Team LNT – Nurburgring 1000 Km
Faster Than Ever Before - But Only Two Points

#81 Rob Bell / Warren Hughes
#82 Richard Dean / Marc Hynes / Lawrence Tomlinson

Saturday
A beautiful warm, sunny day with blue skies welcomed the team and spectators alike to the Nurburgring, with a blazing sun lighting up the lush green wooded hills that surround the circuit. For petrolheads, this is a very spectacular and atmospheric place indeed, a venue truly steeped in motorsport history.

In driveways outside the prim houses of the villages all around the circuit sit road cars with roll-cages, many with numbers, wings, lowered suspension and who-knows-what kind of other trickery lurking beneath the bodywork. For the locals round this pocket of the Eifel, pounding the Nordschleife seems to be a part of daily life - as does systematically improving their cars to chip away at their best lap times.

For Team LNT, the desire was similar – to chip away at the lap times and make improvements to the car. In the team’s hands, the Panoz Esperante GTLM has already achieved excellent pace and reliability: nobody can argue with June’s class win at Le Mans after all.

Without wishing to demean the local villager’s activity, LNT’s job was far more significant. Nurburgring was round three and therefore the mid-point of the LMS series. With excellent podium results in the first two rounds a strong finish here would set the team up very well for a championship challenge, whereas not picking any points up at all would really pile the pressure on for the remaining two races. The significance had not been lost on Richard Dean: “Normally we’re thinking about the weekend and the points and securing that place at Le Mans but now after winning it, we already know we have one car there next year, which is a nice thing to think. The next target has to be this championship. There is no reason why we can’t win it, everyone is working just as hard as before and this circuit should suit the Panoz well.”

Did being Le Mans victors change anything at all about the feeling of going racing for the team – the pressure, the approach, the tactics?

Dean answered quickly. “No, not at all. We’ve had a good approach that has worked well for us so far in the LMS, so in fact what we have to do is try not to do anything differently. Six hours is still a long way and we saw at Le Mans that by looking after the car we did well. If we can finish on the podium in every race, then we stand a very good chance for the championship. We’re above our original expectancy at the moment. Expectations change, but there is still more to come from us knowing the product better and from improving the product too. We have already suggested improvements to Panoz and Elan in the States and together with input from Multimatic, who have been very responsive, we should have some new things coming back to us from the factory, which we are particularly pleased about.”

Practice
Practice was split into two ninety minute sessions – the first at 9 o’clock on Saturday morning. Lawrence Tomlinson took the Le Mans winning car out first, whilst Warren Hughes was first to drop into the snug seat of the sister #81 car.

Warren Hughes was back in after only one lap though. “I’d only been past the pits once when I got an oil alarm so I had to bring it in as we need to be sure if it’s a real problem or just a sensor.” The crew went to work straight away, removing the front bodywork to gain speedy access to the engine, which is certainly an advantage the Panoz has over some of its competitors. The problem was traced to a seized oil pressure relief valve and Hughes was sent back out into the fray.

Meanwhile, Lawrence Tomlinson had handed over to Richard Dean, who would have the lion’s share of the first session. He placed #82 sixth fastest in class early on with a 2:04.463, then went third with a 2:03.009, and on to a best time of 2:02.454, which kept the Panoz in the top five for most of the session.

With thirty minutes to go Hughes was unleashed on a flier, or so it seemed – his 2:01.700 was just five one-thousandths of a second slower than the leading Spyker. “That’s quick,” said a smiling Lawrence Tomlinson as he studied the screens, “tell him to slow down!” he joked to the crew.

With ten minutes to go, both Esperantes were parked outside the garage. Dean handed over to Marc Hynes, who had a steady couple of quick laps and Hughes changed over to Rob Bell.

Warren Hughes was surprised about his quick lap. “It felt slow and hot actually. It didn’t feel like it should be the second-quickest time, but then its not a million miles away. It feels like we can still improve things quite a lot, we seem to have got rid of a lot of the understeer and there are no major changes needed, we just need to tidy a few things up. The track doesn’t feel like it has much grip yet, but that could be the temperatures, as both ambient and track temperature are quite warm.”

