Tag Archives: Henri Pescarolo

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The Legend………………Chapter One

The 2000 24 Hours of Le Mans was the first chapter in the best seller that became Audi’s story at La Sarthe, the book is now finished, at least the first volume is. Who knows what might happen in the future?

And yet the Le Mans universe is a very different place these days from that of sixteen years ago. Then, as now, there were four classes, with factory entries but there the similarities end.


1998 and 1999 had seen high profile and high budget manufacturer projects at Le Mans from Toyota, Nissan, Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Porsche, with Audi joining in with their twin pronged approach featuring both open and closed prototypes for the latter year.

All of the above manufacturers left the House for 2000 except Audi who took on board the lessons from their comparative failure in 1999. Their answer was to create a new car which would turn into the benchmark for endurance racing in the first years of the 21st Century, the Audi R8.

First appearing at Sebring in the 2000 edition of the 12 Hour classic, it romped away to an easy victory, leaving rivals in no doubt as to the scale of the task they would face, come June, at La Sarthe.
Rivals? Ah yes, it was as if the ACO had issued a distress call across the Atlantic to replace the departing  Japanese and German outfits. In 1999 the American Le Mans Series was born and created a marketing opportunity for Detroit to match their products against the best. The opportunity was seized with both hands, not since George Patton’s Third Army had swung through Le Mans back in August 1944 had the Département de la Sarthe seen such a range of American firepower, although Bill Ford’s Armada in ’66 and ’67 ran Patton pretty close. Cadillac, Corvette, Dodge, Chrysler and Panoz represented Motor City and like Patton they were chasing the Germans. That however was where the analogy ends. George S. caught and beat his opponents………………

The rich history of Les Vingt-Quatre Heures du Mans allows it to have all manner of anniversaries each year, saluting some past heroes and their heroic deeds. In 1950 Briggs Cunningham stunned the French crowds by bringing two Cadillacs to La Sarthe, one an almost bog standard Coupé de Ville and the other a re-bodied streamliner, dubbed “Le Monstre.”

For 2000 Cadillac produced a conventional, in reality too conventional, open prototype running in the LM P 900 class. It was powered by a twin-turbo 4 litre V8, with Xtrac transmission and a chassis built by Riley & Scott. The aim of the project was to take an overall win in 2002 to coincide with Cadillac’s centenary. The whole project fitted in with GM’s attempt to change the brand’s perception of providing luxury barges to retired folk, the customer base was eroding with the passing of the years. That bit of the plan has, at least, happened, the 2002 LM-win did not.


A total of four Cadillac Northstar LMPs were entered, two for Team Cadillac which was created by Wayne Taylor out of Doyle-Risi Racing. Two cars were entrusted to the French DAMS outfit. However it was clear from the outset that these cars would not be competitive against the Audi squad, so expectations were managed down with “development year” talk. Marketing created a smokescreen with an infra red based camera system that was mounted in the car’s lights but no one was fooled, the whole project was seriously under-cooked and might have been competitive a few years earlier but the likes of Toyota, BMW and now Audi had moved the game on, massively.


Also with ambitions to win the 2002 Le Mans 24 Hours outright was Chrysler. As part of the journey to that destination they had enlisted their French racing partners, ORECA, who had run the successful Viper programme for them. They had purchased two new Reynard 2KQ chassis and shoehorned the 6 litre V8 into the rear. In reality no matter what they or anyone else did they stood little chance of success in the face of the Audi steamroller. The investment in new technology from Ingolstadt would dwarf the efforts from Detroit.


Ford were represented by proxy in the shape of Panoz LMP-1 Roadster S with the rumbling 6 litre V8s and their unusual configuration, the driver sitting behind the engine. There were two factory cars for Panoz Motorsport managed by the old lag, David Price.

There were two Roadsters from TV Asahi Team Dragon with Kazumichi Goh heading up the effort.


The final Panoz was that of the Danish outfit Den Blå Avis, which was a regular runner in the Sports Racing World Cup.


Another American legend to come back to Le Mans, was Mario Andretti. At the age of 60 he was rolling the dice one last time to see if he could win the one major race that had eluded him in his long and distinguished career.

 

Also crossing the Atlantic from the ALMS was the Team Rafanelli Lola B2K/10 with Judd power. This was a factory supported effort and was expected to fast but possibly fragile.


Another fancied Lola was the Konrad Motorsport example for the Dutch trio, Jan Lammers, Peter Kox and Tom Coronel. From this entry has grown the huge Dutch support for Le Mans. The Racing for Holland team followed on with the Drinking for Holland close behind or maybe that came first, oaks from acorns. Next year will see Lammers and the Dutch back at the 24 Hours, will he have a similar impact?


