Ed Fahey

Adventures – Saloon,Sportscar/GT racing

Archive for June, 2010

Le Mans 24 hour race 2010 – Part 2 – Group C Racing

Posted by Ed Fahey on June 26, 2010

Race Start

Kids these days are reared with diesel LMP cars as their heroes, I was reared with Group C cars as mine. I make no effort to hide my love or enthusiasm for them, my mind is still vividly filled with childhood memories of them, and my shelves are groaning under the weight of models and books about them!

After seeing the Group C Racing series race as part of the Silverstone Classic for the last two years, I was happy to hear that they would be supporting the Le Mans 24 hour race in 2010,with a very promising grid, making my first Le Mans even more memorable, so here is a review of the 2 sessions, qualifying and race.

Qualifying in the rain

A massive downpour (the only heavy rain of the Le Mans week thankfully) was the weather that the mostly gentleman drivers had to face, so for a while there were only a handful of cars circulating, mainly to get used to the track as some of the drivers had yet to sample it, others were driving their cars for the first time ever and at Le Mans to boot.

Still though the cars were fast, making massive rooster tails and with wet weather tyres fitted you could see the dry lines appearing as the cars went around. From my dry position in the Dunlop tribune, just before the famous bridge you could see who was committed and who was finding or pushing the limits, proven by several hairy braking moments for the chicane, or some cars going into the gravel. It was also interesting to see how well the cars could put the power down as back then it was a choice of either small – medium capacity turbo or large capacity normally aspirated engines, although with turbo technology not as advanced back then as it is now the N/A cars such as the Jaguars and Spice Chevrolets were having less difficulty than the turbo Nissans or Mercedes in getting the power down

Nissan R90CK - Le Mans 1990

So enough about the conditions, what about the cars? Id experianced the Porsches, Jaguars and Tigas at the Silverstone classic, the noise of the 7 litre N/A V12 fitted to the  Jaguar XJR-9’s still sends shivers down the spine along with the glorious 5 litre twin turbo V8 of the Sauber C11. Mixed into this was the raw unsilenced Chevy V8 in the Spice SE89C and the detuned 80’s F1 sounds of the DFV Cosworth equipped Spices and a much rarer car with the Swiss built Cheetah C2. Also a Kremer built 962C and a Dauer 962 – precursor to the ‘road version’ that won Le Mans in 1994.

One car I enjoyed seeing in action was the #17 Nissan R90CK,driven today by Kent Abrahamson, a car which during the 1990 Le Mans 24H race set a record speed of 227mph with the chicanes in place during qualifying, the 1st year of them being so, a record which I understand still stands to this day. Driven at the time by a then young British driver named Mark Blundell, helped by qualifying boost, close to 1100bhp was available from the twin turbo 3.5 litre V8 for a pole time of 3.27 – a mindblowing time back then, the fastest petrol LMP1’s grid time this year was 3.28 – shows how fast modern LMP1 petrol cars are and this is with a slightly longer lap. A video of the Nissans record lap can be seen here .  In the 1990 race the car failed to finish after a clash with a backmarker. Not sure if the car pictured is THE car from the video/lap, but it looked identical.

Mercedes C11 - Le Mans 1991

Another car I liked was the Mercedes C11,owned and driven by Bob Berridge, the car seen in these photos was the development car, it never raced back in the day but did plenty of testing mileage, including some by an at the time young German F3 driver named Michael Schumacher… A development of the Sauber C9, but with the same 5 litre twin turbo V8 engine, which makes arguably the greatest noise ever heard at any race circuit – click here (and turn the volume to 12, never mind 11). The car only raced at Le Mans in 1991 and none of them finished, but the preceding C9 won in 1989 and recorded the fastest overall speed on the Mulsanne straight ever at 247 mph, pre-chicanes days naturally. To compare to the Nissans potential this cars fastest qualifying lap in 1991 was 3.31 – which is still an impressive time. To gauge a good time at Le Mans, anything in the 3 minute bracket is fast!

