Petit Le Mans, a new challenge for OAK Racing
Intercontinental Le Mans Cup, Round 2
OAK Racing’s LMP2 campaign in the ACO’s new Intercontinental Le Mans Cup (ILMC) continues this weekend, with the team’s #35 Judd-powered Pescarolo looking to defend the first place it claimed at the series’ opening round, the Silverstone 1000km.
Next on the schedule is the 1000 miles of Road Atlanta - the famous Petit Le Mans on 2 October - which also forms part of the American Le Mans Series (ALMS). The ILMC then concludes at the Zhuhai circuit in China on 7 November.
For a French privateer team to contest all three rounds of this international series is a tremendous technical and sporting challenge, and will provide a stern test both logistically and financially – even for just one prototype.
In fact, this trip around the world will keep the #35 car away from the team’s workshop for the next three months. The #24 machine will remain in France so as not to delay preparations for the 2011 season, and to allow the test and development programme with tyre partner Dunlop to begin as soon as the current campaign finishes.
Petit Le Mans provides a particularly interesting challenge, as it will be the team’s first race on the American continent. Despite strong results in Europe - four Le Mans Series podiums on the way to third position in the championship, and a second place finish in the Le Mans 24 Hours - OAK Racing is approaching the 13th running of Petit Le Mans as a warm-up for 2011 rather than a race in which it will play the starring role. With this in mind a line-up of three gentlemen drivers, including Jacques Nicolet, has been assembled.
Two private test days at the Road Atlanta circuit were completed on 25/26 September to integrate the two new additions, Frédéric Da Rocha and Patrice Lafargue, with the team’s professional driver Matthieu Lahaye acting as a coach. While Da Rocha already has LMP2 experience this is not the case for Lafargue, who will contest his first race in the class at Road Atlanta. Nevertheless, the team hopes to be well placed at the finish and, if a result does come, it will be the icing on the cake!
François Sicard, Managing Director of OAK Racing: “There will be a lot to learn at Road Atlanta, despite our experience at the Le Mans 24 Hours and in the Le Mans Series. We are not targeting a display of raw pace from the car just yet, as we’re up against experienced ALMS teams, competing against a field of cars designed and prepared for the series. The two private test days on 25 and 26 September have been crucial for learning, but this event will be approached like a test session run under race conditions.”
Sébastien Philippe, Team Manager of OAK Racing: “I have been surprised by how quickly the three drivers learned during the test days, where Jacques Nicolet, Frédéric Da Rocha and Patrice Lafargue set lap times quite close to the reference lap recorded by Matthieu Lahaye. Matthieu is here as a coach, and has given them crucial confidence at this complicated circuit. It seems that there is as much to gain on this side of things as there is in terms of technique.
“Nevertheless, the race will not be easy. There will be more than 45 cars on track, a ratio of 11 per km, and negotiating traffic was complicated at the Hungaroring, where there were 8 per km. Also, in addition to the usual Le Mans 24 Hours categories there will be GT3s and LMPCs – the ALMS version of FLMs, with different engine configurations - on the circuit. So, there will be a lot of people on the track, additional categories and one third of the circuit where overtaking is not possible!
“However, one positive point is the Dunlop tyres, which have provided good grip and excellent durability. Still, it will be very important not to rush into anything.”
Jacques Nicolet, OAK Racing driver & Team Owner: "As a driver, I am delighted to be racing at Road Atlanta. Nevertheless, I had a great moment of loneliness during my first lap of the track! It is an atypical lay-out which does not resemble anything I know in Europe: one third of the corners are blind, the walls are very close to the circuit and it is very narrow. Of some corners I have simply been told: ‘you will see when you get there’ - and that’s it, I have seen! But the first day of running went well, under the sun, and I progressed as I drove. So we will see!”
Frédéric Da Rocha, OAK Racing driver: “During the first laps on the circuit I asked myself what I was doing out there! But, once I had memorised the track, it was a real delight. I was used to an LMP2 with less performance than this one, and I’ve discovered a prototype with real aero and super-efficient brakes. The Pescarolo-Judd is very reassuring for a driver. We have confidence straight away and we can very quickly get close to our own limits without any hesitation.
“I am very happy to be a part of a team as professional as OAK Racing. Matthieu Lahaye is an excellent coach, and knows how to be accessible to inexperienced drivers by using simple, easily-understood language. It is up to us to apply his advice during the race.”
Patrice Lafargue, OAK Racing driver: “Driving an LMP2, and doing it on a track which has the reputation of being one of the most impressive in the world, makes Petit Le Mans a double discovery for me. I am lacking experience, and arrived here with a lot of humility and a bit of apprehension, and in addition to this, the rain cost me a lot of driving time during my first day of testing.
“But it is a circuit which keeps its promises! In the race, we will have to keep the strategy simple and be patient, which is not necessarily my strength! But this experience will be very rewarding, as all difficulties are combined here: the circuit is short and technical, often with heavy traffic and the stress that this brings. It is a fantastic education ahead of the circuits to come!”
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