Peugeot were also represented at Le Mans 16 years ago. Henri Pescarolo, a four time winner and all round legend, had finally retired, so was now on the pit wall leading his Pescarolo Sport outfit running a Courage C52 powered by V6 turbo from the French manufacturer. A bit of a dark horse.

 

A second Courage was Judd powered and also French run but was not expected to shine in the face of the big budget outfits.

Keeping up the tradition of the privateer at the top table was Thomas Bscher’s BMW V12 LM. The team and car had finished a fantastic 4th overall in 1999, so they were quietly confident of being around at 4.00pm on Sunday.

Matching the Panoz contingent numerically was Reynard as there was also five examples of its prototype 2KQ on the Le Mans grid.

Arguably the best of these was the Judd powered Johansson Matthews Racing example.

Two of the Reynards were entered in the fledgling LM P675 class with werks turbo engines from Volkswagen, based on a rally unit that had run into homologation problems. They had limited opposition in what was easily the weakest class in the race.

The main challenge to the VWs in LM P675 was expected to be from the Multimatic Motorsport Lola powered by a V6 Nissan engine.

Which brings us neatly to the second part of the American Invasion. The LM GTS class would feature a titanic struggle between Le Mans returnees, (first time was 40 years previously, once again with Briggs Cunningham) Corvette Racing and the reigning champs, Viper Team ORECA.

 

The two camps had already gone toe to toe at the Daytona 24 Hours earlier in the year. Viper came out on top that time but their winning margin was just 30 seconds and they knew that it could have easily gone either way.

The three Vipers would be opposed by two Corvettes, real Detroit heavy metal, as 8 litre V10 battled 7 litre V8, Ali-Frasier-style, a classic Le Mans encounter.

Doug Fehan’s Corvette team have graced the 24 Hours of Le Mans ever since 2000, but it could have gone horribly wrong that first year. This lot look like they have just escaped from the set of ‘Allo ‘Allo………………………

The supporting cast to the factories in LM GTS were three Vipers, one entered under the Team Goh banner but in reality a Chamberlain Engineering effort.

2000 also saw the final hurrah for the Porsche 911 GT2 at Le Mans, Freisinger and Konrad trying to match the Vipers and Vettes.

 

The LM GT category was a Porsche monopoly, all 12 entries being the 996 GT3 R models. There were two examples that were head and shoulders above the rest, Larbre Compétition was, as ever, proudly flying the Tricolour and had former winner Christophe Bouchut leading the challenge.

America’s best hopes in LM GT rested on the Dick Barbour Racing factory supported entry. Young German stars, Lucas Luhr and Dirk Müller were guided by Bob Wollek who would make his 30th and final Le Mans start that year, losing his life in a pointless road accident the following March.

Race Engineering was the first Spanish team to enter Le Mans and was under the leadership Alfonso de Orléans-Bourbon, Duke of Galliera, who raced at Le Mans  previously. The team has gone on to great success in single seater racing with many stars such as Sebastian Vettel, Justin Wilson and Lucas Di Grassi coming through the ranks in their cars.

The forecast was for a scorching hot weekend, conditions that come to that part of France sometimes in June. Would the favourites win or as they often do, would they stumble along the road? Find out in part two later this month.

John Brooks, December 2016

Six for C60 – David meets Goliath

2014 Automedon

There were a number of ex-Le Mans cars at the recent Parisian Classic Car Show, Automedon, held at Le Bourget.

2014 Automedon

The most modern veteran of Les Vingt-Quatre Heures du Mans was the Pescarolo Sport Courage C60 in 2003 specification and livery. So that comes with the Sodemo-tuned 3.2 litre V6 Peugeot engine.

2014 Automedon

I got the books off the shelf and was surprised to discover that this chassis C60 03 had competed in no fewer than six editions of the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Or at least that what my research shows. I think I was able to confirm this with the great Henri, hopefully I have not lost anything in translation in tracing the history of the remarkable car.

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The La Sarthe saga starts in 2001 when chassis #3 was entered in the LM P900 class as #17 with the talented line up of Jean-Christophe Boullion, Laurent Redon and, local lad, Sébastien Bourdais. Powered by the twin turbo 3.2 litre Peugeot V6 engine prepared by Sodemo, the car had already put miles under its belt by racing at Sebring, Barcelona, Donington and Monza. In Qualifying Bourdais wrung the neck out of the car to record a 3:39.789 which, in the era of Planet Audi and the R8, was good enough for thirteenth place, though its race pace was expected to be closer to the German superstars.

