LNT – Spa 1000 Km
Third Last Time, Second This Time - It Keeps getting Better
LNT’s distinctive orange Panoz Esperante GT-LMs are a difficult
pair to miss on this year’s Le Mans Series grid. If anyone
had failed to notice them get a podium at Istanbul, it would be
impossible to ignore them after a fine performance in a six-hour
battle against Porsche, Ferrari, Spyker and TVR at the spectacular
“Testing is all about getting ourselves ready for the race,”
may seem like an obvious enough truth, but whilst some teams spent
the practice sessions grappling with car troubles and set-up dilemmas,
team owner and driver Lawrence Tomlinson’s strategy was more
relaxed. “We’ve got great reliability with the Panoz,
and as we’ve seen and already [by the end of Friday] we’ve
got good speed. It’s a long race so we’re not really
bothered about having the fastest car in practice or qualifying.
For us it is about keeping a good balance and a consistent pace
and we should be able to do that.”
It was encouraging
to see the team owner in a calmly focused mood as the heat of Friday
ebbed into a brewing thunderstorm, because Team LNT did not have
a trouble-free day with the #81 car. “We had a throttle imbalance
on the #81 car and it took a while to work out what was wrong but
the boys did a good job to find it and sort it out. It turned out
to be the throttle bodies not being set correctly from when the
engine came off the dyno. It’s running fine now though.”
It was indeed
running fine in the second session. A 2:27.259 leap-frogged the
Tomlinson and Richard Dean car and meant #81 ended the day with
the sixth fastest time in the LMGT2 class, behind only the highly
competitive new Ferrari F430 GTCs of GPC, Virgo and Icer Brakes
and two of the strongest Porsche entries. It was also encouraging
to know that the cars had not been pushed to the limit yet, not
least because of an unusual pollen phenomena – layers of the
stuff plastered cars, tyres, kerbs and the track itself, robbing
the cars of grip. Warren Hughes had the lion’s share of seat-time
in #81 and was mainly focusing on “dialling myself into the
car. We definitely haven’t maximised it yet, there was a better
time in the car that is yet to come. Whether it is a 2:24 on the
day I’m not sure, but we’ll soon see what we’ve
The #82 car
ran well in both sessions, with Dean and Tomlinson getting some
Spa miles, or rather kilometres, under the tyres. Their quickest
time of the day was set in the morning session – a 2:27.932
being the fifth best in class at the time, but as the competition
found a little time in the later session, #82 ended the day ninth.
– Free Practice
The meeting’s third practice session took place on Saturday
morning, on a damp track, but one that had at least been cleansed
of its layer of pollen.
out onto the shiny tarmac under a grey sky, Richard Dean (right)
“started on intermediates because it was still quite wet,
but it was enough to know that we had gone the right direction on
set-up. It’s still not quite right in the wet, but we were
LNT’s ‘secret’ weapon, was also deployed late
in the session, doing a handful of laps on the intermediates before
three laps on slicks, the last of which was the best time for the
car for the meeting so far – a 2:27.669.
explained (well, almost) Kimber-Smith’s role “although
he has been referred to as the reserve driver, he is 90% certain
to drive at some point in the race, but I can’t say anything
more than that without giving our strategy away!”
talent and ability in a Panoz have already been displayed, at the
first meeting of the British GT Championship. To secure the fifth
fastest time in the class in just a few laps of a circuit he only
knows from a computer game was yet further evidence of those inherent
“didn’t go out in today’s session, I was happy
with my times and data from yesterday. It is such a long track that
an hour goes pretty quickly and you lose too much time swapping
the drivers around. We’ve tried a few set-ups this morning
as we went through the transition from wet to dry and I’m
very happy with the times that both cars ran.”
In the #81 car
Rob Bell had the luxury of an entire session to himself and was
pleased to report that “all the work we have done on the balance
of the car seems to have paid off and it seems to be a step forward
from yesterday. We wanted to do a durability test on the wet tyres:
the conditions weren’t right for wets but it was something
we needed to do. Once we’d done that, we put some slicks on.
