Andrea Caldarelli said that Orange 1 FFF Racing Team found the late-race speed of its rivals “surprising” after the Lamborghini squad’s dominant lead throughout Saturday’s Paul Ricard 1000km unraveled during the final hour.
Caldarelli, Mirko Bortolotti and Marco Mapelli controlled more than five hours of the six-hour race from pole position, but their Lamborghini Huracan GT3 Evo was ultimately reeled in and passed by GPX Racing, Iron Lynx and Team WRT in the last stint.
A 10 second post-race time penalty for the No. 71 Iron Lynx Ferrari handed FFF the consolation of a podium.
But team principal Caldarelli was perplexed at an apparent turn of pace from the No. 63 Lamborghini’s nearest rivals at the end, and suggested that Paul Ricard might be a cursed track for the team after settling for a third consecutive third-place result there.
“It’s sweet and sour because we were leading for five hours and 20 minutes, basically the whole race,” Caldarelli told Sportscar365.
“It was just the last thing. Speaking before the start of the weekend I said we always miss a win here. We always finish third. Here it was again. It looks like it’s a haunted place for us.
“I don’t know what Porsche, Ferrari and Audi did. They just seemed to switch on something in the last 30 minutes.
“We were quite comfortable in the lead for five hours and 20, and then the others just came ridiculously fast compared to before. So it was a bit surprising, to be honest.”
In the first half of the race, Bortolotti established a lead of around eight seconds that was maintained by Mapelli through the second stint. Caldarelli then increased the gap to around 12 seconds at halfway, after which the winning GPX Racing Porsche 911 GT3 R started to close in.
Caldarelli felt that FFF would have had “life easier” if its lead margin had not been wiped out by a safety car with two hours to go, although the GPX Porsche was already bearing down at that point.
“My stint started with zero gap after the safety car,” said the Italian.
“I then put it up to about five or six seconds, and then it started to reduce. The last five, six or seven laps it was down to about three or four seconds. But I think it was just tenths to tenths.
“Then when Marco jumped in for the last 50 minutes, they suddenly picked up the pace and we didn’t.
“I was on used tires when I did my stint. Marco was on new. We were saving the new tires for the end. I don’t think the tires were really the problem. We saw quite a big difference in terms of [top end] speed, and I think everybody could see that.
“We were overtaken by almost everyone in a straight line, not even in a fair way I think. But sometimes it’s like this. We have to accept it.
“That’s why it is a bit frustrating, because for some reason suddenly there was something in the last 30 minutes that just came up from the others.”
FFF misspent a potential double victory as its Pro-Am car finished first on the road before being demoted to second by a time penalty for Phil Keen turning an Audi around.
Bronze pilot Hiroshi Hamaguchi, who drove four of the six hours due to the No. 19 Lamborghini’s two-driver strategy, would have needed to finish just 0.105 further ahead of the Sky-Tempesta Racing Ferrari to negotiate the five-second penalty applied post-race.
WRT’s Second Place “Feels Like a Victory”
Kelvin van der Linde, Dries Vanthoor and Charles Weerts were ecstatic to claim second place for Team WRT after a challenging start to the weekend for the Audi factory trio.
The Belgian squad had been struggling to get its head around the second sector pace of its Pro-class Audi R8 LMS GT3 Evo, which ran off the mark in practice and qualified 14th.
It had breached the race top ten by the end of the first half but gained significant ground in the darkness. Van der Linde rose to fifth before handing over to Vanthoor for the final two hours.
The Belgian then overtook Mapelli’s Lamborghini on the final lap to take what appeared to be third, before the Iron Lynx penalty elevated it to second.
“I have never been so happy for a P2 finish,” exclaimed Vanthoor.
“Honestly, if someone would have told us we would finish second today, I would have laughed at him or her! We have been struggling all weekend with top speed and set-up.
“We gave it [our] all and actually in the race, the car was at its best compared to the rest of the weekend. In the last three laps I prepared to try something and when the Lambo did a very small mistake, I attacked.”
Van der Linde added: “We spent two days scratching our heads to find the solution. This is a very good way to turn around the situation.
“Everything was perfect: the strategy, the pit stops, the driving. P2 was really the maximum we could get. There was nothing left in the tank, so it really feels like a victory.”