Teams2010 Le Mans Series By Jeremy McMullen
After making its first appearance in Le Mans Series racing in 2008, Racing Box has become a regular in the LMP2 category. Having fulfilled the dream of Ferdinando Geri to enter Le Mans Series racing, the team looked to 2010 to carry the vision further forward.
In 2009, the team had secured two Judd-powered Lola B08/80s. The team's debut season in 2008 was absolutely terrible for the new team. Often the team would be packing up to leave when others were getting ready to go race. With new Lola chassis, and the venerable Judd powerplant, Racing Box turned things around drastically in 2009.
In what was only the team's third race between 2008 and 2009, Racing Box was able to score victory at the 1000km of Catalunya, which was the first race of the 2009 season. The team would also score a couple of other top-three and top-five results throughout the rest of the season.
Therefore, with the results the team had been able to achieve the year before, 2010 looked to be an opportunity to challenge for the Le Mans Series Championship. Confidence for the team grew heading into the 2010 season as the team received the revised B09 chassis from Lola. Though virtually identical to its previous season, Racing Box's Lola B09 was prepared for competition in the new season with one noticeable change. Headed into 2010 the team decided to switch from Michelin to Pirelli tires for the start of the season.
The team's first race of the season was the first round of the Le Mans Series Championship. The Italian team travelled to Castellet, France in early April for the 8 Hours of Le Castellet, which was held on the 3.61 mile long circuit.
2010 saw a new challenger at the top of the LMP2 category. Strakka Racing had been part of the Le Mans Series in LMP1 in the past, but had switched to LMP2 with the new HPD ARX-01c chassis, which had been developed and raced to great success in the American Le Mans Series. Immediately after qualifying, it was clear the new challenger was going to pose a real threat in the Le Mans Series LMP2 championship.
Danny Watts, in the Strakka Racing HPD, would lap the 3.61 mile circuit in one minute and forty-four seconds. This was just under four seconds slower than the overall pole time set by Team Oreca Matmut's Peugeot 908. This gave the HPD the pole in LMP2 and a 9th starting position overall.
The second fastest qualifier in the LMP2 category was Olivier Pla of Quifel ASM. His time was just over two seconds slower than Watts in the Strakka. OAK Racing would qualify 3rd and would start right beside Quifel ASM in 11th overall. Racing Box, car number 30, would qualify 6th in LMP2 and would start 14th on the grid overall. The second Racing Box entry, car number 29, was 8th fastest and started the race 16th overall.
The team prepared for the 8 hour race. The team's driver lineup was as follows: in car number 29, the drivers were Luca Pirri, Marco Cioci and Piergiuseppe Perazzini. In car number 30, the drivers were Andrea Piccini, Giacomo Piccini and Ferdinando Geri.
The start of the race saw tremendous jostling for position amongst all of the competitors. Despite starting the race 14th overall, the number 30 Racing Box Lola would get pushed out of the way and would lose many places. For a period of about 15 laps, the car ran outside the top-twenty.
In contrast, the number 29 Racing Box Lola would be able to sneak inside a couple of cars and would end the first lap of the race in 14th. Over the course of the next 20+ laps, the number 29 would climb up the order and would run as high as 10th overall.
After 30 laps had been completed, both of the Racing Box entries were running inside the top-fifteen and were looking good to hold on for a good result. After about 50 laps, the number 30 car was running around 12th and 13th and would stay right around those positions for the remainder of the race. Things calmed down and steadied for the number 29 entry as well. The two entries would run either nose-to-tail, or close to it, throughout the length of the race. However, troubles would visit the number 29 before the end of the race.
Upon reaching its 116th lap, the number 29 machine was struck by problems and was forced to retire from the race. This left the team down to just one car. Despite being the sole remaining Racing Box entry, the number 30, driven by the Piccinis and Geri would finish the race with a good result, but no where near as impressive as its first race the previous year.
Racing Box number 30 would complete 246 laps. The 3.4-liter Judd V8 carried the team to a 13th overall finish and 7th place finish in class. Strakka Racing took the win for LMP2 followed by OAK Racing and RML.
