ELMS is back on track at Paul Ricard Circuit in France
Good morning and welcome to the official pre-season tests for the European Le Mans Series teams and competitors, taking place today and tomorrow at Circuit Paul Ricard in the south of France. There are 37 cars present and over 100 drivers, many of whom are new to the ELMS and to multi-class racing. Some are already signed for the season ahead and are using the test sessions to work on fine-tuning the set-up of their cars, while others are evaluating different drivers for the possibility of a seat in the full series.
Leading by example in terms of outright speed, and demonstrating his not inconsiderable experience, is former F1 driver Christian Klien in the No.43 Morgan Judd of Newblood by Morand Racing (with Hirsch-Brandela). The Austrian set a fastest lap of 1:48.764 to finish over half a second ahead of the No.36 Signatech Alpine A450 Nissan of Chatin-Panciatici-Webb, the 2013 Champions having had a somewhat troubled time due to contact from a GTE car sending the LMP2 into the guardrail in the second of the 5-hour session.
Third in class was the No.46 Thiriet by TDS Racing Morgan Nissan in the hands of Ludovic Badey with a quickest lap of 1:49.539.Ferrari was dominant in LMGTE, the Prancing Horse marque filling the first five places in the class. The No.55 AF Corse entry of Griffin-Cameron-Rugoloset the benchmark time of 1:56.330, the Italian Ferrari 458 Italia in the hands of Michele Rugolojust 0.04s ahead of the No.72 SMP Racing Russian entry of Bertolini-Shaitar-Zlobin.
As the second of the day's three practice sessions on Day One drew to a close at the European Le Mans Series' official pre-season tests, it was Murphy Prototypes' No.48 ORECA 03 Nissan which topped the time sheets. GP2 race winner Nathanael Berthon set the fastest time of this afternoon's 4-hour session, his lap of 1:48.342 being over half a second faster than this morning's pace-setter, the No.43 Newblood by Morand Racing Morgan Judd of Christian Klien. Third overall,and only 0.017s behind was LMP2 newcomer Larbre Compétition – Japanese driver Keiko Ihara at the wheel when the No.50 Morgan Judd set its best time of 1:49.105.
There have been three red flag interruptions this afternoon, the most serious being when the No.34 Race Performance ORECA 03 Judd exited from the track while in the hands of Swiss driver, Michel Frey, who was uninjured. The prototype made heavy contact with the guard rails and will take no further part in the day's proceedings.
Ferrari still holds the upper hand in LMGTE, and it is still the No.55 AF Corse F458 Italia which is leading the charge. 2013 LMGTE Drivers Champion Matt Griffin set a best lap of 1:55.917, just one tenth of a second ahead of the No.66 JMW Ferrari and a little over two tenths in front of the No.72 SMP Racing entry. The category remains as close as ever.
The GTC class was also tightly contested, with five of the top six places being filled by Ferrari 458 Italias. At the head of the class was the No.71 SMP Racing entry, 2013 GTC champion Kirill Ladygin of Russia, claiming the fastest lap with a time of 1:57.149. The interloper among the Prancing Horses in fourth place was a newcomer to the ELMS, the McLaren MP4 12C GT3. Yann Goudy, driving the No.98 entry for ART Grand Prix, is one of many drivers to make his debut with the series today.
An impressive 24 of the 37 cars present here at Circuit Paul Ricard for the ELMS official tests were out on track tonight for the two-hour night practice session. Many of them were profiting from the opportunity to run in darkness before making an appearance later in the year at the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
René Rast in the Sebastien Loeb Racing ORECA 03 Nissan was fastest this evening, the No.24 lapping the track in a time of 1:49.781, but only by one hundredth of a second! Close on the tail of the World Rally champion's new LMP2 team was the No.36 Signatech Alpine in the hands of Nelson Panciatici – the French team having done a superb job to repair the Alpine-Nissan after this morning's accident and get back on track.
Andrea Bertolini headed his countryman Andrea Piccini in the LMGTE category, Ferrari once again holding station at the head of the time sheets. The Ferrari factory driver's No.72 SMP 458 Italia lapped the track in a time of 1:55.828, while Piccini's Kessel Racing Ferrari lapped 0.283s slower.
In GTC, it was the No.98 ART Grand Prix McLaren MP4 12C GT3 which led the way – the McLaren working extremely well around the Le Castellet track in the hands of former Audi Sport and V8 Supercar driver, Alexandre Prémat. His lap of 1:58.938 was 0.4s ahead of the No.93 Pro GT by Almeras Porsche 997 GT3R.
A further seven hours of testing awaits the teams tomorrow for the second and final day of pre-season testing.