Rain or shine
Despite the summer season, the weather on our way from Holland down to Italy was far from sunny. The destination for this drive across Europe was the legendary Monza track where the second round of this year’s Le Mans Endurance Series (LMES) was held on the second weekend of July. The unstable weather continued through the three day event, literally resulting in a cold shower for all those expecting the usual Italian sunshine.
The conditions however did not deter the 43 teams from lining up to compete in Sunday’s 1000 km race. For many this was the first race since the Le Mans 24 Hours in June, and for others the first outing after the foggy Spa 1000 km. Three supporting series completed the action packed weekend, of which the Classic Endurance Racing (CER) captured most of our attention.
Our experiences of the weekend are summarized in a 200 shot slideshow
and a full report on the proceedings.
British Formula 3 and Formula Palmer Audi
Two British single seater championships formed the contemporary note in the supporting program. Up and coming talent used their track time effectively to showcase their skills to the big boys in endurance racing. Both series completed three races on Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning, which were filled with paint-swapping, wheel banging and other expressions of youthful enthusiasm.
One of the biggest names in the Formula 3 field was Bruno Senna, the cousin of the legendary Formula 1 driver, though the races were dominated by the Carlin Motorsport team’s drivers Alvaro Parente from Portugal and Charlie Kimball from the United States.
The results of the Formula Palmer Audi races were not as predictable, with the victories challenged by various drivers, representing as many different teams. At the end of the weekend Emilo de Villota claimed two victories and Joe Tandy the remaining.
Classic Endurance Racing
The LMES is organized jointly by the Automobile Club de l’Ouest and Peter Auto. The latter has a vast experience with historic racing, and is best known for events such as the annual Tour Auto and highly acclaimed Le Mans Classic. The CER is open for prototype and GT racers from the 60’s and 70’s. The one hour race on Saturday afternoon is an ideal warm-up for the big race on Sunday.
Although the field was not as big as at Spa, the quality was just as high. New to the series was Paul Knapfield’s Ferrari 712. Being a CanAm racer, the big Ferrari entry was somewhat controversial. Another new kid on the grid was the Alfa Romeo 33 TT12, which was unfortunately dogged by gearbox problems in almost every session. Highlights in the pack of season regulars were the two Porsche 917s livered in the traditional Gulf and Martini colours. In the GT class Porsche 911s made up the bulk of the field.
After the first practice it was obvious that only technical problems would prevent Knapfield from winning. The high speed Monza track proved to be perfectly suited to the 720 bhp Ferrari. The only time we saw the Ferrari and its remotely close on the track was during the warm up lap. On the first lap Knapfield had already opened up a gap of five seconds over its competition by the time he reached the Ascari chicane. Behind him the fight was on between the Italian entered Lola T70 and the two 917s. The two litre Chevrons and Lolas were clearly outpaced on the long straights, and the lack of corners prevented them from making up any of the time lost.
Knapfield led from start to finish in the car he acquired only a few months earlier. Behind him the battle seemed to have been decided in Rosina’s favour, but a retirement with only a few hundred meters remaining dropped him off the results sheet. Despite a small run off and apparent brake problems, the Gulf 917 finished in third, just behind the Chevron B16 driven faultlessly by John Sheldon.
Whereas the CER field was relatively modest, the main race saw a full field of 43 entries. Looking for revenge after the disappointing second place at Le Mans, the Pescarolo team was again the race favourite. Hot on their heels was the works Zytek, which had scored a well deserved victory at Spa. New entries for this event were the ‘Racing for Holland’ Dome and the Italian entered Promec, which had not seen action for a considerable time. In the LM2 class an equal number of Lolas and Courages were entered, but after victories at Spa and Le Mans the British chassis was the pre race favourite. Italian cars dominated the GT1 field, where the arrival of the Lamborghini Murcielago R-GT created quite a buzz around the Monza track. Like they did in the historic race, Porsche 911s made up the bulk of the field in the modern GT2 class, but TVR’s victory at Spa had already proven that a Porsche class win was no longer certain.
Practice and qualifying
In the three one hour Saturday practice sessions it became obvious that the victory on Sunday would be fought over by the Pescarolo, the Creation DBA and the two Zyteks. The only major incident was a crash of the Pescarolo in the final practice session, damaging the right rear corner, but was fixed in time for the single qualifying session. Disappointment filled the Promec team, which failed to complete a single timed practice lap in three hours. In the other classes there were few surprises, although the pace of the Murcielagos impressed many.
The forty minute qualifying session was divided into two twenty minute segments for the two classes. The prototype pole position was convincingly taken by the works Zytek, followed by the Creation DBA, the Pescarolo and the Jota Zytek. Remarkably the Promec did manage to complete some qualifying laps, but the Italians best effort saw them set a time over eight seconds off the pace. In LM2, one of the Belmondo Courage took the better of the RML MG Lola and the Chamberlain Synergy Lola. The BMS Scuderia Ferrari 550 Maranellos leased from Care Racing Development proved to be the fastest in the GT1 class, followed by a similar Convers Team entered Ferrari. Peter Kox qualified his Japan Lamborghini Owners Club entered Murcielago R-GT fifth in class. Porsches and Ferraris dabbled for class honours, which in the end saw the two 360 GTs beat all but one of the 911 GT3s. Engine problems forced one of the TVRs to stay in the pits and the other only managed a fifth in class.
Just after 12:30 pm the green flag fell for what turned out to be an eventful race. The weather was still an unpredictable factor, with precipitation eminent throughout the race. Fortunately the rain held off until the final ten laps.
A strong start saw the Pescarolo move up to second before the first corner. Within four laps the leading Zytek ran into traffic and was unable to build up a lead. After 22 laps, the Pescarolo made the most of the power benefit over the restricted Zytek and passed the British car on the back straight. By the first pit stops the Zytek was dropped down with technical problems. Slowed down by the Courage C60 in the opening laps after a horrible start, the Creation DBA emerged as the main competitor for the leading Pescarolo. The fight was fierce for most of the 1000 km race, but once the thickening clouds finally let loose with some light rain, the DBA oddly suffered with cooling problems, leaving the victory for the Pescarolo. This was the first victory of the season for the French team after two second place finishes at Spa and Le Mans. The Jota Zytek saw a strong drive convert into a second place finish and the Rollcentre Dallara scored a second consecutive third place finish in the LMES. Although the Promec covered more race laps than in all the previous sessions combined, the Italian car retired 25 laps into the race. Its exit was typical for the car’s poor performance over the weekend. After it was pulled from the Parabolica corner gravel trap the driver used a back road to rejoin the race only to spin out and retire in the next corner.
In the LM2 class one of the Paul Belmondo entered Courage Fords took the victory, just ahead of the Spa winning Chamberlain Synergy Lola. A surprise in the GT1 class came to a premature end when the leading Murcielago driven by Peter Kox and Norman Simon retired with an oil fire. This cleared the road for the Ferrari 550 Maranellos to claim the top four places. The order was restored in the GT2 class where one of the many Porsche 911s beat the Scuderia Ecosse 360 Modena. The weekend was a complete disaster for the TVR team; one problematic car didn't start at all while the other lasted only 26 laps.