Tristan Vautier said he’s disappointed he couldn’t share the Intercontinental GT Challenge drivers’ championship with Raffaele Marciello but says it’s still the “perfect” way to end the season.
The Frenchman, who came to WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca joint in the points lead with Marciello, secured the title with a third-place finish alongside Maxi Buhk and Maro Engel in the No. 175 SunEnergy1 Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3.
The duo were placed in different cars for the finale after co-driving for the rest of the season, including winning the Suzuka 10 Hours together.
“It’s a strange feeling not to be sharing it with ‘Lello’ because we’ve been building that season together, but as a manufacturer, it was the right decision to make,” Vautier told Sportscar365.
“It was a hard fight all day. A lot of moments, we were right next to each other on track for a long time, which is the way it should be, so it was cool. It was a great team effort.
“I think it was the perfect scenario for the end of the season like that.
“It was a bit strange because you’re fighting against the guy you were building your season with and I didn’t really like that.”
Vautier said the turning point in the drivers’ championship battle, between his car and Marciello’s Strakka Racing entry, came by taking the track position with an early pit stop.
The newly crowned Blancpain GT Series champion faded in the final hour following several off-course excursions and a puncture from contact with the No. 17 WRT Audi R8 LMS GT3 of Sheldon van der Linde.
“The [Strakka Mercedes] had the advantage of the starting position which they kept for quite a while but we were putting a lot of pressure [on them] and we were always at striking distance,” Vautier explained.
“We pitted one lap early in that safety car period with two and a half hours to go, and that was the turning point because then we had track position and that changed the level of pressure.
“We were controlling the race and forcing them to make risky moves, which is what cost them the championship, when ‘Lello’ was on the outside of the Audi and the guy pushed him a bit wide.
“We knew we had to keep the pressure on. We did, and the turning point was the strategy point which pushed them to take that little risk which cost a lot.”
Despite the manufacturers’ title going to Audi for the third straight year, Vautier is still pleased with Mercedes-AMG claiming two of the three titles, with his victory going alongside Kenny Habul’s Bronze Cup championship.
“It would have been nice to have everything but you’ve got to look at it, we entered the race not having anything guaranteed,” he said.
“We had two out of the three that were at stake, so you have to be happy with it, but for sure it would have been good to get the manufacturers as well.”