London, UK, Monday 4th June 2001: Gulf Oil today declared its intentions for this years Le Mans 24 Hours with the announcement that Formula One Grand Prix test driver Patrick Lemarie and Tom Coronel, the highly rated Dutchman, will partner Stefan...
London, UK, Monday 4th June 2001: Gulf Oil today declared its intentions for this years Le Mans 24 Hours with the announcement that Formula One Grand Prix test driver Patrick Lemarie and Tom Coronel, the highly rated Dutchman, will partner Stefan Johansson in the Gulf Audi R8 at next months French classic (16th-17th June). Gulf branded cars have achieved an envious record of success in world endurance racing over four decades, this formidable driver line-up is a major coup for the team and underlines their commitment to add to Gulfs three previous outright wins at Le Mans.
Patrick Lemarie, who has clocked-up more than 8,000km of testing in Formula One with BAR, comes with a glowing reference from his team and, in particular, Jacques Villeneuve. It was the recommendation of the 1997 Formula One World Champion that persuaded Stefan and Team Director, Mike Earle that he was the man for the job. "When a driver of the calibre of Jacques speaks so highly about a fellow racing driver it requires serious consideration," explains Mike. "Patrick joined us for a recent test at Snetterton, became familiar with the car almost immediately, drove smoothly throughout and within 25 laps was posting very quick times. He has a highly promising future in endurance racing and we appreciate the role of both Klaas Zwart and Ian Dawson of Team Ascari in allowing Patrick to join us at Le Mans."
The driver line-up is completed by 29 year old Tom Coronel, the exciting Dutch driver whose has achieved considerable success in Dutch Touring Cars, Formula Ford and was the winner of the 1997 Japanese F3 and 1999 Formula Nippon Championship. Tom is from the same management stable as Michael Schumacher and is considered to have a very big future in motor racing.
Leading the team in the 3.6 litre twin turbo-charged Gulf Audi R8 is Stefan Johansson, a highly acclaimed endurance racer and Le Mans winner whose F1 career spanned 11 years including spells with Ferrari and McLaren in his 103 starts. His experience at Le Mans will be vital as Gulf look to achieve a fourth outright victory. "I am absolutely delighted that two drivers of this calibre will drive with me at Le Mans," explains Stefan. "We have a formidable team with the capability to challenge for honours. We are extremely grateful to BAR and Honda for making this possible. Endurance racing requires a special discipline to bring the car home after 24 hours of competitive racing and Patrick and Tom are highly talented drivers and will be very quick learners of the art. There is now a good balance of experience and youth."
The Gulf Audi R8 is also competing in this years European Le Mans Series, lying third after two rounds, and having also achieved a highly creditable fourth place at the classic Sebring 12 Hours in March. Each event has seen improvements in the team's performance as they prepare to race at Le Sarthe.
Whilst optimistic about the team's chances at Le Mans, Vasant Bharath, Vice President - Global Brand Development for Gulf Oil, remains realistic. "We have three extremely talented drivers, a car with proven Le Mans success and a highly professional race team in Johansson Racing. Le Mans is a gruelling event that challenges man and machine to its limits and from our past experience we know that winning also relies upon a large slice of good fortune for even the best-prepared teams." He continues, "The Audi R8 will follow other great sports cars such as the Ford GT40, Mirage, Porsche 917 and McLaren F1 GTR in carrying the traditional Gulf Racing colours of powder blue and orange. Gulf has a rich heritage in endurance racing at Le Mans and it has always represented the pinnacle of our racing achievements. Where better to re-launch the Gulf brand across Europe and the UK?"