Tracsport Race To Dream Result With Perfect Weekend at Spa
Tracsport claimed a dream result in the fourth and final round of the inaugural Le Mans Endurance Series at Spa Francorchamps last weekend, taking fourth in class on track and securing third overall in the LMP2 standings.
The No Fear/ Man Financial Group/ DMIPI/ Carlube-backed Lola started the race sixth in class and twenty-first overall after two action-packed qualifying sessions. First qualifying took place on a wet track, creating tricky conditions for Tracsport drivers John Ingram (London), John Gaw (Berkshire) and Rick Pearson (Kent). With the 6.9km Spa circuit drying throughout the session, Ingram was first in the car and elected to go out on wet weather tyres. He was followed by Gaw who swapped to slicks just as lap times started to fall in the damp conditions. When a red flag brought a temporary halt to proceedings ten minutes from the end of the session, the team were forced to swap the cooling slicks back to wets for the handful of laps remaining.
Second qualifying was dry and sunny throughout. Pearson was first out on slick tyres, setting the team's quickest lap of the weekend so far at 2:26s. He handed over to former Caterham Eurocup winner Gaw who then posted a best lap of 2:24s to move the Tracsport Lola fourteen places up the grid, from thirty-fifth to twenty-first.
As at the Nurburgring and Silverstone, former F3 star Ingram took the rolling start for Tracsport. With the race starting dry and sunny, the first ten laps of the 1000km run to the flag were full of drama, accidents and contact up and down the field. The number 27 Lola B2K/40 dropped from twenty-first to thirty-third in the opening hour with Ingram's stint punctured by a safety car period and the first of several rain showers.
Ingram returned to the pits when the rain hit to change from slicks to wet weather tyres and hand the car over to second Tracsport driver, John Gaw. The unpredictable Spa weather played its ace card soon after the pit stop, changing from rain to bright sunshine and drying the track in short order. After a fast stop to return to slicks, Gaw hustled his way up to twenty-fifth before heavy rain again soaked the circuit.
Although the quick thinking Tracsport pit crew called Gaw in for a tyre change under a Safety Car period, the Lola missed out on getting a lap back on the leaders by just two seconds and was forced to sit at the pit exit while the Safety Car passed. After pushing hard for the remainder of his stint, Berkshire-based Gaw had the Tracsport car running comfortably in P22. He handed over to Rick Pearson as the race approached the two hour mark.
Pearson's run was instantly interrupted by a prolonged Safety Car period for Rollcentre Racing's Patrick Pearce who suffered a huge accident at Eau Rouge two hours and ten minutes in to the race. With Pearce safely removed from the wreckage of his Dallara, Tracsport's Pearson turned in a top-class performance during a marathon one-hour-forty-minute shift behind the wheel.
The Maidstone-based racer was immediately tuned in to the Tracsport Lola and lapped consistently quicker than his best qualifying effort. Having saved fuel during the Safety Car period, Pearson was able to stay on track when it was deployed for a second time after an accident involving the Nasamax just after mid-distance. The Tracsport Lola was at the front of the queue at the restart, giving Pearson a jump on the rest of the field and the lead of the pack going in to Eau Rouge.
When the Safety Car was scrambled for a third time to attend to an abandoned Saleen, Pearson pitted from twenty-first place and handed over to Ingram. Despite never having raced at the notoriously challenging Belgian circuit prior to round four of the LMES, the Londoner was ultra-quick and set the team's fastest lap of the weekend by a superb 0.5 seconds. Having seen off the challenge of the PiR Competition Pilbeam in the mid section of his stint, Ingram was running fourth in LMP2 and eighteenth overall at the end of his time in the car.
John Gaw was last out in the Tracsport Lola B2K/40. With seventy minutes of the six-hour race to go, he had to stay ahead of the Pilbeam and the rapidly closing Lucchini Engineering entry to safeguard Tracsport's third place standing in the LMP2 championship table. The three cars traded fast laps for much of the closing stages and were lapping at qualifying pace before the Pilbeam and Lucchini were both called to the pits for a final fuel stop.
