Ed Fahey, Le Mans Correspondent
Risen from the dead - #51 Ferrari
After Wednesday afternoon, few would have thought that the #51 AF Corse Ferrari would have even made the start, never mind currently be running in second place in the most frantic class at Le Mans – GTE-Pro. Giancarlo Fisichella's accident at the Porsche Curves initially appeared to have caused mostly cosmetic damage, but upon closer inspection, it transpired that things were far more severe and a reshell was the only option.
A request was lodged with the stewards of the meeting and provided that the three drivers (Fisichella, Toni Vilander and Gianmaria Bruni) ran their five compulsory night laps (which Fisichella and Bruni did in one of the sister cars), they would be allowed to start the race. Thanks to the crew working flat-out for almost an entire day, Toni Vilander took the car out towards the end of the third qualifying session on Thursday, to both run his five laps and give the car a brief shakedown – and the team celebrated as if they'd won the race
Vilander was a man on a mission at the start of the race, getting up to third in class by 45 minutes and staying in the top three ever since. A podium finish or better would certainly be the perfect reward for the team's hard work.
More Bad Luck for Flying Lizards
Flying Lizard Motorsports have always run well in the American Le Mans Series, but success at Le Mans continues to elude them. Initially, luck shone on them for the first few hours of the race, but sadly the demons have once again struck the red and silver Porsches. The #79 GTE-Am class car of Seth Neiman, Patrick Pilet and Spencer Pumpelly qualified on pole position (with Pilet driving) and for the first few hours led their class. But just before the fifth hour of the race, Neiman suffered damage to the rear of the car and a small fire at Arnage. Although it's unclear exactly what caused the accident, it could have been a fluid leak that also led to the #3 LMP1 Audi's accident. After lengthy repairs in the garage, the car rejoined the race well down the order.
Elsewhere, the #80 Pro class car of Jorg Bergmeister, Patrick Long and Marco Holzer had an at-best average qualifying session: beaten by their Am team mates. They were also outqualified by the #77 Felbermayr-Proton Porsche, the only other GTE-Pro Porsche. After a straightforward first hour of the race, luck departed and the car headed to the garage for suspension repairs. Then, after rejoining, Pat Long spun at the first Mulsanne chicane, which has now ended their charge for good.
Heartbreak for Griffin
Matt Griffin is the only Irish driver on the grid, in the #81 GTE-Am AF Corse Ferrari F458. When we previously spoke to him on Wednesday, he was excited and looking forward to the challenge of his first Le Mans. Sadly, the race ended in the worst possible fashion when his car, being driven by Piergiuseppe Perazzini at the time, was involved in a massive and frightening accident with the #8 LMP1 Toyota TS030 of Anthony Davidson at Mulsanne corner – thankfully without major injury to either driver. “I'm really disappointed – we had a really good car and we were getting stronger and stronger, which was the plan. We were getting great fuel consumption, too, with 16 laps per stint. It's motorsport though and these things can happen, especially in multi-class endurance racing. I'm just happy that both drivers are okay, but given the effort the team put in, hopefully we can race at Le Mans again.”
Being the Pro driver in the team, he ran the first stint to get a feel for the car. “I took it quite cautiously: a long first stint to see what the car and track was like and didn’t push it too much. It worked well – we kept position and got better fuel consumption than we'd planned. It was great to start the car at Le Mans, given it was my first time here.”
Like some other GT drivers, he felt many LMP drivers were too aggressive in their efforts to get past. “I've experience of racing with LMP cars, but a few drivers were trying to get past me at crazy places, especially the Porsche Curves. It's not an overtaking place really, especially when there's only one line for a GTE car through there. I don't mind the LMP drivers flashing their headlights at me, but only when they are about to pass me. If they do it too far back, you can't see where they are on track, and what side they want to get past you on – it's just a flood of light. I think if you're to drive an LMP car, there should be a requirement that you do at least one race in a GTE, then the LMP drivers would know what it's like. Drivers like David Brabham who have driven both understand your position and tend to be more patient. We are all fighting for position at the end of the day.”