LM24: Audi survives Peugeot onslaught.

A short-lived, full-strength Audi charge leads the field for the opening lap of the 2011 race. - Image courtesy John Dagys.

After the intensity of Friday’s final qualifying session, any prediction that 2011 would be the tightest in recent history would be validated soon after. Although fraught with attrition, drama, searing intensity and many hours of caution periods, the event failed to disappoint.

Delivering stunning battles on virtually all fronts, the 2011 rendition of the race will likely be remembered for years to come as one of the closest-fought ever.

Intensity in the battle for outright honours was felt early for many at the head of the field. Audi’s hopes for defending victory suffered a massive blow during the early stages of the race.

Departure of the team’s #3 machine of McNish, Kristensen and Capello within the first hour, following a violent incident involving Luxury Racing’s Anthony Beltoise, had left many stunned. To the relief of all onlookers, McNish would walk away from the incident with little more than minor bruising.

Audi's Alan McNish walks away from Saturday afternoon's horrific crash. - Image courtesy Audisport.

Audi's Alan McNish walks away from Saturday afternoon's horrific crash. - Image courtesy Audisport.

A second horrific incident involving the #1 entry of reigning champion, Mike Rockenfeller and the #71 AF-Corse machine of Rob Kauffmann would occur during the eighth hour. The incident occurring as Rockenfeller attempted to pass Kauffmann on the high-speed section of the circuit between Mulsanne and Indianapolis.

Kauffmann later claimed the brightness of the R18’s headlights lead to his being unable to prepare for Rockenfeller’s attempted passing, and consequently made contact with the Audi driver at considerable speed. Rockenfeller would also escape from the wreckage uninjured – both incidents a testament to the build quality of Audi’s R18 chassis.

Remaining remnants of Rockenfeller's high-speed collision; Audi's second of the day. - Image courtesy Jean-Francois Monier.

Remaining remnants of Rockenfeller's high-speed collision; Audi's second major incident of the day. - Image courtesy Jean-Francois Monier.

Later analysis of the incident led officials to believe the #71 was at fault. Although allowing the AF-Corse-run entry to continue, race officials would take action against Kauffmann, excluding the American driver from the remainder of the event. The #71 would later retire.

Following the subsequent retirement of reigning champions Rockenfeller, Dumas and Bernhard, Audi’s hopes for a tenth Le Mans victory lied solely on the shoulders of young driving trio Treluyer, Lotterer, and Fassler in the #2 machine.

Audi #2 cruises Mulsanne with an evident lack of support; A much repeated scene throughout the remainder of the event. - Image courtesy AudiSport.

Audi #2 cruises Mulsanne with an evident lack of support; A much repeated scene throughout the remainder of the event. - Image courtesy AudiSport.

Hassled by a full-strength Peugeot onslaught throughout the remainder of the race, Audi’s young trio seldom faltered. Electing to quadruple-stint its driving trio (3-4 hours) to minimise time spent in pitlane, the marque faced an epic battle against both the scale and fuel efficiency of Peugeot’s attack.

With the French manufacturer capable of 12 lap stints, and Audi often running 11 laps within the same period, differences in operating efficiency would often be justified through outright pace and daring tyre strategy.

AudiSport pit strategy once again played a vital role in the team's success. - Image courtesy AudiSport.

AudiSport pit strategy once again played a vital role in the team's success. - Image courtesy AudiSport.

Late race drives by Treluyer and Lotterer would particularly impress the scale of Audi’s undertaking. With both drivers navigating slower traffic in an almost-manic fashion, pushing the very limits of grip afforded by sections of the 13.6 km circuit.

Despite spirited efforts from the Peugeot onslaught the #2 would never stray far from the overall lead. For a short period onlookers remained silent as race officials summoned Audi #2 engineer, Leena Gade to the stewards office with a tone of urgency on Sunday morning. This would prove to be of little consequence.

Having been seemingly immune to periods of carnage affecting virtually all competitors, cracks began to appear in Peugeot’s then-unhampered showing.

Bourdais commandeers Peugeot #9; later revealed as the marque's last hope for victory. - Image courtesy FotoOlaf

Bourdais commandeers Peugeot #9; later revealed as the marque's last hope for victory. - Image courtesy FotoOlaf

As Peugeot’s efforts began to falter, the prospect of victory, regardless of how close, would begin to slip out of reach. Oreca’s privately-entered 908 HDi-FAP would prove first to stagger during the night. As rapid Frenchman, Loic Duval damaged the team’s chassis on Mulsanne. Only barely managing to limp the injured car back to pitlane for repairs.

