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Le Mans 24 Hours: Wednesday Paddock Notes

News and notes from La Sarthe on the first day of track action

Corvette showing no signs of quitting

This year is Corvette Racing’s 20th at Le Mans, the fan-favourite team in search of a ninth class win at La Sarthe this year with its pair of C7.Rs.

Team boss Doug Fehan spoke to DSC today and says he can see Corvette still competing at Le Mans long into the future.

“When we started this journey on our first trip here as Corvette Racing, it was important for me to instil pride in our guys,” he explained. “There was a strong history of Corvette at Le Mans before this programme, it was sporadic, but it was history.

“We’re proud of ourselves, the brand, we have a never give up attitude. Remember 2017? We had victory within reach, but we lost right at the end with a puncture to Aston. The image etched in my mind is of the Corvette coming across the pit straight, all torn up, wheels broken, sideways, smoking, chugging across the finish line, with fans cheering. That’s what Corvette is about.

“Could I see another 20 years? Sure. There are dynamics outside of our control. These cars are powered by internal combustion engines, and maybe in 10 years there wont be more of those. Who knows what racing will look like? But the form we’re in now will carry on for the most part. As long as the brand continues to exist, I don’t see any changes.

“We will keep coming back.”

AMR hoping for rain

Aston Martin Racing’s Maxime Martin spoke to DSC as a heavy rainstorm dwindled to drizzle under still-threatening clouds. Just as at the last WEC round at Spa, where the #97 AMR Vantage crew took their first victory, the anticipated weather (forecasts on occasion predicting rain at various points every day until Sunday) was foremost in his mind.

Was this another great opportunity for the Vantage to shine?

“The Aston Martin has been really competitive in wet conditions,” he said. “Our car was leading at Shanghai in the rain but we had some bad luck with pit strategy. Still, the other [#95] car won.

“In the last race at Spa conditions were very difficult again and we were competitive again.

“There is nothing that we can really bring from Spa or that we learned there that will help at Le Mans, but of course we are hoping it will rain! The aero package and Balance of Performance is quite different at Le Mans from the other WEC races though, so we will have to wait and see as we build up through the week to see if we will still be as strong with this package as we are when we have a lot more downforce.

“We have not run low downforce in the wet so it is an unknown for us. It looks like it will be wet for some of Wednesday’s sessions at least so we will find out soon.

“The other thing to being competitive in the wet is that we have two different types of wet tyre available and having the right one for the conditions makes a huge difference. There is a ‘dry wet’ and a ‘full wet’ and you need to be on the right one at the right time otherwise you are nowhere. I think this is why at Spa some cars were stronger at different parts in the race.

“The Test Day this year was a lot more positive than last year so we are feeling good. Last year we were six seconds off the pace and this year we are 6/10ths off so its quite a big ‘up’ for the team. Today it starts properly though.”

TF hoping for a breakthrough WEC win at Le Mans

Tom Ferrier, Team Principal of TF Sport spoke to DSC ahead of what looks to be one of the biggest weeks in the history of the ever-expanding British Aston Martin customer team.

He said the team’s quiet outing at the Test Day was nothing to worry about, and that the old Vantage GTE is still capable of winning in this company.

“We were fairly ‘quiet’ here at the Test Day, but I know that we have more potential than the time showed. My main concern is that it looks like we could have inconsistent wet conditions in practice and qualifying and then a dry race, so we might not really know where we are until it is too late.

“This is Euan [Hankey]’s and Salih [Yoluc]’s third attempt and Charlie’s second and I think we have learned quite a lot over the last few years. I think we performed well as a team in the first year, but a few misdemeanours lost us a podium, and last year I think the drivers probably performed better than the team.

“This year I think we can pull it all together and gel but at Le Mans you also need some luck because it is a bit of a lottery.

“Salih has come a long way in the last few years, he did a great job at Spa and in the last Blancpain race too, so he is in a good place, Charlie and Euan are fast here too.

“There are some very fast line-ups in the WEC season long entrants but there are a few unknowns with the invitation cars and if the weather stays inconsistent we won’t know where we are compared with them. I want a dry race because we will have a better chance. The Porsche is very strong in the wet.”

Ferrier believes that a methodical approach to the long race week at Le Mans will be the key to success during the 24 Hours.

“We have to break the week down into chunks, so tonight the main thing is to get the night laps in and tick that box. Tomorrow looks like better weather anyway, so that is when we will really work on our laps and we will probably do our engine change before Q2. For the race, I look at it as 4 6 hour races and the plan is a podium finish.”

No change in approach for Le Mans Cup points leader Benham ahead of Road to Le Mans

Lanan Racing driver Mike Benham told DSC he’s taking a relaxed approach to the pair of Road to Le Mans races this week. The Briton currently leads the LMP3 championship after winning the opening races at Paul Ricard and Monza with his teammate Duncan Tappy in the team’s Norma M30, and hopes for two more strong points scores here.

“It’s not going to be a different approach here for me,” he said. “After a win last year, it allows me to relax a little and enjoy the event a little more. Last year it was so hectic. There are more cars here, and a lot of guys who aren’t Le Mans Cup regulars. We need to be careful and be pragmatic. We need to finish both races if we can.

