Endurance racing is all about teamwork

01.05.2014

This is what Kevin has learned during his first two meetings as a GT driver. But what have remained behind the scenes? How does he rate his performance and skills? Kevin has a say.

Do you have the same feeling that Monza was a success while everything went wrong at Silverstone?

More or less so. However, I have learned it can happen in endurance racing much more often than in single-seaters. First of all there are so many different car manufacturers. One track suits you but another weekend you are simply not quick. At Silverstone we were definitely not quick. Plus everything went as wrong as possible.

Perhaps you hoped more than P5 from Silverstone qualification?

Yes I did because I was third in the first practice and hold second for best part of the final practice. We lost out when many cars put on new tires towards the end of the session while we saved ours for the race. Ferraris were perhaps sandbagging a little bit but when they went flat-out in qualifying then top was all-Ferrari and we couldn’t do anything about it. Generally Ferraris are faster than McLarens in turns but this time they were faster on straights as well. Ferraris form the majority of field in ELMS GTC class and it is very difficult to fight for the victory when they have such an advantage in machinery. I guess they were second per lap quicker only thanks to the car. Usually BoP (Balance of Performance) makes cars relatively even but this time Ferraris were too strong. In Blancpain we, Audi and Ferrari are the strongest but at Monza even some amateur Ferrari drivers kept themselves in top four during the opening stint. McLaren has already appealed and hopefully BoP will be changed for the next ELMS round, otherwise there is no point to take part in the series if your car is not Ferrari.

On the other hand, in the qualification I beat my teammate Alex Brundle, gold driver in another McLaren, by six tenths – it was OK.

Grégoire Demoustier then made a perfect start but afterwards it was deemed illegal. Did you see what happened?

No I didn’t. I was wondering, though, how can you make such a flying start to grab the lead from P5. His jump start was 50/50, it was not a blantant and clear one. Actually I didn’t realize what regulation did he breach, it was clear he didn’t overtake other cars before the starting line – at least he claimed so. He was very disappointed saying it was business as usual for him and there have never been any sanctions. Anyway, we received stop-and-go for it and lost about 45 seconds. Then Yann Goudy had a spin – which cost about 10-15 seconds – and one lap later a puncture. It was very unfortunate as he had just passed the pit entry when the tire let go, so he had to make one very slow lap to get to the pits. Total loss of time was 2.5-3 minutes or 1.5 laps in other words. And even this was not the final trouble. During the next driver change one loose cable were struck between the door and the body which meant Grég had to make additional pit-stop – another 50 seconds were lost.

Really unlucky day.

Yeah, everything seemed to go wrong but then the safety car came out just after the final pit-stop when I got to the wheel. This time we sort of fortunate because the overall leader was second or third car behind me. And all cars in front of him, me included, got one lap back. Cars then formed one long train behind SC and I was about 40th in that line, third or something from the end. From P9 I got up to P7 and P6 was only 0.2 seconds in front of me – I went for it in two final turns but couldn’t overtake him.

How it was with overtaking? And letting faster cars by.

It was not that bad because LMP2s overtook me only once and they all came in one succession after the SC phase. Overtaking-wise I had a hugely exciting race. After SC I was almost the last in the queue and as some cars were driven by very slow drivers during the final stint I overtook about 15 cars. It was mega entertaining, gloves-off fight, debris was flying everywhere.

It was quite strange race for you – only 25 minutes actually.

Yes, it was due to SC but gold drivers like me can nevertheless do only one stint during the 4-hour ELMS race, about 50 minutes. It is not much better during the practice, even if sessions are one or one-and-a-half hours. I did three fast laps in first session, two in second and drove 25 minutes during the race. You can't gather a large mileage this way.

Let’s talk about Monza and Blancpain now. Qualifying looked like a total disaster there.

Andy Soucek who drove the final session is usually the fastest of us but this time I don’t know – something didn’t suit him obviously. I could have done the same time perhaps. Kévin Estre could have been 3rd or 4th with his time if he had not made an error worth of 0.8 seconds in Ascari chicane.

Then he excelled at the start and after the pitstop you went out in P3. Is it that ART GP has generally faster pits-stops than other teams?

This and that. In Silverstone we had another issue with fuel-flow restrictors. The idea is to make GTE cars faster that our GTCs, more than the on-track performance allows. So we must do one pit-stop more than them and our refuelling is slower thanks to restrictors. But there are differences between the cars as well, Ferrari's refuelling time was 15 seconds shorter than ours – with four pitstops it makes one minute. So all in all they are faster than us in the turns, down the straights and at refuelling. Our tire changes are mega quick, that's true, but we can't compensate all the disadvantage with this.

But you had strange pit-stop problems at Monza.

Yes, we lost about ten seconds. It was extremely cramped on the pitlane – one car stood in front of us, one car behind. When Estre arrived to the pits, he couldn't park the car parallel to the track. I took the seat, four tires were changed, car was lowered to the track but the Ferrari in front had only one tire fitted by that time. Mechanics had to push the car backward and forward four times! Later I looked from the data, it cost us some 10 seconds but I still made the track before him.

Then you had to save the fuel.

It was because Monza is the fastest track and full throttle is used for the majority of the lap. Our driver change happened one lap earlier than planned which was another reason. I had to use coasting – you lift the throttle about 50 meters before your braking point – plus I had to play with engine mapping.

Considering this your laptimes were pretty good.

I guess Soucek did 1:50.1, Estre and me 1:50.3, gap was only two tenths. Then I was the only one who didn't have new tires, even if it is maybe not that important during the race. My pace was rather good. What I could do better was the beginning of my stint when I was too conservative trying to save the tires. If I had pushed more, the overall time for my stint would have been better.

On TV it seemed you had more or less trouble-free race at Monza.

Not exactly. Estre had a collision with another car and front end developed a vibration after that. First I had a fear that something will break down the very next moment. Every time I turned left a horrible vibration started. After about 15 minutes I had used to it – OK, if there's a vibration, let it be so. Towards the end of my stint it vibrated in every turn.

#333 Ferrari was a hot topic at Monza. Did you meet him on-track during your stint?

No. Everybody talked about him driving like a mad but I didn't encounter him. Still, I lost about three seconds thanks to another car. In the second Lesmo it was just cruising at about 30 kph, crossing the racing line. I saw him and thought: what will he do next? Maybe I should overtake him from outside? Then I decided to play safe and braked to almost standstill, letting him to go through the turn.

Before the season you said it takes time to shave off those last tenths from your lap-times. Have you shaven them off for now?

Difficult to say, I think it changes time to time. There are some tracks I have never been to, namely Imola and Red Bull Ring. They will be tough, I guess. Other tracks are familiar, though I have not driven GT cars there, except Paul Ricard. Anyway, I know all main things by now. I can't say anything about rain, it may be difficult as well, but when the track is dry and car is OK, I can keep myself in the pack.

Coasting was also difficult in the beginning. It was a total novelty, I only learned two minutes before my stint what it actually means. It was not easy to perform in the beginning because you are used to other routines under braking. I gave up coasting in some places when I felt I couldn't do it properly and instead I coasted for a little longer in other places.

How do you rate your own driving during those two races?

I think 4 out of 5 would be the mark. You can always drive better, this is sure. However, endurance racing is all about teamwork. It can happen that you drive brilliantly but you are still far from the top. Another time you do nothing and still win.

 

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