Thursday, 21 March 2019

Le Mans: Duqueine Engineering joins LMP2 field after Spirit of Race withdrawal

One month after celebrating its 50th anniversary, Team Duqueine has probably received their most beautiful present by getting an invite for the 24 Hours of Le Mans in June.  Spirit of Race has withdrawn their entry with the #55 Ferrari of Duncan Cameron in the GTE Am class, so Duqueine will take their place as first reserve team on the list.   

Since 2014 the French team has worked its way up in endurance racing up until now with an entry for the most prestigious endurance race in the world. For Le Mans, the #30 LMP2 Gibson powered Oreca 07 will be driven by Pierre Ragues and Nicolas Jamin who will be joined by Romain Dumas.  Dumas will be in for his 19th 24 hour race at Le Mans this year. 

"Im very happy to join Team Duqueine for my 19th 24 Hours of Le Mans" said Romain Dumas. "We are neighbours in Alès and I know Yann Belhomme very well.  The idea to join the team was very pleasing to me. I know Pierre (Ragues), but haven't had the chance to meet or race with Nicolas (Jamin), but I've heard a lot about him already. We have a good package and now have 3 months to work on it for Le Mans.  I've won it in LMP1 and GT but not yet in LMP2 ... 

Yann Belhomme, team manager of Duqueine Engineering said: "Racing at the 24 Hours of Le Mans has been a dream in my whole professional career since 20 years. It couldn't be any better with Pierre and Nicolas and Romain who will be joining the team. I'm very excited to have Romain (Dumas) on board; he's a person I have much respect for and he will bring a load of experience into the team. 

Check out the new entry list here

Saturday, 16 March 2019

FIA WEC: Easy win for Toyota, rain causes late race drama in LMP2 and GTE

In a masterclass of speed and despite a late downpour causing chaos, Toyota Gazoo Racing scored a dominant victory at yesterday’s return of the FIA WEC to Sebring. The #8 TS050 of Fernando Alonso, Sebastien Buemi and Kazuki Nakajima took the flag after eight hours and seemed te be on course to complete the entire 1000 mile distance despite multiple Full Course Yellow (FCY) periods eating into the race time and the rain pouring down at the end of the final hour. 

Starting on pole in front of of the #7 sister car (driven by Jose Maria Lopez, Kamui Kobayashi and Mike Conway), Sébastien Buemi rocketed ahead to pull clear of the field. After just four laps, the pair of Toyotas had the measure of Sebring’s infamous bumps and begun to lap the back markers. As night arrived the #8 car had opened up a comfortable lead over the #7. 

What looked to be a faultless display by both of the Toyota crews was brought to a swift end when, with just over three hours remaining, Lopez hit the kerb hard at turn 15 in an effort to avoid the #90 TF Sport Aston Martin Vantage. The Argentinian had to make an unscheduled stop while the car was checked, eating up four minutes of their lead over the remainder of the LMP1 field.

With less than 15 minutes to run Nakajima took a large slide off the track despite having changed to wet tyres. Although the Japanese ace lost only a handful of seconds before regaining control, the close call could have ended their race.  “It was interesting but tough for me in the end. We knew we had a gap so I didn’t take any risks,” said Nakajima after the race. “The track was so slippy, like ice! On the start straight I couldn’t even go flat. I’m so happy to finish without damage on the car.”

The final 12 minutes of the race were run behind the safety car following Loic Duval’s #28 TDS Racing Oreca LMP2 going straight on into a tyre wall at low-speed – guaranteeing the #8 crew their fourth win of the 2018-2019 Super Season and leaving them favourite to win the World Drivers’ title with two races, Spa and Le Mans, remaining. 


Thanks again to the somewhat confusing EoT regulations, the privateer LMP1 teams were again racing for scraps as the disparity between the hybrid and non-hybrid machines was glaringly displayed. WEC returnee and fan favourite Brendon Hartley claimed a podium finish for the #11 SMP Racing BR1 which survived an early explosive tyre failure to ultimately finish third.

It was a race to forget for the Rebellion Racing team. The #1 R13 had initially looked on target to claim the last of the class silverware until, with three hours to go, the car hit issues sending it to the garage. The sister #3 Rebellion also suffered a number of mechanical issues throughout the race which relegated it to a distant fourth in LMP1 and behind the top three LMP2 cars overall. 

The #17 SMP machine was fast from the start of the race but Egor Orudzhev crashed into the barriers at turn one just before the two-hour mark ending the car’s race; the Russian was running third at the time, having pulled clear of the #3 Rebellion in the opening quarter of the race. Also failing to finish was the DragonSpeed BR1 Gibson, which was pushed into the garage with a mechanical issue with two hours and 40 minutes still on the clock.


