TeamsTeam Felbermayr-Proton: 2010 Le Mans Series By Jeremy McMullen
Longtime GT competitor Felbermayr-Proton, with its two-toned blue livery Porsches, prepared to fight it out amongst the ultra-competitive GT2 class for the 2010 Le Mans Series. It hoped to retain its crown in class in the Le Mans Series, and, had hopes to re-crown Porsche at the top of GT2 racing at Le Mans.
The team's season began with the first round of the Le Mans Series Championship, which was the 8 Hours of Castellet. The German-based team travelled to the Paul Ricard Circuit in southern France with two Porsche 911 GT3 RSRs (Type 997).
The number 77 Porsche 997 was driven by German, Marc Lieb, and Austrian, Richard Lietz. The number 88 Porsche had three drivers: Christian Ried, from Germany; Martin Ragginger, from Austria; and Patrick Long, from the United States.
In all, nine cars would qualify for the race in GT2. Showing its superior pace down the long straight at Paul Ricard, the Ferrari F430 GT of AF Corse would take the pole in LMGT2. Gianmaria Bruni completed a lap around the 3.61 mile road course in one minute and fifty-seven seconds. Less than a half second slower, Richard Lietz; in the number 77 Felbermayr-Proton Porsche 997, qualified 2nd in GT2 and would start 28th overall. CRS Racing's Ferrari F430 GT would end up qualifying 3rd and would start 29th overall. The second Felbermayr-Proton Porsche, driven by Martin Ragginger, couldn't match the pace of its sister car and would end up starting 36th overall.
At the start of the race, the Felbermayr number 77 got caught out and lost a couple of positions. However, from the 1st lap onwards, the number 77 began its march up the running order. Felbermayr-Proton number 88 had the best start of the team, perhaps of the entire GT2 category. By the end of the first lap, the team was able to sit in the 31st position overall. It had jumped five positions just in the first lap. It too would continue a gradual upward trend up through the field.
By the time the GT2 leaders had completed just 20 laps, both of the Felbermayr-Proton Porsches were running inside the top-thirty. By the mid-point of the race, both team cars were inside the top-twenty-five overall. Attrition within the Formula Le Mans classification and LMP2 were playing into the hands of the GT2 competitors including Felbermayr-Proton.
Perhaps the biggest winning hand dealt to the team came after 150 laps had been completed. The pole-sitting Ferrari of AF Corse retired from the field. Once AF Corse number 96 dropped out of the race, the number 77 Felbermayr-Proton Porsche had to contend with another AF Corse, driven by ex-Formula One stars Giancarlo Fisichella and Jean Alesi, along with Toni Vilander. The number 95 AF Corse Ferrari would have a share of the lead at one point. However, the number 77 Felbermayr Porsche would get by and run a smooth race throughout the rest of the event.
In the extremely competitive GT2 class, the way to lose position on the track is to suffer problems and difficulties that cause lengthy delays in the pits. This situation struck just about every GT2 runner except the number 77 Porsche. The Type 997 driven by Marc Lieb and Richard Lietz would have a relatively trouble-free run, despite fueling rig problems, and would take the victory in the GT2. The number 77 car would finish 18th overall after the duo completed 233 laps. An elated Marc Lieb would remark, 'We are over the moon and unbelievably relieved to have so clearly won this race with its many and varied challenges. One of the cornerstones of this success was again the impressive overall efficiency of our 911 GT3 RSR. We completed the race distance with one less pit stop than the Ferrari.'
Felbermayr-Proton had even more reason to celebrate as its second car, number 88, would finish two laps down, but 2nd in class. Just like that, Felbermayr-Proton enters the first race of the season and earns a one-two finish! The AF Corse Ferrari of Giancarlo Fisichella, Toni Vilander and Jean Alesi would also complete 231 laps and would finish 3rd.
After the long 8 hour race at Castellet in the early part of April, the team would wait a month before it headed to Belgium for the next round of the Le Mans Series Championship.
Almost exactly a month before the 78th running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, Felbermayr-Proton, and a field of fifty cars, prepared for what was considered the final dress rehearsal for the famed endurance race.
The 1000km of Spa was the second round of the Le Mans Series and it took place on the historic Spa-Francorchamps Circuit. Featuring long, winding straights, high-speed corners and tight hairpin corners, the 4.35 mile road course was like a shrunken version of the Circuit de la Sarthe.