It was still wet into the Bus Stop and at Les Combes, but with the
pollen gone the track felt much cleaner and we were faster than
yesterday, even though it was fully dry then.”
Panoz had yet revealed its optimum laptime, but a 2:27.243 for #81
in tricky conditions was fifth fastest in class.
The GT qualifying session took place on a drying track, the drying
process having been greatly assisted by the prototype qualifying
session that had taken place five minutes earlier.
Two GT2 teams
took a gamble on slicks and it paid off for one of them –
IMSA Matmut – whose star driver, Christophe Bouchut, qualified
in an impressive 16th place overall.
With the 20/20
vision afforded by hindsight, Lawrence Tomlinson acknowledged that
“the tyre to be on was slicks, but we had both cars on intermediates.
Overall I’m quite happy with the times, but the problem is
that Bouchut has quite an advantage as he is so much further up
the grid, with eight cars between him and the next GT2 car. Tom
did a great job, so did Warren. I think if we’d have had slicks
on we could have had a car for pole, but we didn’t, so we
haven’t, and that’s just the way it goes.”
and Warren Hughes swapped places on an almost lap by lap basis throughout
the 20 minute session, as the track continued to dry and the drivers
started to explore and push the limits. Hughes “didn’t
think the time set by either Panoz was actually representative.
I knew there was a lot more time in the car and it felt really quite
nice. I got held up on my last lap, but times were getting quicker
every single lap, so it was a problem for me not to get that one
in. I think I could have got into the 33s. We had arranged before
the session that the crew would give me a shout to make sure we
could get one last quick lap in just before the chequered flag -
and they were trying to tell me, but the radio wasn’t working
so I had no idea what was going on.”
As a result,
Warren lost the chance to grab sixth place from TK-S, and would
instead start the race in seventh with a 2:35.549, just 5/100ths
of a second off Tom’s best. The youngster was “happy
to have qualified up there with Warren’s time after just 15
laps of the circuit.” Yes, that is 15 laps in total, he had
never driven a car around Spa before this weekend. “Well,
unless you count the F1 game on the Playstation, but it’s
all flat in that, and it definitely isn’t in real life! It
was a difficult session and I spun at the top of Eau Rouge on my
first lap, which really knocked my confidence. I knew it was drying
and really wanted to keep it on the island for that last lap, which
I knew would be the best chance, but I did lose a bit of time through
the two fastest corners, which you could see pretty clearly from
the data compared with Warren. I put that down to losing confidence
after the spin, but I am a bit annoyed with myself as I reckon I
could have been third on the grid, which would have looked a lot
Anyone who has
ever seen a car get out of shape at Eau Rouge would forgive a Spa
novice like Kimber-Smith a couple of seconds, so at the end of the
day the only person in the team who was harsh about his qualifying
performance was the man himself.
Race day dawned with the wooded hills around the circuit shrouded
in fog. At Les Combes, which is the highest point of the circuit,
it was drifting right down to the track surface, but was not so
thick as to impede visibility to a dangerous degree.
What's Rod Farrell
doing here? Race tactics?
was damp in places, but drier than yesterday’s qualifying
session, so there were yet more conditions to try out and check
the suitability of the set-up on the cars. Lawrence Tomlinson was
at the helm of the #82 machine and “the car felt really nice
this morning and the balance is really good. We had a brake installation
problem on my car but that will be rectified for the race.”
timing screens suggesting it was Rob Bell in the other car heading
the GT2 times by more than a second, the pilot was actually Warren
Hughes. “Whoops, I forgot to reset the driver,” he said
as Rob chuckled in the background, preparing to take all the praise.
“I only did one lap and there was quite a lot of grip, but
it wasn’t dry. The visibility is OK as far as you need to
see, it is nowhere near as bad as this race last year! If we’d
have had conditions like this before qualifying yesterday then now
we know how much grip the car has, we would definitely have gone
for slicks. The car felt very well balanced though. It gets better
every session. I’m confident of a strong race as I don’t
think any of us are pushing at anywhere near the limit yet.”