In qualifying for the Group C race, it was a Silk Cut Jaguar 1-2-3 with the XJR-9 of Justin Law on Pole, the similar XJR-8 of Alex Buncombe alongside, the twin turbo V6 XJR-11 of Gary Pearson 3rd and Elliot Kinch 4th in his Chevy V8 powered Spice SE89C 4th, his time set before the deluge began. The Jaguar XJR-11 is special to me as it was the first Group C car I ever saw with my own eyes – in 1989! Alongside Ayrton Sennas McLaren MP4/4 to boot!

Only decent scrap of the race - XJR-16 vs R90CK

Onto the race, on a cool grey morning, the Jaguars immediatley took a commanding lead with  the C11 spinning at the start, but very quickly the race went in a downhill direction, reliability problems and cars constantly getting punctures (a problem which affected the main Le Mans race also) not to mention some drivers still struggling with the track and conditions, with a few cars going into the gravel and others hitting the barriers, the Nissan R90CK among them sadly. A true race of attrition perhaps, but in the end only 3 cars finished on the lead lap after a 45min race with 7 more cars a lap down. All but 1 car managed to do at least 2 laps, with Alex Buncombe into the gravel on lap 1. An indication of how fast some of the cars remain these days was the fastest lap of the race, set by Berridge in the C11 with 3.44, during Le Mans 1991 the cars fastest lap was a 3.35, not bad, a 20 year old car and a non professional driver, but sadly the field was far too spread out for any decent scraps to take place, the cars going around singularly or in 2’s or 3’s. From my position on the inside of the Esses and Tete Rouge, the cars were still fast but the field was just too uneven. Whether it was the level that the cars have been detuned, the drivers skill or just that some drivers were happy to just drive and not race, probably all of these factors! For the record Justin Law took his XJR-9 to victory, followed by Gareth Evans in the Nissan R88C second and Gary Pearson in the XJR-11 thord. Despite the dull race (a little like the races back in the day Im told) they are all to be saluted for bringing the cars back out onto the track to which they are most associated, as many less knowledgeable people still refer to them as ‘Le Mans Cars’. Long may it continue!

Click here for Group C qualifying photos

Click here for Group C race photos

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Le Mans 24 hour race 2010 – Part 1 – Buildup

Posted by Ed Fahey on June 18, 2010

24 hours, day,night and day again

This is it, the holy grail and mecca of sportscar racing, the longest day, night and day of the year. After following it on tv, magazines and online for many years, 2010 would be the year that I finally attend the worlds greatest race – The Le Mans 24 Hour Race – albeit as a spectator rather than media, but I wouldnt let this affect my enjoyment too much and in the end it didnt.

I was well aware of the track and layout from TV and various computer game simulations but it still does nothing for the track, be it be the drop at the Esses or the sheer speed that some cars take Tetre Rouge at, not to mention the sheer size of the crowd that attended, well over 250,000 people, which compared massively with the smaller crowds to be seen at other sportscar events, but being that Le Mans is almost a festival, of course more people will come and being a week long event stay for a while too, in the massive campsites, but for me a hotel looked more inviting, especially with the poor weather in the week leading up to the race.

In the museum, not going anywhere fast

Arriving for the first day of track action on the Wednesday preceding the race and what better way to start than the circuits museum, full of interesting cars and also some notable Le Mans winners and participants – The 70’s Porsche 917 (restored for 2010),Matra 670C,Renault Alpine A442, and Porsche 935,onto the 80’s with the Rondeau M379, Porsche 956, Courage C28 and Jaguar XJR9, through the 90’s with such cars as the Mazda 787B,Toyota 94C-V,Peugeot 905/905 Evo,Dauer Porsche 962 and Porsche 911 GT1-98, then onto the last decade – Bentley Speed 8,Pescarolo-Courage C60 and Audi R15 TDi, it was great to see them all, but Im not a fan of seeing them stationary in museums, Id rather see them ontrack, but given the 917 has been recently restored theres hope for them all yet.