After the 8 Hours of Le Castellet there was only one more race before the 24 Hours of Le Mans. This meant the 1000km of Spa, which was the next round in 2010, would be the last opportunity teams would have to prepare their cars, at speed, for the famed 24 hour race.
Any necessary changes to help a team's chances at Le Mans needed to be made in time in order to be confidently prepared. Racing Box would make a change of its own headed into the 1000km race around the 4.33 mile road course. Despite having a new technical relationship with Pirelli, the team decided to switch to Dunlop tires before the race.
Unlike Le Castellet, the field at Spa; since it was the final warm-up before Le Mans, include the mighty diesels of Team Peugeot, as well as Audi. This made for a truly competitive field, whereby a good starting position on the grid could be difficult to come by.
Strakka Racing would qualify on the pole in LMP2, and 10th overall, but would not start there. In the morning warm-up, before the start of the race, the team suffered a huge accident. Although the team was able to assemble a whole new car to start the race, they were forced to start from the tail-end of the grid.
RML would qualify 2nd in class and 12th overall, but would start first. OAK Racing would be able to qualify 3rd in LMP2 and would start beside the RML in 13th overall. Filippo Francioni was able to wrestle the number 29 Lola B09 to start 5th in LMP2 and 15th overall. With a time only eight hundredths of a second slower than its stable-mate, car number 30; driven by Giacomo Piccini, would start 6th in class and 16th overall.
The only consistent part of racing at Spa, which is situated in the middle of the Ardennes forest, is the inconsistencies of the weather, especially in early May.
Sure enough, the rain began to fall while the cars began to circulate on the pace laps. This caught a number of competitors out due to slick tires on the wet circuit. A couple of LMP1 cars spun or even had accidents. This all happened even before the race started! However, both of the Racing Box entries had managed to avoid troubles and were set to start the race.
Spa, in the rain, is difficult and treacherous enough. Throw in a race start, with all of the cars close together and vying for better positions, and a recipe for disaster has just been created. When the race started, the rain began falling more heavily around the hill at Eau Rouge. The quick flick to the left, immediately followed by the climb up the hill to the right led to a number of competitors tip-toeing, even running wide and almost striking the tire barriers. The treacherous conditions led to the cars collapsing together under braking heading up the hill. This dangerous scenario would end up ruining car number 29's 1000km race.
Heading up the hill, and followed closely by an OAK Racing Pescarolo, the number 29 broke loose and crashed heavily into the tire barrier on the left-hand side. Just like that, one of Racing Box's entries was out of the race. The troubles with the number 29 caused the number 30 to have to swerve off to the right to avoid hitting its teammate. Car number 30 was barely able to hold on and miss striking the tire barrier on the right-hand side of the course. Because of the big crash right at the top of the hill, the safety car was deployed. This gave a number of drivers, especially the number 30 Racing Box entry, time to calm down and prepare for a 1000km race. The drama, however, wasn't over.
The crash of its stable-mate allowed the number 30 Racing Box entry to come up the order and would run 10th after about 12 laps being completed. As soon as the number 30 had reached 10th overall it suffered problems of its own which dropped it all the way down outside the top-forty.
The sun started to crack through the clouds and dry out the track. This gave the drivers time to settle down and put together a good series of laps. This also enabled the number 30 to begin the long climb back up the field. By the time 30 laps had been completed, the car was back in the top-fifteen. Drama would then roll back in and play a part in the race.
One difficult part to deal with is interruptions. Once a driver and team are in a flow, any interruption can cause severe disruptions. The whole field would end up having to deal with a huge disruption to its flow. A power-outage around the track caused the race to be stopped for a lengthy period of time.
Racing Box's number 30 appeared to only be helped by the disruptions and the drama. No doubt helped by attrition, the Racing Box team would continue to climb up the running order. With what would be only about 50 laps left to be run, the team was sitting just outside the top-ten.
