Le Mans WS 2005: Balance of Power shifts
10 July 2005
Will Power extended the run of different winners in the World Series by Renault to seven at Le Mans, the Australian finally confirming the promise shown in pre-season testing with his first victory.
The Carlin Motorsport driver was quick to take advantage of an uncharacteristic slip by polesitter Robert Kubica, the points leader proving tardy off the line and allowing Power into turn one ahead of Eric Salignon.
The Australian was unable to build an early lead, however, as, further back in the field, Jaap van Lagen forced Simon Pagenaud off into the gravel trap, bringing out the safety car as the collision also involved Giorgio Mondini, Daniel la Rosa and Tomas Kostka, all of whom retired.
Racing resumed three laps later, and Power handled the restart perfectly, gaining several lengths over Salignon, who himself had pulled away from Kubica. The Polish driver was now under threat from race one winner Markus Winkelhock, with Felix Porteiro, Colin Fleming, Christian Montanari, Patrick Pilet and Enrico Toccacelo all included in the train that followed. The order, however, was ever-changing, with Pilet moving ahead of Montanari, and Toccacelo losing two places to Andreas Zuber and Adrian Valles, all on lap five.
At the same time, Tristan Gommendy sparked the mandatory pit-stops by coming in on lap five, closely followed next time around by Toccacelo, Montanari and Winkelhock. Salignon and Porteiro made their stops on lap nine, while Power, Kubica, Fleming and Valles stayed out, the Pole stopping next time around and Power on lap eleven.
Fleming and Valles thus took control of the race, but both the Californian and the Spaniard had yet to stop, hoping that they could establish enough of an advantage to remain in front when they did. However, with time running out and a lead of only 20secs over a group consisting of Power, Kubica, Salignon and Winkelhock, it seemed obvious that it would only be a matter of time before the lead changed hands again.
Fleming and Valles were able to enjoy the limelight until lap 17 but, as expected, Power eventually regained the lead. The Australian was not having an easy time of it, however, and held a lead of only half a second over Kubica, the Epsilon Euskadi pilot determined to atone for his startline error. Fleming rejoined in third place thanks to his late stop strategy, holding a comfortable gap over Salignon, who was lapping on his own in fourth, ahead of Winkelhock, who had to keep one eye on his mirrors thanks to the attentions of Montanari and Valles.
Further down the field, Fernando Rees' debut weekend with the Interwetten.com team ended in disappointment as he went into the gravel on lap seven. Having escaped a similar fate on the opening tour, meanwhile, van Lagen finally achieved his aim of setting the fastest lap, but pitted soon afterwards to bask in the glory of a time worthy of a qualifying effort!
That was the last notable incident of a race which ended with little change up front. Power fended off the challenge of Kubica to become the series' seventh winner in seven races, boosting his points tally after a disappointing first half of the season.
"It's my first victory in three years, and was all about the start," he explained, "I got off to a very good start, and was able to push very hard during the opening lap because I was on fresh tyres. I decided not to wait too long to make my stop and managed to come back out in the lead."
Kubica's second place consolidates his position as championship leader, but the Pole agreed with Power that the race had, in part, been decided at the lights.
"Second is still a good result but, compared to Will and Eric, my start was nothing special," he confessed, "My first set of tyres were also pretty worn, and I wasn't able to push very hard in the opening laps, but I've got the points and that's the way I want things to continue in the championship."
Like Power, Fleming was able to celebrate a first, opening his podium account for the season.
"This result has been a long time coming, but we knew we had the potential to do it," the American commented, "Today, I ran the risk of opting for a late stop strategy and the team put in some excellent work to ensure it paid off."