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BRUNDLE: Paul Ricard Debrief

Alex Brundle files his latest Sportscar365 column…

Photo: Vision Sport Agency

Photo: Vision Sport Agency

We had straight line issues and didn’t get the result we wanted in Paul Ricard, is the headline, if you are short of time. If you’re not, then it was actually quite an interesting race weekend.

Ricard is always a bit of a physics lesson when it comes down to aerodynamic efficiency. The very long Mistral Straight followed by the ‘almost flat’ Signes right hander is a ‘set piece’ for testing drag over downforce. It is a great test track for exactly this reason and that’s why so many teams use the venue in their LM24 preparations.

The issue was, that circuit seemed not to be able to make it’s own mind up which configuration was quicker. Normally you would exit the pits in FP1 on LDF then HDF back to back first time out of the box and a winner would be clearer than the southern French Med looks from a Bandol terrace.

But as qualifying came around the field was still undecided, as were we. We qualified an unspectacular P4, but fastest of those who opted for the (seemingly incorrect) high downforce route. The, slightly famous, but not very, ‘Mistral wind’ had shifted to a head wind down the back straight before quali so a solid second in a straight line was not surmountable in the other 2 sectors.

Nigel Moore had been very quick in the Tockwith car, that has joined the series mid-season but we are not racing them for the championship and I was confident that later in the stint we’d be better on tires, so we had matched them for downforce (low) and planned to try to clear the 2 HDF cars in front at the start and sit on his gearbox until he ran out of rubber.

The race start was a bit halting as the two P2 leaders tried to out-fox each other on what seemed a long run down to the lights. The front straight at Ricard is ever so slightly downhill meaning that from the mid LMP3 pack you can’t see the lights and just have to react to when the car in front of you goes and do your best to dodge the carbon fibre. I hustled the Panis car out for P3 and set about the P2 Graff entry.

I followed through the first sector and was so close to his diffuser that the front washed a little on the back straight with the kink still easy flat. Happy days, It was time to let Daniel Bernoulli propel us to P2 as I knew that being this close with significantly less downforce and a good exit, experience of the weekend suggested that it shouldn’t even be a fight into Signes 30 seconds later.

I stopped feeling smug in the cockpit about halfway down the mistral when I realized I wasn’t gaining, realized and reported an issue to the team about 3/4th of the way down when I started losing ground, even to the high downforce guys.

As the race panned out we were giving away around 11km/h and considerable time in the middle sector on a consistent basis and also having to carry the low downforce package though the first and last sector, which was ‘hardly ideal’, as my Mother might say.

Mondini cruised by in a straight line without a fight on the same df level as me. I managed to hold Rayhall up for a lap on High DF but that was also a foregone conclusion. The team were very calm in the box and we set about making the best of the situation.

Mike jumped in with an hour in the books and typically kept his head and made no errors despite the balance being really tough on the LDF. It’s hard enough to deal with 40 race cars on circuit at once without worrying about a potential issue and having to race wheel to wheel while down in a straight line.

He critically kept us in touch with the No. 19 car who are our realistic challengers for the title and made no mistakes. After our (mandated) long stop we always look like we are further behind than we are, as others take a ‘short stop’ so it’s a hard to find a mindset of racing cars you can never see in the midst of all the chaos on track.

Christian found great pace from the mid race onwards and was often fastest on track over two long hot stints. Our strategy plus so nice driving dropped us into 3rd place at race finish. The recovery was complete.

I was happy to be so annoyed about the end result to be honest; it’s a reflection of our season so far. We calculated a cumulative loss of minute (even considered parsimoniously) with our feet flat to the boards, after the race, which I think is a testimony to what is possible if you just choose to accept the difficulty of the situation and keep pushing like hell regardless.

United Autosports put together another perfect race, which is becoming so common I’m going to stop mentioning it soon, three seconds (for reasons of prudence against a penalty on loop time) where all that we spent in the pits over the absolute mandated minimum on a race strategy leaner than Mo Farah, on marathon day. Respect.

No idea yet what was costing us the straight line speed but we’ll dig into it with the engine supplier and our own data to come back stronger in Spa!

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