Incident ends Larbre Competition’s 6 Hours of Spa podium hopes

Larbre Competition experienced a frustrating outing at last weekend’s 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps (April 30 – May 2)after a mid-race collision ended the #50 Corvette C7.R’s GTE Am class victory hopes in round two of the FIA World Endurance Championship.

Kristian Poulsen was running second at the time having just headed back out for another stint when he was trapped amongst a gaggle of cars. That pushed the reigning GTE Am champion onto the dirty side of the track before slight contact with a prototype saw his race end in the tyres. The team’s premature demise was all the more disheartening after consistently running at the sharp end of the field.

The French squad’s weekend began under typically damp Spa skies. Poulsen and crew-mates Paolo Ruberti and Gianluca Roda made the most of Thursday’s free practice sessions to find a competitive wet-weather set-up, the sort of data that could prove handy during next month’s Le Mans 24 Hours.

A drier Friday led to a flurry of on-track activity as teams and drivers endeavoured to maximise the much-improved conditions. And the C7.R looked equally at home, as highlighted by Larbre’s drivers setting the second fastest time in class during qualifying for the six-hour event.

Saturday’s race saw regular starter Ruberti make another decent getaway before completing a fine opening stint. Indeed, the Italian kept the car amongst the podium positions while simultaneously saving fuel before handing over to Poulsen.

The Dane took advantage of the car’s efficient set-up and team’s clever strategy to hoist himself up into the GTE Am lead before keeping the #98 Silverstone-winning Aston Martin at bay for a long period of time.

With the leading duo well clear of their third-placed rival, things were shaping up for an epic showdown between the Corvette and its British rival. Unfortunately, Poulsen’s misfortune meant the anticipated duel never materialised.

Larbre Competition now set their sights on the FIA World Endurance Championship showpiece: next month’s Le Mans 24 Hours (June 13/14). The Val-de-Vienne outfit first travels to Circuit de la Sarthe for the official Test Day on May 31, when set-ups and preparations will be refined ahead of the world’s most iconic endurance event.

Paolo Ruberti: “I had a good stint, was more or less as quick as the fastest car in our class and using less fuel thanks to a specific fuel map that would allow us to finish the race on five pit-stops. Kristian did a good job, but again we had contact with a prototype.

“The car felt pretty good. We were P2 in qualifying but I think the Aston Martin is still out of reach at the moment, perhaps because of the BoP advantage they have. Still, we could have finished the race on the podium for sure.

“I’m optimistic about Le Mans as we have a good team and a strong line-up. We can fight for the win at every race but just need a bit more luck.”

Kristian Poulsen: “My first stint was pretty strong and the car was really good. I had a good fight with a Porsche but couldn’t get past it. We decided to do a double stint on the tyres, which was a good decision because we were ahead of the #98 Aston Martin.

“I tried to hold him back for as many laps as I could but there was a lot of traffic and I ended up side by side with one of the LMPs. He just touched me a little bit and I was out in the dirt.

“I’m happy with the overall performance of the car but it’s a real shame for the team and my co-drivers as I’m sure we could have been on the podium.”

Gianluca Roda: “The weekend was good – the car was performing well and we’d managed to find a set-up that suited the track. Paolo had a strong opening stint and we were running in third position.

“At one point there was a dozen LMP1s, LMP2s and GTs sharing the same piece of track, and Kristian just got caught up in the mix. That’s racing. Now we must focus on Le Mans, where I hope we’ll have a better race.”

Jack Leconte, Team Manager: “Spa was a very busy weekend indeed. Rain on the opening day of free practice offered us an opportunity to sample the new Corvette C7.R in wet conditions. Our drivers got themselves acclimatised while we also managed to find some good wet-weather set-ups. We were pretty competitive in the end.

“Then we faced another challenge on Friday with only one hour of dry running to set up the car for qualifying and have our three drivers get some laps under their belts. But we pulled it off, as indicated by our second place on the grid. c

“Better still, our set-up turned out to pay even more dividends on Saturday. Indeed, we were one second adrift of the leading GTE Am car in qualifying but that gap shrunk to a mere couple of tenths in the race. We were actually in the lead during the hour before our accident. There was definitely a good scrap brewing with the Aston Martin, which would have opened up the possibility to grab victory.

“Unfortunately, our weekend came to an early end because of a second incident in as many races, which isn’t great for the championship. Our driver was too green in traffic. In that situation there’s only one rule: keep your racing line, stay on the inside and let the faster cars go around the outside. Kristian went wide and there was slight contact with another car. Being on the dirty side of the track meant his fate was pretty much sealed.

“We did notify race control about the incident but at the end of the day forewarned is forearmed and I hope this will serve as a lesson for Le Mans where we must have an error-free race if we’re to remain in contention.”

Photo: Larbre Competition