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Expectations in the 2001 Le Mans were soon deflated and then virtually drowned as the heavens opened and the race became a fight for survival. #17 was in the top five at the end of the first hour getting up to third by Midnight. That was the high water mark for the local favourite as the gearbox needed replacement and this costs 25 minutes and six places on the leader-board, but at least they get back into the race.

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Le Mans often reserves its full cruelty to those it has already wounded and #17 fell victim to this capriciousness. After a great comeback performance, from Bourdais in particular, fifth place was within grasp during the Sunday morning. Then with just over two hours to go a suspected weakness with a piston forced the C60 to wait in the pit till the last lap when they limped across the finish line to ensure classification back where they had started in thirteenth.

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A year heals some of the hurt and chassis 03 returned to the great race in 2002, determined to make up for the disappointment. Two cars were entered and this time 03 was given #18 slot. There had been substantial changes to the team with the arrival of André de Cortanze and Claude Galopin to bolster the technical side. De Cortanze’s influence could be clearly seen with with the sleek new aerodynamic body hiding the familiar C60 chassis.

Pescarolo Sport enjoyed the reputation of being a team that punched way above its weight, especially when the relative budgets available to factory teams such as AudiSport were considered.

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The drivers of #18 were to be former winners, Eric Hélary and Stéphane Ortelli and ex- Formula One driver, Ukyo Katayama. While it was unlikely that they would trouble the works Audi R8 trio, this was a dark horse team capable of a good result. Nevertheless problems in the Qualifying periods meant that Ortelli’s 3:41.237 was only good enough for 18th.

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Come the race the Pescarolo squad faired much better, still way off the Audi R8s but getting stronger all the time the race progressed. #18 edged into the top ten after Midnight but that was far as it would go, an oil leak caused engine failure and retirement, it is a hard to understand Le Mans sometimes.

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Fast forward twelve months and the team and the car were back with a new major sponsor, PlayStation. C60 03 was once again entered as #17 and was entrusted to Franck Lagorce, Stéphane Sarrazin and Jean-Christophe Boullion. The car had been further developed under the guidance of de Cortanze and was a regular winner in the FIA Sports Car Championship.

Practice and Qualifying went well for the team, with Boullion proving the fastest in the squad at 3:40.839, good enough for 11th overall. This year the works Audi R8s had gone but in their place were a pair of Bentley Speed 8 coupés and they were strong favourites for the race.

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The first issued encountered in the race came at around 19.00 when there was an unscheduled pit stop to change a brake calliper that was causing the brakes to lock, eleven minutes and nine places were lost as a result. The fight back began in earnest and by the halfway mark, the #17 was back into the top ten.

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Thereafter the car ran well with the only other problem being the car catching fire as it crossed the finish line taking the Chequered Flag. Eighth place, four laps in front of its sister car was a solid result, reflecting the quality of the whole team.

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The 2004 edition of the Le Mans 24 Hours saw the 03 chassis renamed as a Pescarolo C60, reflecting the enormous amount of development that the team had put into the original concept. Another major change was that of engine, with a 5 litre V10 Judd replacing the Peugeot unit, this course requiring a major revision to the car. Experienced Emmanuel Collard joined Pescarolo old boys Sébastien Bourdais and Nic Minassian on driving duties. The whole programme exuded a quiet confidence that the gap to the privateer R8s was finally bridged and that the team could have a serious shot at victory in their local race.

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Qualifying and practice went well with Bourdais posting a 3:34.252 for fifth place overall, less than two seconds behind pole sitter Johnny Herbert in the Audi. Things were looking promising for Pescarolo Sport.

As anyone who has followed motor sport at Le Mans will attest, promise often turns to disappointment at the Circuit de la Sarthe and for #17 that was the case. Running a strong fourth the car lost over seven laps while in the pits having a problem with the injectors rectified. The race for victory was lost for them but there was the honour of the team to fight for, getting the car to the finish in the top six would be the aim.

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The climb up the order was helped by a race of attrition that saw two Audis collide on spilt oil, causing them both to suffer serious delays, but this progress was halted when Bourdais hit a stationery car on track. As if this was not enough #17 had to change the alternator belt. The struggle to get back up the leader board began all over again and at the mid point in the race they had recovered to eighth, some eleven laps behind their team mates. Bourdais was involved in another racing incident just after dawn on the Sunday morning but was still running in eighth position.

