The quiet green of the Ardennes forests tells tales which are unlikely known by the new generations. The region took its name from the Arduenna Silva in Roman time. In spite of its territorial morphology, being anything but easy for the life of man, it has been claimed for a long time by many European states for its strategic position and mineral resources, so long to be the scene of some of the most famous battles in the history. Among these the most famous was the Ardennes Offensive, the last attempt of the German Army to stop the allied advance in December 1944. Perhaps only in those places so rich of history the most famous circuit could be born, where up till now we have been capable of getting really excited, even only remaining on an embankment or scarp to see some racing cars going out from a part of the forest, starting off at 3000 km/h: Eau Rouge, Raidillon, Pouhon and Blanchimont, before bents names they are places of cult to the real fans of motor racing. It was in that contest that last weekend the second manche of Le Mans Series 2009 took place, the meeting most waited for the whole season, excepted the 24 Hours of Le Mans. After the emotions in Barcelona, the occasional presence of the Peugeot 908 cars has permitted to quantify the gap with the new petrol prototypes Aston Martin, Pescarolo and Oreca in the lead, drastically minimized in comparison with last year, but still sufficient to guarantee the favour of forecasts to Peugeot and Audi (the R15 obviously), in view of the Sarthe meeting. It was once again amazing the performance of Pescarolo, the only car that approached the 908’s performances in race, as well as the new Oreca, excellent both in test and race, while we were a bit disappointed at the Aston Martin, from which we expected a further improvement with respect the race won in Spain. The English prototype has been faced by some handling problem causing the drivers to be frequently mistaken and, moreover, preventing them from getting times as low as the faster French cars.
When on Saturday afternoon qualifying tests started, uncertainty ruled over spectators and the engineers. On Friday and Saturday morning the free tests weren’t useful to dispel all doubts about the competitiveness standard of Peugeots, partly because of the bad weather partly because the French lions seemed as they should play cat and mouse. Moreover, Sunday session, 30 minutes shorter than the one of Catalunya, didn’t let the team prepare the cars in a suitable way to the occasion, above all after the first session which took place under a slight rain that suggested the use of intermediate tires: the result was that there were many off tracks and few instructions for the set up they had to use.
The first twenty minutes, usually reserved for GT classes, were first disturbed by a yellow flag and a red one, with Kox, the only driver in a position to run a whole lap without interruption. When the green flag was newly shown, all cars (with the exception of the Lamborghini Galardo that will not enter this session) went out from stalls to exploit the last fourteen minutes left, with Muller at the wheel of the Aston Martin of Jetalliance who easily got the best time in GT1, further minimised on the last lap, before the Murcielago and the Corvette of Clairay, greatly outdistanced. In GT2 there was instead the dominium of the Porches 997 driven by Lieb and Pilet, with one second gap over the Ferrari Modena and the JMW cars: the performance of the Aston Martin Vantage was good as it placed seventh in the category with only 1:800 from the pole, while the Spyker Laviolette seemed as though it fell into oblivion, at 3 seconds from the top.
The final twenty minutes, devoted to prototypes, were subject to two good interruptions, first of which after only two minutes because of the about-face of Ginetta Strakka and Aston Martin with Enge at the Source bent: it wasn’t, however, the Czech driver’s error, but an oil engine dripping on the rear wheels which made the car uncontrollable and the driver out of the competition. Ahead of everybody there were two Peugeots, with Pagenaud ahead of Wurz by 26 thousands and as the first of the rivals there was Turner at the wheel of Aston Martin at 1:400: three laps were sufficient for the lions to restore the hierarchy brought into question on the eve of the race. With Senna fourth, Boullion fifth and Fassler sixth, the frame of most competitive cars was complete, even because the second Oreca, driven by Lapierre, was stopped at the Bus stop without making any fast round and compelling the direction to show the red flag for the second time in few minutes. Among the P2s, as it was expected, the Porsche RS Spyder with Elguard who set the best time, followed by a recovered Lola-Judd of the Speedy Racing and the twin car of the Racing Box with Bobbi. On the contrary, the second car of the Novara team, third for the class in Barcelona, has met many problems, only classifying thirty-third in total.
The variable weather of the Ardennes didn’t forgive and after the abundant rain fell on Saturday evening, on Sunday morning there was the track wrapped by a fog so thick as to oblige organizers to cancel the warm-up. It were the six cars to lose most as they met some problem during Saturday tests, unable to check the efficiency of the interventions made for repairing; first of all Lola RML, with the forecarriage damaged during free tests after wall finishing at the Source bent. And so that during the first 25 minutes of the Pit Lane opening, teams took advantage of all available time to manage to make the last changes, making the cars go out and into the stalls. Particularly unlucky Nicolet, who in its Pescarolo of the OAK Racing had some engine trouble that obliged him to an early retire.
Emotions went on in the lining-up round, with the Lola driven by Andrea Piccini ending with an about-face on going out of the Source bend and, in its restarting the car was ran into by a Ferrari which damaged its bonnet; the Oreca with Mailleux ending with an about-face at Les Combes: commissaries succeeded in pushing the car out of the gravel during the round of the line-up but, on the restart the car stopped in the middle of the variant. Meanwhile the pack was arriving near the finishing line and the start was given: two Peugeots arrived at the Source with a small lead over the rivals that let them stay out of the brawl. Bouillon, behind them, trying inside to pass the Aston Martin of Turner, hooked the Aston Martin by ending with an about-face and obliging the rival to slow down and be overtaken by most of the cars arriving unexpectedly and he immediately stopped at pits for a prudential change of tires: for both cars it was soon envisaged a race full of difficulties. Meanwhile, the race direction, given the dangerous position of the Oreca Signature, let the Safety car enter the track: the Safety car remained for two laps. On the restart a threatening driver Senna ran close to the exhaust pipes of the Peugeot driven by Gene and managed to attack him at Les Combes, but he had to give in and the French twin cars very soon overtook him. The Brazilian started looking at the rear mirrors to check the Lola with Fassler who was approaching and after two laps the driver passed him on the Eau Rouge entering, taking also advantage of his rival’s rear wheels detach. Bruno managed to go back slowly to the stalls, while the tire left in the middle of the track obliged the race managers to recall the Safety car. The Lola Racing Box of Piccini was obliged to retire by commissaries because of lack of an important portion of the car.
