Aston Martin Racing Larbre secure Monza podium
Reigning champions Aston Martin Racing Larbre opened the 2007 Le Mans Series season with a strong GT1 class podium at the 1000kms of Monza on Sunday.
A near faultless drive from Christophe Bouchut, Fabrizio Gollin and Gabriel Gardel saw car 50 take second place behind the Corvette of Luc Alphand Adventures, as the team made a solid start to the new campaign.
Unfortunately the news for car 51 was not so good as a mechanical failure forced retirement for Steve Zacchia after just 17 laps when a baring problem caused a right rear wheel to fail as the Swiss driver exited the Ascari chicane.
Team Boss Jack Leconte was delighted with the result of car 50, especially as the team had suffered issues with the set-up during the weekend. He said: "We didn't expect second place this weekend after our set-up problems, so this is a solid performance and we have scored some important points. We are confident for the championship because, whilst the Saleen was really quick, it showed that the car is not yet reliable. The Corvette was also fast, and definitely had the power edge at Monza, but the circuit is one where that extra power is really important, so we hope to overtake them at Valencia."
Making his return to Larbre Competition, Christophe Bouchut impressed behind the wheel of the team's Aston Martin DBR9, qualifying the car 4th on the GT1 grid before producing a fast, consistent double-stint in the early stages of the race. However he admitted that the Corvette's smaller restrictors, a technical advantage gained by running air conditioning in the car, had made them very hard to beat: "Second place was the best result we could have achieved today because the leading Corvette was untouchable. The technical advantage they enjoyed at top speed made them very fast. I made a good start and the car was handling much better than in qualifying. In the early stages it was impossible to follow the pace of the Saleen and the Corvette so I concentrated on maintaining the gap through the traffic and at the end of my double-stint we'd only lost 20 seconds, which was acceptable considering the circumstances."
Gabriel Gardel was equally impressive, despite a problem with the radio causing some confusion. "When I took over from Christophe I thought I was going to be double-stinting so I made sure I got into a good rhythm and looked after the tyres. Unfortunately a problem with the radio meant the team couldn't inform me that that wasn't the case. If I had known I would have pushed a bit more! However I don't think we could've improved on second place and so we are all really pleased."
Fabrizio Gollin agreed with his team-mates that second place was a fine start to the season. "Of course we'd prefer to win but the Luc Alphand car was very fast. For the first race this is a good result and although the Corvette and Saleen are quick, with more testing we should push them. It's worth remembering that we didn't all test together in the Official Test at Paul Ricard as Christophe was racing in Zhuhai. That meant we did a lot of work here at Monza to find the best set-up to suit all three of us. That cost us some time but the car felt pretty good and now we understand the potential of the car, I'm really confident about the rest of the season."
Car 51's weekend was less fruitful than car 50's as a baring failure caused a problem with the brakes which ultimately led to the Aston Martin DBR9's right rear wheel failing after 17 laps as Steve Zacchia exited the Ascari chicane.
Whilst disappointed Leconte was philosophical in summing up the result and determined to put things right before round 2 in Valencia on 6th May.
He said: "It was a mechanical failure - but that's motor racing. It's a shame for Larbre Competition because we are not used to having mechanical failures and are usually a very reliable team. However, today two of the top teams in GT1, ourselves and Team Oreca, lost a car. The problem was with a baring which broke and prompted a problem with the brakes. Steve radioed us after exiting the Parabolica to say there was a problem. He did one more lap, but then the brake disc exploded and caused the wheel failure and the spin. We will do our best to make sure nothing like this happens at the next race."
Zacchia, who did well to control the car as the failure pitched him into a high-speed spin, explained what happened. "I made a good start and tried to keep the pace of the other GT1 cars, but lost some time in traffic. Then, in the middle of my first stint, I felt there was a problem with the brakes when the pedal went to the floor at the end of the back straight before Parabolica. The problem happened again on the next lap so I decided to pump the brakes before every corner just to be safe. Unfortunately, a lap later as I exited Ascari flat out in fourth gear, the entire rear axle seized up and sent me into three or four spins. When the tyre smoke cleared I was facing the wrong way in the middle of the track and saw cars coming towards me at high speed -- it wasn't the best place to be!"
Team-mate Gregor Fisken was left disappointed not to taste race action on his Larbre Competition debut, but relieved that Zacchia emerged from the incident unscathed. "The most important thing is that Steve wasn't injured and that the car didn't occur extensive damage. It was a shame because we suffered some problems with the set-up all weekend but the team had worked really hard and the car felt much better during the warm-up."
Greg Franchi, who also didn't get any race time on his sports car debut looked for the positives: "Unfortunately for my first race weekend I wasn't able to drive many laps in the DBR9. Nevertheless, I felt comfortable with the car straight away and I set some fast lap times, especially in the warm-up on Sunday morning. I'm now looking forward to the second race of the season in Valencia."