Gulf Worldwide to convene in Madrid
Gulf's Belgian licensee celebrate the victory of their sponsored team (LMP2 category) at the Le Mans Series Championship. Paul Belmondo Racing acquire 6th place at Jarama.
Gulf Oil International, one of the longest supporters of top-level endurance motor racing, concluded its 2006 Le Mans Series (LMS) season by finishing sixth in the prestigious LMP2 category, and 23rd overall at the challenging Jarama circuit in Spain this afternoon.
The 1000km race, held a short distance from Madrid, marked the final round of this year's LMS - a championship that has visited five different European tracks this season and entertained an audience of around 70 million people in 200 countries around the world.
After qualifying sixth in category and 12th overall for today's six-hour race, everyone associated with Gulf and its Paul Belmondo Racing team was hoping for a strong performance on the 3.85km circuit.
And things got off to a perfect start. Young French driver Pierre Ragues overcame his lack of experience on the circuit and in the team's two-litre AER-powered Courage C65 to hold a magnificent fourth place in LMP2 and eighth place overall after two hours of racing. Around 40 of Gulf Oil International's worldwide affiliates, attending the race after taking part in the company's biennial business convention in Madrid, were delighted with the car's progress.
But with little over half of the race distance completed, the Gulf-sponsored PBR team ran in to trouble. Having taken over the driving from Pierre Ragues on lap 87, Karim Ojjeh capitalised on his team-mate's good work by taking the distinctive Powder Blue and Orange Courage C65 up to third in LMP2 and seventh place overall.
But a short while later, Ojjeh was being wheeled in to the team's pit garage for some emergency repairs. From the outside, it looked like he had suffered nothing more than a front-tyre de-lamination. However, when the PBR engineers inspected the rest of the car, they discovered that a water pipe in the engine had also broken, along with a hydraulic fluid pipe that serves the clutch.
But PBR can call upon some of the best engineers in the sport and they quickly got to work. After 20 minutes of frantic repair work, Ojjeh was thundering back down the pit lane to rejoin the race. The delay cost PBR its third place, but Ojjeh and third driver Paul Belmondo did their best to fight back during the last two hours of racing.
However, despite being consistently faster than most of its rivals in the closing stages of the race, the Gulf-sponsored Courage had to be content with sixth place in category and 23rd place overall when the chequered flag finally dropped after six hours of intense racing.
The result meant Gulf and PBR scooped four championship points, good enough to secure sixth place in the final LMP2 standings.
Elsewhere in the Jarama paddock, Gulf had good reason to celebrate following the success of the Gulf-supported Barazi-Epsilon Courage C65 that finished top of the final LMP2 Championship standings after completing the race fifth in category.
The team needed to beat championship rival RML to stand any chance of winning the overall LMP2 championship crown, but a lengthy spell in the pits during the second hour of the race to repair some damage - sustained after a brief coming together with another car at the ‘Farina' curve - made that look impossible. But when the RML car pulled off the track close to the finish, the five points that the
Barazi-Epsilon squad picked up were enough to ensure it of the championship title.
It wasn't such a memorable race for the Gulf-supported Icepol Racing Team, which joined the list of retirements just before the start of the second hour. While trying to move off the racing line for a faster LMP1 car that was behind, driver Yves Lambert lost control of his Porsche on and crashed in to the barriers. The damage to the rear of the car was too severe to continue.
Although Gulf endured mixed fortunes on the racing circuit, Gulf Vice President International, Alain Dujean, declared the company's visit to Madrid a successful and memorable occasion for a number of reasons.
He said: "Hosting the 2006 Gulf Convention alongside the final round of the LMS championship has been an extremely fruitful and enjoyable experience for us all. We have all been able to mix business with pleasure throughout the course of the weekend and I think that all the affiliates and everyone in the GOI team has enjoyed seeing the Gulf brand being driven on the racing circuit and shown off to millions of people around the world.
"I must say that I am sorry for Paul Belmondo and his team because their effort warranted more than sixth place but that's the way the sport goes. Sometimes you are up and sometimes you are down. You have to live with both feelings.
"My special congratulations must go to Barazi-Epsilon for winning the LMP2 Championship. Along with PBR, they have shown Gulf in a very good light and we are delighted to have been a part of their success this season."