Signature Plus: Le Mans Series 1000km of Spa race report

Monday, May 10, 2010

Signature Aston Martin LMP1
The Signature Plus team were forced to settle for a disappointing 13th position in the Le Mans Series 1000km of Spa-Francorchamps after an excellent qualifying performance on Saturday and an encouragingly competitive pace in the first half of race in Belgium.

Following a cold and wet opening day in Belgium on Friday, the Signature team worked hard to improve the handling of the car after difficult free practice sessions saw them languish in respective 11th and 14th positions. A set-up breakthrough from Saturday morning practice to the afternoon qualifying session enabled Franck to qualify with confidence, setting the eighth fastest time behind the four works Peugeots and three works Audi cars, and holding the honour of being the top petrol-powered car.

It was Pierre’s turn to start the race and he capitalised on the team's highly respectable eighth place on the grid and the team ran in the top six in just their second full race weekend as official LMP1 partners for Aston Martin Racing.
Frustratingly, a problem with the gearbox during Franck Mailleux's double stint required him to pit early to allow the team to replace the gear selector. Some sterling work by the team allowed third driver, Vanina Ickx, to get back out on track just 11 minutes later.saw.

The car's pace was once again strong but Vanina unfortunately miscalculated an overtaking manoeuvre which resulted in a trip to the gravel trap and cost further time to get the car back on track. Even after returning to the race, matters became more difficult with a late rain shower prompting the team to make the safe call for intermediate tyres. The rain, however, stopped quickly and the track dried up leaving Vanina no choice but to nurse the car home on worn tyres in 13th spot.

Pierre Ragues: "It has been a weekend of ups and downs, but it was a shame to end the race weekend in 13th place after the team had made such improvements with the car set-up during the weekend. On Friday, it was really cold and the car was difficult to drive; there just appeared to be a lack of outright pace, especially in the middle sector of the lap. The weather improved a bit on Saturday and the team had found some key improvements to the set-up of the car which gave us more confidence to drive. We were able to evaluate some slick tyres from Dunlop which gave good consistency and performance. Our qualifying result was good and that gave me a good starting position for the race. I encountered no problems during my double stint and was convinced we had the pace to challenge the top six. It was a shame that the gearbox gremlins found us during Franck's double stint and then with Vanina's problems we were well off where we should have been. Nevertheless, the performance of the car is a genuine sign of encouragement before Le Mans 24 Hours and the work of the team has again been tireless. The support of my sponsor Groupe Auto Union has again been fantastic, so I am looking forward to Le Mans where I am hopeful of our 2010 breakthrough."

Franck Mailleux: "Unfortunately we did not get the result in today's race to do justice either to the car's performance or the team's combined efforts. We started the weekend way off the pace and when I drove in second practice, I struggled a lot with oversteer. The car just didn't feel very connected, but the team found some big improvements for Saturday and we had a brilliant qualifying. Eighth on the grid at this race - which has more elite teams than usual - is a good result and we were the top petrol car which really showed our potential. The race didn't really go our way, though. When it came to my double stint, I started to have some problems with the gear selection and I couldn't downshift from fifth, so I had to come in early for the team to fix the problem, which they did really professionally. But by then we were too far down to make a real impact. It's a shame because the car had the pace for a top six finish and our overall package was strong. Dunlop did a fantastic job and we had some nice consistency from the tyres once we had found the right set-up. As a team, I feel we deserved more today, but thanks to them, as always for their hard work, and to my personal sponsors Sojasun as well. Le Mans is next up and we all know how special it would be to get a good result there, and that's my target!"
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