The penultimate round of the ELMS held on Belgian soil around the Spa-Francorchamps circuit saw the #65 Panis Racing Oreca reaching the podium once again, with a third overall place.
The “chamber pot” reputation of Spa proved to be true during the private testing day on Wednesday with its capricious weather cutting out a large part of the afternoon session as the track was wet.
The two free practice sessions on Friday and Saturday were then devoted to the preparation of qualifying and the race (FP1: P10 – FP2: P6).
James Allen was on track to qualify the #65 Oreca on Friday afternoon: the Australian set the 10th fastest time after a complicated session following the red flag on the first lap.
As often, Julien Canal took the start, in 10th position here at Spa ahead of the 4 hours race. The sun was back for the race, and the Frenchman made a great start and found himself in 4th place at the exit of the 1st corner. He then conceded a place before the safety car came out a few seconds later. Then followed a succession of full course yellow and safety car. After an hour of racing, Julien Canal made another step forward up to the front with a magnificent overtaking to find himself in 3rd place for several laps just in front of the sister car of Ultimate # 29 in the hands of Jean-Baptiste Lahaye. After a great stint, he handed the wheel over to James Allen in 3rd place. The Australian showed a good speed through his stint. On his way back to the track after his second pitstop, he managed to pass Tristan Gommendy (Duqueine Team) and fought to get back close to the second, Manuel Maldonado (United Autosports). Unfortunately, he was passed by Gommendy before giving the car back to Will Stevens. The Briton, as he always does, superbly drove, determined to give his best. A huge fight ensued with Job Van Uitert. Thanks to an awesome maneuver, he gained the 3rd place. Then it was all about managing the fuel consumption not to have to go back to the pits. And thanks to engineers, he did it! After a final full course-yellow 5 minutes to the finish, the # 65 Oreca secured its podium finish once again.
Olivier Panis – Team Principal : “Again on the podium! After the victory at Monza and our 3rd place at Le Mans, the team and the drivers have once again confirmed their level of performance this year. Julien (Canal) did an incredible start despite a bit of chaos around him, and then he showed bluffing speed. We are so proud to have him with us and to see him, despite his experience in endurance, still making progress. James (Allen) also did a good job doing a solid and consistent stint. Will (Stevens) showed once again that he is “the boss” on the track with his brilliant demonstration during his pass over van Uiter and his fuel management till the end in close talk with the engineers.
Our mechanics once again made great pit stops. Our success is the result of collective work with the Tech1 Racing team managed by Sarah and Simon Abadie, and we are determined to put everything in place to finish in style in Portimao!
And congratulations to the WRT team for their 2021 title.”
Julien Canal :” We came out victorious after the Monza race, but here at Spa all had to be done once again from zero. Due to rainy practice sessions on Wednesday, we lost precious time on track to fine-tune our set-ups. I started 10th on this legendary track, and I am happy to have avoided a crash involving several cars just in front of me. I then fought with Memo Rojas for several laps before passing him on the braking of the last chicane. Bringing the car back to 3rd position starting 10th was a good opportunity to reach the podium! I am also very proud of my teammates James and Will who fought hard to jump on this podium. The strategy was also very good, and the mechanics were on top as usual. Congratulations to the whole team. Now head to Portimao with the desire to win!”
James Allen : ” What a day, that’s three podiums in a row. I couldn’t be more happy for the team and all their accomplishments this season so far. Julien had a phenomenal start to stay out of all that drama on turn one and keep a steady pace. My stint was tough fighting our way back from the mid-field but very grateful to hand it over to will in P4. Will had some tough work to do and got the job done. It may not be a win, but it is definitely a race to remember and put us in a very good position to fight for second in the championship at the last European Le Mans series round. “
Will Stevens : “Really happy to come away with another podium for us, the 3rd in a row, especially coming from P10 on the grid. Julian made a great start and we knew from there on we would have the pace to fight for a podium. My stint was good fun, had some great battles whilst fuel saving a lot which made it tricky, but it was nice to get P3 during my stint. Congrats to WRT for the Championship win, and now the battle is super close for P2 so we head to Portimao with confidence as it’s normally one of our best tracks of the season. Thanks to all the team for their hard work, and it’s great the results are coming consistently to us now.”
Source. Panis Racing/Photo. MPS