The last European round of the Intercontinental Le Mans Cup, raced at Silverstone, the background that only a year ago gave hospitality to the debut of this category already close to retirement, has once more lived on the duel between Peugeot and Audi, entered in very good form after the long summer break. As expected, the fight for the victory had no other protagonists, but the race was characterized by a great balance among the petrol-engine cars in P1, leaders of a duel lasted from the first up to the last bends of the race, which made the event look like more a Grand Prix than an endurance race.
After a good number of postponements, the Six Hours of Silverstone has been the scenery of Zytek entrance, the hybrid prototype of the MIK Corse Italian team: it wasn’t obviously something new given that this year at the 24 Hours of Le Mans we have seen the debut of the Oreca hybrid prototype of the Hope team and that Zytek itself had exhibited a rough shape of it in the United States during last season. Anyhow its performance shown in the second round of the free tests has surprised nearly all. Unfortunately for the Italian team, in the first minutes of Saturday morning session, Cortes made a mistake level with the Club bend, and crashed against protections by damaging the chassis irremediably, a damage made worse by the fire caught on the “barchetta” immediately after the collision: thus the team had to pack up and return to Italy dropping out the Portuguese practice of Estoril, as Zytek was unable to supply a new chassis in such a short time. We have also to point out the presence of Aston Martin, returned to the old coupe after the AMR-One’s disasters.
Other novelty was the tyre brought to England by Michelin, which proved good performances and a gain of ½ second on round. Unluckily, because of its size, the tyre turned out to be only used by Peugeot, Audi and Rebellion, causing dissatisfaction by the other teams and in particular by Pescarolo, that saw some problems with the title conquest by the LMS.
The summer break has brought something new in the present crews: the Quifel team, retired after some engine problems at the beginning of the season, has allowed P1a to make an agreement with Oak team so as to race in England or perhaps to end the season at the Intercontinental Le Mans Cup alongside Nicolet and Prémat. At the same time, Yvon has substituted Barlesi in the French team P2, owing to sponsor problems with the young driver. There was also at Peugeot’s, a last minute replacement with Pagenaud who had to substitute an injured Davidson.
Absences were not failed, with Oreca that stayed at home to be better prepared for the Road Atlanta mission and Level 5 that preferred to concentrate on the new Acura, envisaged to replace the Lola chassis, in view of the home appointment by the end of this month. There was a last minute default for the Extreme Limite, whose future seems more and more uncertain, seen the problems inside its team and the poor results offered by Norma.
During the three sessions of free practice, the rate was imposed by Peugeot, remarkably faster than Audi cars, while among the P1 petrol cars, the difference between Pescarolo and Rebellion cars was to such an extent to propose a different leader foe each session. Also among the P2s differences have been very limited, but once again the Nissan engine cars seemed more favoured, only threatened by the Acura of Strakka team, that during the English weekend declared next year passage to the queen category with the ARX-03a.
On the contrary there was a particular situation in GTPro, where at first Ferrari cars dominated, then during the sessions, yielded to BMWs: still in difficulty with Porsches, whose 25 kg weight reduction allowed by ACO, didn’t seem to be successful. On the other hand, once again, in GTAm the Stuttgart cars have set best time, outlining a possible disagreement between Armindo and Long.
On Saturday afternoon, when qualifying sessions were about to start, clouds covering the sky of Northamptonshire didn’t bode well. First cars to enter the track were the usual GTs for the 20 minutes of the qualifying sessions, with all the protagonists involved from the first minutes in the search for a good time. The circuit has good points for overtaking, but the new mixed stretch suggested an advanced position on the grid. As usual Armindo was the first to set an interesting time, but after some minutes Long bettered it to a tenth, gaining the first position. The fight for class pole was reserved for the duo Porsche, with Armindo who, just a minute from the end, set the final best time of 2:04:028, while Muller alone, at the wheel of the Ferrari CRS, managed to qualify himself with same time. All other drivers suffered gaps close to 1 second, whilst Gardel in a Corvette, without setting any time, ended up off track during the first lap. Pro’s qualifying sessions were fought far more, with the five drivers alternated in the first position, improving by the minute thanks to the track remained dry. During the first minutes the duel raged between the Ferrari and Porsche cars, with Henzler, Makowiecki, Lieb and Vilander that overtook one other improving a few hundredths of a second, but when five minutes were missing to the end, Farfus and Priaulx in BMWs appeared on the track, the others could only stand by and watch: 2:01:738 and 2:02:096 made the two drivers gain the first row in GTPro, with about one second’s lead over the rivals.