“Pretty encouraging for a first session,” was Lawrence Tomlinson’s summary, despite some late improvements for other cars dropping #81 to fifth and #82 to eighth by the end. The most significant of those improvements were the #99 Virgo Ferrari 430 in the hands of Tim Sugden and the #76 Porsche of Marc Lieb. The feeling was that those two may well prove to be the ultimate pace-setters over a single hot lap, but over the course of a 1000km race those hot lap times did not concern Team LNT. They didn’t win Le Mans by their qualifying pace, let alone practice times.

The second session started at 1 PM in much the same conditions: it was warmer but a constant breeze had kept the temperatures from soaring too high.

It was looking good for the team as #81 headed the times for two-thirds of the session, thanks to a great effort from Rob Bell on new tyres. “We tried quite a lot of set-up changes on both cars through the session, but the track had changed a bit from the morning as it had got hotter so there was physically less grip. On new tyres it felt mega but they got hot too quickly, the tyre pressures went up and it lost grip at both ends.”

The logistics were more difficult in the three-driver car. Richard Dean explained: “The only way we can split three hours properly is an hour for each driver, but because the sessions are 90 minutes each we’ve had to split Marc between the sessions. Lawrence started the first one this morning, just to shake the car down after its post-Le Mans rebuild. Then I had an hour, Marc was supposed to have half an hour, although in fact it was nearer fifteen, so he’ll start this one then Lawrence should have most of the session. I’ll get in at the end if I am going to qualify it, but we haven’t made that decision yet. Marc is a quality act, you only have to look at his CV to wonder why he isn’t in F1. He doesn’t demand attention or track time, he just steps forward when he’s asked to and does a really good job.”

Hughes took over from Bell in #81 but couldn’t match his heady pace. “It wasn’t a very nice balance when I went out as by then it was on old tyres and it was really oversteery. We know from Rob’s run when the tyres were new that it was very quick indeed but we’ll need to do something about it for the race.”

By the end of the session three cars had gone below the 2:01 barrier – both GPC Ferrari 360s and the #90 Farnbacher Porsche. Rob Bell certainly hoped to join them in qualifying, he was only two-tenths of a second off after all.

Dean was confident after two strong sessions for both cars. “The car is good on the brakes, good with traction and good in the medium to high speed corners. We were struggling with the very bumpy circuits earlier in the season but we’ve made in-roads into that in testing recently. Having two cars lets us try different set-ups and it speeds the learning process up for us. Rob and Warren proved we are on the pace and we’re certainly not going backwards, we’re closer to pole than we have ever been. We’re usually closer to the race pace than the qualifying one as well.”

Qualifying
The 20 minute session, exclusively for the GT1 and GT2 cars, took place on Saturday afternoon in more of the same bright, hot weather.

Dean and Bell were the chosen ones and were bestowed with qualifying duties. Both of them were right on it from the green flag. Dean set a 2:01.830 but Bell’s opening effort was even better, raising the dust as he smeared the huge Pirellis over practically every inch of every exit kerb around the track.

A Panoz 1-2 would of course be perfect, but alas the dream was short-lived. The Porsches of Lieb and Bergmeister split the two Esperantes and then the Ferrari invasion began. Bell improved his time to an excellent 2:00.105 and then pitted, defenceless as GPC’s 430s went on to take the two top spots – bt only just.

He had thoroughly enjoyed the session though. “The car was good straight out of the bag, the Pirellis worked really, really well and I felt confident. I was on pole straight away. When I saw that I had done a two minute lap I knew it would be hard for me to beat. We knew the Ferrari had an advantage over a single lap but I was still pretty happy with what I did. I was disappointed to be only a tenth of a second off one Ferrari and even closer to the other but it’s the closest we’ve been to the ultimate pace all year. I’ve not really had much time in the car so far this year, with the problems at Turkey where I didn’t have any race running at all and I only did one stint at Spa. That is turned around now because I had a really good test at Snetterton last week and I think I have found quite a bit of time in myself, which I think has shown this weekend.”

