The 71st Le Mans 24 Hours – LM GTS Preview
Between Four, Or More?

There are ten of them in GTS – two Corvette C5-Rs, three Ferrari 550s, two Chrysler Viper GTS-Rs, two Saleen S7-Rs and the Pagani Zonda.

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Let’s deal with them marque by marque, and as we’ve gone into the Corvettes (and their Ferrari opposition) elsewhere, thanks to Ron Fellows, Johnny O’Connell and Ollie Gavin, we’ll start somewhere else.

Saleen S7-Rs. There are two of them, one each from Franz Konrad and Graham Nash / RML. Each of the teams had a car in the reserve list, but neither of these found a way into the race. None of the reserves did.

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2002 began so badly for the California manufacturers and their racing programme: the cars were hobbled by weight and restrictors at Sebring, and effects were felt throughout the year. There are still minor penalties hanging over the cars this year. As with TVR and Spyker, it’s hard to pin down exactly where things stand now. We’ll endeavour to sort this out next week.

dailysportscar.comHow about this for a little known fact though? At the 24 Hours last year, the Saleens were allegedly six seconds slower than the Ferrari 550s between Tertre Rouge and Mulsanne Corner. Six seconds. One of the Ferraris allegedly passed an Audi R8 too, somewhere along Mulsanne. And - based on official speeds, last year the Saleens were 40 kph down on the Ferrari 550...

Everyone has had restrictor changes for this year anyway, and the best guide to Saleen form now is the 3:59.071 set by Franz Konrad, on May 4. Tommy Erdos set a 4:03, in a GNM Saleen with a down on power engine. So it certainly looks as though the S7-Rs can be almost on a par with the 550s and C5-Rs over one lap.

Who’s driving them? Konrad / Seiler / Brun and Chaves / Erdos / Newton – as far as we know at the moment. Did Franz set that time on May 4? He’s apparently considering putting Jean-Marc Gounon in the #66 car next week…

Reliability? The S7-Rs do not have a great record over 24 hours. They can be brought home, but typically only after problems have been solved. Ferrari and Corvette will be looking to bring at least one car home trouble free. Sebring ’01 seems long, long ago.

dailysportscar.comThe Vipers: there are two of them. The FFSA example from Scorp Motorsport had a miserable Test Day after diff. failure in the morning, and no (Le Mans geared) spare available. It set a 4:20.

With the driver line up of Rene Metge, Luis Marques and Christian Lavieille far from confirmed (Olivier Thevenin?), anything better than a solid finish would be overly optimistic. It's pleasant to see a new team at Le Mans, but these newcomers need to make a good impression: the pressure is on.

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Larbre Competition’s Viper. Could it have won in 2001? We think so….except that it was damaged in the first downpour. It was very quick. Last year there were a few mechanical niggles, before a good finish. Last month, a 4:00. A Larbre Viper is still good enough to win Spa, but not at front running pace or economy. The same probably applies at Le Mans (therefore the Corvettes and 550s have to hit trouble). Bouchut and Goueslard are very capable, Steve Zacchia is somewhat untried.

dailysportscar.comThe Carsport Pagani Zonda. Unless dramatic progress has been made in a month, and more power and reliability found from somewhere, this one will be the fresh face, but lacking race capability. Frank Biela will certainly be trying to keep out of its way!

Hezemans and Kumpen haven’t had much Viper luck at Le Mans. A 12 hour run would be judged a success at this stage. Refreshingly different!

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And that (almost) leaves two Veloqx Prodrive Ferrari 550s and two Corvette Racing C5-Rs. The Ferrari is tailor made for Le Mans, the Corvette prefers shorter tracks. Advantage Ferrari. The C5-R is more economical and nimbler. Advantage Chevrolet. The Ferrari drivers are typically younger, perhaps quicker over the six in the red and dark blue cars. Advantage Ferrari? Not necessarily. The Corvette crew are a crafty, experienced bunch. They won’t overstretch themselves, the 550 men might. Tyres? Depending on conditions, perhaps advantage Corvette. Ferrari on the class pole? You bet.

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So a Corvette hat-trick, or a first Ferrari win at Le Mans since the 333 took its class (which wasn’t quite the same thing as being first prototype home)? Think back to the last Ferrari win at Le Mans…how long ago? This should be an epic encounter.

dailysportscar.comFinally, Luc Alphand has a brand new - pretty blue - 550, for himself, Mr Care Racing Frederic Dor and fast man Jerome Policand. A top four finisher in GTS?

In essence, this is a return to the classic Prodrive – Corvette scraps at the tail end of the 2002 ALMS. Sebring fizzled out for Ferrari, but Le Mans should go all the way. Just like Petit Le Mans? Five months of Prodrive and Corvette wars is a very appealing prospect. It starts here.

 

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