TeamsOAK Racing Team Mazda France-Pescarolo LMP2: 2010 Le Mans Series By Jeremy McMullen
The 2010 Le Mans Series marked a season with numerous and monumental changes for OAK Racing. Change, however, has been something not that new for the French team with heritage that stretches back into the 1980s.
Originally started by Serge Saulnier, 'Promatecme' competed in a number of different championships. The team was most known for its participation in Formula Three. The team enjoyed varying levels of success throughout the late 1980s and '90s until it was renamed in 2000. Then, in 2006 'Saulnier Racing' was sold to Jacques Nicolet as Serge Saulnier headed to Peugeot to be part of its diesel prototype program. As a result of Saulnier's departure the team was again renamed 'OAK Racing'.
As a result of its lineage, Nicolet has become more than familiar with coming into an already existing program and being expected to carry on. 2010 would provide great opportunities and great challenges for the team only going into its fourth season.
About the time OAK Racing came into being, Pescarolo Sport announced they were building their own chassis. Henri Pescarolo came from an experienced background having managed Courage Competition for years. This led Nicolet to commit to purchasing Pescarolo's new chassis it was building for both LMP1 and LMP2 categories. The relationship between OAK Racing and Pescarolo became very strong.
The presence of diesel-powered cars in the same category as the petrol-powered drew some criticism from Henri Pescarolo because he saw what eventually did happen at the end of 2009.
The current economic picture across the world is not that promising. And, with the performance imbalance between diesel and petrol-powered cars sponsorship money is being directed mostly toward diesel-powered entries that have a chance at an overall victory. This placed Henri Pescarolo, whose team competes in the same category as the diesels, but is petrol-powered, in financial difficulties. Pescarolo Sport was unable to secure funding in order to even enter the 2010 24 Hours of Le Mans, let alone the rest of the Le Mans Series season.
As a result of the financial difficulties Pescarolo Sport and OAK Racing reached an agreement whereby the development and construction of the Pescarolo 01 chassis would be assumed by OAK Racing. The agreement allowed OAK Racing to continue preparation of the chassis to meet the new regulations for the 2010 season. As Jacques Nicolet was quoted as saying, 'We have strong ties with the brand and the spirit behind the creation of these cars and we absolutely want to continue that…Pescarolos are very good cars which demonstrate their qualities every season and I am sure they have a big future ahead of them.'
Immediately after taking over development and construction of the Pescarolo chassis, OAK Racing went to work revising the aerodynamics of the chassis that was introduced the year prior. The car went through thorough preparations in order to make it conform to the new regulations for 2010 and to make the LMP2 challenger the best it could possibly be. To aid in this aim, the revisions to the chassis went through extensive testing in the wind tunnel.
One of the other changes OAK Racing dealt with heading into the 2010 season was the switch in powerplants. Although a firm sponsor and supporter of the team, Mazda was not the engine the team decided to use during the season. Instead, the team switched to the reliable 3.4-liter Judd V8.
In addition to a reliable Judd engine to power the chassis, OAK Racing's relationship with Dunlop became quite stronger. As a result, OAK Racing became the tire supplier's official development team.
Though seemingly surrounded by a world of change, OAK Racing instead saw a coming together of important elements that would enable the team to be a truly strong competitor. All of the positive changes led driver Guillaume Moreau to say after the car's shakedown tests, 'The Pescarolo-Judd is a weapon that will allow us to shoot for the top of the classification regularly and challenge for the title. The standard of the LMP2 entry is quite high and this is a great challenge for the team, but we know we have the means to meet our objectives. On paper all the elements are in place for us to achieve great things.'
Besides the reliable V8 Judd engine, much of the team's confidence heading into the 2010 season were the result of aero improvements made to the Pescarolo 01 chassis. The majority of those aero improvements are found at both the front and the back ends of the chassis.
One of the improvements at the front of the chassis that took shape over the course of the season was an evolution of the front splitter and front wheel fairing leading edges. The straight, step-up splitter would be replaced by a more contoured design.
In addition to the splitter, the leading edges of the wheel fairings were revised throughout the season. The 'V'-shaped design was abandoned for a wider-base design that still was turned in, in its design.
The other, more noticeable evolutions, made to the 2010 chassis occur at the very back of the car. The straight, horizontal bodywork is gone in favor of the gull-wing shape, channeled out design made popular by teams like Peugeot and Audi. This design improves airflow, and therefore stability, at the rear of the car.
With all of the changes to the team, chassis, engine, and driver line-ups, OAK Racing decided to keep the changes coming. It announced that, for the first time, the team would compete across the Atlantic in North America.
