Spa: Series preview

Final countdown to Le Man as Spa prepares for 1000kms The 7.004km Belgian circuit of Spa Francorchamps, nestled in the heart of the Ardennes region of Belgium, has a long association with endurance racing having run its first 24 hour race in...

Final countdown to Le Man as Spa prepares for 1000kms

The 7.004km Belgian circuit of Spa Francorchamps, nestled in the heart of the Ardennes region of Belgium, has a long association with endurance racing having run its first 24 hour race in 1924, one year after the inaugural Le Mans 24 hours, and ran its first 1000km race in 1966.

Since then, the track has evolved from a layout that took the cars to the villages of Malmedy and Stavelot before returning to Francorchamps. Today, drivers still look forward to the thrill of the Eau Rouge and Blanchiment corners and many rate the circuit it as their favourite track.

The international appeal of the Le Mans Series was highlighted at Monza in April, where listeners from more than 40 countries tuned in to the internationally recognised Radio Le Mans. The organisation has made a commitment to increasing coverage of the series, and has introduced the radio service this year.

In addition to Info Course, which publishes live pit information on the website, www. lemansseries.com, listeners from around the globe can listen in on www.radiolemans.com or watch coverage on the pan-European television network Eurosport, and much of the race is live on Motors television.

The fight for victory at Monza between Audi and Peugeot could not have been closer, with the lead cars from both manufacturers banging wheels less than 50km from the end of the race to decide the race in favour of Peugeot. However, the consistent finishing of Mike Rockenfeller and Alexandre Premat means that they lead the drivers' title for Audi.

Peugeot is using the series to prepare for Le Mans, and at Spa will introduce two drivers to its line up -- Alexander Wurz and Jacques Villeneuve. Villeneuve, the 1997 Formula One World Champion, raced at Le Mans for Peugeot in 2007 and will return for a second attempt this year, sharing the diesel-powered 908 Hdi FAP with Nicolas Minassian and Marc Gene. Wurz, a winner at Le Mans in 1996, was immediately taken with the prospect of driving the Peugeot when he saw it in testing. Now, his dream will become a reality as he lines up at Spa with Stephane Sarrazin and Pedro Lamy.

Theirs is not the only story in the class. The French ORECA team will slim down to one car, to be driven by Olivier Panis and Nicolas Lapiere after the accident that befell Stephane Ortelli at Monza.

And the Creation team will also field just one car, for Bruce Jouanny and Stuart Hall. Their team-mate Jamie Campbell-Walter had an accident in qualifying at Monza was "100 per cent not Jamie's fault," according to Creation team manager Ian Bickerton.

The number of LMP1 cars has fallen, but there is no loss of quality. The Aston Martin-powered Lola will be driven by Stefan Mucke and Jan Charouz, and more is expected of the car that took a podium on its debut in Barcelona. Ignition problems interrupted a fantastic performance at Monza, where Mucke took his turn to lead the race overall.

Closely contesting the overall podium in the final throes of the race was the Pescarolo team with Christophe Tinseau and Harold Primat after another reliable run. The sister car of Emmanuel Collard and Jean-Christophe Boullion, which had a brake problem at Monza, will take part in the race, as will the second Epsilon Euskadi with drivers yet to be named. Joao Barbosa returns to the Rollcentre Pescarolo team, sharing with Vanina Ickx.

Porsche perfect in "LM" P2

The LM P2 class has developed into one of the most popular in the series with the arrival of Porsche, WR, the Lola Coupe and of course the Embassy Racing team with its Zytek-powered WF-01.

The points suggest that this class will be a battle between the Porsches of the van Merksteijn Motorsport and Team Essex RS Spyders, but that can all change in a heartbeat. The two teams have shared the race victories so far this season, at Barcelona and Monza resepectively, and the RS Spyder has a magnificent reliability record. However, with the unpredictable Spa weather, and challenging circuit, the Belgian race could produce a surprising result.