This scenario was later repeated with little under three hours remaining, as Duval experienced a second spin at Indianapolis under dampening conditions, further damaging the rear of the chassis.

The manufacturer’s all French squad of Sarrazin, Montagny and Minassian in the #8 found themselves the recipients of a drive-through penalty for a lack of respect toward circuit limits during the early morning hours.

The #8 Peugeot crew's efforts would be hampered by a late-race penalty. - Image courtesy J.Frauca Photography.

The #8 Peugeot crew's efforts would be hampered by a late-race penalty. - Image courtesy J.Frauca Photography.

Shortly after the #7 car of Davidson, Wurz and Gene would be damaged in a late race incident at Indianapolis, inflicting injury to the nose of the chassis. Enthusiastic repair efforts allowed the #7 to secure a face-saving fourth overall. Only out-placing the damage-plagued efforts of Oreca, who would manage fifth overall – marginally ahead of highest placing petrol contenders.

As the sole, remaining Peugeot on the lead lap, Pagenaud, Bourdais and Lamy – arguably the marque’s least favoured entry, found themselves in a position of opportunity. With the driver cycle broken, Pagenaud would be ceded to take the #9 to the checkered.

Lotterer brings the #2 Audi to pitlane for post-race celebrations. - Image courtesy AudiSport.

Lotterer brings the #2 Audi to pitlane for post-race celebrations. - Image courtesy AudiSport.

Despite the employment of questionable tactics from Pagenaud’s sister cars in the dying stages of the race, the #2 Audi proved an unstoppable force. With Lotterer at the helm, the German marque powered to one of the closest and, with little doubt, most emotional finishes in the event’s 79 year history.

Lotterer ultimately taking victory over Pagenaud by a margin of 13.854 seconds, covering a distance of 355 laps. The win marking a record tenth victory for Audi (from twelve starts). Allowing the Ingolstadt-based marque to oust Ferrari as the second-most successful marque ever, in terms of overall victories.

Neel Jani brings the remaining #12 Rebellion Lola-Toyota to the finish in sixth overall. - Image courtesy Lola Group.

Neel Jani brings the remaining #12 Rebellion Lola-Toyota to the finish in sixth overall. - Image courtesy Lola Group.

A fierce battle would also be contested within the LMP1 petrol contingent, involving Le Mans Series regulars, Pescarolo and Rebellion. Despite a clear focus on operational efficiency, both squads would face off against one another in an intense duel, exchanging the lead on many occasions throughout the race.

Pescarolo’s prospects suffered a cruel blow in the later stages of the race. With long-time Pescarolo stalwart, Collard falling victim to a race-ending shunt through the Porsche curves within two hours of the finish.

Rebellion Racing’s remaining #12 Lola-Toyota of Jani, Prost, and Bleekemolen would inherit the position vacated by Pescarolo’s retirement. The squad going on to secure sixth overall to place highest of the LMP1 petrol runners.

Kronos Racing’s seventh overall finish salvaged much-needed pride for an otherwise underhanded showing from British manufacturer, Aston Martin. With both factory AMR entries having bowed out of the race within hour one.

Oreca's factory LMP2 efforts would ultimately be undone as a result of late-race driver error. - Image courtesy J.Frauca Photography.

Oreca's factory LMP2 efforts would ultimately be undone as a result of late-race driver error. - Image courtesy J.Frauca Photography.

Predictions of an attrition-fraught race for LMP2 runners would turn out be unfounded, with P2 entries providing an intriguing display of mechanical reliability over the duration of the event.

Much of the first twelve hours saw the class lead exchange hands between Oreca-Nissan entries of SignaTech and the Oreca factory, along with reigning LMP2 champions, Strakka Racing’s HPD entry.

As the race developed, favoured HPD-powered entries of Strakka, Level5 and RML experienced minor hindrances. Strakka’s demise ultimately brought about due to damage sustained to the car’s undertray and engine, the result of overzealous kerb usage employed by the team’s drivers.

Both SignaTech and Oreca would also face issues throughout the event. The latter retiring due to an arguably over-ambitious drive by French Oreca driver, Hallyday in the final hours.

A quiet performer; the Greaves Motorsport Zytek-Nissan beat many higher-fancied entries to class victory. - Image courtesy J.Frauca Photography.

A quiet performer; the Greaves Motorsport Zytek-Nissan beat many higher-fancied entries to class victory. - Image courtesy J.Frauca Photography.

Nissan’s P2 engine package turned to be an unpredicted star of the category. The Zytek-tuned engine package seeing British Team, Greaves Motorsport to its maiden class victory – affording both Nissan and Dunlop their first LMP2 triumphs at Le Mans.

