The second practice of LMS and ILMC races, first shared race in 2011, had to represent the test bed of Audi-Peugeot’s challenge before the 24 Hours of le Mans, but at times it has mostly looked like one of the performances that in the last twenty years had made Holer Togli, a famous world stunt man. It doesn’t mean that the 1000 kilometres of Spa has been light in the contents, on the contrary the Belgian three-day race has revealed the cards in the hands of favourite teams after a partial tactical behaviour which had dominated in Le Mans practice day, but numerous accidents which have been following one another in the three days, with consequent session breaks, have taken spectators’ attention off the priorities of the eve of the race. Moreover it has been a question of highly spectacular crashes which have also involved drivers, like Newton and Lahaye, in particular. They were both sent to the hospital in Verviers; the first has come out unharmed while the Oak Racing’s driver has been first diagnosed a major concussion, to which has been added a fracture of the first lumbar vertebra, the compression of three other vertebrae, a fractured right thumb metacarpal bone and a knee injury..The next Wednesday the driver has been moved to the Parish university hospital La Pitié-Salpêtrière, where he will undergo new checks.
On the other hand, that the 54 entered cars might create problems from the traffic point of view has been very soon evident, both for the details given by the track engineers who talked about the contact of two cars every 150 meters and for Tréluyer’s Audi spin out during first free qualifying practice on Bruxelles corner because of a collision with a Ferrari, which forced marshals to a ten-minute break. In the second session things went still worse, with a first red flag due to the Rebellion driven by Boullion who bumped against Raidillon’s tires and afterwards with the anticipated end owing to a very violent collision between the Peugeot with Lamy and Acura with Newton at the braking of Fagnes: the Portuguese driver in the attempt of passing outside the less performing P2, ended out of the track with two wheels, losing the control of his car and making himself and the unaware English driver hit the rail at very high speed. The issue was an extraordinary work for Peugeot’s technicians, while the RML team was obliged to give up the weekend course owing to car damages.
From the point of view of the track results, the free practice three sessions have highlighted the dominium of diesel engines in comparison with petrol engines also in 2011, with Peugeot Oreca to act as a watershed. In all sessions the best time has been set by the four-ring cars, while Peugeots limited to control the lead, at times interposing between the three opponents.
There was also an interesting situation in P2 where, in consequence of the diameter revision of the Arcuras intake flanges by ACO after the embarrassing performance at le Castellet, Strakka has come back for a long time on top time class, even if with a minimized lead over the cars powered Nissan and the Lola Pecom. Among GTs the Ferrari cars have lined up all the opponents in Pro category, with Porsches the only serious opponents; on the contrary after the excellent issue at Sebring BMWs have disappointed, rather far as to set time, while Lotus Evora cars, brought to debut by Jetalliance team have been setting less important times. In the Am category there is as usual Armindo, who has lined up all the rivals, first among them the Ferraris of Kessel and AF Corse. Finally Le Mans Formula where Hope Racing has been continuously ruling out only threatened by Genoa Racing.
On Friday at 15.30 the pit-lane is going to open twenty minutes for the GT qualifying tests, with all the cars on the track since first minutes: only with the exception of the Ferrari driven by Bell, who will only appear in the last ten minutes, in the attempt to run at once on a rubberised track. In the first stages there was a surprising Armindo who has been placed for some minutes on top time classification, till when the leading drivers of Pro category started getting serious: the French driver will still improve by gaining the second Pole Position of the year after the one taken at le Castellet, preceding Cioci in F430 of AF Corse and Quaife in F430 of CRS Racing. Among Pros the fight to take Pole has been the prerogative of Melo and Fisichella at the wheel of F458 cars Italia, but when the Italian has realised that the team mate was unreachable (his time was 2:20:743), Bell forced him to swallow a bitter pill by even ousting him from the second position. Among the non-Ferraris the best driver was as usual Lieb, fourth at few tenths of seconds from the rivals while Farfus with the first BMW gained the fifth place.
Ten minutes of break and here are coming the prototypes on the track for the 20 minutes most expected for qualification: at once on the track there was the appearance of three Audi cars contrary to Peugeots which, as usual, are waiting for the second half of practice. Pole is passing from Lotterer to Kristensen and finally to Bernhard who has assured his overall Pole at 2:01:502. Now the public’s full attention is to Peugeots, just appeared on the track in the attempt to oust the four-ring cars from the first three positions: French drivers have only run the first timed lap when it happens an unpredictable event: Lahaye coming out from Bruxelle corner came into collision with the FLM of Genoa Racing placing his car sideway and ending by bumping against the rail which obviously had no additional protection on that section: the impact is so violent as to tear open part of the protection! It has been immediately realised how critical the situation was, with the driver’s head lying on the steering wheel and the front part of the car in very bad conditions but with the safety cell luckily undamaged. The session has been interrupted to give first aid to the driver, but it has been rapidly decided on a definitive close of the session as it was necessary the replacement of protections in the point of the impact. After a few instants the driver has recovered consciousness even if in state of confusion lamenting with the doctors rushed to his help a backache, which will prolong much more his taking out of the cockpit.
