Teams2010 Le Mans Series By Jeremy McMullen
Part of successful motor racing is being able to recognize opportunities when they are presented, and, to remain flexible so to adapt in order to provide one's self more opportunities. Heading into 2010, Tim Greaves did just that.
In 2006, Tim Greaves, who was the majority share-holder in Radical Motosport, created Team Bruichladdich around the SR9 LMP car. But then, heading into 2010, a new opportunity presented itself to Greaves.
Karim Ojjeh had been piloting a Zytek LMP2 car with Claude-Yves Gosselin in 2009. Gosselin announced to Ojjeh he would not return to LMP2 for 2010. This left Ojjeh with his Zytek, but nobody to handle the technical oversight of the car. This was the opportunity of which Greaves recognized and took advantage.
After ten years with Radical Motorsport, Greaves sold his shares and inked a deal with Ojjeh to run his Zytek with Bruichladdich. After running for years around the Radical chassis, Greaves adapted to help Team Bruichladdich have more opportunities in its future.
As Ojjeh noted: 'We are together for a year, and we'll see for the rest. The rules will change in 2011 and for the moment, it's a question mark for us. We don't plan on running any other races with the Zytek, which will be receiving the latest evolutions, including the new aero kit. Concerning the tyres, there is a good chance we will be running Dunlops.'
In January, the entry list for the 2010 24 Hours of Le Mans was issued. On the list was Team Bruichladdich's Zytek number 41. For the 2010 season, Le Mans was an important race in which to gain entry. With its invitation, the new team could begin to prepare for the season and the 24 hour endurance test.
Two important questions needed to be answered before the team heading into the 2010 season. First, who would be the team's third driver? Secondly, just how fast would the Zytek, with the new aero updates, be compared to the other LMP2 competitors?
The answer to the first question would be answered. Very early in 2010, a deal was signed with young Thor-Christian Ebbesvik to be the team's third driver.
With its team assembled, Team Bruichladdich headed to Circuit Paul Ricard for the team's first shakedown tests during what was the Le Mans Series' official test session on the 7th through the 9th of March. Ebbesvik immediately felt comfortable behind the wheel and became very excited about the team's potential for the season. Ebbesvik also impressed Ojjeh who remarked, 'He only needs two or three laps to see what's wrong with the car.'
After the test sessions in March, the team received the newly updated car back from the Zytek factory. Greaves and Ebbesvik then took the car to Snetterton, in England, to test the updates. Only days later, the two drivers and the updated car arrived in Le Castellet, France for the first round of the Le Mans Series.
The first round of the Le Mans Series Championship took place back at the Paul Ricard Circuit in the early part of April. The first race of the season would be a strong test for the competitors. The race would not be the normal 1000km distance. Instead, the race would be an 8 hour race around Paul Ricard's long circuit.
At 3.6 miles in length, Paul Ricard's long circuit features a long back-stretch where top-end speed would be very important. This, along with being on the track with fellow competitors for 8 hours, would provide Team Bruichladdich an important test as it looked forward to the rest of the Le Mans Series and the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Prepared in proper red and white livery, the English-based team got on with its preparation for the first race of the season. Throughout practice, Team Bruichladdich was in the top-six in LMP2 in lap times. Very early on, the team recognized they still needed to squeeze some more speed out of its Zytek. They would do just that.
At the end of the third practice session, the team was up to third in LMP2. Only Strakka Racing and RML went faster. However, that was practice. The real pace of the competitors would become known a little later during qualifying.
What was noted after qualifying was that Strakka Racing was surely in a category unto itself. Danny Watts circulated the track with a lap time of one minute and forty-five seconds. Quifel ASM, driving a Ginetta-Zytek GZ09S/2, was 2nd in class, but over two seconds slower. OAK Racing's Pescarolo-Judd would start 3rd in class also with a time two seconds slower than Strakka. Ebbesvik would push the new Giinetta-Zytek 09S. His best time was three seconds slower than Watts' in the HPD ARX. Therefore, Bruichladdich would start the race 5th in class and 13th overall.
