Team Oreca sets the pace at Paul Ricard Le Mans Series test * Number 11 Team Oreca Matmut-AIM of Olivier Panis and Nicolas Lapierre sets fastest times in all four Le Mans Series test sessions at the Paul Ricard HTTT test track * Bruno Senna,...
Team Oreca sets the pace at Paul Ricard Le Mans Series test
* Number 11 Team Oreca Matmut-AIM of Olivier Panis and Nicolas Lapierre sets fastest times in all four Le Mans Series test sessions at the Paul Ricard HTTT test track
* Bruno Senna, nephew of the legendary Ayrton, is invited by Hugues de Chaunac to test the Team Oreca Matmut-AIM and sets competitive times. Is a candidate for the Le Mans 24-Hours
* Two Lola Aston Martins make their debut at the Le Mans Series tests and set good times -- but Tomas Enge crashes '007' heavily on Sunday afternoon.
* The Paul Ricard circuit now features 4,000 grandstand seats, and members of the public were admitted on Sunday. It was a sell-out crowd, in bright sunshine
* Despite new regulations by the Automobile Club de l'Ouest to slow the cars down in all four classes, last year's test times are closely matched. Helped, perhaps, by a strong tailwind on the Mistral straight
* New manufacturers are welcomed by the Le Mans Series organisers: Aston Martin in LM-P1 and in GT2, Lamborghini (Gallardo) in GT2, Mazda (backed by Mazda France) with Jacques Nicolet's Oak Racing Pescarolo LM-P2 team ... Hankook tyres in GT2, and Avon with the Pegasus Racing Pescarolo in LM-P2.
Hugues de Chaunac, whose Team Oreca Matmut-AIM is based at Signes, alongside the Paul Ricard HTTP test circuit near Toulon, goes home on Sunday night a happy man. His two cars performed faultlessly in nearly 300 laps of the 5.791 kilometre circuit, Nicolas Lapierre and Olivier Panis shared the top-times sheets in all sessions, with the sister car of Stephane Ortelli, Soheil Ayari and Bruno Senna close behind in fourth position. The AIM V10 engines impressed the drivers with their torque and high-speed power, the Michelin tyres performed well, and all looks set for a great season.
As for Bruno Senna, he was given a chance opportunity to test for the Oreca team and jumped at the chance, while insisting that his main objective is to go into Formula One. But after three long double-stints in the sports car at Ricard on Sunday evening, the young Brazilian said that he had enjoyed the experience and looks forward to another test.
Panis set a best lap of 1m 40.903s on Monday morning, the fastest lap ever by a petrol-engined LM-P1 despite having a smaller rear wing than last year's cars. Before the French team can dream of victory, though, it has to meet the powerful Peugeot diesel powered prototypes, not seen at Ricard, and two of last year's Audi R10 diesels which will compete with a private German team in the Le Mans Series.
The two Lola Aston Martins, numbered 007 and 009, were widely admired in their evocative blue and orange livery of Gulf Oil, and were fully up to speed despite the lack of any initial testing. Aston Martin Racing had worked "night and day for a fortnight" to get the two V12 powered cars to the south of France and before long they were pushing the Team Oreca cars for top times.
Then Tomas Enge, the amiable Czech driver, crashed 007 and wrecked the front end on Saturday afternoon. "I only know two speeds, stop and flat-out" he said ruefully, after hooking a kerb and losing control at the top end of the circuit.
After the demise of 007, it was the turn of the Speedy Racing Team Sebah to uphold Aston Martin's honour with their beautifully liveried, red and silver Lola Aston Martin (the ex Charouz car from 2008) as Marcel Fassler set the second fastest time overall, at 1m 42.141s.
The time set by Enge on Saturday afternoon remained the third fastest overall. Signature Plus, a new team formed by Philippe Sinault with a Judd engined Courage-Oreca C70, set the fourth fastest time in the hands of Franck Mailleux and Pierre Ragues.
Fifth were Ortelli and Ayari in their Team Oreca Matmut-AIM prototype, close up at 1m 42.709s, chased by the Lola Aston Martin 009 (1m 43.033) in the hands of Darren Turner, Miguel Ramos and Harold Primat.
Seventh, with a respectable time of 1m 43.033. was the all-black Strakka Racing Ginetta-Zytek of Peter Hardman, Nick Leventis and Danny Watts.
Portuguese go top in LM-P2
The Quifel-ASM team from Portugal headed the timing list in the LM-P2 category for less powerful prototypes with their new Ginetta-Zytek 09S. It was Briton Guy Smith, the 2003 Le Mans winner with Bentley, who sprang one of the big surprises of the day, a time of 1m 43.355s on a new set of Dunlop tyres. This was within one-tenth of a second of the best time in 2008, set by Jos Verstappen in the van Merksteijn Porsche, when it had a larger rear wing. Smith, himself, raced a Dyson Racing Porsche last season and could make a direct comparison.
The Essex Racing Porsche RS Spyder set the second fastest time in the category driven by Emmanuel 'Manu' Collard and Casper Elgaard, but it was returned to the pits before lunch on Monday on the back of a flat-bed truck after the Dane lost control and spun into the barrier. Most of the damage was bodywork, but the Essex Porsche was out for the day.
Third, then, was the RML team Lola-Mazda raced by the most experienced pairing in the Le Mans Series, owner Mike Newton and Brazilian Tommy Erdos. They have been partners for seven years, since the start of the Le Mans Series, and were winners at Le Mans in 2005 and 2006.
The Speedy Racing Team Sebah Lola-Judd was placed a competitive fourth in the list driven by Jonny Kane, Benjamin Leuenberger and Xavier Pompidou. It was ahead of Jacques Nicolet's new Oak Racing Pescarolo Mazda and the Avon tyred Pegasus Racing Courage-Oreca AER.
Lamborghini top in LM-GT1
Just three GT1 cars took part in the pre-season test, the IPB Spartak Racing Lamborghini Murcielago, the ARC Bratislava-Kaneko Saleen S7-R and Luc Alphand Aventures Corvette C6.R.
It was none other than Olivier Beretta who put in a late winner in Alphand's Corvette, at 1m 53.933s, ahead of Peter Kox in the Lamborghini, which has been further developed since last year, and Christophe Bouchut in the Slovakian entered Saleen owned by Miro Konopka. Less than one second covered the three makes.
Hankook leads in LM-GT2
Hankook? Say again? The South Korean tyre manufacturer signed a contract with Farnbacher Racing only on March 8, at the Ricard track, and it immediately paid dividends. Shocking the Michelin and Dunlop 'traditional' suppliers, Pierre Kaffer posted the fastest time in the class at 1m 57.888s, faster than anyone went a year ago with aerodynamically more efficient cars. Farnbacher's Ferrari 430 GT will be co-driven by Dominik Schwager and in certain events by Allan Simonsen.
Marc Lieb responded very strongly with a late charge on Monday afternoon, in the Team Felbermayr Proton Porsche 997 GT3 RSR but failed by a tenth of a second to match Kaffer's time, at 1m 57.988s. Third was Patrick Pilet in the IMSA Performance Matmut Porsche owned by Raymond Narac.
GT2 champion Rob Bell, with Gianmaria 'Gimmi' Bruni, drives the same Ferrari 430 GT this year, and it is still owned by Jim McWhirter (JMW) who has formed his own team, managed by Dr Steve Bunkhall. They set the fourth fastest time, still finding their way with the setup in 2009 trim.