The event has actually favoured the Audis, with Bernhard, Lotterer and Kristensen with the first three positions, followed by Peugeot of Oreca with a gap of four seconds and Rebellion with Prost, at over five seconds. On the contrary Peugeots had a real Waterloo, with Gene thirteenth, Pagenaud eighteenth and with the third car even without setting any time, like the second Rebellion.
Among the P2s the best time has been set by Watts with Acura at 2:10:016, followed by four cars powered Nissan, first of all it was the Oreca driven by Beche, who has been first for a long time.
On Saturday at lunch time all was ready for the most important six-hour race in the year: comforting news arrived from the hospital in Verviers and the beautiful and sunny day have newly brought a smile to the faces of the protagonists. Warm-up in the morning has seen Peugeot in great shape, leaving open the possibility of a comeback which was not impossible seen the last of the race.
Obviously it was missing the Pescarlo of the OAK protagonist of the accident occurred in qualifying practice, too damaged to start again. Unlike le Castellet the reconnaissance laps ended smoothly and on the green light participants have started neatly, avoiding useless contacts: Bernhard has been surprised by Lotterer braking on the Source bend and by McNish in the straight leading to Raidillon, while behind him the Zytek driven by Pla had the hedge over the opponents with petrol engine cars and over Peugeot Oreca: the Portuguese team’s happiness will last few laps owing to an engine problem which first will restrict the power supplied and eventually, after a four-hour race, force the team to surrender.
The Audi trio in the lead is bound to take very little, with McNich’s error on Les Combes entry which sent him to spin out: luckily the Scottish driver managed to drive the car out of the trajectory but he will be obliged to let all prototypes go ahead, thus taking part in a furious comeback from the backline. With regard to comeback , that Peugeot cars don’t joke you see it from competitive spirit by which they recover the positions: on the second lap Wurz was third at 10 seconds and Boudais was fourth at 12 seconds, while Montagny was seventeenth, obviously with a major gap. Only eight laps will need to see the first six positions occupied by Audi and Peugeot cars and this demonstrates the abyss between the diesel and petrol engines. After some laps Peugeots have started to be the faster than the German cars and on lap 11, with FLM’s help, Wurz has overtaken Bernhard and dashed in pursuit of Lotterer, who was five seconds’ lead over him, Behind them McNish went on making his comeback, gaining the fourth position against Bourdais. This first stage looked like Formula One grand prix rather than Endurance: on lap 17 the distance between the first and the fifth was even less than six seconds and spectators couldn’t say to be bored. On lap 20 when they have smelt the pit-stop, Wurz took advantage of Lotterer’s problem of overtaking to take him away the first position: immediately afterwards the first six drivers returned to pits for a first stop without causing any classification change, with the exception of the position reversal between Lotterer and Bernhard. After the win of Sebring, Spa didn’t seem to smile at Peugeot Oreca that up to that moment had run a lonely race: a problem of petrol pump will oblige Signes' team to a long pit-stop compromising the final result. The first car in the lead having some problems was the Audi driven by Bernhard who made a collision with the FLM of Genoa team, spoiling the engine bonnet, which made the engine run at a speeder rate on the next laps with the lost of some positions and the pit-stop to replace it. On lap 40 Audi cars had a new problem when Capello, who has just succeeded McNish, unintentionally acted the speed limiter at the bus stop, allowing Lamy to gain the third position and Sarrazin to queue up and pass at the bus stop after two laps. Among the Germans a problem with Treluyer’s car has definitively spoilt the day: twice the French driver is forced into the pits to remove the rubber from the front tires, which made him lose two laps allowing Peugeot cars to gain the first three positions. The race of the first drivers could be said finished if there wasn’t a problem occurred with suspensions which will cause him the lost of many positions: but otherwise everything will remain unchanged till the end. Once again Pescarolo was the sixth on the finish and the first of the petrol cars: the car has taken advantage of Rebellion cars supplementary pit-stops for body repair.
Also in the race a bad accident couldn’t miss and here Lola Coupé with Bouchet suffered a suspension failure on Raidillon with a consequent bump against barriers and here the safety car on the track: the car looked pretty bad while the driver has luckily gone out of the prototype with any special difficulty. Always in P2 the win has smiled at Oreca of TDS Racing team before the twin car of Boutsen Energy and smiled at the Arcura Strakka getting damaged on the entry of safety cars when it was on the lead.
There was the first Fisichella’s win in the category, thanks to a strategy which has envisaged making one stop less than his rivals so as to oblige him to stop at a few hundred meters after the finish: the Roman driver has been followed by the F458 of Hankook and the BMW of Priaux-Alzen.
In GTAm there was a great performance by dominating Armindo while in FLM the win has been gained by the JMB Racing.
Next appointment is at the 24 hours of Le Mans that will take place on 8-12 June 2011, obviously always in the company of our website Connectingrod!