Quifel ASM ran a flawless race and would win in LMP2. They would complete 130 laps and would finish 6th overall. 7th overall was the Lola of RML. They too would complete 130 laps and would take 2nd in LMP2. The OAK Racing Pescarolos would finish one lap down to Quifel ASM in 8th and 9th overall and 3rd and 4th in class. The Racing Box number 30, driven by Andrea Piccini, Giacomo Piccini and Ferdinando Geri finished 10th overall having completed 128 laps. The car ended up finishing two laps behind Quifel ASM and was 5th in class.
After its 5th place finish in class at Spa, Racing Box prepared for the 78th running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, which took place on the 12th and 13th of June. For the 24 hour enduro Racing Box received a single entry. Since the team needed to rebuild the number 29 after its shunt at Spa, the team decided to enter the car for Le Mans.
The LMP2 field was filled with twelve entries. Due to a full field of LMP1 and LMP2 class cars, qualifying positions would extend all the way down to 30th place on the overall grid. Therefore, top-fifteen spots in qualifying would be difficult to achieve in the LMP2 category.
Strakka Racing would set the 15th fastest time overall and would sit on the pole in the LMP2 category. Its American Le Mans cousin, Highcroft Racing qualified 2nd in LMP2 and 17th overall. RML would qualify 3rd in LMP2 and would start 20th overall. Racing Box number 29 qualified with a lap time fourteen seconds slower than that of Strakka's HPD. Despite being a number of seconds slower, the Racing Box entry qualified 6th in LMP2 and would start 24th overall.
The race got underway with the diesels leading the way at the front and pulling away from the petrol-powered LMP1 entries. The Racing Box entry was embroiled in an early battle with a number of other LMP2 cars. After an early safety car period, the race and the team settled in for what it hoped would be a glorious 24 hour race. However, the 24 hours of Le Mans, for Racing Box, would last less than a quarter distance. After completing 57 laps, the Lola B09 suffered problems and forced the team to have to retire from the race. So while many other LMP2 class competitors would race on through the night and next day, Racing Box was packed up and headed out of Le Mans.
After Le Mans, the next round of the Le Mans Series Championship was the 1000km of Algarve on the 17th of July. Due to the terrible accident at Spa, and the difficult run at Le Mans, Racing Box failed to arrive in Portugal for the 1000km race. Instead, the Racing Box team prepped its cars in order to take part in the 1000km of Hungaroring one month later on the 22nd of August.
The Le Mans Series race was the first time the Hungaroring hosted Le Mans endurance racing. It would end up an historic event in so many other ways.
Heading into the race, the team sported a number of changes. The team had been joined by MIK Racing. Also, the team switched back to using Pirelli tires on its Lola chassis. The team also switched up its driver line-up coming into the race as well. Car 29 was to be driven by Marco Cioci, Piergiuseppe Perazzini and Luca Pirri. The number 30 car featured Ferdinando Geri, Fabio Babini and Federico Leo.
Qualifying would prove that the LMP2 category wouldn't just have the opportunity for a good result, but a potential overall victory. In an absolute surprise, Strakka Racing was able to take the pole for the race over the Rebellion Racing Lolas and the diesel-powered Peugeot of Team Oreca Matmut. While not able to perform to the level of Strakka, Racing Box's cars would still put together decent performances in qualifying. Number 30 would put together the best qualifying effort and would start the race 11th overall and 6th in class. Number 29 would set a lap a second and a half slower than its sister car and would start the race 14th overall and 9th in class.
The race got underway in the evening. Right at the very start, the number 29 Racing Box entry was on the move up through the field. After the first lap, it had moved up into 10th. It would sit between 10th and 12th for the following 60+ laps. In contrast, the number 30 Racing Box Lola began a downward trend right from the very start of the race. By the time the race was 55+ laps the car was struggling to stay inside the top-thirty.
Mistakes and troubles within the LMP1 category pole-vaulted a number of LMP2 cars into the top-ten and higher. Meanwhile, the LMP2 Strakka Racing entry continued to race amongst the top-five. Troubles continued to strike the number 30 Racing Box Lola. Excessive time in the pits would lead to the team dropping down the order and being a number of laps down.