In the interval between the sessions, a shower of rain affected the area from Brookland to Copse, but when prototypes started their qualifying session, thanks to strong winds accompanying the storm, the truck was dry again. The capricious weather brought out the top teams from the first moments, with a Pole overall decided in the first half of the available time. Once again Pagenaud proved to be a very fast driver at 1:43:924 that nobody will be able to reach, first of all his team mate Sarrazin, who will also see the second place taken away by McNish. There was some difficulty with Bernhard, who ended up with a significant gap, preceding Prost, first among the petrol cars before the Pescarolo OAKs driven by Moreau and Premat. Among P2s there was again a great performance realized by Watts, who thanks to a perfect lap drove his Acura ahead of his rivals, showing how the Japanese barchetta was improved over the past few months. Kimber-Smith’s gap, the second of the class, and above all in comparison with the others, was embarrassing. To report the lack of a good time for Lola RLR, with Hughes, who raced a good five laps, but was also forced to go constantly to pits.
Among Le Mans Formulae, Pole was taken by Keen, of Nell Garner team, in spite of a spectacular spin on Vale.
The weather in England is really strange, and if only on Saturday the rain had threatened the smooth running of the session, on Sunday morning a wonderful blue sky accompanied the drivers on the starting line-up. Warm up has run without any special problem, with the exception of the technical problems which affected Le Mans Formula of the Pegasus tema and the Lola RLR: in particular the latter had an engine failure that obliged the engineers to a hard work in order to let Hughes start from the Pit Lane in a good time.
The first emotion arrived at the lunch lap with McNish ended up by a spin on the first lap. The Scottish driver managed to recover immediately but the group was too scattered and the race managers were obliged to leave the safety car on the track for a further lap. The start was rather exciting with the first four drivers that held position, while Jani, in the attempt to hold out to Moreau’s attack ended long bringing down also the rival, which made both drivers lose some positions. As expected, Peugeot and Audi ran away, but unlike we saw in testing, the prototypes of “lion” had to be subjected to the pressure of the other “four rings” ones. Montagny, pressed by Bernhard, twice put the wheels of his car off from the asphalt and after only 25 minutes of the race, ended up by the wall on Copse corner, due to the collision in overtaking with the FLM of JMB team. The French driver managed to drive his car back to the pit helped by the marshals, but he lost eight laps irreparably compromising the final result: he finished seventh. Things for Audi seemed to get even better when McNish managed to pass Bourdais taking the lead, but on lap 20 a contact with the Ferrari JWM, level with the new hairpin bend, forced him to go back to pits to replace front left suspension. Now diesel teams found themselves contending for the win only with one car each. Meantime, the Oreca TDS of Firth ended against the pits wall just on the Club exit, irreparably damaging the prototype and calling for the official entry of the Safety car. The first two drivers were always very close each other but a Bernhard’s spin seemed to give way to the Peugeot: it’s not like that because after a few laps there was the first driver change and a Fassler in a rush quickly recovered Pagenaud’s wake, by even overtaking him. Meanwhile in P2 a puncture sidelined the Acura Strakka and a problem with the starter delayed the Oreca of the Signatec: the lead of the race was all between the Zytek of Greaves team and the Oreca of Boutsen team, with the latter that seemed to take the lead when a problem to the battery obliged the car to go back to pits, losing three laps and making the team of Ojjeh gain the umpteenth victory. Oreca of Race Performance arrived second and just the car of the Boutsen Energy arrived third. In GTPro BMW performances melted like snow in the sun and Ferrari cars took easily the lead. Thanks to a strategy that envisaged one pit stop less than the rivals, Bruni and Fisichella had no opponents and gained a deserved title in the category of LMS, while at the end there was a good result for Luxury team, with Ortelli and Makowiecki, who were second and before, albeit slightly, the revived Lieb and Lietz. In GTAm there was a clear victory of Armindo-Narac, by then close to the title after a disappointing fifth place of the rivals of AF Corse, never on the ball during the weekend. Long and Roda were second and the Ferrari of CRS team third: in practice, a confirmation of what we saw in testing.
In FLM the title was won by Pegasus tema, thanks to a narrow victory gained over the team Genoa, finished to 20 sec only, followed by JMB.
On the lead, Audi seemed to take the control of the race, even if with a small margin, but in a double overtaking Fassler came into contact with a slower prototype, damaging the rear bonnet, he was obliged to go back to pits and give the car to Bernhard with a delay close to one lap, leaving the final victory to Peugeot. Behind them, after the accidents that involved an Audi and a Peugeot, there was a hard fight between Pescarolo OAK and Rebellion cars, whilst the official Pescarolo, even in the same lap, failed to join them. After Prost and Jani’s car retired for alternator problems, the third place seemed within reach of younger OAK crew, but a stop-and-go of 30 sec. due to an excessive speed in pit lane, forced said crew to be content with the fifth place. Therefore, it was the other car of the French team to inherit the third place (Nicolet resigned so as to let his team win the third step on podium) with Pla who, in the last hour, well resisted the Rebellion return.
From the point of view of championship, LMS Pescarolo and Rebellion will play all over the last season event that will take place at Estoril 23-25 September 2011.