After the long lethargy which followed the last brilliant race of the past championship at Estoril, Le Mans Series has officially returned on the track for the 2012 official tests session that has taken place as usual at Paul Ricard’s circuit, the same which will give hospitality in less than one month to the first six hours the year. The occasion has been a tempting opportunity to better understand how this championship is evolving, overshadowed in recent months by the newborn World Endurance Championship, an orphan of P1 and scaled down in terms of interest with respect to the previous years. An analysis which hasn’t been avoided by Patrick Peter in company of Vincent Beaumesnil, the sports director of ACO, during the press conference organized on Friday between the practice sessions of the day in the press room. The French organizer wanted to make it clear how famous European Le Mans Series had no intention of competing with the world championship, but rather to be regarded as preparatory to it, both for drivers and the new teams who need an apprenticeship before taking part in such a complex championship as the WEC. It’s just in that direction are the choices to use the same technical regulations, to employ a common race director, identified in the person of Eduardo Freitas, and make interact the colleges of marshals, by passing a few people from one another championship during the season. So far this message seems to be mainly understood by P2, but what troubles is the low number of entries both in GTPro and GTAm, even if there is a hope on a good number of entries on “appearance coins” from race to race. However, as mentioned by Peter himself, first two cars classified in each category will receive an invitation to the 2013 24 Hours of Le Mans, which should be a temptation to many teams, if we add to it the new agreement with the broadcasting station of Motors TV for the integral broadcast of the events and about ten of other international broadcasters for Highlights airing, therefore there is no reason for being absent from the championship.
Meantime, during this weekend the rumours going around Paddock brought little comfort: the reduced number of participants shown about a fortnight ago might be further reduced if Down Force 1 and Prospeed Competitions teams should decide on the revision of their season programs, especially by taking into consideration that the latter will line up its cars in Blancpain Endurance Series. On the contrary, it seems to confirm the involvement of JMB Racing among GTPro with a Ferrari 458 Italia, in spite of its last minute absence from these tests, as well as the entry of a fair number of Le Mans Formula cars, even if by now there is only a confirmation of Boutsen Ginion Racing and a newborn Curtis Racing Technologies, both involved in these two days’ testing. Even nebulous seems the situation of Bailey with Team Sbarta Sport that after publicity in January with the tests in South Africa has no longer revealed any possible taking part in this championship or, as an alternative, in WEC.
It was more surprising for most of us to see fourteen cars taken to the track, standard format, of Le Castellet. Only 12 out of them entered in ELMS, if we consider that Porsche 997 spec. 2012 of team IMSA Performance and McLaren MP4-12C Gt3 of Gulf Racing will not take part in the championship for different reasons.
What mainly missing were the P2 cars, either for the delay preparing the youngest teams, or the approach of the 12 Hours of Sebring, which prevented some probable leaders of the race from appearing on the French track. It was rather opportunity to attend the debut of a good number of drivers coming from other championships, like Sebastien Buemi, former Formula One, and Brendon Hartley, the 2007 champion of Eurocup Formule Renault, who alternated driving the Oreca of Boutsen Ginion Racing, or Alex Brundle, directly coming from FIA Formula Two Championship. The young English driver from a not too flattering palmarès was joined on Saturday morning by his father, with whom this year he will defend the colours of Greaves Motorsport at Le Mans at the side of Ordonez, who has made a 25-laps long run in the afternoon, recording a few tenths’ of delay with respect to Zytek’s best time. With the champion team in charge has also run Kimber-Smith, who left on Friday evening to join his team mates in Sebring.
Among P2 cars it favourably made impression Morgan-Judd, largely first in both days thanks to the time set by Moreau and Kraihamer, the “barchetta”, still devoid of the official livery, has raced under the affected gaze of Charles Morgan, the owner of the make with the same name, highlighting the competitive margin of time unimaginable on the eve of these tests. Time of 1.46:138 set by the Austrian on Saturday morning perfectly reflects the time recorded in 2010 by Acura, and by the one Rebellion P1 of last year.
The second best time has been gained by Beche, first of Oreca’s standard bearers, who got one second of gap thanks to a good lap raced on Friday morning then, copied on Saturday afternoon. It leaves us doubtful whether the car managed by TDS Racing was left bogged down in the attempt to improve its setup. The above-mentioned Zytek of Graves was third at 1 sec and a half from the lead thanks to Ordonez, in spite of a differential problem solved by the spare parts arrived directly from England on Friday night, followed by other three Oreca cars of Boutsen Ginion belonging to Murphy Prototypes (ex RLR) and Race Performance. French cars have also collected some annoying mishaps such as a loss in brake circuit for the Belgian team, which has forced Clarke to park his car at stands and a failure of the engine for Race Performance that was obliged to skip the session on Saturday afternoon.
It’s curious to remark how both teams of Formula Le Mans have used their available time in diametrically opposite way! Curtis Racing Technologies has planned out his entire job to a setup optimization, by getting time of absolute interest, whilst Boutsen Ginion Racing has restricted itself to make his four drivers run the bigger number of possible laps.
It was a bittersweet debut for McLaren among Gt, always in front of the other small sedans, but forced to abandon the tests ahead of time because the engine caught fire on Friday evening, at the entrance of Mistral, with also extensive damages to the body.
At the end, ahead of all cars is arrived Armindo at the wheel of the Porsche GTAm, before both Ferraris of JMW Motorsport and AF Corse, and the Aston Martin Vantage of Gulf Racing, all were enclosed in a second.
At Ferrari’s home there was the debut of Jonny Cocker, the fast British driver, former Dryson Racing, the author of the best run for JMW, who unless last-minute reversals should be matched with James Walzer all over the season. Less brilliant were the tests for the team of Amato Ferrari, slowed first by breaking the radiator caused by a stone, then by choosing setups not always effective. It was emblematic Cioci’s wrath during lunch who bluntly asked the engineers to spend a few minutes to evaluate what had been the wrong choices so far.
ELMS stops for three weeks before going back to the circuit of Paul Ricard for the first round of a championship that could get new life in the course of the season with new entries.
The appointment is on 30-31 March and 1st of April for the six hours of Le Castellet, as usual with our website Connectingrod!