Page 1 of 1 Shortly after celebrating his 25th anniversary as a manufacturer Yves Courage surprised the motorsport world by selling his factory to French racing giant Oreca. The Hughes de Chaunac run company had great experience in preparing and racing cars built by third parties, but lacked the prototype production capabilities of Courage. Oreca's most recent experiences with prototypes included running the Works Chrysler engined Dallaras in 2002 and a season with the aging Audi R8 in 2005. In 2006 and 2007 Oreca managed to turn the often tricky Saleen S7-R into a consistent race winner. Quite in contrast the Works Courage team struggled to find reliability with their latest LC70 LMP1 racer and even a switch from Mugen to AER power did not help. The Le Mans based manufacturer had also lost ground on the privateer market to Lola and faced new competition from Pescarolo.
Recognizing the potential of the LC70 chassis, which was also raced with considerable success as an Acura in the ALMS, Oreca decided to first race the existing machinery before committing to a brand new design. The poor results during the 2006 and 2007 season did make it very obvious that some serious development was required before the cars could be raced again. The first decision was to replace the engine once more, swapping out the twin-Turbo AER engine for the Naturally Aspirated Judd V10 engine, easily the most successful petrol engine of recent years. The next step was to take a second look at the car's aerodynamics package. In the United States Acura have done the same thing and only use the Courage tub with their own bespoke bodywork. While the body panels were redesigned, the Oreca team extensively tested the Judd-engined machines with the original body.
Oreca retained their Le Mans Series GT-championship winning driver pairing of Soheil Ayari and Stephane Ortelli to drive the first car. For the second car the French team contracted two very quick single seater racers; one-time Grand Prix winner Olivier Panis and the young and highly talented Nicolas Lapierre. Especially the presence of the vastly experienced Panis would be a great help in the development of the LC70. At the season opening official test at Paul Ricard the two LMP1 racers still wore their original bodies, one painted blue and the other white. On the Wednesday before the Le Mans Series' opening race, the team unveiled the new car and livery. Dubbed the Courage-Oreca LC70 the new car is equipped with a redesigned nose and tail. The easiest to spot difference is the relocation of the front brake cooling to the fenders, which also required new headlights. Even more striking than the car is the Mondriaan inspired and very colourful livery.
Only one set of body panels was available for the season opener at Barcelona. These were fitted to the Panis/Lapierre driven LC70. It gave the opportunity to compare times between the new and old cars and it seems that the Oreca engineers found at least a second. Panis qualified the car in sixth position behind the four diesel engined machines and the Aston Martin Lola. The race started well and during the pit stops, the car briefly grabbed the lead, but starter motor problems dashed the hopes for a good finish. Eventually the LC70 was forced to retire from the race. Nevertheless it looks like the team is heading in the right direction, adding more strength to the already very competitive LMP1 field in the Le Mans Series and later in the year at Le Mans. Page 1 of 1