Although likely costing the team a victory, SignaTech’s woes proved not to be terminal. Allowing the squad of Ayari, Mailleux, and Ordoñez to take the checkered second in LMP2. Rounding out a 1-2 finish for the Japanese auto-giant.

Level5 Motorsport trio of Tucker, Bouchut and Barbosa fought against several issues to secure third in class. Salvaging pride for HPD’s already challenging 2011 campaign.

BMW Motorsport #56 leads chasing entries of Felbermayr and Luxury Racing to the start/finish straight. - Image courtesy J. Frauca Photography.

BMW Motorsport #56 leads chasing entries of Felbermayr and Luxury Racing to the start/finish straight. - Image courtesy J. Frauca Photography.

Highlighted by heated exchanges between the Pratt & Miller Corvette outfit, AF-Corse and, of course BMW Motorsport – the now premier GT category of GTE received surprisingly little television coverage over the course of the event.

After blistering performances in the lead up to the race, and during qualifying, BMW Motorsport discovered that outright pace does not seal the deal.

Recurring difficulties and race incidents plagued the Schnitzer squad’s efforts. With both the #55/56 entries encountering issues on a number of occasions.

Having lead from pole in the early stages of the race, the team’s #56 entry of Priaulx, Hand, and (D) Müller would recover to secure a podium finish for the Bavarian marque, with third position in class. The team’s #55 sister car of Farfus, (J) Müller and Werner failed to finish.

Flying Lizard's #80 approaches Tertre Rouge. - Image courtesy Olaf Foto

Flying Lizard's #80 approaches Tertre Rouge. - Image courtesy Olaf Foto

Albeit lacking in single-lap pace, Porsche’s hopes for class victory suffered similar blows. Despite the presence of several all-professional runners within the field, the highest-placed Porsche entry of reigning GT(2) champions, Felbermayr-Proton #77 would finish fourth in class.

Fielding a two car Le Mans assault for the first time, North-American team Flying Lizards also encountered their fair share of difficulties, from tyre punctures to electrical wiring faults. The squad’s #80 GTE-PRO entry of Bergmeister, Long, and Luhr finished the event taking sixth in class. Despite technical hindrances.

Porsche’s luck (or lack of) would persist in the GTE-AM category. After having lead for much of the race, the class-leading #81 Flying Lizard entry of  Neimann, Law, and Pumpelly succumbed to mechanical difficulties in the dying hours of the event.

Late race heroics from P&M #73 narrowly saved Corvette's Le Mans victory. - Image courtesy J.Frauca Photography.

Late race heroics from P&M #73 narrowly saved Corvette's Le Mans victory. - Image courtesy J.Frauca Photography.

For all the wrong, and right reasons the GT show was stolen by Corvette Racing’s Pratt & Miller-led operation. Having lead its class for most of the race, the US squad’s #74 entry of Magnussen, Gavin and Westbrook left the race in dramatic fashion during the final three hours.

Attempting to correct a corner exit leaving the Porsche curves, Magnussen collided with the #63 GTE-AM Felbermayr-Proton entry, with Felbermayr Snr then at the helm, making direct contact at a considerable speed with the drivers side door.

Magnussen would emerge unscathed. Much to the dismay of onlookers, Horst Felbermayr Snr – the oldest driver in the paddock – would slowly be removed from the battered Porsche chassis before exiting the circuit via ambulance.

Jack Leconte's privateer Larbre Competition squad secured a second victory for Corvette in the GTE-AM category. - Image courtesy J.Frauca Photography.

Jack Leconte's privateer Larbre Competition squad secured a second victory for Corvette in the GTE-AM category. - Image courtesy J.Frauca Photography.

Then second in class, AF-Corse inherited the GTE-PRO lead. To the dismay of Ferrari fans, this was short lived. Determined not to succumb to a second consecutive dramatic loss, Corvette’s chances for victory improved ten-fold courtesy of a hard-charging Milner in the remaining #73  P&M Corvette.

Milner’s recovery of the class lead soon after would be maintained, securing the US manufacturer’s maiden victory under GTE regulations at Le Mans.

Although providing the new 458 a podium finish on its La Sarthe debut, the #51 crew of Ferrari factory drivers Alesi, Fisichella, and Bruni were left to settle for second-placed finish.

Success at the hands of the Jack Leconte-lead #50 Larbre Corvette squad saw the achievement of a double victory for the US manufacturer. The squad’s French lineup of Bornhauser, Gardel, and Canal triumphant in the GTE-AM category. Affording Corvette consolation for the loss of its second factory machine.

Larbre Competition’s #70 GTE-AM Porsche entry also finished second in class. Rounding out a 1-2 finish for the outfit.

