The opening Le Mans Series race of the 2009 season saw the first race for the new Team Modena Ferrari 430 GT, and the team started their alliance with one of the greatest names in motorsport with fifth in the LM GT2 class at the Circuit de Catalunya in Spain. Team regular Antonio Garcia led for the first third of the race, and with Leo Mansell making his Team Modena and sportscar debut, the driving duo recorded a fine result after six hot and hard hours of racing.
“It was an exciting race, we are pleased we finished and we are in a better position leaving here than we were last year,” said Team Principal Graham Schultz. “The car is new to us but ran very well, we took a big hit in the back but luck was on our side, and Leo was very good on his first run with us.”
Team Modena announced their arrival in the LM GT2 category with second, a superb performance with their brand-new Ferrari. Spanish ace Antonio was in the car for qualifying at his home round of the series, and his second flying lap was good enough to display the potential of car and team on their GT2 race debut.
Antonio sat in the car until just eight minutes of Saturday’s session were left, then went out and on his first flying lap was third quickest, only to further improve on his next attempt – missing out on pole position in class by only six hundredths of a second.
“The whole weekend we are learning the car and setting it up,” said Antonio on stepping out the Ferrari after the 20-minute session, “but even so I was going out not as confident as last year that I knew exactly what the car would do and how it would feel. I was out ok, but I was still learning the car during the two laps as it was my first qualifying attempt with this car. The car is really good, and I have to say that I think the lap was not 100% - either from myself or from the car!”
“It’s a great start,” said Sporting Director Rik Bryan, “first race of the season, a new car, and we are happy with second on the grid. It has announced out arrival in GT2 and we were very close to getting pole, so I think we can be delighted with where we are with the car.”
Antonio was in the Ferrari for the start of Sunday’s race at a warm and sunny Circuit de Catalunya, and from second on the LM GT2 grid took the class lead on the opening lap of the race. He eased clear of the class rivals and a well-timed first stop, just before the second Safety Car period of the race, saw the Team Modena car almost a lap clear of the rest of the LM GT2 runners.
Antonio pitted from the lead on lap 65 for the first ‘full’ stop of the race, a change of tyres, fuel, and to hand over to Leo. The LMS-rookie emerged sixth in class, and that became the lead as others pitted, but he had two experienced sportscar racers on his tail and came in for his fuel stop in third, 23rd overall of the 43-cars who had started the race.
Near the end of his second stint in the car Leo was sent spinning after being hit by a quicker car as it lapped him, but he quickly rejoined the race with minimal time loss. Leo stayed aboard the Ferrari until lap 128, bringing the car in from third in class to hand it back over to Antonio.
“It is a big learning curve for me,” said Leo, “the key is to try to deal with the traffic as quickly as you can without compromising your own line as you let them by. If you do go off line the tyres pick up a lot of rubber and it takes a couple of laps to get it back off.
“That was my comfortably my longest ever race stint in a race car. Near the end I got hit from behind by an LMP2 Lola in turn six or seven, it sent me spinning, but I managed to recover without losing to much time- it was unfortunate, but at least we weren’t into the gravel.
“We’ll be a lot stronger in the next race, I need to take away what I’ve learnt from this race and build on it for the next event.”
Antonio emerged from his stop in fifth, the Team Modena Ferrari by this time out of step in the pit stop sequence with its rivals. A combination of quick laps and the others stopping saw him climb up the order, and with an hour to go Antonio pitted from third in class, and twentieth overall, for another fuel stop.
Another Safety Car period with 40-minutes to go closed up the LM GT2 front runners, Antonio circulating in the train of cars right behind the car he had been chasing to take the next position. When racing resumed Antonio battled hard for fourth – but had to be satisfied with fifth in class and 19th overall at the chequered flag.
“Towards the end I could lap fast, but not fight for position,” said Antonio. At the start we were as quick as anybody, I was battling with the other Ferrari, we were finding the best way through traffic, and I was the one who made the move and got away.
“We have learnt a lot about the car, we have learnt how to manage the tyres, how we need to drive the car, and we have learnt what we need to do with the race strategy.”
“It was a solid start to the season for us,” said Sporting Director Rik Bryan. “We have some points from here which we didn’t manage last year. We were unfortunate on the last Safety Car, I think without that we possibly could have got on the podium.
“We had a new car, a new driver, so to be running as strongly as we did is a great result for the team and drivers.”