GTWC: AF Corse's brilliant strategy produces win in 1000km of Paul Ricard

Updated: Nov 16

Text: Rick Kiewiet

Images: SRO Media


The 1000km of Paul Ricard was won by Alessandro Pier Guidi, Tom Blomqvist and Come Ledogar in the #51 AF Corse Ferrari 488. Mathieu Jaminet, Patrick Pilet and Matt Campbell led the majority of the race in the #12 GPX Porsche, but were beaten by a late strategic move of the AF Corse crew and had to settle for 2nd. Now former champions Andrea Caldarelli, Marco Mapelli and Dennis Lind claimed the last podium spot in the #63 Orange 1 FFF Lamborghini. Both the Silver Cup and the Pro-Am class were won by British teams. Kujala, MacDowall and Schandorff finished first in the Silver Cup with their #78 Barwell Motorsport Lamborghini while Alex West, Marvin Kirchhöfer and Chris Goodwin in the #188 Garage 59 Aston Martin outmatched the competition in Pro-Am.


Qualifying

The front row of the starting grid was completely locked out by Ferrari's. The driver crews of the SMP and AF Corse Ferrari's were rigorously altered as Davide Rigon, Miguel Molina, James Calado and Nicklas Nielsen were all active at the WEC 8 hours of Bahrain this weekend. Nonetheless, Sergey Sirotkin and his new teammates, Maranello veteran Toni Vilander and youngster Antonio Fuoco, took Pole in the #72 SMP Ferrari. Alessandro Pier Guidi, joined this weekend by Brit Tom Blomqvist and Come Ledogar in the #51 AF Corse Ferrari were only 0.216s short of the fastest combined time.



The #4 HRT Mercedes of Engel, Stolz and Abril and #32 WRT Audi of newly crowned Sprint Cup champions Weerts and Dries Vanthoor, with their Endurance cup comrade Chris Mies shared the second row. Third row on the grid consisted of solely of Lamborghini's, the #63 Orange 1 FFF of Lind, Mapelli and Caldarelli ahead of the Emil Frey #163 of Costa, Altoè en Mac.


Endurance Cup championship leaders Marciello, Boguslavskiy and Buhk, who replaces Felipe Fraga, qualified 7th, followed by both GPX Porsches, the #12 of Campbell, Pilet and Jaminet leading the #40 of Duman, Deletraz and Preining. The #25 Sainteloc Audi of Haase, Winkelhock and Boccolacci completed the top-10.


Pole in the Silver Cup was claimed by Ezequiel Perez Companc, Patrick Assenheimer and Seb Morris in the #90 Madpanda Mercedes AMG. The #78 Barwell Motorsport Lamborghini of Kujala, Schandorff and MacDowall was 2nd. First grid position in Pro-Am went to Eddie Cheever, Chris Froggatt and Jonathan Hui in the #93 Sky-Tempesta Ferrari.


Race

The top-10 was turned upside down right after the lights went green. Tom Blomqvist in the #51 Ferrari snatched the lead from Toni Vilander in the #72. Behind, Chris Mies in the #32 Audi was pushed into a spin by Marco Mapelli in the #63 Lambo, dropping him to 17th. In the chaos behind that spin, Giacomo Altoè in the #163 Lamborghini catapulted himself up to third, followed closely by Schramm in the #66 Audi who started 13th (!). Later, Schramm was penalized as he clearly made a jump start. The penalty got suspended for thirty minutes.


In the opening phase of the race, Altoè put the pressure right on Vilander. It took him 15 minutes to make his move but when he did it was successful. In the last corner he surprised Vilander and took 2nd. Another 15 minutes later he was even given the lead when Blomqvist missed his braking point and went wide in the 2nd to last corner. Schramm, who'd also got passed Vilander, profited of the momentum and immediately took second. Half an hour into the race, the top-10 was still within 10 seconds of each other.


Thomas Neubauer in the #15 Tech 1 Lexus took the lead in the Silver Cup as the Madpanda Mercedes dropped dramatically down the field. Andy Watson in the #159 Garage 59 Aston was seconds, only a couple of tenths ahead of Schandorff in the #78 Barwell Lamborghini. Chris Goodwin in the other Garage 59 Aston, the #188, took the lead in Pro-Am ahead of Chris Froggatt in the #93. The two battled it out for about half an hour, after which Chris Froggatt took over the lead.


