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Le Mans 1000 Km – Hours 4-5
GT Is A Cracker

Wim Eyckmans, in the #13 Courage, got back into racing after a two year 'retirement': "I've been doing some test work for Courage via a friend of mine. I was interested in doing the 24 hours too but financial reasons kept me out. But I managed to keep on testing and I got this opportunity to drive the 1000 KM. I'm glad I can race as it's different from testing. I hope to continue next year as the team plans to do the series and the 24 hours. But I still believe my future is in single seaters. This race is a great event and we're performing well even If we cannot match the speed of the MGs. But in the rain, as we proved this morning, we're able to beat them. I'll start but I won't take any risks at all. Top-3 is the aim but the wildcard of course is an ambition."

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The safety car period lasted some 20 minutes while gravel was cleaned up at the “S Bleu” area. It was a messy affair with the cars never really bunching up behind the Corvette pace car, but rather breaking into two or three groups. The interruption came at a point when there was already more than a lap separating most key positions so the effect on the contest was minimal—with one major, major exception. Liddell, leading GT, has Seiji Ara behind him (and ahead of the chasing Montermini and Ortelli) when the safety car came out. That gave the Scot the chance to hurry round and gain three quarters of a lap. The only minor (?) hurdle was that he had to battle through the slower GTs at the tail of the queue – which he did with some vigour.

Another important change was that Larry Connor took over the no. 18 Lola from Jon Field. Roman Rusinov was now in the Courage and while still ahead in 675, he was unable to capitalize on the situation and pull away.

Jon Field: “The car was terrible on rain tyres, but I was leading the class early on – and working much harder than everyone else. We just don’t have the downforce of the bigger cars, but the track tried, the car came to me, and I was the first car out on slicks. I was going to do a double stint, but the other drivers wanted me to stay out, until the track really dried. So I did a triple.”

All said with a big grin on his face – and there was another one on Duncan Dayton’s, also much happier than after the warm up.

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Lagorce was the fastest car on the circuit after the restart, turning a 1:33.948 for the overall fastest tour. His time eclipsed Field’s previous best overall time and Ara’s best in LMP 900. The Courage undid one of its laps in arrears of the Audi and is gained at about three seconds per lap.

The top three GTS protagonists were running together in the overall standings. Turner was sixth overall and a lap clear of the other Veloqx Ferrari (Kox). Vosse is about one minute further down in the Viper. Liddell has a relatively comfortable lap lead over Montermini’s Ferrari in GT. Ortelli clawed back up after passing Pompidou for third in GT.

At about 3:45 (15:45 clock time) mark, the Audi made its regular stop. Ara stayed aboard but the halt allowed Lagorce back onto the lead lap. Andy Wallace has been holding a very steady third place but two laps down. The long-suffering Riley & Scott has been taken out of its misery. John Graham explained that the clutch wouldn’t bite. They bled and bled it, but to no avail. The overall gap grows again as Seiji Ara once more reset the fastest lap (1:32.554).

16:00 was important moment. On a certain Sunday in June this signifies the end of 24 hours of racing. It marked the two-thirds point of the November race, destined to run to its six-hour limit as opposed to the full 1000 kilometers. The time point also passes with ever darkening skies. It is partly the autumn dusk but also may be a harbinger of more rain. Headlights are now in force.

The Panoz has returned to the race and the Goddard Reynard also was being readied to come back as backmarkers. The XL Ferrari has been retired.

16.10: The Panoz has been pushed into its garage. Starter problems. No, stuck in gear. No, alternator. In fact, the old girl had all three, the last eliminating her.

“It’s been Christmas for the whole year, so we can’t complain,” remarked David Saelens.

Wim Coekelbergs (T2M): "I don't know what's happening, my teammates try to discover as many gravel traps as possible. The car is OK but we aren't"

Fanny Duchateau (just before her stint): "I'm quite confident, the car runs well, it's just a bit less developed than the 'brother' car. But it seems to be reliable and well handling in the rain. I will now take over the wheel and try to get the car into the top-20."

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Michael Caine: “The plan originally was for me to do about one hour 20 minutes, but the weather conditions changed that and I ended up staying in for 3 hours 15. The first few laps were like a sprint race and it was a case of staying out of trouble – cars were spinning off everywhere! I got nudged through the gravel by a Porsche and the Lister spun in front of me, nearly taking me out. The car is generally good – we’ve had a slight gear selection problem, going up the shifts, but that’s it!