US team Robertson Racing finished third to secure a podium on debut. Also providing the FordGT its first podium at Le Mans in over 40 years.

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Wirth Confirms LMP1 For 2012; HPD Contract Renewed.

 

Highcroft Racing's Wirth Research-designed ARX01c during the 2010 Petit Le Mans.

Highcroft Racing's Wirth Research-designed ARX01c during the 2010 Petit Le Mans.

Having rounded out successful seasons on both sides of Atlantic with it’s HPD-branded ARX-01c chassis, Wirth Research has revealed the company’s future plans and details of the renewed partnership many endurance fans had been hoping for.

In a recent announcement Wirth Research founder, Nick Wirth revealed the firm’s desire to further build on it’s endurance successes, unveiling plans to update the highly popular ARX-o1 LMP2 design to the now ‘d’ spec phase (i.e. ARX-01d) of it’s development life.

The announcement arrives shortly after British squad, Strakka Racing confirmed their intentions for continued use of the chassis (coupled with HPD’s new 2.8L Twin-Turbo V6 powerplant) throughout the 2011 season within the LMP2 category.

Wirth also provided details of a renewed multi-year partnership with HPD, and immediately announced the firm’s intention to enter the LMP1 category under the HPD banner with a coupe design as of 2012. Further details regarding the package and programme are not yet known.

Additionally, Wirth Research will also provide a further iteration of the ARX01 chassis bearing the designation ARX-01e, updating the chassis to 2011 LMP1 specifications. The chassis is rumoured to be destined for the garage of an as yet unconfirmed US team.

Reigning ALMS LMP champions and long-time HPD stalwarts, Highcroft Racing have, as yet not confirmed the details of their 2011 programme.

Le Mans 2010 Post Qualifying Wrap.

#2 Peugeot of Sarrazin during qualifying session02.

#2 Peugeot of Sarrazin during qualifying session02. - Image courtesy Geoffroy Barre.

Being that time of the year again, proceedings for the 2010 running of the legendary 24 Hours of Le Mans (the 78th rendition of the event) are well underway. With qualifying now completed we see some familiar trends emerging. Namely the continued dominance of Peugeot and Ferrari camps in their respective categories.

Despite the presence of strong works supported entries in all classes, the appearance of new challengers in HPD and BMW-powered entries in both LMP2 and GT2 has caught many by surprise.

The first qualifying session of the week saw Peugeot surge to an early lead on the timesheets. With both the Oreca and factory entries securing the top four positions on provisional listings.

Most onlookers were eagerly awaiting some (or any) form of response in pace from Audi. The Ingolstadt-based squad managed to breach the margin to the leading #3 Peugeot to 3.867 by the end of the first session. With Mike Rockenfeller setting a time of 3:23.578 to place the #9 car in fifth position.

 

Audi #7 during qualifying. - Image courtesy Geoffroy Barre.

Kristensen on board the#7 Audi during qualifying. - Image courtesy Geoffroy Barre.

Peugeot’s dominance would continue during the second qualifying session. Bourdais’ early time of 3:19.711 would weather the ensuing storm of pace throughout the session, Peugeots #2 and 3 securing second and third, respectively.

Audi’s #9 squad again remained the highest placed contender for the team, with on-loan Porsche factory driver Romain Dumas managing a 3:21.981. Decreasing the margin to the leading #3 Peugeot to a mere 1.481sec to secure fifth position on the grid. Cars #7/8 will start from sixth and seventh position on Sunday afternoon.

Forever the dark horse, AMR would complete both qualifying sessions without difficulties. Stefan Mücke setting a time of 3:26.680 to secure eighth position for the #007 entry, relegating the #009 sister car of Turner/Hancock/Barazi to ninth starting position by a margin of .067sec.

Danny Watts takes the #42 Strakka HPD ARX01c to pole. - Image courtesy Geoffroy Barre.

Danny Watts takes the #42 Strakka HPD ARX01c to pole. - Image courtesy Geoffroy Barre.

Having set and maintained pace early during practice,  HPD-powered entries continued to dominate both LMP2 qualifying sessions. Strakka’s Danny Watts would seize pole for the team with a time of 3:36.168, narrowly edging out their trans-Atlantic cousins, Highcroft by a margin of .466sec. Reigning Le Mans Series LMP2 champions Quifel-ASM snared third position with Olivier Pla’s lap of 3:41.968, besting the OAK Racing outfit by a minimal margin.

Affirming what had long been suspected, the ACO has confirmed the removal of the GT1 category from future competition in both the 24 Hour, and Le Mans Series, during a press conference regarding the much hyped future regulations earlier today.

