WEDNESDAY 6 APRIL 2011
PODIUM AT PAUL RICARD ON FERRARI 458 ITALIA GTE DEBUT

Having topped the timesheets at the official Le Mans Series test day at the Paul Ricard High Tech Test Track a few weeks ago, both Allan Simonsen and his Team Hankook Farnbacher team mate, Dominik Farnbacher, were looking forward to the opening Le Mans Series round, which would be held at the very same track.

There was though, still, quite a large problem – no car, per se. The demand for the new Ferrari 458 Italia GT2, or rather GTE for 2011, continued to outstrip supply. Having dusted off the winter mothballs, their old 430 GT2 was used for the test, to great effect.

Still, one week before LMS-1, the new car had not appeared forcing the team to cancel their official VLN test at the Nordschliffe.

But a day later, it appeared, freshly livered in 2011 Hankook colours. And what a gorgeous new car it was indeed, having been dispatched from race car builders, Michelotto, in Italy.

Certainly this was worth waiting for, but it had meant the extensive tyre testing that should have been performed could only take place at Paul Ricard within the very limited practice sessions.

They say the sound of a Ferrari from both within the car, or as a spectator is both spine tingling and total aural pleasure.

The new 458 did not disappoint, yet had a completely different note to either the JMW and AF Corse cars.

Allan's team mate, Dominik explained:

"Michelotto are developing two different exhaust systems and we are running the straight pipe like they used in Sebring. The ALMS is less restrictive on noise. JMW and AF Corse are running the LMS-spec one."

The rear of each car told the story – no silencers on the Hankook car, perhaps the results of an experiment that was more difficult to conduct thanks to Italian noise laws.


Poduim result – it could have been the win...

Simonsen added:

"We need to see what the decibels were and whether we then switch to the other one, but I would be surprised if there was anything more than one or two horsepower in it. Michelotto wanted us to try it. It does sound a lot better though and the fans love that!"


Allan took GTE lead from Bruni, twice

As expected, practice was spent achieving a good race setup and distance simulation, in order to determine the Hankook tyre wear rate and drop off. This was executed smoothly, save for a power steering issue that needed attention.

Simonsen was selected for both qualifying and start duties and took to the task like the seasoned professional he is, jumping to pole on his second lap!

By the third lap, the best of the qualy tyre was gone and he pitted – overinflation had caused the sudden drop off, something that would no doubt have been established had the test days materialised. However, P5 would be where they would start the race, not so bad considering.

Brand new cars. Brand new season. Brand new driver pairing format for what used to be GT2 – now split into GTE (pro drivers only) and GTA (pro and amateur pairings with the not-so-latest machinery).

Everything looked very bright, until, in a very typically French way, communication broke down.

As the field came to the end of their formation lap, the starter pressed the green light – Horst Farnbacher, the team boss, yelled, "Green, green, green", to Allan who immediately dived up the inside and found himself in P1.

But at the front, the LMP cars were still trundling behind a beligerent saftey car, who had chosen, for what ever reason, to do another formation lap. How the hell could that happen? Standby for more on that soon we think...

So you can imagine the mess when the charging GT cars came up against a wall of slow LMP cars?

Almost instantly the three factory based Porsche were wrecked. The JOTA Aston Martin was also a loss. A total tradgedy, with the IMSA team losing both their cars in what would turn out to be a 500,000 Euro balls up, for that team alone! Video is here.

Three laps would pass until the track cleared of debris, forcing Allan back into his orginal starting position, but at least the car was undamaged.


New 458 Italia GTE – a big step from 430 GT2
On the restart (well that's a contentious issue anyway) it took little time for him to hunt down and dispose of, Rob Bell – his old team mate from 2007, in the JMW 458. Next was Alex Müller in the Young Driver Aston.

Then past Toni Villander, in the works 458, into 2nd place. And finally, with a large grin present under his helmet, to the lead and past Gimmi Bruni. That felt great.

These were all top professional drivers. There were no excuses anymore that a 'gentleman' driver may have been in the car, creating a excuse effect. Yes, it was avery satisfying moment, that showed Allan putting his skills to work, under real pressure.

So you can imagine the excitement in the Hankook pit, as Allan came in from the lead, to hand the car to Dominik!

But as luck would have it, a wheel nut got away, delaying the exit by 10 seconds, slotting Dom into 3rd place. But it wasn't long before he'd take the lead, from ex-F1 star Giancarlo Fisichella, Bruni's team mate. Nice work.

Next a puncture, perhaps a result of the measive carbon shards left from the startline debacle - Dom was forecd to pit, out of sequence.

Reconfigure: Allan now back in setting out after Bruni, who had also swapped from Fisi.

Then, another drama – 2011 rules had changed, stating only 2 rattle guns may be used at once, as opposed to 3. One minute penalty was applied - rather harsh stuff.

Now back to third, with Dom in the car only to have a rear upgright fail at the fastest corner (~240kph). Fun isn't it?

He limped the 458 back to the pit box, minimising damage, where the mechanics quickly sorted the problem to allow Allan rejoin for the last stint in 4th place.
Ahead was a slowing Aston Martin – an alternator had failed. That allowed the team to move to 3rd for the run to the flag.

A podium on debut and a Ferrari 458 1-2-3, won by Rob Bell. Now thats a promising start to a season indeed.