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LMES – Monza – Race Report
Herbert & McNish Shine In Veloqx 1-2
Great Race In GTS – Until The Vitaphone Saleen Fails
LMP2 Comes Apart (As Expected)
Freisinger Wins GT, Despite A Problem
Zytek & DBA Both Shine

Look at the result and you might think it was a routine race - if you can call the first race of a new series routine. After all the Audis were 1-2-3, Porsche won GT, a Prodrive Ferrari won GTS – and no one survived in LMP2. So what’s new?

Well, the old pros – Herbert and McNish in the Audis, Brabham, Wallace and Johansson in the Zytek, Minassian in the DBA – really made a race of this. It was great entertainment, and as is almost guaranteed with the four classes, there was always something to watch, and much of it was right at the very front.

The action began from the lights. “Jamie gave it a burst of throttle, then backed off, so I had to change down a gear, then I floored it – but once their turbos spooled up, I was dead meat.” That was front row man Andy Wallace, “but I managed to wriggle about under braking and just about hang onto third.”

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The first chicane saw Rocky Katoh latest on the brakes, but in so doing, he managed to put off both Nic Minassian in the Creation DBA and Robbie Stirling in the Nasamax. Was this incident the cause of the Advan’s car’s suspension failure so early into the race (9 laps)? One significant car out. It would be a long while before we lost another.

So what could A Wallace do about the Audis? McNish passed Davies at the first chicane, and at the end of the first of 173 laps, Wallace was already hounding the 88 Audi – and it was Brits 1-2-3. The Zytek was dropping Dindo Capello already and this was the beginning of a Goh afternoon during which the no. 5 Audi just didn’t have enough… go. Tom Kristensen managed to get into the 1:39s late on (before the rain), but the ‘third’ Audi never did challenge the other two.

Nic Minassian was tigering back in the DBA, passing the Pescarolo very quickly, then closing on the Dome and the Rollcentre Dallara. By three laps we’d settled into a pattern – Audi-Audi-Zytek-Goh Audi-Dallara-DBA-Dome-Pescarolo-RML Lola-Jota Zytek-Belmondo Courage-Nasamax.

Then came the GTS scrap, Alzen and Bouchut (what a pair) racing neck and neck for lap after lap, passing regularly, touching hardly at all. Ortelli led from Kox and Riccitelli in GT, but with JMB’s Ferrari going very well too.

We can’t go into this much detail over 173 laps – so we’ll try and condense the action…. A little.

“I got Jamie in traffic,” said the Zytek man who has had such an adventurous week. That was lap six, and the top three continued to race round together, with Wallace looking as though he just might be thinking of leading. “I got a run on Allan out of the Ascari, but he sensibly had the inside line for Parabolica, so that was as close as I got.”

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With Jamie Davies having less fortune in traffic, by lap ten, McNish led Wallace by half a second, with 88 another two or so back down the road. Jon Field had a mild brush with Davies, which cost another second or more, so it was becoming a two horse race.

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dailysportscar.comFor a reason we couldn’t determine (Intersport had collectively vanished by the end of the race), Field was way down by lap 1, but this team’s day (having got better as Field fought through the GTs and GTSs) got much worse with Bill Binnie at the wheel. He was hit very hard by the Autorlando Porsche, into the first chicane, and the baby Lola was smashed out of the race, after just 43 laps.

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dailysportscar.comMinassian was fifth by lap seven, and was moving well clear of the Dallara., which was to prove almost throughout the race that it was a faster proposition than the Pescarolo.

The Nasamax held up the Zytek a touch as Robbie Stirling was lapped on lap 18, but the black machine closed in again. The world has discovered a second R8 challenger. At 20 laps the order wasn’t changing among the top prototypes, and Alzen just about led Bouchut in GTS. Ortelli led Riccitelli and Daoudi in GT – and Jon Field led LMP2, the Belmondo car already in startenator trouble.

The Nasamax began the pit stop sequence at 23 laps, Wallace doing the same a lap later. The Zytek stop was, to be honest, painfully slow, but it would be a few laps before the new order unravelled. Davies and McNish stopped after 26 and 27 laps, and stayed in their cars, on the same tyres. The late stopper was the RML Lola, which briefly ran fourth, behind the Audis. Suddenly Wallace was 36 seconds behind McNish – and lapping in 1:44s.

