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Le Mans 1000 Km – Saturday Report
At Least One Surprise

This has been a wonderfully entertaining day – and a very relaxing one too, at least by (June) Le Mans standards. Not quite so many cars to cover, more bodies to gather the news – and just a very pleasant atmosphere.

The cars were pretty exciting out on the track too – partly because it’s pleasant to see them on a different circuit, partly because it gets pretty crowded out there, and partly because the cold weather makes the cars dance about rather more than usual.

We posted a brief item regarding the opening session: prior to that we discovered three English teams which were all happy in their own way: Fred Goddard Racing, PK Sport and the Morgan Motor Company. PK was set to challenge the fastest in its class, while the other two were looking at securing very good finishes tomorrow. So how did it work out for these three – and the rest?

Jon Field: “That was great in the free practice, second fastest overall. But my best lap in the morning qualifying was my out lap: the car was going away from me straight away. We’ve got some handling issues, but the guys are working on it. I want to be second on the grid. We can’t match the Audi, but I think we can be second.”

That spot in first qualifying was occupied by Jan Lammers – less than four tenths slower than the provisional pole sitter. You don’t need to be told who that was do you? Lammers (mainly) and Wallace (below) were out there for 21 laps (throwing Dunlop qualifiers at the S101), while the Goh Audi needed just nine to set a 1:27.775. Then there was a big gap to Sebastien Bourdais in the Pescarolo Courage, just under 1:30 – and then the RML MG-Lola AER at just over three tenths faster than Jon Field.

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John Judd Jnr. is very excited about the KV675 engine in the Intersport Lola B160: “We want to beat Dyson Racing, we want to have the fastest car in the 675 class. It’s still early days, and I know Jon had a handling problem of some sort this morning, but the engine installation has gone amazingly smoothly. My father had to take out some different air filters to PLM, and that cured a problem we had earlier in the week – one we knew we’d have, but only after the car was flown out. Then we had the split water pipe in the race, but that’s it.”

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Clint Field seemed to occupy the Intersport R&S for most of morning qualifying, and a 1:34 wasn’t where he wanted to be. “Don’t talk about 1:32s Clint,” said John Graham, “when I’ve only had one lap in the car today.”

The R&S lost a wheel this morning, and thereby lost 25 minutes of track time, but Clint was amusing himself at lunchtime looking at a video of the 12 laps he completed. “You’ve gotta see this. It’s a good spin, watch this.”

And round he went at the last left hander, and it was indeed a pretty impressive spin. The lost wheel and the spin saw this car just ahead of the GTS Ferraris after the first 45 minute (originally 30) qualifying session.

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The Ferraris dominated GTS, but with the Saleen not too far back (about a second and a half) in third and Larbre’s Viper outclassed in fourth. The Saleen (Kaufmann) found time in the afternoon, but the Ferraris didn’t seem worried about more running (after almost a week of it). Peter Kox set the class pole, ahead of Darren Turner. Kox was entirely happy, Turner less so: “I didn’t manage to get a clear lap, and seemed to have traffic the whole time. The potential was there, but I was unlucky.”

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Wolfgang Kaufmann was very happy with the Konrad Saleen: "The car is superb. I first drove this car this morning, but the Ferraris have been here since Monday, and who knows what tyres they are using now. An improvement is definitely possible" (he adds that they are using the FIA gearbox here.)

Toni Seiler adds that he is "not quite happy with the balance, the front tyres are up to temperature more quickly than the rear ones."

dailysportscar.comGT after the morning qualifying session ended up Cirtek Ferrari (Montermini), PK Sport Porsche (Liddell), Seikel Porsche (Mowlem), Freisinger Porsche (Ortelli), Sebah Porsche (Collard - right) and Scuderia Ecosse Ferrari (Franchitti).

We’ll come back to the GT qualifying encounter later.

Afternoon qualifying gave up some surprises, none more pleasurable than seeing the Lister Storm third fastest.

“It’s P1 for us, the best we could hope for,” said JC-W. “If only it had the power….Jan Lammers followed me out of the last corner, pulled out, drove past me and pulled back in, in front of me. Easy as that. If only we had the power. But the car is the best we’ve ever had it….although there’s a long way to go. The race set up isn’t what we want, so we’ve got a bit to do there.

"Tom was quick too." (below)

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At the top of the 675 times, fifth overall, was the RML MG-Lola AER, so no joy for Jon Field – but plenty for Tommy Erdos and co.

Erdos: “We have done more than we hoped for and we’re very happy!”

Chris Goodwin: “We’re very, very pleased considering the limited amount of running we’ve had. To out-qualify teams that have been doing well all season is particularly satisfying!”

