The Nogaro round had proved to be a successful start to the season for the four Corvette teams, as PSI and Luc Alphand Adventures had both come away from the opening two races with decent results. What was clear, however, was that the Oreca Saleens had not shown their full potential, and at Ledenon, the Vettes were to feel the full force of Saleen in 2007.
The No. 9 Saleen of Raymond Narac steamed straight into the lead, while behind him a fast-starting Laurent Cazenave in the SRT C5-R disposed of the Aston Martin DBR9 of Patrick Bornhauser to move into second. Bornhauser soon had his hands full fending off the second Saleen of Bruno Hernandez, while Yvan Lebon in the PSI Experience C6.R led a tight pack comprising the Tarres Team Saleen of Eric Debard, and the C5s of Gabriel Balthazard and Jean-Claude Police.
On Lap 10, Cazenave seized the initiative and muscled the Vette ahead when Narac hesitated in traffic. Just three laps later, Hernandez did likewise to move into third ahead of the Aston. With pit stops approaching, the field almost seemed to draw a collective breath before arriving in the pits en masse. Only the leading C5 of Cazenave delayed stopping.
When Cazenave's co-driver Eric Cayrolle did take the wheel, he inherited the lead, a few seconds up the road from the two Oreca Saleens. Within a lap, tire problems had planted Frederic Makowiecki's Aston in the kitty litter, leaving the top three cars to fight to the finish. With their "number one" drivers aboard, the Saleen duo quickly closed the gap on the leading Cayrolle.
While the SRT man did his best to resist, Soheil Ayari shot past him on Lap 25. Laurent Groppi did the same one lap later, by which time it was just a question of which of the Oreca cars would take the win. With Ayari feeling the effects of 80 kg of success ballast, Groppi overtook him on Lap 35 and disappeared up the road to victory. Cayrolle was quick enough to hold onto Third, just ahead of the PSI C6.R of Christophe Bouchut. The brakeless C5 of Police and Mathieu Zangarelli limped home in Fifth.
Look familiar? This Oreca...
Look familiar? This Oreca Saleen-driven by Raymond Narac and Soheil Ayari-appeared at the 24 Hours of Le Mans earlier this year. It currently leads the championship-points race in FFSA GT.
With the two Saleens on pole for Race Two, it appeared the Vettes would have their work cut out for them, and thus it proved to be. Ayari, having been on the end of a beating by his young teammate the day before, immediately put the move on Groppi and pulled into an early lead. This left Groppi to fend off the attentions of Bouchut in the PSI C6.R. Just behind, Makowiecki in the Aston continued his difficult weekend, dropping behind Olivier Thvenin's Saleen and Jerome Policand in the Luc Alphand Adventures C5-R.
The whole race appeared to change when a mistake from Thvenin caused his Saleen to leave the track and Groppi was given a drive-through penalty for passing under yellows. But when the Saleen re-entered the race just behind Policand and Makowiecki, Groppi had trouble disposing of them before the pit stops.
The stops had little effect on the result. Ayari's efforts in the Saleen had left Narac with a healthy lead, and Groppi's penalty had given C6.R pilot Bouchut a comfortable Second that Yvan Lebon would take to the flag. Bornhauser in the Aston did all he could to pressure the Third Place Oreca Saleen in the final few laps, but with little realistic chance of taking the opposition. And finally, the Cayrolle/Cazenave C5-R took a lonely Fifth, ahead of the fading Alphand C5 of Balthazard and Policand.
Just two weeks after Ledenon, the FFSA circus arrived at the classic Dijon circuit with the Corvette teams looking to cut the early-season advantage of the Oreca Saleens. What they hadn't banked on was a helping hand from the organizing body, which between rounds had controversially imposed a 1mm reduction in the S7's air restrictors.
While it was debatable whether such a measure would have any great effect on the Saleens' dominance, Oreca was less than impressed and threatened to leave the champ-ionship for good at the end of the weekend. Clearly such a move would have had a detrimental effect on the series, and perhaps the only way it could be avoided was if the Saleens were once again to dominate.
The Luc Alphand Adventures...
The Luc Alphand Adventures C5-R of Gabriel Balthazard and Jerome Policand has thus far proved the most consistent of the Corvette entries.