“I changed to slicks a lot earlier than anyone else – we’d already decided that the timing of the change would be mine and once I was doing two minute laps on wets I made the call. That was probably an hour and a half into the race and on my second lap I did a 2:02. I couldn’t believe how long the other teams stayed with wets; I think some of them have still got them on! At one stage in the race we were the fastest GT.

“We need to find about another second and a half, but we found a problem with the car on Monday that we’ll be able to sort after the race. Despite that, we qualified just a few tenths behind Collard and that shows the progress we’ve made. The highlight for me so far was passing the Freisinger Porsche – I enjoyed that!”

The TVRs are carrying no ballast at this race and have gone up a restrictor size. They are looking for a podium and praying for bad luck to befall the Porsches ahead. Bob Berridge is planning testing in Spain in February, then off to Sebring in March – with that front suspension issue (something to do with roll centers) all sorted out.

JC-W was in the Lister again – after stints from Kinch and Coronel. The car had only covered 81 laps at 16.15, 60 laps behind, but JC-W was fastest man on the track, apart from Seiji Ara.
Audi R8 1:32.269
Lister Storm LMP 1:33.372.

The Lister has taken eight laps out of the WR ahead of it since rejoining.

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Bizarre ACO moment. We are sure that the race will halt at 18.00, but M Cotton has found an official document that says that the race will stop at seven hours duration maximum. You decide.

The Viper was two and three laps behind the Veloqx Care Racing 550s (88 ahead of 80 still). Vincent Vosse: “Our advantage lies in the determination of Sébastien (Dumez) and the Michelin rain tires. We will now try to keep the pace as high as possible in order to put the pressure on both the 550s. In the dry, we'll have problems to keep up with them as we're not running in ALMS spec, this gives them a small advantage.”

With about 100 minutes left, Larry Connor vacated the Intersport Lola, after a good, steady stint – in second place in 675, to the steady (and slightly quicker in that stint) Courage. Connor stopped slightly early with a left rear puncture. Duncan Dayton got in to finish the race.

The Saleen suddenly became the fastest car in GTS – but so far, far behind…..

dailysportscar.comPositions 10 to 16 were where the GT battle lay. PK remained out in front (Liddell at the wheel) with Vassiliev pedalling the Freisinger Porsche less than a minute behind. The Russian was being slowly reeled in by Klaus Engelhorn in the Cirtek Ferrari, just fifteen seconds further back and lapping in very similar times. Four and a half hours in and the top three in GT on the same lap!

Another Ferrari making progress has been the Scuderia Ecosse 360 in the hands of Chris Niarchos. The owner of the car followed on from Franchitti and is setting very respectable times – respectable enough to pass Richard Stanton in the #46 TVR.

Two other GT cars in the top twenty overall deserve a mention at this stage. The Morgan continues its march in 18th having completed 134 laps; while Les Femmes are doing very nicely in 19th with 130 laps under their belts – Liz Halliday currently back in the car, with Fanny Duchateau down to complete the race.

16.50. PK Sport Porsche pits with 90 minutes left, loses the lead, and Jean-Philippe Belloc took over at the wheel. That should have been PK’s last stop out of the way. BUT – a left front puncture for the Frenchman, who pitted for two new fronts, leaving the class much more open.

Five-hour standings:
No. 5, Kristensen, Audi, 169 laps
No. 2, Bourdais, Courage, - 2 lap
No. 8, Wallace, Dome, - 3 laps
No. 13, Rusinov, Courage – 7 laps
No. 18, Dayton, Lola –9 laps
No. 88, Turner, Ferrari, 1st GTS 159 laps
No. 80, Sugden, Ferrari – 1 lap
No. 9, Lavaggi, Lola
No. 86, Vosse, Viper
No. 39, Vasiliev, Freisinger Porsche, 1st GT 155 laps (still to make its last stop)
No. 47, Engelhorn, Cirtek Ferrari –20 secs (just about to stop, for the last time)
No. 38, Belloc, PK Porsche – 31 secs
No. 33, Tinseau, Jubin Porsche
No. 36, Collard, Sebah Porsche
No. 30, Mullen, Scuderia Ecosse Ferrari
No. 24, Terada, WR
No. 46 Berridge, TVR
No. 49, Sharpe, Morgan
No. 12, Bruneau, Pilbeam
No. 32, Munsterhuis, Porsche.

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