When the race got underway, so too did Bruichladdich's climb up the running order. After the first couple of laps, the team was sitting 12th overall. By the time the team had been able to complete 25 laps it was sitting 10th and looking to make its way into 9th overall.
The team would stay around the top-ten throughout the first 50 laps of their race. Struggles during a pit-stop would drop the team back down to its 13th overall starting position. Over the course of the last half of the race, the three Bruichladdich pilots just could not keep pace with the professional drivers of many of the other LMP2 competitors. Small issues would also keep the team from being able to truly sustain a climb up the order. Throughout the remainder of the race, the team would crack the top-ten, but would then slip back down the order.
Consistency and reliability were what the team was looking for throughout the course of the long first race. The team would get both. They would also come to realize there was more the car could give them if it continued to be tweaked. At the end of the 8 hour race, Strakka Racing would take the victory by thirty-three seconds over OAK Racing's number 35. The RML Lola would finish 3rd, one lap down. Bruichladdich's number 41 Zytek, driven by Tim Greaves, Karim Ojjeh and Thor-Christian Ebbesvik would go on to finish 5th in LMP2 and 12th overall. The team would complete 248 laps and would end up two laps down to Strakka.
Very aware of the competition around them, Ojjeh stated, 'There's a great potential although we have to work on a few things, with the objective of maintaining our position in the top 5 of the LMP2 class.' 'We increased the top speed as predicted, but we will probably need two or three extra days of testing to take the optimum out of the new design,' Greaves noted.
The next opportunity the team would have to hit the track against the competition would be in the early part of May. On May 9th, the team prepared to take part in the 1000km of Spa, which was the second round of the Le Mans Series for 2010.
The race at Spa has always been a favorite for the drivers since it takes place at the historic and fast Spa-Francorchamps Circuit. Though at one time a public road course, the 4.35 mile road course features long straights where the cars regularly approach their top-end speeds. In addition, the circuit boasts some very hair-raising, but fun, high-speed corners. Of course in its present layout, no corner at Spa is more famous than the climbing right-hand bend up the hill at Eau Rouge.
The 1000km would provide Team Bruichladdich a couple of firsts. This would be the first time Tim Greaves would set off on a run through the Ardennes in a prototype that wasn't a Radical chassis. Also, this would be Ebbesvik's first LMP2 race at the famed track. Bruichladdich would have some very important experience going in its favor as it prepared to take part in the race. Greaves wasn't merely familiar with the track. He had also been able to win at the circuit in the past.
Spa would provide the team the opportunity to see if it had come to better grips with the new car. The goal had been to find more speed to combine with reliability. In practice, it became evident the team had been able to find some more speed. After the first round, the team was second-fastest in LMP2. After the third session, Bruichladdich proved to be third-fastest. Hopes were running high for the team heading into qualifying.
In qualifying, the team's hopes for a high starting position in LMP2 were dashed when its engine broke right at the start. This failure would end up sending the team to the very tail-end of the grid. This was a devastating blow for the team as they would have to fight amongst the slower GT cars in order to be able to move forward. Throw the unpredictable Ardennes weather into the picture and Bruichladdich had a challenging race on their hands.
As the field headed out on the pace lap before the start of the race, rain began falling between Eau Rouge and Pouhon. This would make Bruichladdich's day even tougher as the rain would help to neutralize some of the performance advantages the LMP prototypes had over the GT cars. Therefore, coming up through the field, especially through the ultra-competitive GT field, would not be easy.
The rain falling, combined with the field leaving with slick tires, led to an immediate loss of grip from Eau Rouge to Pouhon. This led to an accident and a spin amongst some of the prototype competitors; all before the start of the race!
As the race started, the Racing Box Lola hit the inside tire-wall climbing up the hill at Eau Rouge. Debris was scattered across the track. However, Bruichladdich was able to avoid real problems having started so far back. Its car was able to avoid the debris and continued on, albeit under the control of the safety car.
