· Race week begins at La Sarthe with scrutineering and practice· Test Day and training camp builds team spirit ahead of Le Mans 24 HoursAfter months of intense preparation, Larbre Competition are all set for this year’s Le Mans 24 Hours (14/15 June) in what will be its first appearance as an LMP2 team. The hugely successful GT racing squad, which moved up to the sports-prototype ranks at the start of this season, are tackling the 82nd running of the legendary French endurance race with a mixture of ambition and modesty.The Val-de-Vienne-based team have entrusted their #50 Morgan-Judd LMP2 to Japanese female racer Keiko Ihara, French ELMS champion Pierre Ragues and American Tudor USCC points leader Ricky Taylor, who were all able to re-familiarise themselves with the daunting 13.629km Circuit de la Sarthe during the event’s official Test Day on June 1. Ragues and Ihara were behind the wheel throughout the morning session when they took the opportunity to evaluate Michelin’s new tyres, before Taylor – fresh from his victory in the previous day’s Tudor USCC race at Detroit – took over in the afternoon.The following evening Team Manager Jack Leconte joined his drivers in the town of La Palmyre for Larbre Competition’s traditional pre-Le Mans training camp where activities including mountain biking, jet skiing and archery offered an ideal opportunity to build team spirit ahead of the race.Then it was back to Le Mans for scrutineering in the city centre on June 8 and the ceremonial start of race week. Happily the team’s #50 Morgan-Judd LMP2 passed the Automobile Club de l’Ouest’s (ACO) necessary regulatory checks, while Larbre Competition’s driver crew also completed the administrative controls required to compete.
Track action finally got underway when the 55-strong field took to Circuit de la Sarthe for a four-hour free practice session on Wednesday afternoon (June 11). It was a chaotic affair that included several red flag periods and incidents, one of which befell Larbre Competition when its Morgan suffered a left-rear puncture. Nevertheless, the team was still able to end the session with the seventh fastest LMP2 time.
Keiko Ihara: “I’m very happy to be participating in the Le Mans 24 Hours with Larbre Competition. This will be my third appearance here. Our Morgan-Judd was very reliable at the Test Day when I set my best ever lap time. It was so exciting to reach 300km/h down the Mulsanne Straight. I’m aiming to have a clear week, maintain concentration and bring the car home with a solid result on Sunday.
“I have fond memories of the training camp, which was fantastic, intense and very hard physically, especially for a 40-year-old woman up against two youngsters! We’ve really bonded and became friends, which is great for the overall team spirit. Scrutineering was also fun. I love it as there are a lot of fans who make me truly happy. It’s all part of the Le Mans experience. The race remains the biggest and toughest in the world, but I have faith in Larbre Competition. They are very competent and know how to win, so hopefully we can run strongly and secure a good result.”
Pierre Ragues: “I’d like to thank Jack Leconte for giving me the opportunity to race his team’s #50 Morgan-Judd LMP2. I hadn’t driven it since the Prologue at Paul Ricard in early April but was still able to get to grips with Circuit de la Sarthe. I do need to improve in the braking zones and Porsche Curves, though. But we managed to achieve the set goals, the first and most important of which was getting to know my team-mates. Indeed, I had never even met Ricky before last Sunday!
“The training camp offered us another opportunity to get together. I knew of Keiko and Ricky’s racing credentials but had never really met them. It’s not easy to connect when you don’t speak the same language, which is another reason why the training camp was so important to fostering better team spirit. Free practice was going well until the puncture. We’d improved our lap time from the Test Day and I was getting more and more familiar with the Morgan, as well as the circuit. You always need more time to reacquaint yourself with the track due to its unique nature.”
Ricky Taylor: “I’m delighted to be back at Le Mans and racing with Larbre Competition once again. With the Morgan I think we have a good package that’s very consistent. Hopefully we can run strongly and be there at the end. The Test Day went well and allowed me to get up to speed, even if I didn’t manage too many laps. There’s a huge difference between driving a GT car and LMP2 at Le Mans, especially when it comes to the amount of downforce and weight. The speed you can carry through the corners is also much higher. The LMP2 is lighter, faster and more nimble, so I’m really enjoying it.
“We also attended a pre-race training camp with Keiko, Pierre and Jack. We all had a good time together, bonded as team-mates and got to know each other better.”
Jack Leconte, Team Manager: “The official Test Day offered an opportunity to try the car on a very fast track and put the driver crew together for the first time. Our primary objective was to log as much data as possible by making a lot of adjustments. Our ultimate lap times didn’t really matter.“The following evening we all met at La Palmyre for our traditional pre-Le Mans training camp. This is always beneficial because it allows each driver to learn more about the others away from their respective entourages and race weekend duties. Keiko, in particular, surprised us: physically she was very sharp and gave her male counterparts a hard time!“This year’s scrutineering had a different feel about it as our fans are accustomed to seeing us in the GT class. Our LMP2 was therefore a matter of curiosity and great discussion for those who have followed Larbre for 20 years. They asked a lot of questions, including the differences between the two machines. Endurance racing requires more or less the same approach no matter what car you’re running, but it is clear that its mass and available downforce alter the driving style required, especially on a high-speed circuit.“Free practice was also going well until we suffered a left-rear puncture that cost us a lot of time while the car made it back. But despite the incident we’re heading in the right direction. It’s a positive start that gives us hope of doing well. I sincerely believe we can cause a surprise!”
The final two qualifying sessions take place at 19:00 and 22:00 local time today (June 12) ahead of the traditional Drivers’ Parade through the centre of Le Mans on Friday afternoon. The race starts at 15:00 on Saturday.