Richard Dean was still out there searching for that elusive baulk-free lap, then it all started to come together for him. Two green sectors were showing on the timing screen, meaning that he had bettered his previous time in both. If he hooked the final sector up then his time would improve and in all likelihood so would his position, because the class was so tight at the top. But it was not to be, as he explains. “I came into the chicane behind the GT1 Ferrari and he almost stopped in front of me. He braked and braked again and I had absolutely nowhere to go. I was on a quick one and whilst you can avoid these things by being cautious, if you are over-cautions all the time then you’ll never get anywhere. What makes his actions worse is that two laps earlier I saw him flashing his lights from three corners back so I let him have the line and go through. He pushed on the next lap too, so I thought ‘that is good, he should pull away from me.’ On the next lap, my quick one, I remained about six car lengths behind all the way round until he obviously decided to abandon his lap completely. He nearly stopped and they [the GT1 cars] can stop a lot quicker than we can. I’m annoyed about the grid position and also damaging the car when it was avoidable.” Fortunately the damage to the car was relatively minor, but the damage to the grid position consequently caused was far worse – twelfth place.

#81 would start an excellent third in class, behind (and only a miniscule eight one-hundreths of a second behind) the two GPC Ferrari 430s but importantly ahead of the Virgo Ferrari and Autorlando Porsches. Bell was “delighted with that. I don’t think I could have done any more. We know the Ferraris are quick and I was pushing very hard. We hoped to be no more than a second off the 430s so to be within a tenth is great. Even better the car feels good and I feel good after the session. That has to bode well for the race.”

Sunday
Warm-Up

Tomlinson and Hughes were on warm-up duties on Sunday morning. It was an early start at 8:40 AM but when a day dawns as beautiful as it did on Sunday, what better way could there be to start it?

The two Esperantes left the pits together. Tomlinson, like Hughes, was lapping on old tyres and full tanks but was also bedding some new brakes in. After one lap, he brought #82 in so the crew could check everything was OK with the brake installation before rejoining. It wasn’t about outright pace. “The balance on the race set-up is now good and as always we have a very good race car, we also had a very fast one yesterday with Rob in qualifying and it is good to be up there on ultimate pace as well. It’s a shame that Richard had his problem with hitting the Ferrari because if he’d completed the lap I think we would have been starting in the top six.”

Meanwhile, Hughes had brought #81 in for some aero changes and rejoined, lapping about four seconds off Bell’s qualifying time. “The aim was to get the car a little more settled on cold tyres. We had a specific job – to get the balance back on worn tyres. We ran a full tank of fuel on old tyres to simulate the worst scenario. We don’t need to be working on the ultimate set-up for a one-off laptime, we’ve worked on a good race set-up. Now we’ve got a car we can push the whole way through with. We don’t care about any of the times anyone else was setting as you never know what they are trying to do in warm-up.”

Race
Just before midday the field of 44 cars took to the circuit ready for the rolling start. Warren Hughes took the start from third place in class in #81 and Richard Dean was on-board #82, further back in 12th.

Hughes initially ran as the best non-Ferrari, maintaining Bell’s qualifying position and sandwiched between the second-placed GPC 430 of Drudi and Sugden’s similar Virgo car.

On lap six Dean was really on the move and was past Bleekemolens’ Spyker, and the Porsches of Seefried and Beltoise moving up to 34th overall, 9th in class. He was then behind Simonsen and Bouchut, both highly rated men in well sorted Porsches. Simonsen’s alternator failed before Dean could mount his challenge, and as the Porsche pitted for a replacement, Dean took eighth in class. “I took it easy at first and sat back as there was a lot of fighting going on. But each time someone got pushed wide, that’s when I would have a go. Sometimes you don’t pass anyone, sometimes you pass three in one lap, that’s the way it works sometimes.”

Up ahead Hughes was also keeping a watching brief on the GPC Ferraris, but he also had his work cut out defending advances from Sugden’s Ferrari, just half a second behind.