When the race resumed its pace for the second time, the first few laps of the race saw the GT2 field running two, three-wide through some of the sections of the track. This effectively blocked the Zytek from being able to move forward. This was understandable from the GT2 point-of-view as the Bruichladdich Zytek was actually starting behind them on the grid. Therefore, the GT2 cars weren't merely letting a faster LMP2 prototype by as when being lapped, they would be allowing a position to be lost.
Nonetheless, Bruichladdich's drivers steadily picked their way up through the field. By the time the team had completed 10 laps, their car was sitting inside the top-twenty overall. In the course of the 10 laps, the team had gone from starting 50th on the grid, to inside the top-twenty! Of course most of those passes for position were against slower GT cars.
The early going was looking good for the team despite having to come from all the way in the back of the back. Ebbesvik was on a charge, but on the 15th lap, he would get tripped up. While attempting to turn into the hairpin, just before the front straight, the left-rear of the car was clipped by an Aston Martin GT car. This turned Ebbesvik head-on into the concrete barrier. The nose of the Zytek was heavily damaged. The impact took a toll on Ebbesvik. It was found during examination that he had broken vertebrae. Not only was Bruichladdich's race over, but with his back hurt in the shunt, Ebbesvik's racing was done until he was fit. This was terribly disappointing for the both the Norwegian and the English-based team with only a month to go before the 24 Hous of Le Mans.
Hopes faded for the Norwegian. On the 1st of June, just a few days before the team would head to Le Mans to prepare for the 24 hour race, Team Bruichladdich was at Snetterton for another shakedown test, but not so much for the car as for Gary Chalandon, who would replace Ebbesvik at Le Mans.
Ebbesvik's great misfortune would be truly fortunate for Chalandon. Gary would remark, 'I did not believe I would drive at Le Mans this year, I'm over the moon!' While Chalandon, and the team, were excited to be at the famed French endurance classic, they realized they had a lot to do in order to prepare for the race.
The whole team, including the very young Chalandon, needed to gain experience around the 8.46 mile public and private road course. McNish offered Chalandon advice saying, 'You will need the whole week to understand the circuit.' 'He was right,' Gary remarked.
Twelve LMP2 teams received entries for the 24 hour race. Therefore, the competition in LMP2 would be tight. Of course, with over 80 percent of Le Mans driven with the throttle wide-open, the top-speed of the different teams would be obvious. What became obvious was that the HPD engine in the Strakka, Highcroft Racing (from the American Le Mans Series) and the RML Lola had superior pace.
Danny Watts would put the Strakka HPD ARX on the pole in LMP2 with a best time of three minutes and thirty-three seconds. Its cousin, Highcroft Racing, would be second-fastest with a time only a second slower. RML would set the third-fastest time with a lap six seconds slower. Team Bruichladdich's best time over the two-day qualifying was a three minutes and fifty-one seconds. With a gap of eighteen seconds between its Zytek and the Strakka HPD, Bruichladdich started the race 7th in class and 25th overall.
The young Frenchman, Chalandon, would have the privilege to start the 24 hour race. He would also have the responsibility of staying out of trouble and getting the team into a comfortable pace. He would end up doing just that. Gary would end up dropping one place overall at the start, but would drive a comfortable stint behind the wheel and would keep the team up amongst the LMP2 leaders. By the 10th lap, Gary had managed to push the Zytek up to 23rd overall. However, over the course of Gary's first time behind the wheel, he would only manage to keep the team right around where they had qualified for the race. This was fine pace for the private entry though.
By the time the team had completed 80 laps it had made its way into the top-twenty and was carrying on with a very comfortable pace. Heading into the night, the team was looking very solid. During the nighttime hours the team would find itself holding its breath. On Tim Greaves out lap he would get tagged by an Aston Martin GT car, just like at Spa. Greaves carried on but realized the aerodynamics of the car had been damaged badly by the impact. The small, private team swung into action. Within eight minutes the team had built an all-new car. Chalandon took over in the car after the accident and went out and immediately began making up the ground lost in the stop by running laps close to his qualifying effort.
