LNT – Valencia 1000 Km
A Tough One
#81 Tom Kimber-Smith / Danny Watts
#82 Richard Dean / Tom Milner
The new man at Team LNT for the Spanish round of the Le Mans Series
was Tom Milner – but he wasn’t completely new.
“I joined the team at Estoril a week or so ago, for a three
day Pirelli tyre test,” said Tom, “and then flew back
to the US to test the Rahal Letterman Porsche at Road Atlanta –
and now I’m back in Europe again. It’s been a busy time
Busy, but very productive, testing at Estoril having proceeded very
well, as Tom Kimber-Smith explains.
“We were working on tyres and set-ups at Estoril, and we’ve
definitely improved the pace of the car. We’re going to be
closer (to the outright pace) here than we were in Italy, although
the Panoz is more of a long distance car than a one lap machine.”
Tom (K-S) described the Valencia track, with 46 prototypes and GTs
on the circuit, as “like racing Formula Fords round the Indy
Circuit at Brands hatch.” That was a reference to both the
traffic – and the way certain entries seemed to find the gravel
traps at every opportunity, at least in practice. Yellow flags were
waved repeatedly, and finding a clear lap, especially one without
yellows, was all but impossible.
After the end of the first session on Friday, “we’ve
worked out which tyre we’re going to use,” pointed out
TK-S. “Danny (Watts) and I like the same set-up, identical
in every way – the only difference between us in our size.”
The TK-S / Danny Watts car was fifth fastest in GT2 after the first
session on Friday, with a 1:38.579, within seven-tenths of the fastest
GT2 car, and although the Richard Dean / Tom Milner #82 was in the
1:40s on day 1, times improved on Saturday morning, in the final
session before qualifying. Richard and Tom were in the 1:39s, while
Tom and Danny were down to a 1:38.2.
But an engine problem had reared its ugly head on the #82 car, and
the team was faced with a frantic engine change before qualifying.
Chip Lewis from Elan Technologies was on hand to explore the engine
issue, which had cropped up on the #82 car before, notably in the
Monza race three weeks earlier.
“I got out for qualifying with a few minutes left, but had
to do an installation lap first,” remarked Richard Dean. “My
first flying lap was a 1:41, and just before I passed under the
clock on the start-finish straight, I saw “2 seconds”
of the session left, so I barely started another lap in time. That
one was a 1:39.804, which wasn’t bad in the circumstances.”
Tom Kimber-Smith set the 1:38.514 in the other car, good enough
for ninth on the GT2 part of the grid – but Tom was still
punching in the laps right at the end of the session, looking for
a quicker one.
other GT2 cars here is going to be tough,” he reasoned. “But
in some ways this is the best circuit for us, because of its stop-start
nature. We’re really good on the brakes, and our traction
is really good too.”
So from ninth
and 14th on the grid, the two cars would have plenty of potential
victims up ahead – if they could get past round this stop-start
circuit. The two Toms would start the race – but Richard Dean
was a worried man.
Elan guys are certainly making progress with understanding the engine
problems we seem to be suffering, but we’re acutely aware
that the next race is the Le Mans 24 Hours. We need the engines
to be bullet-proof there” – just as the engine in the
class-winning car was in 2006.
and Danny don’t seem to be having any problems though. Their
engine did the whole Monza race and the Estoril tyre test and it’s
as it turned out…
So, later than
usual (a 13.30 start, rather than the usual midday) it was a huge
field of 46 cars that took the rolling start – after a very
slow parade lap.
TK-S was up
to seventh immediately, and that’s where he positioned himself,
running hard, looking strong. Meanwhile, Tom Milner wasn’t
going to settle for the nether regions of GT2, and within a handful
of laps, he’d charged up to ninth, the two Esperantes separated
only by the #98 Ferrari.
But lap 11
saw Tom Milner heading for the pit lane – and into the garage.
engine is down on power, but we think they’ve sorted it,”
shouted Richard Dean – above the sound of the V8 being fired
up, which sounded perfect again.
Lawrence Tomlinson (above) indicated that “they’ve changed
coils. Our race pace is looking really good. We’re doing our
qualifying pace in the race, and Tom (Kimber-Smith) is on the back
of the lead group.”
/ Dean car had lost about 12 minutes though.
But famed Panoz
reliability looked as though it would pay dividends again, for the
TK-S / Watts car at least. More so when TK-S slipped past the #78
Ferrari, which soon pitted for tyres.
Tom lost a place
to a charging Johnny Mowlem in another Ferrari, but was still running
sixth as the first scheduled stops approached. TK-S pitted slightly
Watts in the car, the endurance nature of the racing was established,
with the Esperante running in a strong seventh: nothing much changed
as Watts charged on after the Ferraris and Porsches, pitting for
TK-S to resume at the wheel again. Lap 83 and #81 was still right
there, in eighth, chasing the Belgian Ferrari.
Lap 84 and
#81 was in the pits. Richard Dean: “It’s an engine problem.
There’s something about the 2007 spec. engine. The mechanics
are looking at the fuel system, because both cars aren’t picking
up all the fuel. Maybe there’s something they can do to our
car to help us with the same problem.”
was frustrated that “we’re miles behind, but Tom’s
doing a great job. We’re really, really pleased with him.”
up the order was a real challenge after that early delay for this
car, but Milner and Dean raced on – as far as lap 154.
“A fuel pressure issue put us out.”
So a rare event
for Team LNT and its Esperantes: both cars eliminated, no points
scored. With Le Mans as the next event, there will be a lot of head
scratching going on to find a solution.