In qualifying, the Ferrari F430 of AF Corse once again showed the way as Jaime Melo would record a time of two minutes and twenty-seconds. Marc Lieb, in the number 77 Felbermayr Porsche was right there. Lieb's time was only a tenth of a second slower. Therefore the number 77 Porsche 911 GT3 RSR would start 2nd in class and 31st overall. Patrick Long, in the second Felbermayr-Proton Porsche, was less than a second slower than his teammate's car. Though less than a second slower, the number 88 Porsche would start 6th in class and 36th overall.
The field was full with fifty cars. In addition to the havoc due to the number of entries, the weather in the Ardennes forest is always unpredictable. Combined together, the 1000km of Spa promised lots of drama for fans and teams.
The race promised to be hectic as rain started to fall on the track during the pace lap. In addition to the treacherous conditions in the climb up through Raidillon, the GT2 cars would need to be looking in their mirrors right from the start as one of the fast LMP2 cars crashed during the morning warm-up and would have to start from the very back of the grid.
The start of the race was as promised in the GT2 field—hectic. Throughout the first few laps cars were two and three wide, jockeying for position. At the conclusion of the first lap, the number 77 had managed to take over some positions in front and came through inside the top-thirty. The number 88 Felbermayr was also able to climb up the order by the end of the first lap.
Over the course of about 20 laps, the number 88 Porsche was battling right around 30th place overall. Over the same course of time, the number 77 Porsche, which had a much more clean bit of road in front of it because of the majority of the competition taking place behind, was about to get inside the top-twenty. The pole-sitting Ferrari, driven by Jaime Melo and Gianmaria Bruni, had been able to take away some positions from others at the conclusion of the first couple of laps. The AF Corse Ferrari ran inside the top-thirty, even as high as 22nd overall, after only five laps. After holding station for about 10 laps, both the AF Corse Ferrari and the Felbermayr-Proton Porsche were battling it out inside the top-twenty. Over the course of the race, the Felbermayr Porsche number 77 would remain inside the top-twenty. AF Corse's Ferrari F430 would fight for the rest of the race just to get back inside the top-twenty. Delays would cause the number 88 Felbermayr to fight throughout the remaining race distance just to run inside the top-thirty.
Every team would end up being delayed as a red flag was deployed to stop the race. The race came to a halt because a power-outage around the track made it impossible for the officials to keep track of the race. Any delay can disrupt a flow. The lengthy delay caused by the loss of power around the track would only cause greater stress.
Once the race resumed, the Felbermayr Porsche, number 77, picked up where it left off, as though nothing had happened. Even the number 88 Porsche would continue its charge toward a good result.
With relatively clear track in front, the number 77 Felbermayr-Proton pulled away and would take the victory in GT2. The pace the 4.0-liter, 6-cylinder 997 was able to achieve was strong enough to finish 15th overall, and only one lap down from one of the struggling LMP1 prototypes.
Marc Lieb and Richard Lietz drove so strong over the course of the 124 laps they were even able to beat out the GT1 contenders in overall position at the end. Second-place would go to AF Corse Ferrari number 96 driven by Bruni and Melo. They would finish one lap down to Lieb and Lietz. Unfortunately for Felbermayr-Proton, its second car, number 88, could not score another podium finish as 3rd place would go to AF Corse Ferrari number 95 driven by Fisichella, Alesi and Vilander, also one lap down. Felbermayr-Proton number 88 would finish three laps down to its teammate and would end up 8th in class and 26th overall.
That was it. The next race for the team during the 2010 season would be the 24 Hours of Le Mans. After its first two races, Felbermayr-Proton proved it was ready to battle it out over 24 hours in an attempt to help Porsche return to the top-step at a place it has had great success throughout its career.
The last time Porsche had taken victory in LMGT2 at the 24 Hours of Le Mans was back in 2007. In its preparation for its assault on Le Mans, Felbermayr-Proton changed its driver line-up over its two cars.
