LE MANS
Post Le Mans
-
17/06/2001
 
Reflections
From The Editor
 
It's a lot of fun, cranking out the Le Mans news and stories, knowing that readers will be logging on, desperate to read what has just been posted. But it's also a frustrating experience - we're almost always so busy, we can never sit back and enjoy the race, and lap up all the details for later explanation. I envy others who can spend 24 hours gathering stories, to write about later. So perhaps I'm the least qualified to reflect on a race of such length, but I'll have a try, with the help of images from John Brooks.

Did TotalMotorSport fairly relect the efforts of the six Audi drivers? I fear not. But let's try and do so now. Put simply, those six lapped faster than any other drivers almost throughout (in admittedly the best cars), the winners had (I believe) no spins during the 24 hours, and they all drove magnificently. It's the clinical way the whole team goes about its business that reduces the appeal. There are no personal stories to tell, because you can't get inside what's really going on. What do they care what a website writes? A problem with the transmission jamming in gear? Six minutes - solved. Plus new everything at the back. The front brakes wore very little in the often wet conditions, but pads and discs could have gone through a dry 24 hours with no problem at all - apparently.

Fuel economy was far less important than being on the right tyres at the right time, but perhaps the new engine / injection system will pay dividends next year. Does Herr Ullrich really want a new chassis for 2002, to complete the hat-trick? Is that really necessary? Audi are taking control to the nth degree. Romanticism goes out of racing with Joest and Ullrich in charge.

Audi ended up playing second fiddle anyway - to the weather. I escaped from the Media Centre briefly at about midnight - to enjoy a meal chez Chrysler. It should have been a hurried bite, but a downpour of tropical proportions persuaded me to stay put until it had petered out. Those poor drivers, stuck out there in the torrents. Their bravery knows no bounds, and it was with huge relief that we got through this one with no serious injuries. Aquaplaning in third gear on Mulsanne? Was this racing, or survival? The latter of course, but Jacky Ickx played the Safety Car(d) correctly. He sent them out after the early pile up, which allowed the race to settle down after a desperate first 20 minutes for many out there. I wonder, what would Ickx himself have done, with a car on slicks and rain clearly on its way as the race started? Dropped back, perhaps, to find some clear track, thereby avoiding someone else's mistake? Un-racing driver like, perhaps, but perhaps wise in the circumstances.

Ray Rowan's little team were one of the victims of the accident after Arnage, after a week of troubles. Their's was a disaster for one entry, but the Vipers suffered disasters all over the track. Lou Patane was confident before the race that the V10s still had a Le Mans GTS win in them. You couldn't help but agree, the more so after the problems that hit the Corvettes and the Saleens. But every Viper was afflicted with crash and spin damage, to the extent that Belmondo needed parts late on Saturday that just weren't available. The FFSA entry - a really fancied one this - saw David Terrien complete three and a quarter laps, his FFSA-backed partners none at all. Terrien's last quarter of a lap saw repeated visits to the gravel, as he had no steering to speak of. It was hauled out, dived back in again, hauled out....and he got it back to his pit. The car was trash. Christophe Bouchut and partners spent their race in the Larbre Viper vainly trying to make up the 24 laps they lost having their front end rebuilt. They made it home, 20th and last, 44 laps down on the class winning Corvette.

The Corvette way of winning - let the Porsches by, we must win the class, we mustn't risk a spin and a starter problem re-firing the engine - earned them few friends, but perhaps they deserve the same accolades as all the other 19 finishers; they finished the foulest Le Mans that anyone driving had ever experienced. But we all prefer a repair when the car will go no further, a patch-it-up-and-carry-on-racing approach, don't we? Shouldn't they all try to complete as many laps as possible in the 24 hours, not as few laps to ensure a class win?

Saleen's day at Le Mans will have to wait until that Ford can last the full distance. The lead Konrad car and the RML entry were quick enough, the former amazingly so. Two strong driver line-ups was at least one too few.

The 'Porsche' class. The Callaway put up a brave fight, but once it had gone, we had a right old GT ding dong between the flat-sixes. Eight of them finished, one wasn't classsified for covering insufficient laps and the slowest one crashed out. 80% success rate in those conditions, and all privateers too. Amazing. Well done the Babini / Drudi / Rosa combination....



...and well done the Freisinger crew for coming back from their Thursday night accident and claiming second. Well done the other six crews, four of which occupied ninth to 12th places overall, ahead of a Cadillac, a Courage and the second Corvette. Well done PK Sport for two front end repairs, well done Mike Youles for clattering the barrier at the entrance to the first Mulsanne Chicane and rotating SIX times - and getting it back to pit-lane.

