For Greaves Motorsport the journey that started in the Provence region some six months earlier was about to arrive at the final destination, the Championships. In reality the journey had commenced back in 2006, now there was an opportunity to fulfil the ambitions of that team and all the teams that succeeded them in the following years.
The situation was quite clear, a single point would do, ensuring both the Teams’ and Drivers’ titles, and a point was on offer for pole position, all it would require was a safe pair of hands. There was tension within the team, so near, possibly so far, and that tension was racked up massively when Tom arrived in the paddock. He had fallen down the stairs at home in the week leading up to the race and fractured a bone in his right hand, and it was not clear whether he would be able to drive or for how long or at what speed.
There was some comfort from the first session when Olivier rose to the challenge posting a 1:33.103 to top the LM P2 time-sheets. He seemed pleased with his performance. “The first session is really all about taking braking points and learning the track again, it is two years since I drove here and that was in a 140hp single seater so this is quite different! The track is nice, but much more slippery than Silverstone, so we are working on grip at the moment. The car is already quite good but there is more to come. There are less cars here than at Silverstone but the difference between the classes is tiny, so that will make it an interesting race. There is certainly the chance for the team to have a very good result, but as we know, anything could happen.”
There were more encouraging signs for the team in session two, with Tom overcoming his handicap to almost match the young Frenchman’s lap time with a 1:33.385. The following morning in session three Tom confirmed his recovery posting a 1:32.477, though this was only good enough for second place. There was still much work to do in order to grab pole and secure the titles.
The mood in the pit was really focussed throughout lunch and during the interminable wait for the Qualifying to start. There was silence as everyone got on with their tasks, each acutely aware that the top prize was within grasp and how easy it would be to let it slip. Tom was confident and ready; he knew he had the lap time in him and it would be a question of what the others could do. The session started slowly and the team elected on a ‘wait and see’ tactic and with just nine minutes remaining of Qualifying out on to the track went Tom to pop in two laps, either of which were good enough for pole…1:31.888 and 1:31.800 ………he had done it…………and in the best possible style…………..
Karim Ojjeh,Tom Kimber-Smith and Greaves Motorsport were CHAMPIONS
Cheers, tears, hugs, high-fives and a sense of relief swept through the garage as each individual that made up the team saluted each other, and it must be said, themselves.
As the result began to sink in there were reactions from those involved.
“All the guys in the team should be up here, the team has given us drivers a car with fantastic reliability and pace. We have dominated three races and yet there are still two other cars in contention for the title, that shows how tight the competition has been.”
“We left our run for pole till late in the session, mainly to optimise track position. I would like to thank the team who all worked really hard and all deserve to share in the success.”
“It’s been a great season, one to dream of, and we very much look forward to a competitive six hour race tomorrow.”
“It has been an incredible season for the team. We started not really knowing how the opposition would perform, with new cars and new rules in place for 2011. We were confident about the engine programme with Nissan and they have proved to be faultless. We stayed with the Zytek chassis, which is well known and well developed; this combination, along with our Dunlop tyres, has given us the platform for success.
The drivers, Karim Ojjeh, Olivier Lombard and, of course, Tom, have driven almost without mistake, the performance at Silverstone in particular being key to our overall success.
Tomorrow we will have the chance to demonstrate the ability of the team and the drivers to exploit the full speed of the car. Today has seen the culmination of six years of hard work and is a proper reward for all the effort put in. I am looking forward to the race tomorrow and we will try and end 2011 on a winning note.”
It was race day at last. Though the pressure of the struggle to win the titles was lifted, there was still a race to win, a matter of pride and honour to prolong the winning streak and finish the season in the style of Champions.
Olivier was given the honour of starting and he did a fine job, slipping into the lead and gradually pulling away till an indiscretion saw him bouncing through a gravel trap but he recovered to retain the lead through the first hour mark. Karim was next in and struggled with an imbalance up front but once he had pitted and had a new nose section fitted, he got right back on the pace, making up the ground lost at the stop and handing the car over to Tom when his stint was done.
Tom was flying along but his charge to the podium was blunted by another unscheduled stop to cure an electrical glitch. This meant that third was the most that could be hoped for and that is where Tom found himself with the last laps in sight. Then the leader caught fire on the penultimate lap, a second place that looked unlikely at one stage was how Greaves Motorsport brought the curtain down on their Annus Mirabilis.
So Karim and Tom and the whole team were left to celebrate a famous set of victories, it had been a long, hard road………………
“It was my first start to a major race so there was a bit of pressure on me. This increased when I was passed for the lead on the second corner but I kept my cool and my concentration, so I was able to regain the position when the leader was held up in traffic. I then pulled away without problem, but I found it a very hard race physically but being in the lead made up for that.”
“My first season with Greaves Motorsport could not have gone any better, and for that I must thank the hard work of all the team. I hope it is the first chapter in a very long book…..”
“Early on in traffic I had lost the front deflector, then a louvre, so had to make an extended pit stop to replace these. With a new set of tyres the car was transformed and my lap-times were really good. I really enjoyed my time in the car, which was fantastic, a great way to finish the season for me. The best part was that Tom and I were able to help Olivier to grab second place in the Driver’s Championship, he really deserved that.”
“It was a really weird feeling, winning the titles on a Saturday and then racing on a Sunday.
I took over the car in fourth, a lap down, and just pushed hard to see if we could improve our finishing place. Aside from a minor electrical glitch, the car was really quick and I was able to post the fastest lap of 1:32.611. Late in the race, I was catching the leader and could smell his brakes on fire, bits of burning car were falling off in front of me, then he slowed and I got by.”
“Today we had the pace to win but just missed out. It has been a great season and I would just like to thank the team who have given us drivers such a reliable and fast car.”
“We had a few small problems that prevented us realising our full potential and we were naturally cautious looking to finish the season strongly. The team performed with their usual efficiency and it is down to them that we have achieved so much this year. We have been well supported by our partners and sponsors, in particular Nissan and Dunlop, who have made the victories possible. I really could not have asked for more from the 2011 season. Now the job is to build on this foundation for 2012.”