One of the hot items this Le Mans Series season was what seemed to be a never ending story of LMP’s and GT cars colliding. At almost every race some of the faster prototypes had a coming together with one of the (slower) GT cars. And on many occasions it could have been avoided if instructions from the driver briefings were followed by the drivers.
After two major accidents for the IMSA Performance Matmut team in 2007, being taken out of the race in Valencia by the Saulnier Racing Courage and at Spa-Francorchamps by Shinji Nakano in the Creation, one would have expected that the drivers could face penalties would these kinds of incidents happened again…
At Barcelona there were some incidents in which Team Modena, IPB Spartak Racing and the #8 Peugeot were involved, but despite some bodywork damage the cars went on. And of course there was the incident with the Farnbacher Porsche hitting a LMP2 car under braking as they passed a slower GT2 car. Simonsen retired the Porsche in the pit.
The first major accident between a GT2 car and a prototype happened at Monza however. Just before entering the Variante della Roggia Dutch driver Jos Verstappen decided to overtake some GT2 cars but ended up in the middle of the GT2 pack. As the first cars braked for the corner Verstappen tried to avoid one of the JMB Racing Ferrari’s he slammed his car into left front of the Spyker of Peter Dumbreck and fortunately missing the other GT2 cars. It was a typical incident that could have been avoided had the former F1 driver been a bit more cautious and had he started his pass just after the chicane.
At Spa the Spyker Squadron team was again in the middle of the action when Austrian Alexander Wurz in his Peugeot seemed to have thought he had cleared the GT2 Spyker and returned to the racing line too early as he went after the rival Audi R10. The resulting contact left a badly damaged Peugeot 908 out on the circuit, while the Spyker lost a lot of time being repaired in the pit. Towards the end of the race there were several incident-damaged GT and LMP cars.
In Germany there were some near-misses between GT cars and LMPs, but some drivers were unlucky. Towards the end of the race the Team Essex Porsche RS Spyder, having lost a lot of time, was trying to catch up with the cars ahead. In the first chicane however a group of cars was braking and unfortunately one of the Spyker cars was hit by the Essex Porsche. Another incident that was really unnecessary as the Spyker was not even close to the Porsche as it approached the corner, something that was clearly visible on the TV-screens.
There were more accidents in the final round at Silverstone. Involved in two of the clashes with an LMP car was the IPB Spartak Racing Lamborghini. A battle including several contacts with the Speedy Racing Team Sebah Lola ended in tears for Xavier Pompidou as the LMP2 Lola slammed into the wall just after Luffield. Earlier in the race the team had already had problems with the leading Audi of McNish. Peter Kox was really angry with the LMP drivers and was later quoted saying: “In particular Allan McNish, who has just ruined our race. I don’t have any other words for it. I am not saying we would have won, but thanks to him we’ve lost contact with the leaders. The way some of these LMP1 guys are driving, it’s just ridiculous.” Kox had already had trouble with the LMP cars earlier in the season as he was also spotted in the Van Merksteijn pit box at one of the races after a coming together between the Lamborghini and the Porsche.
Earlier on in the final race of the season the IMSA Performance Matmut Porsche of Narac and Lietz was clipped by Minassian’s Peugeot in the accident that wiped out the title hopes for the Peugeot team. Minassian, trying to get around the Epsilon-Euskadi, clipped the front of the Porsche and both the Peugeot and the Porsche 997 GT3 RSR slammed into the wall. For the third time in two seasons the IMSA Performance Matmut team saw their cars in the wall after being hit by a prototype.
Next to the accidents that caused significant damage to cars there were also several smaller incidents between GT and LMP cars. And in what was almost something unavoidable, looking at the previous races, there was again a coming together between a Porsche RS Spyder and a Spyker. This time it was Verstappen again in the Van Merksteijn Motorsport Porsche RS Spyder. In the press conference after the race the Dutchman was asked if he had experienced any edgy moments and his response was really astonishing. “Only one at the end when I touched one of the Spykers. But, eh, the whole year we had problems with them, but it was the last race so now I could push them…”
All we can say is that we hope that the Le Mans Series organisers and race director have heard this comment (which was still available on the Le Mans Series website) and will act! Even though they can’t probably do anything about the 2008 results it would be good if it would be perfectly clear for the drivers that an avoidable contact will be ‘awarded’ with a penalty in the future. During all the briefings this past season the drivers were told that GT cars should maintain their line, meaning that it is up to the faster LMP cars to move over and pass. Unfortunately some drivers clearly didn’t understand this resulting in many contacts.
Over in the United States IMSA regulations on causing avoidable contacts are clear; if you have caused an avoidable collision you will be given a stop-and-go penalty. It was perfectly clear for all the spectators that Timo Bernhard tapped one of the Flying Lizard Porsches at Detroit. The race director concluded it was an avoidable contact and the Penske team had to serve the penalty. More recently, at Laguna Seca, Tracy Krohn’s Ferrari was hit by the B-K Motorsports Lola. Like in previous cases in the ALMS the prototype that caused the accident was given a one-minute stop-and-go penalty for avoidable contact. Unfortunately for Krohn his car was punted off the track again by one of the Dyson Porsches later in the race.
Perhaps some of the rules used by IMSA in the American Le Mans Series should be used more in the Le Mans Series Europe. It could be the only way to minimize the chance of having these crashes and keep more cars in competition, even though in racing anything can happen. But then simply listening to what is being said during a driver’s briefing could help as well.