After the official test which took place at the beginning of March, Le Mans Series has newly returned to Paul Ricard Circuit for the first yearly race, this time under a sun which is more typical in the summer time than in a just started spring. After leaving out the concept of the 1000 km race, from this year races have been called six-hour races, with a special formula which envisages six hours plus one lap, all that in order to guarantee teams and spectators some real endurance competitions: it shouldn't be forgotten that, thanks to the improvement of performances, in the last few years the races often run out in five hours. The first race had to be a bit dull (undertone) in comparison with the next ones, during which the ILMC were added, but it was quite unexpected to see the scene of new Aston Martin AMR-One debut, first scheduled for the 12 Hours of Sebring: the insiders had a good opportunity to look closely at the new Barchetta from Prodrive, featured by a new frontal, in contrast with the other manufacturers who passed to coupés in the last few years.
Moreover, it should be pointed out that on the eve of the race out of 36 entered cars only 34 cars appeared on track, due to teams Guess Racing Europe in P1 and Gruppen Eternit Racing in GTPro which dropped out at the last moment. While for the two teams should be an absence limited to this race, it is improbable that Mik Corse will take part in the next season given that the team had announced the entry in February with a prototype Zytek Hybrid (even if by that time the entered team was Rangoni Motorsport). For a reality that is vanishing here it is another which is going to materialize, that's the case of Hope Racing, a Swiss team which has been racing two years in Formula Le Mans, and that, in the central hall of the circuit, on Saturday evening has exhibited the car that will take part in next ILMC races and the 24 Hours of Le Mans among the P1s: it's only made of a chassis Oreca, the same as the one that gained the fourth place overall in classic Sarthe, powered with two litre turbocharged engine developed by Swiss Lehman, a set up man, based on a Volkswagen unit matched with the hybrid system (KERS) developed by Flybrid System Co., able to deliver about 300KW: for the record it's the system designed by Honda Formula 1 in 2009.
During 3-qualifying practice sessions the main teams didn't spare themselves, turning for a long time and alternating on top of the time list with leads always limited over the others. Thanks to a rubber race track it was possible to improve recording of time steadily, with the Rebellion driven by Jani-Prost the only one which went down 1:47 on Saturday morning: the time of 1.46:810 was set by the leaders who have preceded Zytek of Quifel team and Pescarolo by 7 tenths while the twin car was more than one second behind. On the contrary, Aston Martin didn't run in the first day owing to engine problem and in the third session was left at 7 seconds behind the leaders: owing to the continuous running of the car to and from the pit it was clear how little interest in the lap time had the team which, on the contrary, was kept busy making experience with the new prototype. On the contrary, among P2s there was the confirmed dominium of Oreca-Nissan cars, able to be on top of classification and in a position to worry the eldest sisters. There was also the excellent time set by the other prototype powered Nissan, i.e. the Zytek of Greaves team, for the first time driven by Tom Kimber-Smith, former winner of the 24 Hours of 2006 Le Mans in GT2. The last places of category have been occupied by the leaders of last year, the Acuras with Strakka team without getting better results than the ones already highlighted by the RML. In GTPro, where had appeared a good four new cars F458 Italia, Porsches were leading the group with usual Lieb and Lietz, when in the third session the best time has been unexpectedly set by Aston Martin of Young Drivers, while the Ferrari driven by Bruni got involved in a car crash which caused heavy damage of the rear axle. Stuttgart make has also dominated in GTAm, with duo Armindo-Narac, faster and faster, followed by the Ferrari of AF Corse. At the end of FLM it's remarkable the good performance of Genoa Team, directly coming from the US, that ran within time limits with Neil Garner Motorsport and Hope Racing.
On Saturday at 14.00 the first qualifying practice opened the first yearly session, with GTs first engaged. A pleasant surprise to the Italian colours was given by Bruni's appearance on track, whose engineers have performed real miracles to replace the rear axle of the car which had the accident in the morning: almost as if he wanted to thanks them Gianmaria showed off all his sprinter quality by setting the best time for three times and taking Pole Position. To oppose the Italian there was only Enge, at the wheel of Aston Martin Vantage which in Young Drivers' hands seemed really to be born again. The Czech stopped time at 2 tenth from Bruni, afore Bell, Vilander and Simonsen, all at the wheel of the new Ferrari 458 Italia. On the contrary Porsches appeared to be in difficulty, they were only able to precede Aston Martin of Jota team. Among GTAms it was Armindo who has surprised once more: the 2010 champion of the Porsche German Carrera Cup has literally defeated the competitors with one second's lead over the others and he has even afforded the pleasure to overtake two of the three Porsches entered as GTPro. Behind the French driver there was the other Porsche of Felbermayr team driven by Horst Jr. and the Ferrari AF with Cioci: not bad the debut of Kessel team with the winner of the 12 Hours of 2001 Sebring, Philip Peter, has gained a positive fourth place.