LMP 675 saw a 25% finishing rate, and one of those barely started the race - the WR. Few would have picked the ROC Reynard to finish, but fifth overall? This was as much a reflection of Chrysler / Cadillac / Courage troubles late on as the speed of the 'old' 675 Reynard, but Deletraz / Fabre / Gene turned the boost down and plugged on to a remarkable finish. The MGs didn't finish, but that was almost a dead cert. from the off. The Barbour Reynards were down to one after four laps, the other running well until that huge fire at the back during the night. What the MGs did do was cause a mighty stir among the LMP 900s. I'm convinced they could have split the Bentleys in Qualifying, although both Speed 8s failed to find clear road on a full Qualifying lap. Anthony Reid was charming, beuatifully descriptive and blindingly quick (anyway) on Wednesday and Thursday, while Mark Blundell thoroughly deserved a good soaking (internally) in gin by Sunday morning. The MG plan seemed to change by the hour as problems struck on Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday, but the car is a little gem, and the right team is running them. There seems every prospect of the MGs running in a number of events - a number of events - prior to next year's Le Mans. Watch them stir the British crowd, just like the Jaguars did ten years ago.



The top class - if we count the GTPs as 900s, which they are - wasn't an Audi rout of 2000 proportions, thanks to the #8 Bentley. This car lost two-thirds of the gap to the winner (15 laps) in the pits, much of the delay related to rain getting where it shouldn't. The wiper wasn't wiping where it should, but such are the development problems on what is a much more complicated - and complete - car than an open prototype. A very new one too, which hasn't tested in the wet. If Joest was running them, he'd do a rain dance and force the heavens to open, wouldn't he? A dry race would have been infinitely more preferable for the Bentley 'pilots', who looked suitably WWll / Speed Six-ish on the podium. A fine effort, but can they really challenge the Audis stint after stint next year, on narrower tyres?



Mike Earle turned down the MG project (just after it was announced that his company would run them), so it was ironic that MG outlasted Gulf Audi by a long way. Stefan Johansson provided early proof of the danger of a wet Le Mans with a huge spin into the barrier and then the (new) gravel at Indianapolis - well timed, well placed, ACO. Johansson's front body section landed on Andy Wallace's Bentley roof. The Gulf car then stopped on Mulsanne, before the new Gulf men had had a try in the race. The Champion car ran strongly for 81 laps, before clucth problems stopped it. Presumably, if we gave Joest a 2000 car next year, he'd still win with it, while others wallowed around with similar or newer chassis. Does Joest deserve more praise than Audi; or, is the preparer now bigger than the marque? Look out, Herr Ullrich.

The rest of the 900s. Of necessity, this is a less than detailed look back. Chrysler delighted themselves and impressed many with fourth, in the LMP's second race. An excellent effort, the other two cars going further than many - in a race where nearly half the field was out with less than 100 laps completed.



Cadillac suffered with an 'off' for one car and something of a repeat for the well placed Northstar - last year, fourth was beckoning when the suspension failed. This year, the starter played up - and played up and played up. It's a real 24 hour car, other than this single component. Nigel Stroud and Jeff Hazell, produce an Audi beater for 2002 - you've got the right time scale this time.

Klaas Zwart's Ascari team were race-managed immaculately by Ian Dawson, and a sensible race pace was exactly the right plan. Ben Collins was nevertheless as impressive as Mark Blundell on pace, but ill fortune eliminated both cars; the #21 appeared for a few laps on Sunday morning, but it was a futile effort.



The Domes both suffered with fuel-supply related Judd problems, as on one or both Ascaris, while the Gache Courage went out early and may not be seen again, period. Nielsen was looking good for a strong finish, while Lammers was a beacon of hope early on. The man shows a spirit that typifies the underdog at Le Mans; long may he race here. He clipped a barrier, Audi didn't.



Panoz. More Le Mans spirit. Will we see an LMP07 development here next year, or a completely new machine? Time will tell. At least Klaus Graf led, before his tetchy beast threw him off at the Porsche Curves. Not nice. Graf has just got on with his job this year, and could have a long term role with Don's team, as reward for loyalty.

The entry next year might include Aston Martin, and should include at least one model of Ferrari. That will provide a better balance to the GT classes, where the junior class this year was wide open - to those who fitted the ACO's unusual entry requirements. The Audi hat-trick next year? It will be a relief when they've done it - and gone to F1?

Bob Wollek - we missed your spirit, your defiant battles to take on the challenges of Le Mans. Winning isn't everything, you know. Oh, all right, winning is everything.






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