Combining  a selection of seasoned Le Mans and LMS veterans, and current GT1 World Championship entries, the GT1 category looks set to deliver a fitting send off for the class of high-powered supercar machinery.

Stamping their presence early, YoungDriver AMR would combine successful showings in sessions 1/2 to achieve class pole, marginally outpacing  the #70 Ford GT of recent Spa 1000km winners, Marc VDS Racing.

Despite dramas during practice the #60 Matech Ford GT entry of Grosjean/Mutsch/Hirschi would secure third, ahead of both #72/73 entries of past LMS runners, Luc Alphand Adventures.

 

Oliver Gavin takes the #63 Corvette C6R to an initial second position during qualifying. - Image courtesy Geoffroy Barre.

Oliver Gavin takes the #63 Corvette C6R to an initial second position during qualifying. - Image courtesy Geoffroy Barre.

With seventeen entries and more than half of which factory supported and equally capable of victory, GT2 is looking set to provide a clash of the marques to be remembered for years to come.

In what is becoming a 24H tradition the #82 Risi entry surged to the front of the class early but, in unfortunate turn of events, the team would later be relegated to the rear of the grid. The squad penalised as a result of semantics regarding the legality of aerodynamic components in use during the qualifying session.

Risi driver Jaime Melo provided a brief summary of his thoughts on the matter –  “It’s where you finish that is important.” Having benefited from the misfortunes of Risi, the #63/64 P&M entries line up in positions one and two, securing an all Corvette front row.

Felbermayr-Proton maintained their reputation as the top performing Porsche outfit. The #77 of Lieb/Lietz/Henzler moving to fourth position after Risi’s post-qualifying penalty.

 

The Jeff Koons' designed, BMW Motorsport #79 'art car' entry. - Image courtesy Geoffroy Barre.

The Jeff Koons' designed, BMW Motorsport #79 'art car' entry. - Image courtesy Geoffroy Barre.

Having recently conquered the Nürburgring 24 Hour after a five year absence, BMW Motorsport now has a new challenge. After an eleven year Le Mans sabbatical (following the closure of the V12-LMR programme) the Charly Lamm-lead squad returns to La Sarthe with an almost palpable hunger for victory.

Having received a balance of performance adjustment upon their arrival to the circuit (enforcing a decrease in air-restrictor size, and the subsequent loss of 10-15HP) the outfit must now alter their race strategy.

Despite suffering as a result of the penalty during early sessions, the team managed to greatly improve single lap pace during qualifying. The #78 entry of Müller/Farfus/Alzen taking fifth position.

Images courtesy Geoffroy Barre // leblogauto.com

LMS: Post Spa Race Wrap.

Spa start

The #1 Peugeot of Gene leads the field approaching La Source, moments before a spin. - Image courtesy Endurance-magazine.fr/Geoffroy Barre.

Round two of the 2010 Le Mans Series took place under unusual circumstances. The combined effect of wild weather conditions, regional power outages, resulting carnage, and red flag period/race stoppage occurring during the first three hours of the 1000km event made for what turned out to be an eventful afternoon in the Ardennes.

As the first in a string of many incidents, Audi’s Andre Lotterer would fall victim to greasy track conditions in, damaging the #9 R15+ during pre-race warmup. Despite sustaining damage to to the rear of the chassis, Lotterer later rejoined the race (albeit ten laps behind overall leaders).

Spinning at La Source during the opening lap, Peugeot’s #3 entry became the second victim of the day. The Oreca-entered Peugeot met a similar fate shortly after, with Panis suffering a race a ending shunt at Radion as a result of the dampened conditions. Peugeot’s charge at the head of the filed continued unhampered, cars 1/2 running in tandem, closely followed by the #7 Audi of McNish.

#8 Audi of Fassler, Lotterer, Treluyer.

Lotterer defends from Lamy after rejoining the race. - Image courtesy Endurance-magazine.fr/Geoffroy Barre.

By the close hour one, Peugeot had maintained positions 1-3.  Clever pit strategy by the Audi crew saw McNish utilise a brief caution period to take the race lead momentarily, before the race was red flagged due to a region-wide power outage. Racing resumed under green shortly after 2.5 hours. Both marques shared the lead at separate points throughout hour three, with Capello seizing the opportunity to demonstrate the Audi’s performance during rain soaked conditions.

The remaining hours of the race saw an intense chase to the flag. Pit strategy once again played a crucial role in deciding the victor. In a late race gamble, Audi would opt to return for intermediate tyres during the #7 car’s final pit stop. A move that allowed Kristensen to minimise the margin to race leader Simon Pagenaud to a mere 26 seconds before losing pace due to rapidly drying track surface.