The following was OAK Racing's driver line-up for the 2010 season. For car 35, Matthieu Lahaye and Guillaume Moreau would be joined by Jan Charouz for the longer races. In car number 24, Jacques Nicolet, Richard Hein and Jean-Francois Yvon would share the duties.
The 2010 season started for the OAK Racing team at the Le Mans Series first round, the 8 Hours of Castellet at the Paul Ricard Circuit. In practice and qualifying for the race, OAK Racing realized they had a formidable foe in Strakka Racing with their HPD ARX-01c. Strakka Racing car number 42 qualified on the pole in the LMP2 category with a time just shy of the petrol-powered cars in the LMP1 category. The Strakka entry's qualifying time was also two whole seconds quicker than the next fastest LMP2 teams.
OAK Racing's car 24 set the 3rd fastest time in qualifying with a lap of one minute and forty-seven seconds. Car number 35 for OAK Racing set no time in qualifying and had to start from the very tail end of the forty-one car grid.
In the race, car number 35 made up for no time, while car 24 slipped down the order. Unfortunately, OAK Racing couldn't supplant Strakka Racing as the HPD went on to win the race in the LMP2 category. Strakka had been able to complete 250 laps.
Car 35 for OAK Racing put together a tremendous charge up through the field and would end the race 2nd in category. It too would complete 250 laps by the end of the race. The 3rd place qualifier, car 24, slipped down the order but still managed to finish 4th in the LMP2 category. Overall, OAK Racing finished 8th and 10th. This was good result for the latest evolution of the Pescarolo 01.
Next on the calendar was the 1000km of Spa. The race took place at the Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps during the early part of May.
Once again, the Strakka HPD proved formidable in qualifying as it set the fastest time for the category. However, both OAK Racing entries would start toward the front of the category this time. Car number 24 would start 3rd in category, while car 35 would start 7th. In warm-ups before the race everyone in the LMP2 category got a lift when the Strakka Racing HPD suffered an accident and was forced to start the race from the tail-end of the grid.
At the start of the race, rain wreaked havoc on the entire field of fifty cars. Then, in the middle of the race, the event had to come to a stop due to a power-outage at the track. Through all of the mayhem, OAK Racing emerged unscathed. Though beat out by Quifel ASM Team and RML at the finish, OAK Racing finished 3rd and 4th. Spa served as the final tune-up to the most important race on the calendar, the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
The 78th running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans would prove to be a tough event for OAK Racing and their Pescarolo chassis. Strakka Racing's American relation, Highcroft Racing received an invitation to the event in the LMP2 category. And, sure enough, these two entries proved dominant during qualifying.
OAK Racing's car number 35 proved to be the best qualifier for the team, but its best qualifying lap was a full eight seconds slower than Strakka's best time. Car 35 would start 22nd overall and 5th in class. OAK Racing's second car, car 24, could only achieve a lap nineteen seconds slower and would start 27th overall and 9th in class.
The main concern over the course of the 24 hour race was staying out of trouble, whether it be driver errors or mechanical troubles. If Strakka Racing avoided trouble it proved it had more than enough performance to dominate the LMP2 category. OAK Racing had to pray for trouble for its competitors and smooth-sailing for itself.
Anything but trouble hit Strakka Racing. At the end of the grueling event, the HPD ARX chassis carried Strakka to a 5th place overall finish and the LMP2 class victory. It proved to be the second-highest petrol-powered chassis in the race. However, OAK Racing wasn't completely blown away.
Though it would finish six laps behind the Strakka HPD, OAK Racing's car number 35, driven by Matthieu Lahaye, Guillaume Moreau and Jan Charouz, would end up finishing in 7th place overall and 2nd in the LMP2 class! The second OAK Racing Pescaraolo-Judd would also avoid trouble and would finish 4th in class and 9th overall.
A month after the success at Le Mans, OAK Racing's Le Mans Series season resumed at Algarve, Portugal. Besides the resumption of the series, the competition with Strakka, Quifel ASM and RML also resumed in all earnestness.
All three of the aforementioned teams would out-qualify OAK Racing for the 1000km test. Once again, the best qualifying OAK chassis posted a time still almost a whole two seconds slower. This time, however, OAK Racing would stand together. Car 24 qualified 8th overall and 4th in class. Right beside its sister-car, number 35 qualified 9th overall and 5th in class.
Troubles and errors plagued both of the LMP categories. So wild was the race that by the end an AF Corse GT2 was able to finish 7th overall. RML took the LMP2 honors with a 4th place finish overall. RML's nearest competitor in the class was Team Bruichladdich, some eight laps down in 5th overall.
OAK Racing struggled. One of its cars, number 35, was out of the race after having only completed 91 laps. The second team car would finish the race, but all the way down in 25th position overall, and nearly fifty laps behind the victorious RML.
