Notes From Le Mans – Tuesday 13.06.17

Photo: Roger Jenkins

The day dawned clear and bright after a comfortable night where the temperatures dropped to cool at worst. Much sleep had been had.

After a leisurely coffee and sort-out, we decided to head for the circuit as there was to be the official Drivers Photograph session and, later in the afternoon, the Drivers Autograph session in the pit-lane.

However, as we approached the circuit at Tetre Rouge, we decided to do at least one lap of the publicly-accessible parts of the 24 Hour circuit as this was probably going to be first and last appearance of the EnduranceandGT editor’s Porsche Boxster at Le Circuit de la Sarthe and we wanted to make it memorable.

Thus we set off down the Mulsanne Straight, missing out the two chicanes and turned right at Mulsanne Corner, heading down towards Indianpolis and Arnage and then back to the front gates of the circuit, passing the entrance to the Porsche Curves.

Without boring everybody with the story, we decided to do some filming of said editor and car passing the gentle right-hander down towards Indianapolis. A lot of fun was had by all and some superb, and highly memorable, images were taken by EnduranceandGT photographer Roger Jenkins. Thanks, Roger!

Photos taken, we headed back to our parking space of choice in the lead-up to the race in the Rue Des Expositions.

We then strolled won to the circuit where, understandably, security was a lot tighter to gain entry than it had been in previous years. We then walked down to the paddock area and made for the Jackie Chan DC Racing / Jota Sport garage to say hi to our old mate, Bob Friend – Sporting Director at Jota Sport. It was great to see Bob and to talk about the scale of the Jota operation in comparison to when we first worked for the team in 2013.

PL

Photo: Roger Jenkins

Walking up the paddock we saw Rubens Barrichello, this year with Racing Team Nederland, Romain Dumas and all the Porsche drivers as they walked back from lunch.

Passing Will Stevens, who we had previously met when he drove for G-Drive Racing last year, we stopped for a quick chat about his career decision to pursue GT drives and his thoughts on JMW Motorsport’s new Ferrari F88 GTE. He was very generous with his time and you can read the full article here.

After a quick bite to eat, we headed back to the pit-lane to finish the day with the Drivers Autograph session. The evening was warm and still and the atmosphere was everything that is good about Le Mans – happy, smiling, friendly and open with the drivers chatting to the public and signing posters and cards. However you do get the impression that teams and drivers have had enough of sitting around and just want to get on with it!

All in all, an excellent day. Tomorrow is a prep day for all the teams so hopefully it will offer some good interview opportunities.

“I Think We’ve Got One Of The Best Line-Ups In Pro-Am.” JMW Motorsports’ Will Stevens Talks GTs And Traffic With EnduranceandGT.co.uk (13.06.17)

Photo: Roger Jenkins

Will Stevens is back at Le Mans and this time he’s part of the line-up for the #84 JMW Motorsport Ferrari F488 GTE, sharing the driving duties with Dries Vanthoor and Rob Smith on the LM GTE Am grid .

EnduranceandGT.co.uk editor Andy Lloyd caught up with Will in the paddock at Le Circuit de la Sarthe on Tuesday June 13 to find out how the former LMP2 driver is settling in to his role within an LM GTE Am team.

“It’s good. My career is already going more towards GTs. This year I had some options in LMP2 to do a full WEC season but I needed to make decisions for my career and I firmly believe that the GT route in the years to come is going to have a lot more opportunities,” said Will.

WSAL

Photo: Roger Jenkins

“My full campaign this year is Blancpain with Audi and it’s going well but I wanted to come to Le Mans following on from last year where we had a good result with G-Drive finishing second in LMP2. But I wanted to come back in a competitive environment. I didn’t just want to come back to take part – I wanted to come back and hopefully win in class and I think the line-up we’ve got with JMW is very good.”

