OLIVER GAVIN AND LUC ALPHAND AVENTURES FINISH 6TH
The Luc Alphand Aventures team and its international driver line up of Olivier Beretta (Monaco), Greg Franchi (Belgium), Oliver Gavin (Britain) and Vincent Vosse (Belgium) battled through appalling weather conditions and technical set backs to finish in 6th place overall in this weekend's 24 Hours of Spa. Their Corvette C6R was one of four Pratt & Miller-built Chevrolet Corvettes to finish in the top ten.
It was Gavin's first 24 hour race at the classic Francorchamps circuit, and his first of three endurance events with the French team who were making a guest appearance in the FIA GT Championship. The Le Mans-based team are the current GT1 leaders in the Teams' Championship title chase for the 2007 Le Mans Series.
[IMAGE]The double American Le Mans Series Champion took the green flag in the notoriously unpredictable 24 hour race from third on the grid and made a tremendous start, passing Karl Wendlinger's Aston Martin DBR9 into Eau Rouge on the first lap for second place. Just one lap later he passed eventual race winner, Marcel Fassler, in the Carsport Holland/Phoenix Racing Corvette C6R, for the lead -- a position he held onto for five laps before getting caught in traffic by back-markers. Despite not being to lap at the same pace as the yellow #5 Corvette, the Luc Alphand Aventures #3 car remained in close touch with the leaders.
"The circuit had gone green after the morning's heavy rain. I think the teams with a stiffer set-up struggled -- which included us," said Oliver. "We went for a set-up in practice on Thursday, and didn't really change it for the race. The car is quite stiff, and we were using our Michelin tyres quicker than we would have liked."
[IMAGE]Much of the first twelve hours of the race was run in the dry, and all four drivers were able to take their turn behind the wheel and settle into a rhythm, all the while remaining in the top six. The star performers in the line up were undoubtedly the Englishman, who was both fast and consistent no matter what the weather or traffic conditions, and his regular American Le Mans Series team mate, Olivier Beretta.
Some minor set backs in the hours of darkness, firstly when Greg Franchi (an excursion onto the grass) and later when Beretta were behind the wheel (unavoidable contact with debris on the track which caused a puncture), delayed the Valeo-sponsored Corvette by three laps. The mercurial Spa weather also played a part as a short-lived, but heavy, shower brought most of the field in for rain tyres, only for them all to have to return to the pits just a few laps later for slicks.
The longest delay occurred just before the midway mark, and Oliver explains what happened. "It was about 3.30 in the morning and I came out of La Source and the throttle pedal went straight to the floor like it was broken. I tried lifting it with my toe but it was floppy and I guessed the linkage was broken. It was very fortunate it happened there and not just past the pits as I don't think we would have made it back round and we would have been out of the race. We lost six or seven laps while it was being repaired which was a huge shame as things were going pretty well until then."
The last eight hours of the race were run in extremely wet and challenging conditions, with long periods behind the safety car due to the amount of standing water on and around the track. Oliver was unable to prevent the car aquaplaning off the circuit during his last double stint in the car just before midday on Sunday, and was lucky -- as were all the Luc Alphand Aventures drivers -- not to incur any damage or further delays.
"The final hours of the race were full of tension and suspense," said Oliver, "as anything could have happened. Vincent and Greg did a great job though, as did the whole Luc Alphand Aventures team. I was made to feel incredibly welcome and involved in every area and, considering the team is still quite young and it is their first 24 Hours of Spa, I think they did a great job. We were very lucky to have the support of several key people from Pratt & Miller, including our ALMS race engineer, Steve Cole, and that undoubtedly helped the team to better understand the car and how to get the best out of it. The end result was a bit disappointing but that wouldn't stop me coming back next year, and I'm also really looking forward to my next race with the team at the Silverstone 1000 Kilometres in September."