Pagenaud pilots the #3 Peugeot during the final hour of the race. - Image courtesy Endurance-Magazine.fr/Geoffroy Barre.

The seven time LM24 champion was left with little choice but to surrender to the pace of Sarrazin during the final laps of the race, relegating the #7 Audi to third overall. Pagenaud would cross the line in first to secure a 1-2 finish for the French marque.

Having commenced the day several laps down on its competitors (due to damage sustained during qualifying) the Strakka entry would be unable to regain time lost to competitors, and would later retire as a result of insufficient spare chassis supplies. RML was left to fly the remaining HPD flag.

Facing constant competition from OAK, and Quifel entries, the British team maintained a steady pace throughout the duration of the race that would see them take second in class.

OAK 3/4 positions.

OAK Racing's #35/24 Pescarolo-Judd entries running third/fourth. - Image courtesy Endurance-magazine.fr/Geoffroy Barre.

OAK’s Pescarolo-Judd package would again be outclassed by its competitors in terms of overall speed. Despite this, the teams’ #35/24 entries would secure third and fourth position in class. 2009 LMP2 series champions, Quifel regained their status as the team to beat after taking class victory.

Mathias Beche Matech Ford GT

Matech's Mathias Beche navigating a chicane between Le Combes and Malmedy. - Image courtesy Endurance-magazine.fr/Geoffroy Barre.

GT1 saw an influx of entrants fulfilling minimum (pre-LM24) series participation requirements. Despite speed and reliability issues, the presence of the classic supercar machinery was a notable addition to an already stellar field of GT runners. Having achieved an all-Ford front row in qualifying,  MarcVDS and Matech would continue to dominate throughout the event.

Despite the (short lived) presence of seasoned Le Mans Series competitors Luc Alphand Adventures, and a pseudo-AMR factory squad (YD-AMR). MarcVDS achieved its maiden LMS class victory, with Matech finishing a close second to round out a Ford dominated weekend in the category.

#96 AF Corse entry

Bruni pilots the #96 AF-Corse F430 to victory. - Image courtesy Endurance-magazine.fr/Geoffroy Barre.

Having taken pole position during Saturday’s qualifying session, the AF-Corse entry of Melo/Bruni looked set to be the Italian marque’s best hope of taking the fight to closest rivals, Porsche and BMW. The #96 maintained the class lead for most of hour one. Before a region-wide power failure, resulting in a prolonged red flag period, saw the Felbermayr entry of Lieb/Lietz inherit first position.

Melo would later take part in a lengthy battle for second position with AF-Corse sister car of Fisichella, Alesi and Vilander in the dying stages of the race. With the Schnitzer BMW of Andy Priaulx in close pursuit.

Lieb/Lietz Felbermayr Win

Felbermayr #77 of Lieb and Lietz take their second victory of the season. - Image courtesy Endurance-magazine.fr/Geoffroy Barre.

Following the restoration of power to the circuit and its facilities, racing resumed. The #77 Felbermayr crew (having been gifted a one lap buffer on their nearest rivals) later went on to battle with both CRS and Schnitzer entries during the remaining hours. In a flawless display by Porsche factory drivers Lieb and Lietz, the reigning LMS series champions secured their second victory of the season.

While their participation at Paul Ricard yielded less than desirable results, the Schnitzer BMW Motorsport crew were able to leave Spa with a more promising outlook. Both #78/79 cars displayed vastly improved pace over the course of the event, running as high as second and third during the race. Priaulx brought the #79 chassis to the checkered in fourth position to round out a vastly improved showing for the squad.

Punching above their weight once more, Formula Le Mans class participants provided fantastic viewing for onlookers. Hope PoleVision would run as high as fourth in category (that’s LMP2) at one point of the race, taking victory over fellow FLM participants Boutsen Energy Racing, and JMB Racing, taking second and third respectively.

Images courtesy Endurance-Magazine.fr // Geoffroy Barre

LMS: Spa – Free Practice 1/2 Thoughts.

Audi vs Peugeot + Spa + Pitlane.

The Audi vs Peugeot rivalry, still very much alive. - Image courtesy Endurance-magazine.fr/Geoffroy Barre.

Practice sessions for round two of the LMS season commenced at the Spa-Francorchamps circuit today. Despite the slightly out of character weather, all teams were out and about taking advantage of the testing opportunity presented. Practice session one opened in damp conditions, with the LMP1 teams all taking to the track early.

