The Circuit Paul Ricard was the dream of French entrepreneur, Paul Ricard, who owned the land up on the Plateau du Castellet. Famous for the aniseed flavoured drank that bore his name, he built an airfield on the site in 1962. A few years later, inspired by the renaissance of French motor sport in the 1960’s he decided to create a state of the art racing circuit next to his airport. Designed with input from leading French drivers of the time, such as Jean-Pierre Beltoise and Henri Pescarolo, it opened in April 1970. The track was an instant success, hosting Grand Prix for both Formula One and Motorcyles and many other important events, such as the Bol d’Or. In 1999 the site was sold to Bernie Ecclestone who transformed it into the Paul Ricard High Tech Test Track, which was used exclusively for testing. A local consortium acquired the track in 2008 and restored competition to the circuit.
The Provence region of France is a chilly, unforgiving place during the tail end of winter, even when the Sun shines. The Mistral blows especially hard down the Straight that takes its name from that famous wind. Le Castellet is high up in the mountains above the summer resort of Bandol but there is nothing recreational about the track during an international event, at least for the teams.
The first race is the moment of truth, success or failure and the manner of how those twin imposters arrive and are dealt with, usually defines a whole season. The crew at Greaves Motorsport were quietly confident, despite the setback in Italy, but until the engines are fired up and the clock stops at the conclusion of the first set of flying laps it is difficult to assess accurately where one is relative to the opposition.
What a difference a week makes, as just seven days before the 6 Heures du Castellet the Zytek Z11SN – Nissan of Greaves Motorsport was largely a set of components awaiting assembly after the pre-season testing accident. So when Tom Kimber-Smith topped the timing screens in that first session the team knew instinctively that they had experienced a defining moment, 2011 was going to a season where they would always be in contention.
That feeling continued even after Tom failed to get pole position, the car and driver failing to operate in total harmony. Perhaps, he offered as an opinion later, he was trying too hard and that the years away from the sheer effort of qualifying laps had left him more rusty than he had appreciated. Nevertheless Tom posted a strong third place in the highly competitive LM P2 class. His time of 1:50.008 was good enough for an impressive seventh place overall.
Afterwards, Kimber-Smith was pleased with the result, especially considering the circumstances.
“The guys did a great job rebuilding the car to such a high standard. We have had no problems either with set up or reliability and that is a testament to their hard work. I was also happy with my performance, considering that I have been out of the sport for the best part of two seasons.
We feel the Zytek Z11SN – Nissan will have a strong race pace, maybe better than the Orecas that have proved quicker over one lap. The plan is to stay out of trouble and be consistent, the results will then follow.”
Team Principal, Tim Greaves, was equally satisfied with the Team’s result.
“ This is some reward for the long hours that the team put in to get our Zytek Z11 SN- Nissan to the grid. We were at a potential disadvantage due to our lack of testing but there were no problems with the set up and the car has shown a good turn of speed. So has Tom who has driven today as if he has never been away from the sport. We hope that we will turn this qualifying performance into a solid race result tomorrow.”
The strong Qualifying performance translated itself into a dream result as Greaves Motorsport scored a maiden win in their first race in the LMS LM P2 class and also a fantastic overall podium place behind the leading pair of LM P1 cars.
The team’s Zytek Z11SN – Nissan driven by Karim Ojjeh, Gary Chalandon and Tom Kimber-Smith completed 179 trouble free laps of the Paul Ricard High Tech Test Track to defeat a tough field in the LM P2 class.
A strong opening stint by Tom, that avoided the first lap dramas, set the team up for a good result. This position was consolidated by fast and reliable performances from his team mates, Karim and Gary, in their spells behind the wheel, leaving the young Englishman a clear run to the Chequered Flag and class victory.
This situation was made possible by great team work, first in the preparation of the cars after major pre-season problems. Then during the race the pit stops went like clockwork and the drivers executed the pre-race strategy, which combined the aims of speed and consistency. The conclusion was an almost perfect result.
After the race the drivers reflected that they had outlasted the opposition, Karim said “It’s very good to start the season with this positive a result but we shouldn’t forget how fast the Orecas were today. They were faster but they had problems and we didn’t!”
Tom expanded on this theme, “The chassis feels the same as it did when I last raced it. We know the engine is very strong now and we knew before the race that the Orecas would qualify quickly and would be fast today.”
“Our job was to stick to our plan and we were lucky that the Orecas both hit problems – I do believe though that our pace and consistency was good enough that we’d have been right there with them at the end even if they hadn’t hit trouble.”
Final word went to the overjoyed Gary, who just could not stop smiling after the podium, “It’s only my second race in LM P2 after Formula Le Mans. It was good to have such an experienced team and experienced team-mates with me here.”
Race Result: 1st LM P2 (3rd Overall), best lap 1:50.998
Qualifying: 1:50.008 3rd LM P2