Text: Rick Kiewiet
Images: SRO Media
For the second time in even so many GTWC Endurance cup races, Porsche was on the top step of the podium. After Dinamic Motorsports commanding victory at Monza, the #22 GPX Porsche with drivers Earl Bamber (NZL), Mathieu Jaminet (FRA) and Matt Campbell (AUS) took the win at the 1000km of Paul Ricard.
In a last hour move, Campbell in the #22 overtook the #63 Orange 1 FFF Lamborghini of Mapelli, Caldarelli and Bortolotti, who'd led for the main part of the race, and brought the car home. The #32 WRT Audi of Vanthoor, Kelvin van der Linde and Charles Weerts then also managed to get past the #63 to finish second.
In the Silver Cup, AKKA ASP secured a home victory with the #87 Mercedes AMG in the hands of Gachet, Drouet en Tereshenko. Brit Chris Froggatt, together with teammates Eddie Cheever and Jonathan Hui took the win in the Pro-Am cup in their #93 Sky-Tempesta Ferrari.
Another similarity with the 3hrs Monza was that the #63 Lambo took pole. The Italian squad defeated the #71 Iron Lynx Ferrari of Callum Illot, Antonio Fuoco and Davide Rigon who improved one grid position compared to Monza, by almost 0.2s. The second row was occupied by two Mercedes': the #4 HRT was third, the #88 AKKA ASP was fourth. In fifth was the first of the Walkenhorst BMW's, the #34 of Sheldon van der Linde, Marco Wittmann and David Pittard. A good results for the Bavarian brand after their difficult race at Monza. The M6 proved especially strong on the long Mistral straight.
The two Pro entries from Emil Frey Lamborghini were sixth (#163) and seventh (#114), followed by the first of the Porsches: Monza race winner the #54 Dinamic 911 of Bachler, Engelhart and Cairoli. Double success for the British squad Garage 59 Aston Martin, for which Valentin Hasse Clot, Nicolai Kjaergaard and Alex West secured the pole in the Silver Cup in the #159, with a ninth place on the grid. Their other car, the #188, claimed pole position in the Pro-Am cup with p24 overall.
The #22 GPX Porsche only just made it to the top 10.
At 18h local time the 6h race got underway relatively calm. The first hours were led comfortable by first Bortolotti and then Mapelli in the #63 Lambo. They mainly had to focus on the Walkenhorst BMW's of David Pittard (#34) and Martin Tomczyk (#35), who quickly moved up the ranks to p2 and p3 in the opening hour. The #22 Porsche and #32 Audi slowly but surely cut their way through the field, having started only 10th and 15th respectively, and were on p2 and p7 after the third round of stops.
Only by the end of the 4th hour, we saw the first neutralisation of the race when the safety car came out to allow the recovery of the #2 GetSpeed Mercedes. This sparked the penultimate round of stops at which the #63 Lambo consolidated its lead, but the #22 Porsche in which Matt Campbell took over from Mathieu Jaminet, dropped back to p3 behind the #34 Walkenhorst BMW with Sheldon van der Linde behind the wheel.
Matt Campbell however proved to be the decisive factor in the last two hours of the race. As racing resumed, Caldarelli had three backmarkers between him and van der Linde, Campbell, Fuoco (#71 Ferrari) and Vanthoor (#32 WRT Audi). A couple of laps later the backmarkers were out of the way and a top-4 formed. Caldarelli had a 1.4 second gap and backmarker James Pull (#30 WRT Audi) as a buffer to van der Linde. Campbell was only tenths behind the M6 and had Fuoco in the Ferrari about a second behind him.
With one hour and twenty minutes to go, Campbell found a way past the BMW of van der Linde. He then still had a four second gap to close towards Caldarelli which he closed just before the final round of pitstops. With exactly 57 minutes left on the clock, both leaders came in at the same time. Campbell stayed in the #22, while Caldarelli handed over the wheel to Mapelli for the final stint. The Orange FFF crew got the car out just a second quicker than the mechanics from GPX (1.24.699 vs. 1.25.722) through which Mapelli was virtually still in the lead with about a 2 second gap to Campbell.