“It’s also nice to get experience in the Ferrari F488 GTE,” continued Will. “I haven’t done many laps so far but it feels pretty good. I think we will be there or thereabouts.  So, yes, I’m looking forward to it and hopefully it will be good.”

Bearing in mind that JMW Motorsport will be running its brand-new Ferrari F488 GTE, how much will Will’s experience support the team in its first race with the new car?

“It’s a new car to me but it’s obviously a new car to the team as well and I’d like to think with the experience I’ve got in the different categories, I can hopefully bring something to the team,” said Will.  “So far everything’s going well. We’ve got a clear plan for what we want to achieve. The line-up we’ve got with Dries and Rob is very strong and I think we’ve got one of the best line-ups in the Pro-Ams. I’m sure we can come away with a good result.”

Car

Photo: Roger Jenkins

Will traffic be more of a challenge this year as he is driving a GT car?

“Yes, for sure, there’s a lot more traffic but that’s all part of WEC. You’ve obviously got to get used to that,” said Will “This year there’s a lot more fast cars coming from behind. If anything it’s more down to them to get past us and they’re quick enough that we don’t have to have too many problems with them.”

“They’re past us by the time they get to us so there isn’t really too much to think about. Overall I’m really looking forward to it.”

The two-hour first practice session for the 24 Hours of Le Mans grid takes place at 22:00hrs  local time on Wednesday June 14.

Notes From Le Mans – Monday 12.06.17

Above: Romain Dumas talking to EnduranceandGT.co.uk Editor Andy Lloyd (Photo: Roger Jenkins)

It was another glorious day, weather-wise, in Le Mans on Monday June 12. Although fairly cool overnight, the day opened warm and bright and only brief period of colder winds mid-morning interrupted a day that got hotter and hotter.

We (EnduranceandGT.co.uk photographer Roger Jenkins and editor Andy Lloyd) made our way into town to catch up with the morning’s scrutineering activity. Although it may sound fairly mundane, the accompanying interviews with drivers offers the chance to hear some interesting opinions and views before all the teams have got, frankly, bored with talking about racing and just want to get on with it. We listened to the drivers from CEFC Manor TRS Team China drivers, Spirit of Race and Clearwater Racing and the interviews with the Clearwater Racing crews were particularly fascinating. You can read the full report here.

Roberto Gonzalez, sharing the driving duties in the #25 CEFC Manor TRS Team China ORECA 07 along with Simon Trummer and Vitaly Petrov was clearly very much looking forward to the race.

“During the test, it went well – very smooth,” said Gonzalez. “We were able to complete as many laps as we had scheduled and the pace was quite good. We were working on basically race pace so I really felt comfortable. Obviously my team mates have a lot of experience on this track. They both offered me the correct tips on how to approach each corner which was very helpful.”

“On this track you really need as much help as you can get,” continued Gonzalez. “I’m really looking forward to this week.”

We also bumped into the ‘Virage de Mulsanne’ committee who will be organising the event at Mulsanne Corner on Friday June 16. As we will be doing some work with them at the event, we stopped for a chat and arranged to meet up later in the week.

Having spent the morning in the Place de la République we decided to return to the Montbizot Data Centre (i.e: our camp-site) to work on notes and images for the later posting.

WHP

Photo: Roger Jenkins

Next on the itinerary was the ‘Drivers Handprints’ ceremony in the centre of the town at 6.00pm. For those of you not familiar with the many traditions surrounding the Great Race, every year the winning drivers have their handprints cast in a bronze plaque which is cemented into a square in the city centre, along with the plaques of other past winners, during race week the following year. Following the dramatic win of Porsche at Le Mans in 2016, it was the turn of the winning driver trio of Neel Jani, Marc Lieb and Romain Dumas to visit the winners circle.

The ceremony, such as it was, was brief but offered great photo opportunities for pictures with the drivers with only a few spectators present.

