Le Mans Series, round 1 in Le Castellet, France
An excellent start to the season for the Porsche pilots in the Le Mans Series. Title defenders Marc Lieb (Germany) and Richard Lietz (Austria) finished the gripping season-opener on the Circuit Paul Ricard (France) with a clear win. In the fiercely-contested GT2 class, the pair saw the flag in their Porsche 911 GT3 RSR with a two-lap advantage. Their colleagues from the German Felbermayr-Proton squad made the success of the top duo perfect with a sensational second place at the first race with their new team configuration with Porsche works drivers Patrick Long (USA), Martin Ragginger (Austria) and team owner Christian Ried (Germany).
The double victory in the Le Mans Series was the crowning achievement of a highly successful weekend for racing versions of the Porsche 911 – with four wins in three different series. On Saturday, the world’s most successful GT car celebrated victory at the Nürburgring Long Distance Championship. And in Oschersleben, two racing 911 sports cars crossed the finish line first at both races of the ADAC GT Masters in Saturday’s meet.
‘We are over the moon and unbelievably relieved to have so clearly won this race with its many and varied challenges,’ said Marc Lieb, triple champion of the GT2 class in the Le Mans Series. ‘One of the cornerstones of this success was again the impressive overall efficiency of our 911 GT3 RSR. We completed the race distance with one less pit stop than the Ferrari. This success is especially important for us because we received double points for this race.’ The background to this is that the overall winner of the eight hour race in Le Castellet had completed over 1,500 kilometres instead of the usual 1,000 kilometres. Hence, Lieb and Lietz received 30 points for their victory in France.
The reigning champions had worked hard to build up a healthy one-lap advantage when a problem with the refuelling system cost nerves and time. ‘The refuelling process in the pits seemed to take ages,’ said Lieb, resulting in the two losing their lead for several laps. But at their opponents’ subsequent pit stop, the pair reclaimed the lead – and held onto it until the flag. Even the normally calm Richard Lietz appeared nervous. ‘Everything was running perfectly with our car until the pit stop mishap. Towards the end we were feeling somewhat tense because the handling of the car had suffered a little from the strains of the race and we’d gone to our limit. But in the end we did it.’
For the second Felbermayr team second place felt like a victory. The international trio with former Porsche junior Martin Ragginger from Austria, Porsche works driver Patrick Long from the USA and German team principal Christian Ried, competed for the first time together. ‘This is absolutely fabulous,’ Ragginger grinned. ‘The whole team did a fantastic job, our 911 ran perfectly and our driver combination worked like a dream. None of us made a mistake. Now it’s party time!’ For Patrick Long it marked a double premiere – this was his first race in Le Castellet. ‘You couldn’t have wished for a better start in a new team and a new series,’ said the American. ‘During practice we were far from happy with the set-up but we found a great solution for the 911 GT3 RSR for the race. And thanks to our team, the pit stops ran smoothly.’ Christian Ried was also pleased. The gentleman racer, who contests the series for the first time with two professionals, regards his performance somewhat ironically: ‘I wasn’t as good as I’d hoped, but better than I feared.’
For the French IMSA Performance Matmut squad, their seventh place was a disappointment. Initially, it looked like Porsche works driver Patrick Pilet (France) and his compatriot Raymond Narac would secure victory or second place at their home race. Thirty minutes into the race, Pilet had taken over the lead in the GT2 class and held onto it for a good hour. Lietz and Lieb overtook the Frenchmen and both 911 GT3 RSR pulled away from the rest of the field. Shortly before the halfway mark, a suspension problem robbed the Frenchmen of a podium result. Repairs threw the team back 14 laps. ‘We have to see the positive side of this disappointment,’ believes Pilet. ‘Both Raymond and I were very fast and consistent. Our 911 was running beautifully and we could have easily brought home a podium position. This makes us optimistic for the rest of the season.’
The chase through the field for the Belgian Prospeed Competition team from twelfth on the grid came to an abrupt halt after two hours – used to winning, the squad had to retire at its Le Mans Series debut. The champion of the FIA GT Championship, Richard Westbrook (Great Britain), had charged through the field to sit eighth after the first hour of racing before handing the car over to Porsche junior Marco Holzer (Germany). The young German also had no problems coping with the unusual conditions of a 40-strong field and was lying sixth in the GT2 class when he ran out of fuel shortly before a scheduled pit stop and rolled to a halt – just 300 metres before pit lane entrance. ‘We were going great guns and could have reached the top five,’ declared the 21-year-old. ‘But we’re looking ahead now and will go for it again in Spa – after the experience of this weekend we’ll be better prepared.’ A small consolation for the Prospeed Competition team was their victory at the season-opening round of the Belcar Series today.
The points’ standings after the first race of the Le Mans Series are available around four hours after the end of the season-opener on the official website www.lemans-series.com.
Statistics: Round 1 of the Le Mans Series in Le Castellet
Result GT2 class
1. Lieb/Lietz (GER/AUT), Porsche 911 GT3 RSR, 233 laps
2. Ried/Ragginger/Long (GER/AUT/USA), Porsche 911 GT3 RSR, 231
3. Fisichella/Vilander/Alesi (ITA/FIN/FRA), Ferrari F430 GT, 231
4. Ehret/Quaife/Kaffer (GER/GBR/GER), Ferrari F430 GT, 231
5. Perez Companc/Russo (ARG/ARG), Ferrari F430 GT, 231
6. Müller/Werner (GER/GER), BMW M3, 225
7. Pilet/Narac (FRA/FRA), Porsche 911 GT3 RSR, 219
8. Coronel/Dumbreck/Bleekemolen (NED/NED/NED), Spyker C8 Laviolette GT2-R, 215
Round two of the Le Mans Series takes place on 9 May in Belgium’s Spa-Francorchamps.
– Porsche Motorsport