Just over an hour into the race it was time for the first round of pit stops. Most drivers decided to double-stint, except in the #66 Audi where Mattia Drudi took over from Kim-Luis Schramm, the #88 Mercedes where Boguslavskiy took over the wheel from Maxi Buhk and the #63 in which Dennis Lind replaced Marco Mapelli. When all cars had stopped, Altoè was still leading in the #163 Lamborghini, closely followed by Drudi in the #66 Audi and Matt Campbell in the #12 GPX Porsche who jumped to 3rd with a fast stop. Some six seconds behind, Lind was 4th just ahead of Chris Mies who'd worked his way back up after his spin in the opening lap. Three seconds further back, Blomqvist (#51 Ferrari), Abril (#4 Mercedes), Boguslavskiy (#88 Mercedes), Vilander (#72 Ferrari) and Markus Winkelhock (#25 Audi) comleted the top-10.



Aurelien Panis took over from Neubauer in the #15 Lexus and led the Silver Cup, Jonahtan Hui, now in the #93 Ferrari was on top in Pro-Am.


In the next ten minutes, a battle for the lead emerged between Altoè, Drudi and Campbell. The fight got decided when they caught up to back marker Remon Vos in the Ram Racing Mercedes, which gave Drudi the opportunity to take the lead from Altoè. The Italian also had to give up 2nd to Campbell a couple of turns later as he chose the wrong side to lap the Ram Racing Mercedes, where Campbell took the inside.


In the 45 minutes that followed leading up to the second series of pit stops, attention went out to Chris Mies in the #32 Audi. He worked himself up from 5th to 2nd within half an hour. First he got by the #63 Lamborghini of Dennis Lind. While he closed the gap to Giacomo Altoè, supposedly his next victim, 3rd place was thrown in his lap as the drive-through of the #66 Audi was confirmed and taken. Drudi found himself in 12th afterwards. Right after, Mies got passed Altoè and was 2nd.


In the meantime, the order is the Silver Cup got somewhat shuffled. Andrew Watson was forced to park his #159 Aston in the garage and retired. The #15 Lexus was dealt a drive-through penalty for causing a collision with the #14 Emil Frey Lamborghini. This gave the lead to Alex MacDowall in the #78 Barwell Lamborghini. Sandy Mitchell, in the other Barwell Lamborghini, had taken the lead in the Pro-Am cup, followed by Chris Goodwin in the #188 Aston.



Five minutes before the two hour mark, the retirement of the Team Parker Bentley sparked a Full Course Yellow and thereby the second round of pit stops. Matt Campbell led the race by four seconds from Chris Mies and Dennis Lind. The rest of the field followed more than fifteen seconds back.


The Safety Car came on track after a couple of minutes, to allow the cars to warm up after the lengthy FCY. All cars had made their stop and Matt Campbell in the #12 GPX Porsche was still in the lead. Mies gave over the wheel of the #32 WRT Audi to Charles Weerts, who rejoined in 2nd place. Caldarelli, now in the #63 Orange 1 Lambo was 3rd. K-pax Racing skipped their made a great stop and managed to get Alvaro Parente in the #9 Bentley back on track in 4th, followed by Mikkel Mac who took over from Altoè in the #163 Lamborghini. Stolz (#4 Mercedes), Ledogar (#51 Ferrari), Boccolacci (#25 Audi), Buhk (#88 Mercedes) and Antonio Fuoco (#72 Ferrari) formed the rest of the top-10. Everything still went crescendo for Barwell as MacDowall still led the Silver Cup and Leo Machitski the Pro-Am class.


Racing resumed with little over 3 hours and 45 minutes to go. Alvaro Parente in the #9 Bentley still had a drive-through penalty to serve, so he quickly dropped out of the top-10. Ahead of the field, Campbell managed to drive away from Weerts and Caldarelli. At the 2.5 hour mark, Caldarelli squeezed his Lamborghini round the outside of the Audi of Weerts to take 2nd. Behind, Ledogar got past both Mikkel Mac and Luca Stolz and was on a chase towards Weerts. Minutes later, he'd caught up to the bumper of Weerts and overtook the Belgian quickly. Caldarelli, who was supposed to be Ledogar's next victim, was able to resist longer and managed to stay ahead of the Ferrari until the next round of stops.



Exactly at the halfway mark of the six hour race, the first cars came in for their third stop, just when the track was declared wet. Campbell led, with a 15 second gap towards Caldarelli, Ledogar, Stolz (who also got passed Weerts) and Weerts. Ten seconds further back were Fuoco in the Ferrari, Van der Linde in the #31 WRT Audi, Mikkel Mac in the Lamborghini and Matteo Cairoli in the #54 Dinamic Porsche.