Felbermayr founder, Horst, would race with his son along with Miro Konopka in the number 88 Porsche 911 GT3 RSR. Patrick Long, who had driven the number 88 Felbermayr Porsche through the first two rounds would rejoin fellow GT2 Porsche competitor IMSA Performance Matmut. Interestingly, Patrick Long drove with IMSA Performance Matmut in 2009, but also, when IMSA Performance scored Porsche's last victory in GT2 at Le Mans. German, Wolf Henzler would join Marc Lieb and Richard Lietz in the number 77 Felbermayr Porsche.
In addition to having to face the Ferrari F430s, which had won in GT2 over the course of the past two Le Mans races, Felbermayr-Proton also had to contend with the reigning GT1 champion Corvette Racing. Corvette Racing had switched to the competitive GT2 category at the end of 2009. However, its C6.R was proving throughout practice, and into qualifying, it still had the pace to compete in GT1.
Throughout practice and qualifying the Ferrari F430s and Corvette C6.Rs were proving to be much faster down the long straights. It was noticed throughout practice and into qualifying Felbermayr's Porsche were consistently half a second slower than the Ferraris and Corvettes. The performance gap would become very noticeable over the two days of qualifying.
Over the course of the two days of qualifying the number 82 Risi Competizione Ferrari F430 would record the fastest time. Car 82 covered the 8.46 mile road course in three minutes and fifty-nine seconds. This placed the car, provisionally, on the grid 36th overall. Corvette Racing's 64 would record the second-fastest time with a lap just two tenths slower than the Risi Competizione Ferrari. The second Corvette, number 63, recorded the third-fastest time with a lap only three tenths slower than its sister car.
The fastest lap any Porsche would be able to record in qualifying came courtesy of Felbermayr's number 77. The car was pushed hard and recorded a lap of four minutes and one second. This time was over two seconds slower than Risi Competizione's pole time. The second Felbermayr-Proton Porsche was a bit off the pace. Its fastest time was four minutes and ten seconds. This time would lead the number 88 Felbermayr Porsche to qualify second-to-last on the 56 car grid. However, Risi Competizione's highest qualifier would come back and join them.
Controversy would surround Risi Competizione after qualifying. Risi's number 82 failed scrutineering after qualifying. The Ferrari's rear wing came under serious doubt. The infractions led to car 82 losing its pole-position and being sent to the back of the field.
Even with the Ferrari gone, Felbermayr still had to contend with other Ferrari F430s and Corvette C6.Rs, which were hitting speeds down the straights as fast as it was the previous year in GT1.
At the start of the race at three, on the afternoon of the 12th, the number 77 Felbermayr Porsche was pushing, but was holding a comfortable pace. The Ferraris and Corvettes raced on out ahead. Unable to keep pace with either the Ferraris or the Corvettes, the Felbermayr Porsche concentrated instead on sticking to their race strategy and letting the race come to them. That is exactly what would happen.
After 116 laps, the Risi Competizione Ferrari was out of the race due to gearbox-related problems. As the late evening turned into the very early morning hours, the number 63 Corvette dropped out of the race with engine failure. However, the second Corvette, car 64 was running strong and looking very good.
So many different classes, with such varying speeds, on the same track can lead to some very dangerous situations. While leading, and looking very comfortable doing so, the number 64 Corvette got squeezed too wide by one of the Peugeot LMP1 prototypes through the Porsche curves. Because of the speed carried through the Porsche curves the number 64 Corvette had no chance to save itself without damage being done. The back-end of the car hit the concrete barriers heavily. The team tried to repair the damaged car, and did manage to get it back out on track. However, its race would also come to an end after engine-related issues finally finished off the wounded GT2 car. This promoted Felbermayr-Proton's number 77 Porsche into the lead.
The number 77 team of Lieb, Lietz and Henzler had focused on sticking to their race plan and allowing the 24 hour race sort out the running order. The fast, but steady, pace was rewarded with the lead with only hours remaining. The team only needed to continue what it had done all through the late evening the day before and through the night and it would earn the victory.
The attrition throughout the field also promoted the number 88 Felbermayr Porsche. The number 88 team focused on running fast, but smart. Though not as fast as other GT2 cars, the team managed to stay out of trouble.
By three, on Sunday afternoon, it was clear that endurance was better than speed at the 2010 24 Hours of Le Mans. Felbermayr-Proton Porsche number 77, having completed 338 laps, took the victory in LMGT2. The team had a very comfortable two lap lead over the 2nd place finishing Hankook Team Farnbacher Ferrari F430. Felbermayr's number 77 would not merely take the victory in GT2, its 11th place finish overall meant the team also beat the best GT1 finisher. After two years, Porsche had finally returned to the top-step of the podium at Le Mans in GT2.