A lap later van der Linde brought in his #34 BMW for the last time after just being overtaken by Fuoco. Fuoco had suffered some damage during his pass and came in a lap later. The Iron Lynx crew made a small mistake as mechanics were working on the rear bodywork damage while they were still refueling. For this, they were dealt a 10 second time penalty after the race which cost them the podium and dropped them to fourth.
So, at the beginning of the final 50-minute sprint to the finish, Mapelli in the #63 Lambo still led by 2 seconds from Campbell in the #22 Porsche. Three seconds further back, Fuoco was still running third in the #71 Ferrari with Vanthoor (#32 Audi) and Alessandro Pier Guidi in the second Iron Lynx Ferrari (#51) on his tail. Pedersen in the #54 Dinamic Porsche and Raffaele Marciello in the #88 Mercedes were more than 25 seconds behind.
With just over 40 minutes to go, Campbell was on the gearbox of Mapelli. On his first attempt he got past the Lamborghini round the outside on Mistral straight, but two corners later he went slightly wide off the apex. This gave Mapelli just enough space to counter and retake the lead, although not without some doorbanging mid-corner. Unfortunately for Mapelli, this only proved to be a stay of execution. The whole scene allowed Fuoco to catch up as well, and the top-3 was now within 2 seconds from each other. A lap later, Campbell made exactly the same move as a lap before, and this time it stuck. He got by the Lamborghini and quickly managed to pull a small gap.
Now it was Fuoco's time to try and get past the #63, which took him about 15 minutes and a little help from a backmarker. He managed to squeeze his 488 past the Lambo on the inside of the Mistral straight, although Mapelli defended fiercely and almost pushed him into the wall. Mapelli then managed to defend 3rd place all the way to the last lap, but seemed to fall off the last step of podium only 4 corners before the finish. He went wide in the long right hand turn after Mistral straight and Vanthoor seized the opportunity to get past on the inside.
This all couldn't bother Campbell in front as he'd pulled away about 3.5 seconds from Fuoco. He secured the victory for GPX together with Jaminet and Bamber, a sweet revenge for last years' race when GPX was jumped by AF Corse at the last round of stops. Fuoco finished 2nd but as said before, was dealt a 10 second time-penalty which dropped the #71 to fourth. This gave p2 to the #32 WRT Audi of Vanthoor, Weerts and Kelvin van der Linde. It also gave the last podium spot back to Caldarelli, Mapelli and Bortolotti in the #63 Lambo. The #51 Iron Lynx Ferrari of Pier Guidi, Nielsen and Ledogar finished 5th, ahead of the #88 of Marciello, Juncadella and Gounon and the #54 Dinamic Porsche of Bachler, Engelhart and Cairoli. After a strong opening of the race, the #34 and #35 Walkenhorst BMW's finished 8th and 9th. Sainteloc Audi claimed the last top-10 spot with the #26 in the hands of Winkelhock, Hutchinson and Vervisch.
In the Silver Cup, Valentin Hasse Clot in the #159 Garage 59 Aston, managed to maintain the lead for two hours, which was then lost to the #87 AKKA ASP Mercedes of Tereshenko, Drouet and Gachet. The French squad on home soil did not gave up the lead in the remainder of the race. The rest of the podium was taken by only Lamborghini's: the #14 Emil Frey of Fontana, Ineichen and Feller ahead of the #16 Grasser of Zimmerman, Galbiati and Schmid.
There was British success in the Pro-Am cup, as the Union Jack appeared on all three steps of the podium. Chris Froggatt, Eddie Cheever and Jonathan Hui climbed the top step as Hamaguchi and his British teammate Phil Keen, who won on the road, were dealt a 5 second penalty after the flag. Chris Goodwin, Alex West and Jonny Adam finished 3rd in class in the #188 Garage 59 Aston Martin Vantage.
Next up is the Sprint Cup event at Zandvoort, 18th to 20th of June.
Rewatch the full race with English commentary: