Larbre’s American adventure ends early at Sebring

Round one of the ACO’s new endurance championship, the Intercontinental Le Mans Cup, got underway last weekend with the Twelve Hours of Sebring. The classic American race was the first of this season’s seven events and attracted an impressive and varied entry list of 54 cars which included last minute Jaguar and Panoz entries.

Weather conditions were perfect throughout the week preceding the event with blue skies and average temperatures of 29 degrees.

Twelve hours of testing – the same number as the race itself – during the week allowed Larbre Competition’s drivers, mechanics and engineers time to fine-tune the team’s #50 Corvette C6 ZR1 and find the correct race setup. Despite a small engine issue on the Tuesday, there were no new problems to report ahead of the race unit’s installation before official scrutineering.

Gabriele Gardel was selected to set the car’s time during Friday qualifying. With 12 hours of racing ahead, he took a cautious approach on his way to fourth fastest of the GTE/AM class runners, mirroring the team’s own conservative tyre compound choice which had one eye on ensuring a consistent pace early in Saturday’s race.

Indeed, that strategy paid off when Gabriel climbed up to second during the opening hour on Saturday despite the congestion created by 54 cars jostling over just 5.7kms of circuit.

But the team’s hard work would ultimately go unrewarded when, ten laps before the end ofGabriel’s second stint, an engine electrical failure forced him to park at the side of the circuit. Understandably the Val de Vienne-based squad were extremely disappointed not to begin their season with a class podium.

Jack Leconte: “Retirement came as a bitter blow because we have been preparing for this race over the past two months with great dedication and attention to detail. You have to go back five years to an LMS race at Spa to find the last time we retired with a mechanical failure. Perhaps our unstinting commitment and preparation had made us a little forgetful of motorsport’s uncertainty. But we will accept it and move on. We are already preparing for the second ILMC round at Spa-Francorchamps on 7 May with great care being taken to ensure we bounce back into championship contention.

“Before this we will participate in the Le Mans 24 Hours’ official test day on 24 April where we will receive support from the technical staff of General Motors as well as their factory drivers Oliver Gavin, Tom Milner and Olivier Beretta.

“As soon as we arrive back in Europe we will not waste a moment in order to return to where we belong.” Patrick Bornhauser: “Everything started well during the long Sebring week. The first tests on Monday were very encouraging and offered us hope of a good result in the race.

“That contrasted with the middle of the week when we had to replace the engine, before ending on a sour note following the retirement in the race.

“Nevertheless, I will always remember Sebring’s exceptional atmosphere and organisation. The spectators are probably as numerous as those at the Le Mans 24 Hours, but an impression of liberty stands out much more; there’s greater freedom of movement for everyone and spectators are much closer to the track.

“The race’s organisation is a model in itself. All is perfectly oiled. The only downside concerns the track’s condition which doesn’t seem to have been renovated for a long time. The American dream was definitely alive and well.”

Julien Canal: “Sebring is an iconic circuit but unlike any other around the world, which I experienced for the first time at the Winter Tests. The atmosphere and passion of the spectators is second to none. The week beforehand went well and I was able to get in the groove early running with a race setup which helped my understanding of this tricky track.

“Unfortunately, I did not get a chance behind the wheel during the race following the car’s engine issue which our technicians quickly analysed. I still have a lot of hope for the 2011 season and remain confident for the rest of the ILMC championship. See you in Spa.” Gabriel Gardel: “As usual, Larbre Competition made meticulous preparations all week. The team and engineers worked really hard in order to allow us to fight at the highest level. The atmosphere and organisation were also perfect. It is only the first race of the season and I know that the team are going to succeed. For many years, we have more often won with Larbre than we have lost! We are going to put everything in place for the coming 6 Hours of Spa and I know that we will have the best car, especially with the support of General Motors.”

- source: larbre competition