Mike Newton: “Our aim is to finish in the top two in class. Anything beyond that will be a bonus!”

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The Pescarolo Courage ‘languished’ in sixth, and Mme. Bourdais expressed her surprise that Sebastien had been beaten by the Lister. That left Jon Field in seventh, ahead of the Panoz GTP and the 675 Courage (third in class, the last of the top cars in this class – and with an engine now badged as a Mader, as Mecachrome has taken over JPX…we think!

David Saelens: “I’m very happy in the USA, and I should have left F3000 earlier to concentrate on endurance racing. This year was one of the best, if not the best, in my racing career. Panoz is a fantastic team to drive for and I hope to continue next year. I also love living and working in the States as the atmosphere is much better than in Belgium. The press is positive in the States: in Belgium you always get critics. We have at this moment the top two in female tennis and the only thing some Belgian journalists do, is criticize them. It’s so sad… I had the same experience during my F3 and F3000 years.

“But on the other hand, I still hope to do the LMES in 2004 and to race again at Spa.
To race the GTP is funny, the car still carries some dust and hasn’t been developed but it’s still competitive. We need some time to do some adjustments on the set-up but I’m confident for the race.”

So the two we haven’t mentioned from the top seven are the pole-sitting Audi and the fourth placed Taurus Lola. Justin Keen had a point to prove, and was third fastest for some of the session, beaten only by the Lister towards the end of the afternoon period. Ian Dawson was nevertheless “delighted” – proving beyond any doubt that his team should have been here in June. Justin Keen was trying very hard.

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Tom Kristensen? One of our spies (in another car) saw TK in the gravel somewhere this morning, but he was of course full of praise for the R8, still the class of a (non-Bentley) European field.

“The R8 is the best sportscar, and it adapts very well to a slower circuit. We’re running more downforce and softer suspension than we normally use at Le Mans, but the good thing is that we are taking the Dunlop Chicane faster than we ever have before.”

And if it rains, Tom? “At Spa we had the same soft suspension, and the car was fine in the wet.”

Traffic? “It is up to us to respect the drivers who don’t have much experience, and to be careful until they have gained experience. It is a narrow and tight circuit here.”

The Audi didn't use qualifying tyres.

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Weather may become a topic of conversation here: what should be an accurate forecast from the airport suggests drizzly rain on Sunday morning, then drying out. Some teams here have never run their cars in the wet, ever! Those who know how good the Dunlop wets are could well be praying for rain.

The GT Class
Robin Liddell (after the first session): "We are now second in GT and best Porsche, so I am happy for the team and for Pirelli. We need to work on the setup some more so unless we end up in last place we will probably use the whole second session for that. Jean-Phillipe (Belloc) is a nice guy, I drove with him at the Road Atlanta ALMS race but he was a last minute replacement there; now I can get to know him better. I was a tenth quicker on qualifiers, but the car was understeering too much to make really good use of them.”

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Second quickest to what? The pole sitter in GT, the Cirtek Motorsport Ferrari 360, although the team members were all dressed in black and yellow Baron / Engelhorn Racing clothing.

Karl Baron (co-owner BE Racing): "The way it is going now is not what we have expected but what we have been hoping for. Our car is the latest F360 competition chassis; it first ran at Fiorano last Monday, and our goal here is to secure a Le Mans entry for 2004. The car we will be using at Bathurst, and which is also our own car, has nothing to do with the one here, it is on a different technical level, still with an F1 gearchange. After Bathurst, we might take it to Daytona - we will see. We will also stay in the Ferrari Challenge, with the same drivers as this year. We are cooperating with Cirtek for this race; and we will see whether this cooperation will continue."

Philipp Peter (joining Andrea Montermini and Klaus Engelhorn this weekend): "We are half a second ahead of the second placed car, and we could have gone quicker still. We have one slight problem with fuel pickup when we are running under the pitlane speed limiter, but other than this we have not had any difficulties. I did not expect things to be going this well but we obviously have always wanted to be on the podium and get an entry for Le Mans. I have never driven on the Bugatti circuit before but all in all I think it is quite good, if a little narrow in some places. It is all right for the GTs and also perhaps for the GTS cars, but it must be really difficult for the prototypes. Also, a lot of gravel is constantly dragged onto the racing line.

