Second at the flag, first in the standings

14.06.2014

Having no races doesn't mean having a lot of free time. Eventually we managed to catch Kevin and have a conversation about how things happened during recent races at Imola and Silverstone. Kevin is again leading championship standings – first time after 2010.

Let's talk about Imola at first. Although there was perhaps little to talk about.

Yeah, not that much. It was usual ELMS business – no changes compared to round one which meant Ferraris were about a second per lap and 15 seconds per pit-stop faster than the others.

But the track itself? It was your first visit to Imola.

Track was mega-cool! A really good one. I couldn't drive that much, maybe four fast laps during FP1 and three during FP2 after which we already had a qualification.

Results were not great again, what are your hopes in ELMS?

Hopefully the BoP will be adjusted for the next round but still it will not be easy, as some Ferrari teams have somehow managed to enter a few very good pilots as Silver drivers, which means they can drive three stints whereas I can do only one as a Gold driver. They can be as much as a second or one-and-a-half per lap faster than other "Silvers" so you can sum up what it makes over three hours.

How did you felt yourself there?

It was the same old story again – I took the car over, did about half a lap and then Safety Car came out. But we had an issue with the brakes. Weather was so hot they were simply going away, plus the track is very demanding brake-wise. There was a little surprise when SC returned to the pits and I tried to brake as usual into the first turn. Car refused to slow down and went wide onto the grass. I realized that something is not very well. During my stint I braked 20 meters earlier than usually and started coasting about 50 meters before the braking point to have a little more cooling for brakes. It meant I couldn't put in a full effort but I tried to use all what was left in the car.

It is all shoulda-coulda-woulda but what could have been your result instead of P8 without those incidents?

I lost maybe five seconds but when Demoustier had a spin, he sat about four minutes in the gravel. Without that we could have been perhaps P4, because our sister car finished in P4 and we were 30 seconds in front of them before the spin.

Let's jump over to Silverstone and Blancpain now, this combination was much luckier.

Silverstone was rather OK, I even drove as the last driver in qualification. But it was the first time I was using a brand new set of Pirelli tires - we run on Michelins in ELMS -  this season. I hadn't tried them never before and what I didn't know was that their sweet spot lasts for two laps only, as it was the case  in GP3 last year. On my first hot lap I hit the traffic and slowed down to have a free second lap. But during that second lap I made a slight mistake, worth of maybe 0.1-0.15 seconds, and decided to slow down again and take a third attempt to get a perfect lap. But by that time the grip was gone and I was half a second slower. So I should have completed my second hot lap even despite that small error, my time would have been much better.

You were driving in Q3 for the first time, is it going to be like this from now on?

No, I don't think so, it was perhaps one-off only. Actually one of my team-mates had to drive in Q3 but as I was only about one tenth slower than Alvaro Parente in the sister car during the final practice despite my older tires, they switched me to Q3.

Can we assume that you are now on the same level with your team-mates Estre and Soucek?

Yes, I think I am. Of course my average lap time during the race was some eight tenths slower than my team-mates but I am the only one who don't have new tires during my stint. Then my time was third-best of all drivers in second stint which is rather good.

Second stint drivers tend to remain anonymous, while the first stint ones get the limelight at the start and third stint drivers at the finish.

So it is. But the driving order is set in this way – and I accept it totally – because I have never started a GT race, while Soucek was always driving final stints last year and Estre is very good at starts. We don't want to take any risks. This strategy seems to work and there is no sense to change it.

You took the lead after first round of pit-stops were completed. Did you expect to win when you gave the car over to Soucek still in P1?

To be honest I drove my stint at maybe 90%, it can be the reason my average lap-time was not that good. When I took the lead away from our sister car I knew the third car was some 20 seconds behind. Our car was relatively hard to drive, so I decided not to go flat-out but to avoid mistakes. It worked well. When I came in we still had some 22-second gap to P2 car and I knew Soucek is a very good driver, so everything seemed to be under control.

Speed of Bentley was a big surprise for most of people.

Actually they were quick all the time. Maybe the first driver in #7 Bentley was not on par with Estre and Parente as he gave the car over in P3, plus then they were hit with a drive-through penalty. This was when we built up the gap. But their second driver was the fastest of his stint and third driver was even quicker.

Could you have survived without the late SC?

For sure they would have caught us, but maybe we could have had a chance. 50:50, I would say.

Which emotion was prevailing after the finish: disappointment about the lost race or a joy about taking the lead in the championship?

Disappointment about the lost first place was rather stronger. Even more so when you have kept the lead for the majority of the race.

Was there some way to keep them at bay?

Realistically no. Bentley was a 0.8-1 seconds per lap faster than us, actually faster than anybody else. Honestly, you can't fight against that advantage. They were faster than us down the straights, they were faster in slow turns and they were faster in fast turns. We had no chance to fight them this time.

So what comes next?

Next week we will have a night test as a preparation for a 24-hour race. We have to see how the lights will work and so on. Next Blancpain race at Paul Ricard will start late as well but I don't think it is going to be a full night race there.

You have finished P3 and P2 in Blancpain, the next logical step is now P1.

We joked between ourselves that after P3 and P2 there must be P1, but we will see. I hope Estre will do qualifying this time because he is really fast over one lap and I will drive second stint as usual. The rest depends on how good is the car and how good is BoP for us. And how quick is Bentley – all the others we can fight with.

 

 

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