|Le Mans Test Day|
| Peter Radcliffe and companions start the Sunday report with some conclusions from Saturday.|
David Brabham and Jan Magnussen have already experienced the new gravel trap at Indianapolis. The pair came to the rescue of some Audi advertising personnel who had managed to find the cornering limits of their Renault Espace. The racing pair stopped and helped heave the car out of the gravel yesterday evening. TotalMotorSport's Jan Hettler was also involved in the rescue.
Sebastian Bourdais tested the new Pescarolo C60 on the airport runway on Saturday is reported to have achieved a speed of 310 kph. This was the first shakedown for the new chassis which was completed this week. Sodemo have solved the Monza engine problem.
MG were also using the runway but one car developed an engine problem that required a change.
The Belmondo vipers needed to make some changes to the rear diffuser floor as they were still in FIA spec. They also had to alter the air vent hose on the fuel tank.
Mike Pilbeam has been very busy in the wind tunnel and some of the new changes incorporated on the Pilbeam were not passed by the ACO as the new homologation papers have not been prepared yet.
SMG Courage need to make some changes to the location of the brake bias system. Philipe Gache was very happy after a 26 hour test at Jerez. He was particularly happy to be on Michelin tyres as opposed to last year's Pirellis).
DAMS also had minor changes to make and all the drivers are keen to be first out but Wayne Taylor and Eric Bernard were down to take first stints. The new transponder on the Cadillac will be carried on both the cars and each driver has a jack to plug in in the cockpit. This will automatically record which driver is at the wheel. The car is being built around the 2000 monocoque. The engine is different this year with lower fuel consumption and more power. The night vision will be on the car for the race.
Both Domes needed minor changes, the main one was the fitting of some different ratios in the gearbox of the Den Bla Avis car.
Oreca have perhaps the best configuration for the test. They are testing tyres on one car, suspension and shock absorbers on the second and drivers in the third.
Plat Principal (Sunday Report for those who haven't been following Peter Radcliffe's system)
PK Sport started with Mike Youles at the wheel - an installation lap then four laps. They then planned to rotate the other drivers in four lap stints.
Ascari had Lupberger (below) and Lemarie starting in the cars; both completed a couple of laps without problems, then they planned further four lap stints to set some base times.
Audi engineers were expecting higher top speeds on the straights from the revised R8s, but at the same time anticipated lower fuel consumption. The aim was to manage one additional lap from each tank during the race, compared to last year. Laurent Aiello is not here; he's been released to drive in the DTM. Where he won for Abt Audi.
Jan Lammers was first out in the Racing For Holland Dome - to assess the set up and do any adjustments. For Hillebrand and Crevels, it is a first time at Le Mans, Val Hillebrand reckoned that the team's aim for pre-qualifying was "to get as close to cars like Cadillac, Panoz and Audi, but the main aim is to finish on the podium at the race." Val went on to explain that he lived in Le Mans for a year, three years ago. "I have raced on the Bugatti Circuit but that's only a fraction of the track. I have driven the car in the FIA Championship, but Donni has never driven the car."
The 10.00 top 10
1. 001 AUDI SPORTS TEAM JOEST 3:40.119
2. 016 TEAM PLAYSTATION CHRYSLER 3:42.532
3. 004 JOHANSSON MOTORSPORT 3:43.486
4. 007 TEAM BENTLEY 3:43.507
5. 017 PESCAROLO SPORT 3:45.217
6. 003 CHAMPION RACING AUDI 3:45.512
7. 014 VIPER TEAM ORECA 3:45.903
8. 010 DEN BLA AVIS DOME 3:46.232
9. 020 TEAM ASACARI 3:47.386
10.015 VIPER TEAM ORECA CHRYSLER 3:49.006
Second Hour & Beyond
There was a red flag to allow retrieval of the #1 Audi and the #64 Corvette. The Corvette had a breakage of the front left suspension and arrived back on the truck, Audi problems were not known but the #2 Audi visited the same gravel trap as the Audi publicity vehicle last night. There was damage to the front right suspension that required repairs but the car would emerge later.
At the end of the second hour it was Gulf Audi 1st, Audi #1 2nd, Bentley #7 3rd, Champion Audi 4th, Chrysler #16 5th, Bentley #8 6th, Pescarolo Courage #17 7th, Ascari #20 8th, Chrysler #14 9th, Dome #10 10th.
Mike Youles has been out in the PK Porsche and reported no problems other than, "I have done about six flying laps, I am just trying to remember where the track goes."
At Dick Barbour, the #36 car is the new chassis completed since Donington. This was quickest of the 675 class having done a 3'49.479", good enough for 14th after the second hour. Kieron Salter of Reynard commented that there was more to come.
