In 2009, Ginetta-Zytek introduced its very competitive customer Le Mans prototype chassis, the GZ09S/2. Able to be entered in either LMP1 or LMP2, the new chassis offered adaptability and potential. One of the first teams to receive the new chassis was the Quifel ASM Team. Armed with the potent chassis, the team would go on to win the Le Mans Series LMP2 title that year.
Prior to the 2009 season, the Quifel ASM Team announced its main goal was to enter LMP1 by the 2011 season. In order to prepare, the team would compete in the LMP2 category to gain valuable experience and to build an important foundation for success in the P1 class.
After taking the LMP2 class victory in 2009, Quifel ASM made some improvements and revisions to its victorious chassis to help ensure the team would have the best opportunity possible to repeat in 2010. Through the support of Ginetta-Zytek, the team was able to incorporate some important innovations to the chassis, and the innovations would come throughout the year.
To start out, vertical panels were fitted to the outside of the front wheel fairing leading edges. The pulled in leading edges of the front wheel fairings helps to direct airflow out and around the side of the car. To help blend this airflow seamlessly with other airflow passing by the side of the car, an angled vertical plane was designed. This helps bend the airflow, keeping it close to the leading edge of the car, so that it will blend with much less disturbance, which means less instability and drag.
In between the cockpit and the sweeping front wheel fairings a series of angled planes were attached. As with the leading edge of the front wheel fairing, these planes help air, flowing over the sidepod and back along the car, to blend seamlessly and reduce disturbances and drag.
The other major changes incorporated to the chassis before the start of the season were found at the rear of the car. The twin-pillar supports for the rear wing were changed. Until the 2010 revisions, the rear wing had always been supported by twin-pillars that attached to the underside of the wing plane. In the all-important quest for improved airflow, which is greater stability and less drag, the swan-neck design was incorporated. Developed by Acura, the swan-neck helps to smooth airflow underneath the main wing element, which is most important since it is the acceleration of air flowing under the main wing element that creates the downforce.
The new revisions helped Quifel ASM to get excited about the possibilities of repeating in the competitive LMP2 category. Armed with Dunlop tires and the Zytek 3.4-liter V8, Quifel ASM prepared for the start of the 2010 season.
The season started in April at Paul Ricard for the inaugural 8 Hours of Castellet. This was the first Le Mans Series race to run longer than the standard 1000km races since the Mil Milhas Brazil. The LMP2 field was filled with twelve entries for the race. The LMP2 field was littered with strong foes, including Strakka Racing with the new HPD ARX-01c.
In qualifying, the Strakka Racing entry dominated. The HPD chassis, driven by Danny Watts recorded a time just seven hundredths of a second slower than the LMP1 Sigature-Plus Lola-Aston Martin. The next closest qualifier in LMP2 was Quifel ASM in their Ginetta-Zytek. Olivier Pla set a time a little over two seconds slower than Strakka. Starting 2nd in category, Pla's time enabled the team to start the race 10th overall. Quifel and Strakka were at the head of a long LMP2 train. 9th through 18th were all LMP2 category cars.
Quifel ASM's three drivers for the 8 hour race were Miguel Amaral, Olivier Pla and Warren Hughes. At the very start of the race, the team was amongst the top-ten, battling with the tail-end LMP1 cars and other LMP2 competitors. Once the race settled down, Quifel ASM was still running comfortably in, or around, the top-ten in the overall standings and in the top-three in class. As the race worn on, the team slipped down to 13th overall and 6th in class. Unfortunately, the falling trend would continue all the way to the finish.
After running up near the top of the standings throughout much of the race, it all came to an end after the team completed exactly 200 laps. However, being the first race of the season, the team gained valuable information and experience. In addition, the let down experienced at Castellet would turn to elation one month later.
In the early part of May, the team traveled to Belgium for the second round of the Le Mans Series championship. The race was the 1000km of Spa, and, as usual, the unexpected was to be expected at the track in the middle of the Ardennes.
The 1000km of Spa was considered the final warm-up before the 24 Hours of Le Mans one month later. In qualifying, the times amongst the teams were rather close, with the exception of Strakka Racing. Strakka took the pole for LMP2 with a time of two minutes and three seconds. 2nd place in the category was RML in their Lola, which set a time two seconds slower than the HPD. 3rd place went to OAK Racing, a further second and a half slower than the RML. The Quifel ASM Ginetta-Zytek, driven by Olivier Pla, recorded the 4th fastest time in LMP2 and the 14th fastest overall.
Although the team would start behind some strong competitors within the class, endurance and the ability to avoid making mistakes at Spa was of greater importance.
Even before the race started, the Strakka entry suffered a heavy crash in the morning warm-up and was relegated to the back of the field. Then, before the start, rain began to fall around Eau Rouge and Les Combe. This led to a number of incidents before the race even began. At the start, the field was cautious. The tense conditions made it important the drivers were steady behind the wheel. Despite the conditions, Quifel made its way up to 9th overall and 1st in the LMP2 category.