A bold move on the opening lap of the race proved to be decisive for the #37 Jackie Chan DC Racing crew of David Heinemeier-Hansson, Jordan King and Will Stevens. Passing their sister #38 car at turn one on the opening lap, the trio then displayed a masterclass in the LMP2 category and remained unchallenged for the entire race taking the class victory by more than 50 seconds.  What better way to enter the WEC championship for this new driver trio in the #37 Oreca ?

It was not joy throughout the Jackie Chan DC Racing team however as their pole-sitting #38 Oreca 07 endured a frustrating race loosing almost an hour in the pits with a gearbox selector fault (an issue originally seen by multiple teams when the current LMP2 chassis was first released). Perhaps adding insult to injury for the #38 crew they lost further time after a bizarre issue with the door failing to open during a driver change. The car eventually finished 30th, last of the classified runners.

The #36 Signatech Alpine A470 of Andre Negrao, Nicolas Lapierre and Pierre Thiriet ran a clean race but could not match the pace of DC Racing, the all-French team finishing a solid second in class. DragonSpeed picked up the last of the class silverware as the #31 Oreca of ex-Toyota driver Anthony Davidson, Pastor Maldonado and Ricardo Gonzalez fought to overcome two unscheduled pitstops to replace the rear-wing – once for a failure on the bumps and once after Maldonado swiped the barriers on the exit of turn 17. 

Despite a massive effort to get the car from last on the grid to P2 in class after an hour of frantic driving by Nyck De Vries, the Racing Team Nederland Dallara ultimately finished fifth in class.  De Vries had been quick all week, from the testdays ahead of the race to his final stint, showing the rwa pace that's in the Dallara chassis.  A problem with one of the FIA telemetry cables cost the team a 12 minute pitstop for repairs and probably their first podium finish.  


GTE Pro again proved to be the stand-out category of the race with 2 laps separating the first 10 of the eleven runners and almost every entry in the 11-car class enjoying a spell in the lead. 

Despite the back-and-forth between the teams, it was the heavy rain with less than 20 minutes of the race remaining that made the decisive difference; until this point the top 8 cars were all on the same lap. With teams scrambling to swap their slicks for wets, Gianmaria Bruni – in the #91 Porsche GT Team 911 RSR – jumped the #81 BMW Team MTEK M8 GTE (which had been the standout performer in class) in the pits and with the late safety car to recover the #28 TDS Racing Oreca, the Italian held on to secure the victory for Porsche.

The #81 BMW M8 GTE finished second, the best result of the season for Martin Tomczyk, Nicky Catsburg and Alexander Sims, with the #67 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Team UK Ford GT claiming the final spot on the podium; the Ford had led for the majority of the opening four hours, but faded as the race went on. 

James Calado, Alessandro Pier Guidi and Davide Rigon ensured four manufacturers were represented in the top four as the #51 AF Corse Ferrari 488 GTE Evo finished ahead of the #92 Porsche of Kevin Estre and Michael Christensen, Estre losing time late on with a stop & go penalty for rear-ending the #95 Aston Martin Racing Vantage of Darren Turner. The Aston was running in second at the time, but the contact, which sent turner spinning across the grass, dropped the car down the order, ultimately finishing 10th in class. 


The #77 Dempsey-Proton Racing secured top honours in GTE Am to make it a Porsche clean sweep of the GTE classes with Matt Campbell, Christian Ried and Julien Andlauer snatching the win from the #54 Spirit of Race Ferrari which received a penalty for side-to-side contact which sent the Team Project 1 Porsche into the barriers early on in the race. 

Thankfully for the Project 1 team, who suffered an engine fire in testing which destroyed their original car, the damage proved to only be minor and thanks to a strong charge from Egidio Perfetti, Jorg Bergmeister and Patrick Lindsey, the team recovered to the third step of the podium. 

Gulf Racing took advantage of a black and orange flag for the #90 TF Sport Aston Martin – after the rear diffuser on the ageing V8 Vantage broke apart on track – to finish fourth. The TF Sport car crossed the line sixth after hasty repairs – behind the MR Racing Ferrari with the #98 Aston Martin or Paul Dalla Lana, Pedrom Lamy and Mathias Lauda rounding out the class 2 laps down. 

The FIA World Endurance Championship now heads back to Europe for the penultimate round of the 18 month Super-Season with its second visit to Spa-Francorchamps this season on May 4th. 

Friday, 15 March 2019

FIA WEC: Lap record and pole for Toyota, Perez Companc crashes out of qualifying

A new lap record and pole position for Toyota yesterday evening as Fernando Alonso put in a staggering 1.40.124 at the end of the session.  Alonso even claimed being able to go faster and a 1.39 could have been possible. The previous qualifying record at Sebring was held by Marco Werner in the Audi R10 back in 2007 in 1.44.974. The quickest race lap so far has been set by Sebastien Bourdais in a Peugeot 908 in 2009.  The Toyota TS050 Hybrid literally trashed both records, shaving off almost 4 seconds from the previous qualifying record.

