From fighting for the podium to parking the #31 Oreca LMP2 car in the tyre wall within a few laps, the 2020 ELMS season opener was an eventful one for the recently formed Panis Racing team.
This is a team that came from the merging of Tech1 & Panis-Barthez, now led by ex F1 driver Olivier Panis and managed by Sarah and Simon Abadie, returned to the European Le Mans Series for a fifth year last weekend.
Utilising three drivers this season who are, newcomer Nico Jamin, plus experienced team drivers Will Stevens and Julien Canal.
A total of 36 cars, including fifteen in the LMP2 class started the 2020 ELMS opening round, the 4 Hours of Le Castellet at the Circuit Paul Richard in France on Sunday 19th July. The season having been postponed due to the Covid-19 pandemic and with empty grandstands, some teams seemed to feel more pressure without the fans watching.
The team qualified in P7 due to Stevens’ impressive drive and at 11 am on Sunday Jamin took to the starting grid with a cautious start which soon dropped him to 8th place by the end of the first lap. To add to this, a bad manoeuvre by a competitor on lap 5 forced him to yield another 3 places down to P11. Jamin took this as a challenge and fought back hard to regain his 7th position before returning to the pits on lap 38 for Canal to take the wheel just over an hour into the race.
The Le Mans born driver returned to the track under a Full Course Yellow and overtook Alexandre Coigny of Cool Racing and then Dennis Andersen of High-Class Racing after the green flag was waved which put him into P4 just an hour and a half into the race.
Then trouble hit the Frenchman, big time.
A few minutes after claiming p4, Canal lost control of the car due to a broken suspension part and hit the tyre wall hard resulting in retirement for the team.
The Panis Racing Team Principal stated, “We were really happy to be back on track with the team to finally get into a race in 2020 after this very complicated period. We have a great line-up. Will Stevens pure talent is no longer to be proven, as well as his technical skills. Julien Canal as a hugely experienced endurance driver also brings a lot to the team. But the essential novelty this year is the newcomer Nico Jamin who is not only a driver with an impressive top speed and a hard worker but also a great human asset with the unanimous support of our team.
Our solid trio has worked a lot during the private testing and since they joined forces. It’s a real disappointment not to be rewarded and to retire from a race where everything was in place to finish quite on top around the Paul Ricard circuit. Because of the tyres performance, this year’s cars are going much faster than last year and are sorely tested.
We need to work with the other teams, manufacturers and constructors on that matter to limit the damages. In the meantime, we’re going to roll up our sleeves and prepare for the 4 Hours of Spa!”
Adding to that, Jamin said “I already feel very comfortable within the Panis Racing family, and the osmosis with my teammates is ideal. We have pretty much the same feedback on the car, and our understanding on and off the track is really good. I quickly got the confirmation that our performance level was high during private testing, and this was even more evident throughout this week at Le Castellet.
We were racing for the top three, but, unfortunately, the mechanical failure ran over our efforts. I’m optimistic for the season ahead because we have the potential to fight at the front. The team is solid with Olivier Panis, Simon and Sarah Abadie strong competitive spirit, and the work done by the engineers and the whole team bodes well for the future!”
Accident inflicted Canal had this to say about the race, “I was really looking forward to getting back to the team after that period of confinement due to the Covid outbreak. From the very first test sessions, I enjoyed some good moments with my new teammate Nico Jamin, with whom I got along very well right away. He’s an extremely fast driver who shares the same feedback as Will and I in the car. It’s a major asset for the whole team in terms of set-up. Everything is in place to do great things this year.
My teammate Nico Jamin had a tricky start in the pack, but he made it through. We made the right choices, and a good pit stop allowed me to gain two places in my first stint. We were 4th, with a great pace. But, a little before mid-race, a broken connecting rod – independent of any fault – sent me off-track. The race was over for us“
The second round of the 2020 ELMS season takes place at the legendary Spa-Francorchamps track in Belgium, on August 9.