Both teams opted for a slightly conservative approach in the opening session, the difference between start and finishing times being around 15 seconds. The Oreca Peugeot of Panis taking the fastest time of the session with a lap 2:14.068, closely followed by the two factory Peugeots and a petrol interloper in the form of the #12 Rebellion Lola. Audi opted for an even more conservative FP1 than their French rivals, deciding to keep Kristensen in the #7 for the majority of the session. The Dane would set a time of 2:18.715 before handing the reigns to Capello in the final laps of the session.

Peugeot 908 + Spa.

The #3 Peugeot of Pagenaud during free practice. - Image courtesy Endurance-magazine.fr/Geoffrey Barre.

The second practice session saw a factory Peugeot 1-2-3, with Pagenaud first to penetrate the 2:00 barrier. The Frenchman setting a lap of 1:59.826, taking the #3 to the top of the timesheet. Audi once more maintained a consistent pace throughout, using the opportunity to test differing tyre compounds. Treluyer would set the fastest lap for the Audi camp, with a 2:02.894, marginally besting the Oreca-Peugeot of Duval. Rebellion continued to maintain pace with the diesel powerhouse for most of the session. The Swiss teams’ #12/13 Lolas settling in positions 8/9 overall.

The LMP2 category saw much movement in the two sessions, the class lead changing hands on several occasions. The teams of Quifel, Bruichladdich, RML, and Strakka all shared time at the top end of the timesheets. RML’s Tommy Erdos setting the fastest time of FP2 with a lap of 2:06.858.

GT1 was a somewhat confusing affair. The field now running to FIAGT1 specifications often had difficult maintaining pace with GT2 entrants. YoungDriver AMR consistently improving pace over the two sessions, Stefan Mücke setting fastest lap of the class in the form of a 2:20.044 during the FP2 session, closely pursued Matech’s Ford GT of Beche with a 2:20.806.

Schnitzer/BMW Motorsport E92 M3

Schnitzer's BMW E92 M3 during FP2 - Image courtesy Endurance-magazine.fr/Geoffrey Barre.

Looking set to provide another epic battle, the jostling for position continued in GT2. The lead being exchanged between Hankook, Felbermayr, and JMW throughout sessions 1/2. After being instructed to ‘push the car’ JMW’s Rob Bell managed a time of 2:21.318 to take the lead in class, marginally besting the Felbermayr Porsche of Lietz, who would settle for a 2:21.561. While the names of AF-Corse, BMW-Schnitzer, and IMSA were all absent from the top end of the timesheet, GT2 continues to feel very much like the calm before a storm.

Images courtesy of Geoffroy Barre / http://endurance-magazine.fr/

LMS: Post Paul Ricard Race wrap.

LMS_Tag_Tab

 

 

 

The Le Mans Series 2011 season began in superb style this weekend at Paul Ricard HTTT for the inaugural running of the 8 hours of Le Castellet.

The first event of the season played host to a field of high calibre entrants, some seasoned veterans, others trying their hand at endurance for the first time.  All in all results were somewhat varied. LMP2 and GT2 categories played host to many intense battles and, to the surprise of many, the production of exhilarating racing at Paul Ricard ensued.

Le Castellet_first lap battle.

Joest, Oreca, and AMR entries engage in heated exchange on lap one. - Image Courtesy EnduranceMag / GeoffreyBarre.

The opening minutes of the race saw a flurry of movement in prototype and GT classes. As drama struck early in LMP1, class favourites Audi and Peugeot inflicted minor contact upon one another while navigating chicanes on lap one. This allowing the #009 Lola-AMR of Stefan Mücke to assume the race lead (if only briefly), before the the diesels continued their charge.

In the later stages of hour one, the #4 Oreca-entered Peugeot’s chances of victory suffered a diminishign blow. As Sarrazin was forced to pitlane as a result of mechanical issues with the car’s airjack mounting system – noticed by crew members during the team’s first pit stop. This failure would prove costly, costing the #4 approximately twenty minutes on repairs, ultimately leading to a seven lap loss on class rivals, Joest. Benefiting from the late race misfortunes of the team’s #6 Oreca01 sister car, the #4 would go on to secure fourth overall.

Audi's R15+ turns competitive laps for the first time, during the 8H Le Castellet - Image Courtesy EnduranceMag.fr / GeoffreyBarre.

Unhindered after trading paint with the Oreca Peugeot, the #7 Audi (with McNish then at the wheel) would go on to obtain first place from the AMR-Lola. The Scot continued to lap flawlessly in the R15+, maintaining a constant pace of 1:43-1:45s per lap before ceding driving duties to teammate, Capello.

Inheriting the car mid-way through hour two of the event, the Italian continued in much the same fashion as McNish. Demonstrating the virtues of consistent lapping and tyre/fuel conservation afforded by Audi’s modified R15+ chassis. The #7 would complete the remaining six hours of the race with minimal difficulty to secure first overall, covering a distance 1540km, and taking double championship points.

