A strong field of 53 cars was entered for Saturday’s 1000 km of Spa-Francorchamps, the second round in this year’s Intercontinental Le Mans Cup (ILMC) series and the last event before next month’s 24 Hours of Le Mans. After six hours of racing in perfect spring conditions, the French Peugeot team took first and second after their main competitors encountered all kind of nibbling incidents and lost precious time. In the GTE category, Ferrari took a convincing win in the professional class while Porsche was once again successful among the amateurs. All the top teams will now prepare for the 24 Hours of Le Mans that will start on Saturday, 11 June.
“Although Spa-Francorchamps is a beautiful high-speed track, you can not compare it to Le Mans. That said, I love the layout of this course,” said Austrian driver Alexander Wurz, who took the first stint in the Peugeot 908. Together with Anthony Davidson and Marc Gene, Wurz gave Peugeot their fifth win at this famous Belgian racetrack. “This is the best preparation for the French classic. Although we tested a lot after the Sebring race, an actual race is clearly the best test of all,” added Wurz. Peugeot’s team director Olivier Quesnel was very happy with the result: “After the qualifying was red flagged and not restarted, we were in a bad position. We only had starting spots 13, 18 and 50. But on race day, the drivers did a great job and after the first pit stop, we were already in the lead. We gathered a lot of data and learned a lot.”
After the free practices and qualifying it looked like Audi was the team to beat. Their new R18 TDI performed well on its debut. “Unfortunately, we had a lot of small incidents in the race and lost a lot of time,” said Rolex Testimonee Tom Kristensen after the race. The Danish driver finished third, sharing his Audi LMP1 prototype with Dindo Capello (ITA) and Allan McNish (GBR). “We showed speed but because of some tire problems and a spin we just lost out. But we are confident for the Le Mans race,” finished Kristensen, who is aiming for his ninth win at Le Mans this year. The Audi team made up of Mike Rockenfeller (DEU), Timo Bernhard (DEU) and Romain Dumas (FRE) are the defending champions and are hoping to repeat their win. “Last year I won both the Rolex 24 At Daytona and the 24 Hours of Le Mans, so may be I am the man to beat,” joked Rockenfeller.
After the Belgian race, Audi’s technical director Ralf Jüttner commented: “Mechanically the new R18 TDI ran flawlessly, we were only hampered by some minor things like tire pick-ups. We ran Le Mans specifications since this was a learning weekend. We now have a list of items we have to work on before going to Le Mans in a few weeks.” The French Oreca team that won the 12 Hours of Sebring earlier this year, just made the top-ten in the Belgian round. “On this very fast circuit, we came up short on power in our car. We were nine laps behind the works cars,” commented team owner Hughues de Chaunac. The Pescarolo-Judd was the fastest among the petrol-engined LMP1 prototypes, just beating the Swiss Lola-Toyotas. Unfortunately the new Aston Martin spyders did not attend the Spa event; after their debut at Le Castellet in the Le Mans Series race last month they opted not to come to Belgium. After two events in the ILMC series, Peugeot now leads the manufacturer as well as the team standings.
In the LMP2 class, the TDS Oreca-Nissan came out on top and in the very competitive GTE Pro class the new Ferrari 458 Italia scored a double win with AF Corse driver Giancarlo Fisichella (ITA) – together with Gianmaria “Gimmi” Bruni (ITA) – just narrowly beating the Hankook-Farnbacher entry. “The new car is getting better and better and that is very encouraging. We are very confident for Le Mans,” was the reaction of the former Grand Prix star. After their double win at Sebring, the BMW M3 GTs could only manage third and fifth. The Porsche 911 GT3 RSR of Armindo and Narac was the best in the GTE Am class after a fierce battle with the Felbermayr Porsches and several Ferrari 430s. After two events for this year’s ILMC series, AF Corse Ferrari leads in the Professional team category and Proton Porsche in the Amateur team category.
When the Rolex clock at the Le Mans circuit shows 15:00 on Saturday, 11 June, a full field of 55 cars is expected to start the 79th edition of the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Over a quarter of a million people attend this race live from the grandstands around the course, while a few million more will watch the race on television at home. Although Peugeot and Audi are the favourites, the final outcome of the race has been known to surprise in the past. A 24-hour-long endurance race is hard on the cars as well as on the teams and drivers, and even the weather can be a deciding factor.
After the 24 Hours of Le Mans, there are four more rounds in the Intercontinental Le Mans Cup including races at Imola, near Bologna in Italy, at Silverstone in England, at Road Atlanta in Georgia, USA and the conclusion of the 2011 season at China’s Zhuhai racetrack.
- Car Racing News