Le Mans Test Day – Preview
”Still As Special As When I Raced There For The First Time”

How you prepare for the preparations largely depends on what you are. If you’re a Bentley, you’re still so relatively new you have to spend nearly 30 hours pounding around Paul Ricard, proving you can last for at least 24 hours. If you’re a Porsche, you know you can last for 24 hours, so you don’t have to use up resources in such activities. Similarly if you’re an Audi of course.

dailysportscar.comIf you’re one of Henri’s Courages, you need to complete an endurance test because you’ve been modified so extensively. If you’re a Lister, you’ve still got a lot to prove. You’ve done some straight line work, but need plenty of track time. If you’re a Durango or a Norma, you’re probably think ‘Eight hours track time, that seems an awful lot.’ If you’re a TVR you’re possibly thinking ‘I’ve completed Sebring, Le Mans is going to be smooth and easy.’ If you’re a Morgan you’re possibly thinking ‘Why am I stuck in Malvern?’

This weekend, they’ll almost all be seeking to complete plenty of laps: the Porsche and Audi crews in particular should be able to go straight to their known settings, but with the proviso that power levels are down, so that optimum balance between top speed, downforce and lap times might well be subtly different.

Advantage someone like a Racing for Holland Dome? They’ve done the wind tunnel work, they’ve made the subtle changes. We’ll see soon enough, but of last year’s Audi challengers for pole, only the Dutch remain. But now there’s Bentley of course.

So why do they all want to complete as many laps as possible on Sunday? Emanuele Pirro: “There is never enough time during the race week itself so it’s essential we get a lot of work completed on the test day - to lay the foundations for a successful 24 hour race." It’s as simple as that – plus the fact that the drivers like to complete a lot of laps, so that when they arrive in June, they’re already ‘at home.’ Imagine a team that has a nightmare Test Day: seven laps completed, engine fails, thrash to get a replacement fitted, go out late in the afternoon, settings all wrong, drivers not settled in, no one happy at the end of the day – all will arrive in June with basic work still to be done, and the first track action will be Qualifying at 19.00 on Wednesday. Bad way to start, bad omen for the 24 hour race.

Champion are so well prepared, they’ve been able to spend nearly a month getting to the track. No Mexico ALMS race caused an adjustment in their plans (and several others), the timescale allowing a trip by sea rather than air. Their new trucks are now (Tuesday) in place at the track, and with the technical guys arriving today, they can spend three days completing preparations – to include a systems check on the airfield runway on Friday. That’s organised.

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TVR are doing it rather differently: they’re spending today, Tuesday, launching their project in Wales – a jaunt that involves the Llandow Circuit, helicopters and an aircraft carrier, apparently. David Lord is there to record the event.

dailysportscar.comSo how quickly are they going to go on Sunday? You can bet your partner’s honour on the fact that a 10% cut in power won’t be any such thing, and that development, even with largely seen-before equipment, will see lap times approach those of last year. Dindo Capello was quickest on the Sunday in 2002 and 2001, last year a 3:30.296, 2001 a 3:32.742. But this year he’s in a Bentley. How quick will the green rocket ships be down the Mulsanne…and how quick over a lap?

How quick will the bio-ethanol-powered Nasamax Reynard be? Who will have the advantage in GTS, Prodrive or Corvette? Can anyone challenge the likes of Lieb and Maassen for the honour of Sunday best in GT? Surely Porsche’s FIA GT-type form won’t be reflected in France this weekend?

It’s going to be fascinating to watch it unfold. “It is still as special as it was when I raced there for the first time (in 1990),” says JJ. “Le Mans is now the best track in the world,” says partner Stefan Johansson.

And by Sunday evening, we’ll probably be no nearer picking an overall winner than we are now.

PS. Where are Eric Bernard, Julian Bailey, Thed Bjork, Max Angelelli, Werner Lupberger, Ben Collins, Didier Cottaz, Eric van de Poele and a number of others?

PPS. This is the sister car to JJ's Porsche 962 in 1990 - we can't find a shot of #43, alas.

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Thank you Kevin McCornick: there's a shot of the JJ 962 here.

 

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