By lap nine Bouchut and Dean had moved up to sixth and seventh, then Dean passed Bouchut so both Team LNT cars were in the top six within the first twenty minutes of the six hour race. This was great stuff from both drivers. The order was Belicchi, Drudi, Hughes, Sugden, Camathias, Dean and Bouchut.

Dean was gaining on Camathias too, who was only four seconds ahead but then drama hit both cars. #81 was the first to succumb as Hughes was forced to pit with a throttle problem. “It started as I was coming out of the back chicane but I was past the pit entry before I realised I had a problem. The throttle just felt odd.”

As the crew began work on the newly arrived #81, Dean radioed in from #82 to say he had been hit by a Ferrari. The team later realised it was actually a GT1 Aston Martin that had made contact. Dean struggled to rejoin the tarmac but was thankfully up to speed again quickly. It was a bitter double whammy though, after an excellent early performance from both drivers. Hughes rejoined in 40th place, 17th in class and laps down on the opposition. Dean was soon climbing the order again, up to 34th, and 11th in class but with a gap of over 30 seconds, he was a long way behind Kane’s Spyker.

“Right, we’ll start again then,” muttered Tomlinson. If only that were an option. It was clearly going to be an uphill struggle for both cars now.

With just over an hour gone Belicchi, Drudi and Sugden led out a dream for Ferrari, followed by Camathias, Seefried, Bouchut, Bleekemolen, Beltoise, Ehret, and Kane - before the first of the LNT cars. Dean led Washington, Duez, Burgess, the sole TVR and Basseng then it was Hughes. #81 was two laps behind anyone else though, and with a further two laps in hand over the recovering Simonsen it had turned into a lonely opening stint for Warren Hughes, though he had to maintain the pace to maximise the chance of taking advantage of any misfortune elsewhere in the field.

The first round of pitstops started around the one-hour mark and this saw Dean move up to a high-point of fourth in class, before he pitted himself to hand over to Hynes.

Hynes began his first stint with the focus of passing Crevels’ Syker, having instantly made short work of Nigel Smith’s Porsche.

After the first round of stops the order in GT2 was De Simone, Cioci, Lieb, Eagling, Bouchut, Hezemans, Duez, Crevels, Hynes, Smith, Ehret, Liddell, Daniels, Dockerill, Collin and then Hughes, a lap down on Collin and out of sequence with the others due to the earlier stop.

The two Farnbacher cars were the next to hit problems. #90 spent some time in the garage before re-emerging between the two Esperantes, now with Farnbacher at the wheel. One place gained for Hynes. Bell also made up a place as the #80 car was pushed into the garage, where its race ended. .

When Hughes handed #81 over to Bell they dropped back behind the recovering Simonsen, but the Autorlando car came in shortly afterwards for repairs to the right front after a blow out removed the entire wing. Bell was now in pursuit of Daniels, and the vital statistics were that the James Watt Automotive Porsche was 2 laps ahead, but 16 seconds a lap slower. Before the start of the race Bell said he felt a “need to get the car to the finish today. The team have worked really hard this week, in fact since Le Mans as both cars have needed a rebuild, so it would be nice to give them all some champagne to drink.” Chasing the likes of the Daniels Porsche in sixteenth place was certainly not what he had envisaged.

Hughes had been struggling, as he reported after his stint. “We refuelled during the stop to sort out the throttle cable and the car was fine beforehand, but after the stop I’ve never had a balance like it. By the end of the stint the front left was down to the canvas. I can’t understand why that happened, but hopefully it was just a problem with that set of tyres. I’ve not seen a tyre down to the canvas just through wear before. We were locked into that first set of tyres as we have to start the race on the tyres we qualified on. We didn’t want to switch to ‘hards’ for Rob because we tried them yesterday and they really didn’t work.”

Back in #82, Hynes was battling through backmarkers whilst the prototypes and GT1s battled past him, so having halved the initial 14 second gap to Crevel’s Spyker ahead, he could only keep it relatively constant before handing over to Lawrence Tomlinson at the half way mark. Traffic was not the only factor, with Hynes reporting that his tyres had been “good until an hour, but they were down to the canvas by the end of the stint.”