“I’m not thinking title, because I’ve never been in this position, I’m not going to worry about those sort of things.”

Meanwhile, Colin Noble, driving with Tony Wells in the #2 Nielsen Racing Norma is hoping to gun for a win here, after coming close in the opening races, to put himself in a position to challenge for the title.

“It’s my third time here,” he said. “I’ve been quick here but been unlucky. I’d like to hope we’re battling at the front because it’s a bit of a lottery here. With changeable conditions too we’ll want to be here at the front.

“We’ve never been here in the wet either, the track changes massively I hear too.

“In theory the Norma should be a bit quicker than the Ligier here, but with BoP, the Ligier’s can take off half the rear gurney, so the gap has reduced. I expect there won’t be a big difference between the cars.”

Drivers await LMP3 launches

Both Duncan Tappy and Colin Noble, who compete in the Le Mans Cup, and in the case of Noble, the ELMS too, are eagerly anticipating the LMP3 car launches on Friday.

Norma, Adess, Ligier and Ginetta are all due to show off their Gen II LMP3s to the public here at Le Mans, ahead of their competitive debuts next season.

Interestingly, while Noble and Tappy welcome the new cars, they are both in agreement that one of the major changes to them – the introduction of Traction Control – may not be necessary.

“It’s going to be interesting,” Benham said. “We at Lanan have enjoyed working with Norma the past couple of seasons. We’re aware of the other manufacturers, so we’ll be keeping an eye. My take on the whole thing is we don’t need traction control. We have it in GT3, and I have a bunch of friends not at my level, and they talk about fearing not having ABS and TC.

“I’m the opposite, yes in an LMP3 you will lock a tyre, yes you will get things wrong, but because the electronics isn’t in the middle, it helps you to drive better. So I’m a little disappointed.”

Noble added: “I’m taking an interest, I hope to be back on the grid again. Until these cars hit the track, and we see times it’s hard to read too much into it. The cars are good, these changes won’t be too big. I’m not a fan of Traction Control, I’m not up to that, I’d like it to stay pure. But being quicker will be a big deal, hopefully, we’ll be able to pull away from GTs and have our own race.”

On a side note, Benham is currently not looking at a move into LMP2 in the short term. he told DSC there was a small chance he could have raced in the 24 Hours this year, but he turned it down after much thought.

“I won’t name who, but Duncan and I had a chance to be in the main race this year. I turned it down because I don’t think I’m a 24-hour driver yet. I’m also a family man, with two young kids. I didn’t think 300kph down the Mulsanne at 3am with two small kids is the right thing to do.

“It would be a wonderful thing to do one day. I would still need to find more speed. The LMP2 is quite a step.”

Bentley supporting Team Africa Le Mans

Bentley Motorsport head Brian Gush is on site at Le Mans this week, supporting the Team Africa Le Mans’s Bentley Continental GT3 effort in Road To Road Le Mans.

“We have this customer team, interested in Road To Le Mans, and had a customer that was interested in racing a Bentley, they had trouble getting a car so we’ve lent them one and are giving them some support. It’s great to have a Bentley back racing at Le Mans.

Gush is also on hand to drive a Bentley Speed 8 (the 2003-winning car, pictured above in the paddock) as part of the parade on Saturday morning to celebrate 100 Years of Bentley. An original Bentley Blower, and Chassis #1 of the current Continental GT3 are among the cars that will take to the track too.

“We’ve brought cars along to celebrate our centenary and the intertwined history between Bentley and Le Mans. The ACO have really embraced our history, they invited us to join in the celebrations here.

“We’ll lead the parade on Saturday with the Speed 8, we’ll have both generations of GT3, and also the original 1930 Blower and some other significant heritage cars.

“I’ve driven the Speed 8 before, it’s a phenomenal car, it handles fantastically, it’s an overgrown go-kart. I don’t get anywhere near to its limits, but it’s a great privilege to drive it, and to have been part of the programme in the 2000s.”

In addition, a local road will also be re-named Rue Des Bentley Boys as part of this celebration.

Gush to be present at ACO Press Conference

While here, Brian Gush is set to be a number of manufacturer representatives present at the ACO Press Conference, where he says he will be keeping an eye on the announcements concerning the upcoming ‘Hypercar’ regulations.

“Le Mans is always a great place with a great spirit. We’re always interested in the new regulations, we’re following them closely. If there was half a chance to come back we would.

“I’ll be listening on Friday with interest. You will need to see a number of manufacturers get on board before we get more momentum. I’m interested in what the organisers have to say before I can form any opinions. I haven’t been in those technical working groups.”

Van Eerd, van der Garde complete TDS seat fit

Racing Team Nederland owner and driver Frtis van Eerd and Giedo van der Garde had their seats fitted in the TDS Racing ORECA 07 Gibson here this week, ahead of their forthcoming programme with the French team in the 2019/20 FIA World Endurance Championship season.

This change will see the Dutch outfit switch chassis from the Dallara P217 it campaigned during the ‘Super Season’ and ELMS season prior, to the more successful ORECA 07 chassis.

DSC understands that the team will be heading to Aragon to test the TDS ORECA 07 after the Le Mans 24 Hours.