New Strategy for Le Mans
the cancellation earlier in the year of the
official practice weekend, previously staged
a fortnight before the race itself (or in past
years, up to two months before) the Wednesday
during Le Mans week has now been reserved for
"free practice". Cited as being a
cost-cutting effort by the ACO - on behalf of
the teams - the cancellation of the full test
day has not been widely welcomed, but six hours
on Wednesday evening is better than nothing.
It will certainly be the only opportunity for
many of them, especially those with brand new
cars and rookie drivers, to learn the characteristics
of this unique circuit, and dial themselves
and their cars into a low-downforce environment.
Some may find it a challenge in just six, potentially
very damp hours.
wet weather persisted into most of Wednesday,
but by the time the cars were starting to warm
up their engines and collect at the pitlane
exit, at just before six, the skies were quite
clear, and precipitation had actually ceased.
That was not to say that the track was dry,
however - far from it - and when the lights
at the end of the pitlane turned green, all
those cars heading out onto the track were booted
up with full wet-weather tyres.
just gone six, Tommy headed out of the garage.
His instructions were clear. This was a single
installation lap, and he was quite happy with
that. Within a few moments the crew watching
the telemetry reported an imbalance in tyre
pressures, and Tommy confirmed this from his
on-board display. He was heading straight back
to the pits anyway, and he was able to suggest
that as well as checking that particular set
of tyres, he thought the track was also ready
for intermediate tyres.
with the lightly-grooved inters, Tommy was back
out on track again at eleven-past six; Phil
Barker reminding him that the new tyres might
carry a residue of the releasing agent and to
take it easy for the first lap. Examining the
tyres that had just come off the car, the team
was able to confirm a sensor error, and no puncture.
Tommy started the first of his three timed laps.
first of those laps was carried out in bright
sunshine, but the clouds were closing in again.
The track was drying however, under the influence
of fifty cars, and times were starting to fall.
Even so, a strange situation was evident from
the timing screens. While the LMP1 prototypes
were occupying the top ten positions, the next
segment was almost wholly devoted to times from
the front-running GT2 cars. This confirmed that
the track was not favouring the lighter, higher-torque
prototypes, and conditions were still very difficult.
first timed lap was a 4:26.971, which was good
enough to register 9th overall, second in LMP2.
He followed that with a 4:15.892. It was half-past
six. His third lap was a marginal improvement,
the relatively good pace, Tommy was finding
the car very draggy down the straights. "It
was very stable," he said later, "but
I was finding it hard to achieve a straight-line
speed that allowed me to use top gear. I think
we had a little more downforce at that stage
than we really needed, but the conditions were
very difficult to begin with, so I was perhaps
quite grateful for that."
his third timed lap completed, Tommy returned
to the pits, satisfied that the car was fine
for the other two to climb aboard. The first
of those to do so was Chris Dyson (above),
who took over from the Brazilian and began his
first stint in the cockpit at 6:40. From a very
restrained opening few laps, Chris steadily
began to increase his pace, and as the dry line
improved yet further, was able to quicken his
times and post laps in the mid four-oh-fives.
hour gone and the rain returned, and so did
Chris, burbling back down the pitlane with the
car having completed 11 timed laps. His best
of 4:05.706 was 25th overall, 6th in LMP2. The
rain that had returned as a light mist had set
in as a heavy drizzle around some areas of the
circuit, including the pitlane. Chris suggested
that the car felt it lacked a little grip at
the back, but that could be largely down to
the slippy track. Not having the official test
a fortnight ago, which usually involves about
ten hours tracktime, has left the circuit very
dirty after so many months as a regular roadway.
It may take until the later stages of qualifying
tomorrow (assuming the track ever dries properly)
for truly representative times to be set. He
also confirmed Tommy's assessment that the Lola
felt a little slow at the top end. "I was
driving well within myself, and trying not to
do anything stupid!"
car was refuelled, and Chris sent out again,
to do a further five laps. At 7:24 Chris set
his best time of the evening; 4:01.378. Five
minutes later and it looked unlikely that he'd
be able to match that again on Wednesday, with
rain growing heavier throughout the area. Phil
Barker advised Chris that it was particularly
heavy along the pitlane.
later, and de Pourtales in the #39 KSM Lola
demonstrated just how bad the conditions were
by losing the back end through the Dunlop Curve,
the open-topped Lola spinning through 180 degrees
and hitting the adjoining wall heavily on the
rear left corner. The impact might have been
relatively modest had the car not then slid
along the wall and collided, end-on, with the
adjoining tyre wall. The car was thrown violently
into the air, the engine cover flying free,
and debris being scattered across the track.
The ironic observation was; this was exactly
the same spot where Noda rolled the same car
in first qualifying last year. Fate has not
been kind to Kai Kruse.
Dyson returned to the pitlane, ten laps completed,
but he was out again at 7:50, but with conditions
having deteriorated further, his times were
significantly slower - typically around 4:40.
At 8:17 he returned to the pitlane once more
for his final scheduled stop for the evening,
climbing out of the cockpit and handing the
Lola Mazda over to Mike Newton, who departed
the garage at 8:20.
was so very slippy out there, and I took the
first few laps very gently," said Mike,
who nevertheless, stayed on track for twenty
minutes, setting times not dissimilar to Chris's
in the later stages of his stint. With four
timed laps completed, the CEO of AD Group returned
to the garage with a total of 26 laps completed.
the conditions not exactly ideal, and little
to be gained during the remaining daylight period,
Phil Barker had the Lola Mazda hauled back into
the garage so that the crew could carry out
some adjustments to the aero. That was completed
at a leisurely pace, and Tommy called back to
cockpit duties in order to assess whether the
changes had achieved the desired effect.
9:54 the car was refuelled (left) before
Tommy headed out along the pitlane to give the
car a single installation lap. He might as well
have left a note on the garage door; "Back
in five minutes". Half way round the track,
the windscreen wiper ceased functioning properly,
and with conditions still wet, he had little
choice but to return to the garage.
the time the wiper mechanism was replaced, Phil
Barker had decided to call it a day. "There's
no point in pressing on this evening. The drivers
have all had a stint in the car, Chris has done
more than ten laps, and with the conditions
the way they are, we don't want to risk the
car needlessly. We've achieved a good set-up
for the car in the wet, and tomorrow, when the
forecast is for dry conditions, we can combine
qualifying with refining our dry configuration."
Dyson was happy with the way his laps had gone.
"Generally, we've done everything we needed
to do today. Unfortunately, we missed the narrow
window when a few teams managed to get out on
slicks, but to set a four-oh-one on the intermediates
was quite satisfying." At the time Chris
set that time, he'd been one of the quickest
team had packed up and gone back to the hotel
by half-eleven, ready for an early start tomorrow.
Times - Free Practice
Racing Team only managed to complete 16 laps
towards the end of the session after losing
time to an input shaft problem. The #32 Barazi
Epsilon Zytek had an equally troubled time,
having stopped on its out-lap at the start of
the session with low oil pressure, and then
only ran 12 laps in the wet.
photographs today by Marcus Potts / CMC
Le Mans 2009 gallery can be accessed here