Signature Plus: Third in 1000km of Hungaroring

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Signature Plus scored an LMP1 podium in the 1000km of Hungaroring but were denied the opportunity to fight for their best result of the season so far after technical problems at the start of the first stint forced him to pit unexpectedly while running in a strong second place.

It was an unusually problematic event for all LMP1 cars with the LMP2 category machines dominating, but in spite of its technical woes, Signature were still able to register a classified 23rd place finish having dropped down to 30th after the unscheduled stop.

This weekend's LMS event marked the first visit to the tight and twisty Hungaroring for Signature and its driver line-up, so the free practice sessions were spent focussing on learning the circuit and chasing the optimum car set-up with Aston Martin and tyre choice with Dunlop. After the first day of practice, good strides were made but the drivers were all complaining with traffic given the circuit's tight configuration.

Pierre Ragues was given qualifying duties for this race and posted an encouraging fifth fastest time of the session. Unfortunately, the team was forced to change tyres before the race having sustained damage to its qualifying set after Pierre had an off-track incident on his first qualifying attempt. The sporting regulations state that a back-of-the-grid penalty applies to any car which does not start the race on the same set of tyres it qualified with.

Vanina Ickx took the start from the back of the pack and made good progress the field to take sixth position before handing over to Pierre Ragues who enjoyed a successful double stint. At the race's halfway point, Franck Mailleux assumed control but just three laps in, he pitted with a battery problem. Upon inspection of the car, the Signature crew identified a further problem with the alternator pulley which took 22 laps to rectify, and a total of 43 minutes and 57 seconds.

Coming back out in 30th position, just behind the LMP1 Peugeot, which had also pitted with difficulties, Franck Mailleux had an uphill battle to salvage some pride from the race. Nevertheless, he fought back valiantly, leapfrogging their rivals to finish the race as third best of the P1 runners after a string of competitive laps.

Pierre Ragues said: "We should be pleased to score a class podium as the third highest finishing LMP1 car and some important points, but it could have been so much better. I was sorry with my accident in qualifying yesterday and for the penalty that sent us to the back of the grid. The tyres were flat-spotted after the accident, so it was actually a good effort to set the fifth best time, but it was also a correct and safe decision to change the tyres for the race. Vanina had a great start and she was up to sixth by the time I took over. My own stints were really good also. The car and tyres felt competitive and I was able to make my way up to second. Unfortunately after the halfway point when Franck took over, we had problems with the battery and alternator pulley which took a long time to fix. The mechanics did a fantastic job but 45 minutes is a long time even in endurance racing. There is so little opportunity to overtake at this track, so the fact that we made such progress in the early stages of the race was great. It is tough that we could not continue like that until the end, especially with the problems the other LMP1 cars seemed to experience and the overall competitiveness of our package. The Signature guys should be proud of their efforts in difficult circumstances today and for the way we handled the whole weekend. Aston Martin and Dunlop also worked hard to give us a quick car, as we showed when we were on track. Thanks also to my sponsor Group Auto Union for their support."

Franck Mailleux said: "It is good for the whole team that we have taken a second consecutive class podium and to get some points after a difficult race today. We have rarely experienced technical problems that require us to pit for so long mid-race, but today it seemed as if all LMP1 cars were jinxed! The Signature guys worked so hard to fix the alternator and battery issues, but those 22 laps we were stopped for were really damaging. I had just taken over from Vanina and Pierre and we were in a strong second place and with the issues that affected other teams things might have turned out very differently today. I knew we had lost a lot of positions but the car and tyres felt really great in those closing stages of the race, we were able to make up quite a lot of positions. It was probably one of the most frustrating double stints of my career, concentrating on bringing the car home. The level of competitiveness from the car proves that we could have had our best result of the season today. We were still third of the LMP1 cars and took a class podium, which means important championship results. That's probably the most positive thing we can take away from Hungary as we prepare for the final race of the year in Silverstone next month. Thanks, as always, to Signature, Aston Martin, Dunlop and my sponsors Sojasun for their hard work and support this weekend."
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