A couple of other tense moments happened for the team and the whole field, including a red flag period due to a power-outage at the track. Overcoming all of the distractions and difficulties, Quifel took the win in the LMP2 category and finished the race 6th overall. The team managed to be the highest petrol-powered finisher overall, as it was all diesel-powered cars that finished in front of the team. In the course of the race Miguel Amaral and Olivier Pla managed to complete 130 laps. This was a tremendous result for the team right before it headed to Le Mans, France in June. As driver Miguel Amaral noted, 'We had the little bit of luck that was missing at Paul Ricard and, above all, we boosted the confidence of the whole team for the Le Mans 24 Hours, where we hope to do a good job'.
Being the reigning champions in the LMP2 category in the Le Mans Series, Quifel ASM received an automatic invitation to the 2010 running of the 24 hour race. Le Mans is the ultimate test for any endurance racing team. It features long straight-aways, so speed is very important. However, it lasts 24 hours. Therefore, endurance is incredibly important. Teams need to strike the balance between speed and endurance, and it shifts all-throughout the length of the race. There are moments to push, but then there are moments when lasting is of much greater importance.
As had been the case throughout the first-two events of the season, Strakka Racing led the way during qualifying for the LMP2 category. Strakka lapped the eight and a half mile road course in three minutes and thirty-three seconds. The time was good enough to start 15th overall and 1st in class. The American Le Mans Series entry, Highcroft Racing (another HPD ARX chassis) set the next-fastest time in LMP2 and started 17th overall. Quifel put together an impressive qualifying time, albeit six seconds slower than Strakka's, and would start 4th in class and 21st overall.
Throughout the start of the race, Quifel ASM ran up near the front throughout the early part of the race. However, throughout the 24 hours, the team struggled to keep pace and spent more time in the pits than its competitors. Though it was not fighting for the victory within the LMP2 category, the team still achieved a tremendous result by finishing the race 7th in class and 20th overall. By the end of the 24 hour test the team had been able to complete 318 laps.
A little less than a month after Le Mans, the Le Mans Series resumed with the 1000km of Algarve. This was a home race for the Portugal-based team. The desire to have a strong showing amongst its home country was indeed strong, not merely for patriotic reasons either. If the team could put together another result like that they earned at Spa, the team would be right back in the championship hunt.
Coming to the race in Portugal, the team made a number of changes to their Ginetta-Zytek chassis in order to improve performance. The greatest change up near the front of the car included a larger cut-out of the front wheel fairing as it extended back from behind the front wheel. The line along the top of the sidepod extends out horizontally and blends into the fairing. However, the larger notch cut-out enabled a greater flow of air, down low, to escape out the side of the car. To help blend this flow of air, the barge-board panel remained, attached to the outside of the chassis' side.
The other noticeable change was found at the back of the car. In an attempt to trim out the car and help top-end speed and stability, the ramps, located aft of the rear wheels, were redesigned in favor of rounded fairings. The team's new car went very well in qualifying, especially when compared with the Strakka. This gave the team a sense that its changes had improved performance, as well as its chances.
Neither Team Peugeot nor Audi were present for the race. This meant the only diesel-powered car the field had to contend with was the Team Oreca Matmut Peugeot. Even one diesel was difficult to fend off. Team Oreca took the overall pole. However, the absence of other diesels and petrol-powered teams meant the chances were good for the LMP2 teams to have top-ten starting positions.
Indeed, Strakka Racing grabbed the pole in LMP2, but started the race 5th overall. Amongst the petrol-powered cars, the separation between the LMP classes was minimal. Quifel ASM would also have a spectacular starting spot as it lapped the track less than a second slower than the Strakka and claimed 2nd in class and 6th overall on the starting grid.
Once the race started, Quifel was able to take over inside the top-five overall. Quifel was able to hold the top-five throughout the first fifteen laps or so. The team even ran as high as 3rd overall as pitstops cycled through.
The team managed to stay inside the top-eight throughout the first 70 laps. Then, trouble hit, dropping the team all the way down to just inside the top-thirty. Then, on lap 91, the home team's race came to an end. This retirement severely hurt the team's chances to repeat as LMP2 champions.
Undoubtedly the team was down after the disappointment in Portugal, but Quifel, and just about every other LMP2 category car, would get a massive shot of elation after the 1000km of Hungaroring.
The 1000km of Hungaroring was truly historic. It was the first time Le Mans Series racing had ever made its way to the track. The race, while historic before it began, would be one for the ages by the end.
Throughout the year, Strakka Racing had proven to be incredibly fast. And, amongst petrol-powered LMP chassis, the gap between LMP1 and LMP2 was not all that wide. There had been a number of times throughout the season the HPD-powered car ran among the best of the LMP1 chassis. All that it would take would be a slip-up by the diesels and other LMP1 prototypes, and there would be a huge surprise waiting. The dream scenario came to fruition on the 22nd of August.