EnduranceandGT.co.uk editor Andy Lloyd had a few words with Romain Dumas, this year driving for Signatech Alpine Matmut alongside Gustavo Menezes and Mathhew Rao in the #36 Alpine A470.

“We have a strong car and we are ready so I think we will go well,” said Dumas. “There has been a lot of talk about the speeds of the LMP2 cars this year but it won’t affect our strategy. We will run our own race and stick to our own plan.”

We discussed the weather forecast which looks considerably better than it did in 2016.

“It looks as if it will be hotter than last year for sure,” continued Dumas. “We will be prepared for it and I think we will have a strong race.”

RB

Photo: Roger Jenkins

Final stop of the day was a return to Scrutineering where ex-Ferrari pilot Rubens Barrichello was talking about his first experiences of the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Barrichello will be driving alongside Jan Lammers and Frits Van Eerd in the Racing Team Nederland Dallara P217. Lammers was keen to play down any expectations that may have arisen with Barrichello having joined the team. As far as Racing Team Nederland is concerned, getting to the finish will be a worthwhile result.

The programme for tomorrow (Tuesday June 13) includes visiting the circuit for the first time this year to observe the drivers photograph and then staying in the pit-lane which we presume will be open all day in readiness for the autograph sessions later in the evening.

We’re also hoping to arrange some interviews for tomorrow as well so, all being well, a busy and productive day in prospect.

“The Dream Is To Stand On That Podium!” – Weng Sun Mok Has Ambitions For Clearwater Racing At Le Mans (12.06.17)

Photo: Roger Jenkins

Singapore-based Clearwater Racing is the back at Le Circuit de la Sarthe for its second year competing in the French classic but this time it’s brought two Ferrari FG488 GTEs.

The #60 entry is being driven by Richard Wee, Hiroki Katoh and Alvaro Parente. The #61 car is to be piloted by Team Principal Weng Sun Mok with driving partners Keita Sawa and Matthew Griffin.

The team finished fourth in the LM GTE Am category in 2016 and  Team Principal and driver Weng Sun Mok has found the draw of Le Mans more than enough to persuade him to suspend his plans to retire as a driver. Instead he is determined to finish in the top three in class and take his place on the podium on Sunday June 18.

“I was thinking about retiring,” said the Hong Kong-based businessman at Scrutineering in Le Mans town centre on Monday June 12. “I made some pledges to my family to try to spend more time with them but the lure of Le Mans was too much. After the race last year I said I have to find a way to come back. I was doing the Asian Le Mans Series and I said ‘Let’s give it a go one more time’ and here we are.”

#61

Photo: Roger Jenkins

“I really appreciate the A.C.O. for giving us this opportunity, especially with two cars. I was quite apprehensive last year and I didn’t know what to expect. I think this year we come here in a much better frame of mind. We’re really enjoying every single minute of it and I’m happy to postpone that retirement!”

Is the objective of Clearwater Racing at Le Mans to just score points for its FIA World Endurance Championship standings? Weng Sun Mok knows exactly what he wants to achieve.

“I have three challenges” continued Weng Sun Mok. “The first is to beat ‘Rocket’ Richard Wee (driver of the sister #60 Clearwater Racing Ferrari F488 GTE alongside Hiroki Katoh and Alvaro Parente.)! I need to make sure I beat him! Obviously we’re thinking about points for the FIA World Endurance Championship – that’s the most important thing for us but we’re not being to be sitting around. The dream is to standing on that podium at Le Mans so we will be going hard.”

Notes From Le Mans – Sunday 11.06.17

Photo: Roger Jenkins

Having packed the team transports; the highly reliable VW Golf and the elderly yet never-let-me-down-yet Porsche Boxster, the EnduranceandGT.co.uk team of photographer Roger Jenkins and editor Andy Lloyd set off from Kent to catch the 06:40 ferry from Dover to Calais.

The weather was the best we have ever known for an early-morning departure from Britain’s busiest ferry port and the crossing was smooth and uneventful.

