Andy Priaulx was pleased to claim a podium with his BMW Marc VDS team-mates at the ELMS 4 Hours of Le Castellet, after a concerning qualifying session left the team searching for pace.
Priaulx, who partnered Jesse Krohn and Henry Hassid at Paul Ricard, only managed to qualify the #52 BMW Z4 GTE eighth in class, and was left frustrated at both his lack of pace and the significant advantage enjoyed by the Ferrari runners that mopped up the top three grid spots.
“We came here at the beginning of the year and we were 1.6s off the pace and that hasn’t changed. I think this track is really hurting us,” Priaulx told The Checkered Flag an hour before the race. “Yesterday I was very happy but for some reason with the track changing this morning and the low temperatures it was difficult to get dialled in.”
“In practice we were three or four tenths off but today in qualifying we’re two or three seconds off which to me doesn’t make sense and we need to find out what’s going on there. I think as the track grip increases and as the temperature comes up that will probably help us more in the race, but I am concerned.”
“We’ve done a good job to minimise mistakes during stints but we’re just lacking ultimate pace to Ferrari which is on a whole new planet, especially when you’ve got seven or so AF Corse cars on track, because they just do what they want to do and they dictate it completely. There’s no way I can find two seconds in my driving when they have that kind of pace.”
Indeed, the track temperature did rise dramatically over the course of the day and by the time the four hour race had got underway the Marc VDS squad was looking dangerous. After an inspired opening stint from bronze driver Henry Hassid – who was running as high as second before the first round of pit stops – Priaulx took over and consolidated his team-mate’s hard work by staying within reach of the leading Formula Racing Ferrari 458 Italia.
However, a poorly timed safety car intervention put Priaulx a lap down, forcing him to chase a target that wasn’t there. A strong final stint from Jesse Krohn gave the Belgian team its first ELMS podium of the year; a result that Priaulx had struggled to envisage earlier in the day.
“I’m really pleased we’re up here on the podium,” he said after the race. “I was concerned in qualifying – the car just felt awful. But then, in the race, the temperatures suited us a bit better and it felt great. I was comfortable, the pace was good and if it wasn’t for the bad luck with the safety car we’d have been right in the hunt to win the race. Henry and Jesse both drove superbly – to go from eighth to second in one stint, as a bronze driver, is really impressive.”
The result places BMW Team Marc VDS second in the LMGTE standings with one round to go. The gap to the race-winning Formula Racing Ferrari has been extended to 19 points, but with 26 points available from the final round at Estoril there is still a good chance for the BMW Z4 to win a championship in its final year of competition.