Bruno Senna has described his maiden LMP1 outing with Team Oreca-Matmut at Paul Ricard this week as 'very enriching' - and he admitted that, in the absence of any openings in Formula 1, he may consider a sportscar switch in 2009.

The young Brazilian was invited to try out for the French outfit by team boss Hugues de Chaunac as soon as it became evident that he was no longer likely to graduate to F1 with Brawn GP (formerly Honda) this year, and Senna joined regular drivers St?phane Ortelli and Soheil Ayari in the cockpit of the #10 Courage LC70E prototype for an endurance simulation, over the course of which no fewer than 324 laps were covered.

"Coming here I've discovered a totally different world," revealed the reigning GP2 Series runner-up, "and I feel I'm a better driver for it. This test has been very enriching.

"The team asked me to help with the set-up work, and I had to manage tyre and fuel consumption. I did my first-ever night stint too! It's all very different to what I've known before, and I really appreciated this experience.

"I liked it and I'd love to do it again! While my aim is still to do Formula 1, I said to myself that long-distance racing could be something really great."

It is understood that Senna is number one on de Chaunac's wish list for the forthcoming campaign, with only 2008 incumbents Olivier Panis and Nicolas Lapierre already confirmed at the team. The French pairing were unrivalled over the course of the two-day test, with the former Monaco Grand Prix winner's 1:40.903s effort early on Monday morning proving to be out of reach for any of the other 26 competitors present, as Panis shows himself to be every bit as adept behind the wheel of a sportscar as he was in F1.

"The test's gone off very well," reported the 42-year-old columnist, with 300 laps on the clock for the #11 machine that took in a development programme, new brakes and an engine evolution from AIM. "Running with the other cars gives us a good idea of where we stand.

"There's still work to be done, but we're now starting to use the car's potential. We're getting to understand it better and better, and the new engine's an improvement at high revs.

"Overall, it's very positive both from a development and reliability point-of-view. We know where we are and we can't wait to be in Barcelona. It's going to be a closely-fought championship for which we've got great ambitions."

"The car's made a lot of progress over the two days," agreed compatriot Lapierre. "During the previous sessions it was a question of sorting it out; now we're fine- tuning the research. We're already working on the set-up, and we're much further ahead than we were this time last year. The times are pretty good too, and above all they're consistent."

Ortelli and Ayari, for their part, each undertook double stints as they took the sister car's overall test mileage at the southern French circuit beyond the 3,000km mark, even if several unscheduled pit-stops turned out to be necessary for minor glitches and contact with a GT.

"The car's awesome!" enthused 1998 Le Mans 24 Hours winner Ortelli. "We were in endurance set-up, but it handled like a dream. The brakes are consistent and the aero is well-balanced.

"Its behaviour got better and better as we racked up the laps, and I really enjoyed driving it. You can feel all the work that's been done this winter. The new suspension gives a lot more grip and good entry speed into the corners - and to end on a high note, the reliability's great!"

"I had a whale of a time!" echoed Ayari. "In relation to the 2008 car, the LMP1 has evolved in the right direction. The new suspension geometry has done a lot to improve the road-holding. I'm surprised at the speed you can carry into the corners - it's unbelievable! Riding the kerbs has also improved, and we've moved up to a new level. We also tried to mix the tyres, with some very interesting results."

Both Courage-Orecas ran with the 2008-spec rear wing during the test, which some observers have surmised gave them an advantage over their prototype rivals equipped with the new, narrower wings that will need to be fitted for the 2009 Le Mans Series curtain-raiser at Barcelona on 5 April. Nonetheless, with reliability and development objectives achieved, de Chaunac was in buoyant spirits.

"The team's done a great job both in terms of development and reliability," he underlined. "We've continued pushing forward [and] progressing. There are still a few things to be sorted out, but we put our finger on a few interesting points.

"Bruno Senna's test was a big surprise! We found him to be a talented driver who integrated himself into the team very quickly, and he thoroughly enjoyed the experience. In all three areas we've got every reason to be satisfied. We've seen what we have to do to get ready for Le Mans."

"We've run through our complete development programme," concluded Oreca technical director David Floury. "We've got a better understanding of the new car and the evolutions are going in the right direction [in terms of the] engine, brakes and electronics. We used a 2008 wing to have a real reference point.

"The gain in pure performance is good. In parallel, the LMP1 doing the endurance test racked up the kilometres with already tried-and-tested components. We had a couple of little scares because of details, but we've already corrected them. The balance sheet is positive."



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