Besides the run-in with the Aston Martin during the night, Team Bruichladdich had been able to avoid real problems. As the sun rose on Sunday morning, Bruichladdich continued on and was sitting 16th overall and 5th in class. With a little over an hour remaining in the race, Bruichladdich was sitting inside the top-fifteen overall and still 5th in class.
At three in the afternoon on Sunday, June 13th, Strakka Racing would take the victory in LMP2 with a 5th place finish overall. OAK Racing's car 35, six laps down to Strakka, would finish 7th overall and 2nd in class. RML would complete 358 laps, nine laps down to Strakka, and would finish 3rd in class and 8th overall. Team Bruichladdich would also have a truly wonderful Le Mans. The team would finish the grueling 24 hour race having completed 341 laps. The team managed to finish 5th in class and 10th overall!
The young Frenchman, Gary Chalandon commented, 'Finishing my first 24 Hours gives a lot of confidence. I proved to myself that I have what it takes to do the toughest track race in the world.' Greaves added, 'Being 10th overall is a major achievement of which we are inordinately proud. Being a small, privateer team it certainly tasted sweet!'
After what could only be described as a truly successful 24 Hours of Le Mans, the team set out preparing for the third round of the Le Mans Series season, the 1000km of Algarve.
The Autodromo Internacional do Algarve in Portimao, Portugal, was completed in 2008. The modern sports complex features a number of modern amenities that make it a truly top-flight venue.
Le Mans Series racing first came to Algarve in 2009. The 1000km race consists of 17 turns around the new 2.90 mile road course. Its undulating layout reminds many of a shorter Spa or Nurburgring.
Many teams, at least in LMP1, were absent after Le Mans. Neither Audi nor Peugeot would take part in the race. This meant the LMP2 competitors would be vying for top overall positions in qualifying and during the race.
Riding the wave of confidence from Le Mans, Bruichladdich found the going tough during practice. Reality set back in. The team was still lacking the performance of the some of the bigger LMP2 teams. Throughout each of the practice sessions, the team sat either 5th or 6th fastest amongst LMP2 competitors. One silver lining the team had was that Thor-Christian Ebbesvik was back behind the wheel of the Ginetta-Zytek.
Not doubt wanting Thor-Christian to regain his feel behind the wheel, the car was handed to him for qualifying. Once again, Strakka Racing proved to be too tough as it would take the pole in LMP2 with a lap of one minute and thirty-three seconds. Portuguese-based Quifel ASM would take its Ginetta-Zytek and qualify 2nd with a time only a half a second slower. RML would start 3rd with a time over a second slower than Strakka. 4th through 6th in LMP2 were separated by less than a half a second. Bruichladdich's Zytek, driven by Ebbesvik, would start 6th in class and 10th overall after establishing a time just over two seconds slower than Watts in the Strakka ARX.
Though relegated toward the back in LMP2 after qualifying, the team's pace was improving. Ebbesvik appeared fit as well. Combined with the momentum garnered from Le Mans, the 1000km of Algarve would truly be a special race for the team.
Ojjeh would begin the race behind the wheel and found the first few laps not so easy going. Later on, he would find his pace. Troubles, however, would visit the team. A vibration in the car led the team to change the tires. It appeared the problem was resolved, but the team noticed a much more serious issue. Brake fluid was found on the tires just taken off the car. Immediately the Zytek was brought in to have the brake calipers changed. The repairs cost the team eight laps and dropped them out of the top-twenty-five overall.
It was not looking good for the privateer team. But not even the bigger teams are free from troubles in motor racing. Strakka and OAK Racing both ran into trouble and either dropped them out of the race entirely, or, well down in the order so as to be unable to challenge in LMP2.
