Spa 24: Michelin qualifying report

THE No.7 SALEEN/MICHELIN ON POLE Although the fastest time set during Thursday's two qualifying sessions was secured by the No.33 Aston Martin/Michelin, and despite the fact that the best lap of Friday's run was the work of the ...

THE No.7 SALEEN/MICHELIN ON POLE

Although the fastest time set during Thursday's two qualifying sessions was secured by the No.33 Aston Martin/Michelin, and despite the fact that the best lap of Friday's run was the work of the No.6 Corvette/Michelin, it is the Saleen S7/Michelin of Vosse/Franchi/Lamy/Zacchia that will start the 2008 24 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps from in front thanks to its aggregate time over the three sessions. The Larbre Competition car will be joined on the front row tomorrow afternoon by the Corvette/Michelin of Hezemans/Fassler/Deletraz/Gollin, while Michelin runners monopolise the top ten places on the grid.

The Jack Lecomte-run Larbre Competition squad has long been a regular feature of endurance racing's major fixtures over the years and its record includes two previous wins at Spa-Francorchamps in 2001 and 2002, as well as several category wins at Le Mans. Today's third and final qualifying session saw its Michelin-equipped Saleen S7 (Vosse/Franchi/Lamy/Zacchia) claim pole position for this weekend's 24 -hour showdown, ahead of the Phoenix Racing Corvettes, the Jetalliance Aston Martin and the Maserati MC12s run by Vitaphone Racing which also counts two wins on the Belgian classic to its name.

Following Wednesday's traditional parade through the streets of Spa, drivers took to the track for the first time on Thursday morning's free practice session which was dominated by the Larbre Competition Saleen. Few would have predicted at the time, however, that the Franco-American machine would go on to secure pole-position for Saturday afternoon's start.

Thursday evening's first qualifying session (8.30pm -9.30pm) was won by the Jetalliance Racing Aston Martin/Michelin of Wendlinger/Sharp/Muller/Lichtner-Oyer, although the session was red-flagged following a big crash at Blanchimont involving the SRT Corvette with Christophe Bouchut at the wheel.

The No.6 Phoenix Racing Cor vette (Hezemans/Fassler/Deletraz/Gollin), which topped the timesheets at the test organised at the Belgian venue earlier in July, was the quickest car on the track during the night-time run (10-11.30pm), but the fastest aggregate time over the two sessions went to the No.33 Aston Martin/Michelin which took provisional pole ahead of the damaged No.3 Corvette/Michelin (Bouchut/Maassen/Soulet/Pillon) and the Maserati MC12/Michelin of Bartels/Bertolini/Sarrazin/Van de Poele.

The third and final qualifying run on Friday afternoon saw just one GT1 car get under the 2m 14s mark, however, thanks to Portugal's Pedro Lamy who covered the 7km, 3m and 95cm of the legendary Belgian track in a time of 2m 13.923s to clinch pole-position in the dying moments of the session.

The Larbre Competition car will be joined on the front row by the No.6 Corvette/Michelin, with the No.33 Aston Martin and the No.1 Maserati (which tops the provisional championship standings) following on the second row. The No.3 Corvette was forced to sit o ut the third session following its crash on Thursday evening but it is expected to be repaired in time for the race. It will start from the back of the grid despite being accredited with the fourth quickest time.

In the GT2 category, the No.51 Ferrari F430 /Michelin (Biagi/Montanari/Farnbacher/Russo) was the fastest car on the track on Thursday evening, while the second AF Corse car (the No.50 F430 which leads the championship thanks to a score of three wins) suffered an engine failure and will consequently start back in 19th place. The Imsa Performance/Michelin car, which claimed the third quickest GT2 time, is the best- placed Porsche on the grid.

Michel Droitecourt (FIA GT Championship Programme Technical Manager, Michelin)

Tyre choices

Our partner teams chose their tyres for the 24 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps a month ago. Some went for a selection of 'soft', 'medium' and/or 'medium plus' compounds, while others chose to go for just one option.

