Even if it isn’t so known to Le Mans Series protagonists, Hungaroring has been for years one of the most controversial circuit in Europe and that in spite of its numerous changes made since 1987, when it was inaugurated with Formula One GP. Not always up to the safety point of view, this “Tourniquet” divides the drivers between those who appreciate its numerous bends of medium speed, which make of it an extremely technical circuit, and those who can’t really stand it, advancing some overtaking difficulty and even of lapping as well as the almost total lack of escaping ways: all the same there are really few drivers who haven’t a personal opinion on the subject.
From the first free practice, which took place on Saturday late in the morning, it was the driver of prototypes who has been suffering most from these problems, in difficulty in lapping GT cars and often unable to manage all the power of the car; The result was an expected close competition between P1 and P2, which made a week-end more exciting than it was supposed to seem rather monotonous since the beginning.
Coming back to the first session, there were 38 cars engaged on the track after Ksm team’s retirement, unable to take part in this race, officially because two drivers were not available, but after Portimao’s absence there were many doubts about the German team situation; on paddocks they talked about the R1r team with the Mg Lola Ex265 powered AER, driven alternatively by Gates, Garofall and Hughes, it was mentioned the Af team that lined up duo Barba-Parente replacing Bruni-Melo, engaged in the US, and the statements of Dominik Farnbacher, whose opinion was that Hankook might move and take some interest in prototypes next year. Time surveys have immediately awarded the Acura of Strakka team, the second one in all thanks to its best time set in the second and third sectors, the most tortuous ones in the circuit: it was particularly striking that this time was recorded by Kane, with Watts acting as a spectator in paddocks. The best time was set by the Peugeot Oreca with Sarrazin, while Rebellion was third with Jani, finally competitive thanks to scarce importance of the engine on that type of track. Among P2s, the Ginetta with Pla got the second time, while Rm1 team, the leader in the classification, was content with the fourth time between two Pescarolo Oak cars. There was very little left to be said about GT1, with Saleen of Larbre highly faster than the Atlas one, in trouble with its gearbox, while in GT2, at the wheel of his Ferrari Crs, Kirkaldy was ahead of Vilander in a Ferrari Af and Westbrook in the first car of Porches: it’s worth pointing out a clutch mechanical problem to the Spyker, forced to pit-stops for a long time.
The second session, interrupted after half an hour approx. in order to recover the Radical which stopped in the final part of the circuit, time values repeated, with Peugeot and Acura which this time widely left behind their rivals: Panis with 1:33:623 and Watts with 1:34:483, relegated the first of the following cars to over two-second gap, with the English driver who could have certainly done better if he shouldn’t was fallen through the good lap because of Luca Moro, whose car had spun just before the Acura For the remaining part there were very limited gaps, with two Rebellions fighting for the third position, gained by Prost, followed by a Ginetta Quifel, which was an off-track protagonist with Amaral, and Moreau at the wheel of a Pescarolo Oak. In GT2s there was a good fight among the car makes, with Fisichella, a deep connoisseur of this circuit, who set best time before Pilet in Porsche of Imsa team and Turner at the wheel of Aston Martin of Jmw team: as usual the category turned out to be a very competitive race with a good ten cars that scored the same second of time. In Le Mans Formula the Dams went on dominating with Firth and Manning who were first and third with the second crew, while the second time was set by Hopevision.
Saturday ended up with the night session supposed to last one hour and a half, during which two Rebellions had a brilliant performance, with Jani who set 1:34:807 best time before Boullion, while Peugeot had to be content with the third time because of the anticipated end of the session due to a fire starting up on the Ferrari Crs, while the car was running on the stretch of the circuit subsequent to the chicane, which forced technical managers to exhibit red flag, the second one in the evening after the one waved after 20 minutes because of Porsche Imsa off-track. During this session Acura hasn’t particularly stood out, first one among the P2s but with over three-second gap from top, followed by Moreau and Federico Leo, in the Lola Racing Box. In GI1 only the Saleen of Larbre has run out, while in GT2 Kirkaldy has newly taken the lead of the time list, followed by Leitz, the classification leader, delayed by mechanical problems in the morning and by Fisichella, in slight difficulty for driving in the night. Among FLM cars the best time was set by Applewood Seven while Dams cars were late.
Sunday started with qualifying practice, expected at 9.45: the first driver to set a good time was the winner of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, Romain Dumas, but the dominion was of the Af Corse team, with Parente first (1:46:535), Fisichella second (1:46: 684) and Companc fourth, preceded by Kirkaldy. If Ferrari cars showed an unreachable competitiveness on dry lap, Porsches turned out to be in great difficulty, even preceded by the Aston Martin driven by Turner, whom was cancelled the good lap because of the cut on chicane: to prove these difficulties it was the eighth time set by Leitz at almost one second from Pole! Among GT1s no surprise with Gardel who set 1:47:005, the only time valid for the session, while rivals ran only few hundreds of metres before parking the car in the escaping ways of the second bend for the lack of a front wheel.
In the session reserved for prototypes, a decisive session for the first rows of the start grid, the fight for Pole between Rebellions and Peugeot turned to the advantage of……. Acura! After waiting for the end of the session, Watts got into the track and ran three laps by setting 1:32:421, in total his best time, taking once again advantage of the second and third sector of the track Behind him there was Boullion (1:32:888) and Jani with like time, while Panis didn’t manage to be over 1:33:613, followed by Aston Martin Signature and Mansell brothers who set a time only sufficient to hold the other two P2s behind: among these ones the Ginetta driven by Pla gained the second time (1:35:586), before two Pescarolo Oak cars with Moreau (1:35:873) and Lahaye (1:36:024) and Lola Rm1 with Erdos (1:36:250). Among FLMs there was a surprising best time got by Applewood Seven with Beche (1:41:967) before Dams driven by Manning.