Felbermayr-Proton Porsche, number 88, would also make it to the finish. The team, consisting of the Horst Felbermayr and Horst Felbermayr Jr, would end up finishing 24th overall and 8th in class.
After the elation of Le Mans, it was back to the Le Mans Series season. One month after Le Mans, the Le Mans Series season resumed with the 1000km of Algarve.
Completed in 2008, the 2.90 mile road course has been considered the finest facility in Portugal and one of the best in all of Europe. The facility was first used by the Le Mans Series (LMS) in 2009.
While many of the LMP1 prototypes were absent from the race one month after Le Mans, the GT2 class was filled. Felbermayr-Proton fielded two cars for the race. The driver line-up heading into the event was similar, but also changed.
Le Mans champions Marc Lieb and Richard Lietz were behind the wheel of the number 77 Porsche as would be expected. In the number 88, the line-up included Wolf Henzler, Martin Ragginger and Christian Ried.
Throughout practice, both of the Felbermayr Porsches were near the top of the time charts in GT2. However, the AF Corse Ferraris continued to show great pace. In fact, during qualifying the two AF Corse Ferraris would out-pace the fastest GT1 Saleen S7-Rs of Atlas FX-Team FS. Both of the AF Corse Ferraris would record laps of one minute and forty-three seconds around the 2.90 mile road course. Another Ferrari F430, of CRS Racing would end up starting 3rd in GT2. Felbermayr-Proton Porsche number 88 would end up getting the better of its stable-mate and would qualify 4th in class with a lap one second slower than the AF Corse Ferrari on pole. The number 77 Felbermayr Porsche was two tenths slower than its sister car and would start 6th in class and 24th overall.
Thirty-two cars prepared to start the race in the evening of the 16th. At the start, the pole-sitting number 96 slipped and dropped down to 17th overall. But after the slip, the team would do nothing but climb the running order. The main challenge for Felbermayr was to see if it could go with the AF Corse team and pull off the victory at the end. This would be a much harder challenge since the number 95 AF Corse Ferrari did nothing but improve throughout the course of the race.
Felbermayr Porsche 77 proved after the first couple of laps AF Corse would have to contend with the 997 if it wanted to taste victory. By the end of the first 20 laps, number 77 was inside the top-twenty. The problem was, that at the very same time the AF Corse Ferraris were battling to get up inside the top-fifteen overall.
Felbermayr-Proton number 88 would truly have an up and down race. Though slipping at the very beginning, the number 88 Porsche was running right behind the AF Corse Ferraris throughout the first 20 laps. Though its trend throughout the race was upward, the team would have too many moments of having to fight to regain lost positions.
By the mid-point of the race, AF Corse number 96 was sitting just outside the top-ten overall. The number 95 AF Corse Ferrari would flirt with the top-ten, but would be too erratic and would have to fight hard to recover positions lost, just like the Felbermayr number 88. At the same point in the race, the Felbermayr cars were running just inside the top-fifteen and were finding it difficult to sustain movement up the order.
In the last third of the race, the battle in GT2 became joined as Felbermayr-Proton's two Porsches had made it up behind the AF Corse Ferraris in running order. AF Corse Ferrari 96 of Bruni and Melo had been able to garner a lap advantage over its sister car and the number 77 Porsche. The second Felbermayr Porsche, car 88, was right behind car 77 in the running order, but was also one lap further in arrears. Therefore, the only battle throughout the remaining laps of the race came down between AF Corse Ferrari 95 of Fisichella, Alesi and Vilander and the number 77 Felbermayr Porsche.
Lietz would battle with Vilander through the final laps. Vilander would push and would not put a foot wrong as the race came to an end in the early morning hours of the 17th.
The small prototype classes allowed the AF Corse's 96 Ferrari F430 GT to earn a 7th place finish overall as it took the victory in LMGT2. One lap down to Bruni, the battle between Vilander and Lietz would come right down to the final lap of the race. Toni would be able to hold by two seconds over Lietz in the Felbermayr Porsche. Felbermayr's number 77 would finish the race 10th overall. Another lap down, Felbermayr-Proton's number 88 would finish 12th overall and 5th in class.
