Luckless Larbre Competition forced into early Le Mans retirement
Sun 14, Jun, 2015

Larbre Competition was unable to add another chapter to its illustrious GT record at the Le Mans 24 Hours this weekend (June 13/14) after a warm-up incident ultimately led to retirement at 11pm local time on Saturday. 

The French squad has five class victories to its name at the world’s greatest endurance race, but there would be no repeat at the 83rd edition after a gearbox issue and resulting complications led to the GTE Am-entered #50 Corvette C7.R – driven by Paolo Ruberti, Gianluca Roda and Kristian Poulsen – being withdrawn. 

Having struggled to find a suitable set-up throughout Wednesday and Thursday’s practice and qualifying sessions, the squad worked feverishly during Friday’s ‘day off’ to eke out extra performance. And that was immediately evident at the start of Saturday morning’s warm-up when the car was able to lap amongst the fastest in its class.

Unfortunately, Roda’s accident at the Porsche Curves would ultimately have ramifications for the race despite the hard work of both the Larbre and Corvette factory mechanics. Their co-ordinated efforts at least ensured the car would take the start 10th in class. 

But there was still no way of knowing the extent of the damage until racing began at 15:00 local time. And it soon became apparent that further repairs would be required after oil began leaking from the gearbox with an hour gone. Subsequent time spent in the garage soon dropped the Corvette five laps off the class lead and, with no way of permanently fixing the problem, the decision was made to retire on the grounds of safety.

While in some respects round three of this year’s FIA World Endurance Championship will go down as one to forget for the Val de Vienne-based squad, the camaraderie between Larbre’s customer GTE Am programme and its works counterpart, who won the Pro class, will live long in the memory. Indeed, the French C7.R now heads to America where it will race as part of the factory squad’s TUSCC programme after the second Pro-entered car was badly damaged in qualifying on Thursday.

Gianluca Roda: “I had an accident in the second part of the Porsche Curves during warm-up and made a big mess of the car. The mechanics worked really hard to repair it for the race but we still had a problem with the gearbox. After an hour we started losing oil, and then after five the gearbox was more or less broken. So it was better to stop because we had already lost a lot of laps. On top of that I had a moment with the #8 Audi LMP1 car, which at one point was going too fast under yellow flags and span off in front of me. I had a small moment as a result but didn’t hit anything and there was no major damage to the car. I was also suffering some pain from the accident on Saturday morning. I managed to drive for two hours and, although it was difficult, I would have made the finish. Unfortunately, in the end, there were just too many problems with the car.”

Paolo Ruberti: “I started the race but after only a few laps could see oil on the rear-view camera. It wasn’t a good sign, and there was even more oil coming out of the gearbox. We tried to repair it but there was just too much being lost, so we decided to stop the car to avoid risking a crash. We’d also already lost far too many laps to have a chance of salvaging a good result. It’s frustrating because the car felt good at the start and was better than in qualifying. We were certainly much faster than our best qualifying time. It’s a shame that the gearbox put an end to our race because the car was really easy to drive and feeling good.”

Kristian Poulsen: “We’d already had a difficult week and the race just got worse, which is a real shame. But this is racing and sometimes when it starts to go wrong it’s a downward spiral from there. It was the right decision to stop the race because the car must be safe to drive, especially on such a fast circuit. We came here to win our class so there was no point taking major risks for nothing. I drove a double stint and the car felt fine to drive but was losing far too much oil and, after two or three laps, the rear camera was covered in it. I knew it wasn’t good news.”

Jack Leconte, Team Manager: “We managed to find the correct set-up after looking at all the data and our performance during practice and qualifying. In fact we were 6km/h faster in the warm-up and start of the race as a result, which meant we could set comparable times to those at the head of GTE Am. I know Paolo was very happy with the car and we wanted Gianluca to have a similar chance to gain confidence before the race because he hadn’t driven at the end of Thursday night qualifying. Unfortunately he pushed a little too hard, clipped the kerb exiting Porsche Curves and hit the outside wall at high speed, which caused a lot of damage. We fixed the diff but the gearbox oil tank also suffered, and with the heat the leak increased. We tried sealing it but to no avail. And when oil started affecting other components it became unsafe to continue, especially as it could have got onto the tyres and caused a big accident. So we preferred to retire and live to fight another day. 

“Obviously we are very disappointed. We came here to win, as we always do, and to retire so early is very unusual for us. If there is one positive I can take then it’s been seeing the wonderful partnership we enjoy with Corvette in action. We have both suffered this week but always been there to help each other, and I take great pleasure from seeing their #64 entry win GTE Pro. We’ve endured a tough start to this year’s championship, but with our car now heading to the States for the summer hopefully its return will bring us better luck.”

Round four of the FIA WEC takes place at the Nurburgring in Germany on August 28-30.