Three tough qualifying sessions for Larbre Competition will see its pair of Corvette C6.Rs line up 11th and 12th in the GTE Am category for the start of Saturday’s Le Mans 24 Hours. But while a number of factors combined to limit the cars’ pace over a single lap, the team’s previous experience should keep them in the hunt for a fourth consecutive class victory come Sunday afternoon.
The French squad’s #70 car, driven by Philippe Dumas, Manu Rodrigues and Cooper MacNeil, qualified one place ahead of the #50 entry of Patrick Bornhauser, Julien Canal and Ricky Taylor, which will also be competing for the double points that count towards this year’s FIA World Endurance Championship.
The team’s decision to end its qualifying session early when the track was at its fastest also undoubtedly contributed to both cars’ grid positions.
A change to the Balance of Performance – regulations designed to curb the advantages of dominant cars – that were introduced following the FIA WEC round at Spa-Francorchamps has also affected the Corvettes’ chances at Le Mans. Indeed, Larbre has calculated that its cars are losing around three seconds to its rivals on the high-speed run between Tertre Rouge and Indianapolis as a direct result of these changes.
Nevertheless, the team’s enormous experience of racing and winning at Le Mans during the last 20 years ensures that it cannot be discounted as a serious contender for victory over 24 hours.
Ricky Taylor, #50 Corvette C6.R: “On Wednesday I had my first proper run in the dry here at Le Mans and, as a result, am now feeling much more comfortable in the car. Then on Thursday, due to the session being curtailed, I did most of my laps at night.
I was building my confidence, especially through the Porsche Curves, until I lost the car and touched the wall. Julien and Patrick have been great teachers and team-mates in helping me get up to speed. Now I’m looking forward to the race when I’ll try to support the team’s efforts to score a fourth consecutive class victory.”
Julien Canal, #50 Corvette C6.R: “Despite the difficult weather conditions we’ve still been able to make progress with the car and establish a well balanced chassis set-up. We now await the race, in which we should be able to compete against our rivals even if it stays dry. That’s despite Balance of Performance changes that have not played out in our favour.”
Patrick Bornhauser, #50 Corvette C6.R: “My run began with one half of the track still wet and the other dry, so we opted for the wet tyres and the car behaved well. Once again I only managed three laps due to the succession of red flags, but nevertheless I feel that the car is ready for the race.”
Philippe Dumas, #70 Corvette C6.R: “On Wednesday the learning curve became steeper due to the really tricky conditions. In that situation it’s all about discovering the circuit and establishing your reference points in a safe way, but that’s quite difficult when there’s so much traffic. The car was very good, though. On Thursday, I made a small mistake and span the car through 360 degrees towards the end of the second session. That was frustrating as the car was working well.”
Manu Rodrigues, #70 Corvette C6.R: “On Wednesday it was very difficult to establish your reference points as there was a lot of traffic and some people driving as if they were competing in a grand prix! The car felt fantastic and I couldn’t wait to get back behind the wheel. Then on Thursday I let the car’s potential do the talking instead of taking any unnecessary risks.”
Cooper MacNeil, #70 Corvette C6.R: “My first stint in the car on Wednesday was on a drying track using slick Michelin tyres. It had just rained and a dry line was only just starting to form. I wanted to re-familiarise myself with the car and focus on methodically getting up to speed, taking it one step at a time. As a rookie at the race and new to the team I was being conservative with my approach. The red flags really limited our running on Wednesday and it wasn’t until Thursday evening that I was able to finally go out in the dry.”
Jack Leconte, Team Manager: “Spring’s bad weather struck during the Test Day and returned for practice and qualifying this week. That lead to no less than six red flags, of which four prompted a session to end early, so it’s little surprise that we haven’t been able to complete our scheduled programme.
Having said that I’m feeling less tense than if it was our first year here with the Corvette: we already have a lot of data and know how to set-up the car. It also rained heavily just before the start of Thursday’s first session, which offered us a chance to run on a wet track and validate set-ups should there be showers during the race.
We’re feeling optimistic if the conditions are tricky, but there’s no doubt that the revised Balance of Performance is hurting us. It was based on results achieved at traditional circuits but Le Mans is a very specific layout with three long straights, and now our cars cannot cope.
When you notice that Corvette’s Pro class entries are suffering the same problem it becomes clear that this isn’t specific to us. We will take a diligent approach in the race and ensure we score the maximum number of points. We entertained in 2012 with a close fight until the race’s final hour, but this time it is all about finishing strongly.”
This year's Le Mans 24 Hours begins at 3pm local time on Saturday.