Valencia: Larbre Competition preview

LARBRE COMPETITION TARGETING CHAMPIONSHIP LEAD Aston Martin Racing Larbre are targeting the Le Mans Series GT1 championship lead as they head to Round 2 of the 2007 season in Valencia. Following a strong second-place finish in the opening...

LARBRE COMPETITION TARGETING CHAMPIONSHIP LEAD

Aston Martin Racing Larbre are targeting the Le Mans Series GT1 championship lead as they head to Round 2 of the 2007 season in Valencia.

Following a strong second-place finish in the opening round at Monza, Larbre travel to the 4.005km Circuit del Communitat Valenciana for what should be one of the most exciting races on this year's Le Mans Series calendar. The track's tight and twisty lay-out is certain to provide all manor of entertainment, as a packed grid of Prototype and GT cars take on the 1000km event. Larbre Competition team boss Jack Leconte has just one thing on his mind though -- taking over the lead of the GT1 championship from Luc Alphand Adventures' Corvette C6.R.

Jack Leconte admitted: "For sure our target is to be in front of the Corvette and therefore to lead the championship by the end of the weekend. We know they have a technical advantage (due to a bigger air restrictor, a rule break handed out because they run air conditioning in the car) and whilst we are sure that that is a big help at high revs and at full power, we also think there might be an advantage to the torque of the engine. However, whilst it's an advantage, we are not talking about them being in a different class."

The retirement of Larbre's second car at Monza, due to a right rear wheel failure caused by a bearing problem, has prompted the team to undergo a thorough investigation between the two races and the problem now appears to be solved. Jack Leconte revealed: "Because of the failure on Car 51 at Monza we made an inspection of all the uprights on the car. We discovered a fault there and so have immediately brought in replacement parts and fitted them to both our cars. Fingers crossed this will avoid us ever seeing a similar problem again."

Car 50's driver line-up boasts plenty of experience at Valencia, with Christophe Bouchut and Fabrizio Gollin having won there in 2000 and 2004 respectively and Gabriele Gardel having finished second in 2004, all in the FIA GT Championship.

Gabriele Gardel admitted he's hoping to climb to the top step of the podium this time around. "I finished second in a Ferrari 550 in 2004 so I go there this time looking to win. It will be tough for everyone though because it's a narrow circuit and really difficult to overtake. I know the Formula One guys have tested there a lot, but it's a motorbike track really and with such a big grid and four different classes I'm expecting to see a lot of mistakes and maybe some crashes. The double right-hander is where you can gain time and also through the first chicane going down the hill, so it's important that the car feels good there."

Fabrizio Gollin re-iterated that traffic will be the greatest challenge at Valencia. "The Le Mans Series is a completely different story from when I won there in the FIA GT Championship. Then the GT1 class was the lead category so we were at the front all the time and avoided any problems, but now we face a new challenge because of the many different cars and the variation in their speeds. We will have to keep a keen eye on the mirrors because it's going to be just as important to see what's happening behind you as it is in front!"

Christophe Bouchut meanwhile raised concerns that Corvette's technical advantage would make them tough to beat, even on a much slower circuit such as Valencia. "I think the technical advantage will help Corvette on any type of circuit. I know Aston Martin are working hard on an air conditioning system, and have already tested it at Dijon, but I'm not sure whether we'll have it in place for Valencia. I believe that this system is the only solution to close the gap to Corvette."

By contrast the Car 51 driver line-up doesn't have much experience of Valencia, with Gregor Fisken and Steve Zacchia both making their debuts there. However, GT1 rookie Greg Franchi does have extensive testing experience of the circuit from his days in single-seaters.

Greg Franchi said: "I've tested at Valencia in F3 and with the World Series by Renault, and was there last winter where my times were good. Even though the Aston Martin DBR9 is a new car for me, I still feel confident for the race because I really like the circuit. To be honest I just can't wait to get there and get started because I only managed 15 laps all weekend at Monza."

With soaring temperatures across Europe, coupled with the physical nature of the circuit, Steve Zacchia admits it will be a physical test for the drivers in Southern Spain. "I've been looking at videos and reading circuit maps on the internet to research the contours of the circuit and the track layout. There are lots of hairpins and tricky corners and the circuit is relatively slow. Physically it will be a challenge, especially with the heat we're expecting. It will be very warm in the cockpit and at the end of our stints we'll be really tired and have to be extremely careful."

Gregor Fisken meanwhile is less concerned by heat and traffic as he is with getting behind the wheel of the DBR9 in race conditions after the disappointment of the car's early exit at Monza. "I've been itching over the past two or three weeks to get started for what will be our delayed debut after what happened at Monza. I think I've been just about impossible to live with during that time! Valencia is a new circuit for me, but Larbre Competition has experience there and I'm certain they will provide us with the car to do the job."

The 1000kms of Valencia takes place on Sunday 6 May and can be watched live across Europe on Motors TV. Visit www.motorstv.com for details.

-credit: lc

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