Nancy Knapp Schilke
The teams that will compete in the 80th edition of the 24 Hours of Le Mans were on the famous La Sarthe circuit today for the official test day. The day had changing weather conditions throughout but the first news in the morning struck home the dangers of motor sports. Just one hour into the first session, Guillaume Moreau went off at the Porsche Curves and crashed heavily into the barriers. The session was red flagged immediately to allow the medical and safety teams to extract Moreau out of his LM P2 #15 Oak Racing Pescarolo Judd. He was transported to a hospital for possible emergency surgery on his spinal cord.
I briefly touched the grass, spun 360 degrees and touched the guard rails.
The afternoon session had a bit of on and off rain showers. Despite the changing weather and due to the fact that most of the Audi drivers know the French circuit like the back of their hands, it was not a surprise to note that the Audi teams were topping the timesheets during each of the two four-hour segments. At the end of the second session, it was Allan McNish who laid down the fastest time at 3:25.977 in the #2 Audi R18 e-tron Quattro. The Scotsman’s best was just a tad off the 2011 qualifying pole winning time.
"Our day was very productive but ended in disappointment. Dindo (Capello) already felt very comfortable in the car and Tom (Kristensen) further improved balance. That meant I took over a car that was set up well for the areas of the track that have new tarmac. As always, grip was low on the dirty track at the beginning of the test day. I drove fast and consistent lap times,” said McNish who ended his session early due to contact with the guard rail at Tertre Rouge.
“I briefly touched the grass, spun 360 degrees and touched the guard rails. That unfortunately ended the day but we’ve got a good starting point for the race week. Balance of the R18 e-tron Quattro is very good,” the Scot explained.
The debut of the new Toyota TS030 Hybrid was a success as they showed the necessary speed and the reliability needed to challenge the Audi team for the overall and LM P1 victory on June 16-17. Prior to the start of the twice-around-the-clock race, the teams will go through scrutineering checks, along with the usual practice and qualifying sessions.
Audi ended up with the top three times in today’s test, but the Toyota drivers were not far off the pace with their best lap time placing them fourth.
Toyota’s main goal was to put laps on the two cars so placing fourth fastest in the #7 was a plus for them. Alex Wurz clocked a 3:27.204. He said, “Generally this was a good test day for us. It is positive that we went through the program we planned and even did some more laps than expected. We have to always remember that we as a team are completely new in this game so we have plenty to learn; this is just the first step. Now we have our homework to do to get ready for the TS030 HYBRID’s first race. There is so much data to analyse but this is what I enjoy doing, and the team does as well. The Le Mans story for 2012 has begun and so far so good.”
REBELLION Racing’s #13 was the fastest petrol car in the LM P1 classification with Andrea Belicchi at the wheel of the Toyota powered Lola B12/60 Coupe.
Oak Racing #35 Morgan Nissan set the top lap time for the LM P2 cars. Second was the #33 Level 5 Motorsports HPD ARX-03b followed by Jota’s #38 Zytek Nissan.
Corvette, Ferrari, Aston Martin, and Porsche all have a shot at the two GTE categories: Pro and Am. In the Pro class, the Ferraris came out strong but Corvette Racing’s Oliver Gavin came out on top in the second session and nailed down a lap in his #74 Chevrolet Corvette C6.R that was faster than last year’s pole. The Briton’s hot lap was a 3:58.971.
Gavin commented, "We made some changes to the suspension and gearbox, and the track was coming in. The balance of the car was good. We didn't get a run on new tires because of rain and yellow flags, but the tires were reasonably fresh and I wanted to see what we could do. I think the chassis is very close and the engine department is making big steps forward. I'm with the best team in the pit lane and the crew has done a stellar job of preparing the cars."
In the Am class it was Aston Martin’s turn to shine with the #97 Vantage GTE setting the fastest time in the morning test day segment at a 4:00.128. Factory driver Darren Turner said, “I’m really happy with where the car is at right now, but inevitably there’s still more work to be done. We’re still looking for a slightly stronger race balance for the car, but we know that we’ve got time before the race to find that. We made really good progress today with the set-up and we weren’t dragged down any counter-productive avenues.”
Also participating in the test, even though they will not be eligible for points in the 24 hour showdown, was the Nissan DeltaWing prototype. The Highcroft Racing owned by Duncan Dayton will be classified under the Automobile Club de l'Ouest’s (ACO) “Garage 56”. Drivers Marino Franchitti, Michael Krumm and Satoshi Motoyama toured the circuit, and the team was pleased with the first public test of the innovative car as they had no major problems. Motoyama ended up with the fastest lap of 3:47.980, and Ben Bowlby feels they can reach the target pace for the race set by the officials.
Bowlby said, “I certainly very happy with the results today. It would have been tragic if we had been plagued with technical issues when we were just trying to get drivers qualified for the race. We’ve shown the ACO that we’ve met their desired criteria to run a lap time of around 3 minutes, 45 seconds in around the same cadence as everyone else on pit stops. We’re very close to that time so you’d have to say today has been a great success.”