Soft tyres

Yesterday's qualifying sessions gave us a chance to evaluate the different solutions we have here for this race. The soft compound, which represents a gain of around three or four tenths of a second per lap, turned out to be strong in terms of both performance and in consistency, despite the high track temperatures. Quite a few teams have chosen to start the race with the same soft tyre that was used in qualifying. It is interesting to see how important it is for them to start the race at the front of the field, even though this is a 24-hour competition.

Stints

After the start, we can expect to see certain teams pit after a just few laps, while others are likely to double- stint from the word go. After that, their tyres choices will depend on their respective strategies, the weather and the tyre options they each have. Just one mechanic is permitted work on either side of the car, so a pit stop at Spa is extremely costly in time terms; around 20 seconds. Teams which change their tyres after every stint - that is to say about every hour - stand to 'drop' four minutes over a period of 12 hours. The objective is consequently to double-stint as frequently as possible, which means spending approximately two hours on the same set of tyres.

Strategies

Consistency is always a crucial factor in a 24-hour race. That said, it is also important to remember that points will be awarded to the teams as a function of their respective positions after 6 and 12 hours of racing. We do not want to penalise our partners, so the tyres we have here are engineered to deliver both performance and consistency.

Night racing

Of the three types of tyre we have at Spa, teams will favour the soft compound option in cooler temperatures, that is to say once it gets dark and/or when the track temperature falls to around the 20/25o.C mark. This solution will run until about seven o'clock in the morning and teams won't have any difficulty double-stinting.

Wet weather

Although Spa doesn't give that much grip in the dry, it does tend to drain well, so that ensures relatively good grip in the wet. You frequently see slicks and intermediate tyres lapping at the same time.

Our partner teams can choose between three different wet weather tyres:
- 'Full wets' if there is a lot of water on the track,
- A tyre for drying conditions. This tyre is also suited to unsettled weather conditions because it is very versatile. It features the same tread pattern as the full wet tyre.
- The intermediate tyre is suited to damp conditions, but is not so strong in heavier rain.

It is important that teams take great care over their tyre choices. If the drivers have to pit to change tyres because of a poor call, they stand to lose a lot of time because the pit-lane is very long at Spa. That's one of the reasons why having a versatile tyre here is so important.

Jack Lecomte (Larbre Competition):

"I am delighted that we will be starting from pole position here at Spa thanks to Pedro's lap! It's been a real team effort and the fruit of the excellent working relationship we enjoy between the drivers and all those who work out of the limelight to prepare such a competitive car. It is nicely balanced and functions extremely well with its Michelin tyres. We will try to double-stint as much as possible to avoid losing the 20 or seconds its takes to change tyres during a pit stop. I have every confidence in Michelin and its staff. That's so important."

Pedro Lamy (driver, Larbre Competition):

"I am very pleased to have enabled Larbre Competition to start Saturday's race from pole position here at Spa which is such a fantastic circuit, even though changeable weather can make it very difficult. Happily, Larbre Competition benefits from a partnership with Michelin and that, I have to say, makes life much easier for us. Our tyres are competitive and the advice of Michelin's technical staff is always extremely valuable."

Facts and figures--

3500 tyres
This is approximately how many tyres Michelin has taken to Belgium for the 24 Hours of Spa- Francorchamps.

30
The number of sets of tyres available for each car in dry weather

17
The number of sets of wet weather tyres available for each car

3
The number of different dry weather compounds available ('soft', 'medium' and 'medium plus').

3
The number of types of wet weather tyres available (full-wets, a tyre for drying conditions and intermediates).

19
The number of cars running on Michelin tyres (10 GT1s and 9 GT2s)

10
The number of Michelin technicians at the race to follow and advise the firm's partner teams

-credit: michelin

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About this article
Series Blancpain Sprint
Drivers Pedro Lamy , Christophe Bouchut
Teams AF Corse , Larbre Competition , Phoenix Racing