You never get a true picture of what will happen in a race from the testing times, especially at Le Mans. Last weekend the 2014 24 Hours class got on track for the first time, but not only was the circuit dirty – thanks to being largely made up of public roads – much work will be done on the cars between now and June 14/15.
There are some bits of information that you can read in to, though. Take the spread of times in each class – first to last in LMP1 was covered by a little over 10 seconds. This is hugely distorted by the Rebellion Racing cars, which were well off the pace, however. Take those away and you’re looking at a two-second spread between the two Toyotas, two Audis and two Porsches. It’s safe to say we’re in for a very close battle at the front.
When you look at the GT classes the gaps read as follows – 3.5 seconds covering nine cars in the Pro field and then 14.8s covering 18 cars in the Am category. And then there’s LMP2. The difference between first and seventh is just two seconds while all 17 cars are but 7.4 seconds apart on lap time.
“The LMP2 category at Le Mans reminds me of the Formula Ford Festival a little bit,” says Alex Brundle who’s piloting the Ligier-Nissan alongside ex-gamers Jann Mardenborough and Mark Shulzhitskiy. “You get the guys from the European Le Mans Series, some Americans, the guys from the World Endurance Championship and then some from the Asian Le Mans Series.
Brundle’s 2014 Ligier-Nissan at the Le Mans test day
“You throw them all on track together and the level of competition out there is phenomenal. They’re works drivers really because there’s the likes of Nick Minassian, Stephane Sarrazin – OK, he’s gone back to Toyota now, but he was at the front of P2 for a couple of years – and then Olivier Pla. He’s more than capable of driving a works car and had a contract with Peugeot before it withdrew.
“No one complains that much about the performance balancing because everybody knows that they’re all very similar – it’s a fantastic sports car formula, it really is.”
Brundle on his way to second in class last year
Brundle first raced at Le Mans in 2012 in a Zytek-Nissan – with Greaves Motorsport, finishing eighth in class – and then last year he missed the win by one lap, coming home second with the Morgan-Nissan. Even with two 24 Hours under his belt, though, he admits that nothing quite prepares you for the first time you go out at night.
Brundle’s Le Mans results
Team: Greaves Motorsport
Team-mates: Ordóñez/M Brundle
Car: Zytek Z11SN-Nissan
Overall position: 15th
Class position: 8th
Team: OAK Racing
Team-mates: Pla/H Hansson
Car: Morgan LMP2-Nissan
Overall position: 8th
Class position: 2nd
“You think ‘OK, at night everyone is going to be taking their time here, getting into a rhythm…’ Not a bit of it –everyone from practice to the race is flat out. The idea that anybody backs off, even a tiny bit, in the LMP categories anyway, in the dark at Le Mans is just not the case.
“You go out at night and there are headlights everywhere, signs coming at you from all angles and the best sports car drivers in the world. It’s an experience. It’s always a surprise; it always catches your attention. Hopefully I’ll be a bit more prepared for it after two years at Le Mans, though…”
Alongside him sit Mardenborough and Shulzhitskiy – two ex-gamers who have been undergoing a rigorous training programme to get them up to speed. Mardenborough is the more experienced – having won the 2011 Nissan Playstation GT Academy – and raced at Le Mans last year finishing third in the LMP2 category. Shulzhitskiy meanwhile won the 2012 Russian GT Academy. Despite a clear abundance of talent, their alternative route into racing does make you question whether they’re the ideal team-mates.
“They put them through such a rigorous preparation programme,” says Brundle, “that they’ve probably started more races than me! I’m going to be treating them in exactly the same way as any other team-mate and I know they’re both more than capable of putting in stunning performances.
“Mark isn’t so experienced as Jann, but, for his experience level, he’s capable of putting in an even better performance. I really can’t speak highly enough of them. I won’t be worrying about their experience.”
Brundle, Mardenborough and Shulzhitskiy are capable of winning the LMP2 category at Le Mans in 10 days, but so too are several other cars. That’s what makes P2 such an exciting prospect.
Alex Brundle is an ambassador for global logistics provider GAC, visit www.gac.com.