Mistake after mistake allowed Strakka Racing to pull away and take the victory in LMP2 and overall! The troubles also enabled LMP2 teams to create a truly historic finish. First through sixth were occupied by LMP2 class cars at the end of the event. Strakka would win with a lap advantage over Quifel ASM. OAK Racing finished 3rd a further lap down to Strakka. Racing Box's number 29 performed well and finished six laps down to Strakka but in 6th overall. Racing Box had even managed to beat the first LMP1 finisher. Results weren't as good for the number 30 Racing Box entry. They would finish the race, but would end up 25th overall and twenty-seven laps down.
After the surprising, and historic, finish at Hungaroring, Racing Box prepared for the final round of the Le Mans Series Championship. The team would head across the English Channel to Silverstone in England to take part in the 1000km of Silverstone, held on the 12th of September.
By this time Racing Box was well out of the championship running. The team's main goal was to end the season on a positive note and look forward to the upcoming 2011 season.
The 1000km of Silverstone would feature one big change for the teams. The race would mark the first time the Le Mans Series would compete on the new 'Arena' circuit which included a half mile longer track that extended down in the middle of the race course. The 'Arena' circuit replaced the runway that used to exist within the inside of what was a former Royal Air Force base.
While Silverstone marked the final round of the Le Mans Series Championship, it also marked the first round of the brand-new Intercontinental Le Mans Cup, of which Racing Box qualified to be part.
In an attempt to make Le Mans racing much more global, the Intercontinental Le Mans Cup was organized. Racing Box qualified to be part of the cup, but would only take part in the first round at Silverstone due to the finale of the Le Mans Series.
The field for the race in Silverstone was filled once again due to the presence of both Team Peugeot and Audi. This meant there would be very little chance of a repeat performance like that seen at the Hungaroring. This fact would become apparent during qualifying.
In what was a more normal performance, the top LMP2 cars were fitting to crack into the top-ten in qualifying. Strakka Racing would just do it with a 10th place starting spot on the grid after completing a lap of the new 3.66 mile circuit in one minute and forty-six seconds. The next LMP2 qualifier was Quifel ASM with a time two and a half seconds slower than the Strakka entry. This was good enough for Quifel to start 13th overall. Team Bruichladdich would start 3rd in class and 14th overall. Racing Box's entries, number 30 and 29, started 6th and 7th in class and 16th and 17th overall after recording laps in qualifying that were five and six seconds slower than Watts in the Strakka HPD.
At the very start of the race, Racing Box's cars held close to station. After about five laps in, the number 29 Lola slipped up and dropped down the order, almost out of the top-thirty. Car 30, on the other hand, would hold station early on, and then, would begin to ascend up the order. By the team had completed 70 laps they had cracked into the top-fifteen. By the time the number 29 car had completed 90 laps it too was able to crack into the top-fifteen and was looking to finish strong.
Strakka Racing continued its dominant pace and would take the victory in LMP2. The team would finish 8th overall and would complete 160 laps. Quifel ASM stayed with Strakka throughout and also completed 160 laps by the end. Quifel would finish 9th overall and 2nd in class. OAK Racing was right there as well. Their number 35 car also completed 160 laps and finished 3rd in class and 10th overall.
Racing Box finished up its season with a good result out of its number 30 Lola. Babini, Geri and Leo were able to guide the Lola B09 to a 4th place finish in class and a 13th overall finish. The trio ended the race down seven laps to Strakka. After an up-and-down race, the number 29 Lola would compete 150 laps and would finish 18th overall. The 18th place finish enabled the number 29 Racing Box entry to finish 6th in class.
Racing Box wasn't able to improve upon its results in 2009. 2010 proved to be a difficult season for the team despite its hopes for greater things. It remains to be seen what the team will do in preparation for the 2011 season given the regulations for the coming year. Assuredly, the team will be looking to not merely finish but win again in 2011.