3 September 2001
Drama All The Way In Italy
Vallelunga, Italy, Sunday 2nd September 2001: In brilliant sunshine, Gary Formato took the chequered flag in the Lanesra Racing Panoz LMP1 Roadster to win the final round of the 2001 European Le Mans Series at the Autodromo di Vallelunga near Rome. Formato, and co-driver Richard Dean, drove superbly, finishing 3 laps ahead of the RML Saleen of Chris Goodwin and Ian McKellar Jnr. While the Panoz was in a class of its own, the two GTS Saleens and a brace of GT Porsches led by the Harlow Motorsport entered car, provided the Italian crowd with all the action they could take in.
The Konrad Motorsport Saleen S7R was forced to start the race from the back of the grid after having the qualifying times disallowed for a technical infringement. Franz Konrad sliced his way through the field to end the opening lap in 5th place and was up into 3rd two laps later, just seven seconds adrift of the RML Saleen in 2nd place. McKellar, in the RML car, was able to control the gap and when the Panoz dived into the pitlane for the teams first stop, the Englishman found himself in the lead. For ten minutes the Saleen continued to lap at the head of the field until Richard Dean, now at the wheel of the Panoz, regained the lead. This was the moment that McKellar and Konrad both decided to pit. While the RML team refuelled, changed the tyres and Chris Goodwin took over the driving duties, Franz Konrad just took on fuel, the team working quickly to get the car back on the track well ahead of the rival Saleen. Goodwin started to reel in the leading Saleen but Konrad had a huge advantage and held onto his lead until the next set of pitstops. A spin into the gravel by Walter Brun ended this wonderful battle at the two hour mark. The car was recovered but by the time Konrad took to the track again the team was 20 laps adrift and running in 10th place. Ian McKellar Jnr took the chequered flag three laps adrift of the Panoz, taking another convincing victory in the GTS category and clinching the 2001 ELMS GTS drivers crown and the manufacturers title for the Wellingborough based team.
If the GTS class battle was exciting, the GT's had drama aplenty. Terry Rymer used his position at the head of the GT grid to lead the pack away at the green light and at the end of the first lap was in 4th overall with Romain Dumas, Wolfgang Kaufmann and Robin Liddell snapping at his heels. Kaufmann made his move on Dumas on lap 3 and set off after Rymer. The Paco Orti Porsche kept up the pressure and within three laps Kaufmann once again pulled off a brilliant manoeuvre to take the class lead with just 10 minutes of the race gone. Rymer then fell into the clutches of Dumas and lap after lap these two cars battled for position with Robin Liddell in the PK Sport machine watching the two protagonists and biding his time. With the race an hour old the Paco Orti Racing team called Kaufmann in for his first stop with Paco Orti taking over the driving duties. Rymer regained the class lead with Dumas still making the British driver watch his mirrors at every corner. Liddell decided to make his first stop but was back in the pits a lap later with a slipping clutch. The problem appeared terminal, but the team worked like trojans to enable Mike Youles to get back on the track to
complete ten laps so that they could bank the valuable championship points. Meanwhile Dumas saw an opening at the hairpin and went for the gap. The two cars were side by side through the 180 degree corner with Dumas taking the advantage. Rymer came straight into the pits for his stop, jumping out of the cockpit to enable Magnus Wallinder to take the wheel. Dumas came in a lap later to change with Cyril Chateau.
Disaster struck the Paco Orti team when Orti came in for the second stopped. An airgun broke forcing the team to change all four tyres with the one remaining gun. In their haste to get Kaufmann back out they left an airline across the pit and Kaufmann ran over it as he exited the pit causing a stop-go penalty. This effectively ended their charge allowing the Harlow Motorsport car to establish a comfortable one lap lead over the Freisinger Motorsport Porsche 996. The win looked in the bag for Rymer and Wallinder but fate nearly stepped in to spoil their party. A clash with the Konrad Motorsport Saleen while being lapped forced the leading Porsche off the track, nearly ripping the rear bumper off. As the race drew to a close the officials were debating whether to call the Harlow Motorsport car into the pits to remove the offending article, but after observing for a few laps they decided to allow Magnus Wallinder to finish the race. The Harlow Motorsport Porsche 911 clinched the GT class win, finishing 1 lap ahead of the Freisinger Motorsport Porsche 996 and two laps ahead of the Paco Orti Racing 911 who had recovered to take third place in this enthralling encounter.
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