Space tech keeps Pescarolo on track at Le Mans
Pescarolo Sport’s use of ESA technology in their two racing cars shaved crucial seconds off every lap at last weekend’s Le Mans marathon 24-hour race, helping to place them into the top ten out of 50 competitors.
Pescarolo driver Frank Lagorce expressed his satisfaction with the race and his car, No. 17: “it was much better this year than last year. The car was much lighter.” ESA technologies within the vehicles improved safety while cutting down the weight. Their bodies included composite materials used in ESA’s satellite structures. Insulation materials were also applied from Ariane, the European launcher, improving safety in several crucial areas on the car. For more details on ESA technologies used by Pescarolo see “Space tech onboard” link, to the right.
André de Cortanze, Technical Director of Pescarolo Sport team, said “It is basically the same car as last year, but with improved performance. With the space materials from ESA, we saved about 30 kg on the body. This enabled us to locate weight optimally for better overall handling. On a four km test-circuit, we gained one second with the 30 kg lighter car. The Le Mans is 13 km so overall we gained 4.25 seconds per lap.”
Pescarolo Sport director Henri Pescarolo added: "We had the objective to get both our cars to reach the finishing line and we succeeded. We were very happy to make it into the top ten.”
The race started on Saturday 14 June at 16:00 and what turned out to be the final two winning cars from Bentley - car No.7 and No.8 – immediately jumped into the top five. Along with the Bentleys and the two Audis (cars No. 5 and No. 6) Pescarolo’s two cars - No.17 and No. 18 - zoomed into the first ten, and held this position for the most of the race. Only three small incidents stopped them from getting any higher.
There was a tense moment at 18:30 when suddenly the brake pedal went right to the floor for driver Stéphane Sarrazin in Pescarolo car No.17. After some investigation it turned out to be a fluid leak at the right front wheel, a problem never experienced before, solved by an 11-minute repair.
The second alarm went off at midnight, this time for the other Pescarolo car - No.18 - driven by Nicolas Minassian who had to return to the pit with a flat tire, losing nine minutes.
At 04:00 early Sunday morning cars 18 and 17 held the eighth and ninth places, always keeping in contact with the race leaders. They even managed to improve their position early Sunday morning: at 08:00 they held the sixth and seventh places.
Unfortunately, at the end of the 299th lap, a little before 11:00, the sudden rupture of a part in No. 18’s left suspension put that at risk. Some 23 minutes in the pit box for a change of suspension and body parts set back the car into a ninth position.
The two Pescarolo cars ended the race in eighth and ninth positions.
ESA space tech used in many endurance races
Last January another of Pescarolo’s cars competing in the Dakar Rally made use of ESA technology. The technologies were similar to some of the ones used in this year’s Le Mans race: cooling systems for exhaust, manifold and turbos. Cooled helmets and refreshed drinks planned for 2004’s Le Mans were already successfully tested during Dakar 2003.
Discussions are currently taking place between ESA’s Technology Transfer Programme and the world champions of the World Rally Championship (WRC), Peugeot Sport, to define which space technologies could be provided to improve Peugeot rally cars.
“We are currently world champions in the World Rally Championship (WRC). We have been world champion for three years in a row, 2000, 2001 and 2002 and we are presently leading the qualifications for the 2003 championship. The WRC is a very complicated sport, and we have a lot of electronics on board, many more than in Le Mans,” said Corado Provera, Director of Peugeot Sport.
“So the fact that ESA is able to help us is something we are very interested in and we have listed a number of technologies which we could work on, provided that the proposed solutions comply with regulations. For instance, by using composite materials in the body we could lower the center of gravity of the car to improve the efficiency on the road.”