The new restart arrived at lap 10, just to see a new accident at the small bend of the Source: Merrick, in its Audi, arrived taking the trajectory of the bend and colliding with the Pescarolo of Jouanny, who on his turn ending with an about-face, ran into the Porsche n. 88 and caused an about-face to a coming Ferrari. Luckily all cars were in a position to restart and the race could go on, but the French driver’s hope to run a race with capital letters ended actually here. The Ginetta of Quifer too had some damage in that time of dodgems and was obliged to be under repairs at the stalls for a long stop. Meantime the Peugeots were leading the race and left everyone behind, with Missian who, in his turn, passed the team mate. Behind them Turner made several attacks on Fassler for the third position, while behind them there was the fight between Lapierre and Mucke for the fifth place: the German was very determined but in the impetuosity of getting free from the rival took the trajectory of the bend at the Bus stop, loosing the contact. Meanwhile, on lap 20, in P2 the Porsche with Collard, overtaken from the start by a couple of rivals, took the lead again of the category passing Pompidou, who, unexpectedly, got a time not too far from the opponent’s: it was repeated what we saw last year with Lola Judd, the only car in a position to keep the rate imposed by the Porsches. In GT1 only Lamborghini and Corvette were competing for the win, after a long rest at stalls of the Aston Martin Jetalliance for replacing the whole electronic parts, while in GT2 the first four competitors (Llieb, Pilet, Bruni and Kaffer) were closed in 7:500 only.
The waltz of pit stops started up, at the end of them Boullion, the only one who didn’t take on fuel found its car close to the exhaust pipes of Minassian’s car: a fight soon burst out between them ending after some rounds with Pescarolo taking on the fuel.
The race went on without any surprise till lap 50, when the second series of pit stops started for the filling-up and the change of drivers: Pagenaud at the wheel of the Peugeot n. 7 and Brabbham, in his turn, at the wheel of the other Peugeot, while the French driver soon started a lonely ride, but the Australian was soon obliged to stop for a long rest after running into the Courage n. 28 and sending the car off track.
On the contrary, the direct opponents lived alternate fortune: Fassler, steadily second, had to go back to pit stop for some mechanic trouble and Belicchi restarted running on the track only after two laps. A fierce struggle was made for the second place among Ramos, Panis and Tinseau, till Jouanny ended his race with a big crash on Raidillon, starting the umpteen phase of neutralization. During the seven laps in which the Safety car was on track, Pagenaud, Ramos, Panis and Charouz went back to stalls for the filling up operations. When the race restarted, classification has greatly changed, with Peugeot n. 7 before Tinseau, Panis, Ramosm Bakkerud and Charouz: the race leader easily passed also because behind him Tinseau was slowed down by Ortelli, who even if being lapped he played the team’s game for Panis. Thus, when after seven laps the driver at the wheel of the Pescarolo went back to stalls, Olivier gained the second position with 40 seconds’ gap over the rival.
The race of the first drivers became settled for about ten laps, but it revived among the GTs: in GT1 Alphand took advantage of one lapping to pass the Lamborghini Murcielago at Blanchimont and gain the first position no more abandoned up to the arrival, while in GT2 the Porsche driven by Lieb had a puncture at Pouhon and left the first place to the Ferrari driven by Bell. From now on punctures followed one another owing to debris left on track by the Pescarolo n. 17.
The last change for drivers was made around lap 95, when there was a new entry of the Safety car to retire the Ferrari of the Easyrace from the track, it was ended with an about-face at Fagnes: Klien was given the Peugeot, Lapierre was given the Oreca, Primat and Enge had the Aston Martin, while Tinseau remained at the wheel of the Pescarolo.
In the first positions there was again the fight between Lapierre and Tinseau, outdistanced by few seconds, but just when the situation seemed stable definitively, the Oreca driver made a first contact with the Audi of Meyrick, and then his car was spun right round at Eau Rouge by the WR Salini, leaving the second place to the Pescarolo and the third place to the Aston Martin with Enge. The other English car, driven by Primat, hit a less fast car at Les Combes and finished only fifth. When only 15 laps were missing to the end, Senna arrived at Blanchimont; his car went sideway and finished against the wall with a spectacular crash; he came out of it unharmed but with his car destroyed.
In P2 the fight lasted up to the last lap between the Porsche and the Lola of Speedy Racing, at the end separated by only 10 tenth, while the recovered car of the Racing Box, was greatly outdistanced owing to a puncture on the second-last lap. In GT2 also the Ferrari of the JMW punctured a tire on Kemmel at few laps from the end and lost its leadership in favour of the Porsche with Lieb and the Ferrari Modena. But a race like that couldn’t finish this way: a few hours after the end of the race, the Stewards of the ACO eliminated four cars from the final classification, among them the Porsche with Lieb and the Lola Racing Box because they showed remarkable damages and didn’t reflect the initial condition of the car. Therefore, it was the win for the Ferrari of the Modena team in the GT2, while in T2 the Pescarolo of the OAK Racing climbed to the third place.
Next engagement of Le Mans Series will be in August, in Portugal, while Connectingrod welcomes to you the 1000 Kilometre of Nurburgring by the end of August.