The difficulty of added rules and regulations surrounding travel did nothing to dent the appetite of the British crews at the Bugatti Circuit Le Mans for the opening round. Three teams had served seven days quarantine at the circuit ahead of the weekend, with Kevin Cable making the trip slightly later under modified rules.
Sadly, UK absentees included John Holden and Rob Biggs. Nonetheless, sixteen crews enjoyed beautifully sunny conditions on the build- up to a much-anticipated return to Grand Prix action. The numbers were bolstered by a strong showing of French teams.
Todd Ellis was joined by the effervescent Emmanuelle Clement as passenger for this round, whilst Kevin Cable had the services on the experienced Max Vasseur, having done four free practice laps with Kevin Rousseau to find his way round. Pekka Paivarinta had a new name alongside, with Kim Friman stepping up from Finnish National action into the big league. Pekka admitted needing time to adjust, and for his new passenger to settle in.
All the other crews were happy with free practice, with Tim Reeves showing the way throughout, Ellis/Clement started slowly but worked up to second fastest, ahead of locals Ted and Vincent Peugeot. A fast-charging Markus Schlosser/Marcel Fries then pipped Ellis to third.
Steve Kershaw/Ryan Charlwood ran strongly, with more to come. The sun was out, humidity was high, and breathing in the Covid regulation masks around the paddock was uncomfortable. Not that anyone cared, it was just good to be racing.
Sadly, Kim Friman was to fall from Paivarinta’s sidecar late in the session and was taken to hospital. This drama left the four-times champion seeking and last-minute replacement passenger.
The first qualifying session in the heat of late afternoon on Thursday, gave Ilse de Haas her first glimpse of Le Mans this year as she jumped on board with Paivarinta to record sixth fastest. This would now give the four-times Champion a fighting chance of good points, given that it was looking like his weekend was over prematurely.
Ahead of them, there was little to choose, as Reeves/Rousseau again took control in the early stages, as only Tim Reeves can do. There were serious threats though, and one came in the form of Todd Ellis, as he and Emmanuelle Clement put in fast laps to move second. At the flag, they were within sight of Tim, only to see that margin stretched to three tenths, as Markus Schlosser/Marcel Fries leapt to the front and claimed pole. Steve Kershaw/Ryan Charlwood maintained their early pace claiming fourth ahead of the family Peugeot and Paivarinta.
Bright and early Friday morning, under cloudy, cooler conditions, the second all-important session got underway. All top teams quickly picked up where they left off, running in the 1.45’s with Ellis, Reeves, Schlosser and Kershaw very much in touch. Halfway through, both Tim and Todd pitted, emerging in tandem, with Todd shadowing the eight times champion. Ellis did enough to edge ahead, but once again, both British crews were eclipsed by a late charge from Schlosser/Fries, who will start the race from pole position.
Combined times confirmed the grid as follows:
6/ Paivarinta/De Haas
10/ Le Bail/Leveau
Eighteen laps in the heat would need calculated and systematic riding, but that was far from the truth as the lights went out. A frantic sprint round turn one saw the front row vying for control, with Tim Reeves and Kevin Rousseau emerging victorious on lap one, with a five-man freight train in tow. It was Reeves, from Ellis/Clement, Schlosser/Fries, Paivarinta/De Haas, Peugeot, and Kershaw. These six crews were to gradually ease away from the chasing pack, with Schlosser moving past Ellis on lap three, and Kershaw pulling a similar move on Peugeot. Nonetheless, it remained a six-crew scrap for the first half of the race.
The three at the front eased away and began a game of cat and mouse, as the Swiss Schlosser looked for every opportunity to make his way to the front. Reeves, ever the master tactician, rode an immaculately defensive race, with Schlosser making an error on the penultimate lap. This allowed Ellis/Clement to shoot through into second spot, but their euphoria was short-lived. On the final lap, Schlosser was back up to second, but his mistake had allowed Tim and Kevin to consolidate their position and record the opening race victory in the 2021 season.
Given the youngster Ellis was seeing Le Mans for the first time, and this was his debut Grand Prix with a stand-in passenger, a podium first time out was an excellent result for the Santander Salt team. The top three crews were all around one second of each other, such was the closeness of the action. Fourth for Paivarinta and fifth for Kershaw/Charlwood were equally good results. In sixth came an improved Lukas Wyssen for Switzerland. Local pride and French honour were maintained with a brilliant fighting seventh for Ted and Vincent Peugeot. Kevin Cable/Max Vasseur for LW Racing were running strongly in Kevin’s debut World Championship race, very much holding their own ahead of the local French wildcards, until they locked up and ran on. A later misfire then finally dropped them out of contention.
1/ Tim Reeves/Kevin Rousseau (Bonovo Action Adolf RS Yamaha)
2/ Markus Schlosser/Marcel Fries (Gustoil Racing LCR Yamaha)
3/ Todd Ellis/Emmanuelle Clement (Santander Salt LCR Yamaha)
4/ Pekka Paivarinta/Ilse De Haas (44 Finland Racing LCR Yamaha)
5/ Steve Kershaw/Ryan Charlwood (Kershaw Racing LCR Yamaha)
6/ Lukas Wyssen/Thomas Hofer (Gustoil Racing LCR Yamaha)
7/ Ted Peugeot/Vincent Peugeot (FCH Competition LCR Yamaha)
The air was thick with anticipation ahead of this one. The close finish between the top three first time out, added to Schlosser’s superior top speed, meant there could be no foregone conclusion. At precisely 10am local time the lights went out and it was game on for the points.
Another flyer for Tim Reeves took him straight to the front, chased by Schlosser/Fries and Ellis/Clement. Pekka Paivarinta sat a fine fourth ahead of Steve Kershaw/Ryan Charlwood. Ted and Vincent Peugeot came next, but two laps later they were by Kershaw as he dropped behind Lukas Wyssen into seventh.
This time around, Schlosser meant business, and on lap four squeezed by Tim and Kevin at the end of the start straight. Thereafter, the Swiss kept the throttle pinned and stretched his advantage. The top three then became quite strung out, with Ellis some two seconds behind Reeves/Rousseau. Paivarinta was locked in a race-long duel with Peugeot for fourth, and theirs was a nip and tuck fight lap after lap.
There was a “heart in mouth” moment for the Finn on lap twelve as he locked up into the left/right before the finish line. He kept it together, and then Reeves hit trouble with his gearbox and no fifth gear. This eventually dropped him to fifth place, scoring valuable points to add to his race one tally.
It was indeed a fine performance by Schlosser, backed up by his fellow countryman Lukas Wyssen who brought it home ahead of Kershaw/Charlwood. Schlosser now goes to the Pannoniaring leading the series from Ellis and Reeves joint second. Kevin Cable was unlucky this time out with a recurrence of his misfire, retiring at two-thirds distance.
1/ Schlosser/Fries (Gustoil Racing LCR Yamaha)
2/ Ellis/Clement (Santander Salt Racing Yamaha)
3/ Paivarinta/De Haas (44 Finland Racing LCR Yamaha)
4/ Peugeot/Peugeot (Perillat and Peugeot Racing LCR Yamaha)
5/ Reeves/Rousseau (Bonovo Action Adolf RS Yamaha)
6/ Wyssen/Hofer (Gustoil Racing LCR Yamaha)
7/ Kershaw/Charlwood (Kershaw Racing LCR Yamaha)
Paivarinta/De Haas 29
Round Two takes place at the Pannoniaring, Hungary, June 25-27th.