Arriving on French soil, we hightailed it down to Rouen where we stopped for fuel and then continued down the alomost-empty motorway towards Le Mans. We had two choices; we could either head for our camping ground at Mont-Bizot, a modest yet beautiful little town north of Le Mans, or go directly to the town to catch Scrutineering. Knowing that fatigue would set in as soon as we had the pitched the new-for -2017 ‘supertent’ we decided to go to Scrutineering.

It was the correct choice. The town looked beautiful, bathed in warm sunshine, and the atmosphere was electric as cars, drivers and teams arrived for the traditional technical checks, interviews and official photographs.

We were fortunate to see the #1 and #2 Porsche LMP Team’s 919 Hybrids going through technical inspection as well as hear all six drivers being interviewed on the main stage. Drivers who can speak French are interviewed in that language and those that can’t have questions translated into English and then their answers are translated back into French. It’s a bit long-winded but fun, nonetheless and it gives drivers their first taste of the intense media interest surrounding the French classic.

IMG_5913

Photo: Roger Jenkins

We also bumped into our friends from Jackie Chan DC Racing / Jota Sport who were due to through scrutineering later that afternoon. The team have had a solid start to the season and, with two cars entered for next weekend’s race, must be considered firm favourites for their second class title at Le Circuit de la Sarthe.

Having seen as we much as wanted to (there’s a lot more tomorrow) we drove to our base-camp for the next eight days, the Pont D’Orne campsite at Mont-Bizot.

Our new tent for this year, courtesy of photographer Roger Jenkins, is big enough to sleep ten comfortably and probably more. It was an undertaking to set everything up but, now done, it will make a superb base, whatever the weather may throw at us, for our 2017 24 Hours of Le Mans adventure.

Tomorrow, Monday June 12, sees the continuation of Scrutineering in the town centre as well the traditional ‘Winner’s Handprints’ ceremony where the previous year’s winning drivers have their hand-prints preserved in a plaque, set in the pavement in the centre of Le Mans. It should be a fun day.

 

Pole For Macmillan AMR’s Littlejohn And Mitchell In British GT Championship At Silverstone (10.06.17)

Photo: Paren Raval ( https://www.instagram.com/parenraval )

James Littlejohn and Jack Mitchell put the #24 Macmillan AMR Aston Martin Vantage GT3 on pole position for Round 6 of the 2017 British GT Championship at Silverstone.

The scene was set for a front-row grid position after James Littlejohn had lapped the Silverstone Grand Prix circuit in 2:01.741 in the first qualifying session, 1.122 seconds quicker than second-placed Rick Parfitt in the #31 Team Parker Racing Bentley Continental GT3.

Jack Mitchell then took the #24 car over for the second session and put in a 2:01.832, over 1 second slower than Seb Morris in the #31 Team Parker Racing Bentley but sufficient to give Macmillan AMR pole position by .092 seconds after the two times were combined.

Team Parker Racing will start second on the grid with the Parfitt/Morris #31 Bentley Continental GT3. Third on the grid in the premier class will be the #21 Spirit of Race Ferrari F488 GT3 after Matt Griffin put in the second quickest time of the second session with a 2:00.441.

The GT4 class pole position was set by #99 Stratton Motorsport Lotus Evora after Gavan Kershaw and Stuart Hall lapped in 2:12.064 and 2:12.203 respectively to take pole by over two seconds from the #55 HHC Motorsport Ginetta G55 GT4 piloted by William Tregurtha and Stuart Middleton.

Third on the grid for the GT4 class will be the #86 GPRM Toyota GT86 with Stefan Hodgetts and James Fletcher sharing the driving duties.

The lights go out for Sunday June 11’s three-hour race, the ‘blue-riband’ event of the British GT calendar at 13:35. The weather forecast suggests rain later this evening which could wash some rubber off the track but a dry, cloudy but warm race-day.