Le Mans Test Day

Entrée is the getting here
Deuxième Plat is the Saturday report
Plat Principal will be Sunday
Dessert will be post w/e thoughts


For many sportscar fans and perhaps absurdly the English in particular, the year revolves around a French race. Britain's classic race the Tourist Trophy has long since degenerated into probably just another round of an uninspiring touring car championship. Le Mans however, with its organisation by a perhaps at times slightly autocratic ACO, has survived into the new millennium despite the best efforts of Bernie and his boys at the FIA to shunt it into a backwater somewhere. It is still the jewel that a significant number of manufacturers wants in their portfolio. This year the lure has proved irresistible to the owners of the Bentley and MG names. The return of these two ensures that the annual mass exodus from Britain in June will be further swelled.

Before leaving, there were work shifts to arrange and temporary care for kids and dogs to seek, but finally the Espace was packed and.......the sight of the water in Plymouth docks invokes a "pasty" shade around the eyes.

But the sea is flat, the voyage is a delight and after disembarkation at Roscoff and onto the road for Le Mans, it at last feels like we have arrived. The long straight roads remind us of the Hump and past adventures there, but tiredness means our now traditional sleep in the car and we know we are in France with an early morning coffee and breakfast. Shortly after, we hear the sounds of a car on the airport runway; it's the Pescarolo Courage.

Deuxième Plat

Most of the teams are in the garage but not Pescarolo, of course. Ascari have both single and full roll hoop cars present and in final stages of preparation.

PK Sport / Ricardo are all ready and car is looking resplendent in the garage, a GT3RS almost posing for photographers.

Next door but one are Bentley in the first two garages, at the other end are WR and lastly Pilbeam - in the two extra pits. Audi are in the last of the ‘proper’ pits, with Champion and Gulf next door. Very convenient.

We receive a great welcome from the Gulf team, who are TotalMotoSport fans.

MG set about a photo shoot and Mark Blundell is last to arrive, and his driving suit is the odd one out; this does not denote a privileged status, just that the official outfit did not fit. He assured us he had not put on weight! The lady in the picture is the ‘Grande Fromage’ of Rover in France.

Ray Rowan at Pilbeam explains that they will be using the 3 litre engine. There was a problem with the 3.4 litre on the test bench; the engine was fine but there was an oil leak from the pump and new parts would need to be machined. This will leave them with about 80 bhp less than planned. A third driver is yet to be finalised but Gunnar Jeannette and Francois Migault are in the frame. Gunnar was hoping to arrange a drive this weekend, to keep his name to the fore.

At Corvette they have a new engine management system, which they believe will give them more fuel economy and perhaps more power. They do not believe they can win against the more racebred Saleen on speed but hope these changes will help them over the distance.

Jan Lammers told us that they are looking forward to seeing how changes in the car from FIA spec will improve performance. He is very happy with the Avon tyres and support in the FIA series but for Le Mans they are using Michelin and also have a single roll hoop. John Neilsen is equally happy with his Dome and feels that it is improving with every outing. They too have a single hoop but are on Goodyears.

Franz Konrad was happy in his role as father to the young guns in the Saleen and said they had been working hard since Donington and the car was much improved. He was less forthcoming on where the improvements had been made.

When I remarked that he was looking better than when I last saw him, Martin Brundle replied, "That must have been after I hit the wall." I thought he had said he was not coming back. "That was after I hit the wall.”

The Callaway has had a great deal of development since Texas, not major changes but parts that were in the pipeline have come on board - mainly in the drive train. They are not sure where they stand in comparison to the Porsches but feel that Le Mans should suit the car and also feel that the ACO was very keen to have a Porsche alternative in the class.

Panoz effectively have a stage 2 car for Brabham. Problems with lack of front end downforce, straight line speed and cooling have been addressed by improvements in airflow with major changes at the front end, including moving the airjacks inboard, the exhausts are higher and exit differently, and the radiators are repositioned with most of the air entering around the front splitter. This has been shortened by 100mm and the wing moved back a similar distance. The end result, it is hoped, will be more front end downforce, less drag and better cooling. There are also engine changes but the other car is still in stage one spec for comparison purposes.

Audi low drag changes appear to be the side intakes behind the front wheels and also different front body work was spotted, with the vents over the front wheels arranged differently. The works cars carry a black band on the nose, for horribly familiar reasons.

Peter Radcliffe

Official website of the Le Mans 24 Hours
Official website of the Le Mans 24 Hours

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