Horag Racing Overcomes Challenges of Late Delivery; Team Has Just One Day to Prepare Lista Office Lola Between Two Season Openers on Two Different Continents But Is Fourth in LMP2 in Second Practice at Monza Friday
MONZA, Monza and Brianza, Italy, April 13 - Sunday's Le Mans Series opener, the 1,000 Kilometers of Monza, is two days away, but the Horag Racing team has already recorded an impressive performance at the Autodromo Nazionale Monza this week no matter what happens on race day.
When Didier Theys fired up the Judd engine in the team's Lista Office-sponsored Lola B05/40 No. 27 to participate in the first practice session here Friday afternoon, it was a testament to the Swiss team's expertise and teamwork. When the car arrived at Monza on Thursday morning, it was the first day the crew had seen the car since loading it up in its transporter after the grueling Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring ALMS season opener in Sebring, Fla. in the United States around 2:30 a.m. on March 18. Despite the lack of time the crew was still able to get the car on the track here at Monza on Friday, allowing Eric van de Poele to post the fourth-fastest time in the LMP2 class in the second practice session late Friday afternoon with a 1:43.075.
Right after finishing seventh in class at Sebring the car was strapped into its transporter and the rig was driven to New York City, where truck, race car and equipment were put on a ship for their transatlantic voyage back to Europe on Monday, March 19. The original schedule showed the turnaround time to prepare the car for Monza after the trip to America would be just four working days, which would have been tight as it was. However, even those workdays disappeared due to unexpected delays in getting the car cleared by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (an agency created after the 9/11 tragedy), and storms at sea.
Team members picked the car, transporter and equipment up at the port in Liverpool, England on Wednesday afternoon, and a squad of truck drivers then drove the transporter to Italy for this weekend's race. It arrived in Monza's paddock at 11:20 a.m. Thursday.
The instant the transporter door was opened, the team went to work. Indeed, team owner Markus Hotz and his crew worked hard to prepare for this challenge knowing they'd be without their car and the bulk of their equipment between races. They'll continue to work hard throughout the weekend, and even after the checkered flag drops on Sunday night.
The customary work done between races had to be condensed. An electrical problem the team encountered at Sebring had to be solved. The team also had to comply with several rules changes instituted by the LMS prior to its season opener. Even cosmetics were involved, as the normally immaculate car had to be cleaned thoroughly on Thursday, since it still had the grime of 12 grueling hours of competition at Sebring on it. David Hotz was still scraping ALMS decals off the car's spare hood and replacing them with the LMS decals required at Monza during the first practice session Friday afternoon.
"This team deserves a great finish here," noted van de Poele, who along with Theys and Fredy Lienhard drives the car in all the Le Mans Series races and selected American Le Mans Series events like Sebring.
The entry is one of 10 LMP2 cars in the 48-car race at Monza that begins at 1 p.m. Sunday. The distance is 173 laps around the historic 3.604-mile road course, which should take about five or six hours depending on caution flags.
The Autodromo Nazionale Monza was built in 1922 and is Europe's oldest permanent circuit still in regular use. It is also the fastest circuit on the Le Mans Series calendar. Theys noted the LMP2 cars will reach speeds of 190 miles per hour on the straightaways.
Additional pre-race driver comments follow:
Fredy Lienhard: "I am pretty relaxed. We will do our best, but stay realistic. Monza has never been good to us, so basically it's time for a change! I kind of like the track; it's fast and physically not too hard. The ambiance is fine, and the food is excellent! I've raced Formula 2 and Porsches here in the past. I did this race in sports cars once with Kevin [Doran] and once with Markus [Hotz].
"This track is known for its high speeds and braking. It's hard on the car. I was in an accident here once in the race I did earlier with Markus. The master cylinder broke so I only had rear brakes, and there was nothing I could do. I didn't get hurt. Then in '99 with Kevin we had an uncharacteristic gearbox problem. So that's why I say our luck here hasn't been good, so maybe we can change that here this weekend.
"Markus and his team did everything possible, maybe even the impossible, to get the car in this race. I appreciate that.
[On participating in the Ferrari Challenge and Maserati Trofeo on April 2 at Monza]: "It was fun; no real problems. The braking of these cars is quite late, and that experience should help me this weekend with the Lola, which of course is even later. I did about 30 laps all together. The only problem was my back, because the seats were too wide. The rest was fine."
Didier Theys: "It's always nice to be at Monza because it's such a historic track. The Monza 1,000 K has been in existence since the '60s for sure. It was very famous in the mid-'80s when the Group C Championship was strong. It died in the early '90s, and then in the mid- to late-'90s it was put back together again.
"Monza is one of the most famous racetracks in the world. It is an important part of our world motor racing heritage. It's one of the fastest tracks, after Le Mans. If you want to do well at Le Mans, you should come here to test.
"I've never won here, but if we have no problems I think we have a good chance to be in the top three in qualifying tomorrow. I think we'll be closer to the top speeds of our class here than we were at Sebring. I think our car is stronger than the package we had here in 2005. I think the Lola is more developed, and I think Michelin has improved our tires so they're better than what we had here two years ago.
"Even with our lack of preparation for this particular race due to the transportation problems, plus our lack of testing due to our budget, I still think we can be in the top three in qualifying or close to it. If we can win here, I'll go to the Duomo [a famous Italian Gothic cathedral in Milan] and light candles on Sunday night after the race!"
Eric van de Poele: "I've driven all sorts of cars here. This was the site of my last Formula 1 race, in 1992. I've driven F3000 cars, Formula Renault, sports cars, Group C cars, just a whole variety of cars here. I got third in this race once I think, in a Ferrari 333. So I have many, many memories here.
"It will be interesting to see how competitive we are here. I want to fight for the championship. I think if we have a top-five or top-six car here in qualifying, we can fight for the championship. It will be very tough because it's a good series and the competition is very strong, but I love a challenge.
"It's good for me that this is a full-season program. Continuity is very important. I'm in the car every month, which is good.
"The series is visiting some very good tracks that are rich in history. I'm really looking forward to the whole season.
"Although we had a set-back with the lack of time to prepare the car for this race, the situation does give us one advantage. We already have one race under our belts this year, and aren't approaching this one after a long layoff. That could end up helping us."