While busy setting up his own engineering business, Giovanni Lavaggi gradually worked his way up the motorsport ranks. In 1995, eleven years after finishing second in the Formula Panda Italia, the multi-talented Italian debuted in Formula 1. In his first season he raced for the lacklustre Pacific Lotus team and he did little better the next season at Minardi. He then turned to sportscar racing with his own team, running Ferrari 333 SPs. Between 1998 and 2003, he scored two wins including the much coveted Monza 1000 km race. This was the last time we heard from Lavaggi, until 2005 when he announced the construction of an all new LMP1 sports prototype.
After the first announcement, the project was long shrouded in mystery. A good few months into the program a picture was released of the windtunnel model, but sadly most of it was blocked by Giovanni Lavaggi, who took centre stage in the shot. The intial plan was to have the car ready for the 2006 Le Mans Series, but there was no sign of the car at the opening rounds. In April, the team promised to have the car ready for testing within two months, but June went by without a sign of the Lavaggi. When most had already forgotten about the Lavaggi, the Italians announced the unveiling of the 'LS1' at the Nürburgring round of the Le Mans Series.
Literally put together at the very last minute, the red and white LMP1 racer was unveiled in dramatic fashion after being covered by a red tarp for a full day to build up some more excitement. When the tarp was finally lifted, it was immediately obvious that the designers had worked with principle of function over form. There was some confusion about what engine was fitted, but it is the PME developed Ford V8 engine. It similar to the engine previously used by Konrad Motorsport in their Saleens. The chassis is built to accomodate any LMP1 or LMP2 engine, giving potential customers a wide range of options.
At the Nürburgring, the team announced the car would be shaken down and intensively tested upon their return in Italy. The planned testing session was cut short because of issues with the engine management electronics. Nevertheless Lavaggi decided to venture out to Jarama to compete in the final round of the 2006 Le Mans Series. He clearly did not come to win, but to see how close the car was to the competition. Sadly, the weekend turned out to be a bitter disappointment.
Giovanni Lavaggi was joined in the driver's seat by experienced French endurance racer Xavier Pompidou and to the surprise of many he quickly put in some relatively fast laps in the new car. Pompidou's quickest lap was four seconds of the pace of the fastest car at the time. After that early practice session, it all went sour very rapidly. There were unexpected problems with the engine management system after the team replaced the first engine with the spare, which turned out to be impossible to fix on the track. Much of the race was spent in the pits and when the car was out, it served as a rolling chicane on the tight Spanish track.
Hopefully the team will not give and use the winter months to get the problems sorted out; more diversity in the prototype field is always welcome and despite its ungainly looks the Lavaggi LS1 might surprise the critics with its speed.
Article by Wouter Melissen, last updated on October 09, 2006
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