OFFICIAL TESTING SESSION FIRST DAY
The dawn of the 2007 Le Mans Series test session at Paul Ricard was dry, bright and sunny and teams enjoyed a full day of testing with the threat of rain during the afternoon failing to materialise. No fewer than 34 cars took part in the first two sessions of the official test and, at 1pm, three teams began their 24-hour test which will be uninterrupted until Monday.
However, the Embassy Racing Pilbeam's attempt to run through the night was curtailed by a mechanical problem, leaving just the Courage Competition LC70 AER and one of two ORECA Saleen S7Rs to run through the night. The Pescarolo Competition entry, from the team that won every round of the 2006 Le Mans Series, also had its running interrupted when it was crashed by Benoit Treluyer on Sunday afternoon. The Frenchman was getting used to carbon brakes for the first time, but mis-judged the performance of the brakes and spun, sustaining rear-end damage. "It is a good job we have good customers," said Henri Pescarolo. "Martin Short gave us the part of the car we just sold to him!"
Peugeot, testing the new 908 fap-HDI diesel car for the first time in company with potential Le Mans rivals, got a clear marker of performance as the times were headed by Sebastien Bourdais, the Frenchman who missed the team's 24-hour test two weeks ago. Bourdais completed most of today's running in the 908 HDi FAP, and set a best time of 1m44.600 seconds. Five of Peugeot's six drivers attended the test, including Pedro Lamy who drove in both sessions despite a damaged Achilles tendon. The only driver missing was Jacques Villeneuve, who drove here two weeks ago and who was therefore rested for this weekend.
However, it was youngster Jan Charouz, the 19-year-old son of Charouz Racing System team owner Antonin Charouz, who caused the biggest stir when he set second fastest time in the Lola B07/17. The Czech-run car is fitted with the latest bodywork from Lola and Judd's 5.5 litre V10 engine. It is obviously a potent combination, and one that shows early promise with Charouz setting a time of 1m44.766s. His co-driver, Stefan Mucke, won the FIA GT Championship race at Zhuhai, China on Sunday and is expected to drive the Lola here tomorrow.
The Rollcentre Racing Pescarolo Judd was third fastest in the hands of Joao Barbosa, who completed most of the days' running. The team is the first to run the Pescarolo on Dunlop tyres, and Barbosa set a time of 1m45.308s, three tenths of a second up on the Pescarolo Sport entry. Jan Lammers' Racing for Holland Dome, all new for this year and freshly shod with Michelin tyres, set fifth fastest time. The Dutchman, who will share the car with David Hart and Jeroen Bleekemolen, said: "The time seems to come easily."
The ASM team was seventh fastest overall, and the first of the LM P2 cars in the hands of Angel Burgueno, while Miguel de Castro was scheduled to conduct a tyre test in his AER-powered Lola as the sun set over the distant Alpes Maritimes. The RML team of Tommy Erdos and Mike Newton was second fastest with its Lola, less than two tenths of a second shy of Burgueno. Newton spent the sessions steadily improving his times under the watchful eye of Erdos, using a new driver training system now being marketed through RML.
The Embassy Racing team was disappointed to be going home early after a rear suspension problem halted Warren Hughes before driver Neil Cunningham had the chance to drive the Judd-powered Pilbeam. The team practised driver changes into the evening on Sunday as "there will be very little time once we leave here," said Hughes.
The GT1 class results sheet showed two Saleen S7Rs ahead of two Corvettes, two Aston Martins and a third Saleen run by the Italian Racing Box team. Team ORECA headed the class with its Saleen S7R, while its sister car completed 148 laps during the first five hours of its 24-hour test. Soheil Ayari set a time of 1m53.141s, six tenths of a second faster than the second car of Nicolas Prost, Laurent Groppi, Nicolas
Lapierre and Jean-Philippe Belloc. Ayari has also completed some stints during the 24 hour test, working on a new, brighter lighting system on all cars for this year, and will be joined by Stephane Ortelli tomorrow.
The Luc Alphand Adventures Corvettes were third and fourth fastest. Vincent Vosse and Jean-Luc Blanchemain headed their team-mates in the number 73 Corvette C5-R to the delight of the Belgian who last year won the GT1 drivers title in an Aston Martin. It was the first time that he had sat in the car, and he set the time early on during the day's testing. Patrice Goueslard, Jerome Policand and Luc Alphand trailed their team-mates by a further five-tenths of a second in their C6-R.
Fabrizio Gollin and Patrick Bornhauser undertook the test duties for the Aston Martin Team Larbre as Christophe Bouchut was racing in China in the FIA GT Championship, winning the race with Stefan Mucke. Gollin's time of 1m55.480s was nearly nine tenths of a second ahead of the sister car.
Marc Lieb was the fastest driver in the GT2 class, driving his Pirelli-shod Felbermayr Porsche 997 RSR to a time of 1m59.480s. The German team is new to the series, but has already re-united the 2005 GT2 champion team of Lieb, Xavier Pompidou and Hugh Hayden, the man who ran the pair of drivers in the Sebah Automotive team two years ago. Lieb set his time on his last run before he returned to Germany, leaving the driving for the evening session, and tomorrow, to Pompidou.
The IMSA Performance Matmut team was second fastest with Raymond Narac and Richard Leitz, only the second car to break the magic two-minute barrier. The French Porsche, on Michelin tyres, set a time of 1m59.554s, nearly half a second faster than the Virgo Motorsport Ferrari 430 GT of Robert Bell and Allan Simonsen. The Ferrari, one of four in the class, is still waiting for its development 2007 upgrades. Both Virgo and GPC are expecting to have the updates in time for the opening race of the series at Monza on April 15.
To be continued...