LMES - Silverstone - Preview
The Le Mans Cars Are Back
race-goers looking for a flavour of the Le Mans 24 Hours have had
to wait over 50 months since a field like this raced on the Grand
Prix circuit in Northamptonshire. The previous Le Mans-type field
assembled here on a balmy evening in May 2000, for a round of the
ALMS, a race which featured factory teams from BMW, Audi, Courage
and Panoz, plus semi-works entries from ORECA (the invincible Vipers)
and DAMS (two Cadillacs).
That race was
also held on the Saturday, but was run in May as a warm-up for Le
Mans. It had a very obvious American feel to it, the US-based drivers
loving their first experience of Silverstone, and the wide expanses
of tarmac were perfectly suited to a field comprising four classes.
The names might have changed since then, and the cars certainly
have, but the concept is just as appropriate now as it was in 2000.
The long wait
means that no one will have any experience of the Grand Prix track
in their current cars. The Lola B2K / 10 was the only prototype
running in 2000 that still races now, and the small matter of a
diesel engine in the back of the Taurus entry means that this team
will be starting afresh, just like everybody else.
don’t change though – such as some of the drivers. Sascha
Maassen won the GT Class here in 2000, partnering the legendary
Bob Wollek in a Porsche 911 GT3-R: six weeks ago, Sascha Maassen
won the GT Class at the Nurburgring 1000 Km, partnering the slightly
less well known (for now) Adam Jones, in a Porsche 911 GT3-RSR.
Some other familiar
names from 50 months ago include McNish, Capello, Collard, Ortelli,
Kaufmann, Konrad, Mowlem and Bouchut. We do like our continuity
– but we do like our new names too (see below).
got 195 laps in store, starting at 14.00 on Saturday afternoon –
and the pattern of the first two LMES races tells us that almost
anything could happen. LMP1 has seen two absolute thrillers: just
look at the goings-on at the Nurburgring, during a 24 lap period
in the second hour of the race (according to the Audi Sport UK Team
Veloqx race facts):
L33 1st #8 (PK)
2nd #88 (JH)
L39 2nd #88 (JH), pits for fuel+wet tyres (30secs), resumes in 3rd
L41 2nd #88 (JH)
L42 1st #8 (PK) straight on @ Turn 1, pulled out of gravel track
by course car
L43 1st #88 (JH) inherits lead
L43 3rd #8 (PK), pits for fuel+wet tyres (28secs), resumes in 5th
L44 1st #88 (JH), +0.5secs, 2nd #3
L48 (int. ¼dist): 1st #88 (JH), 2nd #3, 3rd #5, 4th #7, 5th
L49 4th #8 (PK)
L54 (110mins) 1st #88 (JH), pits for fuel+dry tyres (31secs), resumes
L55 4th #8 (PK), pits for fuel+dry tyres (34secs), resumes in 5th
L56 (114mins) 1st #3 spins @ Turn 1, pulled out of gravel track
by course car
L57 1st #88 (JH), +30.7secs, 2nd #5, 3rd #7, 4th #3, 5th #8 (PK).
was a very significant factor as the dramas above unfolded, but
in the dry periods of both the Monza and Nurburgring races, the
events were both (at least building up to be) classics in their
own right anyway – although the rain came just one hour into
the German event. Minassian leads away from pole in Germany, below.
races ended up as Audi Sport UK Team Veloqx one-twos, but each was
far from straightforward in its evolution: at Monza it was the factory
Zytek that produced the main challenge, while at the ‘Ring,
up stepped Nic Minassian and the DBA-Zytek. Together with the Goh
Audi, these five should be the main contenders at the front of the
The racing among
these five is likely to be outstanding. Look at the hard chargers
involved: McNish, Herbert, Kaffer, Davies, Capello, Ara, Minassian,
JC-W… and now Kerr and Dyson. McNish, Herbert (particularly
so) and Minassian are all big race winners at Silverstone already.