Then with around 4½ hours to go the call came in on the radio, Bourdais had ground to a halt at Les Hunaudières after the engine failed. Game over. If there was any consolation to be had it was that their sister car scored a fantastic fourth place.

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2005 saw another major set of changes to the regulations governing the prototypes, these were aimed to increase safety and control performance. New cars complying to these rules were mandated by 2007 but recognising that such changes were not financially viable in the short term for the non factory outfits, there was a set of compromises introdced to accommodate a more gradual transition to the new rules. Keeping the old cars running was possible, at some cost to performance. The middle ground was to adapt the old cars to comply with most of the new features and this route, known as Hybrid, was the path that Pescarolo Sport followed.

André de Cortanze and Claude Galopin excelled themselves creating a package that was both fast and reliable. In fact the team found themselves as favourites for the big race as they easily outpaced the Audi R8s. Chassis 03 was employed again as the basis for the #17 Pescarolo C60H, its drivers were Pescarolo regular Eric Hélary who was joined by Soheil Ayari. Making his début at Le Mans was Rallying legend and World Champion, Sébastien Loeb. The stakes were high, the fastest car and France’s greatest sporting hero, the pressure was all on the team.

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The best way to deal with such pressure is to perform, Ayari did so by setting the fastest time on a wet Wednesday evening. The following evening, in dry condition he was pipped to pole position by Collard in the sister car, Pescarolo Sport had locked out the front row!

So the race got underway under scorching skies with the whole French nation behind their favourite team, how would the dream pan out?

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Well despite pulling away from the rest of the field at a rate of five seconds a lap it was not an easy ride. Hélary collided with a GT and that cost five minutes repairing a steering arm. So despite breaking the lap record on several occasions their progress back to the top was slow, impeded by a puncture at the four hour point. Then around Midnight Ayari was hit from behind and the ensuing repairs took 23 minutes dropping #17 down to fourteenth, it would be a long night.

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The early morning sun found the car back up to fifth and then disaster struck, Ayari flew off the road at the PlayStation Chicane, #17 was out of the race damaged beyond repair. There would be no fairytale ending for Henri Pescarolo and his team that was running 03 but there was great result on the other side of the pit box with #16 finishing second, so near, yet so far.

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Another year passed and once again Pescarolo Sport entered Le Mans with a pair of their C60 cars, including the great warhorse, 03. Running in the familiar #17 guise, the 2005 driver pairing of Hélary and Loeb were joined by Franck Montagny, then a current Formula One driver. The opposition would once again come from Audi who were back as a works outfit running a brace of diesel powered prototypes. The general feeling in the paddock was that it was now or never for Henri, the diesel technology was unproven at this level and even Audi might stumble, also there were rumbles of others looking at programmes notably Peugeot. Once that spending and technology war was declared even the best privateer teams stood little chance.

De Cortanze had once again worked his magic, as had Judd, making detail improvements throughout the car and engine so that the package was stronger than 2005 but would it be enough?

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The first signs were encouraging, especially after the Test Day when a demon lap from Montagny at 3:30.195 was nearly two seconds quicker than the best of the Audis. The situation was reversed during Official Qualifying but the Pescarolo Sport outfit monopolised the second row behind the two Audis with Montagny posting a 3:32.990 complaining of traffic. Whatever the reason, Audi knew that it had a real fight on its hands.

However in the race it soon became apparent that the Audis were quicker in race trim that the Pescarolo and had significantly better fuel economy, so it would all be down to reliability.

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The first chink in German armour came just three hours into the race when Kristensen was forced to pit to change injectors, losing 21 minutes in the process. One Audi down, would the other last?  The next sign of hope came when fifth gear failed on leading Audi but great work by the crew got it back out and repaired in ten minutes. However other than a headlight change around dawn this was the only problem encountered by the #8 Audi who never surrendered their lead but the #17 Pescarolo C60 kept up their challenge running in second place for over 20 hours.

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That is how it played out at the finish Pescarolo Sport got both cars to the finish, Collard, Minassian and Comas producing the come back drive of the race to grab fifth in #16. Their team mates almost got there taking second spot behind the Audi. Chassis 03 had ended its illustrious career on the highest possible note.

It is difficult to look back now and see how hard the small French outfit had pushed the factory Audis and then consider that they have been forced out of business. The reasons are many and varied, but it is also true to say the Endurance Racing and the Le Mans 24 Hours is the poorer for their absence. Pescarolo Sport were one the great Le Mans competitors, performing miracles on a shoe string budget, they are much missed.

Salut Maddie et Henri!

John Brooks, November 2014