The IMSA Performance Matmut squad ended their first experience of racing in America by securing the European Le Mans Series (ELMS) title in the GTE Am class.
The team – Nicolas Armindo, Raymond Narac and Anthony Pons – completed a faultless display at Petit Le Mans, avoiding the pitfalls of the race as the ELMS titles were decided at the final round of the American Le Mans Series.
The team travelled to Road Atlanta for the final round the year in a winner take all battle between them and Ferrari squad AF Corse. It was the Porsche team who took the advantage from qualifying, Armindo getting the better of AF Corse’s Piergiuseppe Perazzini, recording the perfect lap, stringing together his fastest times in all three sectors on a single flying lap.
The race seemed to swing towards the Ferrari crew when Narac lost a lap following a safety car period, but soon faought back, pressuring Matt Griffin in the Ferrari into a mistake, allowing the Matmut backed team into a nine lap lead. Following a collision with one the ALMS regulars in the main GT class AF Corse were forced to retire from the race with damaged steering, allowing Pons, Armindo and Narac to avoid problems of their own en route to the championship.
“Our comeback definitely put the pressure on them and they began making mistakes,” assessed team co-owner and manager Franck Rava. “With a nine-lap lead we managed our advantage and adapted our pace to the objective of winning the title. In the end they retired following a steering failure. We were there to learn so avoided fighting the other GTs which were all 2012-spec.”
Narac, the other half of the team ownership, both started the race for the team and completed the race at the end of the 1,000 mile event.
“The end of the race was very difficult,” he admitted. “I ran the final night stint as Anthony was not confident enough. Though we didn’t have the Ferrari pressuring us we needed to manage being lapped by cars from other classes which were fighting for position during the closing stages of the race. This was tough as there were overtaking manoeuvres coming from every direction. It was completely crazy and, to be honest, I was relieved to see the chequered flag!”
In total the team completed 363 laps of the 2.54 circuit, finishing 24th overall to secure the titles. For both Narac and Armindo it was a championship successfully defended, while for Pons it was a first championship win in the class.
“If the race looked impressive on your TV screens just imagine that in my head it was 10-times better!” enthused Pons. “The atmosphere at Petit Le Mans was exceptional and we experienced a week genuinely comparable to the Le Mans 24 Hours. The circuit is smaller but the emotions are just as intense and the event equally memorable. The layout mainly consists of blind corners, so it’s very difficult to learn. The level of GT competition was exceptional and getting to grips with the track whilst managing traffic was complicated. I was under a lot of pressure, but in the race we followed the usual plan set out by the team.”
“We didn’t have to add any tank tape to the bodywork, which is quite an achievement! We managed to unsettle our opponents who had a very good car, while Nicolas put a lot of pressure on them during his stint. The ELMS title is a bit honorary, but we have achieved a pair of great results in three huge races, so it is still very satisfying.”