The last few days of winter were framed by the debut of the Le Mans Series 2011, with the usual two-day official tests, organized on the circuit of Paul Ricard and returned to be reserved for press. Like last year, the appointment has been changed for the worse by a weather that obliged all teams to race in as difficult conditions as different ones from those they will probably meet in three weeks at the same circuit for the first practice of championship. On this occasion Media interest is concentrated on Henri Pescarolo’s return with his team after past year sad events, which had risked putting an end to one of the finest reality of endurance in the last few years. The entered car is the one prepared for the 2010 championship and never appeared on the track, powered by a five-litre Judd engine (preferred to the 5500 cc because of its excessive vibrations) and driven by all three French drivers Collard-Tinseau-Jousse, who have made two-day performances in line with the ones of the other present three P1s, the Zytek of Quifel team and the two Rebellions.
The new ACO technical rules, together with derogations which still permit the entry for this year of the cars with 2010 specifications, have made this meeting particularly interesting for observing the competition level of the cars belonging to new generation with respect to the ones which keep the old specifications, as well as the delay on lap in comparison with the times of last year. To tell the truth, among prototypes the only completely new car entered in these tests has been the Lola B11/40 of private Pecom Racing team (availing of the technical support of AF Corse) powered by a four litre V8 BMW derived from the M3 engine and developed by Judd: featured by the showy fin on the engine bonnet, it has set the second time in P2 behind the Oreca 03 powered by a Zytek VK45 developed by NISMO of TDS Racing team, at the wheel of which, among other alternating drivers, there was Pierre Thiriet, the son of Claude the founder of Thiriet famous brand of frozen-food, who stood out in the European Megane Trophy of last year.
It was more significant, in these terms, the comparison among the performance of the Rebellions with the passage from Judd engine to Toyota 3.4-litre RV8KLM, developed from the one presently used in Formula Nippon and declared for 500 hp: revised for the compression ratio so as to comply with the endurance races and air restrictors provided by ACO, the new unity has permitted the crew made by Jani and Prost to set time 1:46:573, i.e. at 02:5 from the time set last year by the same crew. However, in these tests, the variant appeared on track is however waiting for a series of frame structure and aerodynamic changes, whose arrival is envisaged for Le Mans April tests, which should permit to take a further step forward also for ILMC races. Always to make a comparison, the Zytek of Quifel team, which has passed to P1 this year by keeping the car used last year in P2, has practically set same time.
Going back to P2 cars, there was the debut of the Acura 01d, derived from the last year car with some aerodynamic modifications and on which it has been mounted a new V6 2.8 litre twin turbo, turned out to be not very performing, at least, in the first practice, owing to the restrictions made by the new rules. However, the drivers have been amazed at the handling of the vehicle and probably they have preferred not to reveal the real capacity completely, but rather trying to make more experience. On the contrary, the other Oreca 03 turned out a very fast car, entered by the Race Performance and with a Judd-BMW engine, has concluded its two-day race by setting the class third time, in spite of a problem which forced to a not foreseen stop along the track on Saturday morning. A positive note was then made by the NORMA return after the unlucky period of the last year 24 Hours, entered by the new entry Extreme Limite Am Paris. It was just at the wheel of the French car that there was the debut in LMS of Jean Marc Luco, a CER expert, who declared his enthusiasm for the features of these prototypes, also pleased with the incredible comfort of the driving position with respect to the historic cars. To conclude with the prototypes, we have to point out the participation of the MG Lola EX265 of RLR team, developed on the basis of Lola B05/40: already entered in the last two races of Le Mans Series of last year. Despite its age the prototype behaved quite well, by setting times not too far from the first ones.
The rule revolution has also largely concerned the GT cars, with definitive cancellation of the GT1 and creation of the GTPro and GTAm: the former will be reserved to professionals while the latter will see the start of mixed crews at the wheel of cars with a year of life at least. Among Pros there was the debut of Ferrari F458 Italia, delivered to the AF Corse engineers only on Thursday and given to match Fisichella-Bruni. To go on with the season, in addition to the model car seen at Ricard there should be other three units; a second one for AF Corse, one for Hankook Farnbacher team, and one for JMW. The very aggressive streamline of the new born model from Ferrari factory has made a good impression on Fisichella who was optimist for the times set by a car which is still very "immature". Obviously, Porsche Factory, having to defend the title gained last year, has not been waiting and see, modifying the 997 significantly, above all as far as the frame is concerning. As it already happened in the years before duo Lieb-Lietz raced relatively few laps so as to permit the technicians to prepare different set-ups and to be overtaken in time setting by the twin car of Prospeed Competition team driven by Groossens and Holzer and by the Ferrari 430 of Hankook team, always the leader in the time list. On the track there was also the Aston MartinVantage of team Jota and Young Drivers; while the former has started its run in the LMS, the latter has participated only with the purpose to test the new car envisaged for the World Championship GT1, by setting times very encouraging even if with an out of track which has broken the oil radiator, causing an early interruption of the tests day.
The first appointment of the season has once again given hospitality to the opening of the press conference, which has taken place in the Grand Prix Hall, where were invited Henri Pescarolo, Bart Hayden (the new Rebellion Team Manager after his father’s death) and a large number of drivers. Patrick Peter has underlined how the state of health of endurance is improving from year to year, with great car makes which have re-entered through the back door to taste the waters and accumulate experience. Obviously, the birth of the ILMC removes some LMS lymph, but according to Paris organization in the future there will be space for both, even if with different calendars: without compromises he has given us to understand that the idea of mixing two championships shouldn’t have been the right choice! Spaces have also been devoted to a few comments on the circuits in the calendar and, in particular, to the return of one test in Italy and the passage of the Portuguese test from Algarve to Estoril. Imola it was said to represent the attempt to return to a country rich in the motor car history, meantime it means to bring a large number of spectators in the stands (how to forget the sad empty grandstands of Monza!) while the circuit of Estoril is going to replace the one of Algarve as this latter has turned out to be too isolated and hardly accessible by the public.
As for the fans the interest is shifting now on the six-hours of the Castellet that, in addition to the participants to the LMS championship, will give hospitality to the debut of new barchetta Aston Martin AMR-one, after the bitter decision to renounce to the 12 hours of Sebring owing to the evident delay in the preparation: and who knows that some other great surprise may arrive at the last moment!