Motorsport.com columnist Harry Tincknell tells us about his latest exploits in the European Le Mans Series – a winning one at that.
I’ve had one race since the Le Mans 24 Hours in June, when I was back in the JOTA Sport Gibson for round three of the European Le Mans Series race at Red Bull Ring last month.
I couldn’t wait to get to Austria as it is one of the best tracks on the calendar and the high-speed corners and big braking zones suit the Gibson very well.
I qualified the car on pole-position by a good margin, nearly four tenths clear of the second fastest, which brought us another valuable point towards our championship assault. We have such a good record of poles in the ELMS – I’d been on pole there last year – it is almost expected rather than hoped for these days but it was nice to deliver it once again!
My team-mate Filipe [Albuquerque] started the race and soon tore off into the lead but a succession of Safety Cars put us back to square one every time. There seems to be a lot of them in the championship this year and it can be incredibly frustrating when you’ve built up a good lead, only to see it eroded.
Hopefully slow zones and Full Course Yellows will be introduced soon like they have in the FIA World Endurance Championship so that the races are affected as little as possible by Safety Car periods for small, on-track incidents.
After 50 minutes, Filipe handed the car over to Simon [Dolan] for his double stint. He was straight into the thick of the action, exiting the pits right behind Gary Hirsch and Simon pulled off a brilliant overtaking move down into Turn 3.
Some teams switched their strategy during the Safety Cars, which meant we were now in second place. But Simon quickly caught and dispatched the Eurasia car at the last corner and started to build a lead.
There was a good battle towards the end of Simon’s stint with the TDS of Pierre Thiriet but there was no way he was coming past and Simon pitted to hand over to me in the lead. This was definitely Simon’s best performance I’ve seen from him over the last 18 months, his times were awesome. All I had to do was just to finish off the job!
As soon as I left the pits, the Safety Car was deployed for an incident on the circuit and after a few laps behind it, the track went Green again only for the Safety Car to appear once again almost immediately after a big accident for one of the SMP cars at the first corner. This meant there was going to be a showdown between Tristan Gommendy, now in the TDS car, and myself for the win.
When we went back to racing, I managed to start building a gap up to about 15 seconds. Then, guess what! Another Safety Car with 30 minutes to go!
I felt like we were racing in America with all of the Safety Cars, bunching the field up on multiple occasions. But I just had to keep cool and make a good re-start and build the gap up again.
When the track went green, for what turned out the final time, I got my head down and had a relatively untroubled road to victory! Red Bull Ring actually marked my fourth career sportscar win which isn’t bad considering I only switched to this category in April last year.
The JOTA team was absolutely flawless all weekend and all three drivers were fast and consistent. It was a brilliant team performance. We’d finished second and third in the previous two races and we need two more wins really if we’re going to clinch the ELMS title that we just missed out on last year by a mere four points.
Taking the maximum score of 26 points in Austria, we are now leading the championship on 60 points. We’re only two head of TDS though and Greaves aren’t too far back either so it’s all to play for in the final two races of the season.
Next up is Paul Ricard next month and it’s historically not a great track for us. We were only fourth there last year but I think we could be much more competitive this time with the updated Gibson. We’ll need to work really hard to stay in front in the title race and maintain JOTA’s 100% podium record in 2015 – which also includes finishing first [Spa], which I was apart of, and second [Le Mans], in its two FIA World Endurance Championship races.
I don’t think we’ll be the quickest car on the straights at Ricard but we’ll be pretty strong around the corners. I qualified on the front row for last year’s corresponding race and ultimately finished fourth.
I’ve never been on the podium at Ricard so I’m intent on changing that. If all three of us drive as well as we did at Red Bull Ring and the team does its usual good job, I don’t see any reason why we can’t be fighting for the win again.