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European Le Mans Series 2014 - 4 Hours of Red Bull Ring

19th - 20th July 2014

Saturday report

European Le Mans Series returned to Red Bull Ring exactly after one year, the same dates 19th-20th July. Somewhat interesting. Last year the race was held on Saturday, this year it planned on Sunday, so this became possible to have an exact dates repeating ... on RSC founder birthday... :-). Well, while last year the ELMS was just a support race to a full Renault Weekend race programme, this year it is pretty quiet around here for a lot of time. Apart from the ELMS race, which was thankfully prolonged to four hours this year, we have here only eleven cars from the only support race: powerful formulas running in Auto GP race. In practice today, they were about 4 seconds faster than LMP2 cars.

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Red Bull Ring improvements

What made very good first impression, when we entered the Red Bull Ring, was a new facility for media centre, above the newly covered main grand stands. It was an obvious improvement compared to the last year. It really reminded that Formula 1 returned to Austria several weeks ago, and Austrian organisers were very well prepared. Everything is quite modern and very nice looking. Also the solution is rather interesting. The Media Centre is now located on the opposite side of pit lane, so it is possible to follow entire race from here and not to lose anything in the pit lane, main straight and also notable part of the circuit.

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Despite what had been told and despite really very hot weather, our plan for tomorrow is the grandstand behind the first turn after the finish line. It is a very good place in Red Bull Ring for everybody who prefers to keep overview of entire race - rarely any part of the track is no visible from there.

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Today, on Saturday, we have only practice sessions for ELMS, two parts of 90 minutes track time. All went quite well, there was not a single red flag or anything, we are not aware of any accident. All cars nicely circulated around the track altogether for three hours. Apart from Gulf Porsche in part 2 and Proton Porsche in part 1, which did 26 and 28 laps in their sessions respectively, all cars covered over 30 laps in both sessions, most commonly something between 40 and 55. Not that it would be that important but we cannot recall many trouble less practice days like this one.

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Entry

The entry was reduced by a few withdrawals, some of them very last minutes ones. Murphy Prototypes Oreca, which was listed two weeks before the race was withdrawn first. Loeb Racing followed a few day before the race, for unclear and not accepted reason, which actually led to a very high fine, as we read in the Decision no.4. Five thousand Euros payable and 15 000 Euros suspended until of the year, in case the same infringement happened again. When we arrived at the track today, we learnt that also one of the GT competitors is missing. It seems to have been the second Kessel GTE Ferrari entry that disappeared overnight before the event.

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So we have here 33 cars. In fact we discovered one more. A spare unused Morgan LMP2 of Pegasus. While they usually race the highest Pescarolo 01 chassis number 20, they have here also chassis 16, which was used by KCMG in the last season. Altogether we are down by four cars compared to Imola, the last ELMS meeting, which we also visited and reported. On a positive side, several new cars appeared here, so the Le Mans series in Europe is still very much alive and with the coming LMP3 class, it should be even greater next year. We get shortly back to the LMP3 press conference later. The new or interesting entries here were: second Greaves Motorsport Zytek - a chassis not used (according to our knowledge since 2011). Proton Competition Porsche returned to ELMS for the first time this year - using team's traditional blue colours was another welcome entry. The team was, as usual, supported by two faithful fans from Netherlands in their blue cloths and big banners on the main grandstand.

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And of course, new but expected entry was the Ligier JS P2, of Thiriet by TDS Racing, which replaced their Morgan used early in the season - the pre-Le Mans part. It is a return of a closed coupe LMP2 car into the LMS after more than a year, when Lola of Status GP made its last appearance in May in Imola.

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Practice sessions

Since the times in practice session were pretty well matched and since there were no real issues, it was not really that much important what the actual positions were. In any case in a close competition Race Performance - the only Oreca by name in the field, after the two LMP2 withdrawals - and Morand Racing Morgan, swapped their positions in the two sessions. The Ligier, our favourite cars, but also among the most difficult to access in the garage, improved from 5th to 3rd keeping Jota Zytek and Signatech Alpine behind. All these cars ran between 1:24.1 and 1:24.6. Only Pegasus Morgan and two Greaves Zyteks were slightly lagging but hopefully not too much. 1:25.7 for Pegasus, the last LMP2 seems OK.

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The GT class is now by far from being that dominated by Ferraris as in Imola, but Ferraris were still fastest. Aston Martin split the Ferraris in session 1 by being third (moreover GT3-based GTC class had McLaren at the top) and Porsche did well in session 2 when beaten the lone Aston plus all Ferraris but the top three. Imola Ferrari dominance when they were easily top 10 in GT is gone, probably thanks to BoP - something which makes current GT racing a bit too artificial, so it is hard to say, which GT car is actually the best these days.

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LMP3 press conference

A few word to the LMP3 press conference, which was held in between the two practice sessions (qualifying is planned for tomorrow, just like in Imola). The cars would be very similar looking to the current LMP1 cars, with all the favourite equipment, including rear fins, holes over the wheel on one side, and close cockpit on the other side. They should look decent; weight almost 900 kg, some parts will be shared and supplied by Oreca. Development of a car would be frozen into 3-year period, rules are guaranteed unchanged for 6 years minimum, with engine/gearbox capable of 10 000 kms of running. The main goal is to create an alternative to GT3 in the prototype racing and also to keep the cost as low as possible - these includes not only price of car, but also spares, maintainability, number of people running the car (crew of 4 member, while current LMP2 usually have 8 at minimum) and some more. Apparently 6 manufacturers already showed their interest so we hope this effort ACO will bring their fruit to recruit more top level sports car racing teams.

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We also asked Mr. Gérard Neveu, who was also present at the conference, whether there is change of increasing the number of races in Europe, either WEC or ELMS. It however seems unlikely, unless the global economics is not much better. So we can only dream of the WEC calendars se we remember from 1970s or 1980s. A particular question to a Brno ELMS race, which was cancelled two years ago: very, very unlikely, which means not impossible.

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