Pic of the bunch at Le Mans
1 January 1901
World Series by Renault rookie Charles Pic clearly likes something about on home soil as, having taken his debut success on the streets of Monaco, doubled his tally with victory in race of the weekend at Le Mans.
The Tech 1 Racing pilot had to contend with stiff competition from Fortec's James Walker early on, then from Miguel Molina (Prema Powerteam) and man of the moment Fabio Carbone (Ultimate Signature), both of whom joined him on the podium, but resisted the pressure to return the current champions to the top step.
With the sun shining, Molina made the most of his pole to head Walker into turn one, while the Briton came under pressure from Pic and Ultimate combo Carbone and Esteban Guerrieri, but the action did not continue at racing pace for too long.
With points leader Giedo Van der Garde's P1 Motorsport Dallara already sidelined with a clutch problem, Alexandre Marsoin ran out of road at the Dunlop chicane and the Dutchman's team-mate Pippa Mann also had an excursion - helped in no small way by Fairuz Fauzy - that brought out the safety car. Siso Cunill later added to the list of retirements when he fell foul of a bent tie-rod in his steering system following a separate collision.
At the restart, Molina again led from Walker, Pic, Carbone and Guerrieri, but the positions changed on lap nine as the Briton seized the advantage after a mistake from the leader at Garage Vert. Behind them, a heated battle was developing between Pic and Carbone, with the Brazilian overtaking the Frenchman before Pic bounced straight back to reclaim third place.
"One of my wheels locked at the start and the car became impossible to control," Molina said of the error that cost him top spot, "I veered off course and James took advantage."
At the halfway point, the top five could not have been closer. Pic climbed to second place after passing Molina at the Dunlop chicane, and the Spaniard found himself under pressure from both Carbone and Guerrieri. The jostling for position also allowed Marco Bonanomi to make up ground on the leading pack, closing gradually on the rear of Guerrieri.
Sensing a chance to claim another strong result, Pic kept pushing hard and was soon right on Walker's tail and looking for a way past. Walker did his best to hold the Frenchman off for a short while but, carrying better speed through the corners, Pic eventually found the gap he was looking for, moving into P1 on lap 17 and leaving Walker in Molina's sights as the chasing group closed in. Before that battle could be rejoined, however, the luckless Walker suffered a puncture and was forced to retire.
With 15 minutes to go, Pic had managed to open up a lead of more than three seconds over Molina, Carbone and Guerrieri and, with no-one on his tail, was able to power to his second win of the season.
"I'm really happy to have won this race in France," he admitted, "I got a good start, overtook Molina, but then got stuck behind Walker for a few laps. It wasn't easy to get past him, but things got a lot easier once I was out in front on my own. This is a satisfying win because my engine let me down at the last two meetings and we only solved the problem yesterday!"
Behind Molina, another podium allowed Carbone to catch and pass Julien Jousse, Pic's Tech 1 team-mate, and move into second overall behind van der Garde.
"I didn't take any risks," the Brazilian reported, "We've got a really good car, so we'll fight right 'til the end. We did well today."
The remaining points positions in race one were filled by Guerrieri, Bonanomi, Aleshin, Salvador Duran, Aleix Alcaraz, Jousse and Marco Barba. Carbone will start from fourth on the grid for Sunday's second race, while Ultimate Signature team-mate Guerrieri leads from pole. Between the two orange machines will be van der Garde and Mikhail Aleshin, the Dutchman attempting to make up for his disappointing Saturday result, while Pic lines up sixth, alongside the second Carlin car of Robert Wickens, who finished a disappointing 14th in race one.