Onto the 1st practice session,on the Wednesday preceding the race, which lasted 4 hours, preceded by a pitwalk. Id rented a Kangaroo TV before the event, not expecting to win the 2 free pit passes that were on offer, well luck was on my side for a change and I won the pit passes,big thumbs up to Kangaroo TV, so into the pitwalk to get closer to the cars and drivers. Im not one normally for saying much about atmosphere, but here you could feel it, the drivers looking edgy, some stood looking around, others repeatedly practiced driver changes, trying

Corvette racing drivers and pitcrew about to practice driver changes

to save even a second here or there, the mechanics were double checking everything or practicing tyre changes, this is a dangerous track, and the last thing you want is mechanical failure, yet the mechanics seemed calm as it was only practice, qualifying would follow later that evening in the dark. Onto the first practice session and I watched from the Dunlop chicane, just before the famous bridge, then onto the Esses on the outside leading to Tetre Rouge then Tetre Rouge itself. For qualifying I stuck to the inside of the Esses, quite a place to watch the cars at night.

This was the first time Id see full works diesel LMP1 entries from Audi and Peugeot run, the most impressive thing about them was the acceleration from the massive amounts of torque they have onboard and the speed – but that was it, the fact they are a few seconds a lap faster than the petrol LMP1 cars and stupidly quiet made them dull to watch, they might aswell have been in their own class. Was also the first time for me to see cars from the American Le Mans Series, mainly the highly sucessful Acura/HPD ARX01c LMP2, run by Highcroft Racing and Strakka Racing and the GT2 class Corvette C6R’s, with 5.5L V8’s instead of the GT1’s 7 L V8, but still sounding amazing with the devilish thunder soundtrack that is a big V8! Another new car Id not seen before was the BMW M3 GT2, one of the 2 cars entered today was the well publicised ‘art car‘ and the last new car for me being the Rocketsports Jaguar XKR GT2.

BMW M3 GT2 - Art Car

Onto the second night qualifying session on Wednesday evening, I went right to end of the track, the Ford chicane which leads onto the Start/Finish straight, the chicane breaking up another flat out straight and also being the pitlane entrance, so it was interesting to see cars entering the complex slowly or quickly, trying to leave enough space ahead for a fast lap, still despite being one of the slowest parts of the track, people still got it wrong.

For the final qualifying section on Thursday,it was off into the forest at the Indianapolis-Arnage section, braking down from the longest straight into a 90 degree left, then a quick burst of throttle into a 90 degree right then off again into the forest. You literally see the cars for 15 seconds before they disappear again, complete with glowing brake disks and exhausts, just an amazing experiance. Also there was no circuit PA system in this section so instead of the French commentary all you could hear were the cars coming and going in the distance, unreal! The best sounding cars were any of the Corvette C6R’s; The GT1 Luc Alphand Aventures cars or the GT2 Corvette Racing works entries, the Gulf LolaAston Martin LMP1’s,the Oreca-AIM LMP1,The GT1 Matech/MarcVDS Ford GT’s the GT1 Aston DBR9 and the HPD cars including the RML run LMP2 Lola coupe with its HPD engine, whereas the OAK Racing Pescarolo-Judd LMP2 car was painful on the ears, like a drill! If the noise was too much, the excellent Radio Le Mans blocked out the noises with some great commentary and insights into everything.

Racing Box Lola-Judd LMP2 car at Indianapolis

An extra challenge for me at this event was that I didnt manage to get photo accreditation for a media pass, so it was looking for gaps in or over fences, not to mention shooting through the fence also, so with the right settings it was possible and rewarding and in many cases the photos were at a better angle due to being elevated slightly.

So much to see so thats it for Part 1, still to come the Group C racing that supported the race, not to mention the race itself!

Ed Fahey – June 2010

For more photos of the Le Mans Museum click here

For more photos of Wednesdays track action click here

For more photos of Thursdays track action click here

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