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Le Mans Series - Istanbul 715.292 Kms - Race Report
So Much To Enjoy
Plenty of Surprises
But We Won’t Be Back Here In A Hurry

Even in a race reduced to four hours (715 km), and with reliability issues affecting two of the classes - the prototypes (but what did we expect with so much new machinery?) – there was much to enjoy in Istanbul, despite the weather letting us down again.

You’ve seen the result – a win for Pescarolo, second for Barazi-Epsilon (and first in P2), third for Laurence (who loves Turkey now) Pearce, fourth for Chamberlain-Synergy (third in P1 – and a podium, as not predicted by a certain magazine), second in P2 for the Pilbeam, third in P2 for the G-Force Courage (with 17 year old Ed Morris driving for two and a half hours), a logical win for the Larbre DBR9, a fine win for the GPC F430 GTC… and so it goes on.

There were stories galore throughout the field – and there was some very good racing, even if three classes looked set (for the win at least) with half of the revised time elapsed.

It wasn’t a classic 1000 (715.292) kilometre race, but it gave all of us more than enough to write about. This is 3,300 words long….

The weather: it was damp at the start, and some cars started on wets, some on inters and some on slicks. By the time the track had dried, strategies changed – and then they changed again once the organisers announced that there had been a miscalculation with the fuel, and there wasn’t enough at the track for even a 36 car field to run to 1000 km. It was shambolic in one respect, but in another.. well, four hours was enough.

The Opening Hour (Or So)
The opening hour was sparkling stuff – and the stars were many – but we virtually lost a class favourite even before they’d taken the lights. Courage personnel, and J-M Gounon, reckoned that there was no contact, but there was a scuff and rubber mark on the right hand side of the RML MG Lola, and Tommy Erdos speared into the pit wall, destroying this car’s chances even before passing the line. “That was ridiculous at the start of a endurance race,” exclaimed the bemused Brazilian. “It makes no sense. He’s a quick driver, but it takes more than that to be a good driver.” 50 minutes were lost, and sixth in class was the result, 26 laps down.

So we had an odd grid formation routine, the pretty girls getting the boards in the wrong order, which involved some jiggling about among the GTs. Eight minutes before the start, it was announced that it was a wet race – and many tyres were changed up and down the grid (some wets, some inters). Then we had Gounon flying along, into the lead on lap 1, then flying backwards on his wets – so that Minassian led at the end of lap 1, a touch with Collard dropping the Pesca car to fourth, briefly (“It was a good fight, but a fair one,” said Collard) – so Alex Yoong was second. That pleased Jan Lammers – in fact the whole of Yoong’s double stint pleased Jan Lammers.

Michael Vergers led LMP2, Pedro Lamy GT1 and Richard Dean GT2. But the likes of Lamy (wets) and Dean (inters) would have been happier on slicks – or at least they would have been within a few laps.

Slicks was the clever choice, but Ian Khan, new to the Virgo F430 GTC, was unhappy on some hard treadles rubber, and just couldn’t get heat into his tyres: he fell away in #99. It was a long fight back for this one – and 1000 km would have made it fairer on them than 715.

So by lap 3 we had Minassian leading, Yoong second (-3.6), Collard third and the highly impressive Vergers and Barbosa fourth and fifth, leading LMP2.

“We started on inters, but it took a few laps to get heat into them, because the car is so light on its tyres,” said the Portuguese. These two P2s were followed by Primat, Berridge and the fading Gounon.

Lap 4 and Barbosa led LMP2, and a lap later, Collard had recovered enough to climb all over Minassian – and through into the overall lead. Vergers pitted for slicks on lap 6, as did the likes of Kox and Hardman, while Minassian, on wets, was starting to struggle – and Barbosa was second overall.

Kesa in the Lister pitted, Lamy too – and Barbosa was gobbling up the Pescarolo, on its wets. This wasn’t supposed to happen, was it?

First drama for the Radical: Barbosa pulled off on lap 8, the throttle having stuck open. “It was the throttle blip mechanism,” reported the team owner.

Are you getting the impression that there was an awful on going on?

Collard now led from…. Harold Primat in the Swiss Spirit Coiurage, from Yoong, Berridge, the #37 Belmondo, then Gounon.

So Andre led LMP2 on lap 10, Jos Menten led GT1 in the PSI Corvette – and Richard Dean still led GT2, the only class without a leader change so far. There would be plenty of time, just not six hours in total.

