Countdown to Le Mans begins
Graham Goodwin continues his series of articles looking at the news from inside sportscar racing..
The road to Le Mans traditionally takes a detour in May via the Ardennes and the 6 Hours of Spa Francorchamps. 2015 was no exception and the full season FIA World Endurance Championship grid was again bolstered by a number of additional entries.
Whilst Nissan continue to test their new LMP1 machine in the USA and Rebellion complete the rebuild of their newly re-engined cars it was left to Audi and Porsche to field a third car apiece, Audi opting to present both of their full season WEC cars in full Le Mans spec (low drag, lower downforce trim).
It made for a fascinating contest, the straight line advantage of the Porsches almost entirely negated by the new look Audis and both of the German marques leaving the Toyotas trailing in their wake. This was not helped by an accident in practice left the No.1 Toyota needing a full rebuild and causing and injury for full season factory driver Kazuki Nakajima that looks likely to count him out for Le Mans too.
The race saw incidents galore.
First, Nick Tandy’s No.19 Porsche clashed with the sister GT car of team debutant Kevin Estre, causing damage to the LMP1, but the can’t make it back to the pit lane and later continued. There was drama too for the polesetting No.17 Porsche, a stop-go penalty for Brendon Hartley after he outbraked himself and chose to rejoin via a marshals post rather than being assisted to rejoin by those very same marshals.
The No.9 Audi meanwhile, running in high downforce specification, suffered violent high-speed porpoising with Marco Bonanomi experiencing a blown out side window at V-max on the Kemmel straight – that contributed to counting them out of the ultimate battle for the podium. The No.8 Audi was already a lap down on its sister car when, in the closing stages of the race, Oliver Jarvis lost control under braking, with the car ending its race in the gravel trap.
That left the No.7 Audi to take a relatively untroubled win after a fabulous battle once again with the Porsches. It means a total of a maximum 50 points for the Audi with a double points score at Le Mans to come next. The full season Porsches completed the overall podium.
Also amongst the additions of this race, Jota Sport once again added spa to their pre-Le Mans routine. After an early race penalty for a jumped start, the No.38 Gibson Nissan were soon back in the hunt, with their main competitor, the No.26 Ligier Nissan, suffering an amazingly rare engine failure while still very much in contention. Jota took their second win, and their fourth consecutive podium at Spa, a first WEC win for the upgraded (and rebranded) Gibson chassis, for Jota and sportscar racing debutant, Kiwi GP2 racer Mitch Evans, Simon Dolan and Harry Tincknell.
The No.28 G-Drive Ligier and debuting No.43 SARD Morand Morgan Evo completed the podium. Tincknell will be replaced in the team for Le Mans (where he will be on Nissan factory LMP1 duty) by ex team-mate and current Super GT racer and McLaren F1 test driver Oliver Turvey.
The LMP2 class saw the welcome return to action from Toyota development driver Nicolas Lapierre for the first time since a fall out with the team after the 2014 race of the Circuit of the Americas. The popular Frenchman drove well, but the still all too new Oreca 05 suffered further new car niggles.
The two GTE classes both saw wins for Aston Martin Racing, though in the pro class the win for the No.99 car of Fernando Rees, Alex MacDowall and Richie Stanaway, was not without controversy. The Aston Martin had inherited the red and yellow Anergy Energy livery from the sister No.97 the Vantage GTE for this race and led for much of the six hours. The closing stages though saw the 2014 Championship winning No.51 AF Corse Ferrari close in and pass for the lead before being dealt a punitive 60 second stop and hold penalty when the team lost control of a rolling tyre during a pitstop.
There were penalties too for several other cars, including both factory Porsches, though they recovered, again aided by the Ferrari’s penalty, to complete the podium.
GTE Am went again to the #98 Aston Martin of Paul Dalla Lana, Pedro Lamy and Mathias Lauda with the SMP and AF Corse Ferraris completing the podium.
Road To Le Mans
There are two further important steps on the road to Le Mans still to come. Round two of the European Le Mans Series will see around half of the LMP2 grid in the race action at Imola this coming weekend and then the last weekend in May sees the test day on the full Le Mans 24 Hours Circuit where the new Nissans and revised Rebellions Will run in public for the very first time.
The test day will also see the first time that the new LMP3 Ginetta Nissans will be allowed to run on the fabled track. The new junior prototype class is not eligible for the race proper but at least two of the cars will run in the test with the British Olympic legend Sir Chris Hoy amongst the driving squad.
Nurburgring 24 Hours
Before Le Mans too, another of the classic European endurance races will take place as next weekend sees the huge grid of GT and touring cars assemble again take on the ‘Green Hell’ of the Nurburgring’s fabulous Nordschleife circuit. After tragedy struck in the opening race this season, a Nissan GT3 car getting airborne and fatally injuring a trackside fan, several new safety regulations have been introduced to slow down the fastest cars and to prevent spectators from massing at the riskiest parts of the circuit.
The race proper will see the return of factory blessed efforts from Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Audi (with their brand-new 2015 R8 LMS), Aston Martin and Nissan with the addition this year of a three car effort from Bentley. Almost 200 cars are due to take the start for twice round-the-clock around the Eifel mountains. It’s a race to watch Live if you possibly can but if you can’t then Radio Le Mans Will cover all the action live from trackside, pit lane and paddock.
Le Mans Tickets
Those customers already booked for Le Mans will be receieving their Travel Destinations ticket packs shortly. Not long to wait now. For those people that are still looking for tickets, Travel Destinations do have a small selection of entrance, camping and grandstand seats available. Please do call us for further details as availability changes daily.
Written by Graham Goodwin
Photos by Dailysportscar