Teams2010 Le Mans Series By Jeremy McMullen
It can be difficult to make sense of things some times. However, there are times when things are so abundantly clear that it almost seems too simple. For Andrew Howard, Beechdean Mansell Motorsport's Team Principle, it was simple. 'We are a British team with a British racing legend at the wheel so it made perfect sense to use the Union flag on the car, which is also the colors carried by Mansell family since the 1980s.'
Andrew Howard, and his Beechdean Motorsport team had raced in the British GT Championship prior to the 2010 season. Nigel Mansell, the 1992 Formula One World Champions, came to Le Mans in 2009 to witness his son Leo's 24 Hour of Le Mans experience. Upon witnessing the competition at the event, the former World Champion decided to enter Le Mans Series racing with his two sons for the upcoming 2010 season.
A partnership between Nigel Mansell and the Beechdean Dairy Ice Cream founder was struck and Beechdean Mansell Motorsport was born. The drivers for the one car team would be Nigel and his two sons, Leo and Greg.
Officially, the team was formed in January. The partnership came together rather late. In addition, the partnership did not have major manufacturing backing, and therefore, costs needed to be kept down. It would have been surprising if 'The Lion', as he was known to the Italian fans during his grand prix career, would have decided to enter the GT category. Sure enough, the decision was made the team would enter the LMP1 class. Therefore, the team would have to prepare to do battle with Audi, Peugeot and Aston Martin. With time and money being short, the newly formed team needed to find a chassis and an engine fast.
The team needed a competitive package that would be cost effective and would receive important factory support. They looked 'in-house' so to speak. They approached the Leeds-based Ginetta-Zytek factory.
Ginetta-Zytek's GZ09S/2 chassis had been developed for sale to teams looking for a competitive, but cheaper, prototype alternative. The Ginetta-Zytek chassis first appeared at Le Mans in 2009, and so, was still a young partnership. In the races it had taken part, the GZ09S performed impressively well and showed a lot of promise for future development. This development potential and customer support attracted Beechdean Mansell to the British sportscar manufacturer.
A deal was struck between Ginetta-Zytek and Beechadean Mansell for the 2010 season. However, this put tremendous pressure on both sides in order to prepare a car for the Le Mans Series which kicked off in the early part of April.
After being unveiled to the public with its blue and red livery at the Autosport International Show during the middle-part of January, the team set to work preparing the car. The team would use the GZ09S/2 chassis in conjunction with Zytek's own Z1458 4.5-liter V8 engine that it makes available to customers for the LMP1 category. Despite having these important elements together, car development still had to take place in order to make the car as fast, nimble and reliable as possible.
Knowing a lot had to come together in a very short time, a truly happy Nigel commented after the car's first shakedown and test laps: 'It's truly brilliant when you can draw breath and say that the test has surpassed every expectation. The Zytek engine powered car worked pretty flawlessly; I'm so proud of Leo and Greg, the times they got down to in a very short window were very competitive with the Oreca car, which was obviously the main test car, being supported so well by Dunlop. To gel a team in just three and a half months is fantastic and while we know we have a huge challenge ahead, we are so pleased with what has been accomplished here.'
Despite the pleasing initial shakedown tests, to prepare the car to compete with others at pace, and over the course of a total race distance was a whole different matter. This proved to be more difficult than expected. In contrast to the happy mood after its shakedown, struggles during the development phase would lead Mansell and Howard to question the commitment to customer support Zytek promised to deliver.
The struggling development of the car forced the team to miss important testing opportunities before the season's start and would hinder the team's reliability throughout the season. Despite all of the challenges and difficulties, Beechdean Mansell Motorsport appeared for the first round of the 2010 Le Mans Series.
The team arrived at Paul Ricard in Castellet, France with the blue and red car whose livery took cues from the Mansells' helmets. Another familiar Mansell cue was also found on the nose of the car. Fittingly, a synonymous number was available for the Beechdean Mansell team. Sure enough, the Ginetta-Zytek GZ09S/2 would be unloaded off the transporter with the famous '5' adorning the nose of the car.