Fabrizio de Simone then gobbled up the Panoz, as the Ferraris slicks came in – oh, look out, here comes Collard for slicks. And Harold Primat led. “Yes that was very good – I was faster than everybody else, on inters or wets or something, I‘m not sure what I was on,” said the Swiss. So lap 13 and we had Primat leading Berridge and Andre. This was bizarre.

Minassian was showing what slicks could do – 50 seconds off the lead, but lapping at least eight seconds faster than the top three. It had to be slicks now, Richard Dean admitting defeat and pitting the Panoz. Andre, on inters, stayed out, Primat and Berridge pitted, Minassian and Collard were second and third – and order was almost restored.

But it wasn’t really. Vergers was back up to fourth in the Barazi car – didn’t we tip this one on Saturday morning? – while fifth was GT1 leader Jos Menten! The PSI Corvette, on slicks, maintained a 50 second lead over the Lamy Aston Martin, throughout a regular one hour stint. This was Spa weather, and Menten is a Spa specialist.

Similarly going well after starting on slicks were Rostan in the Pilbeam, de Simone and Bouchut.

Marc Lieb had taken over from Joel Camathias at an early tyre stop, but this GT2 ‘pace-setter’ was 29th.

Tim Sugden was even further down the order.

The Chamberlain-Synergy Lola B06/10 had lost time at its pit stop – and did so at every other tyre change – because “we lost an air jack when we changed tyres before the start,” said Dave Lampitt. We’d have to wait a while before Berridge and Evans appeared near the top of the listings.

Barbosa, what was he up to? He’d made it back to the pits after the throttle problem, but was way down. But on slicks, he was soon to become the fastest man on the track, a low 1:43 near the end of the hour his best, despite a gearshift problem.

So how about this for an order at almost 20 laps?
Collard
Minassian – 0.7
Vergers –6
Menten
Kiesa in the Lister
Yoong
Rostan second in P2
Gounon
Lamy
Primat
Kox
Andre
Policand
de Simone first in GT2
Berridge after that slow stop
And Leroch for G-Force.

Cars to look out for by, say, the third hour would be the Barazi Courage, the Lister, the Pilbeam, Larbre’s Aston Martin, the yellow B06/10, the Radical… and a certain young man in the G-Force Courage. This is Leroch in #35.

Poor Harold Primat: he was finding grip a problem on cold slicks, and didn’t want to get off-line to pass one of the Cirtek Astons. The two came together, and his right front suspension was broken. “You have to be ready for changing conditions and adapt to it. It will probably be the same at Spa,” said a disappointed Primat

The Barazi Courage? Vergers set the fastest lap of the race on lap 20, slightly faster than even Minassian and Collard ahead of him. GT1 was Menten from Lamy, Kox, Policand and the two Cirtek Aston Martins, while GT2 was de Simone from… the two Spykers (which hadn’t stopped), the Dean Panoz and Marc Lieb. Allan Simonsen had been up to third at one point in the other Aurtorlando Porsche, “but the gear lever snapped off”.

Minassian and Collard were dicing away at the front – but the gaps in the other classes were huge:
Vergers to Rostan 85 seconds
Menten to Lamy 54 seconds
de Simone to Bleekemolen 55 seconds.

Collard passed Minassian, in traffic on lap 26, by which time Barbosa was up to 17th overall. The Creation retook first, as Collard was blocked by the Seikel Porsche, Bergmeister struggling all meeting with a car that didn’t want to be set up.

12.24, 54 minutes into the race, and Tommy Erdos ventured back out, to complete his first lap. Frustrating, isn’t it? 2,700 km of testing, then effectively out before the season’s racing has started.

Slick boys (slick thinkers) Menten and Rostan pitted on the hour, so class leaders at this point were Minassian, Vergers, Lamy and de Simone. Vergers’ C65 and Lamy’s DBR9 were never headed, as class leaders, from this point on.

Pertti Kuismanen took over the PSI Corvette, but he wasn’t a match for Menten, although he did cling on to third until Markus Palttala took over for hour three – but then the alternator failed. It had been a great run for the C6.R. The one hour mark saw Warren Hughes stopped in the #81 Panoz. Rob Bell: “We think it was a driveshaft.” Rob’s 100% Le Mans Series record disappeared at that point.

