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Gounon: Faultless Race “Wasn’t Enough” for Akkodis ASP

Mercedes-AMG driver Gounon gives “hats off” to WRT after strong run with new Audi Evo II…

Photo: Dirk Bogaerts/SRO

Mercedes-AMG Team Akkodis ASP driver Jules Gounon said that a “faultless” race from its No. 88 crew still “wasn’t enough” to beat Team WRT in the 3 Hours of Imola.

Gounon, Raffaele Marciello and Daniel Juncadella finished second in the Fanatec GT World Challenge Europe powered by AWS Endurance Cup season-opener, behind the winning WRT Audi lineup of Charles Weerts, Kelvin van der Linde and Dries Vanthoor.

Reflecting on the race, Gounon commended WRT’s performance and said that he was pushing at “110 percent” to catch Vanthoor during the closing stages.

The fourth safety car period of the race produced a restart with 45 minutes remaining.

Gounon ran second behind Vanthoor and had a comfy gap back to third-placed Mercedes-AMG driver Luca Stolz, but the Audi R8 LMS GT3 Evo II sped away to a winning margin of 6.2 seconds.

“It was a long time since I got dropped by a car like this, but they did a great job,” Gounon said.

“I think we have to give our hats off to them. They did a faultless race and we did also, but it wasn’t enough to beat them today.

“We worked in the winter to try to find more pace and we did, but we’re still going to keep working. In the last stint I was 110 percent and it was still difficult to follow.

“We will see in the next race. But it’s a great start to the season and we are here for the championship, so starting P2 is the consistency we are looking for. So we are not going to complain.”

Marciello appeared frustrated at the outcome during the post-race TV interviews, telling SRO pit lane reporter Gemma Scott: “It feels like a win. The Audi was just too quick for us, so I hope something will change for the next race.”

Gounon, meanwhile, expressed confidence in the Balance of Performance process which has two new cars, the Evo II Audi and the BMW M4 GT3, to work with this year.

Both were run in race conditions at last season’s final race in Barcelona to gather information ahead of their full introduction in 2022.

“At the end, SRO is always doing a good job on the BoP and I’m sure they’re going to react on the Evo of the car,” Gounon said.

“It’s the first race for them. SRO need to have data, which they didn’t have [lots of] yet.

“I don’t want to start talking BoP. We are just pushing to 110 percent. That’s why you see the Merc in P1 during FP1 and FP2. Then we arrive into the race and we are always a bit slower because people keep some stuff in their pocket, and we don’t.

“It’s our way to show to SRO that they can trust us, that we are always flat-out, so at least our BoP is consistent because we know the pace of the car.”

Reigning Sprint Cup champion Weerts, who scored his first Endurance Cup victory, said that WRT was “not expecting” to be as competitive as it was in Sunday’s race.

Two Audis shared the lead through the opening stint, as an error from pole-sitter Weerts enabled Christopher Mies to get through. But after undercutting Sainteloc Racing at the first round of pit stops, WRT held the lead for the remaining two hours.

Its relative pace during van der Linde’s middle stint was somewhat clouded by chasing Aston Martin driver Marco Sorensen getting caught behind a defensive Lucas Legeret, but the South African managed to pull a 10-second gap before a safety car reined him in.

“I am very happy about things turned out, frankly, we weren’t expecting to be as competitive as we were,” Weerts said.

“The entire team worked a lot and it paid off, first with the pole and then with a super race.

“I did a small mistake in my stint and we provisionally lost P1 but luckily, we could compensate that and I want to thank my teammates and all the guys for the excellent job.”

Vanthoor agreed with his co-driver that the No. 32 Audi was a better car on Sunday than on Saturday during practice.

“It was a great day, it was nice to start from the pole and win the race,” he said.

“[On Saturday] we were a little bit concerned about where we were, but the team did an amazing job and [on Sunday] the car was very nice to drive.

“We had great pit stop calls and we could keep enough margin over the Mercedes.”

Daniel Lloyd is a UK-based reporter for Sportscar365, covering the FIA World Endurance Championship, Fanatec GT World Challenge Europe powered by AWS and the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, among other series.

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