In all the excitement of last week's R35 GT-R announcement the first round of the LMS held at Barcelona got shoved to one side. A gentle reminder from Rod pointed this out even though he is up to his neck in Long Beach…………..so here we go.
Ok the bare statistics are that the four class race boasted 43 starters, an amazing figure in the context of the current economic position, just look at how other racing actvities have been curtailed and you wonder how long financial gravity can be defied by the LMS. Wait till the Algarve race in August is the consensus round the paddock.
The race, for those of you not paying attention, was won by the Lola Aston Martin B09/60 driven by Tomas Enge, Stefan Mucke and Jan Charouz. They enlivened what had been a processional race until Mucke put on a late charge helped by the then leader, Christophe Tinseau, stalling his Pescarolo Judd 01 at his final pit stop. This cost the French car some 30 seconds and gave Mucke a sniff of depriving Tinseau and his co-driver Jean Christophe Boullion the top spot on the podium. Traffic and problems with grip meant that Tinseau was powerless to resist and Mucke got by the melee of traffic.
The victory, the first for a prototype bearing the Aston Martin name, in whole or in part, in 50 years was popular. The cars are the stars of the pack in the LMS, the combination of Aston Martin and Gulf, both sportscar icons, is irresistable. Hopefully the win will put to bed the petty squabble with Lola that upset the opening part of the campaign.
Tyres and pit stops were high on the discussion list up and down the pit lane. New rules mean that only two mechanics can change the tyres at a time so slowing up the pit stops. The aim was to cut costs by reducing the number of mechanics needed, make the teams use harder compounds…………..
Talking to the teams produces a different view, some saying that you need more not less guys working on the pit stops with the new arrangements, at least the proposed ban on tyre heaters and ovens was dropped in favour of some needed safety improvements. Cold tyres and two in the morning into Terte Rouge would be a toxic combination. Other measures to introduce restrictions on changing engines attracted grumbles from those at the sharp end but who said it was easy to get racing folk to agree on anything.
Although victory slipped from their grasp at the end of the race, Pescarolo Sport were upbeat despite their disappointment. The 2009 car had not run on a race track till Friday's LMS paractice and it was felt that there was much more performance to come with more miles on the clock.
The other Pescarolo Sport car of Bruce Jouanny and Joao Barbosa enjoyed a great first stint but then it all went wrong when Joao drove through a pitlane red light. Henri and Bruce return from the Stewards office with a three minute stop and go penalty, the picture says it all.
The other contenders for overall victory, ORECA had a mixed day. Olivier Panis and Nicolas Lapierre could easily have won, Panis was mighty in his second stint but the transmission had a problem leaving the car stuck in fourth gear.
The other ORECA car ended up third in the hands of Stephane Ortelli and Bruno Senna. Bruno, nephew of Ayrton, has put his single seater ambitions on hold and was very pleased with his first sportscar event.
A steady fourth overall were Pierre Ragues and Franck Mailleux in the Signature Plus Courage LC70.
Next in line was Strakka Racing and the Ginetta Zytek GZ09S/2. They had started from pole position after a stunning display from Danny Watts who was over half a second faster than Darren Turner in the other Lola Aston Martin in the flat out sprint of qualifying.
At the start Peter Hardman got bogged down and slipped down the order, perhaps he pressed the wrong button………….
The other team expected to figure in the results was the Kolles Audi R10s but the cars proved difficult to get set up particularly for the largely inexperienced driver line up. In the race incidents with other cars put paid to their chances. Christijan Albers hit the leading Pescarolo at the start which did nothing to help aerodynamics and later Christian Bakkerud's spin over the kerbs broke the suspension. The second car, driven by Michael Krumm, was hit from behind early in the race and lost 30 laps getting the problem sorted. Game over.
The LMP2 class was also subject to a high rate of attrition. In the end honours were talen by the Racing Box Lola Judd B80/80. This victory was especially sweet for the Italian team who have spent the past two season struggling to get Lucchini to finish.
The effort was greatly assisted by having three experienced winners behind the wheel. Andrea Piccini, Thomas Biagi and Matteo Bobbi all have race wins in the FIA GT Championship. They were helped to victory by the demise of two of their main competitors, the Lolas of RML and Speedy Sebah.
To add to the delight of the Italian team their number two car managed to finish third, Piccini's younger brother Giacomo being aided by Andrea Ceccato and Filippo Francioni.
The Quifel ASM Ginetta Zytek GZ09S/2 was another contender for victory but was held up with wheel nut issues, so Miguel Amaral and Olivier Pla had to settle for second place.
GT1 was in reality a two horse race.
Proceedings were dominated by the Corvette C6-R of Luc Alphand until he spun mid race handing the victory to their only real competition.
The Lamborghini Murcielago R-GT of Roman Rusinov and Peter Kox had a fast run from flag to flag but the GT1 class rule changes cannot come soon enough, the category needs some new blood.
GT2 was the usual Porsche/Ferrari dust up. The "Werks" 997 of Marc Lieb and Richard Lietz fought a hard battle all race and just manged to come out on top, their Michelins suiting the conditions margianlly better than the opposition.
That was the Dunlop shod 430 GT of new team JMW Motorsport with the ace Ferrari paring of Gianmaria Bruni and Rob Bell. There was little to choose between the two cars and a titanic struggle is in prospect the whole year.
So the Le Mans Series got off to a flying start down in Spain.
Next up is Spa Francorchamps next month with two Peugeot diesels joining the fun.
We will see how close the petrol heads have got to the oil burners since 2008. I will be there.