18 July, 2010
Le Mans Series: Round 3 – Portimao, Portugal
Just as it did at Ricard and Spa, the GT2 class provided the lion’s share of the drama in last night’s Le Mans Series race at Portimao, the ‘1000kms of Algarve’. CRS Racing had hoped the Portuguese race would provide a lucky break for the team but a catalogue of tyre problems slowed the prancing horses’ progress and the top results slipped out of reach.
Both CRS Ferrari 430s ran well during the free practice sessions, showing the competitive pace demonstrated at the two opening rounds of the Le Mans Series. In qualifying Tim Mullen fired the No.91 Ferrari into third place, right behind the two AF Corse Ferraris. Phil Quaife was unlucky in the No.90 car. The young British driver competing in his first LMS qualifying session had been on a good run but encountered traffic when his tyres were at their best and had to settle for 11th.
When the race got underway yesterday evening, Kirkaldy held third place and set off after the two AF Corse cars. After 20 laps all was well: Kirkaldy was still in third and Phil Quaife was also running well in traffic. The calm never lasts for long though in an LMS race and on lap 21 the first of the tyre problems occurred. Quaife picked up a puncture and immediately pitted for new rubber.
“We weren’t too surprised with the first puncture as the prototype cars had been shedding bits of bodywork all over the place,” said CRS’ Mark Busfield. “One of our cars came in during the race with a big piece of carbon sticking out the front of it and the other came in dragging a huge piece of Astroturf, which can’t have done much for our aero!”
The team took the opportunity of Quaife’s early stop to make the first driver change so Pierre Kaffer jumped into No.90. Just a few laps later Kirkaldy had a puncture, which looked a lot more dramatic as the entire tyre carcass came away. He pitted, the tyres were changed and Tim Mullen took to the track.
Unfortunately during Mullen’s stint the No.91 car suffered another puncture and then when Kirkaldy was back behind the wheel he started to feel a tyre vibration so pitted for checks.
“We had no tyre concerns at all during the practice sessions,” continued Busfield. “So to then have all these problems is a bit of a mystery. Andrew quite rightly came in when he felt the vibration and you can imagine how nervous something like that can make a driver feel when he has to be committed at every corner.”
Once both CRS Ferraris had their pit stops put out of sync it was hard to make up the time. The GT2 battle never lets up so the slightest problem is enough to put you to the back of the pack. Kirkaldy and Mullen battled on to eighth place, while Quaife, Kaffer and Pierre Ehret, fought on in the searing heat to 11th place, which was no representation of their efforts.
“Again it’s a real shame as we were on for a podium with the No.91 car,” said Busfield. “Andrew was very comfortable in third and, okay the Bruni/Melo car was in a class of its own, I think we c! ould have out paced the second AF Corse car. We had the speed, the ca r was faultless mechanically and all of the work in the pits was good. The problems meant that we were forced to short stint and that, combined with the slow runs to the pits to stop delaminating tyres damaging bodywork, is where we lost all the time.”
The next race will be another hot one as it is in Budapest in August. CRS Racing will be there, looking to finally turn its competitive performance into points.