At the official test of the Le Mans Series (LMS) in Le Castellet (France), the Porsche RS Spyder celebrated its European premiere. Here, the two sports prototypes of the Team Essex (Denmark) and Van Merksteijn Motorsport (Netherlands) met their opponents in the fiercely-contested LMP2 class for the first time. The Swiss Horag Racing team was not present for the test as it is already in Florida where it will contest the Sebring 12 hour race on 15 March. The main purpose in southern France was for teams and drivers to familiarise themselves with the new sports prototype. For both race teams the RS Spyder represents new territory.
Sharing driving duties in the Porsche RS Spyder of the Dutch team for the 2008 season is a high-profile trio. Joining team-owner Peter van Merksteijn and ex-DTM pilot Jeroen Bleekemolen to contest the LMS is Jos Verstappen. The ex-Formula 1 driver, who recently took a two-year break, is totally enthusiastic about the 476 hp sports prototype. “The Spyder has amazing grip in the fast corners. It’s incredibly stabile under braking and we haven’t experienced one technical problem. This is simply a fantastic car which is great fun to drive.”
The Danish Essex team also takes up the race with a well-known line-up of swift drivers. John Nielsen brings with him successes in sports car racing. He was world sports car champion and won, amongst others, the Le Mans 24 hour race in 1990. Nielsen doubles as team manager and driver. Casper Elgaard, the second Essex driver, is multiple Danish touring car champion. Aside from finding a suitable set-up for the circuit, the team is also practicing its pit stops in preparation for the season. John Nielsen: “Good pit stops can mean the difference between winning and losing a race. For this reason we tested our pit stops here in the narrow pits under stressful conditions. My boys are extremely ambitious. They want to be the best at pit stops.”
Also putting the tests to good use are the Porsche teams competing in the near-standard GT2 class with the Porsche 911 GT3 RSR. For the IMSA Performance Matmut team, works driver Richard Lietz (Austria) and his French team mate Raymond Narac travelled to Le Castellet. Competing for the German Felbermayr team are Porsche works driver Marc Lieb, 2007 winner of the 24 hour race on the Nuerburgring-Nordschleife, and Australia’s Alex Davison.
Five races make up the LMS calendar in 2008, each run over 1,000 kilometres on traditional European race tracks like Spa-Francorchamps, Monza and the Nuerburgring. Additionally, the Essex and VW Motorsport teams will contest the sportscar highlight in Le Mans on 14/15 June. The first Le Mans Series race takes place on 6 April in Barcelona (Spain).
Facts and Figures
This is the Le Mans Series
Contested for the first time in 2004, the Le Mans Series (LMS) offers fans exciting sportscar racing. The regulations are based on the rules of the Le Mans 24 hour race. Five championship rounds will be contested this season on traditional circuits throughout Europe. The races run over a distance of 1,000 kilometres. The LMS is the European counterpart to the American Le Mans Series (ALMS) in the USA and Canada.
The starting field consists of two different sports vehicle categories: Sports prototypes and standard sportscars. They are divided into four classes:
- LMP1 class: Sports prototypes with up to 750 hp and a minimum weight of 900 kilograms (in the ALMS: 750 hp/925 kilograms).
- GT1 class: Heavily modified standard sportscars with up to 650 hp and a minimum weight of 1,125 to 1,325 kilograms (in the ALMS: 650 hp/1,125 to 1,325 kilograms)
- GT2 class: Slightly modified standard sportscars with between 450 hp to 470 hp and a minimum weight of 1,125 to 1,325 kilograms (in the ALMS: 450 to 470 hp/1,125 to 1,325 kilograms). The Porsche 911 GT3 RSR competes in this class.
LMP2 class: Sports prototypes with around 475 hp and an 825 kilogram minimum weight (in the ALMS: 475 hp/800 kg). The Porsche RS Spyder competes in this class.
All race cars start together but are classified separately according to the class. This system ensures diverse and gripping racing with many overtaking manoeuvres. Points are only allocated for placings in each class. Championship titles are awarded for drivers, manufacturers and teams in all four classes. Porsche works driver Marc Lieb won the driver title in the GT2 class in 2005 and 2006.
For the RS Spyder, 2008 marks the first season in the Le Mans Series.