When the 1000km of Algarve ended in the late evening hours a truly fantastic result awaited Bruichladdich. The team overcame the early challenges of the race and carried on strongly. RML would end up winning in LMP2 having completed 201 laps. The eight laps severely cost Bruichladdich. Were the team to have those laps back, it may well have been fighting for the victory in LMP2. Nonetheless, the team still celebrated a 2nd place finish in LMP2 and a 5th place finish overall! The eight laps lost for changing the calipers was the number of laps separating RML and Bruichladdich at the end.
Despite knowing the team had a chance at victory, the 2nd place finish would end up being a wonderful return for Ebbesvik after having to miss out Le Mans due to broken vertebrae. 'Christian's fully recovered from his fractured vertebrae,' quipped Greaves. What made the result even more sweet was the fact that it kept the team amongst the top runners in the LMP2 Le Mans Series standings. All that remained for the team were two more races in which to score points and it would have a chance to reach its goal of being in the top-five in the LMP2 standings.
The next round of the series, and the next opportunity for the team to score points, would come on the 22nd of August at the 1000km of Hungaroring.
The Le Mans Series race at the Hungaroring would be a historic affair. It would be the first time Le Mans Series racing ever competed on the 2.72 mile road course. But, the race itself would prove to be truly historic in many ways, and Team Bruichladdich would have the pride of knowing they took part in the historic event.
The surprises began straight-away during practice when Strakka Racing would be lapping the course less than a half a second slower than the diesel-powered Peugeot 908 of Team Oreca Matmut. Even Quifel ASM was within the top-five in lap times overall. Compared to Strakka and Quifel, Bruichladdich struggled.
In qualifying the record books began to be re-written in Le Mans Series racing. Strakka Racing would end up taking the overall pole with a lap of one minute and thirty-two seconds. Second, overall, would be the LMP1 of Rebellion Racing. In LMP2, 2nd on the starting grid went to Quifel ASM. They lapped the circuit in one minute and thirty-five seconds and would start 7th overall. OAK Racing's car number 35 would start 3rd in LMP2 and 8th in class with a lap time only three tenths slower that Quifel. Comparatively, Ebbesvik struggled. It was obvious the troubles they suffered during practice still inhibited the team from being able to take the time to find the best setup. Ebbesvik's best time was just less than five seconds slower than Watts' pole time, both overall and in LMP2. Bruichladdich would, therefore, start 7th in class and 12th overall.
Though the team would start further down than some of its LMP2 competitors, the 1000km of Hungaroring was already proving to be strange. As the team had done at Castellet, Le Mans and Algarve, if they would hold to their strategy for the race, and make no mistakes, better results would be there for the team.
Christian started the race and would be rather nervous behind the wheel for a couple of laps. Finally, he settled into a good pace. But the team was far from having their car sorted. Through the middle-part of the race the handling on the Zytek went away making for some real nervous moments for its drivers. Despite the team's problems, the problems for the LMP1 prototypes were more severe. Troubles were knocking cars out of the race left and right. By the time Bruichladdich had completed 140 laps in the race, the car was sitting in 4th overall. Unfortunately, a couple of minor collisions made the car very difficult to drive.
Strakka Racing, for the first time in history, would go on to score the overall victory. But the records weren't done being re-written. The top-six finishers overall were all LMP2. Included among them was Team Bruichladdich. Having lost its place to RML, Bruichladdich would go on to finish the wild race in 5th place overall and in LMP2! The wonderful result handed the team another nine points toward the LMS LMP2 championship.
Heading into the final round of the Le Mans Series, Bruichladdich was embroiled in a tight battle in the LMP2 title chase. Although locked in a battle, Greaves revised the team's goals. The team was shooting for 3rd in the LMP2 Championship. The OAK Racing Pescarolos were not too far in front of the team in points. However, the team's potential for a top-five finish in the points was also in jeopardy. The points totals were that close. The team needed to take advantage of every situation presented to them, but also, needed to take care so as not to provide its competitors any advantages as well.