“The brake pedal went really long – and I had to pump it like mad. It turned out that the bracket holding the master cylinder had broken, the master cylinder rotated – and let air in. I finally only had rear brakes, none on the front. I could slide it into the Parabolica and the Ascari, but I was losing lots of time into the first and second chicanes.”

He kept it going to the second stop, but once David Brabham took over, he pointed out that they couldn’t keep this going to the end of the race – and the Zytek lost seven laps, having the bracket replaced and the brakes bled.

From now on it would be an Audi UK Veloqx race – and what a show these two cars put on. In particular, what a show McNish and Herbert put on. At one hour, the Zytek was still fourth, ahead of a closing Minassian, Collard and Barbosa.

“We’ve got a problem with our fuel rig,” admitted Martin Short later. “We’ll have to sort it out because it cost us loads of time, at every stop.” Typically the Dallara would pass the Courage in every stint, then drop behind at every stop.

Larbre had had a slow stop too, but Bouchut fought past the Barron-Connor 575s, back into contention with his old mate Alzen.

At 43 laps, just before the only other (apart from the Field one, which took place after the Safety Car) major incident, McNish led Davies by 18 seconds. Then the Auto Palace Ferrari inexplicably (maybe the engine blew?) turned right and spun into the pit wall. It was a very heavy rear end impact, and the safety car was summoned.

Davies pitted at the first opportunity, McNish at the second. The Scot stayed in, the Englishman handed over to another one – Johnny Herbert (this at 79 minutes).

The prototypes were almost all way back in the queue, and McNish’s one lap later stop saw him no longer leading. He had to fight through some terrible traffic, but passed JC-W in the DBA in the process, and very quickly ran a clear third. So at 50 laps, we had Herbert leading the Goh Audi and McNish, these three covered by seven seconds.

Pierre Kaffer did drive (almost) two stints in the 8 Audi, but from this point onwards it almost seemed as though it was McNish against Herbert for the rest of the race. McNish passed Ara in the Goh car easily enough, and gradually hauled in Herbert. It was a furious chase, and by lap 60 the gap was just two seconds. Eight laps later, two hours in, and the gap was 1.3 – with Ara 31 seconds behind, and Goh was out of it for the rest of the afternoon.

GTS was still Larbre and Vitaphone, with Ranieri Randaccio leading LMP2, some way behind the GT leaders – Dumas for Freisinger from JMB and the excellent Choroq Porsche.

Dumas pitted from the lead at 125 minutes – and lost a chunk of time. It would turn out that Sascha Maassen knew all about why. Had Freisinger gained a lap behind the safety Car though, to save its day?

Meanwhile, Brabs was lapping in the mid and low 1:38s, the fastest lap of the day his 1:38.363. Oh for that wretched bracket.

More pit stops for 8 and 88 saw the order at the front remain the same – and the Zytek was ninth.

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Rob Barff (this one, above, is for you Andy Barff - best wishes from dsc) might have held Herbert up a little, but with such similar straight line speeds, passing the Dallara was always going to be a challenge. Barff was chasing down the Pescarolo – after another slow stop.

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Out of Ascari they charged, and McNish had the run on Herbert. With a little bit of F1 ‘get over there’, the Scot took the lead into Parabolica. Aggressive, but scrupulously fair – just about. That was lap 86, and by 100, two hours 55 into the race, McNish had pulled out two and a half seconds. The rest were in the order 5, 3, 17, 6, 14 (Nasamax going really well), 7 and 22 – with Bartels and Lamy resuming where the other two had left off, at the head of GTS.

Herbert pitted at 3 hours, 103 laps, and stayed in. McNish pitted at 3 hours, 1 minute and 55 seconds, for Pierre Kaffer to have his first go. There is no three hour rule in this series.

Kaffer was out ahead of Herbert, but the small gap shrank very quickly. On lap 112 was THE move of the race. Herbert came upon a 575 on the regular line out of Parabolica. Kaffer went for the inside – and Herbert drove onto the run off area, then aimed for the grass and passed the Ferrari, on the grass, at full throttle, maintaining speed and the inside line for Parabolica, where he took the lead. Fantastic stuff.