With the championship-leading Saleen on pole, it seemed that just that would happen. Cazenave in the SRT C5-R had different ideas, however, leaping ahead at the start and immediately pushing hard to establish an insurmountable lead. Just behind, the Aston Martin DBR9 of Bornhauser pulled the same move on the second Saleen. The three other Vettes in the field lined up in sixth, seventh, and eighth, with the PSI C6.R in front until a mistake by Lebon dropped him down the order.
At the head of the field, Cazenave was setting a terrific pace, but try as he could, he was unable to drop Narac's Saleen. After 13 laps, the pair were as many seconds up the road, and it was then that Narac slipped ahead. Defiant, Cazenave fought back. In traffic on Lap 20, he moved the C5-R ahead again, while behind him the Aston Martin was fighting to hold back the second Oreca car and the fast-closing PSI C5-R of Police.
All that became irrelevant when a slow pit stop dropped the Aston from contention. Good work by the PSI crew, meanwhile, got the No. 16 C6.R back out in third ahead of its teammates. The loser in the stops was the SRT Vette, with Cayrolle emerging in second and a good 10 seconds behind the lead Saleen.
With victory seemingly assured for Ayari in the Saleen, all eyes turned to Bouchut, who was putting in one of his customary charges. Within seven laps, Bouchut had overcome an 8.5-second deficit to Cayrolle and moved into second behind the leading Saleen. It was not to be, though, as Ayari had plenty in reserve and cruised to the win. Still, it was a commendable showing for the Vettes, which placed Second, Third, and-after a tire-smoking effort by Policand at the end of the straight to pass Groppi's Saleen-Fourth.
The SRT C5-R of Eric Cayrolle...
The SRT C5-R of Eric Cayrolle and Laurent Cazenave briefly led Race 1 at Ledenon, but it couldn't fend off the Oreca Saleens and had to settle for Third. The Cayrolle/Cazenave Vette currently holds Fifth in the points standings.
A comfortable win for Saleen in the first race all but negated the argument that preceded the event over the air-restrictor reduction. It appeared that any hopes for a Corvette win would rest on how the lead Oreca car dealt with its 120 kg of ballast.
The start proved fairly quiet, with the PSI Vettes the only cars showing aggression on the track. Bouchut was pushing hard in the C6.R but was unable to make any headway against the lead Oreca Saleen and the Tarres Team Saleen of Thvenin. Slightly behind, Zangarelli had jumped two places to fifth, though within a few laps it was apparent that his C5 could not run with the front runners, and he began to fall back into the clutches of Makowiecki and the Aston.
It was 20 minutes before Makowiecki was able to get past, but the conservative pace of the front runners had left him only four seconds behind the fourth-place Saleen of Ayari. As so often happens, the pit stops had a major effect on the outcome. Hurrying out of the pits, Hernandez gunned the leading S7-R hard before the exit line and incurred a drive-through penalty for his eagerness.
The penalty should have given the lead to the Tarres Saleen, but Debard spun the car on the same lap, giving first place to Lebon in the PSI C6.R. Incredibly, it was only one lap before the No. 17 Vette toured into the pits with a flat front-left tire. Scarcely able to believe his good fortune, Narac now led in the Oreca Saleen. Despite the ballast and air-restrictor penalty, Narac was able to run at a comfortable pace to the flag.
Further evidence of the Saleen's undiminished pace was being displayed by Hernandez, who put in a storming drive to recover to Second by the finish, passing the Tarres Saleen and the Larbre Aston Martin in the process. Bornhauser was having his best race of the year in the Aston, using traffic to snatch Third just four laps from the finish.
And the best of the Vettes? Police and Zangarelli brought the PSI C5 home in Fifth, while Balthazard and Policand landed in Sixth to end another disappointing weekend for the marque.
|Championship Positions |
|Drivers ||Car ||Points |
|1. Narac/Ayari ||Saleen S7-R ||158 |
|2. Hernandez/Groppi ||Saleen S7-R ||116 |
|3. Balthazard/Policand ||Corvette C5-R ||83 |
|4. Police/Zangarelli ||Corvette C5-R ||78 |
|5. Cazenave/Cayrolle ||Corvette C5-R ||67 |
|6. Lebon/Bouchut ||Corvette C6.R ||63 |