Aston Martin's LM P1 program is currently the company's flagship racing program, and the 007 car, piloted by Jan Charouz, Stefam Mucke and Tomas Enge is clearly the team's best hope for a top result in this year's Le Mans 24 Hours. ...
Aston Martin's LM P1 program is currently the company's flagship racing program, and the 007 car, piloted by Jan Charouz, Stefam Mucke and Tomas Enge is clearly the team's best hope for a top result in this year's Le Mans 24 Hours.
While this is the first year for the Aston Martin works P1 program, it's the second year for the Lola-Aston Martin combination, and the third for Charouz, Mucke and Enge as a team (they drove a Lola-Judd for Charouz Racing System in the 2007 edition of Le Mans).
This year, the team has lost some 3% of the engine power due to the decrease in restrictor size, and the rear wings are smaller, reducing downforce, but the new car has improved fuel economy due to the direct injection, and is easier to service.
"From last year, there is the styling, and logical things like take the nose off in under a minute, or dismantle the rear in several parts," Charouz said. "So most of the development work went into making the car a little safer, or easier to repair. The chassis really hasn't changed so much, but it's much more user-friendly."
The team needed to put the user-friendliness to use on Thursday night, as Charouz lost control of his Lola B09/60-Aston Martin as the session was drawing to a close. The rear brakes locked, throwing the Aston Martin into the barriers, much like what happened to Jos Verstappen in Monza.
"We have a little issue with the brakes: sometimes they lock up the rear tires, even though we have the bias set to the front," Charouz explained. "And when that happens at high speed, there is so little downforce here that there is really nothing you can do. The brakes are very sensitive on the car, and the car moves a little like this (demonstrates a twitching motion). And then when the rear locks, the movement throws the car into the barriers. It's really inherent to the design of the car so we just have to live with it."
Until then, though the session had been a success for the team, with Stefan Mucke setting easily the fastest time of the petrol-engined cars -- at 3:27.180, less than 4.3 seconds off the diesel Peugeot's pole-winning time.
"We were not really pushing for qualifying, but in the beginning of the second session I went out on medium tires, and tried to find a clear lap," Mucke recounted his session. "Maybe I lost a second to traffic, but even though we can't catch the diesels, we're very happy with the time."
As with many teams, the 007 crew focused on getting a feel for the car, testing the tires and adjusting the setups.
"Unfortunately there was not much time on Wednesday, only about 15 minutes while the line was dry," Enge said of Wednesday's practice session. "Yesterday, we sorted out what we needed to sort out, we found out which type of tires can do what, and I think we got a pretty good qualifying, too, so we are pretty happy."
The tire wear might be a possible Aston Martin advantage, based on the team's experiences in qualifying.
"We managed two and a half stints on soft tires," Enge recalled. "We did the qualifying with medium, but the team tried the soft tires to see the wear and the characteristics of the tire. Depending on the temperatures we can choose the right tire, we didn't try just the soft and the medium, but also the hard tire, for longer distance. The tire change costs a lot, so you want to stretch as long as possible."
"We are not yet sure how many stints we can do in the race on one set of tires," said Mucke. "If you can stretch to three or four stints, you can save a lot of time. Maybe someone will try it, but there is a lot of risk of damaged tires when you have more mileage on the tires."
The three drivers are very much thinking the same way, and drive with very similar settings, making them a n even stronger combination than their individual skills might indicate.
"We know each other for a long time now -- we even have the same seat even though we are completely different sizes, which makes things much easier," Mucke smiled. " We are good friends, and that's an important point. We are a pretty balanced team, Tomas is maybe the craziest one so he's very good in the night for sure, but overall we are all on the same level."
The team is running an ultra-low downforce setup, giving the Aston Martins a strong straight-line performance, so critical on the ever-so-long Mulsanne straight. But of course high top speed comes at a cost.
"Anytime you drive the car with low downforce, it's difficult, because you don't have that stability that you like," Charouz elaborated. "For example, when we drove at the Algarve, we had full downforce and the car is very forgiving. Then you come here, you make a mistake, and ..."
And then there is the rain, which already reduces grip. With little mechanical grip on a wet track, and low downforce, the team will surely have a challenge on their hands if the rain comes in the early hours of Sunday, as currently forecast.
"I did about eight laps in the rain on Wednesday," Enge explained. "The handling with the low downforce in the rain wasn't great, but we tried to add some more downforce, and the handling did not change too much. We lost some time on the straight, but we did not gain much in the corners."
"Overall, we are pretty happy with the downforce," he continued. "But of course a driver is never quite happy -- a driver always wants more downforce! But you also want to be as fast as possible on the straights, and here the straight is very long, so we have to make a compromise."
Still, even with low downforce, the power and especially torque of the diesel engines is unmatched, and the 007 team is being realistic about it.
"I think many people expected us to challenge the diesels, which is not possible this year," Charouz admitted. " Our strategy is clean pitstops, clean race, no mistakes, no technical faults, and if we achieve that, I think we have a hope of being in the top five. But if we have any problems, it will be very difficult."
"If we can finish in the three it will be a dream result, but top five would be great as well," Enge summed up the possibilities. "Our first thing to achieve that is to stay on the road, spend as little time as possible in the pits, and see what the situation is with the competitors. We'll try to beat as many diesels as possible and be the first petrol car!"