1992 Formula One champion Nigel Mansell labelled his team's performance at the Le Mans Series (LMS) test at Paul Ricard “fantastic” as their Beechdean Mansell Motorsport Ginetta-Zytek machine was consistently among the fastest cars at the two day event.
The team, formed over the winter will see former Williams, Ferrari and McLaren F1 driver team up with his sons, Greg and Leo for a full season in the LMP1 class as well as entering the Le Mans 24 Hours in June.
The team did battle with a full track – some 40 teams were entered into the test – and frigid temparatures that forced the team to abandon all thought of taking part in Sunday's night testing, a session that saw snow fall on the southern French La Castellet circuit.
Much of the running was done by Greg, and elder brother Leo. It was Greg who took the driving duties first, the new team and driver (Greg spent most of 2009 in World Series by Renault) immediately on the pace, the 22-year-old's fastest lap only seven-tenths slower than the fastest time of the morning, set by the French ORECA squad.
“We’ve made some good progress with the development, working closely with Dunlop and there is more pace to come. I’m pleased to be setting times close to the leading pace set by the Orecas,” he said.
“This track, with the long back straight, is going to show up any weaknesses and we’re pleased with the result. I think Zytek have done a fantastic job with the engine, it’s pulling very well and I think it’s exciting to see what we can do this season. We’re certainly moving forward as a team.”
The following day Greg was once more on form, recording the third fastest time of the session, again behind the pair of ORECA entered machines, before Leo took over the car, shifting the emphasis from speed to race preparation with a full tank of fuel, a role he filled on both days setting consistent lap times.
The only troubles of the test afflicted the Mansell patriarch. A red flag for another incident on track brought an early end to a flying stint on Sunday before enduring a scary moment on Monday.
The 56-year-old was only two laps into his stint when a piece of debris damaged the back of the car on the back straight, briefly sending the car airborne. Mansell landed safely and was able to bring the car, which carried his famous number five, back to the pits.
“I had a problem in the last session when I hit something on the back straight and went airborne momentarily, which brought the test to an end for us,” he explained later. “However considering the weather conditions; that it is our first proper test with big opposition and all the other competitors, it is an outstanding achievement to be so high up the order at the first outing. We’ve obviously got a lot of hard work ahead of us but we have a good base to build on now.”
We came here to learn more about the car, which we’ve done and to finish in the top three this morning, and to finish in the top five yesterday, is absolutely fantastic,” said team principal Andrew Howard.
“We now need to use the data we’ve gathered to go forward from here. The car seems very well suited to this circuit and in terms of the competition we’ve seen here in the last two days we are very comfortable, so we’re looking forward to the first race at Paul Ricard next month.”
Photo credit: © 2010 Yann Seite