Rob Bell started #81, with Richard Dean in #82 just in front. Both
cars moved up a position before they had even taken the green light,
after Christophe Bouchut’s big qualifying advantage was undone
in an instant as his team missed the pitlane opening window, meaning
he would have to start from the back of the grid.
With all the
team members, grid-girls and hangers-on cleared from the grid, it
was time for the installation lap behind the pace car, ready for
an explosion of power across the start line.
of power was dramatic as the cars dived down the long, long hill
to the bottom of Eau Rouge, but even more drama awaited the drivers
at the top.
first and with carnage unfolding in front of him. “There were
stopped cars and debris everywhere and I had to choose left or right.
I chose right, not because it was easier or anything but it just
happened out of instinct. I ended up running over a lot of debris
and picked up a cut tyre, so I had to pit.” He completed that
lap amid clouds of tyre smoke.
Rob Bell, arriving
at almost the same time as Dean, chose left probably for very similar
reasons to Dean. “I had to brake hard and ended up getting
hit up the rear, which caused some damage to the rear bumper.”
In what seemed
to be two separate incidents, the LMP1 ProTran and LMP2 G-Force
Courage had spun in the middle of the pack and were collected at
full chat by the #78 Autorlando Porsche and #73 Ice Pol Ferrari
respectively. All four cars were eliminated on the spot with significant
There was then
an “outrageously slow” safety car period, as the train
of cars tried to thread their way past the wreckage, marshals and
recovery trucks. Richard Dean emerged from the pits to rejoin the
train, but the red flag was wisely shown once it proved impossible
to clear the wreckage with the cars circulating.
The clock continued
to tick down and by the time the track was cleared for the restart,
there were just less than five of those original six hours left.
The first lap chaos had the LNT cars effectively making their starts
from 32nd and 35th place, 11th and 13th in class. A frustrated Richard
Dean felt that “the whole of qualifying and our race strategy
was right out of the window, as it was to be a shorter race again.”
The LNT cars
both began a rapid rise through the field though and soon Dean was
in 24th and Bell 26th.
Rosa was the
first LMGT2 front-runner to make a routine stop in his GPC Ferrari,
and the order became #99 Virgo Ferrari, # 85 Spyker, #90 Porsche,
then Dean closing in, with the recovering Bouchut sandwiched between
him and Rob Bell.
Bell hung on
to the storming Bouchut for several laps, but then took his first
stop. Bouchut passed Dean and the duo began chasing down Bleekemolen
in the Dutch Spyker, the #90 Farnbacher Porsche having ground to
a halt in the pitlane.
It was an impressive
early pace from both cars, proving they are contenders for outright
speed as well as reliability.
began to drop back slightly from Bouchut and was then to come under
attack from the other top-line Porsche of Marc Lieb.
Rob Bell was
making his way back up through the order after his stop, one of
the easiest places he made up was the other Spyker, Jonny Kane having
spun into the gravel trap.
The Virgo Ferrari
and circulating Spyker pitted before the chasing pack,so Bouchut
and Lieb led Dean, the Panoz moving into a podium spot for the first
It was a brief
spell at the top before the depleted fuel tank dictated a pitstop
for Dean too. De Simone, Eagling and Hezemans all re-passed him,
so it was sixth and seventh for LNT with 3 hours 40 to go.
The orange cars
were not distant from those in front, and even in endurance racing
terms, 3 hours 40 was still a long time to go. Lapping at a consistent
pace, both cars had stretched away from all of those behind, which
doubtless took some of the pressure away.
bad day continued as Hezemans was forced to pit again with a problem.
Lieb made a routine stop to hand over to Carnathias and Bouchut
Now was the
time for Team LNT to make some in-roads into the leading Porsches,
both of the fresh Porsche pilots were good, but would not put themselves
in the same league as their team-mates.
De Simone led
Carnathias and Narac from Eagling and Bell, whilst Dean handed over
to Lawrence Tomlinson. It was only a matter of time before Eagling
took Narac and both of those closed in on and passed Carnathias.
