The opening skirmishes in Greaves Motorsport’s 2011 campaign produced a mixed set of results but definitely laid the foundations for the victories that would follow.
With the aim of blowing the cobwebs away, the team took two Radical SR8s down to the Provence in the south of France. The Circuit Paul Ricard was the venue for the Winter Series, with nine races held over three weekends. Karim Ojjeh triumphed in seven of these events, partnered by Paul Thomas(3), Jacob Greaves(3) and Gary Chalandon(1) to take overall honours in the contest. It was great way to start the year and motivated both the team and drivers to even greater efforts in the chase for success.
The driver element of the team gradually became clear, with the line up of Karim Ojjeh and Gary Chalandon confirmed for the full season and Thor-Christian Ebbesvik for the Le Mans Series only. The third driver for Le Mans, assuming that the team was granted an invite, was not announced but was later to be revealed as Haruki Kurosawa. Kurosawa would later be forced to withdraw from the race as a consequence of the terrible Great Tsunami that hit Japan in March that year.
With the benefit of hindsight it would be fair to say that the roots of the team’s success in 2011 were formed, in reality, midway through the previous year. Contact with Nissan was made with a view to developing their VK 45DE engine to LM P2 specification. Nissan’s reputation for building powerful and reliable engines made them an obvious partner for Greaves Motorsport, given the prior relationship with the Japanese manufacturer enjoyed by Paul Thomas, the Team’s Engineer. Late in 2010 the management flew to Japan to conclude the deal and one vital element for the pursuit of perfection was in place. Adding this to proven combination of the Zytek chassis and Dunlop tyres meant that the team was in a good position to compete for honours.
The installation of the new Zytek-prepared NISMO V8 engine into the venerable Zytek chassis, now re-designated Z11 SN to reflect the various modifications required, went without problems and the initial test programme went well instilling a quiet confidence in the team. This mood was deflated when the car, a veteran of four Le Mans 24 Hours, was severely damaged during testing after an accident at Imola’s Aqua Minerale corner, with Ebbesvik at the wheel.
The fall out from the accident would have far reaching consequences for the team and the season. The team headed back to base and the tub was delivered to Zytek’s Repton factory and it was hoped that the necessary repairs could be concluded in time for the first race. At first analysis the damage was severe and it would be a close thing as to whether they would be racing at Le Castellet. In the short term Greaves Motorsport would be forced to miss the Official Le Mans Series Test at Le Castellet and it soon emerged that the young Norwegian had parted company with the team. The team members worked long hours to repair the damage to the car but managed to do so in time for the first race, the 6 Heures du Castellet. There certainly would be no further opportunity for the team to test, the rebuild would have to be right first time, more late nights, more pressure on the guys in the
Greaves Motorsport also announced the signing of a new driver, Tom Kimber-Smith, who would prove to be one of the key elements in the success that would follow. Kimber-Smith had been a promising young professional driver, signing with Mercedes-Benz on their Junior Driver programme, but had almost retired from the sport after winning the GT Class at Le Mans in 2006.