Is it time for another former F3 star (Robbie Kerr) to join the
elite? He was both very quick and very consistent in testing last
week. “One of Hinckley’s finest,” as a certain
photographer would say… This is Stefan Johansson at the wheel,
looking for the spectacular to begin in the two qualifying sessions
on Friday, and continue throughout Saturday’s 195 laps, backed
up by some very good LMP1 prototypes, and a fascinating array of
LMP2s. Sam Hignett could well mix it with the above in qualifying,
in the Jota Zytek.
Short’s Rollcentre team is ultimately targeting the select
group above, but another top six finish here would be achievement
enough for now, while Laurence Pearce’s Lister has shown flashes
of speed and some good reliability, and is driven here by young
British stars Justin Keen and Rob Barff. They should be in the thick
of the top six action, as should Tommy Erdos in the RML Lola. He
was up to second place at the ‘Ring, the wet weather there
favouring the nimble Lola and the talented Brazilian. Werner Lupberger,
Romain Dumas and Robbie Stirling could spring a surprise with the
Nasamax: Stowe could be an interesting viewing point, as the hybrid
LMP1 with its unique fuel stretches its legs.
LMP2 is wide
open. Two AER-powered Courages should be well suited to Silverstone
– Gounon through Becketts with reduced downforce should be
fun – but if the French entries slip up, look for one of the
steadier cars to take advantage. This will be the debut of the K2
Pilbeam, but the likes of Simon Pullan and Ben Devlin will be pushing
this car to the limit, while other teams will take a steadier approach
to such a long race.
GTS is much
more clear cut than GT: Pedro Lamy, Christophe Bouchut and Steve
Zacchia have scored a maximum 20 points in the Larbre Competition
Ferrari 550, their main opposition coming from the fastest Saleen
in Europe, the Vitaphone Racing entry of Michael Bartels and Uwe
Alzen. This entry excelled at Donington Park in late June, having
started at the back of the FIA GT grid. Bartels and Alzen (joined
by team owner Franz Konrad) are as tough as any out there, and their
rivalry with Bouchut and Lamy has made for some superb racing in
GTS in both LMES races so far. Reliability (for the Saleen) will
be the key element in this battle.
Saleen finished third at the Nurburgring, former BTCC man Phil Bennett
discovering that he and a seven litre Saleen are perfect partners.
The main opposition to these three entries comes from the Dutch
Barron Connor team, with its two Ferrari 575s. These chassis aren’t
quite a match for the Ferrari 550 yet, but big Ferraris are spectacular
cars in their own right. Look for the silvery-grey A-Level Porsche
to mix it with the above.
finally the GT Class. Four cars have featured strongly in both races
so far: the Jones / Maassen Cirtek Porsche, the Freisinger Porsche
of Ortelli and Dumas / Collard, the Japanese Choroq Porsche and
the Ferrari 360 of the French JMB team. Stephane Daoudi has been
flying the Ferrari flag with aplomb, always among the very fastest
of GT drivers, and finishing a fine second at Monza. Ortelli and
Dumas won the class there, despite losing time having an alternator
replaced, but Ortelli and Collard ran out of luck (and fuel) at
the Nurburgring – on the last lap – and Adam Jones took
his first big win, for Cirtek.
Racing’s Porsche joins the above as potential winners (Johnny
Mowlem sharing the car this time), while Hugh Hayden’s highly
developed older version could well prove to be an ideal tool, again,
over a longer distance. Look for Robin Liddell shining brightly
in Kaneko’s T2M Porsche, plus Piers Masarati (Liddell and
Masarati only just back from Mosport and the ALMS) looking for another
result in Hugh Hayden's 911, while further British interest comes
in the form of the three TVRs, one each from Racesports, RSR Racing
and Chamberlain-Synergy. John Hartshorne’s yellow and black
version will be seeking a good finish, while the distinctive purple
one has none other than Johnny Kane and Warren Hughes at the wheel:
TVR, in the guise of a private entrant, is stepping up its game
in no uncertain terms. How will this beast compare with the standard,
chameleon orange RSR T-400R?
aim to bring as many stories from the whole grid as we can, beginning
on Thursday. This is going to be spectacularly good: you’ll
be kicking yourself if you miss this one (UK readers). Get yourself
down to Stowe for five abreast under braking.