The #3 Rebellion R13 of Thomas Laurent and Gustavo Menezes was “best of the rest”, claiming third place on the grid ahead of the #17 SMP Racing  of Egor Orudzhev and Stéphane Sarrazin. Orudzhev was the quickest of the non-hybrid drivers, his best time of 1.41919 also remarkable faster than the previous record of the Audi’s.

In LMP2 Jackie Chan DC Racing swept out the front row, putting the competition almost a second behind them. Stephane Richelmi continued his strong performance and clinched pole position with Ho Pin Tung in an average time of 1.47.558.  The #37 Oreca of Will Stevens and David Heinemeier Hansson was 0.650 seconds behind. Nico Lapierre and Andre Negrao secured third spot on the grid with the #36 Signatech Alpine.

The GTE session was red flagged with 7 minutes and 40 seconds to go when Luis Perez-Companc went hard into the barriers at the braking zone of Turn 7.  His #61 Clearw ater Ferrari suddenly broke out to the left under braking, going hard into the barriers and sliding down the track.  Perez Companc got out of the car by himself, but the damage to the car seems severe so it’s unclear whether the Ferrari will be repairable to appear on the grid tomorrow morning.

With 2 minutes to go, the #63 Corvette of Andy Garcia and Jan Magnussen appeared on top of the timetable, but it eventually fell back to fifth place.  Garcia however set the quickest time of all GTE drivers.  Kevin Estre and Michael Christensen secured pole in the #92 Porsche, beating both Ford GT’s.  The #67 of Andy Priaulx and Harry Tincknell will start from seconds position (+ 0.115s), followed by the #66 of Stefan Mücke and Olivier Pla.

Matt Campbell and Christian Ried secured pole position in the Am class with their #77 Dempsey-Proton Porsche in a combined time of 1.59.790. Egidio Perfetti and Jorg Bergmeister made it a front row lockout for Porsche, a great result for Team Project 1 after their misfortune last Sunday. Another great recovery from the #98 Aston Martin which got fixed by the mechanics after Dalla Lana’s hefty crash at turn 17 and took third place in qualifying.

The final 1 hour practice session yesterday afternoon was run in (very) hot conditions, which are also expected for tomorrow during the 1000 miles of Sebring. Although temperatures drop a little at night, it tends to get very humid after sunset, not really improving driving conditions.

The 1 hour session saw quite some incidents with the Toyota #8 and #54 Spirit of Race Ferrari have a short excursion into the grass and the #37 Jackie Chan DC Racing Oreca spinning round at the exit of turn 5 halfway the session.  Paul Dalla Lana had a big accident in his #98 Aston Martin, when he was caught by surprise by one of the Ford GT’s and crashed into the barriers in turn 17. Dalla Lana stepped out unharmed but the car’s left side was heavily damaged.  The Aston Martin mechanics however managed to get the car back in order for the evening qualifying session. 

Jose Maria Lopez went quickest in the #7 Toyota TS050 Hybrid in 1.41.448, with Kazuki Nakajima on second place in the #8 sister car.  The gap with the non-hybrid cars was just over 1.5 seconds, Stéphane Sarrazin setting the third fastest time in his #17 SMP Racing BR1. In LMP2 it was Stéphane Richelmi who put the #38 Jackie Chan DC Racing Oreca back on top again with a time of 1.47.716    Despite their problems in last nights session, Nick de Vries was very quick again in the #29 Racing Team Nederland Dallara, putting it on second place, just 0.119 seconds behind Richelmi. No change in the top 3 compared to yesterday’s night session with Nico Lapierre back in third place on the Signatech Alpine Matmut.

The LMGTE Pro class was very competitive again, all cars setting a fastest time within 0.635 seconds.  Andy Priaulx got quickest in the #67 Ford GT with a fastest time of 1.57.730. Alex Lynn followed closely in the #97 Aston Martin (+ 0.062), with Harry Tincknell in the second Ford GT right on his heels.  Dempsey-Proton Racing dominated the LMGTE Am class with both Porsches; Matt Campbell going quickest in the #77 (1.58.554) with Matteo Cairoli 0.706 seconds behind him in the #88 in second place.  Rounding out the top 3 was Ben Barker in the #86 Gulf Racing Porsche.  

The start of the 1000 Miles of Sebring (or maximum 8 hours) will be given this afternoon at 16h local time here in Florida, which is 20h UK time and 21h in Central Europe. You will find coverage on Radio Le Mans globally and the WEC has done a great job in getting race coverage scheduled in most geographies (check local listings) as well as removing geo-blocking to its app in the United States.