by Russell Atkins

Though he may have switched across to sportscars in 2008 following a year's sabbatical from driving, former Formula 1 star Olivier Panis' habitual bad luck seems to have tracked him all the way from the top flight.

The Frenchman - who famously triumphed in the Monaco Grand Prix back in 1996 - is racing for Oreca this year in the Le Mans Series, something he acknowledges is quite a departure from what he has been used to in the past. Paired up with ex-GP2 front-runner Nicolas Lapierre - who he has also worked with in his capacity as Team France sporting director in the A1GP World Cup of Motorsport - the pair have yet to see a chequered flag in the opening two races of the campaign at Barcelona and Monza.

Though the brace of DNFs may be frustrating, the pace has at least been encouraging, with the #6 LMP1 prototype twice out-pointing the sister St?phane Ortelli/Soheil Ayari car in qualifying to line up respectively seventh and sixth on the grid for the two outings, and mixing it with the diesel-powered Audis in the races.

Panis is hopeful of better things this coming weekend at the legendary Spa-Francorchamps circuit, as the squad focuses all its efforts on the prime goal just over a month later - the iconic, round-the-clock Le Mans 24 Hours.

"We've been qualifying really well," the regular columnist reflected, speaking exclusively to Radio. "Unfortunately we've had some small reliability problems, but I'm confident we can fix those before Le Mans."

"I really like Nico. He's such a nice person, he's very quick and at the moment we're doing a really good job together for Oreca-Courage.

"Maybe in Spa we will be luckier. We have a quick car, but we need to finish the race. If we can do that then why not on the podium, like Pescarolo did in the last one..?"