The challenging Spa Francorchamps track, set in the Ardennes region of Belgium, was the venue for the second round of the 2011 Le Mans Series. The Spa 1000kms as the six hour race was called for ‘marketing’ reasons was also a round of the Intercontinental Le Mans Cup. This meant a bumper grid of 55 cars and presence of the factory Audi and Peugeot teams in a dress rehearsal for the Le Mans 24 Hours that was to take place the following month. In order to avoid a TV scheduling clash with the Turkish Grand Prix, the race would take place on a Saturday.
The practice sessions were a mixed bag for the team, minor problems masking the true potential of the car, though Tom’s 2:10.565 was comfortably quickest in the second session. Multiple Red Flag periods interrupted the work on perfecting the car and made it difficult to reach the optimal set up. Qualifying continued this pattern and Tom posted a time 2.11.518 in his first set of laps, good enough for 5th place. The team made some planned adjustments to try and improve this effort during a second run. This attempt had to be aborted when the Qualifying session was brought to a premature conclusion with just under six minutes to go, owing to accident damage to the safety barriers around the course
Team Principal, Tim Greaves, commented after the session.
“We are satisfied with the overall situation. Our three drivers completed their practice laps in the past two days without incident. However there is a sense of what might have been, as we had a few tweaks to the set up that we are confident would have improved our grid position. We will have to try them in tomorrow’s warm up. That said, the tyres are in a good condition and we are looking forward to a competitive performance tomorrow.”
After an incident filled race, Greaves Motorsport managed to bring the car home in 8th place in LM P2 class to score valuable points at the Spa 1000 Kilometres. There were quietly confident expectations for the Zytek Z11SN – Nissan driven by Karim Ojjeh, Gary Chalandon and Tom Kimber-Smith when the car lined up on the grid in 5th spot at the classic Belgian track.
These hopes were dented early during Tom’s opening stint. After a good start he was forced to make a pit stop to cure a tyre issue which put the car out of synch with the rest of the class. The team switched to a slightly harder compound Dunlops and this change allowed Tom to run at a fast pace and the balance of his stint was without incident. Indeed due to the out of sequence pit stops his speed carried him to the front of the class.
The first routine pit stop saw him hand over the wheel to Karim Ojjeh. Karim settled into a good rhythm till an incident with car #33 saw both prototypes stranded in the gravel at Rivage. Karim was judged by the Stewards to be at fault and received a Stop and Go penalty. The net result of these incidents was that the Greaves Motorsport Nissan powered Zytek was over a full lap down on the class leaders before the half way point. Worse was to follow, as later in his stint Karim was forced to avoid another LM P2 car that was out of control but this reaction resulted in hitting the wall at La Source hairpin. The damage to the car was substantial but Karim managed to bring the Zytek Nissan back to the pits on three wheels, a distance of almost a whole lap.
As ever the Greaves Motorsport pit crew did a sterling job and managed to repair the damage and get the car back on track only 45 minutes later. Gary Chalandon took over driving duties but was soon back in the pits as the car had a vibration and it was thought a precautionary stop was in order. The diagnosis was a broken dive plane support but Tom Kimber-Smith was put into the car to reassure the team that all the problems resulting from the accidents had been sorted. The evidence to support this assertion was that Tom was fastest in class during his stint gaining back some of the time lost.
It remained for Gary to complete the six hour race with a double stint to take the car to the end. He drove the car safely to take the Chequered Flag at the conclusion of an eventful race.
The net result was 8th in class and a haul of 5 points to keep Greaves Motorsport in the top three in the points table.
Team Principal, Tim Greaves reflected afterwards, “It was a weekend of missed opportunities and what might have been, still that is Motorsport. The drivers and car showed class leading speed, and when the problems came the crew responded magnificently to get us back on the track. We hope that we have put any misfortune behind us and are all looking forward to the Big Race next month in France.”
Race Result: 8th LM P2 (37th Overall), best lap 2:12.899
Qualifying: 2.11.518 5th LM P2