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European Le Mans Series 2013 Hungaroring 3 Hours

13th - 14th September 2013

Event report

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The European Le Mans Series continued in Hungaroring two month after Austrian race which we reported two months ago. The race is once again part of the World Series by Renault. This actually means that the two practice sessions are held on Friday and the qualifying on Saturday morning, the same day as the three hour race starts. So there is no warm up session and also not enough time for repairs should any team have serious troubles during the qualifying. Unlike last time in Austria, the ELMS team now share pit garages. Good news for the teams makes it harder to access for other visitors except the pit lane pass holders. The weather is quite nice and sunny at the moment, on Friday morning, about one and half hour before the morning session. The joint event with WSR is a good deal for the ELMS spectators as they can access the race once again free of charge. On the other side, we as journalist we unhappily surprise with the price for the Internet connection, which was quite high € 30 + VAT. So this time we are posing only the final report after the meeting. We also plan to visit the second race of the ADAC GT Masters race in Slovakia, which will start on Sunday after the lunch.

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Entry overview

The entry is pretty much similar to that one in Austrian Red Bull Ring. Greaves Zytek appeared on the entry but actually had no drivers listed and is not here. So the LMP2 has exactly the same cars. In LMPC class for Oreca Formula Le Mans 09 there is one car missing so we have only three entrants. LM GTE has lost second Proton Competition Porsche which is partly compensated by a new entry in the GTC class - the Easy Race Ferrari. The DKR Lola, which did not arrive to Red Bull Ring, was originally scheduled to race here but the car caught a garage fire weeks before the race and actually never appeared on the entry list. Thus now defunct manufacturer Lola seems to have disappeared from the series as the only other Lola as the season started was a coupe of HWM Status GP, which is already away from the series after its Le Mans accident. To summarize it, we are down one car compared to Austria

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Practice 1

Le Mans Series has in fact returned to Hungary after three years. To remind that 2010 race, it was notable for two reasons. In qualifying Strakka Racing HPD out-qualified all LMP1 cars and set pole position with fantastic time or 1:32.431. The second achievement that made the race so notable was a fact that none of the five starting LMP1 finished the race without troubles and that the Strakka team could celebrate not only LMP2 victory but also overall victory. Only seventh was the LMP1 winner - Mansell Ginetta-Zytek ahead of better of the Rebellion Lolas.

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This year we have here of course just LMP2 cars but since they dominate also the first ever Le Mans Series race three years ago, we can hopefully compare them. Today it was Oreca-based Alpine that set the pace in the first session. If we compare it to the Strakka time in 2010 on the same track, Signatech Alpine team is three second down the Strakka pace three years ago. Yes, back then LMP2 was no cost-capped and basically became a base for LMP1 class since 2011. But still it might be interesting to try to compare those two Hungaroring races. LMPC and GTE class seems to have improvement by about 2 seconds, at least based on times in the first free session. They were only called Formula Le Mans (FLM) and GT2. It was still the time GT1 cars were racing - but they were dying and the Saleens were not even quicker than the GT2 top cars. But what is most notable change? The total number, while we are happy with 26 today, back then it was almost 40. And it was pure LMS race, so no Audis, no factory Peugeots and other ILMC cars which preceded current WEC.

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So apart from the track action we will try to follow how the current LMP2 cars are able to close their counterparts from the 2010 race. So far Signatech Alpine's time 1:37.529 is very likely to be improved. But could it be improved by 5 at the time of qualifying? We seriously doubt it. No only because the cars are very close and every second of improvement is a rather big one, but also because within the time span of 5 seconds two of three LMPC entries also fitted - and they are so much slower, especially on the straights. Second and third in LMP2 were Murphy Prototype Oreca and Jota Sport Zytek, the only other cars under 1:38. Already mentioned LMPC category was led by the private Algarve entry ahead of two factory Orecas. The GTE class is currently led by JMW Ferrari but unlike in Austria the rest of the Ferrari armada has been until new beaten by three Porsches in order of Proton, Prospeed and IMSA. The GTC class has currently two SMP cars at the top ahead of the Lamborghini of Kox - different chassis than in Austria and thus probably the only changed cars since the last race. In 30 minutes the second session starts and we will see how big the improvements are. In Austria it was usually within 2 seconds.