The RML Saleen has been out in the hands of Johnny Mowlem, while Bruno Lambert was waiting his chance, they were third in class behind the Labre Viper and the #63 Corvette. Ron Fellows had done the early laps in the Corvette and explained that, "the general stability is much improved since last year, it's much better through the fast stuff but the top speed is about the same." Johnny O'Connell Is looking forward to the race as he felt that this year they would be able to push for a class win and it would be a hard race from the start. "Last year at Panoz we did not have the speed so although we pushed it was not so hard as we had to think more of finishing."
At Ascari, Harri Toivonen did the first laps in the #21 car. He did four or five flying laps and Patrick Lemarie managed one lap before the session was red flagged. They had just completed a front camber change and were waiting for the track to reopen. Ben Collins was due out for his first stint in the #20 car, which at that point was lying 8th with a lap by Lupberger. Harri Toivonen said, "Werner has been going well but we have a little too much downforce. It is a long way to see the Chequered flag; the team is working perfectly, I can't see any problems for the race."
Stefan Johansson at this stage had done all the Gulf laps and had no problems. By the lunch break Stefan had improved by a further two seconds to top the sheets at 3'36.054. Only after the first hour was he not top of the times - when he was third behind the Joest Audi #1 and Chrysler #16. Guy Smith commented "Stefan is going well, he is good at Le Mans, he likes the place." Guy was looking very pleased with the initial progress at Bentley and was about to have his first stint in the car. "Unlike Audi we have no experience of the car here, we are still setting up and getting a feel for the track." That confidence was reflected as the session ended with his car in third just under half a second behind the #1 Audi. They would however need to find a little over two secs to catch the flying Johansson.
At Pilbeam, Martin O'Connell had done all the laps before the red flag. Warren Carway was due to leave after the red flag. Mike Pilbeam commented that "everything is running cold, tyres water etc, we have had to almost close up the radiator and it looks like we are under geared. It's going faster than I thought it would." By lunchtime, the car was in 33rd with a 4'01.315 lap. Pilbeam were changing the gear ratios in the lunch break for the afternoon, which Mike Pilbeam felt would be worth a few seconds. By the time of the race with the 3.4 engine and the further aero mods they hope to trim a bit more.
At Panoz the "phase 2 car" had a very troubled session with a cracked exhaust header needing a repair half way through and then right at the end it came back in with a small fire caused by further exhaust problems. Despite this, Brabham was quicker than the #11 car, which had a fairly trouble free morning and David felt the car was feeling good and had benefited from the changes. Gary Formato had his first run in the Panoz. but of course he has had two races here in the past. The software problems with the paddle shift appear to have been resolved and both cars were using the system. This car is a very ambitious move on from the last car and it is perhaps unreasonable to expect it to show its full potential yet, but the latest revisions and those yet to come look as if the car is going in the right direction.
Another new car having problems was the MG, both cars were firmly at the bottom of the time sheets with #34 the quickest at 13 minutes and the other completing a 43 minute lap! Certainly one car had an engine change but the EX257 looks as if it has potential. Perhaps realistic hopes for the race are a quick qualifying lap and a few hours fast running in the race. Like Panoz, this might be considered as a 2002 car.
DAMS Cadillac ended 12th and 18th at lunch. The second car had an off at Terte Rouge but damage was not severe. The #6 car was just over six seconds behind the Gulf Audi, but Cadillac appear to have made considerable progress since last year.
At the mid-point of the day, the top cars in each class were:
LMP Johansson Audi (3:36.054), Pos OA 1st
LM GTP Bentley #7 3:38.294, Pos OA 3rd
LMP675 Barbour Reynard #36 3:45.200, Pos OA 14th
LM GTS Labre Viper #58 3:57.143, Pos OA 25th
LM GT Labre Porsche #80 4:14.999, Pos OA 38th.
Other interesting times were for the Callaway 4:20.669" 9th in class 46th overall, the Ascaris in 17th and 19th (#21) and PK Sport / Ricardo were 48th and 11th in class.
It soon became apparent that times were going to fall this afternoon, Werner Lupberger was ecstatic at the team's progress. He could hardly conceal his impatience to get back into the car. Ben Collins had driven the second half of the morning session and had continued for the first half of the afternoon. "The car was just getting faster and faster as the rubber was laid down and the dust cleared." With half an hour to go he had brought his time down to 3'41.129, good enough for 12th OA. Ian Dawson confirmed the drivers' comments that the downforce was hindering them in outright speed but the cars will be comfortable to drive over 24hrs. He was pleased with the day so far; both cars had run faultlessly and they would not be using qualifying tyres. He would have even more cause for pleasure by the end of the session - with the cars 10th and 15th, after both made substantial gains at the end. Indeed, Lupberger might have been ninth had a very last minute flier from the Courage Pescarolo #17 not bumped them a place.
