Donington's debut on the Le Mans Series schedule offers Henri Pescarolo's eponymous team a chance to maintain its 100 per cent record in LMS this year, says Mike Holder, but with one or two surprises on the entry list, it promises to be an ...
Donington's debut on the Le Mans Series schedule offers Henri Pescarolo's eponymous team a chance to maintain its 100 per cent record in LMS this year, says Mike Holder, but with one or two surprises on the entry list, it promises to be an enthralling race.
Despite its dominance in LMS, Henri's team again suffered disappointment in the big prize of the Le Mans 24 Hours, but it remains the benchmark team in the series. This weekend, regular drivers Jean- Christophe Boullion and Emmanuel Collard are joined by Didier Andre, who brings some finance but has proved quick in his outings for Paul Belmondo's "LM"P2 team. How he fares in "LM"P1 will be fascinating, but there are no fears over the pace of his team-mates, who won by seven laps in the opening race in Istanbul.
The toughest opposition to Pescarolo in "LM"P1 comes from Creation, this weekend running two cars. Yet to win, but often so close to doing so, there would be huge popularity for a victory for Ian Bickerton's team, but with Jamie Campbell-Walter and Nicolas Minassian being split so that they head a car each, one wonders how well their co-drivers can do. JC-W, for example, teams up with experienced, fiery Italian Beppe Gabbiani, who has proved to be quick but not as quick as Jamie, whilst Felipe Ortiz has improved in leaps and bounds. Thomas Serwin partners Minassian, and it will be interesting to see how they fare, but it is still tempting to suggest it is advantage Pescarolo.
The Lister Storm is improving all the time, and with former Formula 1 racer Nicolas Kiesa at the wheel it should go well, whilst the Swiss Spirit team has impressed this year, too, thanks to the efforts of former DTM racer Marcel Fassler and former British F3 driver Harold Primat. The team, run by former F3 guru Serge Saulnier, has made great strides in its rookie season, and whilst Fassler is the gun driver, Primat has improved as well.
A dark horse, though, will be the Zytek of Hideki Noda and Stefan Johansson. The Swede has been a favourite in the UK for many seasons, but little has been seen of him in Europe of late, although he returned with Racing for Holland at Le Mans. The car has bags of potential, although its high turnover of drivers negates consistent development, but it will fly here.
The Courages have proved to be quick if frail this year, and with Jean-Marc Gounon on the entry list, you just know that there will be fireworks. He is joined by the historic racer Gregor Fisken, who gets quicker all the time, and gentleman racer Alexander Frei. The wealthy Swiss is no match for Gounon's lap times, so inevitably this is a car that relies heavily on the French ace, but the sister car of Japanese drivers Haruki Kurosawa and Shinji Nakano boasts evenly-matched drivers. If reliability is good, this is a car that should be up front.
"LM"P2 is a class that gets better all the time, with the RML-run MG-Lola of Tommy Erdos and Mike Newton the car to watch. It won its class at Le Mans for the second year in a row, and with the rapid Brazilian and the ever-improving Newton at the wheel, it could be good for a win here. But opposition comes from ASM, Antonio Simoes Motorsport. Run by Portuguese driver Antonio Simoes, the car won at Spa despite a late-race spin by Miguel Amaral. With Spaniards Miguel Angel de Castro and Angel Burgueno, both Donington regulars, they have the pace to lift the car up the order and could best the RML combo, as they did at Nurburgring.
The other car to watch in "LM"P2 is the Courage of Barazi Epsilon. It was second overall at Istanbul in a fascinating wet race and with Michael Vergers as lead driver, it is no surprise that it is a quick car. Vergers remains under-rated, but he has worked with Juan Barazi since they raced Radicals together and the Dane has benefited hugely from Vergers' tutelage.
Radical, thanks to Martin Short's Rollcentre Racing team, has made a big impression in "LM"P2 this year and there are two of the SR9s this weekend. Short teams up with Joao Barbosa who has excelled for the Cambridgeshire team in Moslers, Dallaras and now Radicals, whilst Tim Greaves and Stuart Mosley (who drove the car at Le Mans) share the second car, and given the progress that the team has made, a win is not out of the question.
Paul Belmondo's team, with its Gulf-liveried Courages, is down to just one car this weekend, with former driver Andre moving to Pescarolo. There is a change in the engine department, too, with the Mecachrome V8 being binned in favour of the AER four cylinder turbo that delivered success last year.
Although not as fast as the prototypes, it may well be the GT classes where you find the best racing, with hugely fierce contests commonplace in "LM" GT1 and "LM"GT2. In GT1, you have Aston Martin against Saleen, with Chevrolet and Ferrari thrown in for good measure. The Saleen, not the youngest GT car but still a quick one, is run by the crack French Oreca team, and Stephane Ortelli/Soheil Ayari have been impressive all season. They won at Spa after a magnificent race against Team Modena's Aston Martin, but the wins at Istanbul and the Nurburgring have gone the way of Jack Leconte's Larbre Competition team. So familiar with Ferraris, the team has switched to Aston Martins this season and again has reigning FIA GT champion Gabriele Gardel with Pedro Lamy. The Portuguese ace proved to be an utter hero, and with Belgian driver Vincent Vosse as the third driver, this is a really tough car to beat. Only an accident at Spa that caused it to start last and a catalogue of woes in the race has spoilt its season.
On home soil, though, the Team Modena Aston Martin will be looking for a good result, with Christian Vann joining Peter Hardman and Antonio Garcia. The Spaniard won for Rob Schirle's Cirtek team in the Bahrain FIA GT race last year and he is the pace-setter in this car in his typically modest way, and is certain to be a thorn in Ortelli's side, for example.
Peter Kox/Robert Pergl/Alexei Vasiliev pedal the Convers MenX (say Men Ex) Team Ferrari 550 Maranello, and Kox is as quick as ever. Pergl and Vasiliev are much improved and this is a car that can't be discounted, whilst the same is true of the Chevrolet Corvettes of Luc Alphand Aventures, which boasts the very quick Jerome Policand, and the newer C6.R model of the PSI Experience team.
"LM"GT1 offers great variety, with Porsche, Ferrari, Panoz, TVR and Spyker all going toe-to-toe. The Porsche of Raymond Narac benefits from the efforts of Christophe Bouchut, whilst the Virgo Motorsport Ferrari of Dan Eagling and Tim Sugden has proved its pace. The wins, though, have gone to Luca Drudi/Gabrio Rosa/Fabrizio de Simone at Istanbul Park, Marc Lieb/Joel Camathias at Spa and Stefano Zonca/Andrea Bellichi/Marco Cioci at the Nurburgring. Drudi and Rosa are joined by Andrea Montermini this weekend, and that he is sure to star, whilst Lieb/Camathias are always quick in the Autorlando Sport Porsche.
The Spykers are much improved and boast quick drivers like Peter Dumbreck, Jonny Kane and Jeroen Bleekemolen, whilst Lawrence Tomlinson's Panoz team (that won "LM"GT2 at Le Mans remember, finally giving success to Don Panoz enters two cars and will be eager for a maiden LMS win on home turf. Add in a host of privateer Porsches and the TVR of Iain Dockerill/Nigel Greensall/John Hartshorne and there is bags of variety.
1000 kilometres or six hours of racing, different shapes and sizes, different sights and sounds, star drivers and great racing, this is truly sports car heaven.