Larbre Competition avoids the carnage to safely qualify at Le Mans

Larbre Competition avoided the plethora of accidents that characterised all three truncated sessions to safely qualify for this weekend’s Le Mans 24 Hours (June 14/15).

All of Wednesday and Thursday evenings’ sessions featured significant crashes that resulted in track time being restricted, but Keiko Ihara, Pierre Ragues and Ricky Taylor were all able to negotiate these without incident to qualify their #50 Morgan-Judd LMP2 16th in the highly competitive sports-prototype class.

A minor engine issue and premature end to Thursday’s first two-hour session meant the French squad was on the back foot as it headed into the day’s final run. That just Ihara had completed her mandatory night laps only served to compromise Larbre Competition’s programme further and prevented either Ragues or Taylor from posting a representative time.

Nevertheless, all three drivers heeded Team Manager Jack Leconte’s advice not to take any chances in qualifying, especially with 24 hours of unpredictable racing still ahead of them.

Keiko Ihara: “The first qualifying session proved hard as I didn’t really have much running in free practice. Plus we changed some parts on the car in between sessions so I had to check them before really going for it. But I still managed to improve my times and complete the necessary night laps. We had some engine problems during the second qualifying session, which meant we couldn’t really push. Everything was sorted for the last run but, with so many accidents, conditions weren’t ideal. Of course, qualifying doesn’t matter all that much here as the race is so long.

“The Drivers’ Parade was fantastic as always, with many Japanese fans showing their support. Hopefully we can give them another reason to cheer us on Sunday afternoon!”

Pierre Ragues: “Obviously we’d hoped to get a bit more running under our belts before qualifying, but had some technical issues in free practice that hampered our progress. It was never our aim to be on pole and we expected to end up somewhere in the mid-field. As it turns out we’ll start from a bit further down the grid than that, but we did manage to qualify all of the drivers and continuously fine-tune the car for the race, which is satisfying. I wasn’t too fazed by the fact Ricky and I still had to complete our mandatory night laps. But I was reluctant to push too hard as he still needed to get in after. Jack had been quite clear about that during our briefing, so we weren’t on the edge or taking any risks.

“On Friday afternoon we had another briefing to go over the race strategy before attending the famous Drivers’ Parade, where you feel like a rock star! The atmosphere was amazing as ever. It’s fantastic for the spectators to share their passion and see all the drivers so close.”

Ricky Taylor: “Qualifying was okay, I guess, but we didn’t have the pace I’d hoped for. Having said that, we didn’t make any mistakes across the three sessions, which were all blighted by the number of incidents and red flags. Other than the tyre blow-out in practice our car has been in one piece all week. We didn’t push all that hard as Pierre and myself still needed to complete our night laps on Thursday. With all the red flags and Slow Zones we just didn’t have the opportunity to go out there and nail a quick lap. But I’m feeling reasonably optimistic for the race, which I’ll be starting.

“The Drivers’ Parade was unbelievable on Friday! I first went last year and it’s something I haven’t seen anywhere else in the racing world. It’s just one of those big moments at Le Mans and I’m sure I’ll cherish the memory forever.”

Jack Leconte, Team Manager: “We are all quite disappointed with our qualifying performance, in truth. But with so many accidents it was better to be safe than sorry, and I’d instructed the drivers to keep out of trouble. We did experience a minor engine issue during second qualifying and had to replace the air box. Then, due to another driver’s accident, we weren’t able to go back out. The other factor we had to bear in mind was that only Keiko managed to complete her mandatory night qualifying laps on Wednesday evening. Therefore, we had to take a conservative approach and didn’t really push to set a blistering time. Actually, we only posted one proper flying lap.

“That said I’ve been very impressed with the application of our three drivers and the team spirit they’ve displayed. I warned them about the likelihood of many accidents and that’s proved the case. I can’t believe how many there have been since the start of the week, but our crew hasn’t put a wheel wrong. It’s important to initially keep pace with the cars ahead of us. Then, four or five hours into the race, we should have a better picture of what we can realistically achieve at Le Mans this year.”

This year’s Le Mans 24 Hours begins at 15:00 local time this afternoon.

Driver preparation just as important as the car’s...

In order to compete at the Le Mans 24 Hours in the best possible shape, Larbre Competition’s driver crew benefits from the medical monitoring and supervision of Rouen-based sports physician and osteopath Laurent Beuvin, and specialist Bagnières-de-Luchon sports osteopath Jeremy Bordes.Both men have worked with Larbre Competition at Le Mans before. Once the team’s line-up has been confirmed, Laurent and Jeremy contact each driver individually to understand any existing treatments or dietary requirements they might have.La Palmyre’s pre-Le Mans training camp then offers an opportunity for both men to meet the drivers and carry out a series of tests that assess flexibility, strength and power. Then, at the end of two days, each is given an individual report listing their strengths and weaknesses.“During Larbre Competition’s training camp we aim to educate the drivers by assessing the race programme, nutrition, hydration, etc.” explains Beuvin. “This is also the time to create a climate of trust between all team members, which will be a crucial aspect during the event.”“The 2014 race forces us to face many new challenges,” adds Bordes. “First, the line-up was revealed late, which hampered our initial assessment work. Each driver also comes from a different background, which can be a difficult factor in the harmonisation process. Finally, the LMP2 car presents more of a physical challenge to drivers. With the GT car drivers suffer from higher levels of dehydration, but are now subjected to bigger lateral forces that place a greater demand on their neck.”Fortunately, Larbre Competition has maintained a reputation for listening to its drivers; “In fact, our role is to mother, supervise and monitor!” Beuvin smiles.

It’s a reassuring presence that could play a crucial role by 15:00 on a crucial role by 15:00 on Sunday.

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