RAIN, RAIN AND MORE RAIN After the long wait and build up, the green flag finally dropped at 6:00 pm this evening for the first six hours of track time in preparation for the weekend's 77th running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans. When the timing...
RAIN, RAIN AND MORE RAIN
After the long wait and build up, the green flag finally dropped at 6:00 pm this evening for the first six hours of track time in preparation for the weekend's 77th running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans. When the timing clocks stopped at midnight, Jaime Melo had set the second fastest time in the GT2 class and fastest time of the 10 Ferrari 430s present at Le Mans.
Despite the practice session being run in very varied weather conditions, the Risi Competizione team achieved all it set out to do and the six Risi and Krohn Racing drivers were satisfied that good progress had been made in preparation for tomorrow's qualifying and the race itself.
In the brief period of time that the track was dry the #82 Ferrari F430 GT concentrated on set up, using last year's baseline as a starting point, while the #83 car worked primarily through a program of driver re-familiarisation and tire evaluation. As much of the session turned out to be wet, it was an ideal opportunity for all drivers to not only complete their mandatory night laps after 10:00pm but also to assess what compromises might have to be made between wet and dry set ups should conditions change suddenly during the coming weekend's race. While it is currently forecast to be dry and warm tomorrow, Friday and Saturday, there is the possibility of thunderstorms on Sunday.
There were no mechanical issues during the six hours, although there were various long stops in the pits while drivers and engineers waited for weather conditions to settle. With GT2 cars being limited to a specific number of sets of tires for the entire race week, judicious and prudent use of tires was called for and both drivers and engineers had to work closely together to achieve that goal.
For Pierre Kaffer, today was his first experience of driving the Risi Ferrari 430 in the wet so he was given plenty of time behind the wheel. "It reminded me of last year's test day here at Le Mans when conditions were always changing. I think we made the best out of it and we got a very good set up at the end, moving forward all the time through the session with our performance in the car. It's nice to be a part of this professional team, and with such professional team mates; everyone jumps in the car and makes progress on the set up, all moving forward in the same direction. That's now the base for the race and hopefully tomorrow will be dry but I think we are in a good position right now."
Jaime Melo said after his time in the car: "I got some dry laps and in those conditions the car's balance was good but in the wet we need to work on the car set up a bit more; we're not far from a good car. The conditions were quite difficult because sometimes it was raining heavily and at others parts of the track were drying. It's difficult to set up and manage the car in these conditions. Hopefully it's not going to rain -- I'm very confident of the car in the dry to be honest. We've not had a chance to see what the gap is really like between us and the Porsches, but I think we've got a good car for the race. We'll see what happens with the weather and try our best tomorrow."
Returning to the Ferrari 430's cockpit for the first time since his victory with Jaime Melo and Pierre Kaffer at the 12 Hours of Sebring in March, Mika Salo said: "My first laps back at Le Mans weren't in ideal conditions because of the weather but it was the same for everyone. For me I haven't driven anything since Sebring so I didn't have much of a feel for the car. I've driven so many thousands of miles here anyway but tomorrow I'll get some more laps and get the feeling back. It will be okay."
Nic Jonsson had the difficult task of being in the car while conditions were at their most variable: "I think it's hard to say who's quick and not because everyone was running different tires. There were dry conditions at the beginning of the session then it got semi-wet, then real wet, so I think it's hard to read anything into the times. The car works real good and everyone got their minimum laps in so that was our main goal for today. Tomorrow we will do some more work on set up and go fast!"
Anxious to erase the memory of Le Mans 2008, Tracy Krohn was nonetheless reminded of certain aspects of last year's race: "The track was real greasy and damp most of the time I was out, but it was absolutely great to be back at Le Mans. It was also good to be back in the car at night and in the wet...it feels quite normal for here! The competition is always tough at Le Mans and it's such a challenging circuit. The sheer length of a single lap being over eight miles is a challenge in itself."
Krohn Racing's Eric van de Poele was delighted to be back at Le Mans and with Risi Competizione: "For us it was quite okay as we had planned to do a few laps in the night and get used to the car again. We assessed different tires so we know what we have to expect with the soft and hard wet-weather tires and also some of the dry ones. You know it's a big advantage to be part of a team like this with a sister car which is one of the top cars in a Championship, and together we can all use the information we find together to make progress."