Larbre Competition secures strong podium at Gulf 12 Hours

Third-place finish rounds off mature Yas Marina Circuit debut

Larbre Competition ended their 2014 racing season in fine style after clinching a podium finish in the Cup class at this year’s Gulf 12 Hours (December 11-13). Experienced racers Manuel Rodrigues, Christian Philippon, Denis Gibaud, and Franck Labescat delivered a consistent performance aboard the French squad’s #50 Porsche 991 Cup, impressing at their maiden appearance in Abu Dhabi.

The foursome had their first taste of the iconic grand prix venue, which recently hosted the 2014 FIA Formula One World Championship showdown, under its trademark floodlights on Thursday night. After an initial adaptation period, the Larbre crew set about gathering extensive data to use over the course of the weekend.

With only 15 minutes on track for each driver and the aggregate fastest lap deciding the starting order, Friday’s qualifying session was challenging for the quartet. The Cup-entered #50 Porsche eventually finished fourth in class, securing the 21st overall grid slot for Saturday’s rolling start.

Here the Val de Vienne-based squad made quick progress through the field thanks to a well thought-out strategy and flawless stints from the drivers. Despite having to serve a drive-through penalty for speeding in the pit-lane, Jack Leconte’s crew were 14th overall and second in class at the halfway point. What’s more, the Larbre team-mates were the leading Gentleman-entered car, placing them ahead of double MotoGP world champion Jorge Lorenzo’s Ferrari.

After a three-hour mid-race break, the contest re-started late afternoon with Philippon behind the wheel of the #50 Porsche. As a seasoned GT Tour racer, he strived to keep hold of second place into the night. On change over, Gibaud replaced him and immediately found himself embroiled in a three-way scrap involving Matthew Telling’s #43 Porsche and the #67 car driven by Rob Thomson. Gibaud put up a great fight to fend off his rivals’ attacks and defend his position, before suffering an unfortunate spin at the “Stadium” hairpin and dropping down to fourth. He then handed the car over to Rodrigues, who drove for Larbre at the Le Mans 24 Hours in 2013.Under the Abu Dhabi floodlights, the racing veteran quickly made up lost ground and stormed back to the leading trio in the Cup class, recording the #50 car’s fastest lap in the process. Rodrigues’ fine display set up Labescat, who was eager to catch the #43 car during the final stint. The GT Tour competitor managed to make up for the lost lap but, with the Safety Car coming out 40 minutes before the flag, the crew’s hopes for second were dashed. After 12 intense hours of racing, the Gibaud-Labescat-Philippon Rodrigues quartet crossed the line in third, securing a Cup class podium and 15th overall.

Christian Philippon: “I’ll treasure many great memories from this year’s Gulf 12 Hours, from the race in itself as well as the event as awhole. Indeed, I was thrilled to drive at Yas Marina Circuit for the very first time, a truly stunning venue with amazing facilities. “It was also a genuine pleasure to join such a professional squad as Larbre Competition, and benefit from their wealth of experience in endurance racing.

“Despite facing an extremely competitive field, we managed to build a nice rapport as team-mates and delivered a fine performance during the race. It was great to get to know Manuel and Denis over the weekend, the last race meeting of 2014. “Finally, hats off to Franck, whose final stint was as intense and action-packed as a Porsche Carrera Cup round!”

Denis Gibaud: “I will always keep fond memories of this event, especially as this was the first time we were driving together.“The Yas Marina Circuit offers a tough challenge because it features a lot of second-gear corners and long straights followed by heavy braking areas.“I’d like to extend my warmest thanks to the entire Larbre Competition team for their great professionalism and tremendous skills, which undoubtedly helped us secure a podium finish.”

Manuel Rodrigues: “Throughout the weekend, I was able to rely on Jack Leconte’s grit and relentlessness as well as my team-mates’ support to clinch this fine result. The car felt great during the race and despite some rookie mistakes and a drive-through penalty we were second in class after the initial six hours. The next segment proved more complicated as we were up against vastly experienced line-ups, some of them even featuring pro drivers.“Still, we remained determined not to leave Abu Dhabi empty-handed so we drove a brilliant end to the race and managed to grab third in the Cup category.“A huge thank you to my team-mates and the whole Larbre Competition team for giving us such great equipment. I’d also like to extend my kindest regards to my personal sponsors who made this experience happen.”

Franck Labescat: “This year’s Gulf 12 Hours gave me the memorable opportunity to sample the Porsche 991 Cup within a professional squad. What’s more, Yas Marina is a tremendous and very technical circuit, featuring a thrilling combination of fast sectorsand slow segments.“Thanks to the help and advice from Jack and Larbre Competition engineer Johannes, my team-mates and I were able to collate a lot of useful data to keep improving over the weekend. It was a great job from the mechanics as well, who were flawless throughout the whole event.

“As for the race, it remained a hotly contested affair until the very end. We were up to P2 at the halfway mark, but then a couple of racing incidents dropped us out of the top-three as we entered the final hours. I just got my head down and sprinted through the final stint, regaining hopes for a podium finish in the closing stages.

“This was a fantastic weekend for every individual in the team with our strong result topping it off in style. For gentleman drivers like us, clinching third really feels like winning, so many thanks to all the people who have contributed to this success.

Jack Leconte, Team Manager: “I am delighted to finish the 2014 season on a high and see Larbre Competition enjoy another podiumfinish at the Gulf 12 Hours, an event that is surely becoming a major fixture in the Middle East endurance racing calendar. What’s more, this region represents a key market for the automotive industry. I was also very happy to welcome new drivers into the team who are actually very good friends of mine that I see on a regular basis away from the track.

“It was a pleasure to make our Yas Marina Circuit debut; it’s a truly stunning and iconic racing venue. I am sure the dazzling night images will remain engraved in our minds for a very long time. There was also a hint of festive cheer within the spectacular facilities all weekend.“After securing a podium during the Porsche Carrera Cup France finale in late October, this top-three finish comes as a well-deserved reward for all the efforts and hard work Larbre Competition and its members have put in this year.