The troubles that struck both LMP class at Algarve continued to wreak havoc on the LMP1 category at the series' next race, the 1000km of Hungaroring.
In what was a tremendous surprise, the Strakka entry would end up taking the overall pole for the event, beating out even the Team Oreca Matmut diesel-powered Peugeot. OAK Racing would start 8th and 9th overall and 3rd and 4th in class.
The shock in qualifying would prove to be a sign of the troubles to come in the LMP1 category. At the end of the 1000km race, the first six spots in the overall order would be swept by LMP2 chassis. Strakka Racing took the victory followed by Quifel ASM. OAK Racing's car number 24, driven by Mathieu Lahaye and team owner Jacques Nicolet, would finish 3rd overall and 3rd in class. The second OAK chassis would also finish in the top-ten overall as it ended up 9th overall and 7th in class.
In September of 2010, the first of the Intercontinental Le Mans Cup races took place. The first round of the Le Mans Cup was the 1000km of Silverstone, which was also the fifth and final round of the Le Mans Series season. This would be the first time in which the Le Mans Series would compete on the longer 'Arena' configuration at Silverstone.
The entry list included both Peugeots and Audis, and therefore, meant it was highly unlikely an LMP2 car would again be the fastest car, or, even qualify in the top-ten. Strakka Racing was able to achieve the later as it qualified 10th overall and first in LMP2.
With a time four seconds slower, the first OAK chassis would start the race 16th overall and 5th in class. The second car would not set a time and would start from the tail-end of the forty-five car grid
During the race, Strakka Racing would again set the pace. The HPD chassis would again take the victory in LMP2 and would finish 8th place overall. On the same lap as the Strakka entry was Quifel ASM in 2nd and the first of the OAK Racing team cars in 3rd in class. Car 35 had come all the way from the back of the grid and finished 10th overall! The higher-qualified, car number 24, could not quite keep pace and would finish 16th overall and 6th in class.
In the Le Mans Series Championship, OAK Racing would end up finishing 3rd and 4th. However, one advantage OAK Racing had over its rivals was that the team qualified for the Intercontinental Le Mans Cup. This obviously was an advantage for the team. This also meant their season wasn't over. In fact, it led to OAK Racing making its first-ever trip to the United States.
After Silverstone, the second round of the Intercontinental Le Mans Cup was the Petit Le Mans held at Road Atlanta, Georgia.
Not much really changed for the team, however. It would end up facing off against the American version HPD ARX-01c chassis entered by Patron Highcroft Racing. In addition, OAK Racing squared-off against the Porsche-Spyder entered by Dyson Racing and Muscle Milk Team Cytosport.
In qualifying, OAK Racing qualified well down in the Le Mans Prototype categories. Its number 35 car would start 13th overall and 4th amongst the LMP2 chassis. Despite the strong competition, OAK Racing put together a splendid result in its first trip to America. At the end of the 1000 mile race, Patron Highcroft won the race. Muscle Milk Team Cytosport finished eleven laps down to Highcroft in 2nd in class and 7th overall. OAK Racing's entry was able to finish on the podium in the LMP2 category with a 3rd place finish. More importantly, with the team's finish at Silverstone and Road Atlanta, OAK Racing clinched the inaugural Intercontinental Le Mans Cup for LMP2.
The last race of OAK Racing season occurred over 4,000 miles further west from Georgia in China. In November, the final round of the Intercontinental Le Mans Cup concluded with the 1000km of Zhuhai.
OAK Racing was the only LMP2 entry for the race but was not lacking any motivation as the team wanted to finish the season on a strong note in preparation for the 2011 season not that far away.
Obviously, OAK Racing earned its first pole in the LMP2 class and would start 7th overall. During the race, OAK Racing didn't merely lap the circuit. Instead, the team put together a fantastic 5th place overall finish. Only the Peugeots and Audis finished in front of the Pescarolo-Judd chassis.
The victory in China added another top-three finish to OAK Racing's 2010 racing season. The team earned four podiums in five Le Mans Series races, a 2nd place in class at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, victory in the Michelin Green X Challenge and a podium in its first race in the United States. These results poise OAK Racing for a very strong 2011 season.
At the end of 2010, it was announced Henri Pescarolo had to liquidate his entire property. In a wonderful gesture, Jacques Nicolet and another team owner came and bailed out their friend by buying up Pescarolo's equipment and memorabilia and promptly returned it all to Henri to serve as a foundation for his new 'Pescarolo Team'. Nicolet's gesture proved that OAK Racing isn't just about racing and championships, but relationships, that will only strengthen Le Mans Series racing for the future. OAK Racing