LE MANS
Pre Le Mans
-
14/06/2001
 
Preview
LMP900s - One
 
This is a far, far more interesting collection than last year. No disrespect to the Pescarolo effort then, but a well driven C52 driven at modest pace deserved a sixth or seventh, didn't it? The expected reliability issues smote the bulk of the field, Audi swept through in a blaze of glory - and this time it might not be that much different. It might though, it just might.

The fastest cars, the most heavily tested, complete with aerodynamic revisions, and probably the most fuel efficient in the class - but stricken by the worst kind of misfortune just before the Test Day. How could that happen to a Joest-run team? No McNish this time, and only two cars, but they do have back-up. Capello was fractionally faster than Kristensen at the Test Day, but the Dane is the obvious team leader this year. Pescatori will show his pace as the replacement, the only niggling doubt is the two car aspect - plus a suspicion that the driver strength isn't quite top notch. Will the customers push them hard enough?

Ralf Kelleners, Didier Theys and Johnny Herbert ought to be at least a match for a Joest trio, and with equal equipment
it could be just like last year, but with one car in a more attractive scheme. None of these three started the year with the Champion project, which knew it was losing Wallace to Audi, and officially is claiming that the car is too tight a fit for Dorsey Schroeder. Thiery Boutsen is involved, which must be a significant asset to any team. No apparent weak links, a real prospect of a 'US' win. Theys is the closest to a US driver.

Mike Earle is new to Le Mans, Tom Coronel and Patrick Lemarie were signed late - this has the hint of a 24 Hours a few weeks too soon. Perhaps talent will make up for that. Johansson and Smith have been a blinding partnership, doing everything but win in two ELMS races. The Swede will surely pull it all together for a great race performance, but the equipment isn't the same as the other two R8s. This is 2000 technology - but still far, far better than most. Anything from a win to fourth is possible, second or third more likely than first. Coronel joins the big league.

"Still rubbish," declares the UK publication Motorsport News. Can't agree with that at all. Last year's car was difficult, cumbersome and slow, but one car still looked as though it could manage an almost perfect run - until the rear suspension failed. That would have been a deserved reward for plugging away and never giving up. Maybe they should have abandoned this effort altogether, but by the time the decision was finally made, lack of time meant that wasn't an option. Large-scale changes have seen a drastic improvement. Brakes were an issue at the Test Day, so expect Qualifying times in the high 3:30s this year, followed by hard, strong runs in the race. Off the ultimate pace perhaps, but you could spend $200m and still not be with the R8s. Michelins will make a big difference compared to last year's wooden rubber.

Preparations for Bentley's return have gone far better than anyone dared hope. 27 hours at Magny-Cours proved the durability, Brundle and Wallace proved the speed at the Test Day. One turbo gone that day could happen at any time. A quick change item? Interesting driver squads. Brundle was chosen over Herbert and Blundell. More 'Bentlified' than those two? Wallace / Leitzinger / Weaver was perfect, but vdP will stand in admirably. Ortelli? How does he fit the Bentley mould? What is it Bentley are after? The same draw as Jaguar in the late eighties? No way. Guy Smith is a star of the future (if not now), the cars are beautiful. Slower pit stops, perhaps, than the open cars? Faster top speed? More economical? All marginal elements. Stunning cars, a welcome return. But do many of the cross-Channellers of today have a clue what Bentley did in the twenties? They know what Jaguar are doing now - generating a lot of poor publicity in the wrong category.

Is the Jan Lammers of today any different from the Lammers of 1988 who took on the 962s in the opening laps and gave them a good old sort out - a 'punch up' as Andy Wallace (he wouldn't have done it then, he would now) affectionately calls a dice and a half. To answer the question - No. Exactly the same guy. He's been languishing for too long waiting for the right tools. Dome provided them, or at least the kit of parts. He had a perfect Test Day - or as near as dammit - and slapped on some Michelin qualies at the end to set a blinding lap, including the fastest top speed of the day. His partners will need nurturing, but Lammers is an out and out star. Deserves a perfect race. Team deserves to fill all those white spaces. One to watch.

The car is a visual gem - and the colours of the Den Bla Avis chassis show off the lines to much better effect than the Racing For Holland car. This one has bitten Nielsen once, but he knows its potential. His co-drivers looked more suitable last year, although his chassis then was a doggy old thing. Perhaps not quite the whole item for 2001, but imagine Nielsen, Lammers, Wallace, Johansson and Herbert having a 2am punch up down Mulsanne. Aaah. We're back ten years or so, to some of the very best Le Mans days. Goodyear tyres on this one. All the others on this page have Michelins, apart from the Bentleys, which had to have Dunlops.

All photographs by John Brooks, of course.







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