to be.”
So the meeting
began early on Friday afternoon with the black and white Radical
an excellent fourth fastest in P2.
a busy old circuit,” commented Neil Cunningham. “I didn’t
have one clear lap, but I enjoy driving here, I enjoy the ducking
would have a chance for a clear lap in qualifying on Saturday afternoon,
but for Neil Cunningham, practice involved more “ducking and
diving”, with an absolutely reliable car.
have one clear lap in the Saturday morning session,” said
the delightfully blunt Australian (or New Zealander), “but
I did a 1:30 old rubber. Warren went out for the last 15 minutes,
and he set a 1:29.6 on old rubber, 1:28.3 on fresh tyres. I never
know how long I’ve been out there though, because I’m
enjoying myself so much.”
in some of the gaps, the Radical was fourth fastest in class in
the first session (1:30.1), seventh in the second (1:29.6), seventh
again in the third (1:28.3) and eighth in qualifying (1:28.0).
how Embassy’s race pace was more likely to be comparable to
its practice / qualifying pace than many of the other LMP2s.
“We’re not quite dialled into this track. It’s
a little bit of mechanical and a bit of aero: the car feels slightly
numb. We’ve got a good balance but not a huge amount of grip.
But at least we’ve got a gap after this race so we can go
and do some serious testing. The great thing is that we’ve
had no reliability issues at this meeting.
speed is coming all the time though. I could maybe have got down
into the mid-27s in qualifying – but race pace will come back
one moment of note in the warm up, when despite driving very sensibly,
“I nearly got side-swiped by a Corvette”. That proved
his point about the result not depending just on pace: race incidents
would determine this one.
just as bright and warm as the first two days of the meeting, and
Warren Hughes was down to take the start. Eighth in class was 18th
overall, and that’s where he was at the end of the opening
lap. Race pace in the 1:30s predictably enough saw the #45 car moving
up the order, to seventh in class on lap 2, then sixth on lap 6,
having passed one of the Courages and one of the Lolas.
Lap 19 and
he picked off one of the LMP1 cars, and the Embassy Radical was
15th overall, sixth in class – and sure enough, race pace
was coming back to the SR9. Hughes was less than 40 seconds behind
the class leader, and as they all lapped the GT cars, lap times
weren’t very different from the front to the back of the class.
But lap 22
would be the last that the car would complete on this day. The distinctive
Radical was seen stationary, on the tarmac, at the highest point
of the circuit. It was brought back to the pits, after being pulled
through the gravel trap, with Warren Hughes reporting that “it
just stopped, it was dead, complete electrical failure.”
(with Jonathan France and Neil Cunningham, below) confirmed that
“the alternator packed up, Warren lost all electrical power.
It’s very, very frustrating.”
a podium for us if we can only get there,” summed up a frustrated
Hughes. “But it’s work in progress. The gap to the front
runners was about what I expected. We’re looking for around
a second a lap. We’ll find it.”
The irony wasn’t
lost on Warren Hughes that he and Neil Cunningham didn’t even
need that one second per lap on this day. The way the Valencia 1000
Km panned out, a steady run at the pace Warren had already shown,
with no delays, would have seen the black and white men getting
further than the bottom step of the podium.