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Charouz success key to LMP1 decision

Charouz Racing Lola Aston MartinAston Martin Racing team principal George Howard-Chappell has said that the success of the Charouz Racing-run Lola Aston Martin at last year's Le Mans 24 Hours was a key factor in the decision to launch a full factory LMP1 effort this season.

The Charouz car, which was run with backing from Prodrive in 2008, was the quickest of the petrol-powered cars in the run up to the 24 Hours last year and even out-qualified one of the Audis.

Even though the car's race was spoiled by a crash after less than two hours, it fought back to ninth overall - which was enough to convince Howard-Chappell of what might be possible with a full works effort.

"We had a toe in the water last year," he said. "It was under the Charouz banner but it was run out of Prodrive's AMR facility at Banbury with my guys, and it was very much 'let's have a look at LMP1 and see what it's all about, see how well we can do'.

"We were pretty pleased actually, to be the quickest petrol car at Le Mans and we were actually snapping at the heels of the diesel cars. In fact, in the last qualifying session there was a determined effort by the third Audi to try to displace us from sixth position and they didn't manage to do it.

"So we actually outqualified a diesel car last year. Obviously overall, that wasn't really good enough but it was an interesting insight into how well you can do, when you start very late with something relatively new."

Howard-Chappell expects the competition between the petrol and diesel cars to be closer this year, admits that they won't know how close until the first Le Mans Series race of the year at Catalunya in April.

"The major change in the regulations has restricted the diesel cars power output by 10 per cent, and that is a significant amount," he said. "Unfortunately, because we did rather well with our production-engined petrol car, we have also been handicapped by 3 per cent, so relative to the diesels we are going to be 7 per cent better off on power output. And obviously we are going to be closer to the established petrol race engines.

"Quite how that pans out, we are not really sure. One of the great joys of going racing is that everybody can talk about how the regulations have changed, but you don't where you are going to be until you turn up, particularly at Le Mans."

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