Right from the start, the LMP2 cars were going to be more than even the diesel-powered Team Oreca Peugeot would want to handle. At the end of qualifying, Danny Watts had taken the Strakka HPD and amazingly put it on the overall pole for the race! He had been able to even beat the diesel-powered Team Oreca Matmut Peugeot 908 by over a second! Strakka wasn't the only LMP2 category car that would give the LMP1 category fits. Quifel ASM, with the changes made to their car, was able to qualify 7th overall and 2nd in class! Olivier Pla's time was less than two seconds slower than the Peugeot! The surprises offered in qualifying would only be a mere glimpse as to what the actual race would be like.
When the race began, Strakka Racing slipped down to 4th and would carry on the fight from there. While Strakka slipped down the order, Quifel climbed up it. At the end of the first lap, the team was sitting 6th and would only improve from that point on.
Throughout the first half of the 1000km race, the team never ran lower than 5th, and ran as high as 3rd. While the first half of the race was remarkable, the second half would be truly amazing. Toward the beginning of the last third of the race, Quifel was in the lead. The fight at the top was becoming fierce, but amongst LMP2 class prototypes! Just before 150 laps had been completed Quifel slipped to 3rd.
Strakka took over the lead and would hold on to the end of the race. Quifel would recover and would take over 2nd place after 160 laps. The team would never look back from there. Over the course of the next forty laps, the team held station one lap down to Strakka and one up on OAK Racing. The team would go on to earn a 2nd place overall finish behind Strakka! It wasn't just a wonderful day for Strakka or Quifel ASM though. The top six places overall at the finish were taken by LMP2 cars.
Proving the LMP2 cars more than capable of competing with the petrol-powered LMP1 cars, both Strakka and Quifel completed over 200 laps during the entire race distance. The first of the LMP1 finishers was Beechdean-Mansell in a Ginetta-Zytek GZ09S, but all the team could do was turn 199 laps.
Coming back down to earth after the wonderful Hungarian experience, Quifel ASM still had one more round of the championship in which to compete.
Heading to Silverstone for the fifth and final round of the Le Mans Series Championship, Quifel ASM was all-but eliminated from the championship. The team's failures during the season had hurt them. Therefore, team honors were at stake in the final 1000km of the team's season.
The likelihood of a repeat performance of Hungary at Silverstone was forgotten with the presence of both Team Peugeot Total and Audi Sport. The team had to turn its competitive eyes back toward its own class instead. However, the class had one huge competitor in which others had to contend, and that was Strakka Racing.
As they had throughout the season, Strakka Racing set the pace in LMP2. The team managed to qualify 10th overall and 1st in class. In a small victory of its own right, Quifel ASM remained one of the fastest LMP2 teams Strakka Racing had to contend. Quifel ASM's car qualified two and a half seconds slower but good enough for 2nd in class and 13th overall.
Throughout the first 15 laps of the race, Quifel ASM ran inside the top-fifteen. The retirement of Audi Sport's R15 Plus on the 15th lap of the race did little to immediately help the team. Once the race neared the 50 lap mark the team managed to make its way inside the top-ten. Then, during the last half of the race, the team remained amongst the top-ten overall.
In the end, Quifel ASM completed 160 laps and finished on the same lap with Strakka Racing. The team finished 9th overall and 2nd in class.
Throughout the season, and especially after Le Mans, Quifel ASM proved to be one of the front-running LMP2 teams. This would be expected from a reigning champion. The overwhelming performances of Strakka Racing were, perhaps, not as expected. The updates Quifel introduced before the race in Portugal helped the team reduce the performance gap. However, there is still more that needs to be done before the team can mount a serious challenge to Strakka Racing.
Had the team been able to turn its two retirements during the season into points-paying finishes, the chances of repeating would have been greater. At the end of the season, the reigning LMP2 champions finished the 2010 season 6th in the category. Despite the fall from the top, the team proved throughout the season it has the pace to compete and be successful.
As per the team's announcement all that way back prior to the 2009 season, Quifel ASM announced they would enter LMP1 in the 2011 season. They would be Ginetta-Zytek's main team in the category and would use a hybrid prototype. The hybrid prototype had always been Ginetta-Zytek's goal since it started producing LMP prototypes over a half a decade ago.
Although the leap may be filled with some hard times, the success Quifel ASM has earned in its short tenure in LMP2 is perhaps a good indicator the team will be one of the top competitors amongst the hybrid LMP1 cars.
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Wikipedia contributors, '2010 24 Hours of Le Mans', Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 30 January 2011, 13:59 UTC, http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=2010_24_Hours_of_Le_Mans&oldid=410962920 accessed 1 February 2011
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'Le Mans Series: Races', (http://www.lemans-series.com/en/s55_stat_archive_courses/s55p01_classement.php?annee=2010). Le Mans Series. http://www.lemansseries.com/en/s55_stat_archive_courses/s55p01_classement.php?annee=2010. Retrieved 1 February 2011.
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MoreFormula 1 Articles From The 2010 Season.