“I was Klaus Engelhorn's instructor at the Andrea de Adamich racing school; he took part in a course for Ferrari owners there. When I learned of his ambition to do more racing I recommended the Ferrari Challenge for him; and he has since improved with every step up he has made. He is eager to improve, and doesn't take anything for granted. From the driver's perspective, one of the differences between driving the F575 and the F360 - if they can be compared - is that half an hour in the 575 is as exhausting as an hour in the 360. The 575 is obviously more powerful, and also heavier; so it is more of a physical effort. Also, it the F360 you don't have the engine in front of you, and radiating heat in you face."

dailysportscar.comLet’s complete the story of this new car – the pole sitter after all. Rob Schirle: “Thanks to the drivers, the team and the tyres, and working hard all week, we’ve got a really good set up. It’s the latest evolution of the 360, Philipp and Andrea are clearly going very well, but Klaus is in the 1:43s, and this is only his second year of racing.”

Stephane Ortelli, talking to Johannes Gauglica before the afternoon 45 minutes, split the first two before the end of qualifying – with the Dunlop-shod Freisinger Porsche: "We started late, the car was used for a motorshow, to celebrate our FIA (N-GT) win, then it had to be modified to ACO specification. Others have been here since Monday or Tuesday. We are working to find a race setup, and will put some softer tyres on for the second session. I have not driven much because Vassiliev needs some time to get used to the car; but I am happy so far."

Johnny Mowlem went faster in the afternoon too, but third became fourth with Ortelli’s improvement.

Further down the order, Michael Caine got the #46 TVR hustling along very quickly in the afternoon, ending up seventh, while Fanny Duchateau brought the other car up to 12th.

Fanny: “I got here on Wednesday and immediately found the good rhythm in the car. It’s a great experience to race here at Le Mans even if it’s the little track. The car feels great and on some points one could compare it to the Vertigo I drove at Spa. It’s somewhat more balanced than the Belgian car but the feeling is similar. Racing in endurance suits me very well, I won the European and Belgian Fun Cup this year (Beetle type cars) and already did the 24 hours of Spa and Zolder. Le Mans is a dream but one to accomplish. I hope to continue this project next year, the LMES is an interesting series, with mixed fields, nice tracks… but nothing is sure yet.”

Fanny had hoped to set a 1:44, but a 1:45.363 was impressive first time out in a T400R. Amanda Stretton had had an interesting first qualifying session.: “Liz Halliday spent the first half hour bedding in brakes and then I went out. On my first lap I was hit by the Audi and on my second I was pushed into the gravel. The track is like the bottom of a fish tank with all the gravel and slime – it’s almost dangerous. There’s one racing line and outside of that there’s gravel everywhere!”

Liz Halliday also went out this afternoon, but by then there were gearchange gremlins which didn’t allow her to shine as brightly as she’d hoped.

Marino Franchitti: “It (the first session) was shite! We had a few electrical niggles at the start and by the time we got going the slower drivers were out on the track. I kept getting baulked by them and only got one clear lap – it’s trust-fund racing! I reckon we can go an extra half second faster in the second session, but we’ve got to hit that (faster driver) window!”

Chris Niarcos: “Tim (Mullen) got into the 1:41s this afternoon, but three laps after I got in the double yellows came out when a car beached itself on the kerbs and I’d only managed a 1:45 by then. After that I decided to stay out and just dial myself in. I’ve only done 30 laps in total so I’m happy with my pace! The car still has the F1 shift and not a sequential shift and that is costing us a tenth with every change, and there are 19 shifts per lap. When you take that into account, we’d be right at the front!”

And finally, Morgan and T2M news, Morgan first.

Neil Cunningham: “We had a problem at scrutineering with a slight leak in the airbox. There’s virtually no effect but we had a recurrence at the end of the first qualifying session and the time was thrown out. Other than that the balance has been affected by our having to come down a size in wheels yesterday (also at scrutineering), but we’re where we want to be in the 1:43/44 bracket. That’ll be our race pace.”

The Morgan’s screen was blasted by a large chunk of ‘gravel’ this morning, and ended up in the bin, but despite the slight decrease in wheel size at the back, Morgan was on a roll: “With every change we get quicker, having started out at 1:49, we’ve brought the time down with every change we’ve made.”

And last of all, Wim Coekelbergs (T2M): “I never drove a Porsche before Spa this year and over there I almost only drove under yellow… So this is a great experience to do. I might put up a team with Phil Bastiaans and Wim Daems to do this series, FIA-GT or Belcar. I drove Clios till now but I this is a dream to do. I learned a lot from Wim Daems and it’s paying off; I’m not slower than Paul (Daniels) or Georges (Forgeois) even if they have lots of experience.”

So that’s Satuday, as the sun goes down at approaching 18.00. We’re told that the race will end at 18.00 tomorrow, even if the 1000 km haven’t been completed.

 

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