Sebring – And The Le Mans Entry List

Sebring
From the point of view of someone stuck in the UK with a raging virus (am I sweating buckets or shivering at this particular moment?), desperately trying to keep up with posting the dscers’ output from the track, the only disappointment I felt was the weather on Thursday. ALMS qualifying is a fantastic event in itself, and as it transpired later, qualifying could have seen a real upset…. but there’s always Road Atlanta etc.

Some observers have carped on about the expected dramas and retirements in LMP2 – but it’s not supposed to be easy, is it? All credit to Miracle Motorsports for taking the win. John Macaluso has a very balanced view of what it takes to get to the finish of an endurance race: it will be fascinating to see how the ACO’s selections for the 24 Hours in June affect the outcome of that race in LMP2 (see below).

LMP1 was an LMES 2004-type thriller, wasn’t it? Hats off to team owners who allow their talented men behind the wheel to go at it the way they do. One or two cynics have suggested that Allan McNish was never going to catch Tom Kristensen. Unfortunately, no one told McNish. His comment over the radio - "You'd better tell Tom to get a hurry on - I'm coming” – was a classic. Congratulations to the ALMS Radio Web, not just for typically first class coverage of the event, but for picking up that remark over the Champion team’s radio.

McNish against Kristensen – it doesn’t get any better, any tougher, and more ruthless, than that. Yes, we’d have loved to have seen a Dyson Lola in the thick of it too, but it was still a superb effort to see one car stay on the lead lap for so long. The sprint races will be different. Guy Smith was something of a star, wasn’t he?

GT2 was a real surprise. Both AJR Porsches in trouble? The Petersen-White Lightning entry has typically been the one to threaten the Job cars for season after season, so that was a very well deserved win. As the pace in GT2 gets faster and faster, it becomes ever more difficult to have a charmed run over 12 or 24 hours. We’ve seen the GT2s (as they now are) suffer even up to half way at Le Mans, and Sebring inflicts mechanical turmoil more ruthlessly than the French track.

GT1 probably upstaged LMP1, didn’t it? Personally, I was hugely impressed with the gentlemanly way that David Richards dealt with the business of protesting the Maserati. This wasn’t petty bickering, F1-style, this was a man with a very serious point to make. In effect he was saying “if we go down the same route as we did in 1997, we’ll destroy all the good things that have happened in GT1 so far, and prevent more good things happening in the future.”

Mid-week, who would have bet on Aston Martin winning GT1? Even mid-race? The Corvettes were doing enough on their debut to manage the DBR9s – until each came across a racing moment, each entirely different. Johnny O’Connell (and we’re sure all the other Corvette men would have produced an equally good ‘save’) – that was a stroke of genius, to scrub off that much speed into Turn 17. The fact that the C6.R was largely undamaged after the impact into the tyre wall speaks volumes for the driver’s skill and the car’s strength. This is going to be a great successor to the C5-R.

The Aston Martin DBR9 has already shown, after just one race, that it is going to be a classic GT1 car.

It wasn’t a huge grid – suggested some moaning minnies. So?

It was a huge crowd, a huge event, a thrilling spectacle, a festival of high speed, endurance action – and a very, very good start to the ALMS season.

Back to LMP2 though. If you’d read between the lines on dsc, during late February and early March, you might have come to the conclusion that LMP2 pole at Sebring would have been of the order of a 1:50. Supposing qualifying had taken place on Thursday, what time might Jon Field have set?

Which leads to the question – what performance did the ACO actually have in mind when they planned this class? With new LMP1s running a year behind the LMP2s, and with us not yet having had the chance to gauge the speed of the latest LMP1 hybrids yet (that will come at Paul Ricard this Friday / Saturday – where the Dome, in particular, is likely to be blindingly fast), you have to wonder whether these low-drag, LMP1 designs are actually going to be too quick at Le Mans. We’ll wait and see on that one.

The Le Mans Entry List
One thing is absolutely clear – every team that was granted one or two of the 50 entries for this year’s 24 Hours absolutely deserves to be there. Every one of them has proven that they have the racer’s ambition and skills to present a car worthy of performing at Le Mans.

But the question remains – are there entrants who are more deserving of a place?

It’s an invitation event, and the ACO can invite whom it likes: they missed out a couple of significant teams a year ago, but they’ve made amends (for them) this year.

But the fact remains that there are at least six entries that definitely applied to race this year that could make a very, very strong case for being there. Two or three of them even seem to have suffered because they were at Sebring – which does seem very harsh. There are some Porsche entrants missing from this year's 50 who have each played very significant roles in recent 24 Hour races – yet they’re not even on the reserve list.

It’s very hard to understand some of the choices – but the reaction from the bulk of those who were turned down seems to be even greater determination to prove the ACO wrong. Perhaps the Spa 1000 Kms will give some of them the opportunity to shine - and make a point?

The balance between the classes has changed dramatically this year – with 14 LMP2s listed. Is that going to end up being a wise decision (after what happened to LMP2 at Sebring) or an unwise one? Aren't LMP1s more durable? We’re all for Yves Courage enjoying the fruits of his success, with so many entries at Le Mans: it was he, after all, he stuck his neck out and built a batch of LMP2 hybrids, and was rewarded with a queue of customers. It looks as though all of his modern creations are in the field this year… but doesn’t that give him an unfair advantage over other manufacturers?

Perhaps the final entry list will look subtly different anyway, come the first weekend in June.
Malcolm Cracknell

 

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