Among prototypes the qualifying tests were decidedly hard fought, with the leaders who have been alternating in the first places of classification for all twenty minutes' practice. As usual the first ones to appear on track were the drivers of FLM and P2, with Nissan engine to dominate. Once more Beche revealed unreachable, repeatedly going down the time set by the rivals, while behind him there was a fight for the second place between Kraihamer in the Oreca of Boutsen team and Kimber-Smith in Zytek. With the exception of the Oreca-Judd of Race Performance team, confirmed for the fourth time, all the others have literally bitten the dust; in particular the performance of Acura cars left speechless, with Strakka arriving the last and the RML, even without any time recorded because of overheating problem.
The last ten minutes have seen the prototypes P1, with Boullion who set a temporary best time but that further on he didn't manage to repeat, also due to the only four laps run. To play pole there were only left Collard and Jani, who have practically lowered the best time till the last lap: in the end it was the Swiss driver who got the better of his rivals and with a perfect last lap he made the best performance in the week-end by setting 1:46:783. Mucke in his new Aston Martin limited to run as long as possible, by running a good eight laps with a time far from the rivals' one. The last surprise arrived at the end of the post qualifying tests with the cancellation of times set by Pescarolo because of a problem found out in the thickness of the wooden board fastened on the car bottom, it turned out to be thinner than the one provided by the ACO regulations.
The starting line-up which was forming around 11.30 on Sunday gave a sight of an incredible symmetry: to open and close the line-up there were two P1s, in consideration of the Pole gained by Jani and the relegation of Pescarolo. In spite of the morning warm-up has confirmed the car of the greens at the second place just behind the pole man, Henry has serious doubts about a possible win. To start from the bottom means to accumulate a delay of about fifty seconds, later on scarcely made up by cars such as Rebellion, but we know how it is, sometimes races give unimaginable surprises.
The first ones have already arrived in the formation round with a couple of cars ending up in a spin, which convinced the race director to let the Safety car run a second round and inform all drivers: when the group appeared on the start straight the lights switched unexplainably on the green with the drivers who, being unable to see the Safety car gave the hint of a start with the result of running into the preceding cars. To pay for it there were the Porsches of Lieb-Lietz, Holzer-Goossens and Henzler-Pilet, forced to an early retirement. While the Porsche of Armindo and the Aston Martin of Jota team were suffering heavy damages that will oblige them to a long stop at pits. Given the quantity of debris on track the safety car remained on track for other two rounds, leading the cars to the pit lane.
Even the second start was characterized by an unusual event: a door of Boullion's car opened unexpectedly while the French driver was starting the Chicane, his car spun right round. The car door will be repaired at pits but meanwhile the Rebellion n. 13 will have two laps' gap at the third round of the race. Other four laps and also the Zytek Quifel was forced to pit with the rear axle damaged by a tyre failure on full Mistral, may be caused by a collision on the start: the Safety car reappeared on track but the technicians will need a good 11 rounds to allow Pla to start again the race. Was everything over? Not at all and it has just struck first half an hour when the Rebellion of Jani slowed down and ran back to pits to replace the gear air compressor. At this point Henry saw to materialize what only thirty minutes before seemed a dream. Tinseau needed only two laps to overtake Beche; in fact he gained the first position and took the lead of the race till the end of the six hours, notwithstanding an attempt to recover from the Rebellion driven by Bouillon, arrived second one lap behind.
Meantime, among P2s the fight was between two Oreca-Nissan cars but in spite of the excellent performance the cars suffered from youth problems. Beche was obliged to go to pits for problem of the steering rack and later on his mate Thiriet was forced to park his car along the track making the Safety car entry, while the car of Team Boutsen will be obliged to a long stop at pits. Now the win of class and the third overall place were served on a platter to Zytek Greaves, even if for some laps the team will have to do with the Acura of Strakka team, that showed a lack of chivalry with respect to the competition: finally it will finish third, overtaken by the Lola of Pecom team.
The race in GTPro was more exciting with numerous unexpected events which have changed the classification many times. At the end of the first hour, with the Safety car ally, the first four Ferraris were closed in only two seconds but Vilander was soon obliged to have a pit stop because of a rear axle problem caused by a collision at the start, while Ferrari Hankook, after taking the lead, will have a stop and go penalty of one minute owing to the intervention of too many technicians during a pit stop. At this point the fight for the win was limited to Fisichella and Bell, with the latter who was taking the rival's measures for some laps before launching the final attack on Verrerie. Fisichella went again back to pits giving the car to a faster Bruni who, however, will be unable do something in the last half an hour of race.
In GTAm a the race without a history with the Porsche of Felbermayr team steadily in the lead for the whole race , followed by the Ferrari cars of Cioci-Perazzini-Lemeret and by the Ferrari with Kessel, separated on the finishing line by only 61 thousandths of a second.
In FLM victory for Pegasus Racing ahead of Genoa Team.
The second appointment with Le Mans Series 2011 at Spa from 5-7 May 2011, obviously in Connectingrod's company!