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Off in the trees............

Le Mans Entry List………

There shall, in that time, be rumours of things going astray, erm, and there
shall be a great confusion as to where things really are, and nobody will really
know where lieth those little things wi-- with the sort of raffia work base that
has an attachment. At this time, a friend shall lose his friend's hammer and the
young shall not know where lieth the things possessed by their fathers that
their fathers put there only just the night before, about eight o'clock. Yea, it is
written in the book of Cyril that, in that time, shall the third one...

It is so easy to be critical of the ACO and they do little to help themselves. This
year's Le Mans entry list has caused a lot of heartache and head scratching,
much as it usually does among the teams who have coughed up the entry fee,
and the journalists who have to report the whys and wherefores, but this year it
appears, at first glance, to be worse than normal.

Established teams have been turned away in favour of constructors which have
no car or team, and the LMP2 class is fairly dominated by the French Courage

Taurus Bulba
There was no rhyme or reason why Ian Dawson's Taurus team should have been
refused entry in 2003 and the ACO were not required to explain anything. It is their
party, they can do whatever they like, and so it stands every year. Yet they must be
doing something right - everyone still wants to play.

As one insider explained last year, there are 50 places available and if everyone
was asked to vote, probably 45 of those places would receive unanimous
support. Of the final five or so places, there would be a wild variety and this is
where the intrigue lies.

Dawson kept his head, didn't criticise the ACO, raced at Sebring again this year
and put together an unusual plan, putting a diesel engine into the back of a Lola,
with backing from a major company. He may now get two cars in, one has already
been accepted and the second is the first reserve. Any cars that fail to show up
will be replaced by his, first.

Greek Arena
Mike Earle's Arena team is unlikely to take up its entry as it will not have a car in
time, and the Zytek entry is in doubt owing to the fact that they have neither a car
finished in time for the trials, or a team to run it. However, I doubt that the ACO
would have made such a mistake as to invite them without some sort of
guarantee that these issues can be resolved, but there were questioned asked,
and few answers available.

Who are Spinnaker Clandesteam? No one really knew, and their inclusion ahead
of Jan Lammers' second Dome, fourth on the reserve list, beggared belief. They
must have invited the ACO to see them, they must have shown the organisation
that they were serious, and convinced them that, despite not having raced
anywhere before as a team, they were worthy. The question is, how?

Creation Theory
The British Creation team have the DBA Zytek, they have backing, they hired
Nicolas Minassian and Jamie Campbell-Walter. Another well-known former Le
Mans winner also had his name in the hat. The entry fee was delivered
personally, the team had raced in the FIA GT Championship, had entered the Le
Mans Endurance Series and everything looked set. Yet they didn't even make the
reserve list.

Could it be for something as trivial as having not done Sebring? But neither did
Spinnaker. Were Creation too flash? Did they do something else wrong? What did
they do wrong? The ACO can never say, or everyone will do it and their job will be
that much harder next year, but that is no consolation for Creation team bosses
Mike Jankowski or Ian Bickerton.

Why did the ACO accept Rachel Welter's WR? Apart from the obvious question,
why did they take the old engine when Gerard Welter had ploughed so much time,
money and effort into the new one and had that entry refused? Again, the ACO
cannot, and will not say.

Saleen Drip
The success of the Ferrari 550s and the novelty of the 575 guaranteed that the
Prancing Horse would feature heavily in the GTS class, but quite why there are no
Saleens whatsoever on the list was also a bit of a surprise. "At least it was
nothing I might have done," was all Franz Konrad said. There were no reserve
entries in the class either, meaning that if any of the Ferraris fails to show, and at
least one team with an automatic entry already hinted that it wouldn't, the class
will lose one valued customer.

Has Saleen failed in some homologation procedure? If so, how come they will
race in the ALMS and the LMES? Have all the teams individually fallen out of
favour with the ACO? It seems unlikely. Did the teams do something wrong? We
just don't know.

No Qualifications
One wondered why the ACO didn't return to the qualifying format and in the current
climate and the idea holds merit. The ACO intimated that they would reveal their
entry list before Christmas 2003 to allow teams time to gather their budgets. What
a good idea, except they didn't and waited, again, until after Sebring.

The qualifying format unearthed those who were not ready and those who had the
pace were allowed in. The drawback was that with more than 100 applications,
the selection committee still had to meet to decide who should pre-qualify.

The FIA also threw its hat into the ring to prevent the ACO from forcing teams to
set qualifying times on public roads on which they had no opportunity to test. That
was dangerous, they pointed out, and they were right - the trials are the only
opportunity for the cars to test at such speeds, without going to a circuit like Monza

Money’s too tight to mention
In today's market, just 77 entries were received. The money is tighter, the teams
are more stretched, the Spa 24-hours is starting to attract the GTS and GT teams
and they cannot really afford to do two 24-hour races in a season of more than 10
other races.

Is it possible to return to qualifying? The LMES will host its first round at Monza on
May 9 and if that date was brought forward by a few weeks, teams would have the
chance to test at speed before going to Le Mans. If the trials were pushed back a
couple of weeks, it would open the first half of the year out a little and the ALMS
could easily introduce the extra race it is hoping for in 2005.

If the ACO set the limit of 80 cars to qualify, more than applied this year, and let
them all go in two timed sessions, as they did in the past, the 24-hour grid would
be decided by speed rather than the whims of a committee. If the grid was thus
decided, teams would not have to go through the expense of racing at the Sebring
12-hours before the selection committee met. If the selection committee did have
to decide on the pre-qualifiers, they still had their trip to Florida, plus another to

Dazed and Confused
Does this make sense? Does it matter? The inclusion in the list of Spinnaker,
Zytek and Arena, makes no sense to the naked eye, but we are not the ACO and
we don't know their reasoning. It would be silly to suggest that they do have
reasons; we are only confused because we don't know what they are.

What we do know is the form guide of those who have been invited; we know that
the Audis, the Dome, the Dallara and the Pescarolos will all fight hard, and that
any of them could win given the unpredictable nature of the race. We know that the
Corvettes want to win Le Mans again, the Prodrive-built Ferraris beat them last
year and no quarter will be given. We know that the Freisinger Porsches are very,
very good, so are the Ferraris.

We know we will enjoy the race, whoever shows up.

Andrew Cotton
March 2004

Dawson's Creak
WR Woes
Creation rejected
550 Challenge
Brakes on for RfH
A Spinnaker, yesterday
This time????