Designed to be able to take part in either the LMP1 or LMP2 category, the team's Zytek GZ09S/2 would appear exactly similar to the GZ09S/2 chassis that was used by the LMP2 teams. This even included the vertical plane attached to the leading edges of the front wheel fairings. The only difference was in engine size fitted under the car's rear bodywork.
Beechdean Mansell's first season in LMP1 would be anything but an easy test, and the 8 Hours of Castellet would offer proof of that. Not only were there the Audi R15 Plus diesels to think about, but also Team Oreca Matmut had been able to secure a Peugeot 908 diesel from the factory for the 2010 Le Mans Series season. Even the fight within the petrol-powered machines was going to be tight and competitive. Lola-Aston Martin was back with their B09/60 chassis. Then there was Team Oreca Matmut's petrol-powered 01 chassis that was only one year old, and that promised to put up a fight. Rebellion Racing had also looked fast in testing with their Lola chassis.
At the first race of the Le Mans Series season, the main focus of the team was working on car reliability and scoring a good result. Due to the fact the team started late, the 8 hour race offered a real testing environment that would be good for honing in the car's performance and reliability.
Despite being brand-new and still struggling with bringing the car together, it came together rather well during qualifying for the race. Greg Mansell was able to turn the fastest lap for the team. His time was only a little over three seconds slower than the Peugeot 908 diesel of Team Oreca Matmut. This put Beechdean Mansell on the fourth row of the starting grid for its first-ever race.
As the race began, the field scrambled to find positions. However, Nigel was able to fight his way up into 6th place by the completion of the first 20 laps of the race. The car was showing an ability to fight, but it just was not proving as capable as some of the other petrol-powered LMP1 cars.
After pit stops and issues with the car, the team would have to fight to get back into the top-ten. Over the span of 30+ laps, the team would march up and order. Then, with the help of attrition and other troubles, the team was able to establish itself in 6th place overall and stay there for over 80 laps. As the team crossed the 200 lap threshold, the position on the grid took a turn for the worse due to problems.
Audi's revision, the R15 'Plus', would go on to take the victory by five laps over Aston Martin Racing. Rebellion Racing's number 13, in another petrol-powered Lola would finish 3rd overall.
Were it not for the troubles in the very later stages of the race, a top-ten would certainly have been a possibility for Beechdean Mansell. Instead, the team would complete 243 laps and would hold on to finish 14th overall and 8th in class. Despite its struggles prior to the season starting, the team was able to work hard and kept the Zytek going long enough to make it a third of the distance it would have to go later on in June.
A little less than a month after the opener at Le Castellet, the Le Mans Series arrived in Francorchamps, Belgium for the 1000km of Spa. Dubbed the 'full dress-rehearsal', the 1000km event was only a month before the 24 Hours of Le Mans and would be the last race until then. Therefore, all of the teams entered in the race around the 4.35 mile road course would have to take full-advantage of the time to make sure its cars were ready to the 24 hour test.
For Beechdean Mansell Motorsport, they would not have the luxury of taking part in the final tune-up race. Problems with the car's development prevented the car from taking part in the very important race. The Le Mans Series season did not consist of two many races. However, for Beechdean Mansell, the toughest race it which it would ever take part would be the second race of its existence.
Despite the struggles to develop the car, the team received an invitation to the 24 hour race and arrived in Le Mans full of excitement and expectation. A solid result at the toughest endurance race would only bolster the team's confidence and experience for the rest of the season.
A compliment of three factory Peugeot 908 diesels joined its sister car being run by Team Oreca Matmut. Audi Sport brought three of their own R15 Plus chassis. Aston Martin Racing also brought two cars, with a third run by the French Signature-Plus team. The LMP1 field was full and, on the long straights of the Circuit de la Sarthe, the true pace of competition became apparent.
Being brand-new to LMP1, and with a petrol-powered car, the Zytek GZ09S/2 struggled to keep pace down the long straights and fast sweeping turns. Much of the slower pace could also have been attributed to a lack of experience around the 8.46 mile circuit comprised of public roads and private road course.
