dailysportscar.com

LMES - Spa-Francorchamps - Preview
Into The Unknown

We’re currently looking at a grid of 48 for the first event of the second season of the LMES – ten in LMP1, 12 in LMP2, nine in GT1 and 17 in GT2. That’s approximately a 25% improvement on last year, and is a very satisfactory state of affairs.

It’s a significantly different look to the grid this year though, and in three classes at least, the winners will definitely not be those winning entrants from 2004.

dailysportscar.com

LMP1
This is where it gets really interesting – with a mix of three distinct classes of car (hybrids, LMP1 900s and LMP1 675s). The 900s actually run at 950 kg, the 675s at 720 (or more) kg, just to make it more complicated – and fuel tank sizes are different too (80 litres for the ‘old’ cars). There are still no genuine 2004 LMP1s, of course, because no one has built one yet.

There are four ‘900’ class cars – the two Rollcentre Dallaras (one Nissan-powered, one Judd 4 litre), the Lister and the Oreca Audi. The ‘675s’ are all Reynard-derivatives: the regular Creation DBA (but now fitted with a Judd engine) that ran the three Audis so close last year, the Jota Zytek that showed flashes of real form last year, and the factory Zytek, which was sensational at Silverstone last August. The hybrids comprise the Courage and Pescarolo Courage C60-derivatives, and the factory Dome (which will definitely have more downforce than it had at Paul Ricard - and its Dunlops could be a real asset if it's wet).

dailysportscar.com

So how is this all going to pan out? The real intrigue is that we don’t know. The Paul Ricard Tests provided some clues, but Paul Ricard is more like Le Mans than Spa – in some respects anyway. The hybrid runners are anticipating having enough downforce to be quick at Spa – but the ‘675’ runners are expecting to be almost as quick as last year. The hybrids are going to be very, very quick up the hill to Les Combes, and at Blanchimont, but the lighter cars should have the advantage elsewhere.

Creation Autosportif suffered that Eau Rouge puncture last year, on lap 1, but thereafter had a stunning run from the back. The team has found the problem that plagued the DBA’s handling at Paul Ricard, and Minassian and Campbell-Walter are once again real contenders for the win.

dailysportscar.com

dailysportscar.comSo are the other two 720 kg cars though, Jota with a strengthened line-up compared to last year’s (Haruki Kurosawa is the perfect match for Sam Hignett - with JC-W, right), the factory car with Nilsen / Shimoda and Elgard.

The hybrids all have different engines: four litre Judd and Mugen in the Courage and Dome respectively, five litre Judd in the Pescarolo. The newest of the three, the Dome, was the most reliable at Paul Ricard, the Pescarolo covered the most laps (but needed an engine change), and all three are very fast. Non-hybrid drivers couldn’t believe how quickly the hybrids passed them on the Mistral Straight.

Different performance on different parts of the track should make this a very exciting transitional year. The ACO has actually managed the rules changes extremely well – and the racing at the front should be even better (certainly more varied) than last year.

We’re not going to ignore the four 900 (950) class cars of course – because here we have such talents as Joao Barbosa, Michael Krumm, Jan Magnussen, Stephane Ortelli – and an Audi R8.

Can the Audi win, at reduced pace? Perhaps that’s in the hands of its rivals. Perhaps the heavier cars will ease their way though the pack at the race proceeds? Perhaps it will be wet, which might reduce any differences between the classes?

It’s so fascinating because it is so unpredictable. Can we keep these rules for another year?

The added bonus this year is that the two, twenty minute, qualifying sessions on Saturday afternoon should be fantastic entertainment.

dailysportscar.com

LMP2
The Binnie Motorsports Lola is a late withdrawal, the team preferring to concentrate on the electronics, and testing, before going racing again (at Monza).

That still leaves a rich variety of twelve cars, only three of which are SR2-based entries (assuming that the Bruneau car is the familiar Pilbeam from 2004).

So that’s six Courages against a new Lola B05/40, a new MG Lola EX264 and the Lucchini. In engine terms that’s three AER turbos against four Judd (or MG) V8s, versus the two Mecachromes in the del Bello cars. Has John Judd slept for the last week? The pendulum seems to have swung towards the turbos recently.

The driver line-ups are interesting throughout LMP2: currently, no one has a full line-up of stars – and the reliability problems this class has suffered even as recently as Sebring and Paul Ricard would suggest that a clever run such as that put together by Kruse Motorsport in Florida should be enough to win at Spa. Unless someone runs faster and troublefree of course – and it’s hard to stop racers racing.

How quickly will the LMP2 pole sitter go in qualifying? A 2:10.9 for the factory Courage last year should be very beatable this year – which could take LMP2 into the realms of the bigger cars? Minassian set the overall pole last year, with a 2:05.9 – hybrids to go faster than that?

So who would you pick? RML, Kruse, Belmondo, Chamberlain-Synergy – or Lucchini? Judd or AER?

dailysportscar.com

dailysportscar.com

GT1
This is more straightforward: nine cars comprising four Prodrive-built Ferrari 550s (two BMS Scuderia Italia, one Convers Team one MenX), the A-Level Engineering Porsche turbo, a Belmondo Viper (with Kumpen?), two GNM Saleens and a JMB Ferrari 575.

Three of these were at Monza on Sunday, and have headed straight to Spa, while the MenX car was mangled at the rear at Paul Ricard – and the Viper and JMB cars look like (very welcome) field fillers. We understand that the big, grey A-Level Porsche has received some help regarding restrictors and boost since last year: it’s a real challenge taken on by this team, to race against the typical GT1s with a developed GT2 car, but it’s a very purposeful-looking machine. Testing has taken place in Spain and at the ‘Ring – and Eric van de Poele again partners Wolfgang Kaufmann.

With Fabrizio Gollin and Christian Pescatori likely to be driving BMS’s lead car, the 2004 FIA GT Champions ought to be the GT1 favourites, although the Convers Team looks almost its equal, a Nash Saleen has sat on an LMES podium – and Tomas Enge will go like the wind in the black 550.

dailysportscar.com

GT2
Ten Porsches, two LNT TVRS, a Racesports TVR, a Spyker and three Ferrari 360s make up this class. Hugh Hayden’s Sebah did the best job last year: who will step up in 2005?

dailysportscar.com

GruppeM (the former EMKA chassis) against LNT against Scuderia Ecosse has a 2004 British GT feel about it: the key in last year’s LMES was reliability - if one of these has a poor opening race, it’s going to be tough to catch up.

Other potential winners are the Autorlando Porsche, T2M’s RSR, IN2Racing’s RSR and GPC’s Ferrari 360. More details on the James Watt (2003 FIA TGP Champions) Automotive Porsche: Giovanni Lavaggi and David Gooding join Paul Daniels in this completely rebuilt 2003 911 GT3-RS. david Gooding has plenty of endurance experience behind him (Daytona 2001-04) and Bathurst 2003, and this team will be embarking on a full LMES season.

No tyre advantage last year made this class fabulously entertaining: let’s have more of the same.

The award for first to reach Spa goes to the Racesports TVR team. Dennis Leech and his boys have been there for a week already, having driven straight to Belgium from the south of France. Did you enjoy the smattering of snow at the weekend Dennis, while living in the truck? Ah, the glamour of it all.

What has the weather got in store this weekend? Probably a mixture of this and this... follow it all on Motors TV / live timing at www.lmes.net / dailysportscar.com.

dailysportscar.com

dailysportscar.com

 

              Contents Copyright © dailysportscar.com. All Rights Reserved.