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Practice 2

During the second practice the weather was a bit more changeable. It started like the first one, i.e. nice sunny weather. But soon the sun disappeared behind clouds and by the middle of the session even some rain drops fell down. The sun then made a comeback but the rain was so small that we could not spot any signs of a rainbow. In any case the track remained dry during the entire session and as expected many teams improved by a second or even more. Alpine's time from session one would be now good only for the seventh position. But Alpine's Panciatici improved by almost a second and it was enough to set the quickest time once again. On the other side this all proves how equally matched the top LMP2 cars are. Slightly off pace are two Orecas, one of Boutsen Ginion and the other is the new team SMP.

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However the Alpine's times from the second session were disallowed due to Panciatici's overtaking under yellow, as we learnt just after writing the previous paragraph. In any case this time cancellation has no real effect on the performance of the cars which are now our main target.

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In the LMPC class, the number 48 factory Oreca made a huge improvement by almost two seconds and moved from third to the first position. Neither of the other two cars could match their morning's performance.

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The GTE class was now more reminiscent the situation from Red Bull Ring: First two Ferraris and among top 5 only a single Porsche. Two of three Porsche improved, however in was far from being sufficient. In any case Proton Competition Porsche seems to be strongest of the Porsche teams, while JMW won both sessions not only among Ferraris but also entire GTE class. However two RAM entries are not far behind. Would these three Ferraris repeat their podium battle from the Austria? Well possible but we hope that at least Proton Porsche would add to the mix.

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GTC class is only about Ferraris. They are easily one-two-three, even beating the third GTE Porsche (Prospeed Competition). Lamborghini and BMW, which add the wanted and needed variety in GTC (which is effectively a GT3) class, were fourth and fifth respectively.

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Qualifying

Unlike original weather forecast predicted, since the early morning it is raining and raining. The qualifying sessions starts in one hour and even if it stopped raining now, the track will not be dry anyway. So our comparison to the fastest times of 2010 came to an end too, even before the session started.

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Bad news for the qualifying and track condition in general. The Formula Renault qualifying, which preceded the ELMS session, started under yellow and even though many cars went off. When it was green flagged after about 10 minutes, before anyone could do a flying lap, the session was stopped (red-flagged) altogether. Despite it is not a heavy rain, the track conditions are simply not suitable for racing.

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In fact the Formula Renault 30 minute session was red-flagged many times but always restarted. So the GT classes took part at scheduled 9:40. This time we stayed in the Media Center, there was no point to follow the action in the rain or take photos in Turn 3 as we originally planned. Thus we could follow all incidents and times live. With a few minutes in the session when just TV monitor switched on we had already crashed SMP Ferrari in the pits (Frolov in no.72) and AF Corse Ferrari no.55 off course. Neither of the cars would continue the session. Then our notes look like this: Lamborghini no.60 spin, Porsche no.67 spin, no.60 spin again, RAM Racing Ferraris running slow and then for most of the session in the pits (saving cars for the race?), after 8 minutes GTC in top 2 (1st no.62, 2nd no.69 both Ferraris), Bertolini on Ferrari no.66 is the only quick GTE and set 2:22 for the provisional pole. Later improves to 2:19 while Mancini in the new Easyrace Ferrari GTC is second at 2:20. Next note is no.62 Ferrari in off course trip but returns and next lap setting pole with 2:17. Ferrari no.66 is the only GTE in top 5. Then Ferrari no.83 went off course and session was red-flagged. Since it was at the very and of the session, it would not be restarted. Unfortunately, this disabled final lap of car no.69, which was running at the limit but getting the red flag in the final turn.

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This all off course raises a question as how the red flags are use in the sessions. It is really stupid especially in a qualifying session when in the first sector some car runs into the gravel and another cars that ran at risk and the limit almost entire lap is red-flagged a few meters before the finish. In fact red-flagging completely spoilt the LMP session, so that before the cars were able to complete pit-out lap and one measured flying lap, a red flag was usually shown. In the end car no.18 Murphy Prototypes Oreca took the pole position and most of the prototype cars were able to pass the GTC/GTE field during the first few laps but then there was absolutely nothing interesting on the session interrupted by red flags so often that nobody could actually set any time, not to say an improvement. At least that are already behind the reason of the incident should be allow to complete their laps. Or the qualifying session should be longer once again, just like it used to be in the past when short rain showers could not completely spoil the grid. Now we hope that for the race time the rain gets smaller or disappear so that we avoid the situation from Silverstone where a large portion of the race was held under safety car and the race was stopped early.