The reigning champion RML team lie third in the class, just eight points from the lead of the class with Tommy Erdos and Mike Newton, while the Speedy Racing Team Sebah will be hoping to repeat their podium finish at Barcelona. In Monza, a loose door of their Lola Coupe caused delays which dropped them off the leaderboard.

At Monza the Embassy Racing team scored their first points of the season, and with every race are improving the performance and consistency of the car as they learn more about their new machinery. A high quality team has been assembled, and is expected to produce better results in the second half of the year.

Alphand returns

The Luc Alphand Aventures team has a commanding lead in the LM GT1 class having won the opening race in Barcelona, and narrowly finished second at Monza to the Team Modena Aston Martin BR9 of Tomas Enge and Antonio Garcia.

After a dramatic race in which the two teams ran rarely more than 15 seconds apart, the gap at the finish was just 12 seconds and more of the same is expected in Belgium.

The driving line-up has reverted to original form with team owner Luc Alphand joining Guillaume Moreau and Patrice Goueslard, the Frenchman replacing the multiple GT1 drivers' champion Olivier Beretta.

The second Corvette C6R will be driven again by Sebastien Dumez, Jean-Luc Blanchemain and Patrice Manopoulos, who finished on the podium at Monza and lie fourth in the class standings.

The GT1 grid will be boosted at Spa by the arrival of a second Aston Martin DBR9, entered by the Strakka Racing team and driven by Peter Hardman and Nick Leventis.

The British team is making its debut in the series this weekend, while established competitors Peter Kox and Roman Rusinov continue in the IPB Spartak Racing Lamborghini Murcielago. They had a difficult race at Monza, and will hope to do better than fourth in class.

Battle is on for Porsche and Ferrari

For the opening hour at Monza it looked as though the battle for the drivers' title in LM GT2 would be settled in favour of the Virgo Motorsport Ferrari team. Their main Porsche rivals, Marc Lieb and Alex Davison, watched as their 997 GT3 RSR had its front right suspension repaired while Rob Bell and Gianmaria Bruni led. Yet, at the end of the race, the Porsche had recovered to score three points, and the Ferrari had retired after a succession of punctures. The title race is back on!

However, neither of them leads the points standings. That honour is held by, the Farnbacher Racing Ferrari of Pierre Kaffer and Pierre Ehret, who finished fourth in Barcelona and second at Monza to hold a two-point lead from Lieb and Davison's Team Felbermayr Proton Porsche. The Virgo team is in third position, a further point behind and level with the Farnbacher team's Porsche.

Provisionally in sixth place is the IMSA Performance Matmut Porsche, driven by Raymond Narac and Richard Lietz. The pair won at Monza but were excluded as a cable from the organisers' data recording device had come loose. The team has appealed the decision. The JMB Racing Ferrari team of Stephane Daoudi and Ben Aucott are credited with third place and are fifth in the standings. Aucott will share at Spa with Alain Ferte.

-credit: lemans-series.com

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About this article
Series European Le Mans
Drivers Olivier Panis , Gianmaria Bruni , Bruce Jouanny , Tomas Enge , Nicolas Minassian , Marc Gene , Alexander Wurz , Emmanuel Collard , Stéphane Sarrazin , Pedro Lamy , Vanina Ickx , Christophe Tinseau , Stéphane Ortelli , Rob Bell , Peter Kox , Jamie Campbell-Walter , Jean-Christophe Boullion , Harold Primat , Pierre Ehret , Joao Barbosa , Luc Alphand , Patrice Goueslard , Marc Lieb , Mike Newton , Olivier Beretta , Alexandre Prémat , Mike Rockenfeller , Sebastien Dumez , Roman Rusinov , Pierre Kaffer , Jean-Luc Blanchemain , Stuart Hall , Alain Ferté , Stefan Mücke , Raymond Narac , Guillaume Moreau , Richard Lietz , Ben Aucott , Patrice Manopoulos , Nick Leventis
Teams IMSA Performance Matmut , Strakka Racing , Team Felbermayr