And all the while there were rumours of a fuel shortage at the track…. “The first I knew of it was at an hour and three-quarters, when a note appeared on the timing screen to say that it would be a four hour race,” said one team member. We thought we knew well before that – but it seemed so bizarre we were inclined not to believe it, until Patrick Peter arrived in the media centre to confirm that it was true.

Having sorted out the whole mixed class order of the first hour, let’s try and deal with the rest of the race class by class.

LMP1
Minassian was easing away from Collard until they pitted on laps 40 and 43 respectively. Minassian stayed in and had a new set of tyres fitted. Collard stayed in, but didn’t, and suddenly these two were nearly half a minute apart. Yoong had pitted too, and stayed in, to hold third in class, fourth overall, with Berridge and Kiesa next. At just about an hour-and-a-half, Berridge pitted to hand over to Gareth Evans for what would turn out to be a full double-stint, leaving Peter Owen with just the last half-hour. Fifty-two laps, and Yoong was about to be lapped by Collard, but showed no inclination to move over. Oddly, the gap to Minassian grew at this point.

With Collard gesturing at Yoong, Minassian was struggling with his gearbox. Suddenly, he was over a minute behind, and pitted without fifth or sixth Had the Creation team been faced with a full, 1000 kilometer race, they would have repaired it, but it was at this point that the timing screens notified everyone that this was a four-hour race.

So now we had Collard a full lap ahead of Yoong with the Lister third, Nakano fourth in the factory Courage, and Evans fifth in the Chamberlain-Synergy Lola.

Seven started, but only five were still running. Just before two hours, Yoong handed over to Lammers (at this point Vergers was a stunning second overall in the Barazi Courage) but, as Jan the Dutchman reported later, “it was the same thing as we had yesterday and Friday, we think caused by vibrations. It was the starter engine, and for the same reason we had an exhaust cracked, as well as the subframe. But we’re very encouraged. Alex did an excellent job. We had really good top speed, and I’m glad we got his double-stint in.”

Now we only had the Pescarolo, the factory Courage, the Lister and the Chamberlain Lola left running in LMP1. It was soon down to just three because Nakano brought the #13 in with power steering failure. “We tried to repair it,” said Claude Surmont at Courage Competition, “and that’s why we sent Haruki out to try it, but it wasn’t working, and it was dangerous. Without the motor, there’s a delay between turning the steering wheel, and the wheels turning. It’s normally a very reliable system.”

So, with the Courage gone in the third hour, we had Boullion three laps ahead of Moller in the Lister, who was 21 seconds ahead of Gareth Evans. These would be the podium finishers, but in what order? Evans pitted at two-and-a-half hours, and stayed aboard the Lola, but really the last ninety minutes saw the Pescarolo just draw further and further away.

Jean-Christophe Boullion was told to ease off, and had trouble maintaining his concentration, and then slipped in a very quick lap right at the end – to win byseven laps, a Le Mans Series record. Jens Moller had a spin in the Lister, and handed over to Kiesa to complete the rest of the race. The best racing, towards the end of the third hour, was actually between Evans and Short in his Radical. First one led then the other, and then Evans again, but it wasn’t for class position, and with Peter Owen finishing the race for Chamberlain-Synergy, we had Lister and Lola second and third in class. Hugh Chamberlain walked up to congratulate Laurence Pearce, and the man in black reckoned that he wanted to come back to Turkey again. “I love the place! It’s my favourite track . . . . after Anderstorp!” Mr Pearce is £20 lighter this evening, having lost a bet with Ian Bickerton. Bicks was sure that dear old Laurence would be on the podium, and Bicks had it spot on!

“Do you now that Nic Manassian comes up and strokes the wing mirrors of our Lola,” said Gareth Evans, “because he likes them so much.”

LMP2
Just after the two hour mark, Juan Barz took over from Michael Vergers in the#32 Courage, but the biggest threat to him in the class was the recovering Radical. Barazi drove a very steady stint and maintained the place. Short was second in the Radical, and third was the plucky Pillbeam - well ahead of the #37 Belmondo Courage – and then Ed Morris in the G-Force example.

Now you pick the best P2 story. Was it Barazi (above) and then Belloc coming home second overall, or was it Short handing over to Tim Greaves (below) and looking as though they’d finish third overall, ahead of the Lister and Lola, or was it Ed Morris doing a simply stunning job in the G-Force?

