Classic Moment - Xx VenomTDI xX versus Hammer fhb in 2011
In 2011 a titanic battle between Peugeot's Hammer and Audi's VenomTDI raged all season long. Although the Audi driver took the final honours, the early season was very hotly contested. With what was arguably a slight car advantage Peugeot took the first two places on the grid, and nobody expected VenomTDI, who was 4th to challenge. However, in the race the Audi driver made a tenacious effort to take the lead and commanding position within the race.
A collision with a GTE backmarker changed this, and Hammer closed on the Audi driver. A terrific battle ensued between the pair - with positions changing before finally Hammer made the move stick by going around the outside of the Audi driver through turn 1. This sparked a year long rivalry between the pair which was only concluded at the seasons end.
LMP1 Pole Position - HMR Motorhead
After taking an impressive, and hard-fought victory at Sebring, HMR Motorhead has looked like the man to beat so far this season. Porsche had an extremely strong showing at Sebring with HCR Mad Dog the only driver able to compete with Motorhead and F4H Hamilton, until the latter struck trouble late in the race.
I expect Motorhead to be at the head of the field again this weekend, however there are chinks in the Porsche armour - if the German marque is to be toppled these will need to be exploited. This weekend Motorhead is the only Porsche on the LMP1 grid, after F4H Hamilton was unable to race and Hug My Toad made the late move to Muscle Milk Pickett Racing. On top of that Motorhead has history at Mugello, suffering a DNF last season.
LMP1 - Who can stop HMR Motorhead?
Motorhead's competition will come from the pair of Audi's driven by RG Maverick and Xx VenomTDI xX. Absent at Sebring, the pair will be eager to get their championship rolling and are both serious contenders. Maverick impressed many at Audi last season, with a number of strong showings for the marque, and this form hasn't left the driver - he'll be looking to challenge Motorhead for that elusive victory. VenomTDI needs no introduction, the two times LMP1 World Champion has become a legend of the series, and while in the past few seasons he has struggled to find the championship winning form of 2010 and 2011, he still has the desire to compete with the best.
The Lotus duo of Adder020 and GAZ POT 71 sit 4th and 5th on the grid, and while the team is still very inexperienced, having their debut just 2 weeks ago at Sebring, they are making solid progress, and could arrive in podium contention should any of the leading three hit trouble.
LMGTE Pole Position - F4H bandicoot
F4H bandicoot took a sterling pole position for Porsche to build on a strong third place result at Sebring. Porsche have struggled somewhat in the post-Velox Polaris (Jonnyy NI) era, however in bandicoot look to have finally found the man to challenge for future championships - to do this consistency, not necessarily outright speed, will be paramount.
Qualifying times in GTE are a whopping 1.7 seconds slower than last year, despite no major regulation changes - which leads us to suspect that some of the GTE teams have been trying to hide their true pace. It will be interesting to see the true order of things once the race finishes.
LMGTE - The Contenders
LMGTE is perhaps more open than LMP1. the Ferrari pair of LMR Mopar and Aero180 follow bandicoot on the grid and will no doubt exert pressure on the Porsche driver - just a tenth of a second separated the three after qualifying. The pressure will be on the Ferrari drivers to win at their home track - a feat I only managed once after five years of trying.
However, to see all the competitors you must look beyond the top three. The top six in GTE are separated by just eight tenths of a second, and I wouldn't be surprised to see any of them taking top honours. With three Ferraris and three Porsches, it looks set to be a classic duel between the most successful marques in the series.
How to win at Mugello
Mugello is a fascinating track, one I enjoyed thoroughly. It's characteristic sweeping corners require a lot of commitment - and importantly a car you can really rely on. Having a very responsive front end on your car is essential, as any hesitation can throw you wide - costing time and losing valuable momentum for a lap.
Winning at Mugello requires more than raw pace. Consistency is especially important here, as unlike some modern tracks the run off areas are covered in gravel - you can easily lose five to ten seconds with a small mistake. I think consistency will be the deciding factor here, and expect to see it reflected in the race results.
In LMP1 the Audi drivers will need to make the most of their experience to overcome Motorhead. VenomTDI knows how to win at Mugello, having done so in 2010. GTE is a very different battle which will be won and lost by small margins. While they are likely to have a slight edge in top speed, the Porsches are very nervous in high speed direction changes, and the Ferraris will have to exploit this if they are to pass them.
Overall I expect this will be a fascinating race and look forward to seeing what happens - I already miss driving!