The French team showed up in Spain at the beginning of the week for the official tests followed by the highly awaited first race of the season in the European Le Mans Series championship, around the 4.675-kilometre Barcelona-Catalunya track.
Ready for the prologue, Australian newcomer James Allen got later tested positive for Covid-19 (asymptomatic) and had to be replaced at very short notice by Frenchman Gabriel Aubry to contest the 4-hour race alongside Will Stevens and Julien Canal.
Despite these unfortunate circumstances, the Panis Racing team reacted perfectly, and both three drivers ran their race magnificently to finish on the podium, in P2!
After two successful official testing days with the #65 Oreca 07, responsibility to contest the qualifying session on Saturday was given to Will Stevens. The Briton set a great third overall best lap time.
On Sunday at 11.00 am, after the warm-up session, Julien Canal started the first round of the season from third on the grid, among a strong 40-car field. Pressure on track was at its highest, with the safety car coming out at the very early stage. After a relentless battle with the G-Drive Racing car all along his double stint, the Frenchman handed the car over to Will Stevens who rejoined the track in 3rd place. The former F1 driver superbly overtook the United Autosports car and stood right behind the leader after having gained 30 seconds on track. Will was regularly the fastest driver on track during his stint. Afterwards, following an excellent pit stop, Gabriel Aubry was in action for the remaining part of the race and kept on putting pressure on the leader of the race, Robert Kubica (Team WRT).
The Oreca #65 finally crossed the chequered flag in P2, a great satisfaction for the whole team. A first podium on the very first race of the season is a new proof of the French team high level of performance!
Olivier Panis – Team Principal : “I’d like to congratulate our entire team, on behalf of Sarah and Simon (Abadie) and Stephane Dilouya. Everybody, from engineers to mechanics, has worked hard all over the winter to prepare the cars. When we see the work done during the race and especially in the pit stops, I can only be delighted with our performance in the ELMS LMP2 category, where the competition is even higher than last year. Our three drivers have been flawless and deserve to be on the podium. Julien Canal has once again reached a new step this year and showed great consistency during his double stint. Will Stevens managed to gain 30 seconds in a masterful manner and gave all he had in hands before handing the car over to Gabriel Aubry. The latter, despite being called up at the last minute, did an excellent job. I have really appreciated his commitment throughout the weekend. We are of course disappointed James Allen could not drive with us this weekend, but he will come back even stronger for the next race.
Big hat off to the Tech1 Racing staff, who also provided technical support to the Ultimate team’s victory in the pro-am (5th overall).
Both teams and the 6 drivers have worked hard, and it has paid off. It will be a very competitive season, but we will continue to work hard to stay at the front of the grid. “
Will Stevens: “It was overall a great weekend. Even if it started quite toughly with James tested positive and having to withdraw. But knowing very well Gaby by driving alongside him in the past, I knew he would fit to the team straight away.
Qualification was very good, as starting on the front rows is very important in ELMS, regarding the traffic management. We were quite happy to be third on the grid, as we all know from the testing done before that our race pace would be very good.
The race went very well. Julien had a good start and a good first stint. He managed the tires very well, which was a key thing in that race. He did a great job not to overwork the tires. So, we could double the stint. When I got into the car, I knew we had to attack a bit more in order to close the gap to the United Autosports car and then to the leader. Something I did through my double stint too. Closing the gap as I did proved how strong our pace was. Degradation level was low, thanks to our experience with Goodyear.
Starting the year second as we did is a great result. It’s a great foundation to start working from. Thanks to the team for giving us a car that will be able to fight for the win this year.”
Gabriel Aubry: “I really had a great weekend in Barcelona with the Panis Racing team and my teammates Will Stevens and Julien Canal, even though I arrived late in “special” conditions. It’s always a pleasure to be back within Simon and Sarah Abadie’s structure, after my experience with them back in 2017. And to reunite with Will was also an added value. These few days together were under true signs of human values, and we proved the team has all it takes to fight at the front this season both with the #65 and with the Ultimate team in pro-am. It’s very promising for the Spa round in the WEC championship with PR1 and the technical support of Tech1.”
Julien Canal: “I’m really happy to start the season with such a great second place. I made a good start, and I was battling for a long time with the G-Drive and Cool Racing cars. I fought them hard. Pressure was intense, as it was all about keeping the tires in good shape and managing the traffic among LMP3 and GTE cars. We had to take some risks and push hard until the end, but it has worked out. Will and Gabriel also did a great job, as well as the whole team who gave us two very competitive cars. We will do our best to carry on like this, as well as to make progress and to keep fighting for the win. “
Source. Panis Racing/Photo. MPS Agency