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Green Flash

April is the cruellest month……….

  The bloke in charge of the music blasting out across the PA system at had
undoubtedly been deafened by a loud explosion at some point in his life. His
choice of tunes left the press corps clutching their ears and shouting desperately
at the speakers as some deranged version of Techno music belted out across
the idyllic Ardennes mountains. Like a foghorn, it alerted those with no sense of
direction as to the location of the circuit as thick fog did its best to hide us from the
outside world.

  As the cars lined up on the grid, a feat not achieved by the British Formula Three
brigade thanks to the conditions, our DJ nemesis changed tack, attempting to
match the comical genius of Rob Schirle on the start grid with an ersatz rendition
of “Let the Sun Shine In.” Visibility at Les Combes was down to less than 100m,
some of the press corps watched in admiration as Schirle fended off the media
scrum which had gathered around two assistants, whom he had helped over the
pit wall with the delicacy of a baby elephant.

Strangely strange, oddly normal

  We settled down to one of the most unpredictable races seen for nearly seven
days. From last week's FIA GT extravaganza at Monza, where Ferrari, Corvette and
Maserati battled through the last 20 laps and were covered by 1.4 seconds at the
end of a mighty race, here we had Pescarolo against Zytek against Audi and
Dome at the head of the field, Lola versus Courage in P2, Ferrari against a load of
Ferraris in GT1 and Ferrari, Porsche and TVR in GT2.

  The race, the last time these cars will meet in competition before the Le Mans
24-hours, gave us a fascinating insight as to what we will see in June. The
Pescarolo was mighty quick, especially in the hands of Emmanuel Collard in
qualifying and in the opening, damp stages of the race; the Zytek was simply
superb in the dry, cold conditions of mid-race and the Audi was having its
wheelnuts driven off by Stephane Ortelli in a bid to keep up.

Just an Excitable Boy
  It was an unusual situation to say the least. Ortelli’s partner is Jean-Marc
Gounon, who said: “Right car, wrong year,” and both predicted that they would
have to take big risks to be competitive. “We cannot pass anyone in a straight line,
not even a TVR,” said Gounon, the spokesperson of the two as Ortelli was too
upset even to talk about it. “We then have to take a big risk to pass them under
braking.” During the race, Ortelli had two clashes, one with a Porsche which
damaged the bodywork of the R8, the other with a Ferrari in which both spun. Le
Mans is not won in this way, as Ortelli well knows, but there is little else they can

  Gounon richly deserved the bollocking he received from ORECA team boss,
Hugues de Chaunac, after the race. Hugues has ploughed a lot of money into
running an Audi R8 this year in the LMES and at Le Mans, and for Gounon to
shunt while running behind the safety car, spinning the wheels in a vain attempt to
generate heat and ploughing headlong into a wall, was not appreciated. “You
have no right to do that to my car,” Hugues was reported to have said.
Gounon hung his head in shame, devastated but, sitting on by bookshelf at home
two days later, I noticed a slim line silver publication “Audi 1-2-3 Le Mans 2000.”
On page 26 is a photograph taken at Sebring in 2000. Actually it is a series of
photographs showing a silver Audi covered in polystyrene blocks after Tom
Kristensen stuffed it on his first ever lap of qualifying for the manufacturer.
Watching the shunt, up on the bank, in a white shirt and with a black set of
headsets, is Dr Wolfgang Ullrich, head of Audi motor sports. Whoops!

  Granted, Kristensen had won Le Mans in 1997 and Gounon does have previous
in this department, but the ORECA team has not fired him yet and, the longer the
deliberation goes on, the better his prospects look. Steve Soper had managed to
upset German banker Thomas Bscher so much when he drove the ex-works
BMW in 1999 that Bscher was not sure he wanted to talk to Steve, let alone drive
with him at Le Mans. It was in this car that Steve was sitting when David Price got
on the radio: “Steve, there has been a shunt, Turn 17.” And that immortal reply:
“Dave, it was me.” Come Le Mans, Steve drove a fantastic race and Bscher
admitted the Briton had carried the team. There is still hope for Jean-Marc but he
had better be at his mighty best come June. A bit of previous is what the R8,
chassis 603, also has; at Le Mans in 2003 it ran out of petrol with Biela at the
helm, the following year McNish crashed it at the Porsche Curves with the final
indignity coming in the form of Pierre Kaffer's fiery shunt at Spa...............most un-
Audi like.

Number Twos
  At Spa, news filtered through that Porsche had finally confirmed its LMP2
programme. I say finally, but actually they had not wanted to say anything at all
until later in the year. The news escaped in February and has been on the run
ever since. Porsche still had an ace up its sleeve and announced that Roger
Penske was to run the team in the US. And that was pretty much it. No
announcement came of a European programme, engine configuration,
commitment to Le Mans, nothing, and no one was saying anything, no doubt
instructed to shut firmly up. We wait until the end of May for further news on that

  We know that they are not to do an LMP1, preferring to leave that to Audi and their
anticipated announcement of a diesel-powered prototype. However that, with the
governments across Europe hiking up the tax on the stuff, might not be quite so
certain as diesel is becoming the new enemy of the State, or friend in financial
terms. If Audi are to do a diesel-powered prototype in 2006, they must be far down
the road with their design, maybe too far to turn back and at Spa, there was
another reason to suppose it would all go ahead.

French Toast
  It is an open secret that Peugeot is considering an LMP1, diesel-powered
prototype as one of a wide range of options. Other possibilities include a return to
the World Rally Championship in 2007, though this is likely to be left to Citroen,
Rally Raids, though this does not gain enough television exposure to justify the
cost, or a World Touring Car Championship programme.

  Personally, I reckon a WTCC programme is favourite due to the fact the cars are
similar to those sold on the road, media exposure is good, and there are other
manufacturers already competing. The WTCC ticks all the boxes, but the LMP1
programme is still high on the list. “Diesel is exciting,” said Jean-Philippe
Peugeot, Chairman of the Strategic Committee of the PSA and Vice President of
the Supervisory Board. “The market is close to 70 per cent with diesel engines,
and PSA is the biggest producer of these engines, so it is important that if we race
with these engines that we produce performance, economy, cars that do not use
so much oil and they are powerful and strong. If Audi is coming that is a very big
challenge. Audi is a very big make, and they make great cars, and great racing
cars. I don’t know if the management will accept this kind of challenge but for the
technical people, it is a very exciting challenge.”

  “If we enter Le Mans, like we did with the 905 in the past, probably we should find
a new challenge. This is why you, and others, are expecting us to come back with
diesel. It is something new for us, to prove that we can make a performance
racing diesel engine. It is a challenge very exciting for everyone in this kind of

Andrew Cotton
April 2005

Best Laid Plans...............
Merci, Monsieur de Chaunac.....................
Hero..........just for one day.........
Jan...........who else?