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Duval: “We’ll Be Much Closer Than Last Year”

Audi’s Loic Duval on surprise Le Mans podium, WEC title chase…

Photo: Audi

Photo: Audi

Fresh off a last-gasp podium in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, Loïc Duval is looking to continue the momentium in his FIA World Endurance Championship title chase.

The Frenchman and co-drivers Lucas Di Grassi and Oliver Jarvis sit second in the World Championship, following their third place result at Le Mans, 39 points behind Porsche’s Romain Dumas, Neel Jani and Marc Lieb entering Sunday’s Six Hours of Nürburgring.

While the Audi R18 was a slightly behind on pace at Le Mans compared to Toyota and Porsche, Duval makes no illusions about the way the German manufacturer managed to climb the podium in the end.

“It was a lucky podium; we didn’t feel like we really deserve it,” Duval told Sportscar365. “We all felt on the podium that Toyota should have been on the first step.

“Overall we were missing some performance, which is something we were not expecting.”

Duval stressed that other factors also played a role in Audi’s end result in the French endurance classic.

“We were lacking a few tenths per lap, depending on the time of day. During the night we were not really there,” he said.

“We also had too much reliability issues during the race. If you take out the time we spent in the pits we weren’t that far off to be honest.

“It’s definitely a Le Mans we want to forget in term of results. We have to work really hard to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

That hard work started immediately after the highlight of the season, with the Audi LMP1 team undertaking test sessions at Valancia for the first time to focus on its high downforce setup.

“We’re quite positive about the test. We did a lot of work, especially on setup, data which is already proving valuable over here,” Duval said.

With Le Mans now in the rear-view mirror, LMP1 teams quickly turned its attention to finalizing the third of three permitted homologated aero configurations for this season.

“We developed the new aero package for the rest of the season in the wind tunnel and it was important for us to test it on track before we came here,” Duval said.

“It doesn’t look that much different, but it is indeed quite different than what we had before. Sometimes it’s difficult to see the small tweaks, but in the end it’s a lot of work.”

Following the first two dry practice sessions, the Audi R18 was right on the pace with the Porsche 919 Hybrid, an omen that should bode well for the rest of the season, according to the 2013 World Champion.

“We are pretty happy with the way the car behaves with the new aero package,” Duval said. “If we are competitive this weekend, we should be for the rest of the season.

“We’ve always been competitive at Austin, but we did always struggle in Shanghai and also a little bit in Fuji.

“In Bahrain we were good last year, so I would say it’s 50-50, but hopefully we improved more than the others.”

Duval feels their points deficit to the Le Mans-winning Porsche trio is not insurmountable but it will require a lot to close down in the second half of the season.

“Even if we don’t have any troubles, it’s still going to be difficult to beat them,” he said. ‘We definitely have a chance if they don’t score points at one of the races.

“I think the three manufacturers will be much closer than last year, so that the others can also take some points away from the championship leaders.”

While the sister No. 7 Audi is 20 points further behind in the title race, Duval said it’s too early to talk about team tactics.

“We’ll see where we are in terms of points later on,” he said. “Last year we supported our car No. 7 and I’m sure that if we need it at some point, they’ll do the same.”

Vincent Wouters (@VinceWouters) is a Belgium-based sports car racing reporter, providing coverage primarily of the Blancpain GT Series.

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