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With all the talk of doom and gloom throughout the race industry, it was a wonderful relief for the Danish Aussie sportscar ace Allan Simonsen to finally get back into a serious championship – the 2009 Le Mans Series (GT2 Class).

It was only a matter of time before the contracts fell into place and for 2009 his Le Mans Series challenge is familiar – but with an unusual twist. Simonsen, a regular front-running visitor in Australian GT racing, is back with his ’08 LMS team Farnbacher Racing, but this time in a Ferrari 430 GT2 instead of a Porsche 997 RSR and with an exciting tyre deal.
A new name challenging the European establishment for rubber supremacy – ambitious Korean manufacturer Hankook – has joined Farnbacher, providing factory support.

And if Simonsen’s lap times at the LMS official test day at Paul Ricard High Tech Test Track (HTTT) in the south of France are anything to go by, the others may well have trouble on their hands.

He had turned the fastest GT2 times – quicker than the benchmark operation, Virgo Motorsport, manged on their factory Dunlops at HTTT a month before.

These were very encouraging results for Hankook and all that remained was to see how they would cope over one hour-plus stints in race conditions.

Farnbacher’s driver line-up will be somewhat topsy-turvy as the year unfolds. Simonsen will initially to be joined by Christian Montanari, who was certainly up to the task, as the team’s regular steerer, the likeable Pierre Kaffer, was snapped up by Risi Competizione for the American Le Mans Series. Kaffer’s availability will be irregular because some of the ALMS clash with the European series, including the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Arriving at the Catalunya circuit near Barcelona, Spain, for practice for the LMS opener, Montanari and Simonsen concentrated on tyre testing for long runs to see how the performance would drop off.

With 43 cars on track (versus only 17 for the ALMS!), traffic was an issue and the team settled for sixth in qualifying, just six-tenths of a second shy of pole position.

As race time approached, an unexpected drama unfolded. Simonsen had his HANS device stolen from the pit garage with only minutes remaining before grid up. Some quick thinking by the team and the generosity of Jarnik Janis (who had pulled out due to injury) secured the necessary safety device.

"Can you believe someone would steal that?” an astonished Simonsen exclaimed.

"I have heard things like this happen in Barcelona, but it’s a very silly item to take. I'm very grateful to Jarnik for his kind gesture."

And so Simonsen was in for the start and, making no mistakes, put in a strong effort to hand over at the 70-minute mark to Montanari, who took over for a similar stint. Allan then double-stinted before handing the Ferrari back to Christian.
The last hour was a tactical measure and the Farnbacher-Hankook pairing took third in GT2, delighting their new backers.

"We knew we only had so much fuel and rather than do a splash-and-dash, we opted to drive in 'ECO' mode.
The gamble paid off, but only just...

"There were only two kilos of fuel left at the end, so it was very tight, but our team manager Horst Farnbacher knows exactly how to get out the most out of the car and made a perfect call.

"Our Hankooks worked really well, so I'm now looking forward to Spa-Francorchamps in early May. That's going to be a very busy weekend because it’s also the next (?) round of the British GT Championship, which clashes for the first time.”

All in all, the year’s first Le Mans Series event, which was won by Aston Martin Racing with their new Gulf-livered LMP1 on debut, has inspired the Farnbacher squad and sent a warning to the GT2 field.

Last weekend was the opening round of the BGT and once again Simonsen joined Hector Lester in the Rosso Verde UBC Ferrari 430 GT3 with the pairing taking a 3rd and 4th place in the two one hour races. But thats another story...

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