Firman encouraged by Le Mans debut

Ralph Firman's debut in the Le Mans 24 Hours saw the 29 year old English star produce a strong performance in the Racing for Holland Dome-Judd alongside team mates Tom Coronel and Justin Wilson. Although the trio were plagued by frustrating technical problems which the Racing for Holland team worked hard to resolve, the no.16 Dome-Judd produced highly competitive lap times, holding 3rd place in the early stages before technical problems intervened, costing considerable time. However they had clawed their way back into the top 6 on Sunday morning.

Firman's race was brought to an end in the 24th hour, a recurring gearbox problem causing the Dome to shift into neutral when the former Jordan Formula One driver was under braking, causing the car to run wide onto loose gravel just off the racing line. Although he managed to return to the pits the car was unable to continue, but Firman was delighted with the overall speed of the car and his first experience of the famous French classic.

"We had the fastest car in the race other than the dominant Audis so it was a shame that we had the problems we did," he said. "I have no doubt that the potential is there for the Dome-Judd, although undoubtedly we all suffered from the relative lack of testing and development time in the run up to the race. We had a very strong line up and managed to recover well from each set-back."

The gearbox problem manifested itself by giving the drivers neutral when they were shifted down under braking for corners. Justin Wilson admitted to a near miss when he almost lost control of the Dome as a result of this problem, but it was Firman who suffered the accident into the last hour of the event.

"You need to have the benefit of engine braking and we'd been struggling with finding false-neutrals," he reported. "Eventually I had it happen once too often and ran wide onto the loose gravel that had been dislodged from the gravel bed during the race. Once on the gravel you're just a passenger. It was very frustrating for me, the other drivers and the whole team. I'd like to thank the team owner Jan Lammers for giving me the opportunity to race at Le Mans, and also the team who worked so hard all week to give myself, Justin and Tom such a good opportunity. With some proper funding and support for the team they could really cause a few surprises and I hope to be racing with them again soon."

The Fiman/Wilson/Coronel Done-Judd completed 313 laps, more than the 8th placed finisher, but it was not classified as it did not take the chequered flag. Their quickest lap time was a 3m36.726s which compared very favourably with the fastest time of the winning Audi, a 3m35.672s.