The final round of the series took place at Silverstone in England. The Englishman, Tim Greaves, always looked forward to any opportunity to race at the circuit. Karim Ojjeh also has fond memories at the track. Therefore, the team was looking to end a very positive season with another positive result in the 1000km of Silverstone.
Straight-away, the team looked competitive. Throughout practice, the team was constantly in the top-three or four on the time sheets. The good pace in practice would continue during qualifying as well.
Strakka Racing's Danny Watts would take the pole for the race on the brand-new 'Arena' circuit. Quifel ASM's Zytek, driven by Olivier Pla, would lap the new 3.66 mile road course less than three seconds slower and would start 2nd in class and 13th overall. Quifel ASM had their sights set on Bruichladdich as they were their next immediate target in the Championship. Starting right beside Quifel on the grid was its target in the championship standings, Team Bruichladdich. Thor-Christian Ebbesvik lapped the circuit less than a second slower than Pla and would start 3rd in class and 14th overall. This was Bruichladdich best-ever result in qualifying!
Ebbesvik once again started the race behind the wheel. He followed the Ginetta-Zytek of Quifel ASM throughout his stint, holding onto 3rd place in LMP2 with relative ease. Despite the fact the Pescarolos of OAK Racing were making their way into the top-five in LMP2, Bruichladdich continued un-challenged in 3rd. Unfortunately, the easy-going race would go all-bad once Ojjeh took the wheel.
Strakka Racing's HPD ARX spun and clipped the back of the Zytek. Immediately, Ojjeh brought the car to the pits for repairs. On a whole, the damage was relatively light, but took a long time to repair. At a place like Silverstone, long stops don't just hurt, they hurt badly.
Once back on track, each of the drivers did their best to put together qualifying lap times in order to make up time. But it was too late. Third and fourth in the championship would just slip through the team's grasp.
Despite spinning and costing Bruichladdich's hopes of a better championship result, Strakka would recover to take the victory over Quifel ASM. OAK Racing's number 35 would end up coming through to finish 3rd. The damage, and the time lost in the pits as a result, left Bruichladdich to finish a very bitter 8th place in LMP2 and 19th overall.
Fifth place in the LMP2 Championship fight was of little consolation when the team had third or fourth within its grasp. Nonetheless, Team Bruichladdich could celebrate after an absolutely marvelous 2010 season. Ebbesvik recognized what the team had been able to do when he remarked, 'The fact that we were able to take the fight to the Quifel ASM team, the 2009 champions, in our first season is very impressive.' The results the team achieved made 2010 the kind of year to set the stage for a new beginning. And a new beginning is just what will happen in 2011.
Besides a number of regulation changes that will undoubtedly cause a rather unknown stir in 2011, one thing that is known for sure is that Team Bruichladdich will be no more. In the very early part of 2011 it was announced the Bruichladdich name will no longer be seen in Le Mans Series racing. Instead, the team would become Greaves Motorsport.
The move to rename the team is merely one part of a number of changes. Tim Greaves announced, yet again, that he would retire from racing to focus on running the team bearing his name. This perhaps is one of the moments Greaves has identified whereby taking such a step will only set the team up for greater opportunities in its future.
Only weeks after the final race of the 2010 Le Mans Series season, it was also announced, what is now called Greaves Motorsport, would run 4.5-liter V8 Nismo engines instead of the Zytek V8. In addition to the news concerning the team securing a new engine, the team also secured the talents of Gary Chalandon, who had substituted for Ebbersvik at Le Mans with good success.
Greaves' retirement, and the unknown situation with Ebbersvik, leaves the team still with one slot to fill. The team has been unable to find a suitable replacement as of yet.
Although facing a number of changes heading into 2011, Team Bruichladdich's 2010 season showed the team is on the verge of being a real contender in LMP2. The team's successful run at Le Mans, as well as its podium at Algarve, reveal the team is more than capable. Perhaps 2011 will be the realization of all that the team is capable of doing.