Whilst Stefan Johansson was this morning's star, in the afternoon it was definitely Jan Lammers. An early afternoon flier saw him up to second and it was a long time before he was passed, but after slipping down to about eighth he came back right at the end to finish up fourth quickest, in front of two Audis. Can't you just hear John Mangoletsi bristling with glee? 'I always knew my cars were competitive with the Audis....'
Another last minute improver was Martin Brundle in the #7 Bentley, who jumped to third fastest.
Panoz had a difficult day: only Brabham drove the 'slower' car, which did not run in the afternoon as the damage caused by the small fire this morning was beyond instant rair. David Brabham felt that the car was moving in the right direction and was hopeful they would be further improved by the race. Stating the obious, perhaps.
Frank Lagorce (from the #12 squad) drove some laps in the other car, which had a much less troubled day.
After a day from hell for MG, in the last 20 minutes the #34 car appeared on the track. After single lap the car set off and completed two further laps before the session ended, the first just below the 4 minute barrier and then on the last lap of the session managed to carve off a further chunk of time to finish with a 3:53.471, fifth in class. This was a very welcome glimpse of the oft-mentioned potential of this project and it raised a cheer amongst the British contingent in the pressroom.
In complete contrast for the Brits cheering on one chap in the Champion Racing Audi, they ended the day second: Johnny Herbert (below) did several long stints in the car and there appeared to be few problems. Kelleners is thought to have done the time.
The other private Audi, the Gulf car, ended up sixth after a further improvement by Johansson; Gounon had a drive in the afternoon but spun at the first chicane on Mulsanne about half an hour before the end of the session, which perhaps blunted a late charge from Stefan. "It is not a night-and-day difference between us and the works cars, as we showed, and we will go to Le Mans in June very optimistic of our chances," commented Johansson.
The works cars finished the day first and fifth, which perhaps suggests the race will not be as straightforward as we thought before the w/end - indeed it would appear that they will have to work far harder in June than in 2000 - except that the drivers reckon that the Audis are easier to drive to a 3:32 this year than a 3:36 last. Well done all those who put in the testing miles, and one man in particular.
Both Pescarolo Courages did a lot of laps without problems and like Ascari both were running well at the end of the session, ending ninth and eleventh fastest. The SMG Judd-poweredcar was twelfth and could have ended higher had Philipe Gache gone for a flier.
The Den Bla Avis Dome finished the session 14th with a 3:41.611 on race Goodyears. This equated to the times of the Lammers car on race rubber so the effectiveness of soft tyres was apparent.
In the LMP 675 class, the progress of MG has been noted but the class was topped by the Dick Barbour Reynard #36: the ROC Reynard was very close behind with the second (resrve) ROC car close behind. The Roock Lola Nissan was driven by Claudia Hurtgen throughout the w/end and was effectively third in class, about eight seconds behind the Barbour Reynard. The Pilbeam afternoon was less satisfactory than the morning; after a lunch time change of ratios they had gear selection problems and the day ended when the #83 Seikel Porsche ran into the back of the car about half an hour before the end of the day.
In GTS, Saleen drivers set the three fastest times, with the Labre Viper and Corvettes close behind. This class looks like it might be the most bitterly fought class in the race. 3:54 is not unexpected from a Saleen, while Bouchut's 3:55 tends to suggest that Oreca have had something in hand for a year or two.
In the GT class it was dominated by the Porsches of course, the Freisinger car #78 topping the times. The lone interloper, the Callaway, was seventh three seconds behind the leading Porsche but with the race engine yet to be completed should bring further gains in performance. Realistically they must achieve a level where they are comfortable pole sitters of the class if their extra fuel consumption is to be offset.
Rinaldo Capello's 3:32 is getting close to those amazing speeds in 1999. Emanuele Pirro looks confident about his Audi in fourth, while David Brabham looks as though he'd rather be somewhere else. "Le Mans is a mystical place full of promise and adversity," summarised Don Panoz. "With our new car problems we have been building character, but when we get to the 24 Hour event in June we will be racing."
No major incidents today, which is what sportscar racing needed. Plus a little bit of humour (Youles and Pickup, below). Shall we let them out? Nah, leave them there 'til the race.
PS. No Weaver or Leitzinger at the circuit this weekend. Butch has just got married! You didn't have James as your best man, did you Butch? Best wishes to Mr & Mrs Leitzinger for a long and happy relationship.
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