Larbre Competition finishes ninth on Le Mans sports-prototype debut

A cautious and realistic approach paid off for Larbre Competition at Circuit de la Sarthe this weekend after the Val de Vienne-based team finished ninth in the highly competitive LMP2 category and 14th overall.The French squad, better known for their GT exploits but who were contesting the world’s greatest endurance race for the first time with a sports-prototype, was able to avoid the various pitfalls thrown up throughout a particularly chaotic 82nd running of the event.Drivers Keiko Ihara, Pierre Ragues and Ricky Taylor overcame difficult weather conditions, racing incidents and Safety Car periods to successfully make the finish with the #50 Morgan-Judd. Their only difficulty came on Saturday evening when the flailing tyre from a left-rear puncture damaged the car’s bodywork and cost the team roughly 10 laps while repairs were made.Ihara was back behind the wheel with four-and-a-half hours remaining on Sunday, and produced another flawless stint before handing over to Ragues. The reigning European Le Mans Series champion duly completed a fault-free triple stint of his own and was running well when Taylor returned to the fray 90 minutes before the chequered flag. Overcoming back pain, the American completed a solid final double stint to secure a top-10 finish for the team.Keiko Ihara: “Over the last two years I’ve not been properly able to take part in the Le Mans 24 Hours as my cars have always hit mechanical trouble before I got in. This year I joined Larbre Competition, a proven team with a winning pedigree. But even so, my race debut still proved quite challenging!“Rain began falling during my first two stints with the Morgan-Judd LMP2 and the track conditions became quite tricky. That said, I had an amazing experience this week at La Sarthe. As a matter of fact, I became the first Asian female driver to finish the Le Mans 24 Hours, which is a fantastic achievement. “I’d like to extend my warmest thanks to the whole team, especially my two team-mates – Pierre and Ricky – who have helped me tremendously throughout the week.” Pierre Ragues: “I am very happy with this year’s Le Mans 24 Hours. We pretty much followed the plan established before the event. The only setback came when we experienced a tyre blow-out, which cost us a lot of time. We could have finished a couple of positions higher in the LMP2 order, but also knew we couldn’t match the three quickest cars. We didn’t have any reference points, either with the car or between each other. “In the end it’s mission accomplished and the team did a tremendous job! They were new to the sports-prototype ranks and gave us a fast and reliable car. On a more personal note, I drove a lot and all of my stints went smoothly. I was also able to maintain the pace throughout the race. “My team-mates and I really hit it off well despite only meeting a fortnight ago. I was very happy to race alongside both of them. The start probably remained my personal highlight; it’s always a special moment. To be fair, I had an awful lot of fun during my eighth appearance at La Sarthe.”Ricky Taylor: “Jack [Leconte] gave me the honour of finishing the race. That was a first for me and I will always treasure the memory. Le Mans is such a special place and event, and even more so for a French team. The whole experience has been genuinely amazing.“I can’t find words to describe what the team has achieved this weekend. Recovering from the tyre blow-out and ensuing damage to secure a place in the top-10 is nothing short of a great achievement!”Jack Leconte, Team Manager: “We stuck to our plan and picked up from where we left off in qualifying, ie staying out of trouble and keeping our noses clean. Most of our rivals experienced a lot of problems. Our line-up displayed poise and emulated the best endurance drivers by looking after the car’s engine, tyres and gearbox. “Behind this strong result lies Larbre’s traditional attention to detail, as well as our well-oiled training programme. For the first time in our history we’ve entered a sports-prototype at La Sarthe. Therefore, we had to make sure our drivers could make the most of their equipment. I’m glad they listened to my recommendations. The pre-event work proved fruitful as we once again made history at the Le Mans 24 Hours.”