|A Tale of Two Dinners……………|
It was the best of times, it was, Oh my glass is empty…………
There was a very English atmosphere in the French ‘holy of holies’ on December
3, the Le Mans Endurance Series prizegiving at the Automobile Club de France.
Johnny Herbert and Jamie Davies went up to collect their trophies for winning the
Le Mans Prototype category in their Audi Sport UK Team Veloqx Audi R8, Sam Li
and David Ingram accepted the honours due to the team, and David also received
the trophies due to Allan McNish and Pierre Kaffer, runners-up in the LMES.
Sam Hancock, golden locks trimmed to shoulder level for the occasion, was an
LMP2 winner in Yves Courage’s team, and I doubt if there was anyone at the ‘do’
more proud than Hugh Hayden, whose Sebah Automotive Porsche GT3R won the
LM-GT class, with son Bart on the driver squad.
This four-year-old car, one of the original batch of GT3 customer cars, has been
upgraded a couple of times but not to the latest specification, and although not the
fastest Porsche on the circuits it was a “thereabouts” machine, picking up points
steadily while the Freisinger Motorsport Porsche, so dominant in the FIA GT
Championship, fell over itself a couple of times and dropped points.
Reasons to be Cheerful
With the first season safely completed, I would say that the LMES has been a
huge success. Three Audis topped the entry lists, challenged by the Creation
Autosportif and Team Jota Zyteks, and by the Nasamax which is astonishingly fast
in a straight line, built to low drag, LMP1 ‘hybrid’ regulations.
Henri Pescarolo is working hard on a hybrid version of his Judd powered
Courage C65, so modified by Andre de Cortanze that he now calls it a ‘Pescarolo’,
and the good Henri honestly believes that he can beat the Audis at Le Mans next
June, entering cars with less drag and more beneficial inlet air restrictors.
The Audis certainly add glamour to the grids, and they are going to be in short
supply in 2005. Sam Li has quit the sport after three meteoric seasons,
Kazumichi Goh has retired to Japan with the Le Mans 24-Hour trophy in his
cabinet, and Audi UK’s R8 has gone to Audi France, who will establish an all-
French team with Hugues de Chaunac’s Team Oreca. We may expect to see this
car at the opening round, at Spa on April 17, and at Le Mans, but possibly not
The LMES grids will look a little different next year. One Audi at Spa, with Creation
Autosportif and Team Jota in hot pursuit, Nasamax and Pescarolo Sport, and Jan
Lammers with his Racing for Holland Dome team, if only the feisty Dutchman can
overcome his financial hurdles.
Yves Courage will concentrate on the LMP1 class, too, leaving customers to
defend LMP2 from challengers RML with their new Lola Judd V8, Bob Berridge
with his Lola AER, and Pierre Bruneau with the new Pilbeam, the first all-carbon
car from Mike Pilbeam’s workshop in Bourne.
Prediction: more variety and closer competition in the prototype grids. Interest in
the GT1 (GTS) category is building, with a couple more Care Racing leased
Ferraris due to compete, while the GT2 (LM-GT) class will always take care of
itself while Porsche is still churning out GT3s at a steady rate, year on year.
Missing in Action
Maserati will not appear in the 2005 LMES, nor at Le Mans it is now believed.
Although Claudio Berro stated a couple of months ago that Maserati would try to
have a single car at the Sebring 12-Hours, in order to be eligible for Le Mans, this
is now thought to be unlikely. The MC12 would have to be made shorter, and
narrower, and be presented with a flat floor, in order to conform to the regulations,
just too much work for the Italians to complete by March 18.
I need reminding - why would anyone front up one million Euro for an MC12, plus
a bond, plus spares, for a car that is eligible for FIA GT in 2005, for one year only
and under a waiver, only to need a total rebuild for 2006? There must be
something that the people in Modena know about, that the customers haven’t
Our friends at Maserati have sent us the following and we are pleased to
issue this correction and apologize for the original error.
We inform you that our MC12 got a FIA homologation that expires in 2012
(seven years after the end of the production, so from 2005 when we will
produce the second series of 25 cars). The car doesn't need to be total rebuild,
but in case can be modified with a kit provided by Maserati.
IMSA’s Scott Atherton was bullish at the LMES gathering. Asked if he had figured
out why Audi would go ahead with the new prototype for 2006, the R10 we
suppose, with no sign of competition from other motor manufacturers, he replied
“if you knew what I know, you would be excited about the prospects for 2006 and
The ACO’s Fabrice Bourrigaud, in close attendance, nodded his vigorous
agreement, as did Lola Cars boss Martin Birrane, so there is something going on
that we mere mortals can only guess. Could it be Porsche? Or Renault, or
Peugeot, preparing to pull out of the World Rally Championship at the end of
2005. They all have a rich history in endurance racing, and might fancy a return in
the not too distant future.