As a direct result of Oreca’s mechanical dramas, the #009 Lola-AMR inherited second place in the latter stages of the opening hour, maintaining the position for the entire race. Exempting a late race tyre-lockup, the #009 crew of Mücke, Fernandez and Primat would round out an almost faultless showing, taking a well-deserved second place overall, and first of the petrol LMP1 finishers.

Rebellion #13

Rebelllion's #13 Lola-Judd.- Image Courtesy EnduranceMag.fr / GeoffreyBarre.

After experiencing early-race suspension difficulties with the team’s #12 car, Rebellion managed to turn the tables with their remaining #13 Lola-Judd. Having been gifted further position in the opening hour of the race (a result of the Oreca Peugeot’s misfortune), the #13 crew of Smith, Boullion, and Belicchi would maintain pace with AMR’s #009 Lola-AMR squad for several hours – even looking likely to challenge the AMR squad for second overall in at certain periods of the race. Rebellion’s remaining chassis would ultimately go on to maintain third position to achieve a podium for the squad.

Strakka's #42 ARX01c LMP2 challenger - Image Courtesy EnduranceMag.fr / GeoffreyBarre.

Having set the pace during qualifying, Strakka racing surged to an early lead in the LMP2 class, reaffirming the solidity of Acura’s ARX01c package. Reigning champions Quifel-ASM slotted into second, followed by OAK.

Opting to maintain a steady pace in favour of single-lap speed, both cars would visibly struggle to maintain pace with Strakka. Despite this, the #42 would later suffer issues in pitlane, placing the Strakka squad five laps down on class leaders Quifel-ASM, who would inherit the lead, followed by OAK Racing’s pair of Pescarolos.

In what was (with little doubt) one of the drives of the race, Strakka’s trio of Watts, Kane and Leventis, mounted a dramatic comeback charge. Managing to thread their way through slower GT and prototype traffic (often maintaining a pace comparable with P1 entries), Strakka would regain a five lap margin on class leaders Quifel-ASM, taking victory in spectacular fashion.

Felbermayr 1-2.

Felbermayr's pair of #77/88 entries running in 1-2 tandem - Image Courtesy EnduranceMag.fr / GeoffreyBarre.

Having endured arguably one of the series tightest qualifying sessions in recent history (  positions 1-11 separated by 1.7sec) the GT2 battle looked promising from the outset. Jostling for position commenced early, and in a heated manner with heavy movement at both ends of the category.

Pole setter, Bruni commenced the race for AF-Corse by drawing a considerable margin over nearest rivals. Felbermayr’s #77 of Lietz moved from second to seventh from the start in mere seconds. The #96 AF-Corse entry would eventually suffer race-ending engine difficulties during the fifth hour. One of the many Ferrari casualties throughout the day.

Although slightly down the order, the #77 would continue to set the pace in GT2, snaring the lead prior to the downfall of the #96, a position the duo of Lietz/Lieb would maintain for the remainder of the event. The #88 sister car of Ragginger/Long/Ried would finish in second place, after avoiding drama to gradually work its way through the field and ensure a Felbermayr 1-2 finish.

BMW M3_8H Le Castellet

BMW M3 E92 of Jörg Müller/Dirk Werner - Image Courtesy EnduranceMag/GeoffreyBarre.

 

One of the highlights of the GT2 class was the #78 M3 E92 Schnitzer/BMW Motorsports entry. The Charley Lamm led squad opted for a fuel-efficient strategy,deciding against outright pace in the hope of offsetting their rivals pitstops during the final hours.

Drivers Werner/Müller managed to bring the car to third place in the GT2 field during the first half the race before suffering a radiator leak, forcing the team into damage control mode, and losing several laps to the class leader. Werner/Müller would go on to finish sixth in class.

Classified as part of the LMP2 category (thus appearing at the deep end), the Formula Le Mans class spent much of the race in the shadow of faster P1/P2 counterparts. A great mistake on the ACO’s part, given that the class provided exciting racing throughout the course of the day.

The Hope Pole Vision, DAMS, and AppleWood Seven teams battled furiously throughout the eight hour event, with victory eventually going to to the Gulf-liveried AppleWood seven entry.

While the inaugural running of the event didn’t quite deliver the LMP1 mega battle fans may have been hoping for, the LMP2, GT2, and FLM classes provided some great racing for viewers (although the majority of the race wasn’t ‘viewed’ persay – courtesy of our good friends at EuroSport). If Paul Ricard is but a taste of what is yet to come in 2010, LMS is due for what looks to be one of the most action packed seasons in recent years.