A promising start for l’Alpine Elf Endurance Team
Sebring, United States, March 20th 2023 - Florida (United States) played host to the opening round of the 2023 season of the FIA World Endurance Championship last weekend, with the famous 1,000 Miles of Sebring.
Sebring has a well-earned reputation for being a difficult event. Its rough and bumpy surface, significant on-track traffic, a lack of run-off areas and the fact the race is contested in fading light all combine to provide drivers and teams with a challenging experience. In these unprecedented conditions and having to contend with some very tough opposition – especially with Ferrari and Porsche having joined the Hypercar class this year – Team Peugeot TotalEnergies' two Peugeot 9X8s, driven by Loïc Duval - Nico Müller - Gustavo Menezes and Jean-Éric Vergne - Paul di Resta - Mikkel Jensen, were unable to showcase their full potential in Florida, with several mechanical issues meaning they finished well off the pace. Luck was in short supply for the Alpine Elf Endurance Team, back competing in LMP2 this season with the no. 36 car, driven by an all-French crew (Matthieu Vaxiviere, Julien Canal and Charles Milesi), and the no. 35 car (André Negrão, Memo Rojas et Olli Caldwell), as the team works on developing its own Hypercar for 2024. Having put more than 2,800 kilometres in the bank during the Prologue, the French squad had prepared well for the race and were clearly aiming for a top-three finish, especially with the no. 36 car. Unfortunately, it fell out of contention for a podium place after a puncture and an electrical issue. The drivers nonetheless showed considerable fighting spirit to secure the points for ninth place, and set the category's fastest race lap.
"It's relatively unusual to have races where the cars and the drivers both reach high levels of performance but that was the case for us today," analysed Philippe Sinault, Alpine Elf Endurance Team Principal. "For the no. 36 car, Julien had the difficult task of starting the race, but he held his own and showed excellent pace. Charles then produced a superb performance to move quickly among the frontrunners, but our progress was halted with a puncture. The face that he had to complete almost a full lap before being able to make it back to the pits made it all the more frustrating. We believed, however, that we could make up the time lost with Charles and Matthieu, but a technical issue dashed those hopes as well. For the no. 35 car, the strategy was a little bit different given it was further back on the starting grid, which is why we offset at the first yellow flag. Memo, Olli and André were clearly in with a shout of a top-five finish until the car suffered an electronic issue, something which, just like with the no. 36 car, was nothing to do with the team. Despite the frustration, we have to take away the positives and focus on the momentum we have created since the Prologue in terms of development, technical discussions and the relationship between the drivers and the engineers. All of which has helped to product two excellent cars, with the fastest race lap – something we weren't targeting this weekend – and excellent average speeds on the stints, set when it was still pretty hot. Apart from fighting at the front on our return to LMP2, we showed some good things. That's satisfying, because it augurs incredibly well for the rest of the championship." Team Peugeot TotalEnergies and Alpine Elf Endurance Team will now both turn their attention to the next round, at the 6 Hours of Portimão (14-16 April), where they will be determined to show their true worth.
It's a weekend where the lessons will need to be learned for Team Peugeot TotalEnergies, with only Jean-Éric Vergne - Paul di Resta - Mikkel Jensen scoring any points. In what is a very keenly contested category, the six points collected by Alpine Elf Endurance Team and its drivers may still prove decisive at the end of the year.