Larbre CompetitionHaving already wrapped up the Intercontinental Le Mans Cup title with a race to spare, Larbre Competition capped their ultra-successful year with a fine second place finish at the season-closing 6 Hours of Zhuhai in China last weekend.
The French squad were keen to demonstrate the strengths of its GTE Am class winning #50 Corvette C6.R in a country that has become an increasingly important global market for car manufacturers by maintaining the momentum built up throughout 2011. Despite the car having never raced at Zhuhai before, Larbre Competition’s seven previous appearances ensured its experience would prove vital when it came to car set-up.
Such was the importance of this race that Corvette Racing had sent factory driver Olivier Beretta to compete alongside team regulars Julien Canal and Patrick Bornhauser. While the Monegasque’s expertise and recommendations will prove vital heading into 2012, his impact was felt by Canal in particular whose qualifying lap was just 0.4 seconds shy of class pole position and faster than both ex-F1 drivers Giancarlo Fisichella and Ralph Firman!
At the start, Beretta used all of his experience racing Corvettes to move to the head of the field before handing over to Bornhauser. The Frenchman won at Zhuhai last season so it was no surprise to see him increase the team’s advantage over the second place Porsche to more than 20 seconds at the start of his second stint. Unfortunately an issue with the electronic gear selector ultimately cost the team significant time as Patrick struggled back to the pits stuck in first gear.
With a full repair likely to cost too much time, the decision was taken to re-join in manual mode. Under specific instructions from the Corvette USA engineer, Beretta began the team’s fight back through the order, placing the Corvette in podium contention. Canal then continued the good work, pumping in fast and consistent lap times so that by the finish, and after an all-round fantastic performance, just 43 seconds separated the top two.
Jack Leconte, Team Principal: “Under the circumstances it was a great performance from our drivers, mechanics and engineers. Corvette has never raced at Zhuhai before so it was rewarding to apply our ample knowledge of the circuit to the car’s set-up and see that it worked well. Olivier has been a great addition this weekend and helped us understand where we can make further progress. Obviously we’re disappointed not to end our fantastic season, which included scooping the ILMC crown and victory at the Le Mans 24 Hours, with a win. But I am still very proud that the team was able to fight its way back into contention and score another podium.”
Olivier Beretta: “Having been aware of Larbre Competition’s background and the number of championships they had won for quite some time, it was great to finally race with them in China and confirm for myself the ultra-professional level at which they operate. I was also delighted to share the car, which proved extremely competitive, with Patrick and Julien. We were leading the class before the mechanical issue, a possibility which cannot be discounted in motor racing, delayed us. Despite this setback, the team managed to repair the car and we finished in second place. Finally, I’d like to congratulate Patrick, Julien and Gabriele Gardel on their championship success.”
Patrick Bornhauser: “It felt great to return to Zhuhai for the final race of 2011 without the added pressure of securing the title which we’d wrapped up at Petit Le Mans. The race still had special meaning though as we had a works Corvette driver alongside us in the form of Olivier. We gelled immediately and spending the whole week together has been a fantastic experience. Heavy rain meant Wednesday’s free practice sessions were shortened but the race started well all the same with Olivier at the wheel. I was able to take the lead during my stint but after about 90 minutes began to experience problems with the gearbox. We opted to pit to reset the system in a manual mode and also took the opportunity to swap drivers. Ultimately it cost us victory but nevertheless we have still achieved an excellent second place. I have really enjoyed my week in China.”
Julien Canal: “The round at Zhuhai meant I could learn more about a new circuit and an official Corvette Racing driver! Olivier is someone with great human qualities and a high level of professionalism and our shared experiences of the Corvette helped us to prepare set-ups for a car that had not raced there before. I had a lot of confidence going into my third qualifying session of the season, which showed in the lap time that put us amongst the GTE Pro drivers. Olivier and Patrick produced two very good opening stints but unfortunately mine was complicated by the gearbox problem. Nevertheless it was with huge satisfaction that I crossed the line to finish second having recorded a lap only a few tenths slower than Olivier’s best. A big thank you to my team-mates as well everyone at Larbre Competition for their passion, commitment and professionalism throughout 2011. It’s also worth noting the strong support of Corvette Racing.”
Result: 6 Hours of Zhuhai
1. Proton Competition Lietz/Roda/Ried Porsche 997 GT3 RSR 217
2. Larbre Competition Bornhauser/Canal/Beretta Corvette C6.R 216
3. Krohn Racing Krohn/Jonsson/Rugolo Ferrari F430 GT2 215
4. CRS Racing Ehret/Mullen/Wills Ferrari F430 GT2 215
5. Gulf AMR Middle East Giroix/Goethe Aston Martin Vantage 198
6. AF Corse Cioci/Ma Ferrari F430 GT2 22

ILMC GTE Am final championship classification
1. Larbre Competition 93 points
2. Krohn Racing 62
3. Proton Competition 52
4. CRS Racing 50
5. AF Corse 47
6. Gulf AMR Middle East 23

Jack Leconte, Team Principal: “Our focus now turns to 2012 when I’m hoping we’ll be able to defend our title in the World Endurance Championship. The FIA and ACO announced the calendar over the weekend which will help us to firm up plans for a return to the top echelon of sportscar racing.”
2012 World Endurance Championship
17 Mar USA 12 Hours of Sebring
5 May Belgium Spa 6 Hours
3 Jun France Le Mans Test Day
16/17 Jun France Le Mans 24 Hours
25 Aug GB Silverstone 6 Hours
16 Sep Brazil 6 Hours of Sao Paolo (TBC)
30 Sep Japan 6 Hours of Fuji
20 Oct Bahrain 6 Hours of Bahrain
11 or 18 Nov China TBD

Photo by VSC Pictures