Damned Spring, Loretta Goggi used to sing in a famous song of many years ago. Yes, it’s really a damned spring with the return of hot climate alternated with the last remnants of winter cold. But it is damned also because, after all, we don’t know whether the flowers we can admire in this season will give up their place to good fruits.
On the Circuit of Montmelò, where it took place the 1000 Kilometres of Catalunya, the opening race of Le Mans Series Championship, we also saw the flowers blossoming, which it is not said that they could bear fruit. The matter is that the win of very new and official Lola Aston Martins, and the general predominance of petrol cars in the class “P1”, didn’t show the return to the balance with diesel engines, great rulers of last seasons, because of the absence of the Audi and Peugeot official teams. The only gas oil engines present in the race were the ones mounted on the two R10 Audis of Kolles team, which were hardly able to show their capacity, suffering from a double retire.
Thus, there were those who hadn’t to be waiting for a disappointment, starting from Ginetta Zytek of Strakka Racing, the author of an amazing pole position, without showing to have a rate as valid as in race. Perhaps, Pescarolo was the worst as for disappointment, with its leading crew Boullion-Tinseau which has been dominating a long time over Aston Martin cars but suffering from the entrance of the Safety Car on track.
The victory of Newton Pagnell’s team made a comeback of the prestigious brand of Aston Martin to sports news and, thanks to light blue and orange colours of Gulf sponsor, reminded the fans of motor racing of the great success gained in the past by Ford and Porsche, which bore the lucky livery in their turn.
GT1 and GT2 are the first classes involved in playing their chance for qualification. Only four cars entered the first class, with a real fight restricted between multi-titled Chevrolet Corvette of Alphand Adventures and Lamborghini Murcielago of IPB Spartak Racing, with this latter able to prevail thanks to excellent Peter Kox’ s performance, who stopped chronometer on 1:44:446, leaving the French car 1 second behind: unfortunately the “bat” will not pass post-qualifying tests and will be obliged to start from the end of the line up. The two Saleen cars of Larbre and Bratislava will be far and no longer competitive.
The everlasting fight between Ferrari and Porsche was repeated in the GT2 class, which counted a good 13 cars; the simple performance turned into favour of the rampant Horse car: Gianmaria Bruni in the JMW Motorsport scored the time of 1:48:606, ahead of another F430 Ferrari driven by Antonio Garcia, home driver. First Porsche 997 GT3 RSR is belonging to Imsa Matmut that with Patrick Pilet gained the third time in the class, but among the German cars there was the failed repeat of the best time scored by Richard Lietz in the morning free tests. The driver, who had run in 1:48:145, showed a skill unattainable by his rivals. In the war of the others, a lonely Spyker defeated another as well lonely Aston Martin Vantage with 1 second’s lead over this latter.
At the start of the session devoted to P1 and P2 we expected the explosion of the two Audis of Kolles team, which during free sessions didn’t go down the wall of 1:36, against 1:33:520 scored by Pescarolo with Boullion. However, as the minutes went down, we realised that neither the R10 with Albers, nor the one with Krumm were in a position to make a valid attack on pole, as they stopped at the sixth and eleventh place respectively. Even black Pescarolo with Boullion managed to repeat the time obtained in the morning and didn’t go further on the fourth position. In the shadow there were Oreca AIM with Bruno Senna and Olivier Panis, seventh and eighth respectively, from which we expected something more after the results of Paul Ricard tests.
The surprise in that session was an underestimated Ginetta Zytek of Dany Watts, that stopped chronometers at the unreachable 1:32:492, outdistancing also two cars: Lola Aston Martin with Turner and the twin driven by Mucke, which placed second and third respectively. But Ginetta, a small English Company established in 1958 and specialised in the construction of small production models of GT cars on road and races, risked the “en plein” scoring an excellent time even in the P2 class with Olivier Pla who ran in 1:36:172. The time was held till the session final, when Lola Judd of the Racing Box team, driven by Giacomo Piccini, gained the best time of the class with 1:36:156, valid for the twelfth best place on the grid. Generally, the combination Lola chassis with Judd engine turned out into the most competitive, but Porsche cars absence should have be taken into account.
At the start Ginetta didn’t manage to offer any resistance to three Lola Aston Martins, which set off their powerful 12 cylinders. Since the first bend the official car of Mucke had been on the lead, followed by the private car driven by Belicchi, the author of an excellent start, and by the car driven by Darren Turner. The three coupes, together with Pescarolo with Boullion, set off a higher rate, while a hard fight has been starting behind among P1 cars, involving Pescarolo with Jouanny, Audi with Albers, the twin with Krumm and two Orecas with Senna and Panis. Pescarolo was the less fast and was destined to be overcome. Also Senna was in trouble, who had to yield first to Olivier Panis on lap 13 and than to the R10 with Krumm. The last will go off the track on lap 20 by touching the car of the Signature team and causing the first Safety Car entry, during which almost all cars took advantage for a first filling up. The race went on with Pescarolo driven by Boullion on the lead, followed by official Lola Aston Martin with Turner, the private car of Belicchi and the other official one, on the wheel of it Charouz replacing Mucke.
