Aug 2017

ELMS Paul Ricard

JMW_Paul_Ricard_2017_31

Photo Copyright JMW Motorsport

A third place finish less than a second behind championship rivals TF Sport after a 10 second penalty due to a pit stop infringement was a frustrating end to a hot race at Paul Ricard.
 
Very high temperatures and an abrasive surface meant tyre management was going to be a major factor during the 4 hours at Le Castellet. The two free practice sessions on Friday afternoon and Saturday morning were spent fine tuning setup and there was a big difference in the car between FP1 and the end of FP2.
 
Jonny Cocker qualified in P4 on the GTE grid on Saturday afternoon but an LMP3 car had managed to slot itself between us and the Proton Competition Porsche in P3. As at the Red Bull Ring, the P3's would get in the way on a number of occasions and with a very similar top speed to the GTE cars make our lives very difficult. I started the race and held station in fourth place until lap 9 when I passed the no 77 Porsche at the double right after Signes Curve. Up until this point I had to navigate a couple of LMP3 cars which were embroiled in the GTE battle but was now clear to chase after the Beechdean Aston Martin in second. I looked after my tyres at the beginning of the race and once I was clear of the P3 cars and Porsche, I was able to chip away at the Beechdean Aston's gap towards the end of my stint before handing over to Rob.
 
Rob Smith was next up and he moved up to second place, passing Andrew Howard before handing over to Jonny Cocker for the third stint. Jonny maintained second, although the TF Sport Aston Martin was closing with Nicki Thiim at the wheel. The next pit stop unfortunately included a 10 second penalty for an  infringement during the previous pit stop, so when I went back on track, a comfortable margin had been reduced to under 5 seconds. I took it easy for the first few laps, staying off the kerbs, not wanting to take too much out of the tyres, so that I had something left at the end of the race but it meant that the Aston was closing and he had caught me with 35 minutes to go. The Aston got by into the chicane on the Mistral and after catching a LMP3 car at an unfortunate part of the circuit the gap grew to a couple of seconds when a full course yellow interrupted proceedings. I was confident that I would have the pace to catch the TF car in the second half of the stint but there was nothing I could do sitting on the limiter watching the Aston a little way up the road.  As soon as it went green I began to close the gap before yet another full course yellow slowed proceedings where I was held up by the LMP2 race leader whose limiter was well below the 80 kph limit, so I had to keep backing off the throttle to stay behind it! The race was finally green with 14 minutes to go and the gap to second was over 3 seconds. I was determined to get P2 back, but ran out of laps and was just a second behind at the flag - the two full course yellow periods were frustrating but that's the way it goes sometimes. We're still second in the championship with some work to do in the last two rounds.
 
The battle continues at the next round of the ELMS at Spa Francorchamps in Belgium on 24 September.