A new chapter in the illustrious history of the Monza circuit was written over this past weekend, with the running of their first event in the World Endurance Championship. And the result was an exciting race that challenged every team and car. With hot and dry running, with air temperatures in the thirties and track temperatures in the fifties, everything was stressed to the limit, a good exercise prior to the proceedings at Le Mans next month.
At Toyota, the season seems to have been running one car smoothly and one with troubles at each race, with usually the #8 having all the luck, and the #7 car of Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and José María López picking up issues and setbacks.
However, this time it was roles reversed, with the #7 car starting on pole, and taking the chequered flag, one minute ahead of the #36 Alpine car. But their run was not without incident, a puncture requiring a pitstop for a tyre change, and then a stop out on the track to reboot the telemetry systems aboard the GR010 Hybrid.
José María López remarked, “This is endurance racing and things can happen and today pretty much everything happened. It was a crazy race, but we managed to bring the car home and win the race. It's not always the case that the quickest car wins but we had a very strong weekend and that is very motivating for Le Mans.”
For the #8 crew, it was a difficult day, with many extra stops for firstly an electronics reset, then we witnessed the mechanics having to change the entire front left corner as a damaged hub was machining swarf inside the wheel. Their final issue was a loss of fuel pressure, an initial short stop to resolve the issue only delaying the need for a much longer stop of to replace various parts of the fuel system, and would lose them forty three laps as a result, their finishing fourth in class as a result.
These delays made the running interesting at the head of the field with Alpine #36 having a relatively untroubled and reliable run. They were making the most of this, and were in contention for the lead if the #7 car had needed to make a green flag splash before the end. But a full course yellow, caused by sections of kerbing being dislodged at the Ascari chicane, enabled the Toyota to take their stop while the rest of the field was running at Full Course Yellow speed, and killed off the possibility of the Alpine being closer at the end.
The undoubted revelation was the pace of the Glickenhaus team, able to field their second car at only their second race, and set lap times during the race that were comparable with the other runners. Such was their pace midrace that for one and a half glorious laps, the #709 car of Romain Dumas, Richard Westbrook and Franck Mailleux held the lead of the race, before the team made an enforced pitstop to replace brakes which lost it three laps but, with the second Toyota’s issues, enabled the team to take its first class podium in third place.
Their second car, the #708 of Pipo Derani, Gustavo Menezes and Olivier Pla had to stop early in the race to diagnose a loss of power and replace a broken spark plug. Their running however subsequently ended at half distance, with terminal gearbox issues.
Because of the delays encountered by Glickenhaus and Toyota, an LMP2 was able to climb onto the overall race podium in third place, as well as the top step of the class podium. That honour fell to United Autosport’s #22 crew of Filipe Albuquerque, Phil Hanson and Fabio Scherer who saw off the impressive challenge of the #31 WRT team, who had secured pole position the day before.
The difference in their relative times came as a result of the #31 taking a regular green flag pitstop, and the others not being able to due to the safety car being called for removal of debris and track cleaning following the GTE Am #33 having a tyre explode, littering the track with rubber, carbon fibre and metal parts on the run down to the Ascari chicane. Most of the other class runners were forced to make an emergency stop for fuel only, then return to the pits once open for normal service. The WRT team subsequently realised after the race, that they were eligible to take the drive around lap when resetting the running order but they did not take it, possibly due to inexperience in their first WEC season.
Driver Ferdinand Habsburg said “In the end, we had a screw-up in the safety car where we missed our wave-by. We missed out on an opportunity to win and it had nothing to do with pace or any errors. It was just a missed opportunity. We learned from it and we will have a procedure in place to not have that happen again.”
Third in LMP2, and winner of the Pro/Am section went to the Racing Team Nederland #29 Oreca, running with a revised crew of Nyck de Vries, Frits van Eerd and Paul Loup Chatin, after both Giedo van der Garde and Job van Uitert tested positive for COVID-19.
JOTA had a difficult weekend, their #28 car crashing during qualifying with Stoffel Vandoorne aboard, which also meant the #38 car was not able to set a time in the red flagged session. The #28 recovered to take fifth place, but the #38 car suffered a number of electrical and engine issues, was not classified at the finish, and gave up their championship lead as a result.
After Kevin Estre had done yet another of his amazing pole position laps in the #92 Porsche 911 RSR-19 he shares with Neel Jani, it was assumed that they would run away with the victory. However, the ACO technical officials have got the Balance of Performance for the two types of cars just about right, with the Porsche and Ferrari teams in close proximity all race long. The gap between first and second ultimately came down to the #51 Ferrari of James Calado and Alessandro Pier Guidi needing a late race splash and dash with just two minutes to go to make the finish line.
In third came the #91 Porsche of Richard Lietz and Gianmarina Bruni ahead of the #52 Ferrari of Miguel Molina and Daniel Serra, despite picking up damage on to the front-right side of his car when he hit the #47 Cetilar LMP2 car of Roberto Lacorte, who spun in front of him at the exit of the second Lesmo corner.
Being in Italy, and with eight Ferraris on the starting list, it seems only appropriate that one of Italy’s finest should come home first in class. AF Corse duly took the honours with the #83 car of Francois Perrodo, Nicklas Jensen and Alessio Rovera by 45 seconds at the end, despite starting from the back of the grid following qualifying, after being disqualified for insufficient ground clearance.
Driver Alessio Rovera said in the post-race conference, “The race was more enjoyable starting from the rear. But we knew that the car was really fast, especially on the straight, so I just pushed to the limit and try to overtake when I can. We enjoyed a lot the race and we really fast in all of the stints, especially Francois and Nicklas, so I'm really happy for this result and a big thanks to the whole team.”
Second and third on the podium was an all Aston Martin fight, with the #98 Aston Martin Racing Vantage of Augusto Farfus, Paul Dalla Lana and Marcos Gomes heading the much revitalised #777 D’Station team car of Tomonobu Fujii, Satoshi Hoshino and Andrew Watson which finished just 0.8 seconds behind, the result only being settled by an overtaking manoeuvre on the final lap.
Pantomime hero AND villain of the class this weekend was Ben Keating in the #33 4 Horseman Aston Martin Vantage. On the Saturday, he secured the class pole position by almost three quarters of a second for the car, and was running well for the first two hours of the race. However, he tried to extend the life of his tyres for too long, and had one blow out at speed. Instantly shredding the wheel arch, bodywork and ancillaries, it forced him to make a lengthy pitstop for the team to rebuild the car, and brought out the only safety car of the race.
The next event is the big one of the season, the Le Mans 24 Hours, on the 21st/22nd August, and the teams now have four weeks to repair cars and make ready their challenge.
Text: Steve Tarrant
Pictures: AdrenalMedia.com and Toyota Gazoo Racing