Tracsport team manager, Dudley Wood had foreseen this possibility -- the fastest man ever to race at Le Mans, Wood calculated that there was just enough fuel left in the tank for the number 27 Lola to get to the end of the race without needing a splash and dash if Gaw was able to conserve the existing fuel supply in the final stages of the race. With thirty minutes left before the chequered flag, Gaw began to run at a more conservative pace and reduced gear changes from 8200 RPM to 7500 RPM. This was further reduced to 6000 RPM when the fuel dwindled to twenty litres with sixteen minutes left to run.
A nail-biting final quarter of an hour saw Gaw battling to stay ahead of the 2004-spec Lucchini while using full throttle as little as possible, high gears as often as possible and just 4500 revs in sixth for the entire last lap as the fuel pressure light came on with less than two minutes to go.
After a superb team effort, the Ingram/ Gaw/ Pearson Tracsport Lola held on for fourth place in LMP2, giving the Daventry-based team third position overall in the 2004 team standings.
John Ingram: "I am absolutely delighted to have finished the Le Mans Endurance Series in third place overall for 2004. Our aim for Tracsport's debut season in the LMES was simply to finish each of the 1000km six hour races, but we have exceeded that with three excellent results and very strong points, which has secured us third place in the overall championship standings.
Whilst we are not pre-seeded for the 2005 Le Mans 24 Hours as we needed to finish in the top two places, I believe we will have shown the LMES Organisation and the ACO that we deserve a place on the Le Mans grid next summer and I believe that we will qualify for the race.
Our aim now is to secure our funding package for 2005 and to find some new corporate partners. The international marketing platform provided by Le Mans and the LMES is absolutely fantastic and we have received wonderful TV and press coverage all year. We are very keen to talk to any potential corporate partners about opportunities available with us for 2005."
John Gaw: "A brilliant weekend, a great result and a superb call by the team in the last part of the race. Dudley played a master stroke with the fuel strategy. We went on to the reserve tank on the slowing down lap and then ran out entirely as we coasted in to Parc Ferme. There was literally not a drop left.
On the last lap entering the second to last corner where I knew the team couldn't see me, I got on the radio to wind them up and tell them we had run out of fuel and were stopped on the circuit. There was ten seconds of radio silence and then they saw me come round the last corner onto the final straight for the chequered flag. They were all hanging off the pit wall and I was shouting down the radio - what a moment - we had done it P3 in the championship!
Everyone at Tracsport performed faultlessly this weekend -- Dudley was spot on in his fuel strategy, the mechanics were awesome in the pit stops and we all gave it our best shot in the car.
We've improved so much this year and now all that's left to do is get the Le Mans entry for 2005. Our aim was to finish the races so to have achieved third overall in our first year in this level of championship without having done all of the races demonstrates the ability of the team to both pull and learn together. The pace of that learning has been much steeper and quicker than we could have anticipated. This has been down to both the experience and 'know how' we have in the team from Dudley and the boys, and the positive attitude and willingness to learn and stride forward that everyone has demonstrated - none more so than team owner, John Ingram Senior.
Achieving more than we set out to achieve because of a superb team effort is very satisfying indeed. Now we need to keep moving forward and achieve the Le Mans vision."
Rick Pearson: "I was out third as usual but my stint was immediately interrupted for a Safety Car whilst they removed Patrick Pearce from the wreckage of the Dallara. It was a sobering start to what turned into a marathon 1h40 stint behind the wheel.
I had a very good run when the safety car pitted, lapping consistently quicker than I had in qualifying and feeling easy when the Safety Car came out again after the Nasamax accident. Having worked hard to save fuel during the earlier Safety Car period, I had no need to pit and was at the front of the queue by the time the race was restarted. I managed to get the jump on the rest of the field and led them all into Eau Rouge which was a fabulous feeling! The only problem I had was with the car's tyres after a long stint and my muscles getting cold during the extended Safety Car periods. It was a totally reliable run from the Lola and a perfect performance by the team with no off-circuit excursions.
All in all a fantastic end to Tracsport's first year in the top flight with three incredibly evenly matched drivers who were able to produce the lap times demanded of them at absolutely the right moment. John Ingram drove particularly well and set the fastest lap of the weekend to break the challenge of the #99 car in the middle of his stint despite never having seen Spa before."
Tracsport are backed by No Fear, DMIPI, Man Financial Group and Carlube.