Mistra Know It All
FIA GT Championship organiser Stephane Ratel was much in evidence at the
Automobile Club de France, bubbling with his latest conquest. A visit to Japan has
yielded an agreement, which will allow the FIA GT cars to run in competition with
the Japanese GT contenders Nissan, Toyota and Honda.
The 2006 championship will include two events in Japan, probably at Suzuka
and Fuji, the Japanese will be able to compete in Europe, and most importantly,
all will race in Dubai and Bahrain, maybe in Australia too. The Japanese cars are
built to more liberal regulations and are clearly faster, but Ratel deals with this
with a wave of his hand: the performances will be balanced by weight and
restrictor sizes, no problem, when East meets West
“It will fulfil my dream of having a truly global GT championship. We will race in
Europe, in the Middle East, in Japan and in Australia. Just think, a championship
with Ferrari, Maserati, Aston Martin, Porsche, Nissan, Toyota and Honda. It will be
Yes it will, and full marks to M. Ratel. I came away from the Place de la Concorde
feeling more optimistic about the future than when I arrived. It must have been
something in that very fine wine which Brooksie and Janice Minton persuaded the
sommelier to leave on the table, much to his disgust. Ugh, those rosbifs!
There was much less formality in Zell-am-Zee the following night when BMW
Motorsport threw their annual party.
It started in rather worrying fashion with a taxi driver who spoke no English. As
Brooksie and Lister discovered on an ill-fated trip to Oschersleben in September,
I spoke enough German to get myself into trouble, and not nearly enough to get
myself out of it again. We attempted to discuss the unseasonably warm weather
and, as he described a normal December with half a metre of snow, I suspect I
was describing my abilities as a lawnmower.
Still, I got to the press conference, which didn’t actually take place, to find Jorg
Muller and Mario Theissen working at one wok, Dirk and Hans Stuck driving the
other. Jorg sported a lovely clean apron. “That is the cleanest you have been all
season,” I said. “Yeah, but the wok has some dents in it.”
Andy Priaulx arrived a little late and confused. We tried Dirk’s wok first,
mistakenly, it turned out. He was cooking dessert. Andy then asked if this white
ball on the salad was an egg. It was cheese. The Brits abroad, eh? One of Andy’s
promotional activities was to climb into a hot air balloon basket, where he was
joined by Jorg, Dirk and Stuck. Instead of taking off, they attempted to roll the
basket and on several occasions looked set to pop the balloon on some nearby
What’s up Doc?
The evening affair threw up interesting people to speak to, not least Dr Theissen.
Without his apron and with more sensible things than egg-coloured stuff frying in
a wok on his mind, we discussed the possibility that BMW would develop the M6
for endurance racing. It turns out that Ratel’s agreement with the Japanese was of
far more interest than we had expected.
“The most important thing is to develop a car that can be run in many series
world wide,” said Theissen. “If FIA, ACO and Japanese GT regulations converge,
that makes it much more attractive. If the FIA said they will ensure a car like a 6-
series can race, if they get that right and the regulations are unified, then we
would look at doing a car.”
Theissen confirmed that BMW is seeking rule breaks to develop the 6-series for
the new GT1 category, but that there are several problems yet to overcome. “The
car is not only heavy, but it is a 2+2 coupe, and very different packaging to a
Ferrari, so we would need some freedom.”
BMW, we know, are actively seeking rules breaks to allow the M6 to run
competitively against the likes of the Ferrari 550 Maranello and Aston Martin
The M6 will not race until at least 2007. Next year, BMW’s racing department will
develop the E90 version of the 3-series for the World Touring Car Championship
in 2006, and will use that year to develop the M6 for endurance. As Theissen
explained, however, there is no need for BMW to do such a programme as they
already have plenty of racing activity on their plate.
Dirk and Jorg were given the opportunity to demonstrate their competitive
elements as they took it in turns driving the M3 GTR, which raced at Spa and won
at the Nurburgring, among the guests in the airport hanger. “I reckon I left more
rubber on the floor than him,” said Jorg.
Priaulx received the welcome news that he is now to be a factory BMW driver,
taking over the mantle from Steve Soper, though Priaulx has his own knack of
dealing with journos. Soper’s “What happened Steve? I crashed” attitude has
been replaced with a slicker operation, spiky hair and much bigger shirt collars.
His evening was slightly ruined by the news that he was to get an F1 test at the
end of January. “Oh bollocks” was the rough response. “I’ll have to get to the gym
straight away and work on those neck muscles. And I can’t drink that, it has got a
billion calories in it…”
Merry Christmas, LMES, and BMW.
Michael and Andrew Cotton