A further safety
car period brought about by a crash for the LMP1 Lister helped close
things up even more. The leading Ferrari pitted to change drivers
from De Simone to Drudi and Rob Bell also came in for Warren Hughes,
as Lawrence Tomlinson moved up to fourth.
The Safety Car’s
passenger was waving cars through until it picked up the leader,
so there was not the same amount of bunching as you would normally
expect, though pit-lane escapee Hughes found himself nicely placed
Both LNT cars
looked strong on the restart, Warren Hughes taking Drudi relatively
easily whilst Lawrence Tomlinson made in-roads into Carnathias’
up the story of the next fateful lap. “After I’d passed
Drudi I was held up at Eau Rouge a little and he got a run by me.
We were either side of a red Porsche and he managed to get in front
again. We passed quite a few cars together and were lapping at pretty
much the same speed – I hadn’t realised I was battling
him for position. We even passed someone into Blanchimont, so I
was happy running at his pace. As we came into the Bus-stop he braked
much earlier than I was expecting. The closing speed was so much
that I would either have to hit him or dive way up on the inside
of the kerb, hoping he would see me and not turn in. I tried it,
but he didn’t see me and I ended up hitting him at ninety
degrees, which took us both out of the race. I’m just so sorry
for the team.”
managed to limp back to the pits, but the broken wheel was the least
of the problems: the damage to the front corner was too severe to
focus was now purely upon Lawrence Tomlinson, who initially found
himself ahead of Virgo’s Tim Sugden and third in class, an
impressive16th overall, but Sugden’s Ferrari had a little
more pace and regained the position.
The Panoz with
2 hours 15 minutes to go and handed over to Tom Kimber-Smith who
despite the handover managed to hold that hard-earned fourth position.
The Panoz was eight seconds behind Narac, 58 seconds behind Lieb
and a lap down on class leader Sugden. TK-S showed what he could
do from the off, made easier because “when I got in the car
it felt exactly the same as when I first got in the car on Friday.
Richard and Lawrence had looked after it for me and it hadn’t
suffered at all.”
Narac was easily
despatched and now the Panoz was holding third place by right, not
due to the sequence of pitstops. The revised LNT strategy and consistent
speed of all three drivers had started to pay dividends in this
final third of the race.
With a second
wind and a solid car underneath him, TK-S had posted the fastest
lap in his car of 2:26.863 in order to keep maximum pressure on
Sugden, but went on to chip a further tenth off that time, lapping
at the same pace as Bouchut and Lieb – two (three) very strong
drivers in two (three) very good cars.
The fact that
he was lapping at Bouchut’s pace was emphasised by the fact
that the Panoz was almost a lap ahead, practically following the
Those late stage
tactical dividends turned into jackpots as Virgo had to make another
quick “splash and dash” fuel stop. Sugden had already
lost the lead to Autorlando’s Lieb as a result of an unfortunate
coincidence between their previous stop and a safety car period,
but the splash and dash dropped them another place, to the benefit
of Team LNT. Tom Kimber-Smith moved up into an excellent second
place in class that he was not to lose, a remarkable 16th place
overall, taking the chequered flag some 13 seconds ahead of Sugden
in the Virgo Ferrari.
TK-S was aware
of the situation with Virgo: “I was in contact with my engineer
and we had a suspicion that Virgo needed a splash and dash. I would
have been happy with third in class until I knew that, so we kept
the pressure on Sugden hoping he would make a mistake. In the end,
when he came out of his pitstop I had got ahead anyway, but then
he made a mistake on his outlap. So the pressure paid off. It was
difficult at the end to pace myself as I didn’t need to drive
flat out but I didn’t want to go too far off the pace in case
I made a mistake. Richard and Lawrence both did a fantastic job
and second here is a great result.”
A modest, unflustered
but clearly delighted Lawrence Tomlinson summed up the weekend (once
he'd stoppped laughing). “Second is pretty much where we expected
to be, and we still haven’t got the balance quite right, so
we know we can be faster. The best thing is that the car felt like
a brand new one right at the end of the race, it was ready for another
six hours at least which has to be a pointer in the right direction
for Le Mans.” Indeed, not to mention the three remaining Le
Mans Series races.