LMES - Spa-Francorchamps - Preview
Into The Unknown
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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
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.
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?
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.
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.
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?
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.
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