LEMANS: 2011 Test Day
ILMC Teams Test Le Mans Track
No fewer than 54 teams took part in this weekend’s Le Mans Test Day, the ultimate preparation for the annual 24 Hours of Le Mans, which has its start this year on June 11. Although just a “test” for cars, drivers and teams, rivalry between entrants added to Easter Sunday Test Day excitement at the Le Mans track in Western France. As expected, cars in the LMP1 category set the fastest times on the 13.629-kilometer track.
For many years, the 24 Hours of Le Mans has been the most prestigious sports car race on the international motorsport calendar, and in order for teams to be well-prepared for this gruelling event, organizing body the ACO (Automobile Club de l’Ouest) offers competitors the chance to test on track a few weeks before the race. “Many segments of the track are roads used by normal, daily traffic. We can only close these during the Test Day and the race itself, so there is no possibility to test at any other date,” said Jean-Claude Plassart, president of the ACO. “This year’s 79th edition of the 24 Hours of Le Mans will be held on the course that was introduced in 1923 for the first edition of the race. Of course, there have been many changes in its nearly ninety years of history, but overall it is more or less the same roads that make up the track today.”
After the exciting first race of this year’s Intercontinental Le Mans Cup (ILMC), which was held last month at the legendary Sebring racetrack in Florida, the battle between Audi and Peugeot continued here in Le Mans. Although no official timing was completed for the Test Day, the teams did clock their own cars and perhaps those of their competitors as well. The Peugeot 908s, which were the fastest cars in Florida, were running about three-and-a-half-minute laps, with Stéphane Sarrazin (FRA) as the fastest. Audi, who came to the Circuit de la Sarthe for Test Day with their new R18 coupe, equalled these times. German driver Mike Rockenfeller, winner of the 2010 Rolex 24 at Daytona and the 24 Hours of Le Mans, was among the fastest on the Audi side: “We got all the data we want and are ready for the race. I would love to win the 24-hour race again, not just for the title, but also for the beautiful Rolex Cosmograph Daytona.” Rolex Testimonee Tom Kristensen added: “This was a fruitful weekend and we used the right settings for the new R18. It was the first time I was driving a closed car, but everything went well. I love the six-speed gearbox.” The Danish driver, also a record eight-time Le Mans winner, emphasized the close battle: “The top cars clocked in within a few tenths of a second of one another, this is going to be a tight battle.”
Aston Martin also had their new car, but the AMR-ONE was some twenty seconds off the pace and only completed the Sunday morning session. The team still has a month to adjust their cars and gain some speed. The fastest of the petrol-fuelled vehicles was the Pescarolo-Judd driven by Emmanuel Collard (FRA), just ahead of the Lola-Toyotas. Hughes de Chaunac, whose team won the 12 Hours of Sebring, is happy about the progress of his Peugeot. “We had a great win in Sebring and showed that our Peugeot can compete with factory entries. Today’s test results showed that we are just a few seconds off and will also be competitive here in June.”
In the competitive GTE classes the ILMC is open for professional and amateur teams, with the exciting Ferrari F458 Italia as the fastest among the professionals and the Corvette as the fastest among the amateurs. In the LMP2 class the fastest was the Oreca Nissan.
All competitors in the ILMC have one more opportunity to test before Le Mans. On Saturday 7 May, the Belgian racetrack of Spa-Francorchamps will host the 1000-kilometer endurance race. “Although the Belgian track is completely different from the French track, it is always a good test for the whole team. The best time to test racing conditions will always be at an actual race,” said Olivier Quesnel, Director of Peugeot Sport. The Belgian race will be the second round of the ILMC. After Le Mans, four more races will be held in the series: at Imola in Italy, Silverstone in England, Road Atlanta in America and the season finale, the Six Hours of Zhuhai, in China. The Intercontinental Le Mans Cup was introduced by the ACO last summer and has already gained vast popularity. Both teams and fans embrace this series in which Rolex is an important partner.
The 79th edition of the 24 Hours of Le Mans will start on Saturday, June 11. When the famous Rolex clock at the start-finish line shows 15:00, over 50 cars will begin their 24-hour race. Over a quarter of a million people attend this race live from the grandstands around the course. Additionally, millions will have the opportunity to follow the race on television as the ACO has extended the contract with Eurosport to broadcast the race live.