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Red Bull Ring, Austria – July 18, 2016
After a two month break, the European Le Mans Series (ELMS) and its competitors were more than happy to get back to business this weekend - especially at a true driver’s favorite like the Red Bull Ring.
The atmosphere of this picturesque race track nestled in the Styrian Alps of Austria certainly sets the mood to enjoy some top-level racing, and after some bizarre weather thus far in the ELMS season it was a pleasure to enjoy some uncharacteristically dry days in the region.
Despite feeling strong and confident going into the weekend the crew of the #32 SMP Racing machine struggled with their Nissan-powered BR01 in practice on Friday and Saturday, and with the 10-minute LMP2 qualifying session. While their 8th place qualifying effort fell short of their expectations for the weekend, the trio remained confident that their car would be consistent, and insisted they were not to be counted out just yet.
With Wirth behind the wheel for the start of the race everything seemed to be running to plan. Managing to take two places almost immediately from 8th, and then quickly into 5th, Wirth kept an excellent pace for the balance of his stint, handing over their BR01 in 4th place. At the hands of teammate Julian Leal, they continued looking strong despite narrowly missing contact from an overly optimistic GT competitor. Anything seemed possible as Leal managed to climb as far as 2nd place before handing off to Stefano Coletti at the driver change. After a little give and take on track it seemed sure that a podium finish of at least 3rd place was possible. Sadly, with just over an hour remaining Coletti made contact with an LMP3 competitor, spinning him off-track while trying to make his way through slower traffic. Despite managing to return to competition with seemingly no damage and no positions lost, the #32 BR01 was called to pit lane shortly thereafter for mandatory repairs - the tail lights had failed due to damage sustained to the rear diffuser. The time lost during the incident and the additional time required to rectify the “technical failure” called by the stewards cost the team dearly, and they saw their grasp on a podium finish slip through their hands – the team would have to settle once again for 4th place.
Re-living the disappointment, Wirth commented, “Unfortunately we missed the podium today. Such a shame since we’d been running P2 – our SMP BR01 was very strong throughout the race and our guys definitely gave us a car once again for the podium. It’s really unfortunate that Stefano had the over-taking incident. I guess it could have turned out a lot worse for us considering the time we lost after the spin, and the time to replace the whole back part on the car – I guess we can be happy with P4 – in the end that was absolutely the maximum we could do. I feel very bad for the SMP Team – these are a great bunch of guys and I have to thank them for all they do, I really wish we could have got a podium for them today. Bad luck I guess. But overall it’s points. Unfortunately the guys that were leading us in the standings going into this weekend were also ahead of us today, so we fall back to P3 in the overall standings, which is another disappointment. But, we won’t give up! We look forward to Le Castellet. Hopefully everything goes better there, hopefully we have a little bit more luck. We will give everything we can in a few weeks in the South of France.”
Competition is strong in the ELMS, so while the rookie squad has to endure another setback, valuable experience is gained, data is collected and the trio learns and moves forward – they should be proud of their effort regardless of narrowly missing their second podium of the season as they sit just 16 points behind first place overall as they tackle the second-half of the season.
The series moves next to Le Castellet in France for the ELMS 4 Hours of Le Castellet on August 26-28.