In 2009 Le Mans Series the prototype numbers held up well, from a high of 32 at Spa to a still respectable 22 at the Algarve. The same could not be said for GT1 which only had two season long entries with a straggler or two joining in along the way. It was a class that should have been culled from the first event. However the new rules for the GT1 World Championship would appear to have breathed life into this category. For Maserati, Ford and Nissan to gain the desired, prized invites to Le Mans they have to commit to running in the LMS, it will be interesting to see how this pans out.
In LM GT2 the quantity and the quality of the field was impressive, perhaps second only to the stellar ALMS grid in that class. As ever there was a fierce battle between Porsche and Ferrari. In a reversal of the 2008 result the Felbermayr Porsche of Marc Lieb and Richard Lietz took wins at Barcelona, Spa and Nurburgring to just shade their Italian opponents.
The Ferrari challenge was led by Rob Bell and Gianmaria Bruni in the JMW Motorsport Ferrari F430GT. They won at the Algarve and Silverstone. Indeed it seemed for most of the British round that they would take the title at the last gasp from the Germans. The Porsche suffered a severe misfire that dropped them down the field and the team feared that the engine would blow at any moment. Somehow it held together and the Felbermayr 997 staggered across the finish line in 7th place to three points and the driver's and team's championships.
In third place in the LM GT2 class was the Ferrari F430GT of Team Modena who had retired the venerable Aston Martin DBR9 and dropped down to the highly competitive GT2 category. The team was led by the mighty Antonio Garcia with Leo Mansell and arguably the best F430 pilot of them all, Jaime Mello, also in the cockpit. Team Modena led several races and were always in contention but it is a measure of how good both Felbermayr and JMW are that the top step of the podium eluded them in 2009.
So despite the difficult circumstances the 2009 Le Mans Series can be counted a success. The absence of factory teams in the top category did not detract from the racing and while GT1 struggled, the other classes prospered.
Some things to note………….drive of the year, Jean Christophe Boullion in the Pescarolo 01 at Silverstone, mesmerising.
Danny Watts grabbing pole position for Strakka Racing in the Ginetta-Zytek GZ09S at Barcelona, great scruff of the neck driving. Some issues within the team and niggling faults with the car itself prevented this outfit from fulfilling its potential. For 2010 they are stepping into the LMP2 arena with an Acura purchased from the ALMS, expect Strakka to challenging ASM and RML for the title honours.
Team of the Year had to be Aston Martin Racing, a factory team in name only as there is no financial backing from the iconic car brand. AMR took on paying drivers, recruited sponsors in a difficult market and turned in a top line performance, comfortably being best petrol powered prototype around.
Hero to Zero. One of the daftest moments in the 2009 LMS came when Xavier Pompidieu stopped his Lola B08/80 in front of his team after winning the LMP2 class at Silverstone. The track was still hot and full of cars at racing speeds, so of course it happened, another competitor ploughed into the back of the Lola…………..an avoidable incident I think the Stewards called it…………..lucky no one was hurt, just pride and the Lola dented.
A positive in 2009 was the LMS going to the Algarve and running a night race. OK finishing the race at around 1.00am in the morning was mad, it could easily have started and finished a couple of hours earlier and everyone who had to work lost a night's sleep, a bit like flying in cattle class across the Atlantic. That aside it was a great event and we can but hope that it grows into a classic.
Where else can you find a swimming pool in the paddock?
Another positive development was the Asian Le Mans Series which ran with the World Touring Car Championship at Okayama, yes a festive shot for the festive season.
The event was split into two races with the Pescarolo of Christophe Tinseau and Shinji Nakano winning the first.
Race two saw Stefan Mucke and Harold Primat score another win for the Lola Aston Martin LMP01. A good way to finish the season.
There was a respectable crowd in Japan, hopefully this will start the process of building up endurance racing in the Far East. Japan's decision to abandon Formula One could just the opportunity that sportscars has been waiting for. Maybe the combination of the ultimate sprint racing, the WTCC and LMS is one that should be developed
Part 3 later.