Herbert pulled away from Kaffer, and what we didn’t yet know was that Johnny would now stay in the 88 car to the end of the race. Having driven for over three hours himself, you would have thought McNish would have left the balance of the race to his partner. No way. This was to become an endurance race between Herbert and McNish. The former had taken over on lap 46 (79 minutes), and would therefore drive non-stop for 226 minutes.

Look, we’re going to have to wrap this up fairly soon, because the media centre is going to shut – and journos have been known to end up locked into this place.

Herbert stayed in at 131 laps, Kaffer at 132, still about ten seconds behind. McNish had designs on getting in the 8 car again, and at lap 148 he did just that. This mucked up the synchronised stops for a while, but a regularly timed Herbert stop at lap 159 saw him still ahead, as rain started to fall. Everyone seemed keen to stay out on slicks, but the rain became heavier, and wet tyres were needed.

Herbert pitted first, McNish two laps later – it was worth taking a chance on the rain stopping, but it didn’t.

Then the closing laps drama unfolded. Cars were slithering straight on at the first chicane, McNish twice, with a nudge against the Short-driven Dallara on another lap, at the same spot. Herbert had it under control, but McNish got closer and closer – and with the finish taking place after the rain had stopped, but still on a very wet track, the final gap was a tiny seven tenths. This is about as hard as it gets, and doubtless the Audi engineers and team members were more than a little concerned – especially as the Goh Audi was more than a lap behind, but at times still looked as though it might just win.

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Pescarolo’s car had the advantage over Rollcentre for fourth, the stunning Zytek – dynamite in the wet too – was sixth, the RML Lola had a reliable run to seventh – just a reluctance to start after one pit stop – and the mighty Nasamax was eighth.

John McNeil: "We have more developments and we will be testing again before the Le Mans 24 Hours in June. The trouble-free 1000km in race conditions today bodes well. The crew really gelled together with excellent pit work and preparation, and we are really pleased for our technical partners Astek and O2 Empower, who continue to supply world class technology to the team."

GTS didn’t go down to the wire: the Vitaphone Saleen had diff, failure, so Larbre won with the 550, ahead of the surviving B-C 575 – and then we had the GT winners, Freisinger.

Larbre's Jack Leconte: “I can tell you that Larbre is once again at the sharp end. We are at the first event of the LMES, the main target of the year for the team, and with our new Ferrari car and relationship with Care Racing it seems I only have the minimum to do for victory."

So what did Sascha Maassen know? Well, the Cirtek RSR had stopped with an electrical problem. “We thought it was a connection, but eventually we found that it was the alternator. When Freisinger stopped with the same problem, they sorted it out in half the time (thanks to us), and that won them the race.”

It was a very good GT race though, at one point the top three – Freisinger, JMB and Choroq – running just ten seconds apart (first to third), although Dumas and Ortelli did a better job in the rain, while the Japanese crew had several excursions.

The Racers Group was fourth, and good old Sebah was fifth, Piers Masarati never expecting to finish so high up in the Sebah 911 GT3-R. The Perspective car stopped out on the circuit fairly near the finish, while the TVRs had TVR type troubles – that is, expect the unexpected. After running together early on, the DeWalt peninsula racesports car had a stone go through the oil radiator, and thereafter they had a fine mist of oil spray onto the screen. The Synergy car was in trouble early on, and stopped for a long time to fix the clutch master cylinder, then it stopped out on the track.

We’ll have to stop there… it was quite an event. Yes, the Audis were 1-2-3, but there was an awful lot more to it than that.

McNish: “We had a strong, hard race with the ‘sister’ Veloqx Audi throughout which I believe was one of the best sportscar races I’ve ever been involved with, so I can’t be too disappointed with the result. The closing stages were exciting - I was pushing hard and another lap would have been mighty interesting. We’ve got points on the board in terms of the championship which was important and sets us up nicely for Le Mans.”

Herbert: “The Audi never missed a beat - it was perfect all day. Going on to the grass to overtake Pierre was worth the risk and the close finish ultimately proved that I needed to push and build up a small cushion. Victory today was very important for our championship title hopes. The team have done a lot of hard work in testing at Paul Ricard and at Le Mans and it’s paying off with Veloqx scoring a 1-2 finish at Monza. Team moral will be high heading to Le Mans which is vital.

Oh, the DBA. A rear wishbone broke, maybe a result of the first corner contact. Then it lost fifth and sixth gears. Generally the LMP1s were very reliable. This one will be too, in due course.
MC

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