Markus Hotz's Horag Racing team and drivers Eric van de Poele, Fredy Lienhard and Didier Theys wrote a chapter in motorsports history and added another prestigious race to their list of victories by winning the LMP2 class of the 1,000 Kilometers of Monza Sunday afternoon at the historic Autodrome Nazionale Monza with a car that was boxed up on a ship five days earlier.
Their Lista Office and Lista-sponsored Lola B05/40 Judd No. 27 was held up in its transatlantic voyage back to Europe after competing in the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring in America last month due to delays from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and storms at sea. It was Wednesday before the crew was able to pick the car up at the port in Liverpool, England, and it arrived at Monza on Thursday at 11:20 a.m. exactly like it had gone on the transporter at 2:30 a.m. March 18 after finishing seventh in class at Sebring.
As soon as the transporter doors were lowered the team got to work, and on Sunday their drivers gave them the best result possible by having an almost trouble-free run to take the class victory with a four-lap advantage over second place. They finished a solid sixth overall with their Michelin-shod car, using the same engine they used at Sebring.
The car that finished second in the 10-car LMP2 class, the RML MG Lola AER No. 25 of Thomas Erdos and Mike Newton, finished eighth in the overall standings in the 173-lap, five-hour race on the 3.604-mile road course. Third in class was the Binnie Motorsports Lola Zytek of Bill Binnie, Allen Timpany and Chris Buncombe, which was 23rd overall in the 46-car race.
Van de Poele, of Sart-Risbart, Belgium, qualified the car in fifth place in class on Saturday but actually got to start fourth in class and 13th overall when another competitor's car failed the post-qualifying inspection.
He got a fabulous start, vaulting to 11th overall and second in LMP2 behind Erdos by the end of lap one. By lap 15 the top five LMP2 cars were all in a row in the overall standings, with Erdos leading van de Poele.
Pit stops shuffled the standings a bit but van de Poele was never further back than third. The Quifel ASM Team Lola AER was strong for a while too but van de Poele never wavered, and set the team's fastest lap of the race on lap 48 with a 1:43.580.
The former Formula 1 driver had two close calls when two different cars spun out in front of him during his double stint. He touched one of them but luckily the damage was minor, and when he pitted on lap 60 to let Lienhard take over the entry was third in LMP2 and ninth overall.
Lienhard, of Niederteufen, Switzerland, also did a great job and was able to maintain the same position throughout his stint, determined to turn the car over to Theys in good shape. The top three LMP2 cars were still all on the same lap when he pitted around two hours and 42 minutes into the race for Theys, a native of Belgium who lives in Scottsdale, Ariz., to take over.
The car slipped to tenth overall, but still third in LMP2, due to the pit stop but Theys immediately got to work. The Quifel ASM Lola dropped out about 17 minutes shy of the three-hour mark, and shortly thereafter Theys moved into second place in class and ninth overall, with only Newton's RML Lola up ahead and both cars on the same lap.
Newton had to make an unscheduled pit stop to clean his radiator, and Theys pounced. He took the class lead and vaulted into eighth overall at the 4-hour, 14-minute mark, and never again relinquished the class lead. The RML Lola remained in the hunt but a couple extra pit stops it made were costly, and soon Theys had a one-lap advantage that the veteran had increased to four by the time the checkered fell.
The Horag entry was in the pits only five times during the race, for 6:38.627.
Team Peugeot's LMP1 car driven by Marc Gene and Nicholas Minassian was the overall winner.
For more information, see horag-racing.com and lemans-series.com. Some photos are already posted in a gallery at restartcommunications.com.
Eric van de Poele: "We had an understeer, but overall the car was consistent. I had two close calls. A Ferrari spun in front of me in the second chicane and we touched; that is why the front bodywork is broken a bit in the middle. Then three or four laps after that an Aston Martin spun in front of me. I thought, 'Oh, why me and why again?' but we were still OK. A little understeer, but OK."
Fredy Lienhard: "The car was fine during my stint, but I was being very defensive. I could have gone a little faster as the fuel level came down, but I didn't want to push it. When I came up on somebody who I thought didn't care if he had contact or not, I backed off and didn't push it. I really didn't want to have any problems. What's a few tenths of a second in a five-hour race? It's not worth it. My job was to give Didier the car in good shape.
"The pace of the race was very fast. The winner's average was over 200 kilometers per hour."
Didier Theys: "I had a problem with the first set of tires I had; there was no grip in the front. At the end of that stint the balance started to be OK, and when I came in for new tires that set was fine. During the last stint the car had a little bit of understeer, but it was OK.
"The team did a wonderful job to make a reliable car here despite the travel problems coming from Sebring. Maybe we should ship the car to Valencia [Spain, the site of the next LMS race May 4-6] by boat too. Maybe not working on the car between races is a way to cut down on the expenses of racing!
"Seriously though, every session the car improved. Our race today was trouble-free. It was understeering quite a bit, but we're all very happy."
Markus Hotz (team owner): "This is an important day for our team. Everyone did a great job, and I'm very proud of my entire crew and our drivers. We had no real troubles, and it was a great day for all of us!"