THURSDAY 16 JUNE 2011
DANGEROUS DEBRIS DESTROYS FERRARI 458 LM24 DEBUT
Seventy eight previous runnings of the worlds most famous sportscar race had already taken place around an array of track incarnations that is known today as Circuit de la Sarthe.

Today most of us just know it as The 24 Hours of Le Mans.

A gruelling test of man and machine that pushes the levels of endurance for not only drivers and mechanics but public relations experts, marketers, hospitality providers along with the hundreds of thousands of adoring fans who travel from all over the globe for the French summer classic.

And that includes no less than 40,000 passionate screaming Danes located in one very large 'tent city' who make the annual pilgrimige to see their heroes.
But way back in 1923 things were perhaps even tougher, with the winner only declared in 1925 after it was deemed the victory should go to whoever achieved the best aggregate result (longest distance in the time available) for the three races held in '23, 24 and '25! The format was abandoned in 1928, starting the single year race concept that we enjoy today.

In the current professional racing world, sportscar drivers are presented with an ever widening selection of 24 hour endurance events, from the season opener in Dubai followed by Daytona. The middle of the year is packed either side of Le Mans with both the Nürburgring 24 and Spa. And then there is the BritCar 24...it never stops! But this one is THE ONE to win.

2011 had been kind to Allan Simonsen, so far, in that he and his regular co-driver in the Le Mans Series, Dominik Farnbacher, had achieved a pair of podiums putting them in a strong second place for the inaugural GTE Pro title.

This would be Allan's fifth attempt at LM24 glory and hopefully a class win, something that has eluded him so far. But it can be a tough ask to take the top step of the podium, although he's been pretty successful in the past years.

His debut in 2007 with the Italian semi-works Porsche team, Autorlando Sport, propelled him and his team mates Lars-Erik Nielsen and Pierre Ehret to third place in GT2. He was a rookie and the weather was treacherous, but he brought the ailing 997 GT3 RSR home for the silverware.

2008 was less fortunate despite moving to the LMP2 class aboard Kai Krause's Mazda Lola. It looking quite promising but the weekend was comprimised by a mechanical failure that resulted in Hikedi Noda barrel-rolling the prototype in the first qualifying sesssion. Whilst the car was rebuilt in time for the race, it was on the back foot and eventually retired at 2.40am, near Arnage, with Jean De Portales at the wheel.

As 2009 approached Allan joined with Team Farnbacher starting a new tyre development project with Hankook. Dominik was also in the frame along with Christian Montinari, but errant track debris caused the engines demise and it was yet another DNF.

Hankook Team Farnbacher received an automatic LM24 2010 entry thanks to victory at the Asian Le Mans Series round in November 2009. The tyres were improving significantly and they put in a solid performance too, taking second place in GT2 with Grand-Am GT Star Leh Keen alongside the regular duo, fresh from a stunning 2nd place at the 24 Hours of Nürburgring a few weeks prior. Hankook was pleased.

And so, with the ever improving Hankook rubber and a brand new Ferrari 458 Italia GTE in their third year of competition, Allan churned the fastest time at the official test day, late April, ensuring the team would arrive with enormous self confidence. So did the other teams, who rolled out mega-factory backed BMW M3's and Corvette Z06 GTE cars!
 


The combined GTE Pro + Am cars made up more
than half the entire 2011 entrants



Simonsen – the fastest GTE test day driver ensuring
Team Farnbacher Hankook started 4th from 28 GTE cars


A typical LM24 week starts with the very public Technical Inspection, in the centre of the old town directly under the watchful eye of the Cathédral St. Julien. This year, the Hankook Team Farnbacher squad delivered the immaculately polished Ferrari 458 to Automobile Club L'Ouest, promptly at 9am, Monday morning. It would be 60 hours before any cars could take to the track, which gave the drivers at chance to walk (or run) the 13.8km modern course.

With Wednesday and Thursday evenings dedicated to both practice and qualifying, its vital to get a fast time in early. Traffic plays a significant role in thwarting a drivers best attempt for a clean unobstructed lap. So too the weather, for should it rain on Thursday, the times from Wednesday will always be quickeset and consequently set the pole time. Two sessions, two hours apart, starting at 6pm. By the 8pm, practice is done and engineers have another two hours to tweak the race cars into perfect qualifying trim. At 10pm, Q gets underway. It's still light, being summer, but not for long and by 10.50pm darkness falls. So too the temperature, an attribute all turbo engined cars enjoy. This is when the fast times are set.

Wednesday practice saw an unprecedented number of GTE Pro cars take to the track – 18 in total represented by seven marques: Aston Marton, BMW, Corvette, Ferrari, Ford, Lotus and Porsche. Add another 10 GTE Am Spec cars and you have more than half the field of 55 running a production variant race car!

The team turned in 4.01 (8th) in practice going onto set 4.00.26 (9th) in Q. That moved under the 4 minute mark to 3.59.519 the next evening to give the team an aggregate starting position of P5, with only the two works BMW M3's, the ever strong AF Corse Ferrari 458 ahead, along with fellow Dane Jan Magnussen, setting an identical time in the new Corvette GTE.

Friday is a rest day from a driving perspective but hardly anything else – its the traditonal Parade du Pilote, a highly visual parade through the old town where fans jostle to see their idols. By days end, many a driver has arm cramp, from the sheer number of autographs, waves and dispatching of the highly collectable hero cards.

Saturday. Midday. The cars are moved from their garage to the main straight with engineers in tow.

Dominik Farnbacher is the nominated start driver.

At 3pm, after two formation laps, the lights go green and the 79th running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans is underway.

The pace is fierce and with the Audi and Peugeot prototypes lapping sub 3min 30secs, its only a few laps before the GT field start to experience the prototypes looming in their mirrors. Something that a GT driver will have to deal with for many hours to come.

At the end of Mulsanne, Dominik runs on slightly, through the gravel, but rejoins almost immediately.

Thirty minutes later, all hell breaks loose as the brand new closed cockpit Audi R18 prototype of Allan McNish tries unsuccessfully to pass the GTE Pro Ferrari of Anthony Beltois, after the Dunlop Bridge. They touch, McNish instantly deflected into the tyres at unbated speed. Carbon fibre is everywhere as are many other more sturdy mechanical components. A wheel, complete with brake system and A-arms fly through the air, amazing missing the public and event photographers. The car is utterly destroyed, upside down on the armco. Once righted, McNish gets out, uninjured but somewhat dazed, to the applause of the breathless crowd. Top marks to Audi for putting safety first, setting an amazing standard in the process.

It is over an hour before the race resumes.

Allan is now in the car, but suffering understeer in the fast corners. He double stints before Leh gets in the car. Then Dom is back in but the huge volume of sharp carbon fibre like debris on the track sees the Ferrari blow a tyre, taking all ancillary brake and airjack lines with it. They will sit in the garage for an hour repairing the damage.

As night falls, the Hankook Ferrari will match the leaders times, only until a major temperature alarm show that the radiators have been comprimised and the engine terminally damaged. Dom is at the wheel and just like 2009 – its another DNF.

On a positive, the LM24 does not count for points in the LMS, so as round three looms, Dom and Allan are still strongly placed in the championship fight. The Hankook tyres are ever improving and so despite the DNF at La Sarthe, there is plenty of exciting times directly ahead, not the least another attack at the 24 Hours of Nürburgring in just over a weeks time. Last year starting 46th, they made it to 2nd. Guess what the goal is?

But for Allan, its off to the UK for another round of British GT, this time at Brands Hatch, where the 'Balance of Performance' gurus will hopefully, finally, get the parity sorted correctly.