Vergers In Turkey
”Sometimes The Conditions Make Things Happen For A Driver”

We’d aimed to catch up with Michael Vergers sooner than this – after his stunning drive at Istanbul.

“But I put my ‘phone down in the departure lounge at Gatwick, just before flying to the south of France – and when I boarded the plane, I realised I didn’t have it. Fortunately, someone had spotted it and handed it in, so I was able to collect it when I returned yesterday (Thursday, April 20).”

He headed to France in his other role – as a driver coach. “A young Spanish driver I look after, Dani Clos, was testing his Formula Renault at Paul Ricard this week. This is something I’ve been doing for many years: Dan Wheldon, Katherine Legge, Dan Malkin, even a little bit with Jenson Button. I do it differently from other people – I concentrate on a driver’s mental attitude. If he (or she) has got the talent, the driving should look after itself.”

So what about Istanbul, and Michael’s drive in the Barazi-Epsilon Courage?

He modestly suggests that “the conditions sometimes make things happen for a driver. We started on wets, because the Michelin technicians said that was the best way to go.”

In the early commotion, the #32 Courage was fifth overall at the end of lap 1, then third at the end of lap 2 – “I passed Gounon under braking into Turn 7. He just dropped back after that” – chasing after the Creation and RfH hybrids. “They must have been on harder wets….”

Joao Barbosa passed Vergers for the P2 lead on lap 4, “but I made the decision to pit very early, because my fronts had gone, and I was getting a lot of understeer. But the radio wasn’t working properly. I asked them to click the radio button twice if they understood that I wanted to come in, and I heard the two clicks, so I was the first man in for new rubber, at the end of lap 6.”

That dropped the Barazi-Epsilon Courage outside the top ten – but not for long: Vergers was on another charge.

Only Gounon was faster than the black, white and red Courage at this stage (not always though), and that early stop was paying massive dividends. Once Minassian stopped for slicks, he was into the 1:46s, but Vergers was lapping in 1:47, and on lap 16 he passed the #37 Belmondo Courage (yet to pit) for the P2 lead.

Didier Andre was still out on his wets, and the lap time difference between these two cars was typically nine seconds at this stage. Andre pitted after 18 laps – and we were now set for the #32 Courage AER to lead the whole of the rest of the P2 race… helped in no small part by Vergers’ pace. He set the fastest race lap (so far) on lap 20, a 1:46.422 – 15 thousandths quicker than Collard’s nineteenth lap, and about 0.15 quicker than Minassian’s thirteenth. The Creation driver would soon be into the high 1:43s.. but Vergers was romping away from everyone in P2 (although the Radical was faster on some laps – but after that car’s early delay, the gap between these two grew from just about four minutes on lap 11 to four minutes and nine seconds on lap 24).

That’s never been done before Michael – no one has ever led P2 in the Le Mans Series for virtually the whole race. “Hasn’t it? I didn’t know that.”

The Ed.’s race notes reveal an interesting fact: that on lap 22, with the gap between Minassian and Collard just 0.094 for the overall lead (and Vergers just eight seconds behind them in third – with the next car along being the PSI Corvette C6.R in fourth, 60 seconds behind Minassian [it started on slicks]), the gaps in the other classes were as follows:
P2 Vergers to Rostan 78 seconds
GT1 Menten to Lamy 54 seconds
GT2 de Simone to Bleekemolen 60 seconds.

Whatever was about to happen to the race length in Turkey, this was already an extraordinary endurance race.

Michael Vergers was the only class leader (who had pulled out a big gap on his rivals) without the advantage of starting on slicks. .. and he had a misfire.

Without the dramas afflicting RML and Rollcentre, it would have been a different opening phase in the P2 race, but boy did Michael Vergers ‘go for it’.

“We’d had endless problems with the wiring on Friday – and really these carried over from Sebring, where we’d struggled to finish. It was a slightly different problem in Turkey, and we only really cured it in qualifying on Saturday afternoon (#32 was third quickest in P2 with a 1:43.820, behind Erdos (1:42.336) and Barbosa (1:43.359).

“But then it came back for the race – although it didn’t cost us a lot of time. It came in at 5,200 revs, so as long as you kept the revs up, beyond that, it wasn’t a problem. It was a problem at the tight turn 1 though, where we’d be stuttering and the GT1s would come past.

“AER is adamant that it’s not an engine problem, so we’ve now commissioned a separate wiring loom for the engine and paddle shift – we’ve been running without the paddle shift until now. The AER four cylinder has been extremely reliable, and it produces fantastic power: we’re very pleased with it.”

Michel Lecomte and his Epsilon mechanics had been working long hours on the wiring loom – both in Florida and Turkey – but the permanent fix seems to be in place for Spa.

Back to the race – and Vergers completed his Turkish Delight after 70 laps at the wheel (with a refuelling stop after 36 laps).

The Radical had cut the gap to three and a half minutes at this stage, but #32 was second overall, after the retirement of the Creation.

“Juan’s business commitments, plus the travelling time for the car (to Sebring, back to Europe then on to Istanbul) haven’t allowed any testing time, but he’s getting more used to the downforce and braking. He did a great job at Istanbul though: he knows he can go faster, but he concentrated on keeping it going.

“Then Jean-Philippe Belloc finished the race. He fitted in extremely well, and we’d like to keep him in the car for the whole season. The engineers put him on a different engine map (a “wet” one) for the last stint, to try and overcome the misfire, so he was a little down on the power that Juan and I had had. “

By that stage of the race, there was no threat from behind, the Radical still being a minute and three-quarters behind – and then sadly, after 120 laps, Tim Greaves pulled off, leaving the Pilbeam to take second in class, and Ed Morris to take third in the next best placed Courage.

Look at Michael Vergers' body language (fourth from the left) on the podium - with Epsilon's Christophe (the tall guy) showing more 'victory emotion' than either Jean-Philippe Belloc or Juan Barazi.

So P2 cars took second overall at Sebring and Istanbul. Neither the Intersport nor Barazi-Epsilon cars were the fastest in their class, but both entries had superb runs (over 12 and four hours respectively). Jon Field had stormed through the field, from the back, in the opening stint at Sebring, while Michael Vergers had done it rather differently – from the front.

What did he say at Istanbul, on Saturday? “We’re not looking to win the first race – we do want to win by the last race though.”

He and the whole team were ecstatic after the Turkish win, “but if we can win the championship, we’ll be even happier.”


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