On lap 43 the Safety Car entered again on track, in consequence of Kharim Aljani going off the track on bend 4 at the wheel of the Pescarolo Mazda of Oak Racing. The cars in the lead rushed again to pits, except Lola Aston Martin without Belicchi driver, who attempted an escape and at restart: thanks to a minor weight he took a good lead over official Lola Aston Martin cars with Charouz, Primat (who replaced Turner) and Pescarolo with Tinseau-Boullion. Belicchi’s ride stopped on lap 56, when he went back to pit to give the car to Prost and have the engine checked because it seemed it had some trouble with the water pump. The car went regularly back on the track, however, unable to repeat previous performances.
On that moment, official Aston Martin with Charouz took the lead, followed by Pescarolo with Tinseau and the other Aston with Primat, all at a rate clearly higher than the competitors’one. The small French “barchetta” courageously pushed itself forward to the orange-light bleu Aston Martin car, trying to put pressure on it. The situation solved when the English car went back to pits on lap 77. In fact. It started a window of refuelling at the end of which Pescarolo driven by Tinseau will be on the lead, notwithstanding a stop for a splash and go, followed at a distance by Lola Aston Martin driven by Enge and Ramos, who took turns Charouz and Primat respectively and by Oreca with Panis. Situation became stable, even if we have lived some moments of anxiety with Tinseau who had difficulties in doubling Audi and Enge, who behind him pushed forward. The French driver held up, while Panis going back at the wheel of his Oreca to pits for transmission trouble, was obliged to get off his car and surrender to his technicians’ advice.
On the lead car Boullion re placed Tinseau, increasing his lead over Enge, thanks also to a Czech driver’s blunder, who turned himself on bend 11, luckily without suffering damage. On the other hand camera car highlighted drivers’ difficulty in keeping the trajectory of the powerful Aston Martin, with continuous corrections on the wheel. It was just the English car exuberance to betray Ramos, whose car spun right round on lap 4 during the 181st round, causing Safety Car entry and favouring his team mates unintentionally. Thus Pescarolo with Tinseau saw zero setting the big advantage gained over the Aston Martin with Mucke-Enge-Charouz On lap 189 the Safety Car entered again, causing the two rivals to come into direct contact: Tinseau in Pescarolo tried to defend himself, but Lola with Mucke was showing all its power and just after 5 laps overtook it, without the least resistance of the French driver. Behind them, at three laps distance, Oreca took position, driven by Bruno Senna and Stephane Ortelli, with the Brazilian driver who had shown a more solid and prudent behaviour in the second part of the race.
P2 Class has lived on the comparison between Lola Judd of the Racing Box and Ginetta Zytek of the Quifel ASM Team. The English car has been particularly effective in the first part of the race, when, thanks to Olivier Pla’s smart start, threw itself bravely up to the eighth place, threatening the less fast P1 cars. On the distance we have to highlight major steadiness of the two Italian crews of the Racing Box, with Biagi-Bobbi-Andrea Piccini who had deserved a good qualification, dominating the Ginetta of the Quifel. The third place in the class was gained by the other crew made by Ceccato-Francioni-Giacomo Piccini, that lived a difficult time on lap 164, when the drivers couldn’t maintain the Ginetta of Pla behind them and had to rush into pits for a check that, luckily, didn’t prevent them to gain podium lower step.
GT1 events were full of vicissitudes with Saleen cars cut off for the class victory: in particular about the remarkable problems met by the ARC Bratislava Kaneko, that was obliged to stop at pits many times because of insoluble electrical trouble and damages caused by a couple of off track. The class victory was a matter between Corvette of the Alphand Adventures and Lamborghini Murcielago of the IPB Spartak Racing that was solved in favour of this last one, in part for good performances by Kox, in part for Luc Alphand’s error, who touched one of the Porsche cars of Felbermayr team, going off the track just when he was steadily on the lead and relegating Corvette to the second place.
The GT2 saw a hard struggle among Porsche 997 GT3 RSR with Lieb-Lietz, the twin one given to Pilet-Narac and Ferraris F430 with Garcia-Mansell and Bell-Bruni. In the first part of the race Ferrari driven by Garcia-Mansell dominated surely, but on the distance Porsche with Lieb-Lietz came out, even if the drivers had major difficulty as they started more behind and not so successfully. On the contrary the 997 with Pilat-Narac self-eliminated because went off on bend 4 while it was on the lead, depriving the Porsche of a precious “double-shot”. There was an excellent third place for Ferrari Hankock, which confirmed its best performed in pre-championship tests.
Next meeting will be on 10th May 2009 on the 1000 kilometres of Spa. Official Peugeots will enter that race in preparation of Le Mans: on the traditional Belgian circuit it will be better understood what the real situation of this series is, obviously, all together with Connectingrod.