FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Imola, Italy – May 16, 2016
After a month of eager anticipation for the second round of European Le Mans Series (ELMS) competition, fingers were crossed for more favorable racing conditions. Things however, looked uncertain for the 4 hours of Imola at the historic Autodromo Internazionale Enzo e Dino Ferrari as weather forecasters threatened another miserable race weekend.
Friday and Saturday served up nearly perfect Tuscan skies allowing the SMP Racing Team to put their #32 Nissan-powered BR01 through its paces. Sadly, an unfortunate incident in practice on Saturday found Wirth’s teammate off track, making hard contact with the tyre wall. What seemed to be the perfect car was now in pieces, destroyed in the blink of an eye. With only hours before the qualifying session would begin, the team had a nearly impossible challenge ahead of them.
With hard work and determination the highly skilled team managed to meet their deadline and Stefano Coletti qualified their LMP2 entry in 12th place. While the result was disappointing, the short ten-minute session provided extremely valuable data, and the team set out to right the wrongs so they would be race-ready.
Sunday morning it seemed that worries of the weather were a thing of the past as the pit walk and autograph sessions took place under beautiful, sunny skies. Unfortunately, the Italian gods were not smiling on the ELMS this weekend and luck ran out as the skies opened and chaos ensued after three hours of relatively incident-free racing.
In the instant that rain began to hit the track cars began to spin, and an LMP3 car was well into the gravel. Race control reacted quickly and declared a Full Course Yellow as the track was awash with water. Teams quickly scampered to affix rubber more appropriate for the task at hand, and just when things seemed to settle down, the skies began to lighten … and nothing happened. Despite having run for 30 minutes under caution and conditions seeming to be improving, Race Control opted not to return to green flag racing. Concerns from LMP3 teams who were having difficulty maintaining the prescribed speed limit under Full Course Yellow conditions caused an unexpected twist of events - the Safety Car was deployed, allowed for a strange shuffling of the field, leaving many bewildered as the clock wound down without allowing the drivers to do what they came to do – race!
Obviously disappointed, Wirth summarized, “Considering where we started today we had an okay finish, but certainly we had a car which was better than this. The car was perfect this weekend before our incident in practice on Saturday so it was disappointing to give our guys so much work to do. A lesser team and I really doubt we’d even have made it to qualifying, so I can’t thank them enough for all the effort that they put in to rebuild the car. They did a phenomenal job just to have it ready for quali, which was so important at the end because we for sure wouldn’t have been in the fight for a podium today if we hadn’t put in those laps. Considering that we can’t be happy. But, I think we saw a bit of bad luck today with our timing on the driver change and then the Full Course Yellow came out, that cost us, and I think if it hadn’t been for that we’d have been on the podium for sure.”
“I think we’re all left feeling like we have unfinished business at Imola - there are certainly a lot of questions from drivers and teams about the one-hour Full Course Yellow and the Safety Car deployment. It’s hard for us to understand as professional racers why the Race Director would not allow us the opportunity to go green - conditions had improved and the field was on proper tyres. It’s always disappointing for the drivers, teams, spectators and fans to see a race end under caution, but especially when it seemed unnecessary. I honestly think we should have been allowed the opportunity to do what we came for – this is not the ‘nice weather racing series’ – we’re here to race, and anyone racing at this level should be up for the challenges. For now we try to look ahead, we have to settle with 4th place but we earned some decent points. 2nd in the overall standings, just 13 points behind the leaders is definitely a good position to be in – especially going into Austria next – we’re very confident for our chances at the Red Bull Ring.”
In light of the situation this weekend and the conditions late in the race, a 4th place finish for the SMP Racing Team is certainly no failure. It’s clear that this team and their rookie squad are not only determined, but capable of competing hard at the front for the championship.
The series moves next to Austria for the 4 Hours of the Red Bull Ring on July 15-17.