New teams, new cars, new drivers, new specifications, new stands. There was lot of news coming from the Circuit Paul Ricard HTTT during the Le Mans Series test on Sunday and Monday. Time for an analysis on what happened on the track during those two days.
In all four sessions the Team Oreca Matmut-AIM Courage-Oreca LC70 AIM was the quickest car. An impressive result beating the Lola Aston Martins of Speey Racing Team Sebah and Aston Martin Racing. The gap between the French car and the Astons was just over a second. Quite a gap, until one realises that the LC70s were all running with the old wide rear wing. The 2009 spec wings had not been mounted on the cars and this gave the cars some advantage over the Aston Martin powered cars that were running in full 2009 specification. With the Aston Martin Racing cars fresh from the factory on their first tests and Tomas Enge crashing the car, causing the loss of valuable track time, it is in fact hard to say who’s in pole position for the LMP1 fight. And don’t forget the Audi R10 TDI and Pescarolo weren’t even at Paul Ricard.
Leaving LMP1 for LMP2. Last year the Porsche RS Spyders completely dominated the season, but during the test days the Team Essex car was at least matched by the Ginetta-Zytek 09S of Quifel-ASM Team. In the first session the Essex Porsche was only 0.019s quicker and the next session they both went out the Zytek was almost nine tenths of a second quicker, in fact its fastest time was within one tenth of a second of last year’s fastest times, set with the bigger wings. A first indication that reducing the width of the wings does not necessarily reduce the speeds? The Essex Porsche had a non-liveried nose and rear wing which could indicate that Porsche is in fact still developping the car, or was this simply a Le Mans aero kit with a 2009 spec rear wing?
Just three GT1 teams went to Paul Ricard for the test days, with ARC Bratislava-Kaneko bringing their good old Saleen S7R that raced in FIA GT as well as the new ex-Larbre car. Sources from the paddock indicated that the “new” car was horrible to drive, while the old car eventually set fast lap times. Corvette Racing works driver Olivier Beretta posted the fastest time in the Luc Alphand Corvette C6.R. The C6.R seems a little fragile with duct tape on several places at the end of the test. Second fastest was the IPB Spartak Racing Lamborghini, even though their test came to an early end on Monday afternoon.
The closest battle was the one in the GT2 category. After two days of testing it was the Hankook-Team Farnbacher Ferrari F430 GT2 on top of the time sheets. Pretty good considering the car was running on Hankook tyres, never seen in the Le Mans Series before. The Hankook squad lapped consistent times in all four sessions, but were they in fact that good? The answer should be no…as they were running an non-compliant, 2008 specification air restrictor. This gave them such an advantage that other Ferrari teams in 2009 trim were unable to keep up with them.
In fact the first Ferrari with the right restrictors fitted was only to be found in fifth place, behind two brand new Porsche 997 GT3 RSRs of Team Felbermayr Proton and IMSA Performance Matmut and the Snoras Spyker Squadron Spyker C8 Laviolette GT2R. Especially the time from the little Spyker was impressive. Last year the team’s fastest time with the Spyker C8 Spyder GT2R was a 2:01.903. This year Jeroen Bleekemolen managed to do a 1:58.325, after starting the first day with technical problems and a 2:06.582. Hats off for the Dutch squad and its employees. The other two GT2 entrants, the Aston Martin Vantage GT2 and Lamborghini Gallardo LP560 still need some work before being able to fight with the top cars in the class.
So what has Paul Ricard learned us…
In most classes the teams are close to each other and this could result in close fights throughout the season. Unfortunately due to some teams missing and others running non-compliant cars a well-balanced comparison between teams could not be made. What can be said though is that it seems that the new regulations have so far not made the cars much slower compared to last year.
Several teams will now study the data collected in France in an attempt to do even better at Barcelona and end up on the podium. We’re looking forward to that opening race in Catalunya.