By: Tony DiZinno, Sports Car Correspondent
- JMW, Farnbacher Ferraris look for glory
- RML passes scrutineering with ex-Andretti Green chassis
Audi, Peugeot await their turn before fans and inspectors
Monday scrutineering for the 24 Hours of Le Mans has passed noon local time, and lunch break has interrupted the parade of cars going through technical inspection and then taking team photo shoots.
The morning is the time to shine for the teams not named either Audi or Peugeot. Neither of the major manufacturers has yet had their appearance in front of the crowds in downtown Le Mans.
We look then, this morning, at some of the teams who you may not know off hand but whose stories are still worth telling.
We got a five-star rating somewhere so the pressure’s on us.
The GTE Pro class is heavily dominated by Michelin runners, with the French tire manufacturer the brand for 13 of the 18 entrants. Dunlop has four and there is a singular Hankook entry from the German squad Team Farnbacher.
JMW Motorsport and its Ferrari F458 Italia might be the team that snatches victory from Michelin in the class. The factory Dunlop effort won the Le Mans Series opener at Paul Ricard in April, and should figure into the equation with drivers Rob Bell, Tim Sugden and Xavier Maassen.
“It’s a lovely car obviously,” Sugden said. “It’s very quick and we think very reliable. This is the big one; it’s one thing to be reliable for six hours, another for 24. But the race is not four times as difficult! We’re lucky our team has such a great working relationship with them.”
Maassen, the Dutch driver unrelated to Sascha Maassen, was more bullish, suggesting anything less than a podium would be a major disappointment.
“We got a five-star rating somewhere so the pressure’s on us,” he said.
The Hankook Team Farnbacher entry finished second a year ago with drivers Dominik Farnbacher, Allen Simonsen and Leh Keen, and is primed to go one better in 2011. Not an easy task, though, as Farnbacher shared.
“It’s going to be harder to repeat the result,” he said. “A Corvette and Ferrari struggled and that helped us to second. The new 458 is strong; it’s just our strategy we need to get right. As the only Hankook car, it has good and bad parts. The good is no one else gets the tires if they are good, which we showed at the test as we were quickest. But the trying part is how we have to deliver; Michelin knows they have more teams to develop the tire. Progress is slow for us in comparison.”
In GTE Am, just starting the race will be a major achievement for Gulf AMR Middle East, a new team of amateur drivers Fabien Giroix, Michael Wainwright and Roald Goethe. The team’s Aston Martin Vantage has had various technical problems and thus not been able to start at either of the first two ILMC rounds at Sebring and Spa.
I think it’s very smart of the ACO to start it up.
“The objective is to race in Le Mans; we’ve had no luck so far,” Wainwright said. “In terms of opportunity in the class, it is a huge opportunity to do well. The teams that finish have a good chance to get on the podium. It will be more difficult the longer it goes.”
A team with a good chance of scoring the class win is Krohn Racing, running a Ferrari F430 GT for team principal and driver Tracy Krohn, Nic Jonsson and Michele Rugolo. Krohn advocated the Le Mans sanctioning body, the ACO, adopt new regulations to allow more gentlemen drivers to compete. As it is, Krohn already has a couple podiums under his name at Le Mans and discussed the keys to success from what he has learned from the race and his co-drivers.
“The first thing is think about patience; don’t rush a corner, don’t thing you can dive in and come out unscathed,” he said. “Other than that, the team has a lot to do to prep the car properly. I think it’s very smart of the ACO to start it up. I’ve advocated that in the States pretty hard. The ACO picked up on it. There’s going to be more competition.”
Others of note: The RML team has leased the ex-Andretti Green Racing ARX-01 chassis, now updated to the ARX-01d LMP2 specifications, following Mike Newton’s accident at Spa in May. Newton was back, healthy and ready to go, with the team’s engine “halfway there” in terms of performance. The HPD powerplant has been down a bit this year.
Rebellion Racing drivers Guy Smith and Jeroen Bleekemolen admitted changes to help bring their petrol-powered Lola B10/60 Toyota Coupe up to the pace of the diesels were “not enough,” as they still estimated a gap of more than nine or 10 seconds to the diesels over a full lap. However, they were both keen on garnering a good result come race day as top petrol car. More on that will follow.
The afternoon scrutineering features a bevy of heavy hitters, besides Audi and Peugeot. Four teams from the American Le Mans Series: Level 5 Motorsports, Corvette Racing, Flying Lizard Motorsports and Robertson Racing, are all set to go. The two BMWs are last; the M3s that race here at Le Mans are from the Schnitzer-run European BMW Motorsport, not the American effort led by Bobby Rahal with partners David Letterman and Mike Lanigan.