In #81 Hughes took over from Bell shortly afterwards and there was disappointment as Bell noted that “I had the tyre compound issues too in my first run. At the end of the day the throttle cable problem has already cost us three or four laps and when I got in one of the bulbs had blown and a marshal made us change it. That cost us another three laps.”

Once that sequence of stops had shaken the order out again, Tomlinson was running seventh behind Camathias, Zonca, Bleekemolen, Narac, Sugden and Kane ahead. There was drama at the front when the class-leading De Simone Ferrari made contact with Crevels’ Spyker whilst lapping him and lost the lead, and a position to the Panoz whilst pitting to hand over to Drudi. Drudi was straight out onto a recovery drive and moved past the Panoz with 92 laps completed, so the Panoz fell back to eighth.

Hughes was still on a charge. He finished off Bell’s job of catching Daniels in the James Watt Automotive Porsche by passing Washington, who had taken it over. He was still separated from Tomlinson by Hesnault, Ehret, Yamagishi, Lefort, Bergmeister and Hartshorne. It was a one minute climb to the TVR, but with a gulf in their respective paces, five laps later the gap was only 14 seconds and Hughes moved past easily within a couple more laps.

With Hartshorne dismissed, Lefort and Bergmeister were next, but they were a full lap ahead of the Panoz, with Bergmeister lapping only a second or so slower than the charging Hughes.

At this point #81 had set a best lap only half a second shy of the best Ferrari, a quarter of a second off the Lieb Porsche and to all intents and purposes, identical to the other two Ferraris. The furious pace started to take its toll on the tyres again though and it was painful for the team to see the car fall from 2:02s to 2:06s and even 2:09s by the end of Hughes’ stint. The fall in lap times wasn’t through a lack of trying though. “It’s been a very demanding race and you are working really hard in there, unlike La Sarthe even the straights here are gone before you know it so there is no rest and with always physically controlling the car, the high ambient temperature and the closed roof, it gets really hot. The g-forces are lower than in a prototype, but I think it is actually tougher to drive one of these.”

Tomlinson literally hit trouble as Fisken braked hard in front of him in the P1 class Courage. The incident cost Lawrence in the region of 20 seconds as he came to a halt and got going again. Oddly, Fisken was on a recovery drive so the two were ‘fighting’ (very unfairly) for the position. “He went round me on the straight and then pulled in front of me and jammed on his brakes. It was unfortunate but these prototype drivers need to remind themselves that we don’t have downforce or carbon brakes so we can’t slow down as quickly as them. I ended up breaking the front left wheel, but I carried on with it for the rest of my stint. Although it wasn’t a major problem all of us these things add up and I’d had a really good stint until then, with six or seven laps consistently in the 2:03s and passing loads of GT2s. When something like that happens, you lose time, they all re-pass you and you are basically starting your stint again.”

The Safety Car made its sole appearance with around two-thirds of the race already run. This was to allow for the safe recovery of the Thierry Perrier Porsche that had flown into a gravel trap after losing a wheel and seemingly ripping itself to pieces. The crew on the pitwall made the vital call for Tomlinson to pit and hand over to Richard Dean, as far less time is lost if the pitstop is carried out whilst everyone circulates behind the Safety Car. GPC made the most of it as Camathias had handed over to Lieb just before the Safety Car. The lead two had been only seconds apart, but now the Ferrari had a one lap cushion and it was enough to ensure the victory.

Team LNT was not able to gain an advantage on anyone else as practically the entire field of GT2 cars streamed in as one with Tomlinson as the Safety Car trundled by the pit entry for the first time. Hughes was one of the few who did stay out however. “We were nowhere near even completing half a stint when it [the Safety Car] came out because our stops were out of sequence after our earlier problem, so there was no advantage to us coming in then.”

