Over the years we have brought you a number of blogs from various drivers and teams giving you a unique behind the scenes insight; This year is no different and we kick things off with United Autosports team owner Richard Dean as they test their new Ligier LMP3 ahead of the 2016 season.
The 2016 season on-track action started early for United Autosports with a January date in the diary for a two-day test at Paul Ricard. The first of our new Ligier LMP3 cars having been completed a very impressive five weeks early by the Ligier factory in Magny Cours, France.
We went to Paul Ricard with four of our six drivers confirmed for the upcoming European Le Mans Series and high hopes for the year ahead. It was going to be the first time our Ligier JS P3 had been driven in anger, after our initial shakedown at an extremely cold Blyton Park in Lincolnshire, one Friday afternoon in the first week of January.
Alex Brundle, Mike Guasch, Mark Patterson and Matt Bell arrived at the French circuit excited for their first taste of the Ligier. Mike and Mark, who had flown over from America for the two-day test, had seat fittings in the car the evening before the test, while Alex and Matt looked on (they’d already had their seat fittings back at the workshop). It was great to have the team back together – Mike having driven for us in 2010 and 2011, and Mark and Matt being our British GT pairing for a number of years. It was also exciting to have new recruit Alex with us, bringing with him valuable knowledge of prototype racing.
Day one of testing on Wednesday could not have gone better, especially to say the car was new to all four drivers. We ran over 120 trouble free laps and were immediately under the pole position time from the European Le Mans race at Paul Ricard last September. It was the first time Mike and Matt had driven an LMP3 car, although Matt had completed the shakedown at Blyton, while Mark and Alex have been racing in LMP2 in recent years.
All four drivers commented on the car’s drivability, highly responsive initial turn-in and excellent visibility for a coupe prototype car. Mike and Mark got their lap times down significantly over the course of the day, as they grew accustomed to the car and worked away on small set up changes. Matt had a new tyre run and was putting in consistently fast lap times against the 11 other LMP3 cars also attending the day. Overall, the first day left us very positive for the season ahead with some great feedback on the car. Alex was scheduled to only run on the second day of the two day test but we managed to sneak him a session in just before 5pm when the test day closed. It really was an impressive performance from a top pro-driver who took very little time to acclimatise to the car and immediately set the pace and target lap time for the two days.
Day two started pretty much the same with some great running by Mark, Mike and Alex – Matt had to shoot off to another appointment – but the car ran well and all the drivers seemed happy. Our test plan for day two was to conduct several back to back one-hour race stints and gather some data for the Michelin engineers present.
Again, the car ran faultlessly and the tyre performance was also very impressive over the long runs. Unfortunately, with 15 minutes left to run during a race simulation stint, Mike had quite a big accident at the end of the Mistral straight and smashed straight into a concrete wall – no tyre barriers! Luckily, Mike was fine and walked away from the accident, albeit with a sore knee and ankle, but no lasting damage. As we viewed the on board camera and data logging, we could see exactly what had happened. He’d run his tyre into a newly-inserted drain in the kerb at the end of the fastest straight, the car bottomed out and spat him off into the wall – he followed the black tyre marks from two previous similar crashes earlier in the day. The circuit are now reviewing the installation of this new kerb on the exit of the sixth gear ‘Signes’ corner at Paul Ricard…
It truly is testament to the build quality of the Ligier that Mike walked away from such a heavy impact – he hit the wall at 230kph with a 16 G force impact. There is a lot of damage to the car but Ligier have built such a strong chassis to protect the driver – you can tell they and the ACO have put driver safety first. This crash has certainly put the car to the test!
During the two days at Paul Ricard, we covered over 1200km and the car never missed a beat. The guys in the team are still feeling really positive about the season ahead and we can’t wait to get going. We have some more testing planned at Magny Cours and Imola before the Prologue back at Paul Ricard in March.