After a warm-up of only five minutes due to the disastrous off-track done by Pillon at the wheel of one of two FLMs entered by Hope Polevision team, who finished right against the guard rails on the bend next to chicane, the remaining 37 cars were lined up on the start grid under the hot summer sun of Hungary at 15.30, with Signature drawn back to the last row because of its change of tyres after qualifying practice. Meantime he who asked Watts what he was thinking to do at the racing start, the English driver said he had no problem at all as the P1 cars would have immediately passed him on the straight and he would have been concentrated on keeping his leadership among P2s: his expectations were materialized at the start, with Rebellion driven by Belicchi who managed to hold the Peugeot with Sarrazin behind thanks to the inner trajectory, and to Jani, his team mate at the wheel of the second Rebellion.
While Toulemonde was parking his FLM on the grass few hundreds of metres from the pits entry, on the lead there were two Rebellions competing to move in to attack, with Boullion who was stuck to the Peugeot exhaust pipes and Prost who kept third place less than 30 seconds from the top. It seemed Swiss team’s favourite day but between laps 47 and 66 glory dreams vanished, at the beginning Prost finished on the escape ways because of a leakage of the cooling system which dropped some liquid into the callipers of the rear brakes, then Boullion, former protagonist of a slight mistake on chicane, was inexplicably thrown out of the Lola Racing Box driven by Leo at the end of the long climbing straight: the French driver was lucky because his car didn’t suffer particular damages allowing him to return to the track, but with over ten-second gap. If race accidents damaged Lola cars, also consumptions turned out to be a thorn in their sides: as he was forced to have one more fill-up, after two-hour’s race Boullion found himself exactly one lap outdistanced from the Peugeot, which was presently driven by Lapierre. Meantime the twin car remained 24 minutes at pit-stop to have its cooling system repaired and it went back to track in the 32nd position.
Some striking events didn’t even fail in P2 with the classification leaders forced to stay seven minutes at the pit-stop for engine failure, while match Lahaye-Nicolet had climbed up from the bottom to the third place in the category before Pirri at the wheel of Lola Racing Box. Meanwhile ahead Leventis was preceding Amaral with only one second’s lead. Among GT1s Vilander drove with 12-second’s lead over Kirkaldy and 42 seconds over Barba, but from the cars which were behind the Porsche of Lieb was beginning to recover.
On lap 82 the Safety car appeared to permit technical managers to remove from the barriers the Saleen of Van Dam, which went out at the end of the main straight because of a brake explosion. The procedure wasn’t exactly applied and some cars stopped at pit-stop without finding the red light of the pit lane, taking clear advantage of that fact: in this stage for instance Strakka increased over one minute its lead.
On lap 109 also Signature, climbed up to the second place, was pushed into the pit for a mechanical problem to its alternator: mechanics needed over 45’ to repair the car and let it go back in to the track, but on the third last general position. Meanwhile, after a long pit-stop which had relegated it to the fourth position at 7’ from Peugeot, the Rebellion with Belicchi finished off-track caused by transmission and the Italian driver had sadly to abandon it in technical managers’ hands. Andrea’s sadness grew deeper when going back to pits he discovered that also Peugeot was at pit-stop for a problem like the one which obliged him to retire: the French prototype remained at pit-stop 6’ first, then other 43’, returning to the track with a decidedly minimized rate just to run 70% of the whole distance and be in apposition to score points important to the championship.
After all these striking events the P1 drive was given to Mansell brothers, delayed in the general classification due to a puncture during the first race stages, which obliged them to return to pit-stop because it was also necessary the change of one body section, and thus the struggle for the general win became an unbelievable prerogative of P2 cars. Leventis, who was first for a long time, gave the temporary leadership to Amaral, but the latter was obliged to a pit-stop to change part of the front side body damaged by a collision and give Pla the task to recover the second total position, that meantime had been taken by match Lahaye-Nicolet, the authors of a great race and finished third. As said before among P1s the win was gained by Mansell brothers, arrived seventh before the Rebellion driven by Jani-Prost and the Aston Martin Signature, both with heavy gaps. By reminding the umpteenth win of Larbre in GT1, in GT2 the win was gained by Lieb and Lietz, who preceded by 10” only the Ferrari driven by Kirkaldy-Muller, also thanks to a very short final pit-stop which let the Porsche gain over 20” over Ferrari. After being so unlucky during previous races, the third place in the category was won by the Porsche of Imsa team driven by Pilet and Narac, while the Ferrari driven by Alesi-Fisichella-Vilander won the fourth place, delayed by a problem on the seat clamping during a pit-stop. As far as FLM was concerning, there was a win for the Dams driven by Barlesi-Cicognani-Chalandon in a race affected by many mechanical problems and retirements.
In the championship, at one only race from the end, the title of P1 was practically already given to Sarrazin thanks to the score kept by the official Peugeot at Spa, as well as in GT1 where Gardel and Guesland should share the win. On the contrary, all was still an open question in P2, where the Acura drivers might still surpass Erdos-Newton and in GT2, where Vilander-Alesi and Fisichella had still a remote possibility to take away the title from Lieb-Liezt duo.