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LMES - Spa-Francorchamps - Friday Afternoon Report
Getting Quicker – But Not That Quick
The afternoon gave the Ed. and yours truly an opportunity to get out of the press room and into the Spa sunshine to watch first the Classic Endurance racers, and then the second free practice session for the LMES field - around a large part of the back of the Spa-Francorchamps circuit.

What a pleasure it is to watch cars like these around a circuit with such enormous changes in elevation, fast, very fast and medium speed, flat out straights and, whisper it in case they hear you, real overtaking opportunities!

The cars can be clearly heard from way beyond the brow of the hill (as they race towards Les Combes) with a clear 20-30 seconds before they pour down into the fast sweeping left hander at Pouhon.

Amongst the classic racers Siggi Brun (Porsche 908), Bobby Verdon-Roe (Ligier JS3) and Klaus Ludwig, an evergreen driver in a very green Porsche 911, were clearly pressing on hard, the cars fighting against the steering inputs as the drivers hunted down the second / third Pouhon apex. Verdon-Roe though was caught out as he tried to adjust the Ligier’s brake balance: he nearly caught the rear end of the JS3 as it skipped wide but not quite quickly enough, a huge cloud of dust enveloping the car - but BV-R had kept enough momentum to carefully creep back out on track.

This was a wonderful opportunity to remind ourselves what makes endurance racing, old and new, so special. Vastly different cars with very different sounds and handling, from the ‘hippy’ Porsche 917 through to a BDA engined Ford Escort, the 30 plus year old prototypes scything through the slower GT cars on one of the very last classic circuits – great stuff.

The unmistakable sound of a Judd V10 howling along at full chat marked the start of the second session: first to come into sight was a train of three cars, the Audi UK pair split by the Nasamax. The Judd engined car was easily able to stay with the R8s on the straight but lost out noticeably through Pouhon.

The Lister Storm LMP is already enjoying a convincing run here this weekend and the big black prototype was noticeably quick through the fast corners, the sound of the big V8 contrasting wonderfully with the screaming Judds and Zyteks. Justin Keen had an unusual line through Pouhon, but it looked very quick. Marc Goossens chose a more conventional route.

The Audis and Creation DBA though were crushingly competent, steady under braking and cornering as if on rails, powering hard out of the corners. Allan McNish was pleased to finish the session quickest and felt that “I could race the car as it is now but I wouldn’t want to. The circuit isn’t evolving as the day wears on and that means that where you’d expect to find grip it just isn’t there. The car is close though – a little understeer here, a little oversteer there.”

McNish didn’t think his morning performance (2:08 then 2:07 on his two flying laps) particularly impressive: “No, I’ve never driven an R8 round here, but I do know the car very well.” The circuit change at the Bus Stop was not even worth mentioning.

The sister car was going very much better this afternoon, Herbert and Davies down into the 2:07s. That wasn’t enough to match Minassian’s best though, another 2:07 from the Frenchman, with JC-W into the low 2:08s, on a circuit he loves.

The Nasamax is really getting down to it now, an improvement this afternoon of 2.2 seconds leaving the car still ninth quickest, with more to come.

“It was big, big understeer this morning,” reckoned John McNeil, “but we’re dialling it out and there’s another second and a half to come. Werner reckons he’ll be able to take Eau Rouge flat by the time we’ve finished.”

The Pescarolo car found almost as much time as the Nasamax, but this one also stayed in the same position (sixth).

The new Lucchini had “absolutely no problems” this afternoon, although the team was changing gear ratios after the session. The car improved by 13 seconds, to end up second fastest in LMP2, behind the factory Courage – which found a huge chunk this afternoon, after a problematic morning session.

The Bruneau Pilbeam is considerably – maybe 70 bhp – down on power to some of its LMP2 rivals, but championship leader Pierre Bruneau is a happy man, and “praying for rain tomorrow.”

In GTS the Vitaphone Saleen was another car that was visibly quicker than its main competition (although Larbre didn’t go for a time with the Ferraris this afternoon), the S7-R almost hurled through the corners where some slower runners were forced to be more cautious, the vantage points allowing the close-up observation so often sanitised away from modern circuits.

Larbre’s second car is chassis #8, which means that Tomas Enge is driving the same chassis in which he performed such wonders in qualifying at Le Mans.

Franz Konrad wasn’t a very happy man, feeling that the smaller restrictors and smaller wing under ACO regs. make the Saleen less enjoyable to drive. He’s seriously considering racing in the German GT series next year.

Happier faces with the Panoz though, where the old girl was running every bit as well as anyone expected.

The great thing about a circuit like this is that it really allows the spectator to see which cars are the quickest – no cynically engineered viewing opportunities here, just an almost limitless selection of vantage points either with a panoramic view of the circuit (often two or three sections are visible at a time) or the opportunity to get close – really close – to the action as the cars blast through the slower corners or hammer down the straights. The weather has been absolutely perfect too – although rain is coming, we believe.

A couple of GT drivers were mildly surprised that the head of this class hasn’t been quicker so far – but perhaps they’re comparing times with the FIA spec. cars, at the recent 24 Hours. Freisinger’s morning time of 2:26.6 remains the fastest in GT, with the Sebah Porsche going second fastest this afternoon. There are no qualifying tyres used in this series, of course.

The Yukos-sponsored car was certainly being driven hard this afternoon, because it had a mild off into the gravel at Pouhon.

Cirtek Ferrari with understeer? That was the prediction – but Andrew Kirkaldy still set the second fastest GT time this afternoon, a 2:27.416. Give him a perfect Ferrari and let’s see what happens tomorrow. Stephane Daoudi has spent the LMES season showing us how quickly a 360 GTC can be driven.

The #76 Autorlando Porsche drivers had had an interesting morning, with sixth and fifth gears transposed, but Mauro Casadei was happier this afternoon: the car had several spins this morning. This trio’s car isn’t generating enough heat in its Pirellis. Piers Masarati was finding life here a bit of a struggle in the other Autorlando Porsche.
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