Last Friday and Saturday the Paul Ricard circuit hosted the official practice sessions for the 2012 European Le Mans Series. Fourteen cars took to the track during the two days’ testing, while several others are currently being assembled in the teams’ workshops and will be at the circuit in the Var on 31st March/1st April for the opening round of the championship.
The OAK Racing squad racked up a large number of laps, and also set the pace thanks to Guillaume Moreau who banged in the fastest lap in 1m 46.138s in the Morgan‐Judd he shared with Jacques Nicolet. Sébastien Philippe, the new team manager was happy with this performance: “We’ve had a couple of very positive days’ testing. We came here to shakedown our car, which we finished assembling on Tuesday just before leaving for Paul Ricard. We concentrated on finding the right setup and validating the fact that all the components of the car were working properly. We’ve collected a lot of useful data and found the answers to some of our questions.”
The Thiriet by TDS Racing team set the quickest time on the first day, and the second‐fastest overall, in 1m 47.087s with its new Oreca O3‐Nissan driven by Mathias Beche: “Coming to Le Castellet our aim was to validate the work we’d done here two weeks earlier during the tests organized by Oreca,” explained Xavier Combet, the team manager. “We had our first taste of the Dunlop tyres and the new aerodynamic package for the car. We wanted to confirm our initial analyses and prepare for the first race on 1st April and the ones after that. The gaps between our drivers are small and that means we’ll have good stints in the races. So we can’t wait for the season to begin!”
The reigning LM P2 champion, British squad Greaves Motorsport, had gearbox problems in the first afternoon, which upset its programme. It had to have a part sent from England during the night. The team fought back in the Sunday morning session, and the Zytek Z11SN‐ Nissan driven by Alex Brundle set the third‐best time of the weekend in 1m 47.613s: “Overall, the two days have gone off well despite our gearbox problem,” said team manager Alan Mugglestone. “We ran our aero package that complies with the 2012 regulations and we’re very happy with the result.”
With three different makes in the first three places in the first shakedown, the season looks like it’ll be a hotly‐contested one. All the more so as other podium contenders, like Sébastien Loeb Racing, were absent and will start the year with great ambitions.
In GT, the Matmut Porsche entered in GTE Am was quickest in 1m 57.694s from the JMW Motorsport Ferrari F458.
The 2012 ELMS season will kick off on 31st March‐1st April on the Paul Ricard circuit.