EUROPEAN LE MANS SERIES - CIRCUIT PAUL RICARD
The result of the French round of the 2014 European Le Mans Series at Circuit Paul Ricard strengthens Signatech-Alpine’s provisional lead at the top of the championship.
Oliver Webb, Paul-Loup Chatin and Nelson Panciatici came second to pull out a 10-point lead ahead of the season’s final round.
Signatech-Alpine will defend its ELMS crown at Estoril, Portugal, on October 19.
After spending the summer break sitting at the top of the provisional European Le Mans Series standings, Signatech-Alpine’s objective at Circuit Paul Ricard was to strengthen its lead ahead of the championship’s finale in October.The Alpine A450b hit the ground running at the same circuit that saw the team clinch Alpine’s first ELMS crown in 2013, 35 years after the make’s success at Le Mans in 1978.
Today, the team opted for a different strategy to that of its rivals and didn’t target pole position. Nelson Panciatici posted the fifth fastest time in qualifying and the aim was to take advantage of this tactical decision in today’s four-hour race.
Oliver Webb was behind the wheel for the start and he put in a perfect stint before handing over to Paul-Loup Chatin with the car in fourth place.
The youngest of Signatech-Alpine’s trio then found himself in the midst of an extremely close pack but some incisive driving enabled him to complete his first stint five seconds behind the leader before handing over to Nelson Panciatici.
Nelson then benefited from four new medium-compound Dunlops to fight his way to second spot before passing the car back to Paul-Loup Chatin for the remainder of the race.
Paul-Loup’s double stint saw him shrug off pressure from Murphy Prototypes to clinch second place – Signatech-Alpine’s fourth consecutive podium finish – and set the team up well in its bid to claim a second straight European Le Mans Series title.
Philippe Sinault (Team Principal, Signatech-Alpine): “We went for an aggressive strategy because we had no intention of simply covering our rivals from behind. We therefore decided to fit fresh tyres at each stop. That meant our three drivers had to be perfectly on the pace and it also called for some slick pit stop work. Everyone played a part in today’s success. The objective was to gain points over our rivals in the title fight and we succeeded. All we need to do now is finish off the job at the last round at Estoril.”
Oliver Webb: “It was the first time I was named to start a European Le Mans Series race. I managed to run in fourth place with a good pace on hard-compound tyres. My two team-mates then put in competitive runs to make sure of second place. At Estoril, we will need to target victory because we have a title to win…”
Paul-Loup Chatin: “We picked up an excellent result at our home race. We gambled on an aggressive tyre management strategy and the entire team did a fantastic job. We now need to focus our attention on the last race in Portugal.”
Nelson Panciatici: “I did my stint on medium-compound tyres and was able to benefit from five or six laps when I was particularly strong to move up the order. The task got a bit more complex after that because I had to take the wear factor into account. Oliver and Paul-Loup also played an important part in today’s podium finish. We are in a good position for the title.”
On paper, only four teams can still hope to claim the 2014 European crown. Signatech-Alpine enjoys a lead of 10 points over its biggest threat and another second place at Estoril will suffice to clinch the European Le Mans Series.
4 Heures du Paul Ricard – final positions:1, Newblood by Morand Racing 43 (Hirsch/Klien/Ragues), 125 laps2, Signatech-Alpine 36 (Chatin/Panciatici/Webb), +5.518s3, Murphy Prototypes 48 (Berthon/Derani/Gonzalez), +18.856s4, Jota Sport 38 (Albuquerque/Dolan/Tincknell), +1m20.558s5, Greaves Motorsport 28 (Bacheta/Schulzhitskiy), +1m57.916s6, Sébastien Loeb Racing 24 (Capillaire/Pic/Roda), +2 laps7, Race Performance 34 (Frey/Mailleux), +3 laps
European Le Mans Series standings (after four rounds from five):1, Signatech-Alpine 36 (68 points)2, Jota Sport 38 (58)3, Newblood by Morand Racing 43 (50)4, Race Performance 34 (45)5, Thiriet By TDS Racing 46 (35)