Sadly, one of these three wouldn’t make it to the end. Tim Greaves was putting in some very good times, and with ten minutes left third place was on a plate – but then smoke appeared from the cockpit as the electrics gave out, the fire extinguisher went off, and Greaves bailed out: poor old Shorty looked as though his world had ended. “Jooa’s 1:43.065 was the fastest lap of the race at that point, and we had the gear-shift problem. We dropped the front spring rate for the race, and the car was fantastic.”

Michael Vergers: “We had a misfire all weekend, but it wasn’t as bad as in practice.” If we’d had time we’d have chased Michael for a better reaction, because his performance was simply outstanding.

Ed Morris. G-Force is actually using 2005 spec. Dunlop tyres, because they have some left over from last year. Jean-François Leroch drove the first 90 minutes, and then Ed Morris took over on the same rubber. He completed that stint with some amazingly consistent 1:50 laps, and the Dunlop guys couldn’t believe his times when they saw the worn state of the right rear. His consistency was astonishing – even more so because he’s not yet eighteen. For his second hour he had new rubber, and his times came down step by step from 1:50 to 1:48. He had to pit half-an-hour from the end, and good old Frank Hahn kept him at the wheel. That stop might have cost them third place, but Paul Belmondo spun the #37 Courage, and that meant that Ed Morris would be presented with a bottle of Champagne…. that he wasn’t old enough to drink.

“We didn’t have an aerial on the truck, so I could only just about hear the radio past the pits, and I had no idea where I was in the race, but I was just trying to do consistent lap times. I saw the Belmondo spin, but didn’t know I’d just passed him for position,” said Morris.

The Belmondos were fourth and fifth, with the gallant RML MG Lola sixth, with lap times from both Newton and Erdos that were as good as the class of the field. “It’s the best we could have hoped for, considering the start we had,” said Mike Newton, “but we’ve put down a marker for the rest of the season. All credit to the guys though; they did a fantastic job to get the car back together again.”

GT1
Once the PSI Corvette had stopped, this class really had a fairly settled order. After four hours the Larbre Aston Martin had exactly a lap on the Convers MenX Ferrari, which also had exactly a lap on the Luc Alphand Corvette, third. The Cirtek Aston Martins were fourth and fifth, with Peter Hardman laying down his fastest lap of the race – by almost three seconds – just before the end. After the race Pedro Lamy referred to the wrong tyre choice at the start (wets), but he Gardel and Vosse are a stronger trio than Menten, Palttala and Kuissmann.

GT2
This was the most competitive class by far. Potential winners were four; the GPC Ferrari, the Autorlando Porsche #76, the #82 LNT Panoz, and the IMSA Porsche. The pole-position Icer Brakes Ferrari was an early casualty, and with the #81 LNT Panoz and its drive-shaft problem, the only other casualty was Lars Erik Nielsen’s Porsche, which also broke a drive shaft, but was then hit by a prototype as it slowed.

Richard Dean overcame the IMSA Porsche for a first podium for Team LNT with its Esperantes, but he and Lawrence Tomlinson were “both pleased and frustrated. Shortening the race upset our strategy,” continued Dean, “and I ended up driving an hour-and-a-half at the start, and Lawrence drove the middle.”

The team owner was more than a little niggled to have the interviewer in the post-race press conference suggest that the Panoz looks rather like a TVR. “I think you need some glasses!” said a stern Mr Tomlinson.

So the race for the win in GT2 came down to Marc Lieb in the Porsche against De Simone in the GPC Ferrari.

Both had to stop about 20 minutes from the end, and try as he might, Lieb couldn’t match the new F430 GTC. The gap at the end was 7.5 seconds. Lieb was a little upset when Camathias finished his second stint fifteen minutes early, because he was suffering from a vibration, and making a final slash and dash necessary for the German.

“GT2 is certainly a bigger challenge now than in the previous two years,” summed up Marc Lieb He set his fastest lap on the final lap of the race, while the fastest lap in the class was set by the flying Tim Sugden, but he and Dan Eagling could only bring the Virgo Ferrari home in eighth place. They were beaten by both Spykers, and the #90 Farnbacher Porsche of Ehret and Dominik Farnbacher.

So, a long report to explain an action-packed four hours - but a win for Pescarolo that we always felt was on the cards. As always, there was the complete mix of emotions at the end, but Jan Lammers, ever the gentleman, summed it up by saying that “it’s great to see how the Chamberlain-Synergy team enjoyed their third place.” Heaven knows how we’d all have coped with a report covering six hours of similar excitement. We’re exhausted.
MC

 

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