For Felbermayr-Proton's team of Lieb and Lietz, they had managed to stand on the podium at every single race to that point in the season. This fact helped the number 77 remain at the top of the championship through to that point in the season. In Hungary, the amazing performances continued unabated.
The fourth round of the Le Mans Series would be a truly remarkable event and one in which any class could have scored the overall victory. The historic race would go down in racing history for many reasons.
The 1000km of Hungaroring was the first time ever Le Mans Series racing had ever taken place on the 2.72 mile road course in Mogyorod, Hungary. The field would consist of thirty-eight cars.
Throughout practice, the Strakka Racing LMP2 prototype was routinely capable of running with the LMP1 diesel-powered Peugeot 908 of Team Oreca Matmut. This was a mere glimpse of what the race would hold.
In GT2, Felbermayr's Porsches were within a second of the Ferraris of AF Corse and CRS Racing. In the final practice session, Felbermayr's Porsches were well intermixed with the Ferrari F430s. The incredibly tight pace of the GT2 field would end up hurting Felbermayr during qualifying, however.
AF Corse would take the first two spots in GT2, with car 96 taking the pole. A third AF Corse Ferrari would start 4th in GT2. The best qualifying Porsche would be the 997 of Prospeed Competition. Their best time was a second slower than the 96 Ferrari sitting 23rd overall. Prospeed qualified 7th in class and 30th overall. The first of Felbermayr-Proton's Porsches, car 77, would also set a time a second slower than the 96 of AF Corse and would start 8th in class and 31st overall. The second Felbermayr Porsche, number 88, set a time over a second slower and would start 10th in class and 33rd overall. Felbermayr-Proton would enter a third car for the race. Car 86 struggled with its pace and would start last on the grid and 13th in class. In a bigger surprise, the LMP2 Strakka Racing entry would start from the overall pole having beat out the diesel-powered Team Oreca Peugeot.
At the start of the 1000km race, Felbermayr's Porsche's were on the move up through the field. Through the course of the first couple of laps each one of the team's cars improved their position. Meanwhile, the AF Corse Ferraris would not be able to improve all that much and would have to rely on attrition to help them ascend the running order.
Over the course of the first 20 laps, Felbermayr's car 77 was able to ascend the running order from almost dead-last to 17th overall, a gain of twenty places! Over almost the same amount of time, the number 88 Porsche would improve over ten places.
Halfway through the race, car 77 of Marc Lieb and Richard Lietz, was running 15th overall. Car 88, of Romain Dumas, Martin Ragginger and Christian Ried, was running right there with car 77 in 17th by the mid-point of the race. The 86 car, driven by the Felbermayr father and son combination, along with Marco Seefried, had also improved. By the mid-point they were around 25th overall.
Despite being totally dominated by the Ferraris in qualifying, the Felbermayr-Proton number 77 Porsche would end up dominating the Ferraris throughout the last third of the race. Lieb and Lietz would compete 192 laps and would take the victory in GT2. They would finish only ten seconds behind one of the LMP2 prototypes by the end in 10th place overall. They would also beat the Ferrari F430 of CRS Racing by ten seconds. The Porsche 997 of IMSA Performance Matmut would finish on the podium in 3rd.
The Felbermayr 88 sister car would improve to finish two laps down to number 77. They would end up 7th in class and 16th overall. The third Felbermayr-Proton Porsche would also make it to the end completing 174 laps and finishing 27th overall and 11th in class. While an extremely exciting event in GT2, overall, the race saw history as the Strakka Racing LMP2 not only qualified on the pole, but also won the race. Six LMP2 cars would finish before the first of the LMP1 prototypes.
In September, one month after the wild 1000km of Hungaroring, the Le Mans Series set to wrap-up at the fifth and final round of the series. The final round of the Series took place at Silverstone, in England, and on the new 'Arena' circuit.
The 1000km of Silverstone was the final round of the Le Mans Series for 2010, but was also the first round of the brand-new Intercontinental Le Mans Cup, which was formed with the intention of making Le Mans a global competition as it would tie together prototype and GT class racing from series around the world. New to 2010, the new ILMC was only three rounds but it spanned the globe. Felbermayr-Proton was one of six GT2 teams that qualified for the new series.
