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Estre Didn’t Know About Penalty During Kobayashi Pursuit

Porsche’s Kevin Estre reflects on battle with Kamui Kobayashi in closing stages of thrilling 6 Hours of Imola…

Photo: MPS Agency

Penske Porsche Motorsport’s Kevin Estre says he was kept in the dark about the five-second time penalty that the No. 6 crew had picked up in his late pursuit of Kamui Kobayashi for victory at the end of the 6 Hours of Imola.

Estre and his teammates aboard the No. 6 Porsche 963, Andre Lotterer and Laurens Vanthoor, followed up their victory from the FIA World Endurance Championship season-opening Qatar 1812km with second place in Italy behind the No. 7 Toyota GR010 Hybrid.

Rain in the penultimate hour and the subsequent divide in strategies had put Estre second and in a position to attack Kobayashi in the closing stages, the French driver quickly closing down a 10-second gap to the Toyota driver.

But, unbeknownst to him until the final minutes, Estre had picked up a five-second time penalty for passing under the safety car earlier in the race.

Looking back on the closing stint, Estre agreed with the team’s decision to withhold the information as he tried to find a way by Kobayashi on a dry but still slippery track.

“I didn’t know until five laps to go,” revealed Estre. “They knew, but they didn’t tell me. I think everybody was a bit unsure how it was going to end up because Toyota had pitted two laps earlier than us and we had to save fuel.

“So we were [thinking] probably they have to save fuel either a lot more than us or they have to pit again. So that’s why I pushed a lot while saving fuel, trying to come back. And then when I came, I think we had quite an edge on them on these conditions.

“But when I came towards him, he did no mistakes. It was damp, not easy to pass. I tried, tried, tried, and then five laps to go the team told me, you know what, don’t take crazy risks because we have these five seconds.

“I think before that, it was correct to let me try because I came back quite quickly on them. And in the dirty air it’s very difficult. So I think we did everything correct. Probably these five seconds is the only mistake we did the whole week, really.”

Estre’s challenge appeared to falter when he ran wide exiting the Villeneuve chicane in his pursuit of Kobayashi, which the Frenchman said co-incided with him receiving the news about the No. 6 car’s penalty.

“I think that’s the moment where the team thought, maybe don’t risk like crazy because you have these five seconds,” he said. “And then I got traffic, bad traffic at that point. So I lost contact and I came back.”

Estre added that the penalty was “probably” a result of him passing one of the Akkodis ASP Lexus RC F GT3s

“Exiting the last corner [Rivazza 2], there was a JOTA [Porsche 963], a Lexus, and me,” he recalled. “The JOTA basically had no traction, so the Lexus had to lift in the straight, and I had more of a ride, I think I had hotter tires.

“I lifted to make sure I don’t pass before the line, but probably I did. That’s what they told me. But if they gave us [only] five seconds, I imagine that it was very close.”

Kobayashi: “Tough Job” to Keep Estre At Bay

For his part, Kobayashi said he initially wasn’t sure he had the fuel to go to the end without a “massive” amount of fuel saving to avoid a late splash, praising his teammates and the Toyota crew for delivering what had seemed an unlikely victory.

“At that time we weren’t sure if we had the fuel to go to the end, and we were talking about if we need to make a splash,” recalled the Japanese driver. “We realized that we need to save fuel massively, and Kevin was catching me pretty quickly.

“It was a very tough job, but to finish on top is great. Our car was the not the best weekend, but we didn’t make any mistakes, the other two guys [Mike Conway and Nyck de Vries] did a great job and all the team did a great job on pit stops and strategy.”

On whether he was aware of Estre’s five-second penalty, Kobayashi said: “I knew, but I didn’t want to give way!”

The Japanese driver added that the amount of fuel saving required to avoid a splash for fuel at the end of the race was something “I never had to do in my life”, adding: “It’s hard to say how much really, but it was quite a lot.”

Jamie Klein is Sportscar365's Asian editor. Japan-based Klein, who previously worked for Motorsport Network on the Motorsport.cоm and Autosport titles, covers the FIA World Endurance Championship and SUPER GT, among other series.

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