The two cars of Hughes de Chaunac's ORECA team dominated the top of the timesheets during the two day Le Mans Series test at the Paul Ricard La Castellet circuit.
It was an eventful week of the Le Mans squad beginning with the addition of Loic Duval to its driving stable as the third driver of the team's Peugeot 908. The team had secured the deal to take over the running of the only privateer diesel 908 over the winter, taking over from their Le Mans neighbours Pescarolo who ran a Peugeot at Le Mans last year.
ORECA's car was unveiled to the public the day before the test, the team's familiar, Mondrain inspired, blue, red and yellow livery adapted to be draped over the closed coupe machine, carrying the no.4.
But once the testing started on Sunday morning it was the petrol powered ORECA 01, conversely largely unpainted, that took the headlines.
The car, shared between ORECA regular Sohail Ayari, Andy Meyrick and Didier Andre. The car topped the first two sessions of Sunday running, peaking at a time of 1:43.259 around the HTTT facility, a full second ahead of their Peugeot stable mate. Though they missed out on sweeping the day by opting not to test in the evening session of a test that saw wintery conditions threaten running.
Times got still quicker on Monday, the ORECA 01 again fastest turning the fastest lap of the entire weekend on their 66th lap of the afternoon session, lopping three-tenths off their Sunday mark. It was that session that saw the only disappointment for the team, Nicolas Lapierre bring their new Peugeot coming to stop on track from where it had to be towed back to the garage.
The LMP2 class saw the HPD (Acura) 01c of Strakka Racing and the more familiar Ginetta-Zytek of the Quifel-ASM squad battle over the class honours, the pair consistently the fastest of the more than a dozen P2 cars that tested. That number was inflated slightly by the inclusion of the Formula Le Mans cars in the class despite the fact that even the fastest of FLM 09 teams was several seconds behind the slowest 'normal' P2 car and nearly ten seconds behind the fastest lap of weekend, set by Danny Watts aboard the Strakka car.
The testing the GT classes gave far fewer clues as to which teams may be a threat for the title. The four busier sessions (discounting the Sunday evening testing, when barely ten cars turned laps) saw three different teams top the time sheets. The dependable Aston Martin DBR9 of the Young Driver AMR team recorded what would turn out the fastest lap of the weekend on Sunday afternoon, before the Matech and Marc VDS teams gave the GT1 Ford GT a promising LMS bow by topping the remaining sessions on Sunday, though they were never able to get with four-tenths of the Aston.
The final class, was, as expected perhaps the most competitive, and held some of the big stories from the weekend. The field saw a late addition, with Prospeed Competition joining the test with their Porsche and drivers Richard Westbrook and Marco Holzer, the Belgian team looking to join the series after the postponement of the FIA GT2 series.
That left JMW Motorsport with a hole in its driver line-up, as Westbrook jumped from their GT2 Aston to the Porsche. However, it was the Dunlop-shod Aston that ran fastest in the first session, a 1:59.649 that also bettered all but one of the supposedly faster GT1 cars.
While that time was later surpassed – Prospeed ironically would set the fastest class time – the instant speed of the Dunlop tyres is certainly noteworthy, especially in a form of racing where the life-span and performance of tyres can alter results.
The Signature Plus team, running a customer Lola-Aston Martin on Dunlop rubber, were able to outpace the works machine. The dominant ORECA 01 was also on Dunlops, while the Peugeot – a faster car on its showings under the works banner – was never able to keep on with its Michelin tyres.
For a more certain measure of how the teams compare we know have to wait for a little under a month, before the series returns to Paul Ricard for the season opening 8 Hours of Castellet on April 9-11.