As the Safety Car peeled back off the circuit, most of the gaps between cars had been crushed. Cioci led Lieb, with Hezemans 17 seconds behind. Just a further ten seconds back were Eagling and Crevels, now disputing the same piece of tarmac. Dean should have been right with this pair and looking to take a relatively easy fourth before chasing down the Hezemans Spyker for third. Unfortunately, hot starting problems had cost him time as he tried to rejoin at the start of his stint and in fact Narac had made it past Dean and led the Panoz by 3 seconds. Both men were realistically already out of touch with the lead five.

With only 1 hour and 45 minutes to go, it wasn’t looking good for either car. A finish was the best to be hoped for in the #81 camp, whilst increasing the points haul was the aim for #82.

As Dean closed in on Narac he set the best lap of the race so far for his car. That sixth place was a real incentive and he took it with a clean move. With the other five a lap ahead (two laps for the lead duo) sixth was as good as it was going to get unless problems struck.

Alas, even sixth proved to be out of reach by the time Hynes took the chequered flag on the expiration of the six hours maximum duration. Dean explained “We’re quick enough when we’re out there but the problem is trying to pull all the lost time back. We’re losing 20-30 seconds every time we come in the pits too as we can’t get it to fire up. With Marc alone trying to leave after the last stop it cost us 40-50 seconds and that lost us a place as we were running sixth. Now Bouchut has got past so it looks like seventh.”

And indeed it was, the IMSA Matmut Porsche was too far down the road for Hynes to catch it by the finish.

Bell took over #81 for the final stint, but he also had real trouble getting the car away from the pits. The headlights flickered each time he tried to churn the big V8 into life until eventually after four or five attempts it fired up. “Its just the heat, it really builds up when the car stops.”
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A hot Hughes described his last stint. “I had a similar problem with the tyres again, not too as big a degree as the first stint though. Those first tyres had done qualifying and effectively a stint and a half because of the throttle problem. The second set gave us much more grip when they were new and held their grip longer but half way through the stint I started to feel in trouble again. We went onto a hard compound tyre for Rob for his last stint and the hard compound is doing better in terms of laptime and durability. It is surprising because the hards didn’t work yesterday, but it must be that it has just got hot enough today. I think if we’d switched compound earlier it would have helped, but realistically any chance of a good result was gone after the throttle cable snapped.”

Bell brought #81 home 10th in class having felt the benefit of the harder compound tyres in his stint. “The hard compound was more durable and the car was also quicker. I did the third fastest lap in class on them and that was only one tenth of a second off the best in class.”

So the result for Team LNT was two cars home, but not in happy circumstances. After the race, Dean reflected “You can’t afford to get involved in someone else’s incidents, its just one of those races when we’ve not been in a position to take advantage of other’s misfortune, as not many people were having any!

“The result is disappointing after you look at the weekend up to the race itself and the pace of both cars in the race. The problem is that people remember the bits that went wrong rather than the good bits, but the fact is we were more competitive than we have been so far.

“I lost a minute when I was hit, a real whack up the rear – it was a bit like Kox from yesterday in reverse – that undid all of my hard work, but I passed a lot of people. All three of us [in #82] had a decent chase and without the problems I think we should have had both cars on the podium.”

Lawrence Tomlinson also easily found the positives to take from the weekend. “For long stints of the race the Panoz was the fastest car on the track in class and we were so close to pole in qualifying. The pace is there, it’s a shame that it’s the fastest we’ve ever run in a race and yet it has given us the worst result.

The position is that the car is reliable, a broken throttle cable was the only issue and in terms of reliability that is neither here nor there. The car is also right on the pace, although it might have helped Warren if we had put his car on the harder compound tyres earlier.”

Bell took a lot of personal satisfaction from the weekend too. “It was a good weekend for me personally as I was quick in qualifying and in the race but then there are no championship points for my efforts which is disappointing for me and for the whole team.”

The reality is that there were plenty of positives from the weekend even if the result and the points haul was the worst yet for Team LNT. When the pack regroups at Donington Park for the penultimate round, LNT will be looking to make their home advantage count, particularly as Richard Dean’s rough and ready post-race calculations suggest that he and Lawrence Tomlinson are still second in the championship. It could go down to the wire at Jarama for the final round, but Team LNT is sure to be fighting all the way.
Paul Slinger

 

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