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LMES – Monza – Round Up
Intensity And Reliability

It was a very good beginning, wasn’t it? For that we need to appreciate that Sam Li was happy for his ‘old boys’ to go at it hammer and tongs for five hours – or more precisely for Allan McNish (229 minutes) and Johnny Herbert (226 minutes) to be unleashed for so long.

In Europe at least, we have never had the pleasure of seeing such an inter-Audi confrontation before. The way these guys handle traffic is utterly ruthless, but that’s the way it is and the way they are. It was a five hour sprint, simple as that.

Would Allan McNish have tried to take the lead on the last lap, had he been close enough? Certainly he would. Did Johnny Herbert time it to perfection, to keep McNish those few tenths back? Most definitely. The changing conditions had both men eager to find out the times of the other (over the radio): this was endurance sprinting at its very best.

At Zytek Engineering, it was a case of what might have been. All three drivers showed the potential of the 04S, Andy Wallace expressing his regret that he can’t race this car in the LMES again, thanks to other racing commitments. It’s not yet clear whether Johansson joins Wallace and Brabham at Le Mans, but if he does, and with any straight line speed issue resolved now, this car will be right in contention everywhere, and will be a good bet for pole, wherever it races this year – but especially at the Nurburgring, Silverstone and Spa. If only they’d strengthened that master cylinder bracket.

Creation Autosportif put on a stunning display too, but suffered their niggles, the wishbone breakage almost certainly caused by lap one contact – with the Advan Dome, which suffered a front suspension failure much earlier in the event.

Other than the above, the LMP1s were amazingly reliable, the only other problem being the Jota Zytek jamming in reverse, after a spin. We didn’t get to see Sam Hignett show this car’s pace, but it will be a contender. Jota climbed its mountain in the week before the event.

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The Pescarolo / Rollcentre race – for best of the non-Audis – was a race long affair. Martin Short was a little disappointed afterwards, but look what his young (prototype) team has achieved already this year: two fifth places, in two very tough endurance races. John McNeil was bristling with pride at the performance of the Nasamax (“A blow out and a spin into the gravel, that’s all we had throughout the race”), while Ray Mallock was quietly pleased with the RML Lola’s run, getting it home trouble-free, apart from a slight reluctance to fire up at a late pit stop.

There have to be disappointments, and two of them were at Taurus Sports. Mid Saturday evening and contradicting messages arrived at the press room, regarding the likelihood of the Judd-powered car starting. The first said it would but the second, unfortunately correct, said it wouldn’t. “There was just too much gearbox damage after the failure in second qualifying,” commented Ian Dawson on Sunday morning.

And then the diesel didn’t start either. It wouldn’t fire up on the grid, and when it did (in the garage?), it leaked oil, and the wise decision was taken not to start. Testing resumes this week, and Taurus badly needs some private time, away from the glare of interested observers. It’s been a difficult birth, but there is a brief pause now, before everyone assembles at Le Mans.

The Spinnaker Dallara? Well, even with Gabriele Rafanelli’s mechanics, the lack of a spare gearbox was insurmountable, and all we heard (second hand) from Beppe Gabbiani was of frustrations mounting.

Three of the LMP2s met the expected mechanical ailments, while poor Bill Binnie was smashed out of the race by the Autorlando Porsche. The images are those of Hansgerd Bramann – in the right place at the right time. Binnie was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Jon Field at least started to show the potential of the B2K / 40 Judd in Qualifying, but it’s been a frustrating three ‘events’ for Intersport so far.

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Ranieri Randaccio would have taken the class, but for an engine ailment with the Tampolli: it’s an interesting entry, but a genuine class winner? Someone will win the ‘Ring LMP2 race with a quick, steady, trouble-free run, and that should be with a Judd-powered car, shouldn’t it?

We struggled to devote sufficient human resources to the GT classes at Monza (with the bulk of the dsc crew at Mondello Park), but let’s try to make up for that now.

“We have a lot of work to do before Le Mans and we will do it,” commented John Bosch, of his Barron-Connor Ferraris. Huge strides have been made since the difficult Sebring debut (equipment stranded at sea), and early on both cars were almost in touch with the two leaders. Can you imagine a tougher pair than Alzen and Bouchut though? Lap after lap they circulated together, and only earlier pit stops for the Saleen split them up – although typically the cars were still together (Lamy and Bartels driving – but a lap apart) when the stops were out of synchronisation. What a shame that the Saleen’s diff. failed. Zacchia against Konrad himself might have seen the scrap go all the way to the flag.