After the victory at Hungaroring, the Felbermayr-Proton number 77 had a commanding lead and needed merely to make a good showing at Silverstone to ensure the championship would be theirs. The beginning of the ILMC would, however, push Felbermayr-Proton to keep seeking the best results possible.
Throughout practice, both of the Felbermayr Porsches were near the top of the time sheets. Then, in qualifying, both the Porsches and Ferraris were upset. The Aston Martin V8 Vantage of JMW Motorsport wowed the British crowd and would grab the pole after lapping the new 3.66 mile 'Arena' circuit in two minutes and three seconds. AF Corse number 95 Ferrari was close to the Aston Martin's time. Toni Vilander was only five-hundredths of a second slower but was still relegated to 2nd in GT2. Marc Lied also did his best in the number 77 Felbermayr. He would turn a lap only three tenths of a second slower but would start 3rd in class and 31st overall. The second Felbermayr Porsche was only a half a second slower but would start 7th in class and 35th overall. In all, the top-ten GT2 qualifiers were separated by less than a second!
As usual, the competition in GT2 was tight. Over the first ten laps, the number 77 Porsche would slip down the order, while the number 96 AF Corse Ferrari was ascending. Despite losing some places during the first lap, the number 88 Felbermayr would recover and begin challenging.
Over the course of the race, the Ferrari of Jaime Melo and Bruni was too strong. The number 77 Porsche would get as high as 25th overall, but just could not battle with the AF Corse Ferrari. By the end of the race, the number 77 Porsche even began slipping down the order further.
At the end of the 1000km race, AF Corse had earned another victory. Jaime Melo and Gianmaria Bruni would complete 147 laps and would win by thirty-six seconds over Prospeed Competition's Porsche 997. JMW Motorsport would hold onto a podium spot finishing 3rd fifty seconds to AF Corse. Team Felbermayr-Proton's car 77 would finish the race a lap down to AF Corse in 5th place and 27th overall. Felbermayr-Proton car number 88 finished 10th in class and 32nd overall.
Despite the mediocre result, Felbermayr-Proton car 77 cruised to the championship in GT2. They would end up with over a twenty point advantage over AF Corse at the end. The second Fembermayr-Proton Porsche would finish 4th in the Le Mans Series standings with 55 points. They had missed out on 3rd place in the standings by only four points.
With one championship decided, another one was just beginning. The first round had been completed. The next round would take place in early October and it would be the Petit Le Mans held at Road Atlanta in the United States. Felbermayr-Proton would not travel to the United States to take part in the second round of the ILMC, but, would head to Zhuhai, China for the final round in November.
Felbermayr-Proton was familiar with what was the final round of the inaugural Intercontinental Le Mans Cup. The team had competed on the track many times throughout the late 1990s and early into the new millennium.
Heading into the 1000km race, the team was 4th in the GT2 team championship standings. After qualifying, its number 77 997 was sitting 2nd on the grid behind the AF Corse Ferrari, number 95. The car had qualified only three tenths slower. The second Felbermayr-Proton car, of Ragginger, Ried and new-comer Gianluca Roda, sat 19th overall and 6th in class after recording a time less than four tenths of a second slower than its sister car.
The competition between the GT2 cars, as usual, was tight from the very beginning. The close lap times kept the cars very close together out on the track. Because of the closeness, the team that made a mistake, or even bobbled just a little bit, would end up losing. Add the presence of rain in the picture, and championship hopes could go up in flames really quickly. This would be exactly what happened to AF Corse. Despite having a points advantage over Felbermayr coming into the race, the team would struggle during the race. This enabled the number 77 Felbermayr to escape.
BMW Team Schnitzer would go on to win the race with their BMW M3 GT2 number 78 completing 202 laps. Felbermayr's number 77 Porsche would finish seconds behind in 2nd. AF Corse would finish 3rd, down two laps. The second Felbermayr, car 88, finished 4th another seven laps further down.
Given the team's results at Silverstone and Zhuhai, Felbermayr-Proton would go on the win the ILMC Championship for GT2. In just one year, Felbermayr-Proton scored victory at Le Mans, won the Le Mans Series Championship and the Intercontinental Le Mans Cup. The team didn't merely help Porsche return to its place of prominence at Le Mans, it helped Porsche return to a place of dominance the world over.