After this round of pit stops, the only change in the top-5 was that Weerts jumped over Stolz again. The #12 GPX Porsche, now in the hands of Patrick Pilet, was still in the lead, Mapelli was 2nd. Behind Ledogar, Weerts and Stolz was now Kelvin van der Linde in the #31 WRT Audi, who passed Antonio Fuoco in the pits. Mikkel Mac in the #163 Emil Frey Lamborghini still had the #54 Dinamic Porsche under his rear wing, now piloted by Sven Müller. Timothe Buret took over the lead in the Silver Cup and was in 10th position overall. In the Pro-Am class, Barwell also lost the lead as Marvin Kirchhöfer in the #188 Aston got ahead of the #77 Lamboghini of Rob Collard. Although the track was declared wet, none of the cars had switched to rain tires.


The rest of the stint was largely overshadowed by the question whether or not it was really going to rain. The race settled down a bit awaiting the answer to this question. The track got trickier and more and more cars were snapping away from underneath their drivers. Under the tricky conditions, Van der Linde caught up to Weerts and got past his team colleague to take 5th. Mikkel Mac trickled further down the top-10 as he lost another place to Sven Müller in the Porsche. By the end of the fourth stint, the rain seemed to have blown over.



In the next round of stops, Pilet handed the #12 GPX Porsche over to Mathieu Jaminet who stayed in the lead. Behind, a late and fast stop of the AF Corse crew got Pier Guidi, who was now in the #51 Ferrari, out ahead of Dennis Lind who was back in the #63 Lamborghini. Ten seconds down the road, Maro Engel in the #4 Mercedes was under pressure from Dries Vanthoor who took over the #32 Audi. A ten second penalty had dropped the #31 Audi of Bortolotti, who'd taken over from Kelvin van der Linde, back to 6th.


After 20 minutes, a couple of tries and going door-to-door several times, Vanthoor finally found a way past the Mercedes of Maro Engel. The battle however had costed the duo another 10 seconds to Dennis Lind. So, with 75 minutes to go, and just ahead of the last round of stops, Jaminet was in the lead, 10 seconds in front of the Ferrari of Pier Guidi and the Lamborghini of Dennis Lind. Vanthoor, Engel and Bortolotti had an almost 20 seconds gap to Lind. Sirotkin in the #72 SMP Ferrari was another 8 seconds further back. Patrick Kujala had retaken the lead in the Silver Cup for Barwell Motorsport as trouble had struck the #15 Lexus. In 2nd was the #5 HRT Mercedes but it was over a lap down from the leader. Sandy Mitchell made the outlook for Barwell even sunnier as he'd also retaken the Pro-Am class lead in the #77.



Right before the final round of stops, with some 50 minutes still on the clock, Dennis Lind turned up the pace again and surprised Alessandro Pier Guidi in the last corner. Pier Guidi then waited very long to make his final stop, and when he finally did, with only 40 minutes left on the clock, he managed to come out even ahead of former leader Jaminet. Some great laps and an even greater stop, almost 9 (!) seconds faster than the stops of GPX and Orange 1 FFF, gave the Ferrari the lead. Jaminet however, was only half a second behind. Caldarelli in the #63 Lamborghini now faced an eight second gap towards the leaders. Fifteen seconds down the line, Vanthoor was driving a bit in no man's land as he himself also had a fifteen second gap towards Bortolotti. The final stops had helped Bortolotti in the #31 Audi past the #4 HRT Mercedes and Mattia Drudi back into the top-10 in p8.


In the last half hour of the race, attention had to be divided between the overall battle for the lead between the #51 AF Corse Ferrari of Pier Guidi and the #12 GPX Porsche of Jaminet, and the lead for the Pro-Am class between Leo Machitski in the #78 Barwell Lamborghini and the #188 Garage 59 Aston with Marvin Kirchhöfer behind the wheel. The latter was decided some 23 minutes before the finish when Kirchhöfer got a better run up to Mistral Straight and got passed the Lamborghini. He then quickly open a comfortable gap to Machitski.



The battle between Pier Guidi and Jaminet was regularly broken up by back markers and never really ignited. In the last 20 minutes, the gap was about 2 seconds and seemed easily controlled by Pier Guidi. The Italian took the checkered flag 2 seconds ahead of Mathieu Jaminet and thereby also crowned himself the 2020 Endurance Cup champion. Caldarelli finished 3rd in the Lamborghini, 9.5 seconds behind the winner. Vanthoor and Bortolotti secured 4th and 5th for WRT, ahead of Maro Engel for HRT, Sergey Sirotkin in the SMP Ferrari and Costa (Emil Frey Lamborghini), Mattia Drudi (Attempto Audi) and Matteo Cairoli (Dinamic Porsche). Patrick Kujala won the Silver Cup for Barwell Motorsport together with Frederick Schandorff and Alex MacDowall. Honours in the Pro-Am class went to the #188 Garage 59 Aston Martin with drivers Kirchhöfer, West and Goodwin.