The four Peugeot 908s set the pace in qualifying. Team Peugeot Sport Total qualified 1st through 3rd. The fourth Peugeot 908 of Team Oreca qualified 4th. Concerned more about qualifying in the field and making the entire race distance, the Mansell brood qualified a very quiet 18th overall. Even the two LMP2 HPD ARZ-01c of Strakka Racing and Highcroft Racing out-qualified Beechdean Mansell Motorsport.
Prior to the race, Nigel made it clear what the team's goals for the race were: 'The goal is to finish and get more competitive, and the biggest goal is to attract a sponsor so that we can continue our dream.' Even when a team's desire may simply be to try and finish the 24 Hours of Le Mans and to continue racing, the race and the track have a way of being absolutely cruel to competitors. So many cars and drivers on one long track, and at incredibly high speeds, make for a very small window between success and failure.
Beechdean Mansell's first 24 Hours of Le Mans was an absolutely perfect object lesson in the realities of intentions meaning very little. After only seventeen minutes in the 24 hour race, Nigel and Beechdean Mansell's first 24 Hours of Le Mans came to a very unexpected and painful end. One of the Dunlop tires on the Zytek suffered a puncture and sent Nigel into the barriers just after the Mulsanne corner.
Though a sport consisting of man, and machine, flawed human beings are still behind every bit of machinery that goes into motor racing. A myriad of causes could have led to the puncture. A failure of any one of the human beings in the process can, and have, led to dreams of others being thwarted. The cause of the puncture, however, wasn't as important as the mere fact the puncture took a team out of the race whose intent it was to just try and finish the 24 hour endurance test, gain some valuable experience and continue racing.
Without the lap-after-lap experience around the Circuit de la Sarthe, Beechdean Mansell didn't merely miss out on a famous result, but also, valuable laps that would have gone to sorting out its Zytek chassis. As it were, the team was forced to soldier on and make due without a fully-developed LMP1 chassis.
Due to the crash suffered at Le Mans, and the uncompetitive nature of its car at the time, Beechdean Mansell was not present at the third round of the Le Mans Series season, which was the 1000km of Algarve. The next race in which the team would take part would be 1000km of Hungaroring, a race that would end up historic on so many levels.
The Hungaroring holds many fond memories for Nigel. Back in 1992, Nigel clinched his only World Championship title in a race at the track. The Mansell blessing at the Hungaroring would end up being a generational one as in 2010 it would bless the family again with a very surprising result.
The race at the Hungaroring was historic for another reason. 2010 marked the first time Le Mans Series racing had every taken part on the track. Therefore, every lap of the race was something for the record books. The race would end up even more historic than a mere appearance at a new road course.
The history books began writing another new chapter after qualifying. The LMP2 Strakka Racing team ended up taking the pole for the race in their HPD ARX! The Team Oreca Peugeot 908 would not even sit on the front row. The two Rebellion Racing Lolas would end up qualifying 2nd and 3rd. Olivier Panis, in the Peugeot 908, recorded a lap over a half a second slower than the two petrol-powered Rebellion Racing LMP1s and would start 4th. Every expectation was thrown out the window. In such a state, Beechdean Mansell had the opportunity to keep the surprises coming. And they would.
Greg Mansell would push the Zytek hard and would end up setting a lap time just three seconds slower than Danny Watts on the pole. This enabled the team, which had been suffering through a tough year, to start the race from 6th overall.
At least as far as Strakka Racing was concerned, the performance in qualifying was no fluke, and they would end up proving it throughout the 1000km event. But what happened behind them was truly mesmerizing. Beechdean Mansell would also take advantage of the shock and awe to receive a truly wonderful reward.
While the majority of the LMP1 cars would suffer throughout the race, the Mansell brothers were able to remain around the top-ten throughout. In fact, the lowest they would run at any time throughout the race was 12th. Though the race was progressing well for the team amidst the LMP1 class, they continued to get passed by LMP2 category prototypes. After suffering the season the team had experienced to that point, it had no pride to get injured. The goal was to finish and get stronger.
Though the first-six places overall consisted of LMP2 prototypes, the humbled nature of Beechdean Mansell was rewarded. Though the team struggled throughout the season, it would prove to be the most consistent and reliable of the LMP1 machines and was justly rewarded with the LMP1 class victory! En route to its class victory, Greg and Leo completed 199 laps and finished with a six lap lead over the 2nd place LMP1 of Rebellion Racing.
One race remained on the Le Mans Series calendar. The final race would be another exciting race for the British-based team, for it was the 1000km of Silverstone.
Even though the team had a truly difficult season, the victory at the Hungaroring had proven the team continued to get better. A good result at Silverstone would only further testify to the team's improvement.
Though a very familiar circuit, the layout the teams would compete upon in middle part of September would be different. For the first time, the Le Mans Series would compete on the 'Arena' circuit, which included a half of a mile extra track that ran down in the middle of the circuit. This addition made the circuit 3.66 miles in length.
The two Audi R15s that were entered for the race would lead the way after qualifying. The two Peugeot 908s of Team Peugeot and Team Oreca would occupy the second row of the grid. Greg Mansell would end up setting a time four seconds slower than Allan McNish's pole time and would end up putting Beechdean Mansell on the grid 11th overall.
At the start of the race, the Beehdean Zytek stayed right around its 11th place starting position. After about 40 laps, the team had been able to steadily climb up the order and ran as high as 7th for a period of time before dropping back out of the top-ten. The Audi of McNish and Kristensen retired very early from the race. This presented an opportunity for other prototypes to move up the order, at least by one place. After dropping out of the top-ten after about 40 laps into the race, Beechdean Mansell would begin an impressive drive that would see them not merely crack back into the top-ten, but also, push toward a top-five position overall.
This race was well and truly the only time throughout the entire Le Mans Series season Beechdean Mansell Motorsport had the opportunity to square-off against both Audi and Team Peugeot Sport for any length of time. The last opportunity the team had to test itself against both of the powerhouse teams together was at the ill-fated 24 hour race.
Leo and Greg would impress behind the wheel of the Zytek. Team Peugeot Total, driven by Nicolas Minassian and Anthony Davidson would go on to win the race completing 170 laps. The sister 908 at Team Oreca Matmut would finish on the same lap in 2nd. Audi Sport's Rinaldo Capello and Timo Bernhard would claim 3rd place in the LMP1 class and overall. Down only nine laps to the overall winners, Leo and Greg Mansell managed to finish the race 7th overall and in LMP1. This made it two races in a row in which the team had managed to finish. It was an impressive result given the field and the troubles the team had been experiencing. The result also helped the team to finish 7th in the Le Mans Series Championship despite not taking part in two of the races.
The result truly signaled that Beechdean Mansell was at a place of not merely thinking about finishing races and gaining experience, but, could start thinking about improved results.
Recognizing the position the team was in, Nigel Mansell and Team Principle Andrew Howard discussed the team's future, especially with the Zytek as its chassis of choice. The struggles the team faced throughout the season would lead Mansell and Howard to make a surprise announcement.
In October of 2010, Nigel Mansell and Andrew Howard held a meeting about the future of Beechdean Mansell Motorsport. After a tough, and yet, rather success debut season, Mansell and Howard decided to step back and reconsider their options for the future.
Nigel Mansell was quoted as saying, 'The promised support never materialized from the manufacturer. The team did a great job, despite having many more challenges than it should have. Without manufacturers support however at this high level of racing we have to re-evaluate everything.
Howard further added, 'I do feel that if everything that had been promised had been delivered we would be looking at a very exciting LMP1 program in 2011.'
Therefore, as a result of the apparent lacking support from Ginetta-Zytek, which is necessary to take on other factory teams in the LMP1 category, Beechdean Mansell Motorsport decided to close its doors and sell its Zytek chassis. Beechdean Mansell Motorsport