Jules Gounon felt that AKKA-ASP’s approach to tire management at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya was an important factor behind its winning performance at the Fantec GT World Challenge Europe powered by AWS Endurance Cup season finale.
Gounon, Raffaele Marciello and Felipe Fraga claimed a lights-to-flag victory on Sunday, which marked the first win for a Mercedes-AMG team in the series since 2018.
Tire degradation was high for many teams at Barcelona, but Gounon felt that AKKA-ASP’s approach to the situation ultimately set it above the rest of the Pro field.
What looked set to be a runaway victory courtesy of Marciello and Fraga’s stints was cast in doubt by two final-hour safety car periods, however Gounon kept ahead of Dinamic Motorsport’s Matteo Cairoli after successive restarts to take the win.
“We worked a lot during testing, including at Barcelona, on tire degradation,” said the French driver.
“We knew from the beginning that it would be a big issue. So we worked really a lot on that, and our engineers did a fantastic job.
“I don’t know if we could say that we were in a different league, but I think we were just really good on tire degradation.
“For me, when I took the car with a 20-second lead, in my mind I wasn’t going to push to make the best average.
“I didn’t want to be like a hero: I was just managing my tires for the first 30 minutes because I knew there would be a safety car [later] and I wanted to keep tires in case I had to fight at the end of the race, which I had to prevent any attacks from the Porsche.
“The strategy was good to not only look at the pure performance, but also to bring back the car in one piece and win the race.”
Gounon explained that AKKA-ASP initially considered playing some strategy cards during the race, but its projections were left unused when Marciello charged clear from the second-placed GPX Racing Porsche 911 GT3 R in the first stint.
“At the beginning we thought about undercutting because the tire deg was so huge that if we had to make some places in the pits we had to undercut early, put fresh tires on and bank a lot of good laps to try and overtake them in that way,” he said.
“But luckily Marciello did a fantastic job, building a gap of 10 seconds, which gave us freedom to do our pit stops.
“We then had a 20-second lead, so we were really free of the strategy. And also by the fact that we [extended the middle stint of] Felipe to get a lot of fresh tires for the end.”
AKKA-ASP “Lost too Much” at Spa to Win Title
Gounon said that AKKA-ASP “lost too much” in terms of points at the TotalEnergies 24 Hours of Spa for it to snatch the Endurance Cup title with its Barcelona win.
AKKA-ASP was the outside bet coming into Barcelona, with Gounon and Marciello needing to win and have other results go their way if they were to overtake all three crews that sat above them in the points table.
In the end, they managed to vault both the Orange1 FFF Racing Team Lamborghini drivers and Team WRT’s Dries Vanthoor and Charles Weerts, but came up four points short of Alessandro Pier Guidi, Nicklas Nielsen and Come Ledogar who finished seventh.
Reflecting on the season, Gounon suggested that AKKA-ASP could have won the title had it not retired from Spa, which carried the most points out of the five rounds.
“We lost a lot of points at Spa due to a damper failure, and the only chance we had was to win the [final] race,” he said.
“So we tried to do it, and we did. It was really great to end the season on a high with a win. I think we have been really competitive throughout the year: second at Monza, sixth at Paul Ricard which is the hardest track for us, second at Nürburgring and winning here.
“I think we really did an amazing season but, unfortunately, with the [extra] points at Spa we lost too much. I’m really proud of the team because they did fantastic work this season, no mistakes.
“We finished with the best we could do, but it wasn’t enough. But we are really proud of our championship this year.”