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Race

As the day progressed it stopped raining but the track was still very wet. And the choice of tyres appeared to be the greatest decision for entire race. Sometimes even drivers of the same team could not agree on set of tyres, such as confirmed by Murphy Prototypes drivers. The final decision was on the driver that started. And in case of Murphy Prototypes, which started from the pole position, the full wet tyres appeared to be the right choice. It was quite clear in the first laps that some teams choose well, some not. Surprisingly SMP Racing Oreca took the early lead but Murphy Prototypes appeared in the front during the first lap. The third was Alpine but then it was a real mess. Fourth position was taken by Oreca LMPC car no.48 followed by Zytek Jota LMP2. The next car was a real surprise. No other prototypes could match the pace of Imsa Matmut Porsche, which was running sixth for a long time!! All other LMP2 and two Oreca FLM 09 were struggled, we believe on intermediate tyres. Car no.4 of Boutsen Ginion Racing, which by the way lost driver John Hartshorne for the race as he did not set the qualifying minimum, was mixed with GTC cars, which were now generally quicker than almost entire GTE field. Morand Racing Morgan was even much further back and two Orecas no.1 Thiriet by TDS Racing and no.34 Race Performance had a crash in the first laps. While no.1 returned to the track with a couple of laps delay, the Race Performance cars would not be seen on the track any longer after completing only two laps. Another car with an early spin and long pit stop was LMPC Oreca no.48. The remaining blue LMPC Oreca was simply outpaced on their tyres and ran behind many of the GT cars.

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Alpine's Michelin appeared to perform better in the wet, so they soon overtook SMP Oreca for second. And it did not take too long till they caught the leading Murphy Prototypes. It was very easy for them to move ahead and since then the Alpine simply had no opposition. Generally the speed differences create during the early wet periods were so big that the field was so much split that there was basically no chance for other but the top three LMP2 to take on the podium. Later the Zytek no.38 increased their speed at overtook the LMPC car ahead and then also SMP Oreca. During the race they had a good fight for second with the Murphy Prototypes car. Unfortunately for the Zytek, they got a puncture, and it was at the beginning of the circuit so they had to complete almost entire lap. Even though, they would still appear second for a while depending on the pit stops, however the final positions would be Alpine first, Murphy Prototypes second and Zytek/Jota third. SMP had a great race by their standards and finished only one place behind the podium. A bad luck had the Boutsen Ginion car no.4, which during pit stops was briefly second behind the Alpine and after having recovered from the back positions when the track became more suitable for inter-mediates. But then the car hit troubles and very, very long pit stop took away any chance for a good result from the team.

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In the GT classes, later in the race the GTE cars were finally able to overtake their GTC counterparts as it was drying. But still several cars had not their day. Lamborghini did not start at all. We are not sure about the reason but it was seen in the Parc Fermé for entire race. Fastest GTE in qualifying the yellow JMW Ferrari had a bad race too. They ran very far back in field and later when the track dried and they could improve, some issues delayed them in the garage for a long time, so they might not even be classified. At the end of the race two cars collided - AF Ferrari GTE no.54 (the slow one) and BMW Z4 GT3 (GTC) of team Ecurie Ecosse. For the Ferrari the race was over immediately, while the BMW with broken front suspension slowly reached the pits but was not repaired in time.

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The GTE class was won by a Porsche but not that early quick Imsa Matmut but rather Proton Competition that manage to bear both RAM Racing Ferraris, which had a slow start after almost ignoring qualifying but as the track tried they were very strong as usually. In GTC it became a battle between the two SMP Ferraris after some very good early performance of newcomer Easyrace Ferrari, which later faded away. In the end it was no.69 they overtook no.72 in the penultimate lap. Not sure if no.72 had problems or just let the car no.69 pass by as we saw it running very slowly on the main straight while having a clear lead.

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It was generally an interesting race though most surprises and excitement did not come from the direct battles on the track but rather from very difficult race conditions which at times resulted in rather unexpected positions and situations. The championships are still very close and the final decision will be made next month in Paul Ricard near Le Castellet, the fifth and final race of the season.

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