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The Vipers were just plain disappointing, the Force One car not running on ten in either second qualifying or the race.

The best GT tale was that of Manfred Freisinger’s team. The baby alternator – very small, very light – failed on the Cirtek RSR, so that a similar failure on the class leader was spotted much more quickly, and fixed in time to have this car out in time to catch the JMB and Choroq entries. In many respects it was the same kind of GT race as the November 1000 kms: open and interesting. The Japanese Porsche slip-slided out of contention in the rain, and Ortelli and Dumas were too good for JMB, who had suffered a couple of slow stops with a difficult wheel nut.

“We pushed like crazy to come back,” said Ortelli. “It was the biggest fight. It was really good training for Le Mans. It was my closest race since last October, where we won here (in FIA GTs) with Dunlop too.”

The Racers Group and Sebah weren’t in the same race as the top three, but nevertheless managed fine finishes in fourth and fifth, Piers Masarati, and Bart and Hugh Hayden just thrilled with fifth, first (and only one) of the non-RSRs home, apart from the delayed Seikel car.

“I can’t believe we got fifth,” said Masarati. “No way did we think we’d get a top six in this level of competition. I was maybe a little bit more careful in the wet than I could have been, but I really didn’t want to damage Hugh’s car.”

Hugh Hayden: “I’m very pleased, the whole team gelled very well.” Hugh had some of the former EMKA crew with him, and we know what they’ve achieved over the years.

Sixth and seventh for Cirtek wasn’t what Rob Schirle would have wished for, having seen his entry take the class at Le Mans last November, but Frank Mountain enjoyed himself, apart from a spin at the Lesmos in the wet.

Peter Seikel’s team had a more disappointing day, the potentially class-winning Riccitelli / Caffi / Rosa car running at the front but then suffering a broken gearbox. The sister car got involved with the early exit of the T2M Porsche, Wolfgang Kaufmann having a wheel break, after suffering with a lack of straight line speed.

The Racesports / Peninsula / DeWalt team had had the same problem (on Friday and Saturday), but by race day, the yellow and black TVR was on the pace of the purple Chamberlain-Synergy one. Michael Caine was extremely positive about the prospects for the Chamberlain-developed TVR, content that he could have set a high 1:54 in qualifying, but for the fact that he had to move out of the way to allow an Audi to go through. While this T400R needed a replacement clutch slave cylinder, and then stopped with engine troubles, the narrower, more original T400R kept on running – but suffered from an unusual oil problem.

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A stone through the oil radiator (which was replaced) saw all three drivers suffering from a mist of oil being blown onto the screen at speed, and it was only before the rain came that the oil had finally all been blown away. Multiple pit stops were made to try and clear away the oily residue, but it was stuck between the water and oil radiators, and was a complete menace to remove. But Hartshorne / Stanton / Mundy did get to the finish of the team’s first international race.

The GNM Saleen was still running too, but also made repeated pit stops, and was in clutch bothers towards the end: it was lurching along as the driver tried to fire it up on the starter, in gear – and deserved a classified finish (which it failed to get by a lap or two).

dailysportscar.comEndurance racing isn’t all about the guys at the very front of the race – but to a large degree, this one was. But in track manners (perhaps) and in the schedule for the event (definitely) attention does need to be drawn to those who may be less familiar with the track.

Rob Schirle: “I’m pushing for two one and a half hour sessions on Friday, with maybe 45 minutes on Saturday morning, and then two short qualifying sessions to set the grid time. Gentlemen drivers don’t want to be learning the track still on Saturday, with the prototypes setting their qualifying times.”

Let’s wait and see if an ALMS-type Friday / Saturday format is introduced at the Nurburgring.

An overall view of the first LMES race? This, we at dsc believe, is the start of something significant. As Scott Atherton pointed out on Saturday, a strong European series will be good for prototype racing on both sides of the Atlantic, while the GT classes did on the whole support the 1000 km race format, and added much to the flavour of this one – even if it was dominated by the pros at the front. In its way, it was a fantastic race, and a fine start to the LMES.
MC


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